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To the Copper Country

Mihaela's Journey

Barbara Carney-Coston

Award Winner

Young Readers, Michigan, Upper Peninsula

Great Lakes Books Series

Published: September 2017
ISBN: 9780814343630
Pages: 104 Size: 5.5 x 8.25
Illustrations: 12 b&w illus.
Published: September 2017
ISBN: 9780814343647

In 1886, eleven-year-old Mihaela embarks on a journey from Croatia to the Keweenaw Peninsula, also known as Michigan’s Copper Country. Mihaela’s papa had made the trip two years beforehand in order to work in the copper mines so that he could send money back home, but a painful eye disease has left him vulnerable in a new land and in need of the skills of his wife, an expert healer. And so Mihaela, her mother, and two younger brothers leave their family farm in Croatia for what they assume will be a brief visit to America, only to find themselves faced with a great many challenges and a stay that will not be temporary after all.

To the Copper Country: Mihaela’s Journey is based on the family history of author Barbara Carney-Coston. Her ancestors made the voyage from Croatia to Michigan in the late nineteenth century, a time when many different groups were immigrating to the United States in search of a new life and better opportunities for their families. A common thread runs throughout the accounts of most immigrants, in terms of sacrifice, assimilation, and cultural contribution to a growing America. But Mihaela’s story is unique in that her exploration of this new land is critical to her father’s survival.

Through extensive primary source materials, family interviews, and correspondence, Carney-Coston introduces readers to an exceptional narrative of the immigrant experience. Complete with a pronunciation guide, family recipes, and a bibliography, To the Copper Country aims to highlight a lesser-known ethnic group that made up part of the great migration of the late 1800s while also identifying parallels between today’s immigrant experiences and those of the past. This book is suitable for young readers and would be an excellent tool for teaching empathy and Michigan history in the classroom.

Barbara Carney-Coston is an award-winning media producer, writer, and educator. She began her career as a teacher and then worked in educational television, producing programs for public television, The Learning Channel and a variety of private clients. For National Geographic, she produced many web features, including one about the Underground Railroad that won a Parents’ Choice award and was designated an ALA Notable Website. She has written for Highlights for Children, Hopscotch, and Washington Parent magazines. Born in Detroit, she spent many happy summers in northern Michigan before moving to the Washington, DC, area, where she lives with her husband.

This is an engaging story with nicely drawn characters, relevant historical information, and wonderful descriptions of Mihaela’s village in Croatia and her new home in Calumet.

– Laura E. Scott, head of children's services, Farmington Community Library–Main Library

Meticulously researched and beautifully written, To the Copper Country is a compelling and uncommon immigrant story about the struggles of a Croatian farming family in an 1880s Michigan mining town. Based on the author’s ancestors, it will have readers wondering what happens next? even after they turn the last page.

– Ellen R. Braaf, columnist and feature writer for ASK Magazine for Kids

The author has retained the distinct voice of the young protagonist, Mihaela, with nuanced, believable descriptions of her changing emotional state, as well as vivid natural descriptions throughout.

– Laurie Lanzen Harris, publisher of Favorable Impressions and author of The Detroit Symphony Orchestra: Grace Grit, and Glory (Wayne State University Press, 2016)

While To the Copper Country is written for young adults, it is equally enjoyable for adult readers.

– Zinta Aistars, Between the Lines (WMUK)

This is easily a top candidate for selection as one of the Michigan Notable Books of the Year [ . . . ]

– Ray Walsh, Lansing State Journal

Carney-Coston's immigration story and additional material - historic photos, family recipes, map and annotated bibliography - may prompt young readers to ask questions about their long-ago relatives when extended family gathers round the Thanksgiving table.

– Mary Quattlebaum, Washington Parent

Written for young adults, this little work of fiction is based on the stories Carney-Coston heard growing up about her grandmother's emigration from Croatia to the UP. Through these entertaining chapters describing Makaela's experiences at the turn of the twentieth century, children are introduced to a number of Croatian terms and customs. Included are a few photographs of the mines, an annotated bibliography, a helpful list of additional books for young readers, and a very welcome bonus - family recipe for sarma, pasties, and povitica!

– Susan Eileen Paton, The Michigan Historical Review

  • 2017 Midwest Book Awards - Result: Winner in the Children's Fiction category
  • 2018 State History Award - Result: Winner in the "Books: Children & Youth" category