In these sad days of immigrants and even young U.S. citizens being forced to leave the United States, we all need stories that can lift our spirits and remind us of the resilience that sees many people through tremendous difficulties. Even when we know that all stories do not end happily, we owe it to our children to demonstrate hope so they can have a vision of a loving world upon which to build.
Author Mariana Llanos and illustrator Anna López Real provide us with such a tale in their bilingual Luca's Bridge, or El puente de Luca. They dedicate their book to "those who've had the courage to emigrate" and remind us on the dedication page that "Sometimes the only way to go back home is to fly ..."
Luca, a young boy who has lived all his life in the United States, has to learn this lesson the hard way when his mother and father receive news that they are no longer welcome in this country. The only way that they can keep the family together is for all of them to leave for Mexico. Luca doesn't know what he'll do without his home, his friends, and even his language — he doesn't speak Spanish. When he asks whether his friends will be able to visit, his mother does not answer, but Real pictures her with a single tear emerging from the corner of her eye.
After long travels, they make it past the oppressive wall, divider of lands and hearts, pictured by Real as a massive gray barricade over which only birds can fly; it is in stark contrast to the tenderness in the faces pictured on so many other pages. They arrive at Luca's grandma's house, where she's brought about a loaves-and-fishes style miracle to feed everyone from her small pot of black beans and rice. "Donde come uno, comen dos," she tells them, and Luca's mother translates: "Where one eats, two can eat, too."
When Luca falls asleep holding his trumpet, more magic happens, as he discovers that each note he plays helps form a bridge that carries him all the way back home to see his friends. Overjoyed by his dream, he spreads his happiness to his entire family.
This book for 4 - 9 year olds is multi-layered and complex. A young child will hear it as a tale of overcoming homesickness. An adult will feel the irony that the grandma's generous hospitality exposes: If two can eat where one can eat, then why can't we open our hearts further here in the United States as well? Readers at ages in between these two extremes will grow in empathy and gain new courage for their own challenges. But everyone who picks up this book will absorb something of the passion that the author and illustrator have for human rights, and we hope that this message will spread far ... and deep.