Tag Archives: Codex

PPBF -Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight

When I first learned the title of today’s Perfect Picture Book and discovered the name of the author/illustrator, I knew this was a “must read and review” for me. So, I reached out to the publisher, and in exchange for an unbiased review, received an advance copy. I hope you find it as insightful and inspiring as I did, and that you’ll look for it in early August!

51sOxhTCEGL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_Title: Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/Date: Abrams ComicArts (an imprint of Abrams Books)/7 August 2018

Suitable for Ages: 14-18 (per one book seller website, or, in my opinion, as young as 8)

Themes/Topics: immigrants; workers’ rights; undocumented workers; Codex; #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Opening:

You don’t know our names but you’ve seen us. In this country we build houses, we harvest crops, we cook, we clean, and we raise children. Some people want to kick us out and some act like we don’t exist, but we are here, compañeros. We may not have documents, but we all have a story and we all have a name. This is my story. I am Juan.

Brief Synopsis:

Juan, an undocumented worker who relocates from Mexico to a city in the United States, recounts his experiences being underpaid and his fight for better pay and working conditions in the restaurant industry.

Links to Resources:

  • The illustrations in Undocumented form a Codex, a long sheet of paper gathered into an “accordion” fold; try writing your own Codex book;
  • Tonatiuh mentions several types of work that Juan considers, including one dream position. What kind of work would you like to do? Describe it in words or pictures;
  • In an Author’s Note, Tonatiuh provides background and context for the story. There’s also a short bibliography.

Why I Like this Book:

Combining his classic illustration style with a compelling story of one representative undocumented worker, Tonatiuh tackles a timely, controversial topic in a way that will resonate with tween and teen readers. Unlike his earlier works, several of which are listed below, the target age is older than the typical picture book age range. But I think the combination of pictures and text is a powerful way to approach this complicated topic, especially for reluctant readers and those for whom English is not a first language.

In Undocumented, we meet Juan, the narrator, and learn that he worked in the fields of Mexico to support his mother and siblings after the death of his father, when Juan “was a niño.” We follow young Juan across the border with a coyote, a smuggler, to reach his uncle who lives in a poor neighborhood of an unknown city. Using short text and pictures, Tonatiuh depicts Juan considering several low-paying, low-skilled jobs, plus “[f]amous músico” with a parenthetical below, indicating that “we all have dreams…” I love the inclusion of this picture and phrase, as I think it alleviates some of the tension of the story and provides a touchpoint for young readers, many of whom may dream of being a famous musician.

The bulk of Undocumented concerns Juan’s attempts to organize fellow restaurant workers to procure better wages and working conditions, a fight, Tonatiuh makes clear in the text, that benefits all workers – not just those from Mexico or who may be undocumented.  Tonatiuh also includes instances of workers of different ethnicities working together, and learning from each other.

Tonatiuh illustrates Undocumented in his signature style that combines imagery from the Mixtec Codices with digitally-collaged artwork. I especially appreciated the inclusion of newspapers serving as a background as Juan contemplated various job possibilities and the use of woven fabrics to depict blankets. Finally, Tonatiuh and/or his editors at Abrams produced Undocumented as a codex, with the story unfolding poster-like across the front and back of the accordion-folded paper.  61ePqqq35bL

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, Tonatiuh tackles a tough, contemporary issue in Undocumented. How does he draw the reader into the story and achieve his goals of building empathy for, and understanding of, undocumented workers, and according them dignity?

To begin, he addresses the reader directly, “You” and “compañeros,” companions. He then recounts the group experience, before reminding the reader that “we” have names and stories.

After he sets the stage, Tonatiuh introduces the narrator, Juan, who proceeds to tell his story. To further encourage reader empathy, Tonatiuh adds compelling details: Juan’s father died when Juan was young; Juan is beaten by border guards and hassled by police officers; Juan dreams of being a musician; Juan’s wife is pregnant; Juan rejects an easy payout and instead seeks compensation for all of the workers; and Juan volunteers to help others.

To wrap things up, Tonatiuh returns to the group narrative, reminding the reader that “we” work hard, pay bills, and pay taxes. Tonatiuh packages his text and images into Codex form, a pre-Columbian style of writing utilized by Mixtec, Aztec and Mayan people, and thereby ties Juan’s story to the rich cultural history of his ancestors.

To view more of multi-award winning Tonatiuh’s work, visit his website, and see the following:

For another contemporary story told in Codex form, see Migrant, also published by Abrams, under its Abrams Books for Young Readers imprint.

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!

PPBF – Migrant

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:

 

9781419709579_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Migrant

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

Opening:

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.

9781419709579_p1_v2_s192x300

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.

Migrant received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly.

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!