I’ve had this picture book on my radar for a while and was thrilled to find it in the bilingual section of my local library. And now I get to share it with you!
Title: La Frontera: El viaje con papá~My Journey with Papa
Written By: Deborah Mills & Alfredo Alva
Illustrated By: Claudia Navarro
Publisher/Date: Barefoot Books/2018
Suitable for Ages: 3-11
Themes/Topics: immigration; family; coyote; autobiography; bilingual
When I was young, my family lived in the small village of La Ceja in central Mexico in the state of Guanajuato. For over 100 years, my family had lived there.
Brief Synopsis: A young boy, Alfredo, recounts the journey he and his father take from their home in Mexico to seek a better life in Texas.
Links to Resources:
- Alfredo and his father travel by bus, inner tube, walking, and truck. Draw a picture showing one or more of these ways to travel. Can you think of other ways to travel?
- Alfredo tells the true story of moving from Mexico to Texas and starting a new school there. Have you ever moved? Describe your journey and how you felt about it;
- Check out the back matter where you can learn more about “borders and culture”, “immigration”, and “Alfredo’s story”;
- Watch the book trailer -in Spanish with English text.
Why I Like this Book:
La Frontera tells the true story of a young Mexican boy, Alfredo, and his father as they journey from their home in south-central Mexico to a new life in Texas. As the story opens, Alfredo is happy at his home surrounded by a loving family, friends, and even a special donkey, Fernando. But Alfredo’s father worked in the pinyon pine trees with Alfredo’s uncle and grandfather. As the grandfather grew older, he was no longer able to work, the family’s earnings declined, and Alfredo and his brothers were “always hungry”. Because there was no other work in the region, Alfredo’s father sought a better life in the United States, bringing his eldest son, Alfredo, with him.
I think that by setting the idyllic rural scene and showing how the family’s fortunes changed, the authors help readers understand why someone would leave their family and home to undertake an arduous, at times dangerous, journey. I think it also helps readers empathize with Alfredo, and gives a name, and face, to immigrants. Although this true story occurred almost 40 years ago, I think it is relevant today as “illegal immigration” across the southern US border tops headline news.
While the details of the actual journey were eye-opening, including being swindled by the “coyote” smuggler, I found Alfredo’s descriptions of his first days at school most interesting. The reality of not understanding English, of feeling apart and alone, of missing Mama and siblings, are important, I think, for children to understand as they welcome non-English speakers to their classrooms. For new immigrants reading this story, I think it may be helpful for them to see how Alfredo slowly learned English and became “a Texan”, as it may encourage them as they strive to integrate.
Thanks, in part, to Reagan’s immigration amnesty, Alfredo’s story has a happy ending, as readers learn at the end of the story and in the back matter.
Navarro’s brightly-colored graphite, acrylic and collage illustrations bring a Mexican folk art feel to the story, reminding readers of Alfredo’s cultural heritage.
A Note about Craft:
In the back matter, readers learn that La Frontera is a true story about Alfredo and his father, and that Alfredo and a neighbor, Deborah Mills, wrote the story together. As a non-#OwnVoices author, I was intrigued and pleased to learn how a non-#OwnVoices author could help write this timely and important story.
I appreciate that Alva and Mills used first-person point-of-view to bring immediacy to the story. I also appreciate that the editors chose to use English and Spanish side-by-side to render La Frontera more accessible in schools and classrooms with both Spanish and English speakers. And I particularly appreciate the choice of a Mexican illustrator to show, in a way, that Alfredo stayed true to his cultural roots.
Barefoot Books is an independent publisher “founded by two young mothers in England in 1992 and based in Cambridge, MA” that publishes “books for children that encourage discovery, compassion, creativity and global awareness.” Its mission is to “share stories, connect families, inspire children”.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!