“I call my type of inspiration ‘the pebble in my shoe’ inspiration, that little pebble I can’t seem to shake out of my mind! Life gives me a lot of them.” (Alvarez, “In her own words” p.5).
Return to Sender tells the story of two children coming to terms with the realities of life within the context of immigration and the United States. In her review of the book Sonja Bollee writes, “There is a great deal of recent children’s fiction about immigration, but it tends to the earnest rather than the artful. Alvarez. . .focuses on the children and their dawning comprehension of the complexities of the adult world” (Sonja Bollee, January 25, 2009, LA Times). This is what makes the book such a valuable resource. The reader gets to see through the eyes of the children how they come to grips with the complicated choices we must make when faced with this issue of immigration and how we decide what it really means to be a citizen.
Return to Sender might not go into great depth in terms of the complicated nature of immigration law and reform, but for our students it will begin to unveil the complexity of the issue of immigration. It shows that many things we thought we could understand in black and white, can really only be understood in shades of grey. Notions of right and wrong aren’t always easy to pin down, but instead become the “pebble in our shoe” that we just can’t seem to get rid of, that we may struggle with throughout our lives.
Not only will the book encourage our students to be critical thinkers, but it will help them begin to negotiate the complex spaces they may have once thought quite simple. That is the power of good literature. In a quote about the book, Alvarez writes, “This is the wonderful thing about stories. The impossible is possible. . .There are no borders” (Return to Sender, p. 323). Stories like this push our students to think beyond their own world, or their own borders, and thus posit solutions to the problems the adult world poses. Hopefully, they learn that “by understanding another point of view we bridge the differences between ourselves and another human being” (Alvarez “In her own words” p. 8)
For more on using Return to Sender in your classroom check out our Educator Guides section for lesson plans and activities, Julia Alvarez’s home page, or Return to Sender in the Américas Award section.