Thursday, November 26, 2020

Land of the Cranes

41945957. sx318 Salazar, Aida. Land of the Cranes
September 15th 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nine-year-old Betita loves to hear her father tell Aztec legends about cranes, and agrees with him that her family are like the cranes that have come home and should be allowed to fly. Her parents have come to the US from Mexico, following an aunt and uncle. They work very hard, the father in construction and washing dishes, and the mother as a nanny, although her father was an agronomist and her mother a teacher in Mexico. They had to flee because Betita's grandparents had problems with a local drug cartel, and it was too dangerous to stay. When her father is seized in an ICE raid, Betita's carefully constructed life unravels. Her father is deported and ends up living on the streets in a larger city because he is afraid to go back to his home town. When the family decides to go and visit him at Friendship Park in San Diego where they can talk across a fence, Betita and her pregnant mother are grabbed and roughly taken into custody. They are kept in a cold building with very few basic necessities, and it is some time before the lawyer who is working on their immigration case can even find them. Betita experiences lice, verbal and physical abuse by the guards, and sees others who are beaten, and hears stories of sexual abuse. When a young activist is brought in, they try to use social media platforms to bring attention to their situation, but things get worse. Betita's mother is gravely ill, and when the baby comes, she is taken to a hospital far away, leaving Betita by herself. She copes with her despair and grief by continuing to write her picture poems about cranes and her experiences. These are useful to the activist and lawyer in bringing attention to the mistreatment of immigrants in detention, but will Betita and her family ever be able to fly free?
Strengths: It is great to finally see a few more books on topics of social justice for young readers, as well as books with Latinx characters. You would have thought that since #WeNeedDiverseBooks started six years ago, that we would be seeing even more. Betita's story is heartbreaking and is a good one for young readers who might not be aware of what is going on in the world.
Weaknesses: With both this book and this author's The Moon Within, there are a lot of situations that might be really unfamiliar to young readers. Adults reading these books will have read more about these issues and understand them better. While the constant use of crane imagery is very effective poetically in this novel in verse, it would be helpful to have more background information for my more concrete middle school readers.
What I really think: This is an excellent and timely novel about the horrific plight of detained immigrants that might be best introduced to younger readers with some support and back story about the treatment of immigrants in the US. We need more stories like this and Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros.

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