Between Us and Abuela
Illustrated by Sara Palacios
Review by C. Christopher Smith
Between Us and Abuela — the first picture book by Mitali Perkins — is one of my favorite picture books that I have gotten to read and review in 2019. Perkins tells the story of a family divided by the border between Mexico and the United States, and of their reunion at the border on La Posada Sin Fronteras, a one-day celebration during the Mexican holiday Las Posadas in December in which “[friends] and families gather at Friendship Park in San Diego and in Playas de Tijuana by the lighthouse in Tijuana. They sing traditional Posada carols, hear the stories of migrants living in the United States and in Mexico, and listen in silence to the naming of people who died trying to cross the border.”
I won’t spoil the details of the story, but Between Us and Abuela is a hopeful reminder that walls ultimately cannot divide us. The colorful illustrations by Sara Palacios bring Perkins’s story to life. This picture book is a powerful reminder of the realities of migration and of families divided by national borders. Yet at the same time the story that it tells is a hopeful one, locating its hope in the imaginations of those who creatively gather people at the border for events like La Posada Sin Fronteras or celebrations of mass at the border and in the arc of justice that embraces all creation until all families and all humanity have been reconciled.
Reading Between Us and Abuela reminded me of Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” in its lighthearted mockery of the impotence of powers that be. Perkins’s story is undoubtedly more subtle than Andersen’s, but it is no less powerful (and certainly more timely) in its revelations.
Hope is hard to come by in these dark days of the late modern era, especially hope that isn’t cheap and isn’t founded in falsehoods, but hope is precisely what Mitali Perkins offers in Between Us and Abuela. This is a book that belongs in every library, and one that we should be quick to read and re-read with our children and grandchildren.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books, and author of several books, including most recently, How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019).