One Good Thing about America
By Ruth Freeman
Illustrated by Kathrin Honesta
Published by Holiday House Publishing, Inc.
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

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“Highly recommended for libraries seeking timely stories about the immigrant experience.”
School Library Journal

It’s hard to start at a new school . . . especially if you’re in a new country. Back home, Anais was the best English student in her class. Here in Crazy America she feels like she doesn’t know English at all. Nothing makes sense (chicken FINGERS?), and the kids at school have some very strange ideas about Africa. Anais misses her family – Papa and grandmother Oma and big brother Olivier because here in Crazy America there’s only little Jean-Claude and Mama. So she writes letters to Oma – lots of them. She tells her she misses her and hopes the fighting is over soon. She tells her about Halloween, snow, mac n cheese dinners, and princess sleepovers. She tells her about the weird things Crazy Americans do, and how she just might be turning into a Crazy American herself. One Good Thing About America is a sweet, often funny middle-grade novel that explores differences and common ground across cultures. It arrives amidst the prevailing climate of fear and doubt in America. This story of a refugee child restores hope and reminds us that America is, in fact, a nation of immigrants where we must accept our differences in order to survive and that s one very good thing.

Reviews & Accolades
“Spanning a school year, this touching novel in epistolary format relates the triumphs and travails of a young Congolese refugee, Anaïs, and her family. Settled in Maine, the plucky nine-year-old diligently writes letters home to Oma (her grandmother), who has requested updates in English only. Hoping to help the child acclimate to life in a foreign country, Oma asks Anaïs to include in every missive at least “one good thing about America.” Realistically portraying the writing of an English language learner, the text is peppered with grammatical errors and misspellings. As the narrative progresses, readers see marked improvement in the tween’s writing. Anaïs’s voice feels true as she shares her experiences, which include befriending other immigrant children in her class, participating in traditional American activities such as trick-or-treating and Christmas decorating, and contending with a health emergency that tests her maturity and resolve. However, the letters often simplistically refer to political unrest—Anaïs’s older brother and father are hiding from the government as they try to make their way to a refugee camp in Kenya—and young readers may struggle to fully comprehend the gravity of the situation. Freeman’s characterization of African and Middle Eastern immigrants is well done, and she deftly dispels stereotypes about these cultures. When an American classmate asks Anaïs why she doesn’t wear a hijab like another Somali classmate, the protagonist responds, “Really?… You think Africa is one small place?” Helpful back matter includes links to informational websites, an author’s note, an ELL vocabulary list, and a French glossary. VERDICT Highly recommended for libraries seeking timely stories about the immigrant experience.
School Library Journal

“Congolese immigrant Anaïs adjusts to her new home in Maine over the course of one school year.Readers follow her progress in her letters home to her grandmother, who insists that she write in English and enumerate “one good thing about America” every day. Unsurprisingly, her letters feature an English language learner’s incomplete command of grammar and spelling; at the end of her first, Anaïs expresses her frustration: “Please let me use le français. I am very tired with English today.” Thus encouraging readers’ empathy, Freeman goes on to record, in her protagonist’s voice, a year that includes many comings and goings at the shelter where she lives with her mother and little brother and in her ELL classroom—but, sadly, not the arrival of her father or older brother, who are in hiding from the Congolese government, a situation that’s only vaguely explained to readers but a clear and ever present worry for Anaïs and her family. There are also the usual markers of an American school year: holiday observances, school projects, and friendship ups and downs. ELL teacher Freeman realistically populates Anaïs’ classroom with other immigrant children, including a Somali girl and an Iraqi boy, deftly disproving monolithic notions of both Africa and Islam. She expressly writes for an audience of English-speaking and presumably native-born Americans while articulating the hope that “one day soon…my students will write their own stories.” A touching if incomplete fictional glimpse at one immigrant girl’s experience.”
Kirkus Reviews

Groups Represented
Congolese American

Main character has friends who are:
Iraqi American
Somali American

Theme: Building Futures
Theme: Cross-Group Friendship
Theme: Education & Literacy
Theme: Family Separation
Theme: Fleeing Persecution
Theme: Grandparents & Intergenerational
Theme: Learning English

United States (Maine)

Engagement Projects & Resources

READ & SHARE Educator’s Guide

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