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[Monday Reading] Crossing the US-Mexican Border in Picturebooks “My Shoes And I” and “Pancho Rabbit And The Coyote”


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

These two picturebooks highlight the difficulties experienced by people who leave home to cross borders and reunite with loved ones who have journeyed far from their home to provide a better life for their family.

My Shoes And I

Written By: René Colato Laínez Illustrated by: Fabricio Vanden Broeck
Published by: Boyds Mills Press, 2010
ISBN: 1590783859 (ISBN13: 9781590783856)Borrowed from Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Central to this tale is the plight of a father and his young son (who was sent a new pair of shoes by his mother who is working in the United States) as they travel from their home in El Salvador to Guatemala to the US-Mexican border, ostensibly to be reunited with the mother.

There is coherence to the narrative as the young boy is seemingly pushed by his new pair of shoes to move forward, regardless of the many dangers they encounter along the way. Each time that the pair of shoes would get muddied and dirty, he would make sure that he cleans it, while singing a little ditty “Sana, sana, colita de rana.” The Author’s note in the end explained that this is part of a nursery rhyme that most Hispanic parents would sing to their children when they hurt themselves.

Hence, in this story, the young boy serves as a ‘parent’ to this pair of shoes that marked his family’s movement from one country to the next, bearing witness to the pack of hungry dogs out to steal his food or the dark trailer that became their home for days when his father lost his wallet in the bus terminal, as they await for more money to be sent to them by their mother who is far away.

It is implied that the boy and his father are planning to enter the United States illegally, with the mother possibly an undocumented worker herself in the US. This would be a good book to spark off conversations that would allow a young reader to be in the young boy’s skin for a singular moment, seeing this dangerous and hostile world through his eyes, as he takes flight, in the wings of hope, for a better life.

Pancho Rabbit And The Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale

Written and Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh
Published by: Abrams Books For Young Readers, 2013
ISBN: 1419705830 (ISBN13: 9781419705830) Literary Awards: Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award for Younger Children (2014), Pure Belpré Honor for Narrative (2014). Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

This is an allegorical tale of Pancho Rabbit who left his home to find his father who was expected to be back home in Mexico from his work in the United States, through the “help” of a coyote, who is supposedly bringing the young rabbit closer to his father.

What is remarkable for me in this story is Pancho Rabbit’s courage, his willingness to face whatever odds before him as he packed his father’s favourite meal and drink, carrying it on his back as he searched for his father. There is also the general feeling of unease and foreboding as the reader senses that the coyote is out to take advantage of the young boy even as he provides assistance in exchange for whatever meagre things the boy had in his knapsack, to which Pancho Rabbit would say to himself, like a comforting refrain: “As long as it gets me closer to Papá.” 

The journey parallels that of the (im)migrant’s trek through desert, train, tunnels only to be threatened somewhere in the end, when Pancho Rabbit has used up everything in his backpack to “pay” the coyote for his services. It is a grim narrative that attempts to provide a happy ending to Pancho Rabbit’s tale, no matter how unlikely.

In Tonatiuh’s Author’s Note in the end, he did say that he was writing this tale from a position of privilege, being raised in a middle class family in Mexico with a dual citizenship. But he is privy to stories similar to Pancho Rabbit’s with kids from his neighbourhood who usually make this kind of journey when they turn eighteen. He also provided sobering statistics, with an estimated 1.5 million undocumented children in the US, and as many as 5.5 million children of illegal immigrants in US schools in 2008. I am sure the numbers must be rising too. Clearly we need more stories like this one (now more than ever, really) to provide perspective and to make the stories real to young readers. These books would also be good to pair with Jose Manuel Mateo and Javier Martinez Pedro’s award-winning accordion book Migrant: The Journey Of A Mexican Worker.

8 comments on “[Monday Reading] Crossing the US-Mexican Border in Picturebooks “My Shoes And I” and “Pancho Rabbit And The Coyote”

  1. Though I’ve read other migrant stories, these two are new to me Myra, and would be good to share with students as you’ve said. The children’s plight here in the U.S. is terribly frustrating. Thanks for these! A chapter book I found very good that shows another journey is The Only Road (Diaz).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. These look like great books! I’m going to try and get them from the library for my son!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Two really great books! Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I love Pancho Rabbit – it spurs such great discussions and works for so many levels of kids. (Migrant is a big favorite too – though it’s impossible to use with a whole class.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pussreboots

    I will look both your books up. Come see what I’m reading this week.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My Shoes and I sounds like a book for our times, Myra – I look forward to reading it with my students and the discussion that’s sure to follow.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Both of these look like such important books for the times. My local branch of the city library has a copy of Pancho Rabbit And The Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale. It’s not available, but this is probably a good thing since I am overwhelmed with all the books I already have!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. We sure need more titles of the migrant and immigrant experiences

    Liked by 1 person

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