________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 16 . . . . April 3, 2009

cover A New Life. [Previous title: Coming to Canada].

Rukhsana Khan. Illustrated by Nasrin Khosravi.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2008/9.
61 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-0-88899-930-6.

Subject Headings:
Immigrant children-Canada-Juvenile fiction.
Immigrants-Canada-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Valerie Nielsen.

*** /4

Eight year old Khadija and her family have come to Canada from Pakistan. Her older brother Hamza hates their new country and their new life. They are so much poorer in Canada, and it is so hard to understand what people are saying. As Khadija expresses it: “The feeling of not being able to swim and hardly being able to touch bottom is kind of how I feel as I try to learn English.” Fortunately, at school there is Mrs. Shankar who speaks Urdu and Mrs. Baker who works with the students whose native language is not English. After a week, Khadija is getting used to the school schedule with its shrill recess bells; however, one thing puzzles her.

internal art

The teacher makes us line up at a white boxy thing that sticks out of the wall. It has a knob on the side that you turn and a little shiny part at the top where the water squirts out. All the kids are eager to stick their tongues in the water, and they linger so the teacher has to count their turn?1,2,3…I try to look eager too, but what good is wetting your tongue? I wish I had a cup…I’d just love a drink of water!

     While Khadija is beginning to make friends and feel comfortable at school, her brother feels lonely and out of place. The progress of the two children’s new life carries on as narrated by the little girl. Things improve slowly but surely. After two years, their father gets his teaching certificate and takes his family on a road trip across their new country. By the end of the book, they have all become Canadian citizens and are awaiting the first visit of “Daddiami,” the children’s beloved grandmother.

     Rukhsana Khan is an author who focuses on telling tales of diversity. She has an ability to blend poetic storytelling and stark realism. Several of the 11 books she has written have been short listed for awards. Her latest work is a YA novel entitled Wanting Mor which will be published in the spring of 2009 by Groundwood. According to an article in Quill and Quire, she is hoping that the novel will counter the narrow picture of life in Afghanistan that she feels was depicted in Deborah Ellis’s The Breadwinner.

     A New Life is enlivened with illustrations by well-known Iranian-born artist Nasrin Khosravi whose whimsical, somewhat surrealistic paintings are integrated with the text on every page.

     Khan’s choice to tell the immigrants’ story in the present tense through the eyes (and in the voice of) the eight-year-old protagonist works quite well, giving a sense of immediacy to the narration. It is clear that the author, who herself came to Canada as a child from Pakistan and dealt with racism at school, is building on her memories of growing up. The experiences that both children have in school should surely ring true with many new Canadians. A New Life (originally published as Coming to Canada) was commissioned by the federal Department of Citizenship and Immigration and well be given to all immigrant families who have young children. The trade version should certainly prove a valuable resource for elementary and middle school libraries. It will also be especially useful for EAL teachers working with children in the 6 to 12 age range.


A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.