Fivel and his family survive life in a Polish shtetl, waiting for the day Pa will send for them to come to America. After seven years, the money arrives and the family endures the difficult journey, ultimately reuniting with Pa and making a new life for themselves in Minnesota. While somewhat fictionalized, the characters and events are based on the true story of Phil (Fivel) Myzel. The author has captured the personalities of the family members, creating characters both believable and lively. While the Myzel family experiences much that is typical of the era, the story also includes unusual incidents that make it uniquely interesting, such as when Benyomin escapes death at the hands of Cossacks because of his hat. Rather than begin with arrival in America as so many immigration stories do, the first half of Bridge to America takes place in the old country. This sets the stage and helps readers understand who the characters are and what their life is like before they face enormous changes. It also helps readers perceive the sharp contrast between the shtetl and the new world. Jewish content is expertly integrated into the narrative so that it is an essential but not overwhelming aspect of the tale. The Jewish experience of life in the early 20th century is accurately and sympathetically explored. In the final chapters of the book, Fivel/Phil struggles to embrace both his old and new identities, a poignant and relevant theme not often addressed in children’s literature, but dealt with skillfully here. The book is written with heartfelt respect and love for the characters and for the generation that braved the hardships of immigration. This attitude gives the story an inner glow and brings it to life. Glaser loves the people she writes about, and she makes readers love them too. For ages 9 – 12.
Heidi Estrin is librarian for the Feldman Children’s Library at Congregation B’nai Israel in Boca Raton, FL. She is a past chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee for the Association of Jewish Libraries.