We are all one family: Julia Alvarez

Zapato PowerAlbert Whitman author Jacqueline Jules
Duck for Turkey Dayis 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.


Before We Were Free

Return to SenderThe 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.



Finding MiraclesMost 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.

Julia AlvarezMy 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.

Who are your favorite authors? Tell us in the comments below!


We are all one family: Julia Alvarez

Our First Blog Giveaway!

In celebration of Grammar Week here at Boxcars, Books, & a Blog, we’re doing our first Blog Giveaway.  As you may have heard via Twitter, as a fun promo we made silly bands.

We’ve called ours “Book Bands,” and they’re shaped like golden retrievers (from The Buddy Files), winged sneakers (from Zapato Power), and boxcars (from The Boxcar Children) — two of each band in a pack.

Here’s Wendy first work as a hand model:

Now for the Blog Giveaway

The first 10 teachers or librarians to send an email to online[at]albertwhitman.com with the words “Book Bands” in the subject field will receive 25 packs. Please be sure to include the name of your school/library and a shipping address in the body of the email. Send your email now.

and please enjoy the rest of Grammar Week!

Our First Blog Giveaway!

Bookstore Visit: Anderson’s Bookshop, Naperville, IL

Albert Whitman & Company has been located in the Chicago area for most of its 90-plus years in business. As such, we’ve been blessed – both professionally and personally – with a wonderful assortment of independent bookseller for decades. Happily, this remains true today. In a semi-regular blog series, we will visit “Chicagoland Indies” for your information and enjoyment.

I walked into Anderson’s Bookshop on a sunny, summer Friday afternoon – and the children’s section was hopping! Kids and parents were perusing the shelves, playing together, reading, and having fun.

After checking out the Boxcar shelf (my first stop in every store), I met up with Jan Dundon, Anderson’s Children’s Coordinator.

Jan has been with Anderson’s for many years and has produced some of the best children’s book events in the country. Among her big projects is their Mock Newbery program – schools from all over the area participate. We exchanged thoughts on this year’s crop of contenders – which I can’t share with you, but the list is looking pretty good.

Which brings me to my favorite part of talking to booksellers – the recommendations. The staff read as much as they possibly can before the books hit the shelves, so they can do more than just hand you the latest bestseller (although they’ll do that too). Jan made a point of telling me that ALL of the staff members really just work there to feed their book habits.

That’s when I asked her the tough question: What are you favorite Albert Whitman books to handsell? Jan immediately answered, “MISS FOX! I love her.” She also mentioned The Buddy Files and Zapato Power, our two new early chapter book series.


I rarely (well, really, almost never) leave a bookstore without making a purchase – and this time was no exception. Upon Jan’s recommendation (although she’s a children’s specialist, she does help out with grown-up recommendations too), I purchased The Miracles of Santo Fico by D. L. Smith (a remainder title she’s been handselling a lot). Her other recommendation for adults was The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall (which is now on my “to be read” list).

The most common question from customers (other than book recommendations) is “How do you get so many authors!?” I already knew the answer to that one – because they do great events. They know how to organize the logistics and treat the authors – and they do one heck of a job at publicizing. But she pointed out that the relationships they have with the publishers is key too.

So why has Anderson’s survived – and thrived? In addition to doing the hard work mentioned above and being a fifth-generation family-owned business, Anderson’s is located in the heart of downtown Naperville – in the thick of the shopping and dining district. The owners are active in the community and work with the other business owners to keep their downtown active and viable.

They also have an impressively detailed mission statement:

  • To share a passion and knowledge of books to create lifelong readers.
  • To provide a place where exchanges of ideas and thoughts have a diverse playing field.
  • To open the door for journeys of the mind and spirit.
  • To be a destination for our community to keep open the dialogue of free speech and free expression.
  • To be a part of our greater community in support of education and the greater good.
  • To be a place of good company, great reads and engaging conversations for all ages.

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Bookstore Visit: Anderson’s Bookshop, Naperville, IL