Migrant: Book Review and Writing Prompt

In Migrant: The Journey of a Mexican Worker, José Manuel Mateo and Javier Martínez Pedro have created a compelling work of art. Drawing from the experiences of children who migrate to the United States from Mexico and Central America, Migrant tells the story of a young boy who makes that dangerous journey with his mother and sister. The book takes the form of a codex, an ancient technique that utilizes a single sheet of paper or parchment to tell a story or give information pictorially. Codices were folded like an accordion, and some examples have survived this way for hundreds of years.

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In particular, the Mayan and Aztec civilizations used codices to record the sacred stories of their religions and details of their histories. Mateo and Pedro combined this heritage with a very modern story to create their book. Like an ancient codex, Migrant reads from the top down. The pictures, in this case, are all unified into a single image, but the narrative builds upon itself as the reader’s eyes move down the page. The book uses brief paragraphs alongside the image to explain exactly what’s happening. One side of the book has the text in English, and the other in Spanish, so it’s a great tool in a bilingual classroom.

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The story itself is sparse. A young boy recalls a few details of life in an agricultural village in Mexico prior to his father’s departure for better economic opportunity in the United States. When money stops coming from his father, the boy, his mother, and his sister undertake a perilous journey to try to reunite the family. The dangers – riding on top of train cars, hiding from police – are enumerated, but not in a way that makes them too fraught for an elementary audience. While I would use caution in sharing this book with immigrant or refugee students who might have experienced similar situations, it’s a powerful introduction to the realities of immigration for students who have no personal experience with just how difficult it can be.

I’m actually itching to use this as a prompt with upper-elementary or middle school students. The illustrations in the book are unique both in style and detail, compared to most children’s literature, and I think they’d elicit some interesting independent work if you asked students to create a similar style of picture telling about an important event from their own lives. Then, students could build a short narrative writing piece alongside the image.  For students learning English, this format would give them a way to tell a complete story without having to focus as much on the mechanics of writing. Someone with more fluency in the language could help them write their narrative, with revision and editing work as appropriate.

In the past, I have suggested learning about immigration as a logical next step to studying the traditional Thanksgiving story. Migrant would definitely work in that same vein, and I recommend it highly. Please tell me how it goes if you use it with your students!

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