I first saw today’s Perfect Picture Book at a small independent bookstore that displayed it among a group of immigration-related children’s books. Cloth-bound with a scene from the illustrations on paper inset on the front cover, and differing in dimension from the majority of picture books, it immediately caught my eye. I’m so glad it did, as today’s Perfect Picture Book is a unique one:
Written By: José Manuel Mateo
Illustrated By: Javier Martínez Pedro
Translated By: Emmy Smith Ready
Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/ 2014 (Mexican edition: Ediciones Tecolote/2011)
Suitable for Ages: 8-12
Themes/Topics: bilingual, Codex, migrant, immigration
I used to play among the roosters and the pigs. The animals roamed free, because in the village there were no pens, nor walls between the houses. On one side of the village were the mountains; on the other side, the sea.
Brief Synopsis: A young boy recounts his journey with his mother and sister from a small village in Mexico to Los Angeles, after the men of the village, including his father, are forced to move to find work.
Links to Resources:
- Learn about amate paper, a type of paper created from tree bark in parts of Mesoamerica (Mexico and Central America) and utilized for the illustrations in Migrant;
- The illustrations in Migrant form a Codex, a long sheet of amate paper gathered into an “accordion” fold; try writing your own Codex book;
- Learn more about Mexico.
Why I Like this Book:
Migrant is not just the story of one family’s journey from Mexico. Through its unique storytelling format, it relates a cultural tale, too.
Told as a codex, with text accompanying the very detailed pen and ink illustrations that spread in accordion-fashion as a seamless picture vertically down the page, Migrant enables us to experience the storytelling techniques of the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the region, the Mayans and Aztecs. We do so while learning in this fictional account why the parents in a representative family decide to leave their home, what difficulties the mother and children encounter on the journey and what awaits them in Los Angeles – the City of Angels, where the child narrator, his sister and mother anticipate working as house cleaners and hope to find their father, who had journeyed earlier to find work.
Migrant is written for older children and an information sheet accompanying the book indicates that it is not recommended for children under 8.
A Note about Craft:
Mateo and Pedro utilize a storytelling technique suggested by the original editor (per a 2014 interview with Mateo in Literary Kids) that honors the rich history and cultural traditions of the main character and his fellow villagers. By drawing on these techniques, the author and illustrator help readers understand the context of the villagers’ situation and the choices they make. As authors and/or illustrators, we similarly can utilize culturally-empathetic techniques to ground and enrich our storytelling.
Mateo employs first-person point of view to draw his readers into this story. Doing so brings immediacy to the situation.
Finally, Mateo adds what at first blush seems like an unimportant detail: Gazul, the narrator’s pet dog and one of the few named characters, spoils games of hide-n-seek by giving away the narrator’s hiding places. Hiding plays a role later in the story, as the narrator and his family evade police to avoid detection. Mateo circles back to Gazul at the end of the story, too, this time as the narrator thinks about “my poor dog”, who “doesn’t like to be alone”. Adding Gazul to the story enables Mateo to show the positive and relatable aspects of the narrator’s life before he migrates and what he and his family give up in Los Angeles. Inclusion of a pet also builds empathy for the narrator and his situation and can help readers relate to this difficult situation, as many kids can understand the distress their pets feel when left alone.
For other perspectives on the migrant/immigration experience from Mexico and Central America, see:
Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!