Lupe & Me

author: Elizabeth Spurr
illustrator: Enrique O. Sanchez
Gulliver / Harcourt Brace, 1995
grades 1-3 

This first chapter book tells of the relationship that develops between seven-year-old Susan and 16-year-old Lupe, who has been hired to take care of her and the house while her mother works. According to Susan, Lupe, who has recently arrived from Mexico,

always sang while she worked. She loved all our appliances—the dishwasher, the washer and dryer, the attachments for the vacuum cleaner. She worked hard, scrubbing and polishing, dusting and sweeping, and carrying out mountains of trash. Until, finally, our home sparkled like her eyes when she said, "¡Ah, bueno! Muy limpia."

Lupe teaches Susan some Spanish and the intricacies of shining copper pots and cleaning windows, as well as how to make tortillas and salsa, and craft hats from palm leaves. The two of them hang out on weekdays, and Susan’s friends come over to visit after school as well. Susan also meets Lupe’s aunt and cousins, with whom Lupe stays on weekends. As Susan’s and Lupe’s relationship blossoms, they and Susan’s friends celebrate Susan’s birthday and Christmas; to Susan, “every afternoon seemed like a party.”

One day, Lupe disappears without a trace, and Susan and her mother find that the employment agency has gone out of business and Lupe’s aunt’s house has been deserted as well. Susan worries:

For days I sat by the window with my box of worry people. Where was Lupe? I shut my problem in the box, but the worries leaked out. No more walks. No more songs. No more games or giggles. And, worst of all, I had to go back to the sitter.

When they receive a letter from Lupe, Susan’s mother takes out the Spanish-English dictionary and explains to the girl that Lupe has returned to Mexico because she “must have come here illegally” and was “worried about la migra.” As Susan waits for Lupe to obtain her green card and return, she says, “I dust and wash dishes and tidy up to keep our house muy limpia for Lupe’s return.”

In crafting this simple story from a white child’s perspective, the author evades delving into the questions of why people come to the US from Mexico and other parts south to work, why it is so difficult for them to obtain legal status, why they are exploited once they get here, and why they face deportation. By presenting the worst thing as Susan’s having to go back to the sitter, the author trivializes—no, disappears—the issues.

Sanchez’s full-page acrylic-on-canvas paintings, on a palette of soft pastel colors, bring warmth to the text, and are wasted on this story. Not recommended. 

—Beverly Slapin
(published 4/7/13)

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