Tag Archives: Immigrants

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 – Alfredito Flies Home

Happy New Year! It’s amazing to think that the holidays are “done and dusted”, as many of my English friends say. Did you travel over the holidays? Our family journeyed to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – my first, but hopefully not last, visit to Brazil and South America. In addition to sightseeing and enjoying sun and warm temperatures, we celebrated our daughter’s recent marriage to a Brazilian with his family and friends. Like the main character in today’s Perfect Picture Book, I’m sure my son-in-law anticipated the trip with much excitement. Hopefully, too, he also feels that New York, although much, much colder than Rio, is now a home where he belongs.

9780888995858_1024x1024Title: Alfredito Flies Home

Written By: Jorge Argueta

Illustrated By: Luis Garay

Translated By: Elisa Amado

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2007

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes/Topics: El Salvador; immigrants; home

Opening:

My name is Alfredo, just like my father, but everyone calls me Alfredito. I am as happy as a bird today because I’m going back home. Finally, after four whole years in San Francisco, my mother, Adela, my father, my grandmother Serve and I are going to climb on a plane tomorrow and fly back to El Salvador.

Brief Synopsis:

A young boy and his family who fled their home in El Salvador journey back to visit relatives and friends.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about El Salvador, the country from which Alfredito’s family fled and to which they journey back;
  • Alfredito and his family enjoy many native dishes when they visit their family, including pupusas, corn tortillas with a filling. Make pupusas y su curtido (filled corn tortillas with pickled cabbage);
  • Describe in words or pictures a visit to family or friends. How did you feel before the journey? How did you feel when it was time to go back home?
  • Alfredito knows he is close to home when he spies Quezaltepec, a beloved volcano in El Salvador. Learn about volcanoes.

Why I Like this Book:

Although the word count is high by today’s standards, Alfredito Flies Home is a heart-warming story about refugees who journey back for a visit to their home country several years later. I found it particularly interesting that Alfredito’s family fled initially overland with the aid of smugglers, but journeyed back via plane. I think it’s also important for kids, both those who fled and those learning about refugees, to see that, as in Alfredito’s case, only part of his family left El Salvador. Upon his return, he was able to see his older sister for the first time in four years, see cousins and meet some who were born while he was in the US, visit the grave of a grandmother whose funeral they could not attend, and reunite with a beloved pet dog. Most importantly, by journey’s end, Alfredito comes to the realization that he has not one, but two homes, one in El Salvador and one in San Francisco.

Garay’s colorful acrylic on canvas paintings complement Argueta’s descriptions of Alfredito’s life in San Francisco and El Salvador.

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, Alfredito Flies Home has a much higher word count than many picture books published today. A native El Salvadoran and Pipil Nahua Indian, Jorge Argueta is an Own Voices poet and children’s author who inserts many details into the story that someone less familiar with El Salvador may have overlooked, such as how Alfredito’s family home looks, including the parakeets in the hibiscus bush that squawk to welcome the family back. Luis Garay is of Nicaraguan descent, and has also lived in Canada. That both men know what it’s like to leave one country and straddle cultures adds to the authenticity of Alfredito Flies Home.

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 – A Different Pond

I kept seeing references to today’s Perfect Picture Book in my twitter feed and lists of picture books about the immigrant experience. I knew it was one I’d like to feature here, even though I figured it’d been out for a while. I was so surprised to learn that it was published earlier this fall.

9781479597468Title: A Different Pond

Written By: Bao Phi

Illustrated By:  Thi Bui

Publisher/date: Capstone Young Readers/2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-8

Themes/Topics: immigrants; fishing; father-son relationship; Vietnam; family traditions.

Opening:

Dad wakes me quietly so Mom can keep sleeping. It will be hours before the sun comes up.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy and his immigrant father go fishing to provide dinner for the family.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Vietnam, the family’s country of origin;
  • Have you ever gone fishing? Did you catch a crappie or some other fish? What was in your tackle box? For a good listing of what you’ll need for fresh water fishing, including definitions and pictures of the items, check out this article from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for Young Naturalists.

Why I Like this Book:

A Different Pond is a beautifully-written, slice-of-life story that is a mirror into the lives of Vietnamese immigrants in the early 1980s. I loved the seeming simplicity of the story – a boy and his dad are going fishing. But there is so much more that the narrator reveals: they leave before sun-up, as the father is working a weekend job to earn more money; they fish for food, not sport; the dad reminisces about fishing in Vietnam with the brother who didn’t survive the war.

Like Last Stop on Market Street, A Different Pond is a window into a part of American life. Bui’s graphic novel-like illustrations help heighten the sense of immediacy and sense that the narrator, although a young boy, is mature for his age. I especially loved examining the endpapers that feature items that may have been found in a typical Vietnamese immigrant household in the early 1980s.

Both Phi and Bui immigrated to the United States as young children, as they recount in Notes at the end of the book. Photographs from their childhoods accompany the Notes.

A Note about Craft:

Phi’s choice of first-person POV draws the reader into the story, helping her/him feel as if s/he is part of the action.

As with Last Stop on Market Street, A Different Pond is many-layered. At its most basic, it’s the story of a young boy and his dad going fishing. We also learn, though, through subtle clues, that the family is not only recent immigrants, but that they are struggling financially. I found the reference to a “bare bulb” burning at the outset of the story particularly poignant and a wonderful example of showing not telling.

Learn more about Capstone Young Readers, an American independent publisher.

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!