I'm heading off to New York City tomorrow to attend my very first Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI--yeah--a mouthful of an acronym) conference. So how's it feel? Let's let the always funny Debbie Ridpath Ohi tell it like it is:
I’m always astounded by how many great writers exist whose work I’ve never read and never heard of. Luis Alberto Urrea was one of them until I ran across Into the Beautiful North on some list or other and requested it as a Christmas gift—in 2010. I know, I know, I’m behind on my reading. Shut up. But this book was worth the wait.
First of all, I admire with a little teeth-grinding jealousy someone who can write such lyrical prose in English and yes, in Spanish, too! Both this book and Urrea’s The Hummingbird’s Daughter(now also on my reading list) are available in both languages. Because he’s just that good. The sentences flow, the descriptions blossom into pictures right before your eyes, and besides all that, the story is eminently readable, suspenseful, exciting.
It begins in a small, dusty, forgotten Mexican town called Tres Camarones. Most of the able-bodied male population has fled north, leaving the mostly female community vulnerable to drug bandits and negative population growth. Nayeli, a plucky 19-year-old, decides after seeing Yul Brynner kick butt inThe Magnificent Seven that there’s only one way to save this dying town: Go to the USA and bring back seven magnificent Mexican men to drive out the banditos and spawn a new generation. So she packs up and braves a journey across the border with her homegirls and their gay male buddy to do just that.
A great road-trip novel like this one wouldn’t be complete without wacky characters and dangerous experiences, but the book is anything but formulaic. It’s funny, original, and peopled with folks you wish you could know outside the pages. Those of us who live in Los Yunaites and take it for granted get to see it through the eyes of outsiders—the good and the bad. Are Nayeli and her fellow “wetbacks” treated well? Sometimes. Is the Beautiful North all it’s cracked up to be? Again, sometimes. This is one of those books that you alternately savor and race through, wishing the story went on and on after the last page. And, like all good stories, it does. We just don’t get to read about it.
Middle-grade fantasy Harcourt, 2006 (originally published 1934) 224 pages $12.95
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Why am I so wild about Mary that I award her the coveted five out of five stars? It may be childhood sentimentality, I admit. My mother used to read Mary Poppins as well as Mary Poppins Comes Back aloud to us in the car on long vacations. Nothing could hold me as mesmerized. I so wanted a nanny who could serve tea on the ceiling or rescue me from the nasty characters inside a Royal Doulton bowl. I was devastated every time Mary left, even knowing she would come back. I loved her because she wasn't sugary sweet (the lovely Julie Andrews notwithstanding); magic was part of who she was and she saw no nonsense in it. So what if extraordinary things happened whenever Mary was around? Children still had to go to bed on time and drink their cod liver oil (though when Mary administered it, it was somehow delicious).
I envisioned that one day I would live on Cherry Tree Lane, where the cherry trees danced down the center of the street with houses running down one side and the park on the other. This book was probably the beginning of my deep and abiding love of all things English.