Monday, December 21, 2020

Fences: Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border by Mitali Perkins

Abuela stars in all of Mama's stories, but my only memory is a voice calling me "Angelita." We haven't seen my grandmother in five years. But today is La Posada Sin Frontiers, and we are taking a bus to the border to meet her.

Maria, her mom, and her little brother Juan board the bus to the Border Field State Park in San Diego. Mama is knitting the last few rows on a scarf for Abuela which Maria has been working on for weeks and little Juan clutches his gift for his grandmother, a drawing of Mary and Joseph at an inn with a sign that says "NO RUME." At the park they wait for the border officers as they allow small groups to enter the space between the two border fences between Mexico and the U.S. to meet their families on the other side.

At last it's their turn. She hears a voice calling her mother's name.

"Sylvia! Sylvia!

And then Maria hears a now familiar voice, her grandmother's!

"Juan! Maria Angelita!"

"I'm still her little angel," Maria thinks happily.

The openings in the fence are small, only big enough to touch each other with fingers, but their words travel back and forth quickly. But Maria's knitted scarf is not allowed through by a border officer who gives it back to her. Mama' promises to mail it to Abuela, but Maria is still sad. But what about her little brother's drawing? Maria thinks about that as priest leads a short Posado service and the officers tell them it's time to go. But Maria has an idea to get her brother's gift to Abuela.

"Abuela, esparate'! Wait!" she calls.

Sitting on the sand, Maria takes the knitting needles and yarn from her mother's bag and fashions a kite out of Juan's drawing, and on the third try, the little kite soars over the two fences as the crowd and border officials alike applaud. Mama' cuts the yarn and the kite wobbles and drops into the sand of Mexico, where Abuela picks it up and carries it carefully home.

In a touching story of family life at the border, Mitali Perkins' Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019) show that love indeed knows no borders. In the skillful illustrations of Sara Palacios, the kite and yarn become apt symbols of the ties that bind families together despite closed borders and steel fences. A Christmas-themed story for young people that speaks volumes. "A story of family strength and unity overcoming fences along the Mexican/United States border. Another poignant piece to add to the current national discussion about the border. A must for any collection," says School Library Journal's starred review.

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