Gaby, Lost and Found

gaby lost and foundOne of the (approx. ten billion) things I didn’t anticipate about having kids was that their reading lives would shift so much. Of course I knew their reading level would change. But I suppose I didn’t foresee that what they liked to read would change so much, as well. A child who started off liking Junie B. Jones for the comedy may later want nothing but dark fantasy, and still later want endless stories about children like herself. A child who started off racking the shelves for books about dogs may turn to other nonfiction (sports! mummies! the Titanic!) and then to novels on those topics and then to graphic novels and then to how-to-draw.

What did I think would happen? I guess I thought I’d hand them books I liked to read, for the rest of their lives, amen. Ha! It’s way better than that. They turn out to be their own people, thank goodness.

Proof: this summer, my daughter read a book called Gaby, Lost and Found, by Angela Cervantes, and asked me to read it so we could talk about it. I think she picked it up because of the cat on the cover, and then discovered it was more complicated than a cute kitty story.

This middle-grade novel is about Gaby Ramirez Howard, an “amazing sixth-grader.” Her beloved mother, an undocumented worker from Honduras, has been deported after a raid on the factory where she was working. Gaby is now in the awkward custody of her father, who left the family years before and knows Gaby only from occasional birthday and Christmas visits. He works hard, but neglects Gaby mostly out of ignorance, leaving her alone much of the time and letting her get herself up for school and find her own food. Gaby clings to the idea that her mother will be able to find a way back to the US, and in the meantime, she gets support from her best friend Alma and her school community (barring a few kids who tease her about the deportation.)

At the same time, Gaby’s class is doing a service project at the local no-kill animal shelter. Gaby herself, a skilled writer, is asked to write some flyers so that the shelter can advertise the animals they have for adoption. Helping the animals find “forever homes” helps Gaby realize that she, too, needs a home while she’s waiting for things with her mother to be resolved — she can’t help animals if she can’t help herself. The ending of the book is bittersweet, but honest and warm.

Cervantes doesn’t tiptoe around the issues in this book. Immigration, deportation, unemployment and underemployment, and kids having to take on more than they can really handle because of adult policies are all major themes of this book. Yet Gaby, Lost and Found is not depressing or heavy-handed. It’s a warm, hopeful book without being saccharine or unrealistic. My daughter (who is about to go into sixth grade herself) and I talked about the political issues, and also about how easy it is to assume everyone’s home, or everyone’s life, is like yours. Literature is a door into understanding otherwise, a door that keeps on opening.

This entry was posted in Children's / YA Lit, Contemporary, Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Gaby, Lost and Found

  1. That’s awesome that she brings books to YOU to read now! The book recommendation street is now a two-way street!

  2. Lisa says:

    I had that same plan, and also that I would read to my children until they went off to college – I love reading aloud but haven’t found anyone to read to, I figured they would be a captive audience. Then I learned from my nieces that while they like being read to, they want the same books over and over and over. I grew to loathe the Berenstein Bears one Christmas vacation.

    I might look for a copy of this book at the library – it sounds wonderful, and timely.

    • Jenny says:

      I read to my kids every night! (Well, every night that isn’t baseball practice.) I hope it lasts until college, too. The little ones do like the repetition (which is why a really good picture book is GOLD) but the older ones enjoy a real variety.

  3. smithereens says:

    Oh what a nice post! I do look forward to my son developing his own taste in book. For the moment, he’s really into manga-related fluff like Pokemon books, which are not in any way deep or subtle like this Gaby book.

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