Migrant: The Journey of a Mexican Worker by Jose Manuel Mateo, illustrated by Javier Martinez Pedro
In this bilingual book, a boy from Mexico talks about the changes in his family and his village as people leave Mexico to find work in the United States. The story begins with the boy speaking about his village and how it used to be as a farming community with small farms where he would play. But then things changed and soon the village was just women and children with all of the men gone to find work elsewhere. When his mother was unable to find work in the village and his father’s money stopped arriving, the had no choice but to leave too. The story changes to one of escape, hiding and running, one that mirrors that boy’s games as a small child, but they are no longer fun here. The family makes it safely to Los Angeles, but there are new barriers in the way with the new country.
Told in a unique vertical format that echoes the ancient codex, this book uses its format to great effect. First, it mirrors the sense of a journey across distances, across cultures. Just opening this book feel different and special and then the length of the single page captures that sense of travel and quest. The voice of the book is also exquisitely done. The boy looking back on his childhood, seeing the changes and then the contrast of his childhood with the frightening present is filled with a taut tension that never goes away.
Even as I gush about the writing, I can’t say enough about the art. Done in a single pane that continues through the entire vertical book, it shows the village, the train that allows their escape, and finally LA. The art has an ancient feel to it, filled with tiny details, many people, plants, houses, and more. It’s a tribute to the history of Mexico, the thousands of people who cross the border, and the beauty of their courage.
Unique and incredibly lovely, this book is one that won’t work in public libraries due to the format. But it’s one that is worth celebrating despite that limitation. Get this in special collections! Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books.