"The best children's stories are wisdom dipped in art and words." -Peter Reynolds

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant's Tale

Published in 2013, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant's Tale was written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. It is a 2014 Author Honor book of the Pura Belpre award. Tonatiuh himself was born in Mexico City and grew up in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. This book beautifully represents the Mexican culture.

The story is about a family of rabbits who live in Mexico. Papa Rabbit and a few other animals left two years ago to go north for work to support their families. After the father is gone for quite a long time and misses his coming home party, Panco Rabbit decides to go searching for his father and brings his favorite meal: mole, rice and beans, warm tortillas, and fresh aguamiel. However on his journey he runs into Senor Coyote who says he will show Pancho the short cut if he gives him some of his mole. Desperate to see his father, Pancho agrees and leaves with the coyote. On their journey, Pancho and the Coyote endure many dangerous situations such as riding on top of a train, swimming across the river, and crawling through tunnels guarded by snakes. To get past each challenge, the coyote requests more and more of Pancho's meal for his father which he sadly gives up in desperation. By the time they finally reach "El Norte," Senor Coyote asks Pancho for more of his food but Pancho says he has taken it all and there is none left. "In that case, I will roast you in the fire and eat you!" Pancho (and the reader) are terrified but just when we thought all was lost, Papa Rabbit bursts through the door, scares off Coyote and saves Pancho! The boys return home to Mexico and the family agrees that next time they all will travel together.

There is a great deal of Spanish vocabulary in this book which really adds to the Hispanic theme.The definition of each word in English can be found conveniently in the Glossary in the back of the book. The author's note is absolutely fascinating. Tonatiuh goes into extensive detail about the symbolism and background information for the book. He also discusses his personal history growing up in Mexico and goes into detail about illegal immigration in the United States. He explains a number of fascinating points:

"In Spanish the word coyote has two meanings. It is the name of an animal, but it is also slang for a person who smuggles people between the U.S. and Mexican border."

"When they [his friends] returned to Mexico they told stories about eating snake when they ran out of food while crossing the desert, or of waiting for days in a shanty house in a border town for the coyote to show up."

"Furthermore, there are an estimated 1.5 million undocumented children in the U.S. and according to a 2011 Pew Hispanic Center report, in 2008 there were 5.5 million children of illegal immigrants in U.S. schools. I think that a lot of those children will relate to Pancho Rabbit." 

Isn't this the point of diverse children's literature? To have all children represented in books they can read? Reading this Author's Note adds a whole new level of understanding to the text. I don't think the text would be as meaningful and beautiful without hearing his story. The illustrations are equally heart warming. The background colors are duller with a lot of browns, oranges, and shades of the desert. The characters are in brighter colors of blues, greens, reds, and oranges. The earthy toned background with the contrast of bright characters is stunning. Tonatiuh explained on the Glossary page that he first hand drew the pictures and then collaged them digitally. They definitely represent the Mexican culture beautifully and perfectly fit with the story. Portraying the characters as cute animals is more child friendly for such a serious topic as illegal immigration. I know that my second graders will love this book and appreciate the background history. I cannot wait to share it with them!

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