Educator’s Guide: Journey of Dreams

Educator’s Guide: Journey of Dreams

Journey of Dreams by Marge Pellegrino is the selection for the LAII’s Vamos a Leer book group meeting scheduled for April 1, 2013.

The following information comprises a standards-based educator’s guide that the LAII has produced to support using Journey of Dreams (Pellegrino, Frances Lincoln, 2009) in the classroom.  The standards are not included here, but are included with the lesson plans in the PDF. The complete guide is available for download at no cost: Vamos a Leer Educator’s Guide: Journey of Dreams.

To read our thoughts on the novel, see our book review.


For the peaceful highlanders of Guatemala, life has become a nightmare. Helicopters slash like machetes through the once-quiet air. Soldiers patrol the streets, hunting down suspected guerillas. Villagers mysteriously disappear and children are recruited as soldiers. Tomasa’s family is growing increasingly desperate, especially after Mama goes into hiding with Tomasa’s oldest brother. Finally, after their house is razed to the ground and the villagers massacred, Tomasa, Manuelito, and baby Maria set off with Papa on a perilous journey to find Mama and Carlos, only to discover that where one journey ends, another begins. This gripping novel tells the story of how Tomasa’s family survives the Guatemalan army’s brutal regime and how, in the midst of tragedy, their love and loyalty — and Papa’s storytelling — keeps them going on their harrowing journey as refugees to the United States. Mirrored in the tapestries of Tomasa’s dreams, the dramatic events of the Guatemalan army’s “scorched earth” campaign of the 1980s are tempered with hope and the generosity of the human spirit.


A little bit more about Marge Pellegrino:

Marge Pellegrino jumped out of business and into the writing world in 1984. Passionate about sharing the power she’s found in words, Marge leads writers of all ages in workshops that make them think in new ways and discover their own voices.

Awards and honors:
Juried member of the Arizona Commission on the Arts Artist Roster, 1998-present. As a teaching artist, Marge has been nominated for the Tucson Pima Arts Council’s Lumie Award 2008, Governor’s Award 2009 and named Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly, December, 2006.

Her Word Journeys program at the Pima County Public Library was a finalist for the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities’ Coming Up Taller Award for excellence in after school programming in 2007 and won that distinction in 2008.

Writing awards include

  • Judy Goddard young adult literature award, 2009.
  • Personality profile earned, AZ Press Club Award, 2007.
  • Second Place Poetry, SandScript Literary Journal Spring, 2003.
  • Writers Digest, Memoirs/Personal Essay honorable mention, 2002.
  • SouthWest Writers grand prize Storyteller Award and 1st Place in YA Fiction, 2002.

Check out Marge Pellegrino’s website for more information on her other books and the multiple ways she’s involved in the community.


The following lesson plans are divided into two sections:

  • A short section of suggested activities that can be used before, during or after the reading of the novel which are organized thematically by different subject areas
  • Guided reading questions  organized by chapter

In addition to the lesson plans and activities included here, check out the excellent writing prompts and discussion questions Marge Pellegrino created for Journey of Dreams here.


Find Guatemala on a map.  Then find the cities that Tomasa and her family traveled to: Guatemala City, Mexico City, Tucson, and Phoenix.  Trace one route that Tomasa’s family may have taken to get from Guatemala City to Mexico City.  Remember, they crossed where Mexico and Guatemala meet at a river.  Next, trace a possible path from Mexico City to Tucson.  Check the path created by the class, with the map provided at the end of the book.  Think about what it would have been like to travel this distance—much of it on foot.  How would you have felt if you were Tomasa?

Social Studies and History:

Día de los Muertos in Guatemala
When the children meet Juana in Mexico City, she tells them about her village’s tradition of creating kites as part of All Souls’ Day (which is also known by some as Día de los Muertos).  The links below provide lesson plans and resources to help teach about this tradition in the classroom.

Using available resources, have students research this tradition.  If students are familiar with Día de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico, ask them to compare and contrast the two countries’ traditions.  If time permits, allow students to create their own kite

The Maya:
Tomasa and her family are Mayan, and this an important part of understanding the story.  Many students may not be knowledgeable about who the Maya are, their history, or their cultural traditions.  Using appropriate print or online resources have students research the Maya, creating a poster presentation, essay, or some other form for communicating what they’ve learned.  This could be done in small groups or individually.  Brown University put together the following unit: Culture Connect: Experience the Culture of the World, which would also be useful.  One section of this unit is dedicated to the Maya of Guatemala, focusing on their tradition of weaving.  This provides a more structured lesson plan for the entire class to participate in as a whole group.

Other lesson plans and resources on the Maya can be found at:

Rigoberta Menchú and Human Rights Activism in Guatemala:
In Journey of Dreams Pellegrino alludes to the violence and human rights abuses many Guatemalans suffered during the Guatemalan Civil War.  Depending upon the grade level of students reading the book, it may be appropriate to delve deeper into the details of this period of Guatemalan history.  Rigoberta Menchú, an indigenous women from Guatemala, is well known for her efforts to expose the human rights violations suffered by many indigenous peoples in Latin America.  In 1992 she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.  There are a number of resources available to help teach about her efforts:

The Sanctuary Movement:
The Sanctuary Movement, or El Sanctuario, play an important role in aiding Tomasa’s family in fleeing to the United States.  Research with students what this movement was: Who was involved in it?  How did it work?  Were there repercussions for those involved? Why have some compared it to the Underground Railroad?

Guatemalan Immigration:
Immigration has been a heated topic for a number of years now, and more than likely will continue to be highly debated.  Often left out of the discussion or debate is why such large numbers of people attempt to immigrate from Latin America.  The film, Harvest of Empire, based on the book by Juan González, looks at this very issue—going country by country through Latin America looking at how U.S. economic and military interests contributed to dramatically increasing numbers in immigration. A section of the film looks specifically at Guatemala.  Have students watch this section and discuss the factors that contributed to Guatemalan immigration to the U.S.  The film does include some graphic images, so previewing the film to be sure of grade level appropriateness is encouraged.

Guided Reading Questions:

Chapter One:

  1. Where and when does this story take place? (p. 7)
  2. What is the dark shadow that the children are fleeing from? (p. 7)
  3. What does the owl symbolize? Is seeing an owl a good or bad omen? What do you think it means for Tomasa’s family? (p. 11)
  4. What does Tomasa’s family do at the market? (p. 18-21)
  5. What happens to Hector and Carlos when they’re returning from the market? (p. 24)
  6. Make a prediction: Do you think Papa will be able to bring them back?

Chapter Two:

  1. What do Tomasa, Mama, and Abuela do to calm themselves while they wait for news about Carlos? (p. 25-26)
  2. How would you feel if you were Tomasa waiting to hear about your brother?
  3. What has happened to Hector? Where is he? (p. 29)
  4. What does Tomasa dream about that night? (p. 30)
  5. Explain what you think Tomasa’s dream means.

Chapter Three:

  1. As nervous as Catarina is, what do you think the chances are that Hector will return from the army? (p. 31)
  2. How do we know that Catarina is nervous? What is her body language like? (p. 31)
  3. What does Mama say is coming out of the plane? What happened the last time the plane spread chemicals in the fields? What do you think these chemicals are? (p. 35)
  4. Think about how the women respond to the things that Mama says.  Do you think they agree with her? Why do you think they act the way they do? (p. 35-36)
  5. What is thrown into Tomasa’s home? What does it say? Who do you think it is intended for? What do you think it means? (p. 36-37)

Chapter Four:

  1. What does the second message say? Do you think it’s good or bad? How can you tell? (p. 39)
  2. Why do you think Mama and Carlos have left? (p. 39-40)
  3. Think about the story Papa tells about the wasps and the Jaguars.  Why do you think he told this story the day that Mama and Carlos leave? (p. 41)
  4. What does Tomasa’s drawing symbolize? (p. 41)

Chapter Five:

  1. Will Tomasa be returning to school? Why? (p. 45-46)
  2. What is the deeper meaning in Papa’s story for Tomasa? Think about what she dreams that night (47-49).

Chapter Six:

  1. How do the women act when Tomasa goes to wash clothes with them? (p. 50)
  2. What does Abuela tell Tomasa about the women? How is it related to Mama and Carlos leaving? (p. 51)
  3. Why would anyone want all of the families to move away? Who would benefit from that? (p. 52)
  4. What happens to the goat? Who do you think did this? Do you think it was the guerrillas or the soldiers? Why? (p. 53-54)
  5. Why do you think Papa wants the family to stay close to home? Why do you think he won’t let Tomasa go to the market? (p. 54-56)
  6. How are things changing in the village? (p. 57)
  7. Why do you think the school is closing and Maestro is leaving? The soldiers say there are too many problems in the village? What problems do you think they’re talking about? How would closing the school fix them? (p. 57)

Chapter Seven:

  1. What time of year is it now? How do you know? (p. 61)
  2. How do they celebrate Easter in Guatemala City? (p. 61)
  3. What trip is Papa preparing for? How does Manuelito feel about it? (p. 61)
  4. How does Abuela help Tomasa prepare for the trip? Is Abuela going to accompany them? (p. 62-63) How does she explain this to Tomasa?

Chapter Eight:

  1. What things are hidden in Tomasa’s skirt? (p. 67)
  2. Why must Abuela pretend that she is asleep? (p. 69)
  3. Who stops them as they are trying to leave? What does the family have to do? (p. 69-70)
  4. Imagine that you are not allowed to leave the city you live in.  How would that make you feel? How would that change your life?
  5. What interrupts the fiesta? Where are the booms and the shots coming from—is it in Tomasa’s village?  What do you think this means is happening in the next village? (p. 72-4)

Chapter Nine:

  1. Tomasa says that almost all the boys Carlos’ age have gone.  Where have they gone? (p. 75)
  2. Why do the people in the village treat Tomasa’s family the way they do? What are they afraid of? (p. 76)
  3. What happens as Tomasa, Papa and Manuelito are leaving the village? (p. 78) What do you think is happening?
  4. What does Tomasa do when she hears the shots and smells the smoke? (p. 78-79)
  5. What does the soldier do to Tomasa’s home?  Why do you think he does this? (p. 79)
  6. What happens to Abuela? (p. 79)
  7. Who stops the family? What does Papa say to try and convince the soldier to let them go? Why would the soldier, who is also Mayan, treat them this way?
  8. Think about what Abuela said before about how some people would want all the families to leave so that they could take over the land—have the soldiers accomplished this by destroying all the villages? Who will benefit with all the villagers dead?

Chapter Ten:

  1. Tomasa is speaking in similes when she says “Like the deer and the monkeys, the parrots and the toucans, we know to stay still and silent when the puma stalks” (p. 85).  Who does the puma stand for? Hint: who are they running and hiding from?
  2. Without her loom, paper or even the earth, where must Tomasa draw now? (p. 88)

 Chapter Eleven:

  1. Why would Tomasa’s face “become Mama’s” to Maria? (p. 91)
  2. Why do you think Maneulito is so angry with Mama? How would you feel if you were him? How do you think Mama feels? What would you have done if you were Mama—would you have stayed or gone? (p. 93)
  3. What do you think the smoke is from? Is this a good or bad sign for Tomasa’s family? (p. 94)
  4. How does Mauelito help save Maria? What does he find? How did he know to look for this? (p. 96-97)

Chapter Twelve:

  1. What did the mountain provide for Tomasa’s family as they were traveling? How does Tomasa describe the mountain? (p. 98)

Chapter Thirteen:

  1. Who are they going to stay with in the town? What are Tomasa and her siblings to call them? Do you think they are really family? Why? (p. 101, 103)
  2. What advice do Tío and Tía give to Papa about where to go? Should he go to Guatemala City? Why? (p. 105-106)
  3. What happens to those who criticize the soliders or the government? (p. 106)

Chapter Fourteen:

  1. Tía introduces Tomasa and Maria to her two daughters.  The two daughters react differently? Describe this.  Why do you think the second daughter acts the way she does? Is it because she doesn’t like Tomasa? Or, is there some other reason? (p. 110-111)
  2. Why would it be dangerous for a soldier to find the family’s identification cards? (p. 111-112)
  3. What does Tía suggest about Tomasa and Maria’s clothes? Why do you think it would be better for Tomasa and Maria not to wear the clothes their mother has embroidered? (p. 112-113)
  4. What other kindness do Tío and Tía show Tomasa’s family? Why do you think they do this? Would you do the same? (p. 114)
  5. Where is the family traveling to now? (p. 115)
  6. Why does the family sleep in their shoes? (p. 118)
  7. What is the bus ride like for the children? (p. 120-121)

Chapter Fifteen:

  1. How long has it been since the family has eaten? What do you think it would be like to be traveling long distances on foot without eating? Do you think you would be able to do it? (p. 124)
  2. Does the Mexican official let Tomasa’s family cross the bridge? (p. 125)
  3. What does the term coyote mean for Tomasa’s family? (p. 126-127)
  4. How is the family going to cross the border between Mexico and Guatemala now? (p. 127)
  5. What does Felipe tell them about his experiences trying to cross into Mexico legally? (p. 129-132)

Chapter Sixteen:

  1. What does the newspaper say about the guerrillas and the soldiers? Think about the family’s experience in their village.  Was it the guerrillas or the soldiers who burned down their home and tried to kill them? Why do you think the newspaper would write a more favorable story about the soliders? (p. 134)
  2. What happens when Tomasa tries to get on the raft to cross the river? Who helps to get her on? (p. 135-137)
  3. Does the family make it across to the Mexican side of the river? What happens? (p. 138-141)
  4. Do you think what the coyote makes Papa do is fair? (p. 141-142)

Chapter Seventeen:

  1. What happens their first day traveling in Mexico?  Where is the family taken back to? (p. 146-148)
  2. How long does it take them to earn enough money to pay the coyotes to cross again?

Chapter Eighteen:

  1. How does the third crossing go for Tomasa and her family? (p. 150)
  2. What surprises Tomasa when she climbs out of the truck? (p. 153)
  3. Where do Tomasa and her family stay at first when they get to Mexico City? Can you imagine living like that? (p. 155-160)
  4. Who do the children meet their first day in Mexico City? Why do you think they trust her? (p. 156-157)

Chapter Nineteen:

  1. How are the traditions of Tomasa’s village different from Juana’s? (p. 161)
  2. What is the significance of kites on All Souls’ Day in Juana’s village? (p. 162)
  3. What warning do the children receive about Juana? What do you think it means? (p. 164)
  4. What safe place does the family find to stay at? (p. 168)
  5. Why do you think Tomasa is reminded of Abuela when she tastes the plant? (p. 171)  Do you have a food, taste or smell that reminds you so someone special?
  6. How many days does it take the children to find Juana? Do you think she was worried about them? How can you tell? (p. 186)
  7. Why do you think Manuel is so attached to Juana? (p. 189)
  8. Who is Amelia? What news does she share with Tomasa’s family? (p. 191-193)
  9. What pictures does Tomasa draw for Amelia? How are the two pictures different? Why do you think the drawings make Tomasa cry? (p. 194)

Chapter Twenty:

  1. What has Juana been carrying on her back? Is it really her baby? (p. 198)
  2. What triggered Juana’s emotional scene with the doll? What happened in her past that has upset her so deeply? (p. 200-201)
  3. Who does Manuel begin to forgive when he hears Juana’s story? (p. 201)

Chapter Twenty-One:

  1. How would Tomasa’s family have celebrated the New Year in the highlands? (p. 204)
  2. What message does Hermana leave for Amelia to let her know the family is ready to be moved? (p. 207).
  3. When Tomasa, Manuel, Maria and Papa leave the convent, do they know where Mama and Carlos are? (p. 210)

Chapter Twenty-Two:

  1. How many miles do they travel to get to where they will find more help? (p. 212).
  2. What have they done to try and blend in, to look more Mexican and less Guatemalan? Why do they do this? (p. 214)

Chapter Twenty-Three:

  1. Why is Tomasa afraid of the priest? Why do you think she is surprised to find out he is the priest? (p. 215-216)
  2. Where does the family spend the night in Agua Prieto? (p. 216)

Chapter Twenty-Four:

  1. What will happen if the family is caught and can’t convince the border patrol that they are Mexican? Where will they be sent? (p. 219)
  2. Why do you think Amelia gave them brown and green clothes to wear? Think about what they had to do to cross the border.  How would this help them?
  3. What delays their trip? Do you think they’ll make it across in one day? (p. 223-224)
  4. Why do you think Tomasa is frightened by the mention of “rope”? Think about her earlier experiences crossing the border with rope. (p. 224)

Chapter Twenty-Five:

  1. What game do they have to play during the ride in the car? Why do you think they play this—what are they doing? (p. 228-229)
  2. When Tomasa wakes up, what city have they arrived in? Is that where they’re staying? (p. 231)

Chapter Twenty-Six:

  1. Who is waiting for them when they arrive at the house in Phoenix? (p. 236-237)
  2. Does Tomasa recognize her mother at first?  How does Tomasa describe her mother? (p. 236)
  3. Why do you think it was hard for Mama to hear the story about her family crossing the river? How do you think it made her feel? (p. 239-240)

Typically in our Educator’s Guides we include a section of reflective writing questions that provide the opportunity for extended responses.  The author of Journey of Dreams, Marge Pellegrino, has already done this, providing both discussion questions and writing prompts on her website:


Written by staff at the UNM Latin American & Iberian Institute (LAII), Vamos a Leer Educators Guides provide an excellent way to teach about Latin America through literacy.  Each guide is based upon a book featured in the Vamos a Leer book group.  For more materials that support teaching about Latin America in the classroom, visit the LAII website. This guide was prepared 4/2013 by Adam Flores, LAII Graduate Assistant, and Katrina Dillon, LAII Project Assistant.


3 thoughts on “Educator’s Guide: Journey of Dreams

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Journey of Dreams | Vamos a Leer

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  3. Pingback: Reading Roundup: Indigenous Peoples of Latin America | Vamos a Leer

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