Author Elaine Marie Alphin and illustrator Joan Sandin team up to write a story about a little girl living in El Salvador. A Bear for Miguel is a Level 3, I Can Read Book; which means it is geared towards children in grades 2 – 4.
The first page of the book show a map of North and South America and the location of El Salvador. The second page is a glossary of Spanish words used in the story. There is also a definition of the word “guerrillas.”
Maria and her family live in the countryside outside the village of Felicidad. It is market day and she and her father are taking some household items to trade for needed food. Marie brings her stuffed bear, Paco along with her. On the way to the market, Papa explains to Maria that because the government and the guerrillas disagree, his only option is to try to trade for what they need.
Once they arrive in the village, they are able to trade for necessary items; Papa is good at bargaining. When he goes to talk to a man about some farm work, Maria is left to try to get eggs, milk, and butter for her family; which includes her baby brother, Tino. Maria is good at bargaining too. A young couple is willing to trade the milk they have for the table that Maria’s father brought to market. However, when the young woman sees Maria’s bear she offers to also trade eggs, butter, and cheese. Maria doesn’t want to trade the bear, but when the couple tell her their little boy, Miguel, was hurt by soldiers and can no longer run and play, Maria makes the trade.
Papa is pleased when he returns and sees what Maria was able to get while he was gone. Then he realizes Maria has given up her one toy to help the family. Maria is sad, but realizes that she would be helping a sad little boy feel happy and her baby brother would have plenty of milk to drink.
A short epilogue is given at the end of the story that explains the way of life in El Salvador during the 1980s. It goes on to explain how the government and the guerrillas reached agreement in the 1990s.
The author tells this story at a nice pace. It is broken down into five chapters for easier reading for children ages 6 – 9. The introduction of Spanish words is not forced and the phrases are ones non-native Spanish speakers could easily incorporate into their own daily speech.
The illustrations are colorful and echo what is being told through the text. Maria’s bear is a bright sky-blue that seems to brighten every page on which he appears.
One thing about this book is disturbing. The presence of the guerrillas and their responsibility in the condition of Miguel. Yes, this aspect compels Maria to trade her bear, but it seems Maria’s compassion could have been shown just as easily if Miguel was sick. Guerrilla warfare seems to be a weighty issue to introduce to readers as young as six. This is the only negative in an otherwise good book.
A Bear for Miguel can be checked out at the following libraries.
Marin County Free Library
San Francisco Public Library
Sonoma County Library