From North to South / Del norte al sur

author: René Colato Laínez
illustrator: Joe Cepeda
Children’s Book Press / Lee & Low, 2010
Grades 2-5

Mexican, Mexican American

From North to South / Del norte al sur is one of the few children’s books that directly address the issues of deportation and family separation. The young narrator is José, a child who travels from San Diego to Tijuana to see his mother, recently deported in a factory raid. At the shelter where she is staying, José meets other women and children who have also been separated from their families. It’s clear how deeply his mother’s deportation affects José—but this family’s situation is not broadly representative. José’s father is a permanent resident of the United States and can hire a lawyer for his mother, and José and his father live close enough to the border to visit her every weekend. His mother has been able to find lodging at a safe and welcoming shelter, and every indication is that she will soon be able to return home.

Joe Cepeda’s engaging illustrations, on a palette of earthy colors, complement the warm story of a loving family separated by the circumstances surrounding migration to the US.

There is much here for teachers to discuss with their students—especially the complex reasons behind José’s family’s separation and the different ways that families experience deportation. From North to South ends with a description of José’s dream as he sleeps on the car ride back to San Diego: Mamá has the right papers, the family crosses the border together, fireworks fill the sky, and José knows “that all the other children would see their parents soon, too.”

This is a beautiful dream, but it is indeed a dream. In reality, neither the other women and children at the shelter, nor our own students who face similar challenges, are guaranteed the same advantages and resources that José’s family has: They may not soon be reunited with their families. The real world just does not deliver endings so reliably. In this respect, the story hedges between attempting to portray the pain caused to children by deportation and providing a happy ending. In doing so, it sets students up with the unrealistic expectation that deportation is always temporary, and those who face it will always be reunited with their families in the US.

Still, From North to South / Del norte al sur remains one of the few children’s books that discuss this topic at all. So, as long as it’s paired with guided discussion, it might be a good classroom addition. Recommended.

—Grace Cornell Gonzales
(published 5/7/13)

This review, in a slightly different form, first appeared in Rethinking Schools ( We thank Rethinking Schools for permission.

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