On this first Tuesday of December many people around the world are making preparations to celebrate holidays during this month. These holidays have deep historical roots based upon religious beliefs and traditional customs observed for generations. The challenges more people than we can imagine face during these plans and festivities differ in degrees of difficulty.
One of the greatest hardships is to have those we love separated from us not by their passing, geographical boundaries, or unforeseen circumstances but by walls built by the hands of humans. Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border (Farrar Straus Giroux, September 10, 2019) written by Mitali Perkins with illustrations by Sara Palacios is a tale of ingenuity; this cleverness a result of what children do best. They are keen observers. They hope.
Abuela stars in all of Mama's stories, but my only memory is a voice calling me "angelita."
Five years have passed since this little girl heard her grandmother's affectionate word for her. Today Maria and her younger brother Juan are traveling to the border separating Mexico from the United States with their mother. It is La Posada Sin Fronteras.
Mama is knitting the finishing touches on a scarf Maria has made for her grandmother to wear home. Juan carries a picture he drew on cardboard for his grandmother. It is of Mary and Joseph unable to find room in the inn.
When the bus carrying friends and family members arrives at the border two large fences, with a space in-between them, stretch into the ocean. A limited number of people for a limited amount of time are allowed by border patrol officers to pass through the gate of the first fence to find their loved ones who have arrived from Mexico.
When the time arrives for Maria, Juan and their mother to meet Abuela, they are excited to see her and share words of news and affection in person. A priest reads the story of Christmas and leads those present in carols. When their time is up, Maria tries to push the scarf through the small holes in the fence. A guard forbids it, returning the scarf to her.
Outside the gate Juan bursts into tears realizing he did not give his picture to Abuela. Looking at the area around her and watching several seagulls gives Maria an idea. Wind and suggestions of encouragement assist her endeavors. Love soars.
With her words, author Mitali Perkins pens a story of abiding affection, family and persistence. Simple conversational sentences in Maria's voice take us willingly on her family's journey to the border. The mix of narrative and dialogue lends authenticity to the story. The selection of specific words takes us deeply into these memorable moments. Here is a passage.
Mama's words trip over Abuela's. Cousins, chickens, corn---everything in the village has grown. Abuela drops kisses on our fingers. (Only fingers will fit through the fence, as people reach for each other.) She is short, brown, plump, and jolly. Hugging her would feel like hugging a chunk of cookie dough.
On the right of the open and matching dust jacket and book case, readers see a scene filled with joy; the joy is one of excitement at seeing a missed grandmother and for the gifts being made for her. The tiny prints and patterns on the pillow, lampshade and rug are a reflection of the culture from which this family comes. The heart pillow speaks to the strength of love in this family.
The background on the wall in the home is continued as a canvas to the left, on the back. Within a large oval with a loose border, artist Sara Palacios has placed an image of the sandy beach, the ocean, a blue sky with wisps of clouds, seagulls, the white lighthouse on the Mexican side of the wall and palm trees. Into this setting she shows Juan happily cheering his sister as she runs in her efforts to bring his gift to Abuela.
On the opening and closing endpapers Sara Palacios has given readers a beach view of sand, palm trees, ocean, sky and seagulls. These endpapers in the front host the title page on the right. At the conclusion of the book, they supply a space for the publication information on the left.
Sara Palacios alternates her picture sizes from full-page pictures to double-page pictures, to smaller visuals for dramatic effect and a group of three double-page horizontal illustrations to highlight the passage of time in quick sequence. Her perspective shifts from more panoramic positions, straight at readers, to panoramic places with a bird's eye view. She brings us close to Maria's family to make us a part of their story. The expressions on all the people's faces reflect their happiness and everyday tendencies, too, such as the siblings of another family teasing each other.
One of my many favorite illustrations is a single-page picture. Abuela is close to the fence on her side. Juan, Mama and Maria are walking toward her and nearly at the fence. All their faces are full of joy. Mouths are open and smiling calling out words of love and greeting. Maria proudly wears the scarf. Juan is carrying the picture. Mama has her knitting bag over one shoulder and carries her purse in her other hand. Other families to the left of them are calling out to loved ones. Pure bliss pours from this page.
Whether readers are familiar with Las Posadas or not, this book, Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border written by Mitali Perkins with illustrations by Sara Palacios, tells of a single day during this holiday and one family's minutes during an amazing achievement. This title offers the opportunity to discuss different holiday celebrations around the world and brings this holiday closer to children in the United States. There are numerous possibilities for additional activities and research. An Author's Note offers further information. I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.
To learn more about Mitali Perkins (This is her debut picture book.) and Sara Palacios and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Mitali Perkins includes many references for this book on her website. Mitali Perkins has accounts on Instagram and Twitter. Sara Palacios has an account on Instagram. At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations. The cover, short sentences from the author and illustrator and process art are revealed by teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner on his blog.