Journey of Dreams

Journey of DreamsJourney of Dreams by Marge Pellegrino. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2009. 256 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 11 and older. ISBN: 9781845079642.

Tomasa lives with her mama and papa, her older brother Carlos, her younger brother Manuelito , her baby sister Maria and her grandmother in the stunningly beautiful Guatemalan Highlands. It’s 1984. Her life is simple and happy until the soldiers come. They start by taking away her friend Hector and almost taking her brother Carlos before they realize he is too young for the Army. Planes spray insecticide which makes the villagers sick and mama complains. After that, someone throws a threatening note into the family’s house. It’s aimed at mama. Mama and Carlos leave to get away from the soldiers. The rest of the family stays and hopes that things will get better and mama and Carlos will be able to return. Instead things get much worse. On the night papa, Tomasa, Manuelito and Maria leave the soldiers violence throws the village into chaos. One of the soldier’s bullets kills Abuela. This view of life under a brutal regime determined to do away with its indigenous population is filtered through Tomasa’s narrative and her 13-year-old understanding of the situation.

Papa and the children head first to Guatamala City, but they are warned on the outskirts that the city is not safe. They turn North and head towards Mexico, hoping all the time that somewhere they will find mama and Carlos. Their attempts to cross the river between Guatemala and Mexico with the aid of a coyote are horrendous.

In Mexico City they find a safe house and also news of mama and Carlos. They are in Phoenix, Arizona. People from the Sanctuary Movement in the United States help the family to cross into Arizona and be reunited with mama and Carlos.

The story is taut, especially as the family tries to cross the river. The political and human reality is very grim. As I remember, the reality was very grim for me as an adult at the time. Tomasa’s narrative tells us the part of reality she is able to handle. Her dreams tell us a bit more about the terror she feels. She never loses hope. She never lets her baby sister lose hope. She tries to help her brother with his resentment towards mama for leaving them.

There’s an excellent “About the Story” note in the back of the book, followed by this section is followed by a glossary and a map I referred to more than once.

Blog Reviews

Georgia McBride
Paper Tigers
Reading in Color
Reading Nook
Vamos a Leer

Professional Reviews:

Publisher’s Weekly

Marge Pellegrino’s Author Site.

Jackson Browne singing “Lives in the Balance,” a popular song from the 1980s. It addresses the politics in the US much more than “Journey of Dreams” does, but it also addresses politics in countries that turn on their own citizens.


Esperanza Rising

Esperanza RisingEsperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan. Scholastic, 2000.  262 pages. Publisher recommends for grades 6-8. ISBN: 9780439120425.

Pura Belpre Award, 2002.

Esperanza Rising is the story of a 13-year-old young woman who must leave the fairytale life she’s lived in Mexico and go to work in the farm lands of the San Joaquin Valley of California. The book gives a gentle but clear introduction to issues surrounding immigration in this country.

Esperanza’s father owns a large ranch in Mexico. She lives in a big house with her parents and her grandmother. The ranch foreman, Alfonso and his wife, Hortensia, the maid, live close by with their son Miguel. Esperanza and Miguel had been childhood playmates. Esperanza has beautiful clothes and beautiful dolls and beautiful gardens to enjoy. She felt like a princess. But when her father is killed and her uncles try to take over the ranch, she and her mother, along with Miguel and his parents, must escape to the United States.

Alfonso’s brother Juan arranges for the five immigrants to live and work on the same ranch where he and his family work. Two women and two girls live in a shack the size of a horse stall. Esperanza still thinks of herself as a princess. The harshness of this new life is hard to comprehend. Soon Esperanza must work sorting whatever crop is being picked at the time.

The story is set in 1930. A group of farm workers in the local area talk about striking for better living and working conditions. Esperanza can’t risk losing her job by striking. Nor can the other members of her new extended family. But there’s pressure to strike, and finally the strike comes to pass. It isn’t successful, and those who were striking are deported to Mexico, regardless of whether or not they are Mexican or US citizens.

Esperanza is aware of painful discrimination against Mexicans. One camp, built for the people from Oklahoma, will have a swimming pool. Mexicans will be able to swim in it on Saturday afternoons, immediately before it is cleaned on Sunday.

At the end of the book there is a fascinating Authors Note in which Pam Munoz Ryan discusses the parallels between her grandmother’s life and Esperanza’s life.

Esperanza means hope in Spanish, and despite the difficulties associated with being a farm worker, plus the heartbreak of losing one’s home and way of life, Esperanza Rising is a hopeful book.

Blog Review: Anita Silvey’s Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac