BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight by Duncan Tonatiuh [in Booklist]

Surviving a life-threatening journey from Mexico to a “strange city” in the U.S., Juan joins his uncle and three cousins. He owes his low-wage, 12-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week restaurant job to a boss who insists he’s “doing [Juan] a favor because [he] had no papers.”

Although he’s married, he agrees “to go have the happy hour” with the persistent new Chinese waitress. Her interest is hardly amorous, though; she energizes Juan to fight for fair pay and improved conditions.

Multiple Pura Belpré Medal and Honor-awarded Duncan Tonatiuh (Diego Rivera​, 2011) channels his interest in the Mixtec codex format to create a superb modern odyssey, stupendously illustrated in his signature contemporary adaptation of pre-Columbian art forms, presented on accordion pages in a handsome slip-case. His often-wordless insertions of border violence, #BlackLivesMatter, gay relationships, even gender preference prove especially resonating.

His ending author’s note, about his own activism for workers’ rights, adds inspiring gravitas: “Some people want to kick us out and some act like we don’t exist, but we are here,” he reminds. By embedding multiple languages (English, Spanish, Mixteco, protest placards in Chinese), Tonatiuh underscores shared experiences, regardless of background: “What matters is that we face the same problems”­ – and one hopes, together, achieve ​similar successes.

Review: “Books for Youth,” Booklist, September 15, 2018

Readers: Children

Published: 2018


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