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Marge Pellegrino,
Journey of Dreams
Frances Lincoln, 2009.

Age 9-12

Marge Pellegrino’s chapter book Journey of Dreams begins in 1984 in the Guatemalan highlands, where Tomasa and her family live a traditional Mayan village life, working their field and selling their woven goods at market. Then soldiers begin conscripting young boys in a campaign to destroy villages and expand land rights for powerful outside business and political interests. The novel is an account of how one family is separated, forced off the land, left stateless, and eventually reunited in the U.S.

Tomasa’s mother and older brother Carlos leave secretly to avoid Carlos’ conscription and recriminations for their mother’s criticism of the soldiers. The three younger children stay with their father, but soon soldiers return to burn the whole village. The family barely escapes. Using very simple sentence structure, Pellegrino tells the story from Tomasa’s  perspective. Barely a teenager herself, she tries to help her father care for Manuel — who deeply resents his mother’s departure — and toddler Maria, as they hide in the woods, look for food, seek friendly people to help them, and over the course of many months, walk the long arduous path to safety. It takes three harrowing attempts to cross the river border between Guatemala and Mexico. In Mexico City, they find refuge through the Sanctuary movement and learn that Carlos and their mother are safe in Phoenix. At last, they too are smuggled into Arizona.

Along the way, Tomasa, a weaver like her mother, reports her Mayan-inflected dreams and ideas for weavings. As her father tells the children stories every night, Tomasa illustrates them with drawings in the dirt, which they then carefully erase along with other evidence of their presence, when they leave each hiding place to continue their journey.

Pellegrino, who lives in Tucson, Arizona, has worked for many years with refugees, especially children, through the Hopi Foundation’s Center for Prevention and Resolution of Violence. Journey of Dreams includes a brief author’s introduction, a Spanish glossary, a map of Tomasa’s journey, and a closing note about refugee work. Pellegrino’s vivid, heartwarming account shows children the human faces and real suffering that so often go ignored when attitudes about immigrants polarize. The courage of Tomasa’s family and other refugees, and of sanctuary movement volunteers, will inspire compassion and greater understanding of this complex issue.

Charlotte Richardson
August 2010

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