return to sender

Readaloud of the Week: Return to Sender

Return to Sender
By Julia Alvarez

In brief: When Tyler’s dad is injured in a tractor accident, his family hires a group of migrant workers to help on the family farm. As Tyler and Mari—the daughter of one of the laborers—form a tentative friendship, they’re forced to confront the differences in their lives, including Mari’s constant fear of being discovered and sent back to Mexico. Half the book is told from Tyler’s perspective by a third-person narrator, and half is through Mari’s letters to her mother.


What makes it a great readaloud: Alvarez really illuminates the problems with immigration, deportation, and what citizenship in the United States actually means through Mari and Tyler’s developing friendship, and she resists the urge to wrap things up with simple answers. You’ll be having great conversations about why people have come to the United States over the course of its history, what it means to be a family and a community, how people from different backgrounds and experiences can forge friendships, and what responsibilities friends have to each other. In today’s political landscape, these seem like especially important things to be talking about with our kids.


But be aware: Sometimes the message of the book takes precedence over the plot, and the story gets a little stilted because of it. (This is especially true in some of Mari’s letters.)


Quotable:  “Life is about change, change, and more change. When you're born as a child, you die as a baby. Just like when you're born as a teenager, you die as a child.”

9 Books for Latino Book Month

Fill your May reading list with books that celebrate Latino culture. Lean ustedes, y disfruten!

Everyone knows about Brown vs. the Board of Education, but not many people know that almost ten years before the Supreme Court struck down the separate but equal standard for school, a Mexican-Puerto Rican-American fought against the same kind of segregation in California. Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation (EG) tells her story.

The allegory is obvious but still effective in Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote (EG)—a tale about a young bunny who strikes out north in search of his father, who left to work in the carrot and lettuce fields there and hasn’t returned home.


The Dreamer
By Pam Munoz Ryan, Pam Muñoz Ryan

In the graphic novel Luz Sees the Light (EG), Luz’s community is struggling with high gas prices and power outages, and Luz thinks turning a deserted lot into a community garden will make her barrio a better place.

The Dreamer (MG) is fictional biography of Pablo Neruda, recounting the childhood of a shy boy who finds beauty and mystery all around him with a dazzling combination of poetry, prose, and artwork.


Return to Sender
By Julia Alvarez
The Tequila Worm
By Viola Canales

Julia Alvarez tackles tough questions about ethics, morality, and migrant workers in Return to Sender (MG), a simple, sensitive story about two families whose lives intersect on a Vermont dairy farm.

In The Tequila Worm (YA), Sophia experiences culture shock when she wins a scholarship to a posh boarding school, where she must find ways to stay connected to her Mexican-American family and its traditions while finding her place in a different world.


Under the Mesquite
By Guadalupe Garcia Mccall
The Book of Unknown Americans
By Cristina Henríquez

While Lupita’s Mami battles cancer at a faraway hospital, teenage Lupita takes care of her seven younger brothers and sisters in Under the Mesquite (YA), a novel in verse about growing up in a Mexican-American family.

A motley collection of immigrants, brought together in a Delaware apartment complex, tell their stories in chapters that alternate with a love story between a Panamanian boy and a Mexican girl in The Book of Unknown Americans (YA).


The House on Mango Street
By Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street (YA) isn’t so much a novel as a collection of vivid, lyrical, almost impressionist vignettes, telling the story of a Mexican-American girl growing up in Chicago. 


We use the abbreviations EG (elementary), MG (middle school), and YA (high school) to give you a general idea of reading level, but obviously you’re the best judge of what your child is ready to read.