Review: La Frontera (My Journey with Papa)

La Frontera (El Viaje con Mi Papá/My Journey with Papa)
Authors: Deborah Mills & Alfredo Alva
Illustrator: Claudia Navarro
Barefoot Books
Ages: 4 – 10 years old

You can stop imagining now.  That conversation takes place around the world, every day.

I want you to stop for a moment and imagine being a parent telling your eight-year-old that you’re about to send him on a journey that will take him to another country, mostly by foot, across hundreds of miles, across all sorts of terrains, in all sorts of weather, facing untold dangers, in search of a better life.  Now imagine that you’re the eight-year-old.  

You can stop imagining now.  That conversation takes place around the world, every day.

My mother took me to the well behind the house and sat me down.  She looked me in the eye and said, ‘You are so lucky to be going on this special trip with Papa.  You must be strong. You must think of yourself as a little bird who does not need much to eat or drink to keep flying north. Just like the swallows we see every spring.

And Alfredito–don’t forget, I love you so, so much.’

La Frontera: El Viaje con Papá/My Journey with Papa, based on Alfredo Alva’s true story of crossing the Rio Grande with his father on his journey from La Ceja in Central Mexico to the United States, gives us a gentle, but unflinching look at one immigrant’s story.

Mills & Alva, in this bilingual (English/Spanish) title, take us on a journey that although set in the 1980’s is still very relevant today.  Families are still fleeing poverty, political and/or other forms of persecution; families still make the same perilous journey; families still rely on “coyotes” to usher them through the bramble (there are many forms of coyotes: some animal, some human, some political–but it’s all bramble); and children are still stuck in the middle.  With gorgeous illustrations by Claudia Navarro in a warm palette and somewhat reminiscent of Diego Rivera, this picture book not only captures the journey, but also the feelings of Alfredo’s crossing.  Layered with the soft, unhurried narrative, you can see the worry when reading passages like:

‘Carry this with you at all times,’ Papa said, ‘and don’t tell anyone you have it.’  I put the bill carefully in the little pocket in my jeans.  ‘If someone in a uniform picks you up and takes you back to the border, use this money to buy a bus ticket back to our family in la Ceja.’

Written for ages four to ten, this book is a great addition to any library and a wonderful classroom tool–helping to build on skills including empathy, familial relationships, sacrifice, etc.  Not a “let’s go to bed book,” parents may find it useful as a tool to facilitate imaginative play and/or as a way to learn about different cultures.  The story of so many–the story of so many more to come.

La Frontera (Support an Independent Bookstore)
La Frontera (Hardcover at Amazon)*

More books for this Age Group can be found here.

My thanks to Barefoot Books for providing a copy of this book. The views expressed herein are my own.

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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