“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Journey of Dreams • Young adult fiction

Journey of Dreams
by Marge PellegrinoFrances Lincoln Children's Books •  YA fiction •  Ages 11-14
A modern day underground railroad set in the Guatemalan highlands of 1984.
Story:  Helicopters slash through the air like machetes, soldiers patrol the roads hunting down guerrillas...for the peaceful highlanders of Guatemala, life has become a nightmare.  Tomasa's mother has to go into hiding with her eldest son, and, when they see their house razed to the ground and the villagers massacred, Tomasa, Manuelito and baby maria set off with Papa on a perilous journey north to find Mama and Carlos. 

This is Tomasa's story of how her family survives the Guatemalan army's "scorched earth" campaign, and how their love, loyalty to each other and Papa's storytelling keep them going on their harrowing search for refuge in the United States.
Story behind the story:  "In 1998, I was working as a guest writer with the Pima County Public Library and freelancing magazine articles, when an acquaintance asked if I’d write about a social worker slated to win a statewide award. I went to visit the Hopi Foundation’s offices and heard about their work with survivors of torture. When they told me about the children’s group – I suggested some writing workshops I could offer their Central American youth.

Bent over their paper, images in writing and art emmerged to tell stories I thought might only happen to actors in an action adventure film. But the stories happened to these gentle children, whose lives had be altered by violence beyond the control of their villages or families.

Research that began as a means to better understand the families I served turned into a passion to share what had happened to force them from the highlands they so loved and continued to long for. I felt driven to understand their experience as best I could. I also wanted to offer children who were lucky enough to be born and live in a safe place a story to help them understand why refugee children might be in their communities.

JOURNEY OF DREAMS touches on challenges faced by many refugees -- the fear when their lives are turned upside down and the betrayal children feel when they don’t understand a parent’s flight. It shows symptoms of children who’ve witnessed violence as well as children whose parents kept secret the reason for their troubles, both often played out in dreams.

While that psychological thread in the story could speak to children in other times, Journey of Dreams took place in 1984-85, a specific time in history--when people stood up to make sure that the law surrounding refugees was being enforced. As I researched I had to ask myself if I could have put my freedom on the line to help a family I’d never met?

It took ten years from the idea to holding a copy of Journey of Dreams in my hands. Weaving the narrative with folktales and dreams, I had built a world so real to me that I grieved leaving Tomasa and her family behind when the writing wrapped up.

I continue to work with refugee children in the Owl and Panther and Word Journeys projects. Now, my students are mostly from Iraq, Afghanistan, Nepal and Africa. While I never ask about the details of my ever-changing charges’ past, it’s hard to avoid knowing. Their pain of separation and the feeling of being an “other,” echoes those original families I worked with in the late 1990s. But so does the resilience that grows from the love of their families, and each step they take forward."
-- author Marge Pellegrino

"As colorful as a traditional huipil blouse, with stories and legends woven expertly into the cloth.  Marge Pellegrino shows us the nightmare of genocide and dangerous border crossings, but she also gives us the human spirit at its best." -- Gayle Brandeis, winner of the Bellweather Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change

"A story of family love, loyalty, bravery and dreams, a fast-moving book that I couldn't put down." -- Wendy Cooling, children's book consultant and reviewer

For more on how to use JOURNEY OF DREAMS with students, see these discussion questions and writing prompts.

FYI: All the review copies for this title have been sent. But please check back and click on the comments link to read what your colleagues have to say.


Mflick1 said...

I got the book in the mail yesterday! I am very excited to read it and hear what the others have to say!

Katharine H said...

This was an excellent historical fiction book. Typically I am not drawn to this type of genre, but I knew it was good to add to my classroom library. I was pleasantly surprised about how I could relate to the characters and think students would find the same thing. There are a lot of emotions and issues with family dynamics that would create great discussions with students. I am thinking of doing it as a read aloud with my 5th graders. 4/5 stars!

Kim Watson said...

This book is a wonderful way to introduce historical fiction in a classroom. It allows students to understand complicated issues on their level. The glossary at the end of the book allows students to understand the language more easily. Great read for upper-elementary or middle school students!
Rating: 4/5

Mflick1 said...

I have been super busy this month with Homecoming and Red Ribbon week that I haven't had time to sit down and read. I did however have a student read the book. She is one of my avid readers, and though I was intrigued, she said the book was boring to her. It could be that historical fiction is not for her, which happens. I am going to suggest it to another students and find out her reaction and at some point, I will be able to read it! (I hope!)

Anonymous said...

Wow! While I was reading this book I found myself more and more engrossed in the story. I was up way too late at night because I did not want to stop reading.
I truly felt as though I was part of the incredibly dangerous journey from Guatemala to Phoenix. I highly recommend this for all classroom libraries of late elementary and middle schools. Ratin 5

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this story. My students read Esperanza Rising by Pam Munez Ryan and Journey of Dreams would be a nice companion peice to this. I believe that it is important for young readers to understand what is happening in South America. We hear a lot of negative about the borders, and these two stories show that at one time it was very important for people to start a new life in the United States. Journey of Dreams was very well written and a teachers dream to help teach story elements and the use of figurative language. I loved the characters in this story. Throughout the story I was on the edge of my seat with worry for the characters survival. This is a five in my picnic basket and I will use this story in my classroom.

6th grade consultant teacher

Sandra Stiles said...

This was a great book. I love Historical Fiction. I felt as if I was traveling along with Tomasa and her family. I felt the fear as they were on the river. Fear of being discovered and fear of drowning. This is a definite read for my students. I am an ESL teacher and have had a couple of students who have come from Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras. They say their parents brought them to the U.S. for safety and to have a future. I loved this book and give it a definite 5

SR 6th Grade said...

Historical Fiction is NOT my genre of choice, and after reading Journey of Dreams, it still isn't. However, Journey of Dreams was a good book, and I believe that my students will love it when I add it to my library. I give it 4 stars/5.

Anonymous said...

Journey of Dreams is a breath-taking story that literally takes you on the journey with Tomasa and her family by using creative and craftily written words.

Picnic Rating: 4

Julia Pitau
Denair Charter Academy
Denair, CA

dmuldawer said...

I enjoy historical fiction but just couldn't get into Journey of Dreams as much as I had anticipated I would.

For me, there were too many unanswered questions. Why does the Coyote want to separate Tomasa from her family? Why is there such swift retribution for the mother's comments and who in the village reported her? Why won't the woman in Mexico stay in the shelter?

Tomasa's dreams are interesting as they translate the bridge between reality and fable and incorporate elements of Guadalupean culture.

The smuggling codes of furniture are also interesting, though I wish the family had come to the United States legally.

As someone living in a state with major issues regarding illegal immigration, it's easy to feel pity for Tomasa and her family but this pity is undermined by the fact that they are smuggled inside the United States. I would feel more comfortable recommending this book to my students if the family had been admitted under political asylum, for which they would be well qualified.

The book is well written and contains a unique historical perspective. I couldn't get into myself, but I suspect it would be of interest in ESL classes.

Picnic Basket Rating: 3

Stacy B. said...

I enjoy recommending books to middle school students that take them out of their comfort zone and this book fits will challenge their thinking. If you are looking for a book that has suspense, family issues and struggles, along with an overall story of hope, this may be a book for you. I agree with a previous post that there are some unanswered questions and it troubles me to see illegal immigration used as a solution. I would rate this a 4/5.

Anonymous said...

I was excited to read this book because of the connection to Guatemala and the human rights violations of the 80s--a topic that has not often been explored in children's literature. However, I had a hard time getting into the book; for me, the beginning was very slow and I felt like the author was trying to be too literary. That said, perhaps the unanswered questions other reviewers mentioned are because as readers we are seeing things through Tomasa's eyes as she tries to figure out what is happening around her.

Marge Pellegrino said...

Hello... I just wanted to make a quick comment on some concerns expressed about the family crossing illegally into the United States.

My book is set during the time the US wouldn't allow Central Americans to apply for asylum. The Sanctuary Movement's civil initiative challenged the US policy that was breaking the law. The interviews and drawings the family in the story gave to Amelia were part of a case the Sanctuary workers would have had to build before the family was crossed. They didn't crossed anyone who wouldn't have legally been allowed to apply for asylum. They let the authorities know they were crossing each family. Had the families been left in Mexico -- they would have risked being deported back to Guatemala and killed. Sanctuary's activity and
the subsequent trial forced the government to change that policy and obey the refugee laws.

The last section of the book explains:

"More than one million Guatemalans were forced to move within the country and 200,000 fled Guatemala during the armed conflict. Many of the refugees who ended up at the US border needed protection because they faced certain death in their country. But the US turned away Central Americans because they
didn’t recognise that they were victims of persecution, which would have legally allowed them entrance.

"Human rights activists volunteered to find safe places where Central Americans could stay while they filed the paperwork to stay

"Some churches opened their doors to give refugees sanctuary. These
volunteers, along with religious leaders from different faiths, founded what would come to be called the Sanctuary Movement.

"Volunteers drove south to interview and accompany refugees into the US, organizing a modern-day underground railroad to keep them safe. They walked them through the legal steps necessary to seek asylum."

Hope this sheds some light on the book's setting/timing and legality
issues. I appreciate all the feedback on my book. I'm happy to chat via email: margepell@comcast.net

Thanks, everyone!

Tina's Blog said...

Journey of Dreams by Marge Pellegrinos is one of those books that really highlight for me the differences between my childhood and those of the characters in the book.

Set in 1984 in Central America, this book, although fiction, gives an accurate account of what life was like in Guatemala for one family that is forced to flee to America. While I was busy leading a carefree childhood filled with television shows, playdates and bike rides, Tomasa and her siblings were trekking across countries hiding from guerillas who were burning her village and killing innocent people. She and her family are separated when her mother and oldest brother flee so that they can keep Carlos, her brother, out of the army. They plan to reunite, but the rest of the family must flee to save themselves and end up trying to enter Mexico three times before having success. They eventually are taken in and tranported via a modern day Underground Railroad which helps Central American refugees.

This story is fascinating and Pellegrinos own work in this area gives her book authenticity. I especially like stories that I feel a connection to; aside from the fact that I was leading a trouble-free childhood in America while these events were taking place in Central America, this story takes place shortly after my brother was adopted from El Salvador. At the time of his adoption, in 1983, I remember only my parents discussing the country as being unsafe, but don't recall details. A friend adopted a child from Guatemela a year or two prior to that, and I now wonder if the politics of that country led to my brother being chosen from a neighboring country.

Pellegrinos writing is beautiful, perhaps more appreciated by an adult or more mature reader. I would recommend this book for high schoolers, especially those who are looking for background information on Central America.
Rating: 4/5

Peaceful Reader said...

Journey of Dreams by Marge Pellegrino is set in Guatemala during the 1980's political upheaval . It is the story of Tomasa and her family's decision to leave their tiny village and head north, walking toward first the border of Mexico and then to the U.S. border. First Tomasa's mother leaves with the oldest son because young boys have been captured rom the village and forced to serve as soldiers. It becomes obvious within a short time that it is time for the rest of the family to go as soldiers take over their village during a festival. Their entire journey is filled with risk and mishaps, especially trying to cross the river between Guatemala and Mexico. Once in Mexico, Tomasa, her brother Manuel and the baby Maria live temporarily in a park while the father goes off to work everyday. Eventually they are lead to a "safe convent" where they can stay in one room. A visitor from the U.S. brings news of Mother and Carlos and within a few monthes the family is altogether again in Phoenix. While they endure many hardships there is hope along the way. Because the author has such a close connection to Central American refuges I felt a real sense of loss for Tomasa. She loved her life, as "poor" as they were, they were rich in their surrounding and family strength. While still in their village Tomasa describes her home:

"Through the open door, the late afternoon sun deepens the blue of the sky. At this moment of the day, the green of the field and pine trees beyond glow. The blue and green next to each other look magical. The green crops grow from the gifts of the sky and earth. And we, the people of the corn, grew from those crops. Maybe that is why I often weave blue and green next to each other." p. 23

I also greatly appreciated the father's story-telling abilities and that they had these rituals every night when they were together. If you enjoy reading about other cultures or refuge experiences this book is well-worth it. This is a hope-filled and satisfying journey. This title would be a great fit for students studying Central America or the refuge experience. 4/5 stars

BrittLit said...

Picnic rating : 4 (a must read for teachers and students alike)

This is Tomasa's story and how she and what's left of her family must try to escape from the Guatemalan army. They must journey far, sometimes retracing their steps, when things go awry. They must hide who they are and be careful who they trust. Their father tells them stories to help them get to sleep after hard days of many miles. All they want is the quiet refuge of the United states and a reunion with the others of their family.

I really appreciated this book and am very glad I signed up to receive it. I wouldn't normally pick up a book like this because I can't really relate to it. Most of us have never had to endure genocide or border crossings, that fear mixed with the glint of hope. This was a beautiful story with rich storytelling and heartfelt moments. Everything seemed so real and the images were vivid in my mind, much like Tomasa's woven huipil blouses. I think this would be a great novel to read along with a Central American unit in school, or if you are interested in Guatemalan culture and their hardships. This is a great book about refugees and how much different people's lives are in other parts of the world. This is a novel of bravery and dreams and a passion for freedom that drives them through. If you get a chance definitely pick up this book. If you are a teacher this is a must read for you. Marge Pellegrino wove a beautiful story in this novel.

First Line:
"Thwap, thwap, thwap. The high green branches of the pine trees shiver in the wind from the dark green machine whirring above us."

Favorite Line:
"'Where did the green go?' Maria asks."

EShay said...

It took me a bit to get into, but once I did, it was a fast read. I cared about the main characters and enjoyed the story of their travel.
I think historical fiction books like this one are so important and am sure it would be especially poignant for certain groups of students whose families have endured similar ordeals.
The glossary was very helpful and would be necessary for children.
I give it a 4.

Heather Hill said...

"Journey of Dreams" is a wonderful historical fiction account of a family escaping the brutal violence of Guatemala and jouneying to America in two different groups. I would have liked for the "About the Story" section to have been in the front of the book to give me the historical background to properly hang the story on. In the early 80's I was 7-10 years old, the same age as Tomasa. So, though I remember hearing about the violence and turmoil, it was not something I lived with everyday in PA.

However, once I got into the story it became very compelling and I finished it quickly. This is a wonderful book for schools with high ESL populations and could be used as a read aloud to learn about what was going on in Central America in the early 80's. I give the book a 5 out of 5.

Heather Hill, Reading Specialist
Enterprise Elementary
Woodbridge, VA

juli said...

It happens. You get a book that you are anxious to read and for some reason that book keeps ending up on the bottom of the pile: under papers to grade, report cards to complete, lesson plans to write, required reading for work......so, I was finally able to read Journey of Dreams and I am certainly glad I did.

I have always enjoyed historical fiction, but have struggled getting my students to love it as well. I am hoping that this book will help do the trick. This period of time and circumstances were pretty unfamiliar to me and I found myself engaging in the story and wanting to know what was coming next. Many different emotions were felt during the story and I tell my students to really stop and think how books are making them feel as they read. I am planning on using the book and Tomasa's story with some of my students in the new year. I teach a large number of ESL students and we often have discussions about famuily situations and tough choices.

I give this book 4 out of 5.

Carol said...

I like reading historical fiction, and I especially am interested in the history of Latinos. it is so important we go back in our history and truly understand the waves of immigrants. There is so much hate and it is from a complete lack of understanding and knowledge of history. Guatemala is a country whose people have suffered and many still do live in fear. The human drive for dreams is a true journey, and those of us with all the resources truly have no clue what it means to have to journey for dreams... at the expense of such physical and emotional danger.

Molly said...

Tomasa, the main character, tells of her family’s struggle to escape war-torn Guatemala during the mid-eighties. Tomasa’s dreams, sometimes disturbing, are intertwined through the story and reflect her inner feelings as her narration tells the outer story. I found it to be both heartwarming and heartwrenching. I have shared it with my school’s ESL teacher, who currently has two Guatemalan students in her class. I also plan on incorporating into a multicultural literature unit with the 9th grade English teacher. It will also be added to the library’s collection. This was truly an awesome book, tackling so many major subjects/themes: love of family, hardships, refugees, immigration issues, impact of war. Yet it flowed so well and seemed so natural that I never felt overwhelmed by its “bigness” and this truly is a big story that must be shared.
I give this a 5/5.

Anonymous said...

"Journey of Dreams" written by Marge Pellegrino is wonderfully written. She allows you to feel the fear, smell the burning of the villages,hear the soldiers guns and yelling, and see the hardships these people had to go through as if you were transported into the story. Ms. Pellegrino also keeps the information appropriate for the younger reading audience it is intended for. (middle school)

This historical fiction gives us a glimpse of those seeking political asylum,what they endure and, at times, the price they pay for freedom.

I give this book 5/5.

Carrie Blagg, Librarian Assistant
Cherokee Elementary School
Paradise Valley, AZ