A lot or a little?
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, by Tehlor Kay Mejia (We Set the Dark on Fire), is a folklore-based fantasy with lots of nightmarish monsters and kids in danger of being dragged away by them. There's no gore, but blood is mentioned a few times, and in the fantasy realm kids fight large-scale monster attacks and explore creepy, spooky locations. Separation from parents is also a prominent theme. Paola, her friends, and family are positive Latinx representations. Overall, the story emphasizes strong bonds of friendship and family, perseverance, and dealing with life's big changes. Institutional racism comes up when Paola deals with a deputy sheriff. She also mentions kids and parents separated at the border by immigration officials. Neither topic is dealt with in detail, but it's a good opportunity to talk with your kids about these issues. Other big issues include a folktale figure who killed her children (La Llorona), children of unmarried parents being "sins," and an unmarried mother shunned by small-town society.
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What's the story?
PAOLA SANTIAGO AND THE RIVER OF TEARS is the story of Paola and her two best friends, who are going to be in seventh grade this fall. When Paola's friend Emma goes missing, Paola and Dante are determined to keep looking until they find her. Along the way they'll have to face chupacabras, disembodied hands that want to drag them into the river, ghosts, and even La Llorona (the Weeping Woman) herself. Paola will also have to learn when to rely on facts and science, when to trust the folk wisdom passed along through generations, and when the best solutions rely on both science and folklore.
Is it any good?
This exciting fantasy series kickoff brings the chills and thrills you'd expect from a story based on the legend of La Llorona, and it has a refreshing Latinx smart girl as a main character. Paola's not perfect, and she's got a lot to learn, but that's what makes her easy for young readers to relate to. The action, spooky atmospheres, and spine-tingling fantasy-folklore creatures keep the pages turning. Author Tehlor Kay Mejia also thoroughly grounds the story in the present by bringing up important issues without getting preachy or bogging the story down.
Sometimes it gets a little frustrating when the characters take too long to reach the obvious solution, but it's a minor flaw and one that readers on the younger side probably won't notice. Nightmarish fantasy creatures and themes of being separated from parents make it best for big kids and up.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the scary monsters in Paola Santiago and the River of Tears. Why do we sometimes have fun being scared? What do you do to feel better when things get too scary?
Are Paola and Dante positive role models? What do you like, or not like, about them? Which character do you think is most like you?
Why is it important to read books, watch movies, or play games with diverse characters? How do you feel when you see people like you in stories you read or watch? What do you learn from characters who aren't like you?
- Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Friendship, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
- Publication date: August 4, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 368
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: September 30, 2020
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