Imagine a Mexican father telling his child that he’s leaving for America. He probably wouldn’t spend a lot of time explaining the complicated economic and political relationship between Mexico and the U.S., nor would he spend a lot of time explaining how difficult and dangerous the journey to el norte would be.
The children’s story “Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote” by Duncan Tonatiuh starts with a statement much like that. Like so many Mexican workers, Pancho Rabbit’s father decides go to north because of lack of work at home – “The rains did not come and the crops would not grow.”
Papá Rabbit, along with companions including Señor Ram and Señor Rooster, leave at the beginning of the story. The story is told from the point of view of Papá Rabbit’s family, who prepare a great feast for his return.
When he doesn’t come back on time, Pancho decides to search for his father and meets up with a coyote (an actual four-legged coyote, of course) and begins his own perilous journey across the border: Riding on top of a boxcar, crawling through a tunnel and walking through the brutal sun of the desert.
Though the story is told through “cute” animals, the journey to el norte is depicted as harsh and intimidating. The coyote, of course, is a play on words.
As the author explains in the footnotes, a coyote is the slang word for a person who smuggles people across the U.S.-Mexico border. In the book, the coyote is as ruthless as the real-life ones can be: When Pancho runs out to food to give him, the coyote announces that he will roast the little rabbit instead. (Fortunately, Pancho’s father bursts into the room at that moment to save his son.)
The story is told with great warmth and compassion, making it possible to introduce the subject of immigration to children without overwhelming them. It’s hard not to feel compassion for little Pancho or for his father searching for work in the north.
Tonatiuh doesn’t fall into the trap of tacking on a “happily ever after” ending. Instead, the story ends ambiguously. After his return, Papá Rabbit’s children beg him not to leave the family again, but he responds candidly that, “If it doesn’t rain enough again this year, and if there is no food or work here,” he may have to leave again.
The children all offer to come with him so the family will stay together. Mama Rabbit responds bluntly: “Let’s hope it rains.”
“Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote” is a deceptively simple story that makes the struggle of Mexican immigrants come to life in a way that is easy for children to grasp. The illustrations are vivid, and the prose mixes English and Spanish, lending authenticity to the story.
The book includes two pages of notes on the subject of Mexican immigrants, including several links to resources. If children want to learn more about the issue, they can.
But if they just want to read about the journey of Papá and Pancho Rabbit, the book is complete in itself. This would be a fine addition to any child’s library, especially for those children whose own parents may have firsthand experience with immigration.
Tom Vasquez is social media strategist for Marguerite Casey Foundation and Equal Voice News. He helps manage the Facebook and Twitter accounts for Marguerite Casey Foundation, as well as the Facebook and Twitter accounts for Equal Voice News.
2013 © Equal Voice for America’s Families Newspaper