Mañanaland

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Mañanaland Book Poster Image
Tween rescues refugees in moving magical realism tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The story takes place in an imaginary land, but along the way passes along quite a bit about Central American food, culture, plants and animals, and the fine points of soccer. There's also a lot of Spanish, usually translated to English or otherwise explained. Knowing how to follow a map is important to the story. Vocabulary-building words like "merlons" and "crenels" are frequent.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of family, courage, loyalty, resourcefulness, kindness. Also, being able to deal with it when things don't go the way you want.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Eleven-year-old Max doesn't always do the right thing, and sometimes does the wrong thing, like disobey his dad for what seems like a more important good reason. He shows a lot of courage in protecting a 6-year-old orphan, and learns a lot from people and experiences along the journey. His father and grandfather are kind, loving, and courageous (as well as being great soccer players).

Violence

Generations of atrocities loom in the background, along with the people fleeing them. Max's trek with the child he's protecting is fraught with danger, especially from armed adults. Two girls are fleeing the abusive man who's essentially enslaved them since their parents were shot dead protesting labor conditions -- and lots of weapon-toting people seek the reward for bringing them back. The younger one is recovering from a broken wrist caused by their abuser. Tween boys get into a fistfight.

Sex

A 13-year-old girl is fleeing a forced marriage with an abusive man. Max's mother left the family when he was little, and his father hasn't been the same since. The village schoolteacher likes Max's dad, but he's clueless about it.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Mañanaland, by Newbery Honor author Pam Muñoz Ryan (Echo), blends dreamlike magic with an 11-year-old boy's coming-of-age tale as he takes up the family mission of helping refugees. He does this amid his other challenges of daily life, from quarreling with friends to having to work instead of play soccer -- and missing the mom who's been gone since he was a baby. There are many sweet moments of kindness and friendship (and a parting scene that, heads up, will have everyone in tears). There's a lot of praise and support for refugees fleeing horrible situations, some expression of moral superiority over "rich" people who don't like the refugees. A number of scenes show kids in deadly peril from goons trying to get a 6-year-old girl, whose parents were killed for protesting labor conditions, and send her back to her violent abuser for the reward money. Love, courage, friendship, and family carry the day, even when things don't go as the characters wish and hope. Spanish phrases and songs are important in the story, and a Spanish-language version of the book is set to be published in fall 2020.

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What's the story?

Between the awful country of Abismo (the abyss) and MAÑANALAND, the magic-tinged destination of desperate people fleeing Abismo's atrocities, lies the peaceful village of Santa Maria. For generations, its now-ruined tower, La Reina Gigante, has been a temporary haven for the "hidden ones" in their long trek and become the subject of many legends. And as summer begins in Santa Maria, Maximiliano Cordoba, almost 12, discovers he's heir to a number of family traditions, one of which, he knows, is playing soccer -- his dad and grandfather were both pros. Another, he learns, is helping the "hidden ones" get to safety. His mother vanished when he was a baby, being a "hidden one" herself. Now, with his father and grandfather both out of town, the call comes to get someone new to the next safe place. Will Max be up to the challenge?

Is it any good?

Magical realism meets the stark experience of refugees around the world in Pam Muñoz Ryan's heart-filled story of 11-year-old Max's courage, kindness, and quick thinking. Under the protective wings of a peregrine falcon, he steps up in a moment of need to guide an abused child to safety in Mañanaland, which is the destination of generations of people fleeing atrocities in a neighboring country. It's a life-changing hero's journey, passing through many situations that resonate strongly with some ugly things happening in our world -- and also the beautiful ones.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about about the lives refugees described in Mañanaland. What can go so wrong in people's lives that they feel they have no choice but to flee? Why do you think this is a popular theme in storytelling? What could cause you to have to flee your home and look for a new one elsewhere?

  • Much of Mañanaland deals with following family traditions. Does your family have any traditions you like? Are there some that you wish would go away?

  • Do you like soccer? Do you like to play, or just watch and cheer your team?

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