Jul 6, 2013

Not As Simple As It Seems, Is It?

In the last post I featured a variety of quality titles related to Independence Day, from light-hearted to local to Miss Liberty. Underlying themes abound within their covers. These include, but aren't limited to: patriotism, community service, international cooperation and collaboration, recognition of human rights for people of every color and background, and projects with noble intentions that never seem to reach completion.
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2013

Which brings me to this week's single title, the very recent release, PANCHO RABBIT AND THE COYOTE: A Migrant's Tale, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. This award-winning book creator is also one impressive storyteller. I find myself returning to my favorite Levar Burton/Reading Rainbow quote: "But don't take my word for it..." Here's just a bit of what the Chicago Sun-Times had to say about Tonatiuh's latest creation: 

"Dora the Explorer never took a trip like this."
"The author, 28-year-old Duncan Tonatiuh, says he isn’t following the current immigration bill in Washington and didn’t write the book as a political statement. Tonatiuh, whose previous children’s book on Mexican painter Diego Rivera earned an award from the American Library Association, says he just wanted to give young illegal immigrants living in the United States a bedside story they can relate to.
'I wanted them to see that people that go into the U.S. like this face an incredibly dangerous journey,' says Tonatiuh, who was born and raised in Mexico and has dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship. 'But I also wanted to show the longing between families, the fact that there are a lot of children in Mexico who don’t see their fathers for years.'
Earning starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus Review, and Publishers' Weekly, the story works as a traditional tale and also as an allegory for the lives of countless Mexican and South American migrants facing a lose-lose decision when it comes to survival for themselves and their families.
I'll return to that aspect soon, but first let's take a closer look at the art of the book. Backmatter includes this brief statement: "The illustrations are hand drawn, then digitally collaged". I examine the art in picture books very closely on a daily basis, but I'll admit I had no idea how Tonatiuh accomplished this until reading that, and I'm mightily impressed with the process and the end results. 
Viking Press, 1999
The various textures, weaves, and components are intriguing and impressive, reminding me a bit of the elaborate collage production of Caldecott-winning JOSEPH HAD A LITTLE OVERCOAT by Simms Taback. And yet Duncan's book is utterly distinct and fascinating, a truly original style. 
As for the narrative, the cycle of Coyote's promises, "reasonable" demands, and eventual betrayal could be right out of the pages of a medieval folk tale, or from the pages of a twenty-first century newspaper report on immigration issues.
Tonatiuh addresses both levels of the story in the back matter, offering a Spanish glossary and author's notes, referencing the dual connotations of "coyote" as both a legendary trickster and as an illegal immigration border escort, every bit as unreliable and potentially deadly as the character in this story. 

Whatever your position may be on the current attempts to modernize and revamp the immigration laws in the Senate and the House, you should read this, including all the supplementary materials. It may not change your mind, and it was not written to espouse a political position. What it just might do is to humanize the issue, despite the fact that Pancho and his family are portrayed as rabbits. 

Reflecting on the themes explored briefly in last week's post, I can't help but wonder how the deeply entrenched constituencies on this topic would each claim identical aspects of American values, as listed in the opening paragraph above. How is it that patriotism, community service, international cooperation and collaboration, recognition of human rights for people of every color and background, and dissatisfaction with projects having noble intentions but an inability to reach completion can lead to deadlock? Aren't these values the prerequisites for and foundation of reasonable debate and constructive compromise? 

Shouldn't we demand that simplistic and rigid positions be jettisoned in favor of open minds and a willingness to compromise? I'm not presuming to say that reaching compromise would be simple, but it should not go unfinished.

Is it so hard to imagine that there's more thought-provoking truth in a picture book like this one than in the endlessly rehearsed and restated positions of pundits?

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