We met in a small bookstore owned by author Jorge Argueta in San Francisco’s Outer Mission, where Argueta writes his noted children’s books. His latest book, “Caravan to The North,”—illustrated by Manuel Monroy and translated by Elizabeth Bell—follows the character Misael Martínez, a young boy leaving his native home of El Salvador to join the caravan.
“The idea about this book is born out of my own experience because I am also an immigrant,” Argueta said. “When I heard that there was a caravan coming from El Salvador to the states, I needed to go meet them and talk to them.”
Misael is a symbol that represents all the courageous families who left their homes in Central America. Misael leaves with his family from Plaza Divino Salvador, knowing he won’t return back to his beautiful country of El Salvador.
“Most of the people that I saw were coming from small towns—from places with gang violence,”Argueta said. “The people that I saw, that I spoke to, are humble people. Most of the people leaving say, ‘I don’t want to leave [El Salvador] but there’s no more hope and I want a chance at a better life.’”
It’s a decision that is central to the novel, made by more than one character, each coming to terms with their own realizations for why leaving north is the only viable option. Misael’s mamá shows bravery as she decides to uproot her family and join the caravan.
“Mamá says, ‘We’ve tried. I’ve looked for work. They won’t hire me. These boys make me brave. I’m going to the United States,’” Argueta writes in the book.
This book is a testimony for how leaving home is a painful experience and yes, the book hopes for the reader to empathize with the travelers. But the book hopes more for the reader to understand the caravan.
What Argueta does beautifully is his honest portrayal of sadness: He writes, “Now I know, sadness is like not seeing, not hearing. It seems like everything stops, even the air, even the North, and your heart leaves you sigh by sigh. I’d better sing and keep dreaming.”
This novel not only shines because it’s true to the caravan experience, but because the novel is written for children. This book is impossible to put down. Argueta’s poetic form in storytelling allows the reader to connect and see themselves in the bravery of the characters. The excellent section breaks keep the pacing in real-time as the migrants are experiencing crossing with the caravan. This book is beautiful and a must-read for all allies of the Central American caravan.
Argueta has been fighting for migrant rights since he immigrated to the United States from El Salvador in the 1980s. He’s founded the Library of Dreams and is an award-winning author and publisher. “Caravan to The North” is now available from Groundwood Books in both English and Spanish.