Hello there, readers: This week’s ¡Mira, Look! is a double header! I’ve reviewed two wonderful children’s books regarding one of January’s theme’s- immigration. These books, written by the same author, offer two beautifully crafted stories that bring to light the tragic reality that many first- and second-generation immigrant children must deal with: family separation.
In these stories, the protagonists cross the border in order to be reunited with their mothers. The two books complement each other and reflect the diversity of immigrant experiences and legal situations. They depict situations on different sides of the north/south border spectrum: a boy who migrates north through Central America to reunite with his mother, and a boy who heads south to Mexico to visit his mother who has been deported.
The first book we will look at is My Shoes and I, written by René Colato Laínez and illustrated by Fabricio Vanden Broeck. Here is a review from Goodreads:
A timely and inspiring story. Mario is leaving his home in El Salvador. With his father by his side, he is going north to join his mother, who lives in the United States. She has sent Mario a new pair of shoes. He will need good shoes because the journey north will be long and hard. He and his father will cross the borders of three countries. They will walk for miles, ride buses, climb mountains, and cross a river. Mario has faith in his shoes. He believes they will take him anywhere. On this day, they will take him to the United States, where his family will be reunited.
This book, reminiscent of an adventure story, depicts the journey that Mario undergoes with his father across Central America to reunite with his mother in the U.S. The book delicately includes a glimpse of the dangerous aspects of this migration that Mario endures, such as being chased by dogs, escaping out of a flooded trailer, and crossing a raging river. As Mario’s shoes deteriorate, he does not give up on them, but rather sings them a lullaby and reassures them that they will make it.
The book provides a happy ending in which Mario and his father reunite with his mother just as he crosses the border into U.S. territory. His story reveals to the reader how difficult and tiring it truly is to cross the border, an experience that many children across American classrooms today have actually gone through. Though the story depicts a controversial act of ‘unauthorized’ migration, the author avoids any politically tinged details or comments; instead, he makes the story all about reuniting family, something that every reader can agree upon and understand.
- Here are some resources and activities compiled by the author to accompany the book. The website also includes links to learn more about the particular artistic style (inspired by Spanish exvotos) used in the illustrations.
The second book, From North to South/Del norte al sur, is also written, of course, by René Colato Laínez, but is illustrated by Joe Cepeda. Here is a review from Goodreads:
José loves helping Mama in the garden outside their home in California. But when Mama is sent back to Mexico for not having citizenship papers, Jose and his Papa face an uncertain future. What will it be like to visit Mama in Tijuana? When will she be able to come home? Award-winning children’s book author René Colato Laínez tackles the difficult and timely subject of family separation with exquisite tenderness. He is donating a portion of his royalties to the Centro Madre Assunta, a refuge for women and children who are waiting to be reunited with their families in the United States. Joe Cepeda’s bright and engaging illustrations bring this story of hope to vivid life.
This book stands out from the other in that it is bilingual. It also includes a nice introduction in which the author explains that his work is inspired by the immigrant experiences of himself and of his elementary school students. The story is also unique in that it features a real-life refuge center that Jose’s mom stays at, El Centro Madre Assuna. This is where Jose is reunited with his mother and where he meets dozens of children who have been separated from their parents. He realizes how lucky he is to see his mother, and spends the day with her and the other children in the garden planting seeds in honor and memory of their separated family members.
At the end of the day Jose’s father tells him it is time to go back to San Diego. He lies with his mom in the car for a bit longer while she tells him a story. The book ends by describing Jose’s dream, that his mom had the right papers and they crossed the border together. “The sky filled with fireworks and he knew that all the other children would see their parents soon too.”
If you would like to see more about the story, here is a video trailer for From North to South/Del norte al sur.
- Here are some lesson plans and resources compiled by the author to accompany the book.
Both of these heartwarming yet heart-wrenching stories humanize immigrants and their experiences. The protagonists display strength, courage, hope, and maturity in the face of awful situations. Reading this book can allow for immigrant children who have experienced similar situations to see their family and their migration in a positive light, giving them confidence and allowing them the comfort of knowing that they are not alone. For readers who aren’t personally familiar with these travails, the books help build empathy by humanizing the experiences that immigrant children frequently endure, particularly those who cross into the United States without documentation. All in all, these are great selections that any and every child should read.
Check out the author’s website to read his biography and see his other work.
I look forward to bringing you more reviews on children’s books that tackle issues of human and civil rights. Stay tuned!
Images: Modified from illustrations, My Shoes and I, & From North to South/Del norte al sur.