Review of My Two Border Towns

My Two Border Towns
by David Bowles; illus. by Erika Meza
Primary    Kokila/Penguin    40 pp.    g
8/21    978-0-593-11104-8    $17.99
Spanish ed.  978-0-593-32507-0    $17.99

A sleepy boy is nudged awake by his father for a routine Saturday trip, heading across the U.S.–Mexico border to “el Otro Lado.” As they reach the Rio Grande, the father reminds his son of the Indigenous history of the land, now divided, the flag of each nation visible on opposite banks of the broad river. Once across, father and son visit their favorite restorán for breakfast; then, with mercado bags in hand, begin their errands, stopping by brightly colored shops (such as Tio Mateo’s jewelry store) and picking up prescriptions, bottled water, T-shirts, sweets, and other items on their list. The trip culminates in a visit to their “gente” — families camping out on the side of the bridge, hoping to enter the U.S. — for whom most of the items on their list were purchased. Meza’s gleaming watercolor and gouache illustrations magnify Bowles’s bittersweet tone, capturing the compassion in the pair’s venture and the underlying tension at the border in the expressions of soldiers and refugees. Spanglish (“troca”; “my primos”) and shop signs in Spanish and English emphasize how culturally interconnected border towns are. With lyrical text (the Rio Grande is “a watery serpent that glints with the dawn”), novelist Bowles’s picture-book debut weaves weightier realities into a story of ordinary border-town life, and does so with a gentle hand. Waving goodbye to their friends, the father and son return home as the sunset washes the scenery with warm pinks, leaving no doubt that the dedicated pair will carry on their duty as long as the hopeful migrants wait. Concurrently published in Spanish as Mis dos pueblos fronterizos.

From the July/August 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jessica Agudelo

Jessica Agudelo is the youth collections coordinator at BookOps for the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library, and a member of the 2023 Newbery committee.

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