Walking home from school past the piles of burning slag, protecting the younger children from bullies, rolling out the golden dough for the cutting of noodles, and helping Mama care for the boarders were all in a day's work for Zuska Stebina. Would the mine close? Would she have new white shoes for Easter? Where was Mr. Simek when the other men were rescued from the cave-in? These cares and many others too weighty for the fourth grader from Pinet Hill Camp pressed upon her dream of a little house on a farm and safe life for her family.
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Alvena Vajdak Seckar, artist and author, was born of Slovak immigrant parents on March 1, 1916 in the coal mining town of McMechen, West Virginia. Like the characters in her books, Alvena’s family moved from mining town to mining town pursuing a meager and perilous existence. From the depths of her experiences, Alvena has been able to draw up the ideas and passion that she utilizes in both her artistry and her writing. It was in Allentown, Pennsylvania where a teacher discovered her talent and sponsored her for six years of art school. Alvena continued her studies at the University of Pennsylvania, thanks to a scholarship and to assistance from the sponsors of her earlier art school. She completed her bachelors’ degree at New York University in 1939 and her masters’ in 1949.Review:
Part of a trilogy of young adult novels by Alvena Seckar, Zuska was first published in 1952. The story highlights the adventures of a preteen girl who lives in the W. Virginia coal mining camps with her Slovak immigrant parents. While the book is already a half-century old, it is still a worthwhile purchase for young adults today. Kids everywhere will be able to relate to Zuska's trials and triumphs, from dealing with the neighborhood bully to her feelings of shame toward her ''old fashioned'' parents. Children of America's newer immigrant groups, like the Latinos or Somalians, for example, will be able to relate to the financial struggles that her family faces, not to mention Zuska's occasional embarrassment at her parents' ''old ways.'' Americans in her town look down upon the immigrant miners and consider 'miner's kids' to be riffraff and a ''bad influence.'' One father even stops speaking to a son that marries a daughter of a Slovak immigrant. The book, part adventure/part mystery, also contains some moralistic messages, yet Seckar is neither preachy nor hits the reader over the head with these messages. When Zuska tells an American friend's father that she ''likes American games better than these funny ones from the Old Country,'' he gently advises her to keep the old customs as well as enjoying the new American customs ''...and you and we will be the richer for it. And don't forget your native language; then you'll know two languages which will be a proud accomplishment when you're grown.'' Again, this is sound advice for today's children of immigrants. Out of the 3 books in the Seckar trilogy, Zuska contains the most references to Slovak customs and would make a nice gift for young adults whose grandparents hailed from the old Czechoslovakia (or any other eastern European country at the turn of the century, for that matter). The publisher of these books, Bolchazy-Carducci, is to be commended for re-issuing Seckar's timeless tales. In 1952, Zuska earned a spot on the NY Times list of the Hundred Best Books for children. The book is illustrated throughout with b&w drawings. ---Virginia Parobek
Alvena Seckar is the author of three outstanding stories for young readers exploring social injustice, promoting ethnic and racial tolerance, raising environmental consciousness, and celebrating cultural diversity.
Alvena Seckar is a master storyteller who brings compassion, historical accuracy, and genuine creativity to her memorable characters, entertaining stories, and presentations of working men and women, boys and girls, as people of dignity, with justifiable pride in their jobs, their families, and themselves. --- Children's Bookwatch
August 2000 p. 3
Miss Seckar's book is outstanding in its power to create pity for the mining town she knew as a child...and in its happy way of tackling the troubles of the child of immigrant parents. Also, it presents the working men as people of dignity and pride in their jobs. --- Louise S. Bechtel
New York Herald Tribune
May 11, 1952
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