By Dr. Kathleen Crawford-McKinney, Wayne State University and Deanna Day-Wiff, Washington State University.
There is an explosion of books on immigration and refugees coming out in children and adolescent literature. It used to be that this theme leant itself to historical fiction such as World Word II in particular where the characters were heroes or had exotified lives. More recently, these books focus on current immigration and refugees, what is occurring today in history. The books we chose for this month will tug at your emotions through the text and illustrations through ordinary lives of people who are living in extraordinary difficulties. We hope as you read through these examples you will, as Kathy Short describes, “move toward empathy and of respect of what an ordinary person has been able to do in a difficult situation.”
In the first installment of November’s MTYT, Dr. Kathleen Crawford-McKinney and Deanna Day-Wiff talk about the picturebook La Frontera: El Viaje con Papá – My journey with Papa, which is written by Deborah Mills. November’s theme is Global Perspectives on the Refugee and Immigrant Experience. This book depicts the difficulties encountered by a father and son as they journey from Mexico to cross the border into the United States.
This month we are reviewing brand new immigration and refugee titles to share and use in your classrooms. In addition, we added some response strategies that pre-service teachers created in a children’s literature course from Washington State University.
Deanna: “Abuelo told Papa he must find a new home.” Thus begins this heartwarming bilingual picture book that describes the journey of the Alva family that desires a new home where there would be more work and they would have a better life. The picturebook cover depicts exactly how Papa and Alfredo feel about leaving their family—worried eyebrows, gloomy eyes and slumped shoulders.
Papa and Alfredo travel across Mexico by bus and then pay a Coyote to help them float across the Rio Grande River in an inner tube during the middle of the night. Once they land in Texas the Coyote disappears and they have to find their own way. Again the expressive illustrations show that despite leaving their family behind and being abandoned, they are determined to persevere.
The pair walks for days through brambles and over a steep mountain till they find a broken-down shack where they can rest. Later they are taken to a camp where other families live behind in a factory in the woods and Papa can work.
Eventually Alfredo begins school where he struggles to learn English and meet new friends. Alfredo misses his Mama and siblings but he begins to like his new life. Finally, four years later Alfredo and his Papa are reunited with the rest of their family—Mama, Abuelo, brothers and sister travel to America.
This beautiful book closes with additional information about Alfredo, photographs of the Alva family, a map of their journey and information about immigration.
Kathleen: One thing that stood out to me through this true story of immigration during the 1980’s is the notion of not giving up. Alfredo’s visualization of “the Embassy,” which is where he and his Papa headed toward after crossing the border is nothing like what he imagined. He thought the Embassy was a kingdom or palace, but in reality, the embassy is more like a junkyard of broken-down cars, trucks and buses where immigrants come to live in order to escape their country. Alfredo doesn’t let this discourage him. He finds a lost baby javelina to befriend who reminds him of his donkey, Fernando, from back home. The book depicts the loneliness Alfredo feels after leaving his mama and siblings behind in Mexico and going to live in a junk yard where he was the only child. Fear is a powerful image that is woven into this story, but he doesn’t let it defeat him, he doesn’t give up on his family’s quest to find a better life. When Alfredo begins school, his Papa gives him a $100 bill in case he is taken by someone in “uniform” back to the border. Starting a new school is scary enough just trying to fit in, but also add the fear of being captured and the possibility of being sent back to the border without his Papa; this has to be very difficult for a child. Again, Fernando doesn’t give up. He learns English through an older child that supports him in school and thereby is able to communicate with kids in his own class. Through her vivid illustrations, Navarro captures the sadness on the faces of Papa and Alfredo as they encounter the unknown of their journey throughout the story. I appreciate the four pages of endnotes that provide additional information about immigration, borders and cultures. These pages would be great to start conversations about immigration with students of any age.
Title: La Frontera: El Viaje con Papá – My journey with Papa
Author: Deborah Mills and Alfredo Alva
Illustrator: Claudia Navarro
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Pub Date: May 1, 2018
This is the first installment of November’s issue of My Take/Your Take. Check back next month to see what books we’ve selected and to follow the conversation!