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.