It’s a good sign to me when I finish a picture book and immediately start writing down questions for the author, or Googling their name to find out their biography, their motivations for writing kidlit, and titles of their other works.
So it was with “Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote,” a 2013 book written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. (I reviewed “Dear Primo,” also by Tonatiuh, last month.)
“Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote” is an allegory about migration from Mexico to the U.S. One spring, the rains don’t come and crops don’t grow, so Pancho Rabbit’s papá and some other animals head north to find work. Pancho eagerly awaits his papá’s return. When his dad doesn’t arrive on the expected day, Pancho sets out in search of him. A coyote helps him on the dangerous journey, but only in exchange for Pancho’s food. After the tortillas run out, the coyote decides to eat Pancho. That’s when his father and the other animals arrive to save the day. They’d been attacked by a gang of crows and stranded in the desert, and they hear Pancho’s cries for help.
The group returns home to a fiesta, but the ending isn’t all sunshine and daisies.
“I don’t want to leave,” Papá Rabbit tells his children, “but the crows took all our money. If it doesn’t rain enough again this year, and if there is no food or work here on the rancho, what else am I to do?”
Pancho and his siblings say they’ll go with him if he leaves again.
“Let’s hope it rains,” says Mamá Rabbit.
A big question I had for the author after reading was how children have reacted to the book. I was curious whether they understand the allegory and the symbols, such as the coyote, which is a term for people who smuggle migrants across borders and often take advantage of those they transport.
Searching the Internet for more information, I quickly realized that my curiosity about children’s reactions came from my own (limited) perspective as a reader. As a child, I had no experiences with or knowledge of immigration, its dangers, or the effects on families. So I imagined young readers coming from a similar position. But, of course, there are plenty of children for whom Pancho Rabbit’s tale is not just a distant idea, but a reflection of their lives.
In fact, a fourth-grade class in Austin, Texas, wrote about their own families’ migrant journeys after reading “Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote.” They shared those with Tonatiuh in a multivoice video poem:
I hope more kids like those fourth-graders, as well as ones like the fourth-grader I was, get to read “Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote.” The book won the 2014 Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award. (Add that one to the awards lists I’d like to mine for new reading material.)
To read more about Tonatiuh and his work, check out this NBC News article: “Duncan Tonatiuh Wants Latino Children to See Themselves in Books.”
“I try to make books about things that I’m passionate about – social justice, history, art,” he says in the article.
With that as his MO, I’m sure I’ll be reading and reviewing more of his books in years to come.
What about you? What are some of your favorite children’s books for Latino children?