La Frontera and Dreamers
La Frontera: El Viaje con Papá/My Journey with Papa
Written by Deborah Mills and Alfredo Alva
Illustrated by Claudia Navarro
Published by Barefoot Books, 2018,
“Cuando era niño, mi familia vivía en el pequeño pueblo de La Ceja, en el centro de Mexico, en el estado de Guanajuato. Mi familia había vivido allí por más de 100 años.” Or, “When I was young, my family lived in the small village of La Ceja in central Mexico in the state of Guanajuato. For over 100 years, my family had lived there.” So begins this bilingual picture book, a fictionalized narration of co-author Alfredo Alva’s childhood journey from Mexico to Texas. For over a century, his family lived and worked near the pinyon pine tree forest, walking long distances to harvest pine nuts and stack corn for drying. But when there are not enough hands to feed his growing family, Alfredo’s Papa decides that he and Alfredo must leave Mexico, and the rest of their family, in search of a better life. After great feasting and celebration, Alfredo and his father set out. They soon realize the “Coyote,” the man who took their money in promise of a safe passage to the United States, has abandoned them on the shores of the Rio Grande. Alfredo and his father journey across the river, through the desert, and over mountains and steep rocks, avoiding scorpions, enduring the bites of fire ants, and relying on the water jugs left for migrants along the sides of train tracks. Alfredo’s first home in the U.S. is “the Embassy,” a junkyard turned migrant encampment. From there, he begins school, secretly guarding $100 in his pocket each day, money for a bus ticket home to La Ceja should he be taken by authorities, alone, to the border. Though it would be years until Alfredo could be reunited with the rest of his family, thanks to the amnesty granted to immigrants by President Ronald Reagan, photographs in the back matter reveal generations of the Alva family living in Texas to this day. Narraro’s graphite, acrylic, and digital collage illustrations illuminate Alfredo’s journey with a warm color palette and recurring rounded images, providing readers with a sense of safety and hope. Back matter explains the concept of borders, both natural and political. Alva and co-author and neighbor Mills wrote the story “because many children experience similar journeys today – not just in Mexico and the United States, but all over the world.”
Written and Illustrated by Yuji Morales
Published by Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, 2018
“And when we made it to the other side,/thirsty, in awe,/unable to go back,/we became immigrants.” Where La Frontera focuses on the journey, Dreamers focuses on the arrival. Author-illustrator Yuyi Morales narrates a fictionalized verse account of her own experience of leaving Mexico and arriving in the United States with her infant son in the 1990s. The hills and valleys of the Bay Area revealed in Morales’s illustrations convey the uncertain footing she felt as they “made lots of mistakes,” such as swimming in a public fountain. But together, as “caminantes” walking the city, Morales and her son discover the library: “Suspicious./Improbable. /Unbelievable./Surprising./ Unimaginable.” The library becomes a safe refuge. “Books became our language./Books became our home./Books became our lives.” For Morales, the public library was where she learned to find her voice as a mother, a citizen, an artist. Across the pages, her favorite children’s book titles, from the mid-20th century to now, appear on the shelves, in her hands, and in the air of her mixed-media, acrylic, and ink illustrations. Morales concludes with a message for all of us, immigrant or native born: “Someday we will become/something we haven’t even/yet imagined.” Dreamers allows readers to hope that we can imagine ourselves into a world that we have not yet imagined, a world of “resilience” and “hope” and “amor.”
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
Text Set on Journeys Across Borders: Marwan’s Journey, The Journey and La Frontera. Read aloud each of these three books about journeys. Using chart paper, document a list of the similarities between the journeys. Make maps of the trips the protagonists take. What new questions do students have about migrants and refugees? Use some of the other titles below to help find possible answers to those questions. To finish, read I am New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien, and talk about the ways that your class can welcome newcomers in your community. Draw on the experiences of immigrant children in your class.
Journeys, Small and Large, with Caregivers. Explore La Frontera and Dreamers in the context of other books about caregivers (parents, grandparents, older siblings) and children going on journeys, small and large, such as Last Stop on Market Street, Nana in the City, Lola at the Library. Using chart paper, map out the similarities between the storylines, settings, and characters? How does each adult take care of the child? Have students write their own narratives about a trip, large or small, they took with a caregiver or loved one.
Borders. For primary grade students, the concept of a border is quite abstract. Before you read La Frontera and Dreamers, ask them what they think the word means. You might also ask them to draw a picture of a border, just to see what they conceptualize without language. Do they know the border between their house and their neighbor’s, the school and its neighbor? Have they ever noticed when they have crossed a border, leaving your city, town, or state?
Grades 3 and Up
Co-Authoring Stories of Immigration. What experiences have your students had co-authoring something? Provide students with the chance to write someone else’s story with them, as Deborah Mills and Alfredo Alva do. If possible, pair up immigrant students with non-immigrant students. If this is not possible, find older students or adult immigrants in your community who would be willing to tell their story with your students, recognizing that not all will feel safe in doing so. Some older students and adults may need language support as well, which is a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with your English as a Second Language teachers. Be sure to include the adult immigrants who already work within your school district, as teachers, staff, and administrators, to help facilitate the process. Publish your illustrated picture books and host a reading at your local public library, where all the authors, child and adult, can share in the reading and the celebration.
Looking through Multiple Perspectives. Each book is told through the perspective of a recently arrived immigrant, either child or adult. What other perspectives can be explored? After reading both books, make a list with your students of the other people with whom the characters interacted. Next, have the students write from the perspective of those other characters. What might they have to say to Yuyi and Kelly or Alfredo and Papa? Have your students write monologues from that character’s perspective. After students have a chance to share their writing, ask students if writing from that other perspective has helped them to better understand Yuyi and Kelly or Alfredo and Papa.
Grades 3 and Up
Libraries Transforming Lives. For Yuyi Morales and her son, the local public library was transformative. What are some of the ways in which your local public library supports your community? Have your students interview some local librarians about your community. What roles do the librarians find themselves playing? What else can your students find out through the library website? From the materials (signs, fliers) available at the library? From the ways in which the library is organized (is there a cafe where people meet, for example)? How does the library do more than just give people access to books and media? What specific services are available for immigrants and speakers of other languages? Have students create presentations for their families, or a feature story for your school or local newspaper, about the resources available at the library.
Books That Change Lives. In Dreamers, Yuyi Morales shares the ways in which books transformed her life and her son’s. She even includes a list of some of her favorite books. Have students share with one another the titles of their favorite books. Work with your school or public librarian to ensure that those favorite books appear in a special bin in the classroom, for classmates to read. Have students write about their favorite books and post that information around the room. Next, have students interview other adults in the school building, their family, or their neighborhood about their favorite books as children. How did that favorite book impact the adult as a reader? As a grown-up? Is it connected in some way to what they do today? If so, how? As students share their information, take note of the books that appear more than once. Again, strive to bring the favorite adult books into the classroom, in another bin to share. Once the students have had a chance to read the adult books, and perhaps the adults have a chance to read the children’s favorite books, bring them all together for a book club conversation. Create a bulletin board display of book covers out in your hallway, to make book recommendations to other members of your school community.
Exploring Mexican Immigration.Use La Frontera as an entry-point into the conversation about immigration to the United States from Mexico. Why do Alfredo and his Papa leave Mexico in the 1980s? How is their situation similar to or different from the reasons why Mexicans might immigrate to the United States today? Why are there so many people from other countries using the United States-Mexico border? Use the resources listed below to explore the history of Mexican immigration and current U.S. policies.
Extension of Looking at Immigration at the Mexican Border. Ultimately, you might want to expand the previous entry, and further explore contemporary immigration and migration with a reading of Escape from Aleppo. After reading the novel and its representation of recent history in Syria, have students compare and contrast what is happening in Central America and in Syria. Draw upon some of the teaching ideas about contemporary global migration offered in our Classroom Bookshelf entry on Escape from Aleppo.
La Frontera, Dreamers, and the 2018 U.S. Policy of Family Separation. Have your students read both books in small groups, and have them compare and contrast each author’s purpose in writing the book. Make sure that students draw from the additional information about Yuyi Morales and Alfredo Alva contained in the back matter of each book. Have them consider the personal histories of both writers and their reasons for coming to the United States. Having heard these personal stories first, have students explore the range of resources listed below about the United State policy implemented and enforced in the spring of 2018, which forcibly separated parents from their children. Next, have them review the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child, in place since September of 1990. In what ways has the United States violated the tenets of the Declaration? How do your students believe nations should work together in support of children’s safety and security? Have students create visual art, pieces of writing, or dramatic performances in response to what they have learned.
Dreamers in 2018. In the back matter, Yuyi Morales makes it clear that she is using the term “Dreamers” to talk about the immigrant experience writ large, not the specific term used by policy makers to discuss the status of young men and women who entered the United States illegally as children. But who are those Dreamers? Likely, some are in your school or classroom, some in nearby towns and cities. Use some of the resources below to explore The Dream Act of 2001, the 2012 legislation, and the current status of childhood arrivals. Students may be particularly interested in hearing directly from Dreamers in this New York Times video created in January 2018. While these resources are not comprehensive, they are a helpful start. With your students, consider what they think should happen next. What policy recommendations do they have for Congress and the President?
Mexican Immigration History
Library of Congress, History of Mexican Immigration
Mexican American Immigrants in the United States, the Migration Policy Institute
PBS Timeline of Latino Americans
U.S. Policy on Family Separation, Spring 2018
NBC News, June 20, 2018, Migrants at the Mexico Border
National Geographic, June 2018
The American Civil Liberties Union
The New York Times Topic Page: Immigration and Emigration
The New York Times Topic Page: Refugees and Displaced People
Dreamers and DACA 2018
What is DACA, and Who are the Dreamers? from The Guardian, 2017
US Citizenship and Immigration Services, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Policy
DACA Overview, The New York Times
President Obama’s Statement on DACA, 2012
Arias, P. (2018). Marwan’s journey. Illus. L. Boras. Minedition.
O’Brien, A.S. (2015). I’m new here. Charlesbridge Publishing.
de la Pena, M. (2015). Last stop on Market Street. Illus. C. Robinson. G. P. Putnam’s and Sons.
Castillo, L. (2014). Nana in the city. Clarion Books.
McQuinn, A. (2006). Lola at the library. Illus. R. Beardshaw. Charlesbridge.
Senzai, N.H. (2018) Escape from Aleppo. Paula Wiseman Books, Simon & Schuster.
Filed under: Fictionalized Biography
About Mary Ann Cappiello
Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.
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