I know I'm not supposed to pick favorites, but if I did, this book would definitely be on the list. It's about a mother and her child, immigrating from Mexico to the United States and the feelings they experience. Most of the story is told through art and includes elements, like theme, inferring and metaphors, which make it perfect for all grade levels. For example, author and illustrator, Yuyi Morales, explains (in the videos below) that on one of the pages there's a backpack with many things inside. That backpack is symbolic of all the beautiful traits a person carries inside of them; they are regalos (gifts) for others and are the only "things" a person needs to take with them as they move through the world.
I went overboard and included several videos of Yuyi talking about the book because hearing her explain her art is so impactful and you will experience the book on a whole new level. Part of what I love about this book is that is reminds me of my mother. I've heard her describe experiences that Yuyi illustrates and it makes me proud of my mom. I admire Yuyi's resilience- bringing her child to another country and through adversity, teaching herself a new language and creating beautiful treasures for all our children to learn from. -Dena

Social Justice Activities:

  • Explore the multiple identities of the main character: Mother, Immigrant, Mexican, Reader, Author, Artist and empower students to express their multiple identities through art, as Yuyi Morales does. (Identity 1)

  • Listen to the author below (minute 5:24) to humanize the immigrant experience for students. Explore the social challenges that she illustrates, like being afraid to answer the phone, not speaking the language, and not being able to navigate her new place well because it required reading maps (video 33:55). (Diversity 10)

Relevant Social Justice Standards:

Identity 1: Students will develop positive social identities based on their membership in multiple groups in society.

Diversity 10: Students will examine diversity in social, cultural, political and historical contexts rather than in ways that are superficial or oversimplified.

Reading Strategies:

Inference: Readers infer that the main character teaches herself to read by using library books. We also learn from the videos below that reading picture books inspired Yuyi to later become an author/illustrator.

Compare & Contrast: Compare and contrast this text (fiction) with an information text about monarch butterflies or bats (see video).

Story Elements: Plot, Setting, Problem Solution

Metaphors: The monarch butterfly is a metaphor for immigration.Yuyi Morales brought her hopes, her passion, her strength, and her stories with her, when she came to the United States in 1994 with her infant son. She left behind nearly everything she owned, but she didn't come empty-handed.

Book Details:
  • Fiction, All Ages
  • Perspectives: Immigrant, English Learner, Mother
  • Author's stated heritage: Mexican
  • Subject Integration: Art, Science

Learn from the Author

The entire video is worth watching but here are the parts that are particular helpful when teaching the book:

  • 5:24-8:56 Explains why she chose to write a book about immigration. She also explains the animal metaphors in the book and compares them to her own experience.

  • 54:02-1:01:27 Gives beautiful details about the family and cultural symbolism of so many of the illustrations like the regalos (presents) in her backpack.

  • 42:31-52:00 Inspires children to write and tell their stories, even if they don't feel the have the words yet. She also shows children how to make their own books.

  • 33:55-37:45 explains the challenges of not speaking the majority native language and how she incorporated that experience into the book.

Explains symbolism behind the artwork and how her culture and language influences her art.
7:36-11:52- Symbolism of the skirt made of paper.

Book covers images are from publishers and in the public domain