The Art of Titling a Book

  • November 9, 2009
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I’m often asked why I titled my upcoming book, Is It Night or Day? Warning: what follows is a bit of a spoiler. An explanation of the title appears on page 205 of the book. For those who don’t want to wait, read on.

The cover of my new book, "Is It Night or Day?"

My new book is about child immigration. Throughout history, many families have made the painful decision to send their children alone to safety. Cuban families during the revolution sent their children to America through Operation Pedro Pan. Some Mexican families have moved their children here for a better education, where they are known as undocumented students. During the potato famine, the Irish would hold “American wakes” for their children who were about to board the ship to make the crossing. As I wrote in the Afterword of the novel, “These drastic uprootings cast these young people adrift, even as they are rescued.”

So how did I arrive at the title, Is It Night or Day?

It comes from another group of child immigrants. In recent years, more than 27,000 child refugees have fled the Sudanese civil war to come to America.

Here is what’s on page 205: “In 2001, three ‘Lost Boys,’ as they are called, arrived in the Minneapolis airport one January evening, after a three-day journey from Africa, where they had suffered through homelessness, lion attacks, and tribal wars. Immediately, the boys found themselves in a new world of white faces, overhead lighting, moving walkways, flushing toilets and blaring televisions.

The New York Times Magazine reported that as one of the boys looked out the airport window at the swirling white snow against the dark gray sky, he asked a church caseworker, ‘Excuse me, Can you tell me, please, is it now night or day?’”

That question perfectly depicts the displacement and disorientation of the child immigrant.

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