Miriam’s Secret by Debby Waldman

March, 1940. Eleven year old Miriam is sent to her grandparents farm while her parents travel to Germany. Their goal is to help Miriam’s Uncle Avram and infant cousins make the ocean journey to America. Miriam, meanwhile, is all puzzlement at farm life; she hasn’t stayed with Bubby and Zayde since she was a baby herself. And when she learns her parents won’t be back in time for Passover, she is not pleased. Passover home in Brooklyn was a big, community-wide celebration. How can Passover on a farm with only herself, Bubby, and Zayde be anything the same?

From the synopsis:

But one day Miriam discovers a young girl

— let me interrupt, the “young girl” is, like Miriam, eleven —

named Cissy hiding in the barn. Cissy came to the farm with her brother, Joe, one of Zayde’s migrant workers. Despite their differences, the two girls hit it off immediately.

Well, almost immediately. Miriam is not used to barns, much less chickens, rough ladders, and all the noises of a farm. Cissy is much more comfortable and adept at navigating the farm. And at hiding herself.

Because Cissy is a secret. She is terrified that if anyone discovers she is there, she and Joe will be made to leave. The siblings have a plan, but that plan requires a lot of hard work as they make their way from Mississippi to New York, traveling on freight carts and labouring at any farms they pass, like the many other wandering workers during the great Depression. Cissy isn’t taking any chances on being sent to an orphanage, and she won’t let Miriam endanger them, either.

From their initial and accidental meeting, Miriam and Cissy’s friendship grows by leaps and bounds as they learn to trust each other. They’re both curious about each other — city life, country life, Russian-Jewish-American practices, black Christian American practices, family and home life, seder — but there is one great divide. Miriam is sure Bubby and Zayde would help Cissy and Joe. Cissy has no reason to trust adult strangers.

If you’re looking for a book with a lot action, this is not the one for you. If, however, you’re looking for a gentle story of friendship between two girls from different backgrounds who have a lot of common on the inside, in a slice-of-life story that ends with hope, curl up with a blanket and a mug of hot cocoa, because Miriam’s Secret is what you’ve been looking for.