Review of Mexique: A Refugee Story from the Spanish Civil War

Mexique: A Refugee Story from the Spanish Civil War
by María José Ferrada; illus. by Ana Penyas; trans. from Spanish by Elisa Amado
Primary, Intermediate    Eerdmans    40 pp.    g
10/20    978-0-8028-5545-9    $17.99

In the spring of 1937, the ship Mexique sailed from France to Mexico with 456 Spanish refugees, all children whose parents were fighting on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War. The expected three-to-four months away became years and, for some, a lifetime, as Franco’s retribution against former Republicans and then the onset of World War II made it impossible for the children to return home. Ferrada focuses on the journey itself, told from the limited perspective of one (likely fictional) young child. “I can’t really remember where we are going, but it is far.” The narrator clings to the older children — “Clara, Sonia, Eulalia, Maria, our sisters, collect our tears in their handkerchiefs” — finding strength from companionship through a difficult transition from the familiar but terrifying wartime Spain to the unknown but welcoming Morelia, Mexico. “We play at imagining where we are going. Morelia is a color…Morelia is a fruit.” Penyas’s illustrations are primarily black and white, with accents of red. The palette effectively establishes setting and grabs readers’ attention. Per an appended note: “The images in this book are based on photographs of the ‘Children of Morelia’ and the ship that brought them to Mexico,” adding a further layer of realism and poignancy. In one spread, small panes each show a different view of the open ocean, fragments of the narrator’s interminable journey. Although the specifics of the story are clearly historical, there is a universality to them that connects these pages to the tale of every child sent away from home for safety during times of war.

From the January/February 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Maeve Visser Knoth

Maeve Visser Knoth is a librarian at Phillips Brooks School, Menlo Park, ­California. She has chaired the Notable Children’s Books Committee and taught at Notre Dame de Namur University and Lesley University.

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