From School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Katerina's father's dreams of a better life brought the family of five from Bohemia to America, but now, in the spring of 1901, instead of the prosperous farm he envisioned, they are in a coal-mining camp in southern Colorado, and his wages are barely enough to eke out a living. Katerina, 13, is a pragmatist like her mother, but when she sees a carp in the creek, she is reminded of the folktale her grandmother told her in which a fish granted an old couple three wishes. Their neighbor, Old Jan, retells the story that evening, and when her younger sisters make silly wishes, Katerina is amazed to see them come true. Not fully believing in the carp's magic, Katerina is still determined not to waste the final wish on something frivolous. She finds herself working harder and coming up with creative ways to add a few extra coins to the family's tobacco can. As the savings slowly grow, the idea of a farm does not seem so far-fetched. Complicating matters is Old Jan's son, who has begun courting Katerina, and she is drawn to him, but she cannot reconcile herself to a future in the mining camp. Even after a terrible accident leaves him injured and many of the miners dead, he is hesitant to venture away from the work he has known. Katerina comes to realize that although life is not a fairy tale with magic fish, believing and persevering can make dreams come true. Similar in subject matter to Susan Campbell Bartoletti's A Coal Miner's Bride (Scholastic, 2000), this is solid historical fiction with a touch of whimsy and romance.-Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VAα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
*Starred Review* In 1900, Katerina’s family left Bohemia for America in hopes of owning a farm. Instead, Papa works in a Colorado coal mine, while 13-year-old Katerina and her sisters help Mama mind the house and do laundry for other miners. Initially prone to daydreaming and wishing, Katerina decides to work hard and earn a path out of the mining camp for her family. When her plans backfire, all seems lost, but she and her family are as resilient as their friends are supportive. One of those friends is Mark, and throughout the story her attachment to him slowly grows, though his insistence on mining, despite a life-threatening accident, causes a rift. This vividly imagined first-person narrative features a number of distinct characters within an unusual historical setting. Neighbors within the camp are divided into national groups by suspicion and prejudice as well as cultural and language differences, an issue handled with sensitivity. From the search for chicken coop materials to the gathering of women waiting for news after a mining disaster, realistic details bring the story to life. The inclusion of European folktales within the narrative frames individual dilemmas within a broader context, and a note on the Colorado coal camps and the author’s research adds dimension to this multi-dimensional first novel. Grades 4-6. --Carolyn Phelan