Albert Whitman author Jacqueline Jules
is a former teacher and school librarian. Her early chapter book series, Zapato Power, and Thanksgiving Day picture book, Duck for Turkey Day, were inspired by her students in a Title I elementary school.
The first book I read by Julia Alvarez was Before We Were Free. I am still haunted by this moving tale of a young girl living under a Latin American dictatorship. Since then I have enjoyed other titles by this gifted writer, including Return to Sender and the Tía Lola stories.
Most recently, I came across Finding Miracles. It is the story of a girl adopted in Latin America as a baby by two Americans serving in the Peace Corps. During the course of the book, Milly Kaufman searches for her Hispanic roots and comes to a new understanding of family ties. This isn’t just a book for a particular reader seeking to see himself or herself represented. Its main value doesn’t lie in its ability to open a window into a world the reader may not have experienced. Finding Miracles beautifully explores the themes of adoption and cultural identity in a universal narrative. Milly’s Hispanic heritage is an integral part of who she is, but her emotional responses should resonant with all readers. Alvarez deals with larger issues within the context of a multicultural family, creating stories about the human experience, that rise above specifics and touch our cores.
My paperback copy of Finding Miracles includes an interview with Julia Alvarez at the end. In this section, Alvarez explains why she did not identify Milly’s birth country, a land ravaged by war. Alvarez writes, “By not specifying the country, I thought I would make it harder for readers to dismiss how pervasive this situation was. (‘Oh, that only happened in Gautemala or Chile or El Salvador.’)” For me, this was a brilliant decision. The victims of political unrest in this book were not characters from one period of history, long past. They were suffering individuals from contemporary times—people I should care about now. Alvarez makes us understand that we are all one family. The details of our lives may be different, but we travel the same emotional terrain.
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