Tag Archives: autobiography

PPBF – La Frontera: El viaje con papá~My Journey with Papa

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

Opening:

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!

PPBF – Malala’s Magic Pencil

When I first read the title and saw the jacket of today’s Perfect Picture Book, I couldn’t help but think back to my days at university in upstate New York. As I traveled back and forth to campus, I’d pass many dilapidated, rural houses. I recall thinking that if I could paint these houses, I’d somehow improve the lives of the inhabitants.

While I know that a coat of paint isn’t the answer to economic inequality or other social ills, I also understand the desire to magically make the world better, expressed so well in today’s Perfect Picture Book.

thTitle: Malala’s Magic Pencil

Written By: Malala Yousafzai

Illustrated By: Karascoët

Publisher/date: Little Brown and Company/October 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: female education; Pakistan; dreams; autobiography; social justice

Opening:

Do you believe in magic?

Brief Synopsis: The story of Malala Yousafzai, a proponent and symbol of female education.

Links to Resources:

  • If you had a magic pencil what would you draw?
  • Learn more about Pakistan, the country where Malala dreamt of a magic pencil, here and here, and see a map of Pakistan here.

Why I Like this Book:

As the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala is a well-recognized young woman. Most of us probably know the story of the attack that led to her global fame, too. Malala’s Magic Pencil focuses, instead, mainly on her early years, when she was a young child like many others, focused solely on her own desires.

We meet a young Malala who discovered the idea of a magic pencil from a favorite television hero. She writes not that she wanted to change the world with her magic pencil, but rather she wanted to draw a lock on a door “so my brothers couldn’t bother me.” Even her first recognition of societal problems, a trash dump near her home, is expressed as a desire to get rid of an odor that bothers her.

We then learn that as she grows, Malala increasingly becomes aware of social inequities. Her use of the magic pencil evolves to include erasing “war, poverty, and hunger,” until, as she writes in a letter to readers at the end of the story, “when you find your voice, every pencil can be magic.” Shared by such a young woman who was a child so recently, I think this is a message that will resonate with young listeners. Despite some dark scenes, this is a gentle lesson for children that their voices and actions can help change the world for the better.

The ink and watercolor illustrations are stunning! Golden accents that reminded me of henna markings or South Asian artwork effectively conveyed me to Pakistan and the “beautiful Swat Valley” of Malala’s childhood.

A Note about Craft:

Malala’s Magic Pencil is an autobiography, told from the first-person point of view. I think this works well for this story, as it is Malala’s story and imparts a sense of immediacy to the action.

Malala also addresses the reader directly at the beginning of the story, “Do you believe in magic?”, poses a variant of the question at the end, and then answers it. Observant readers will note that the meaning of “magic” changes subtly during the course of the story. I think this could be an interesting classroom or family discussion topic, especially with older children.

Finally, rather than focusing on the theme of the book at the outset, Malala gently guides her readers to the conclusion that using words, your voice, to effect social action is magical. What object could you use in a story to introduce your themes?

Read more about Malala and the Malala Fund. For another picture book about Malala, see Malala/Iqbal: Two Stories of Bravery (Jeanette Winter; Beach Lane Books/2014)

Find out more about the illustrator team, Kerascoët.

For a picture book with a similar message of the power of changing the world via words and/or pictures, see When I Coloured in the World (Ahmadreza Hamadi/Ehsan Abdollahi; Tiny Owl Publishing/2017).

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This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!