True Story: Immigrant Biographies Are for Kids

MIDVALE, Utah – Author Karl Beckstrand never has drama working with other writers — but then, he’s only worked with dead ones.

Beckstrand’s 24th and 25th books are the latest in a nonfiction series on immigrant children, Young American Immigrants, published by Premio Publishing in Midvale.

“Agnes’s Rescue: The True Story of an Immigrant Girl,” released in April, is taken from the Scottish protagonist’s childhood recollections–transcribed by her youngest daughter, Veara Southworth Fife.

Born in Glasgow in the 1840s, Agnes Caldwell Southworth lost her father at sea. When Agnes was nine years old, her mother, hoping for a better life, sold everything to buy the family passage to America. At the last minute, they had to leave one of Agnes’s brothers behind — never to see him again.

Arriving in New York, they take a train to the end of the line in Iowa, where they join the Willie handcart company and continue west 1,200 miles–on foot. Plundered by Indians, stampeded by buffalo and enduring countless losses, their progress is belabored. Agnes’s shoes wear out crossing the Continental Divide. She enters the Rockies in blizzard conditions, starving and barefoot.

“You don’t make up a story like this,” says Beckstrand, “I could never have dreamed the ending.” Stunningly illustrated by Sean Sullivan, “Agnes’s Rescue” is sure to captivate even die-hard fiction lovers.

This biographical picture book is special to Beckstrand. “It’s about my Scottish-Irish great-great-grandmother.” Perhaps the most amazing thing about the story is that Beckstrand’s collaborator is Agnes’s 15th child, born in 1896 — and Beckstrand got to meet his Great-great-aunt Veara as a boy. Beckstrand is proud he could make her a published author posthumously.

Beckstrand’s newest title, “Samuel Sailing: The True Story of an Immigrant Boy” is the fourth in his immigrant series. “It’s the story of my great uncle, whose parents had to leave him behind, at 11 years old, in South Africa after he contracted typhoid fever,” said Beckstrand.

The family wasn’t cold-hearted; they had sold everything to purchase passage to America before Samuel’s diagnosis. With the outbreak of WWI, it was unlikely the family would have been able to make the journey again anytime soon. Samuel’s parents agonized over what to do, but they felt directed by God to go ahead with their plans — not knowing whether they would see their boy again.

“As a boy I heard Samuel’s story and always wondered how his parents could make such a difficult choice,” said Beckstrand. “Samuel’s courage had a great impact on me; I want other people to hear of it too.” This story is taken from Beckstrand’s great-grandparents’ account and other family journals.

“My first collaboration with a dead author was my grandfather Ransom Wilcox,” said Beckstrand. “I polished and expanded a manuscript he’d written many years ago–and we won an International Book Award for ‘To Swallow the Earth: A Western Thriller.’” Beckstrand also edited and published a book of short stories his grandfather penned.

The other two titles in the Young American Immigrants series are: “Ida’s Witness” and “Anna’s Prayer.” Many of Beckstrand’s books have multicultural characters, and many are Spanish/bilingual mysteries with language pronunciation guides. Most have online extras and surprise endings.

Beckstrand’s work has been praised by Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, The Horn Book and School Library Journal. All may be found at Amazon, Apple,, Follett, Ingram, Library Direct, SCRIBD,, and

Premio Publishing & Gozo Books
Premio Publishing & Gozo Books

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