Acclaimed children's writer Alma Flor Ada and her son Gabriel Zubizaretta have teamed up for the very first time to bring us a compelling chapter book for children dealing with a timely topic-- the problem of assimilation from a child's point of view. In Dancing Home, ten-year-old Margie Ceballos, a talented young California girl wants to get away from her cousin Lupe who has just arrived from Mexico.
When her cousin Lupe comes to live with her family, Margie does not accept her. She is embarrassed by her cousin's frilly clothes, her inability to speak English, and to make matters worse, Lupe is placed in her class and Margie is put in charge of her. Margie, who doesn't speak Spanish well, is forced to translate the teacher's lessons.
This is Margie's worse nightmare. It has taken her a few years to fit in and now her cousin Lupe, newly arrived from Mexico, reminds everyone at school of her ties to Mexico. Just when Margie thought she'd buried her roots, her classmates again begin to tease her--Margarita! Margarita! Margie's ambition to hide her Hispanic heritage, by changing her name, to avoid being perceived as different evaporates in one day.
Lupe has allies in Margie's parents who speak to her in Spanish and reminisce about their childhoods. Because of their upbringing in Mexico, it seems that Margie's parents have more in common with Lupe than they do with their own daughter who was brought up in America. Margie realizes this and it stings. She feels herself drifting away from the family as they pay increasing attention to Lupe.
Dancing Home is also about an aunt's love for her niece. Aunt Consuelo, whom Lupe had never met before, comes in like a saving angel and rescues her from the drudgery in Mexico where Lupe is forced to take on adult responsibilities. Lupe is a casualty of the marriage between her parents who have separated and started other families. Consuelo sees Lupe as the only link to her estranged brother and wants to provide a stable home for her. She brings Lupe to America on a student VISA like a foreign exchange student. Providing Lupe with the opportunity of a lifetime--the chance to get an American education.
Although life is much easier in California, Lupe has many obstacles to overcome, including mastering the English language. In Mexico she was a star student but now with the language barrier, she feels frustrated and left out. Lupe feels like Alice in Wonderland, that she's gone into a topsy turvey world. She misses her family back in Mexico and sometimes becomes nostalgic.
As a new immigrant, Lupe helps the Ceballos family rediscover their forgotten Mexican heritage. It is partially because of Lupe's influence that Margie lets go of the stereotypes she has about people from Mexico. Lupe's contribution to the Ceballos family cannot be over estimated. This charismatic ten-year-old has breathed new life into what has become her new family. She causes Margie to review and assess her cultural values. Dancing Home is about what it means to be an American.
In her long and prolific writing career, Alma Flor Ada has published books in many different genres. Dancing Home is heartwarming. It will make a great stocking stuffer for all the children I know this Christmas. My nieces will be proud to put it on their bookshelves alongside other children's literature of substance like Little Women, Tuck Everlasting, A Little Princess, Little House on the Prairie, Heidi, and Charlotte's Web. Among Alma Flor Ada's books for 8 to 12 year old readers, are the award-winning autobiographical books Under the Royal Palms (Pura Belpre Medal) and Where the Flame Trees Bloom. The collection of folktales Tales Our Abuelitas Told (Notable Book for a Global Society) and the picture book The Gold Coin (Christopher Award Medal). Dancing Home is Gabriel Zubizaretta's debut as a children's author.