Title: Yossel’s Journey
Author: Kathryn Lasky
Major Themes: Jews, Navajo, American Southwest, New Mexico
Synopsis: When Yossel and his family flee pogroms in Russia, they make a new home and friends on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico.
I remember discovering Kathryn Lasky’s books about 30 years ago. At that time, I was quite impressed with them; her picture books were a breath of fresh air—a new style! I still like them. I found Yossel’s Journey a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve read it to my younger children a couple of times now. When I read it this evening, everyone from age 12 on down to 3 was hanging over the book, listening intently and studying the pictures.
Yossel and his family lived in a village in Russia. When the soldiers were trying to hurt his Jewish people, his Papa and Mama decided the family must move to America. Yossel was very sad to leave his home. After a long trip, they arrived in New York City—but this family was not going to stay there! They set off on a long trip across America, and finally arrived in New Mexico, where they had inherited a small trading post on the Navajo Indian Reservation.
Yossel felt very lonely. He had left his best friend Moishe behind in Russia, and now he couldn’t speak the language of the people around him. Slowly, he began to make new friends, but it’s hard to tell jokes when you don’t know the language! Little by little, with the help of his new friend Thomas and Thomas’s naughty sheep Star Eye, Yossel started to feel at home and learned to communicate better. Then one day, when Yossel was visiting Thomas’s family, something very special happened and Yossel really felt at home.
The pictures in this beautiful book are unique. They give the flavor of the Navajo people among whom Yossel went to live. The colors remind me of Navajo art. I’m not sure what medium was used to create them, but they are gorgeous. I also like the way the author and artist have shown the contrast between the two cultures—Russian Jew and Navajo—and how the two peoples could learn to appreciate each other. The author’s note at the end of Yossel’s Journey is really interesting; I had no idea that Jewish people settled in the American Southwest! This note makes the book quite interesting to adults as well as to children.
I received a review copy of this book from NetGalley, and these are my honest thoughts about it.
Listening Level—Ages 3 – 4, 5 – 8
Reading Independently—Ages 7 – 9, 8 – 12