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Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border

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It's almost time for Christmas, and Maria is traveling with her mother and younger brother, Juan, to visit their grandmother on the border of California and Mexico.

For the few minutes they can share together along the fence, Maria and her brother plan to exchange stories and Christmas gifts with the grandmother they haven't seen in years. But when Juan's gift is too big to fit through the slats in the fence, Maria has a brilliant idea. She makes it into a kite that soars over the top of the iron bars.

Here is a heartwarming tale of families and the miracle of love.

40 pages, Hardcover

First published September 10, 2019

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About the author

Mitali Perkins

24 books488 followers
Mitali Perkins has written many novels for young readers, including You Bring the Distant Near (nominated for the National Book Award) Rickshaw Girl (a NYPL best 100 Book for children in the past 100 years, film adaptation coming in 2022), Bamboo People (an ALA Top 10 YA novel), and Forward Me Back to You, which won the South Asia Book Award for Younger Readers. She currently writes and resides in the San Francisco Bay Area: mitaliperkins.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 199 reviews
Profile Image for Jacquelyn Erickson.
26 reviews4 followers
January 23, 2021
Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border is a winner of the Américas Award ALA Notable Social Studies Trade Book NCTE Charlotte Shuck Honor Awards Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature Best Book of the Year. This book is written by Mitali Perkins and illustrated by Sara Palacios.

It is a story about a little girl, her mother and younger bother who go to the border to see their grandmother and celebrate Las Posadas. The children and their mother have not seen their grandmother for several years. As the family arrives at the border, they are only allowed 30 minutes to visit with their grandmother through a fence, that which, divides them!

This story has precious joy and underlying emotion of sadness, that it envokes. It touches on the reality of the border and how families are separated, yet their hearts will never be apart.

This is a picture book that could be a SEL (Social Emotional Learning) Read Aloud to young children to talk and have conversations about their feelings and emotions, moreover how this story made them feel. There is a sense of sadness that in this story, yet demonstrates a silver lining of happiness!

This story is also very diverse and cultural as it teaches about Las Posadas. There is an annual Commemoration on the US/Mexico Border called La Posada Sin Frontera. The tradition is adapted so that families that families can gather along the Border Wall, in San Diego/Tijuana to hear a Christmas story, sing songs, and visit, yet divided by a border fence.

A read that will tug at your heart...
Profile Image for Amy Layton.
1,641 reviews48 followers
December 6, 2019
Equal parts adorable and idealistic, this book makes for a great tale for helping children understand just how and why families look different in different situations.  Take for instance Juan and Maria's family--they live with their mom, but the only time they can visit their grandmother is in half hour increments through a chainlink fence.  But when Maria and Juan realize that they can't give their grandmother any gifts, Maria gets creative and constructs a kite to send over their gifts.  After all, it's not going through the border, but over!  Idealistically, the border guards are in full support of this loophole, and have large hearts regarding these children.  

It seems a little too idealistic to me as an adult, but hey, why not hope for kindness and show solidarity and compassion?  Is that not what we should be striving for anyways?  

With cute earth-toned cartoons, these illustrations truly show Maria's inventive genius and the emotions displayed by the family as the difficulties rise and resolve.  Overall, this is a great book that offers a semi-realistic (and therefore more realistic than others) depiction of families separated by the border.

Review cross-listed here!
Profile Image for Abby Neuwirth.
24 reviews
January 20, 2022
The story Between Us and Abuela, A Family Story from the Border by Mitali Perkins is a wonderful story of a family visiting their grandmother. They meet their grandmother at the Mexican-American border, separated by a fence and being watched by border patrol. The location of this story is important for students to see, as this border is an important site for many children. Building a classroom library with diverse literature is crucial. Students must have the opportunity to see themselves in media, Between Us and Abuela is a great example and book to use in any classroom.
Profile Image for Cortnee.
34 reviews
November 22, 2021
There are so many incredible elements to this story. A young girl travels to the Mexican American border to visit her grandmother that she hasn’t seen in many years. The girl and her family are on the U.S. side and come up to a double fence with border patrol agents and an ominous double fence keeping her from the hug she wishes for from her grandmother. She has to settle with touching pinkies instead.
The border patrol agents and the fence are posed as the “bad guys” early on in the story but after the story progresses we learn the agents aren’t all bad but rather seem to just be doing their job.
There is so much emotion and authenticity wrapped up in this little picture book! I could see it being a great read for elementary aged students, especially with the matter of fact view of the fence dividing the countries. The pull of emotions and the fence dividing a family will have readers rooting for the main character to deliver her gift just like both sides of the fence are cheering her on.
To end the story, the author chose to have the little girl imagining what Abuela may be doing since realistically the fences would be blocking her view. I think this was a wise and honest choice on the author’s part.
Profile Image for Meredith McCaskey.
188 reviews4 followers
April 22, 2021
Really sweet, kind of sad– a very appropriate way to introduce little kids to the hard issues of families separated because of American immigration policy.
Profile Image for Kirsten.
948 reviews
January 3, 2021
This simple picture book went straight to my heart. Maria, Juan and their mother travel to Friendship Park at the border of San Diego and Tijuana. I know that border pretty well since my mom used to drive down on weekends to buy fresh tortillas. But I moved away when I went to college and I haven't been back since. I had no idea that families meet at the fence to talk and laugh and love each other. Many meet during "Las Posadas" a nine day celebration from December 16 to December 24 commemorating Mary and Joseph's search for an Inn before the birth of Jesus. Some on the Mexico side and some on the California side with two chainlink fences and border police between. Although the circumstances appear cruel and heartless, this book simply celebrates Maria and Juan and Mami being with their abuela in whatever way possible, and a lovely gift they find a way to leave behind.

I've had the most serendipitous moment with this book recently. I love it when my reading dovetails perfectly with something else I read at almost exactly the same time. I just finished reading Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar which also references Friendship Park and the border in California. Betita and her extended family make the journey to visit their Papi who has been deported to Guadalajara. This meeting doesn't go as smoothly, however. The family misses that "last US exit" sign (I remember that, too) and they end up in Mexico without documents. See my review of this book for more details.
Profile Image for KaitandMaddie.
1,911 reviews4 followers
May 17, 2021
An intro for us to Las Posadas, as well as to the issue of families separated by the US-Mexican border.
Profile Image for Julie.
213 reviews6 followers
December 22, 2020
A beautiful story of how clever girl celebrates Las Posadas with her Abuela despite being separated by the US/Mexican border.
Profile Image for Janessa.
211 reviews13 followers
December 21, 2020
Such a beautiful story about a family coming together at Christmas for La Posada Sin Fronteras. We read it tonight and all my kids were completely engaged, from my nineteen year old who encouraged me to keep reading through the tears in my eyes, to my six year old who couldn't wait to see if Maria's kite would make it over the border. A new Christmas favorite at our house.
Profile Image for Jill.
2,171 reviews80 followers
December 14, 2019
This is the story of a family that travels to the U.S./Mexico border during La Posada Sin Fronteras. “The Inn Without Borders” is a one-day celebration in December allowing people on both sides of the San Diego/Tijuana border to get together - sort of - across the fence dividing the two countries. Posada [the word for inn as well as the name of the celebration] is a Mexican tradition re-enacting Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter before Mary gave birth to Jesus. As the American Friends Society, one of the sponsors of the event, [ironically] defines La Posada Sin Fronteras:

"A celebration of the hospitality and welcoming of the stranger found in the original posada story, where Mary and Joseph search for shelter in Bethlehem.”

In Perkins’ story for children aged 5-8, Maria and Juan join their mother on a bus to go to the border to visit their abuela, or grandma, whom they haven’t seen in five years.

Maria and Juan have each made gifts to give their grandma, but the presents won’t fit through the holes in the metal mesh reinforcing the fence that separates them.

Juan begins to cry and Maria gets an idea. She goes into Mama’s knitting bag and turns Juan’s picture for his abuela into a kite using yarn for string. A sympathetic border guard allows her to try to fly the kite over the fence. After three times, “Juan’s gift soars over both fences, straight into Mexico.” Abuela picks it up and the crowd cheers.

The illustrator, Sara Palacios, is a native of Mexico and the recipient of the 2012 Pura Belpreé Illustrator Honor Award. Her kid-friendly illustrations convey a sense of joy, focusing on the love and warmth of the families meeting on the border.

Evaluation: It is sad to contemplate that for some, the celebration of families and Christmas is marred by fences and walls and a prejudicial opposition to people of color entering the country. While Perkins and Palacios choose to emphasize the positive for young children, adults who read with them may feel dispirited nevertheless.
Profile Image for Jenny.
2,691 reviews25 followers
December 31, 2019
Two young children go with their mom to the Mexican border near San Diego to visit with their grandmother, who lives in Mexico. Juan has brought a picture for his grandma, but the border patrol says nothing can be passed through the fence. Juan's sister comes up with a clever solution.
Profile Image for Richie Partington.
1,073 reviews122 followers
October 17, 2019
Richie’s Picks: BETWEEN US AND ABUELA: A FAMILY STORY FROM THE BORDER by Mitali Perkins and Sara Palacios, Farrar Straus Giroux, September 2019, 40p., ISBN: 978-0-374-30373-0

“The Trump administration has sparked outcry in Arizona after video posted on social media showed construction crews tasked with building President Donald Trump’s long-promised border wall bulldozing down some of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument’s most ‘iconic’ cacti.”
-- Newsweek (10/7/2019)

“I don’t believe in guarded borders
And I don’t believe in hate”
-- Bruce Cockburn, “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” (1984)

“Las Posadas is a nine-day festival celebrated throughout Mexico and in other countries from December 16 until December 24. It is a time to remember the birth of Jesús and how his parents, María and José, searched for shelter on the night he was born. Turned away from the inns of Bethlehem, María gave birth to her baby and laid him in a manger instead.
Every night during Las Posadas, two people dress up as María and José. A procession of neighbors holding candles and poinsettias join them to knock on the door of an ‘inn’ or ‘posada.’ On these nights, though, unlike that long-ago night in Bethlehem, this Holy Family and their companions are welcomed, sheltered, and feasted by the hosts.

La Posada Sin Fronteras (‘The Inn Without Borders’) is celebrated on one day during Las Posadas along the border between Mexico and the United States of America. People in Tijuana work with people in San Diego to plan the event. Friends and families gather in Friendship Park in San Diego and in Playa de Tijuana by the lighthouse in Tijuana. They sing traditional Posada carols, hear the stories of migrants living in the United States and in Mexico, and listen in silence to the naming of people who died trying to cross the border. “
-- from the Author’s Note

Some years, I spend Christmas Day with my young grandchildren. Other years, I don’t. Frankly, it’s not the biggest deal in the world to me. With rare exceptions, I visit and play with them every week. It’s one of the funnest parts of my life. Fortunately, they’re only an hour away. Just the other day, I was singing to the twins as I pulled them in their wagon to the park, where I ran up and down the climbing structures with them.

My inspiration for being a grandparent comes from happy memories of my own grandfather. He was gentle, permissive, and treated me like I was the absolute center of his world. Now that I have my own grandkids to love, I see how that treatment was not necessarily an act.

This is why BETWEEN US AND ABUELA gets me right between the eyes. It’s a wonderful fictional picture book story of María and Juan, two young California Latino kids who accompany their mother to La Posada Sin Fronteras. They go there to share Christmas through the fence with their maternal grandmother, who is on the other side.

It’s a joyful tale. Young María, who narrates the story, successfully brainstorms a clever scheme for delivering, over the fence, the piece of art that her little brother lovingly created for this Abuela he doesn’t really know. It’s a big deal because Juan is too young to understand the concept that, by law, nothing can be passed through the fence. He really wants Abuela to have his gift.

For those of us whose grandparent was a regularly-present, forever-loving adult in his or her young life, this might be a somewhat sad book. I feel for this family who can’t have what I had, or that I’m trying to provide to my grandkids. What would it be like, I shudder to think, to have to visit my grandkids only on rare occasions, and from opposite sides of a fence?

Will we ever succeed in having love triumph over hate?

This unusual holiday-related picture book is a lovely, moving, and memorable story

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com
https://www.facebook.com/richiespicks/
richiepartington@gmail.com

April 22, 2021
Title: Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border

Author: Mitali Perkins

Lexile Level: Accelerated Reader 2.9

Pages: 40

Recommendations & Comments: This story was short and sweet. It tells the story of a family celebrating Las Posadas-a celebration of Jesus & his parents during Christmas. Maria and Juan are planning a yearly visit to see their Abuela (grandmother) for Las Posadas along with their mother Sylvia at the Border Field State Park in San Diego. Juan makes his Abuela a drawing of Mary and Joseph, with the words “Inns. No rume” above them. Maria knitted a scarf for her Abuela to wear on her walk back to her village. When the family arrives to the border, they have to wait until there is enough space to see their Abuela. The border patrol guards only give families 30 minutes for their visit. Once they are let in, their Abuela is waiting for them with a jolly and warm smile. After their 30 minutes is up, the guards quickly come up to escort them out, but Maria has realized she has not given her Abuela the scarf she knitted for her yet. Maria tried to push the scarf through the border fence, but the guard takes the scarf back and returns it to Maria’s mother, Sylvia. He explains that no objects can go through the fence, and that is when Maria’s younger brother Juan gets upset. He starts to cry because he cannot give the drawing he made to his Abuela. Maria’s quick thinking gives her an idea. She asks her mother for her knitting needles, and quickly wraps yarn onto Juan’s drawing, making it into a make shift kite. Maria then, with the help from Juan and her mother Sylvia, she flies the drawing over the border fence after a few attempts. Their Abuela is finally able to get the drawing, and other families cheer for Maria and her family. This story shares the loving moment between a Mexican family, separated from their Abuela; but goes to show that you can still feel connected with family, even when you feel so far.

Reviewed By: Miss Alexis
Profile Image for Victoria (Tori).
19 reviews
October 3, 2020
Diverse Children’s literature is supposed to serve as both a mirror and window. While the mirrors reflect our truths, the windows open our eyes to other realities.

For me, this 2019 Américas award winner, as well as Charlotte Huck honor, was a window. Before reading, I had never heard of La Posada Sin Fronteras, an event that occurs annually in San Diego and Tijuana. This is NOT something that I am proud to admit as a dual-language educator.

In the story, María, her little brother Juan, and her mom make the trip to visit Abuela at the border on the US side. Abuela has made the long journey from her small village in Mexico to share in this short celebration that brings the family temporarily together, even though there is still very much a physical barrier between them. Despite the joy of the reunion, conflict emerges when María and Juan realize that the delivery of their special gifts for Abuela might just be impossible given the stringent border laws.

While absolutely heartbreaking, this text is a strong launching point for talking to students about the reality of the border and how it keeps families apart. It also shows quite beautifully how families, despite impossible odds, still find ways to connect. While younger students can dip their feet into the complex conversation of racial divide and barriers, older students can identify other “borders” that exist in our world outside of this very physical one.

In sum, it is a text that demands conversation. It can be found on Youtube as a read-aloud if interested.
Profile Image for Tasha.
4,115 reviews103 followers
November 27, 2019
Maria, Juan and their mother hadn’t seen Maria’s grandmother in five years. Today they were celebrating Christmas by taking a bus to the border with Mexico for Los Posada Sin Fronteras where families could meet with the border fence between them. Maria had made her grandmother a scarf that her mother was finishing and Juan had drawn a picture for her. When they reach the border, they must stand in line for their turn to see their family. They get their turn and get to see their grandmother and the fence disappears as they reconnect. But there is no way to get their gifts through the fence, until Maria has an idea that even the border police approve of.

Perkins takes a celebration that few of us have heard of and turns it into a universal story of immigration and separated families on the United States border. Through Maria’s story, readers will deeply connect with the physical separation of families and the power dynamic in place. Mitali though leaves readers with a soaring hope as Maria manages to get Juan’s gift to her grandmother despite the fence in the way. The illustrations capture the small family and the large border fence, offering real perspectives on the size but also showing how those fall away when family connects with one another.

A strong and purposeful look at walls, immigration and family. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Profile Image for Bean.
82 reviews54 followers
October 20, 2019
I appreciated so many things about this story -- the main character's resilience and creative resistance against border imperialism, namely. But my struggle is with the sympathetic portrayal of border guards, whose internal culture of dehumanizing indigenous people on their own lands is well-documented. This aspect read to me like other picture books that depict cops as kind-hearted, generous people who just so happen to have a job upholding racist, state-sanctioned violence... at best, it gaslights children who have a very different lived experience of cops/border guards. At worst, it reinvests in the "bad apples" myth, that says that "there are good cops/border guards and bad cops/border guards out there" (which minimizes accountability, emphasizes mere "reform", and ultimately validates the existence of these systemically-violent institutions).
Profile Image for Julie.
795 reviews18 followers
January 7, 2020
Beautifully written and illustrated story about a mother and her two children in California visiting Abuela through the US-Mexico border wall, and their determination to share a gift with Abuela even though the officers can’t let anything through the fence.

Especially memorable is the line: “Hugging her would feel like hugging a chunk of cookie dough.” We know they are unable to hug, even though this is their first visit in 5 years. We also know from the story’s first sentence that Abuela is beloved: “Abuela stars in all of Mama’s stories, but my only memory is a voice calling me ‘Angelita.’”

I did not know about La Posada Sin Fronteras, The Inn Without Borders, but it’s explained in the author’s note, a time when families on both sides of the border sing, tell stories, and worship together.
Profile Image for Julie.
1,079 reviews
September 19, 2019
This book has excellent illustrations, but what is really captivating is the story and the thought that our countries, Mexico and the United States, might experience the celebration of La Posada Sin Fronteras on a greater scale - as the young protagonist, María, says, "For a moment, the fences are invisible." Her creative way of connecting with her Abuela on the other side of the fence is unique and moving, and a wonderful part of the story is how the Border Patrol agent turns a blind eye and even encourages the gift that, via the handmade kite, "Soars over both fences, straight into Mexico." A beautiful book that will make readers consider the hardship of separation for families who live on two sides of a constructed, artificial border.
Profile Image for Sandy Brehl.
Author 7 books128 followers
July 3, 2020
What a wonder of a book!
The extended annual Las Posadas Mexican traditions provide the impetus for this genuine and satisfying story of families separated at the US/Mexico border by "THE WALL". As politics (2020) presses into the Fall election, chants about THE WALL will continue to polarize and confuse young people. This up-close version of loving family is both heartwarming and heart-wrenching, while holding readers in the page-turning challenge of making connections. I was pleased that the individual (fictional) border guards were portrayed as law-enforcing but humane and encouraging. The specificity of the individuals and the impact of politics on their lives, from all sides, invites discussions and open-minded exploration of an issue that has gripped this country for decades.
51 reviews
January 26, 2022
Charlotte wants to give this book 3 stars because it is too sad to give 4 or 5. She says its really sad but she just doesn't know why.

Eric remembers that the family was seperated and he says it made him feel sad.

I think she feels this way because I cried reading it. My heart was breaking for the mother who couldn't take her young children to visit their grandmother. I feel so lucky that my family has always been able to be together and so sad that there are public policies that prevent families from hugging their loved ones. I hope that books like this spur the younger generation to make the change. It both breaks my heart and gives me hope to read books like this.

-Mom
Kids age 5 and 7

865 reviews6 followers
March 26, 2022
So many children deal with immigration in one way or another either hearing it on the news or experiencing it personally yet it can be a tough issue to discuss in the classroom without making it a political issue. This is such a wonderful book to bring up questions and understand the toughest issue about it all - separated families. I had never heard of La Posada Sin Fronteras and was glad this book shared the details. While still sad that the family is separated, it is good to see at least a few moments of connection and solutions regarding the most precious of gifts to each other.
Profile Image for Erin Buhr.
Author 5 books31 followers
January 27, 2020
Oh my. This story grabs your heart. I got a lump in my throat a few pages in and tears were forming in my eyes before the end. It is the story of a mom and her two kids who go to the border to visit with their Abuela. It brings to the forefront how families are affected by the border and humanizes immigration in a way that feels so needed right now. But it is also just a really good story. It has heart and love and drama and kids triumphing in an every day way. So so good.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 199 reviews

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