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1996 Américas Commended List


The story of a young girl helping her father trade some of their possessions for basic necessities in war-torn El Salvador seems an unlikely topic for an easy reader. However, this poignant narrative, told from the child's perspective, is straightforward and speaks to the heart. Maria never intended to trade her stuffed bear, but her sensitivity to her family's circumstances helps her to make the difficult decision. A general map and glossary (with a pronunciation guide) for the eight Spanish words/phrases used in the text precede the five chapters. The Spanish blends easily with the English text and the meaning is also made clear in context. Sandin's watercolors add to the emotional impact of this beginning reader and do an effective job of setting the scene. An author's note intended for adults briefly explains about the war that took place in the 1980s. This sensitive and compelling title will be welcome in all libraries, particularly those serving refugees from El Salvador.

School Library Journal

Growing up in El Salvador, Maria understands that her father can work for neither the government nor the guerrillas without reprisals from the other side. Now they must barter their handiwork and their furniture for food. Going to market with her father, she takes along her stuffed bear Paco. When Papa leaves Maria in charge, she finds the courage to make good trades, even letting her beloved Paco go in exchange for the food her family needs. A glossary is provided for Spanish words used in the text, although generally their meanings are clear from the context, at least when they first appear. Libraries looking for more contemporary stories reflecting other cultures will find this a good choice for young readers, particularly for those who know a little Spanish.


Illustrated by Joan Sandin, Alphin uses the "I Can Read" format to tell a serious story set in El Salvador in the 1980s...The details of life in war-torn El Salvador are grim yet do not overwhelm this compassionate story. The author's note puts the story in historical context, and Sandin's soft watercolor illustrations give the reader additional information about the setting and culture. The serious tone and direct narrative of this story successfully relate the immediate ways in which war affects the life of a child.

The Horn Book

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