Title: La Maríposa | Author: Francísco Jíménez | Illustrator: Símón Sílva | Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company | Date of Publication: 1998 | ISBN: 0-395-91738-7 (SP RNF), 0-395-81663-7 (ENG RNF) | Number of pages: 40 | Grade Level: Kindergarten-3 | Literary Trends: Spotlight on Diversity, Bullying, Survival Stories
Jíménez, F. (1998). La Maríposa. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.
In this glorious auto-biographical picture book, by author and educator Francísco Jíménez, young Francisco, a child from a migrant family living in central California during the early 1950’s, is excited to finally start school. Quickly, he realizes that he is at a major disadvantage compared to his classmates, he doesn’t speak English and Spanish is strictly prohibited. Taken from the pages of the award winning book The Circuit, this short story is brought to life for young readers by the incredible artwork of renowned illustrator Símón Sílva. Young Francisco is depicted with a humble determination to break through the difficult language barrier and is quickly confronted by foes and friends. This story about the first months at school will be relatable to children from all nationalities and cultures and readers will stay with young Francisco to the very end. The difficulties of starting at a new school for Francisco are supplanted in part by his affection towards the class “pet” a caterpillar preparing for chrysalis and a new found technique of daydreaming in class because he cannot understand any words that were being spoken.
La Mariposa gives readers a chance to explore with Francisco the interpersonal relationships that children have with adults and their peers, from a loving a supportive family life, to a slightly oppressive (at first) teacher/student dynamic of bullying and peer-supported integration. Like its parent book, The Circuit, in this title we see, despite his lack of English, Francisco’s metamorphosis from scared child to modest student leader, as his classmates and teacher cheer him on when he receives first prize for his drawing of a butterfly. Children will also learn that children from migrant families, like Francisco, often have a very difficult time assimilating to their new environment, as they read of his challenge to learn only a few simple English words all year.
School Library Journal describes the book as “especially suited for schools with an E.S.L. population” and “an excellent choice for raising awareness and creating an opening for dialog.” And Kirkus Reviews praises Jíménez for an “unembellished and straightforward narration” that depicts “the confusion and isolation of the protagonist.” Reading from any of Jíménez’s works offer a similar modest narration that allows for natural emotional reactions, rather than being forced by stimulated cathartic plot developments. While School Library Journal declares that the book is “open ended, with no real resolution” readers of this title will be delighted to discover a trio of young adult novels that are easy to read and written in the same anti-pathos narrative style by Jíménez as well as another auto-biographical picture book, The Christmas Gift.
An important distinction Jíménez’s writing is his ethereal balance of beautiful family moments and difficult hardships, especially his writing on life in the ‘tent cities” and clapboard houses of the 1950’s migrant worker era. His book The Circuit has been compared to The Grapes of Wrath on many occasions, and has even been used as a supplement to community readings of the Steinbeck masterpiece. Jíménez himself credits his writing career to reading the Steinbeck novel in his sophomore year of high school at the encouragement of his English teacher. Most importantly, Jíménez is able to cross the borders of the written language in his equally masterful Spanish editions of his books. In fact, in Spanish, La Maríposa takes on a slightly different tone of hopefulness that the young Francisco will endure, offering young Spanish readers a potential role model as they embark on their own English language learning.