Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Book Review: The World So Fair

Title: The World So Fair

Author: Karen Peyton

Publisher: E.M. Hale

Date: 1967

Length: 232 pages

Quote: “Home was where you came back to from where you had been. From home you could start over—or go ahead.”

Immigrants In America seems not to be a major genre of American novels-for-children any more. It used to be, and The World So Fair is a classic example of the genre: the story of Val, Norwegian-American teen orphan, and her Aunt Siri, in old Minnesota. Long trips are taken on trains. People raise wheat. Hard work and untimely deaths happen. We know that Val will survive everything, have a good life, and probably marry well, because she is a valiant pioneer girl who doesn't demand that things go her way in order for her to be happy. The rest of the story will be, basically, atmosphere, teaching us what songs Val sang, what foods she cooked, what her first few jobs were like, what school and dating were like, even how holidays were celebrated.

Lots of families had ancestors like Val, who came to the U.S. “through Ellis Island” around the turn of the twentieth century. In 1967 the success of novels like The World So Fair depended on the number of those ancestors who were still alive and could say “Ja, this is the way things were.” A tiny bit of sentimentality was allowed—on the front cover of The World So Fair we see that Val's face was pretty in a way that was not fashionable in 1907, but was fashionable in 1967.

Novels as didactic as this one often contained plenty of foreign words, as The World So Fair does; usually they also contained glossaries, as The World So Fair should, but does not. Children thus learn when Norwegian immigrants used Norwegian expressions, but not how the expressions were pronounced or what literal meaning they had (if any). Aside from that, this is a nice, wholesome, family-friendly story about a nice, wholesome family, working through grief, holding on.

Several people in cyberspace are currently using the name "Karen Peyton." None of them seems to be the author of this novel. In the absence of evidence that the author of The World So Fair is alive we can't offer this title as a Fair Trade Book. And it's become a collector's item, with library copies selling for $10 and up, so the $15 per book ($50 if you want a hardcover copy without library-damage) does not directly benefit a living writer. However, it's a slim book and would fit into the same package with one or more Fair Trade Books for one $5 shipping charge. To buy it online, send payment to either of the addresses at the very bottom of this page.