Mexique by María José Ferrada, illustrated by Ana Penyas (9780802855459)
In a true story, over 400 children fled the violence of the Spanish Civil War. They were put on a boat and sent to Morelia, Mexico in 1937. Their families expected only to be separated from them for a few months, like an extended summer vacation, nothing more. Told from the point of view of one of the children, this book shows their time aboard the boat to their arrival in Mexico. The war was a hand that shook their lives apart, separated them and sent them adrift. But there were other hands too, hands of the older children who took care of the little ones. Not all of the older children were kind, sometimes stealing from the little kids. They arrived in Mexico, bringing the impact of the war with them, heading unknowingly into permanent exile.
Ferrada’s text is poetic and haunting. She writes of the hope of when the children embark, the bitter choice that their parents had to make in sending them to safety. She writes of the time aboard ship, of games played and small wars fought. She writes of long lonely nights at sea until the waving crowds welcome them to Mexico. The story stops there, continued in an afterword the explains what happened to the “Children of Morelia” and what history had in store for them.
The illustrations are just as haunting as the text. Done in a limited color palette with often jagged lines of ship railings and waves, they are sharp and unsettling. Showing the somber farewells, the crowds of children, they are sorrowful and foretell the longer refugee story ahead.
Somber, beautiful and timely. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers.
Mila has aged out of the foster care system and has found a job teaching at a remote farm in Northern California. The farm is owned by a couple who have taken in over 40 foster children over the years as well as offering internships, like the one Mila has gotten. Mila finds herself on a beautiful farm and warmly welcomed by the owners. She only has one pupil, 9-year-old Lee, who comes from a traumatized background just as Mila does. But no one told Mila about the ghosts on the farm, about how they would fill dance across the fields and play games together at night. As Mila gets more involved with helping on the farm, learning about the flowers and crops, and helping Lee face his trauma, she finds that her own memories are threatening to overwhelm her as her past continues to haunt her.
This new book from the Printz-award winner is another dynamite read. It’s a novel with such an unusual setting, haunting and remote. It echoes with elements of Jane Eyre and Rebecca while standing completely modern and unique. It may not be classically gothic with its warm and sunny rooms, merry meals together, and companionship, but other moments are pure gothic with the sea, the cliffs, and the ghosts. It’s a tantalizing mixture of sun and shadow.
Mila is a character to fall hard for. She is clearly traumatized by what happened to her before she entered the foster care system, setting herself apart from others even as she longs to be closer to people. She is careful, conscientious, and amazingly kind, everything that her past has her thinking she is not. She is a marvel of layers that the novel reveals with gothic precision at just the right times.
Gorgeously written and filled with icy darkness and glowing warmth, this novel is a triumph. Appropriate for ages 13-17.