Book Review: Sophie Washington | Mission: Costa Rica

Happy New Year! It’s been ages since I’ve had the opportunity to stop in here on Vamos a Leer! I’ve really missed you all.  Being back in the classroom full time and continuing to help facilitate all of our local k-12 outreach programming for the LAII has kept me busier than I expected!

As you saw in Kiera’s post yesterday, this Friday (tomorrow!!) is Multicultural Children’s Book Day! What a wonderful initiative.  If you missed our earlier post, be sure to check it out.  There are so many wonderful resources and opportunities being created around this event.  Today’s post is our first review as part of Multicultural Children’s Book Day.   I’m very excited to introduce you to Tonya Duncan EllisSophie Washington Mission: Costa Rica (Ages 7-12).  Ellis very kindly sent me a copy of the book to review for this special event.   

Before I get into a more detailed discussion of Sophie Washington Mission: Costa Rica, I want to write more broadly about why books like this one are so important.  Last spring, I came across Denene Millner’s NYT Opinion Piece, “Black Kids Don’t Want to Read About Harriet Tubman All the Time.” I’ve found myself continually referring back to it ever since.  So often, the majority of books with black protagonists are limited to slavery, the civil rights movement, or famous biographies about an “overcomer.” In other words, they focus on themes of oppression and resistance.  These are obviously important stories that must be told, but they can’t be the only stories featuring people of color that our students are exposed to.  This is a disservice to everyone.  

As Millner writes, “Meanwhile, stories about the everyday beauty of being a little human being of color are scarce. Regardless of what the publishing industry seems to think, our babies don’t spend their days thinking about Harriet Tubman, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and black bodies swinging; they’re excited about what the tooth fairy will leave under their pillows, contemplating their first ride on the school bus, looking for dragons in their closets.

They want to read books that engage with their everyday experiences, featuring characters who look like them. Just like any other child. White children, too, deserve — and need — to see black characters that revel in the same human experiences that they do.”

Ellis’ Sophie Washington series does just that.

sophie_washington_book_6_ebookSophie Washington Mission: Costa Rica is the sixth book in a seven book series.  Here, readers will follow Sophie through her adventures in Costa Rica.  The publisher’s summary offers a quick overview: “Sixth grader Sophie Washington, her good friends, Chloe and Valentina, and her parents and brother, Cole, are in for a week of adventure when her father signs them up for a spring break mission trip to Costa Rica. Her dreams of lazing on the beach under palm trees are squashed quicker than an underfoot banana once they arrive in the rain forest and are put to work, hauling buckets of water, painting and cooking. Near the hut they sleep in, the girls fight off wayward iguanas and howler monkeys, and nightly visits from a surprise “guest” make it hard for them to get much rest after their work is done. Then Sophie and friends take a wrong turn in the jungle and things get even more wild…”


It is a fun, light-hearted read, that still alludes to more serious social issues such as immigration, family separation, and natural disasters, yet it remains appropriate for early chapter book readers.

Sophie and her family and friends are tourists in Costa Rica.  One of the things that I really appreciate about the story is the way it models a more responsible way to experience a new country and how to be a respectful tourist.  The family is respectful to the artisans at the market, the children are open minded to new experiences, and everyone enjoys trying new foods.  Younger readers are exposed to the flora and fauna of Costa Rica in a way that is woven throughout the story, without being overly obvious or superficial.

It is a short novel, but it still avoids overly simplifying or universalizing Costa Rican life.  The father’s volunteer work through the dentistry office speaks to the poverty that some people in Costa Rica experience. Yet, when the girls get the chance to know another student their age, the story highlights an educational system that successfully encourages bilingualism and a family’s commitment to college. I also appreciate the way the importance of volunteer work and contributing to the community is encouraged.  While there is some grumbling amongst Sophie, her brother, and her friends (would it be entirely believable if there weren’t?), in the end, they’re all appreciative of the experience.

I’d recommend it to readers who enjoy series such as Lola Levine, Jasmine Toguchi, Jada Jones, or Dyamonde Daniel. It’s certainly a great addition to any classroom or school library! It could be a perfect independent reading selection to accompany a unit on the rain forest.  

If you or any of your students have read it, we’d love to hear your thoughts below!

For more information on Multicultural Children’s Book Day, keep reading! Below we’ve shared information on sponsors, free resources, and the annual Twitter party (with tons of giveaways!) on Friday!!


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MCBD 2019 is honored to have the following Medallion Sponsors on board!

Honorary: Children’s Book CouncilThe Junior Library

Super Platinum: Make A Way Media

GOLD: Bharat BabiesCandlewick PressChickasaw Press, Juan Guerra and The Little Doctor / El doctorcitoKidLitTV,  Lerner Publishing GroupPlum Street Press,

SILVER: Capstone PublishingCarole P. RomanAuthor Charlotte RiggleHuda EssaThe Pack-n-Go Girls,

BRONZE: Charlesbridge PublishingJudy Dodge CummingsAuthor Gwen JacksonKitaab WorldLanguage Lizard – Bilingual & Multicultural Resources in 50+ LanguagesLee & Low BooksMiranda Paul and Baptiste Paul, RedfinAuthor Gayle H. Swift,  T.A. Debonis-Monkey King’s DaughterTimTimTom BooksLin ThomasSleeping Bear Press/Dow PhumirukVivian Kirkfield,

MCBD 2019 is honored to have the following Author Sponsors on board!

Honorary: Julie FlettMehrdokht Amini,

Author Janet BallettaAuthor Kathleen BurkinshawAuthor Josh FunkChitra SoundarOne Globe Kids – Friendship StoriesSociosights Press and Almost a MinyanKaren LeggettAuthor Eugenia ChuCultureGroove BooksPhelicia Lang and Me On The PageL.L. WaltersAuthor Sarah StevensonAuthor Kimberly Gordon BiddleHayley BarrettSonia PanigrahAuthor Carolyn Wilhelm, Alva Sachs and Dancing DreidelsAuthor Susan BernardoMilind Makwana and A Day in the Life of a Hindu KidTara WilliamsVeronica AppletonAuthor Crystal BoweDr. Claudia MayAuthor/Illustrator Aram KimAuthor Sandra L. RichardsErin DealeyAuthor Sanya Whittaker GraggAuthor Elsa TakaokaEvelyn Sanchez-ToledoAnita BadhwarAuthor Sylvia LiuFeyi Fay AdventuresAuthor Ann MorrisAuthor Jacqueline JulesCeCe & Roxy BooksSandra Neil Wallace and Rich WallaceLEUYEN PHAMPadma VenkatramanPatricia Newman and Lightswitch LearningShoumi SenValerie Williams-Sanchez and Valorena Publishing, Traci SorellShereen RahmingBlythe StanfelChristina MatulaJulie RubiniPaula ChaseErin TwamleyAfsaneh MoradianLori DeMonia, Claudia Schwam, Terri Birnbaum/ RealGirls RevolutionSoulful SydneyQueen Girls Publications, LLC

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event.

Co-Hosts and Global Co-Hosts

A Crafty ArabAgatha Rodi BooksAll Done MonkeyBarefoot MommyBiracial Bookworms, Books My Kids Read, Crafty Moms ShareColours of UsDiscovering the World Through My Son’s EyesDescendant of Poseidon ReadsEducators Spin on it Growing Book by BookHere Wee Read, Joy Sun Bear/ Shearin LeeJump Into a BookImagination Soup,Jenny Ward’s ClassKid World CitizenKristi’s Book NookThe LogonautsMama SmilesMiss Panda ChineseMulticultural Kid BlogsRaising Race Conscious ChildrenShoumi SenSpanish Playground

TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Make A Way Media:

MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual @McChildsBookDay Twitter Party will be held 1/25/19 at 9:00 pm.E.S.T. TONS of prizes and book bundles will be given away during the party ( a prize every 5 minutes!). GO HERE for more details.


Free Multicultural Books for Teachers:

Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators:


Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.