Parents' Guide to

Return to Sender

By Kristen Breck, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 10+

Intense story about illegal immigration and friendship.

Return to Sender Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this book.

Community Reviews

age 10+

Based on 2 parent reviews

age 9+

Great book club choice!

I used this book with gifted readers in grades 3 & 4 and it was a huge hit. The kids found the plot gripping and the storyline opened their eyes to a world they were unfamiliar with. This book was also exceptional in that it supported higher level thinking skills, as well as encouraging compassion and empathy. The moral dilemmas raised in the story were far from simple and really got kids to think deeply about whether laws are always right, what one should do when one feels laws are wrong (they connected this to what they had learned about the 1960s civil rights movement and struggles to end segregation), etc. The audio version of this book is also very well done.

This title has:

Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
age 11+

Friends Beyond Borders

Return To Sender by Julia Alavarez is a touching children’s novel that won the Pura Belpre Award. It is about a young boy, Tyler, who comes back from his aunt and uncle’s house and discovers that his parents have hired some “undocumented” workers to help with work on their farm because Tyler’s dad was recently a victim in a farming accident, and his older brother was off to college. One of the workers has three children, one of which was born in Mexico, and happens to be Tyler’s age. Mari, who is also the oldest as well, tried to befriend Tyler. He deals with an internal battle of whether or not to be her friend because he is unsure if his family is breaking the law. They eventually become friends, spending time together star gazing and visiting with Tyler’s recently widowed grandmother who is still in mourning over the loss of her husband. The book is very age appropriate that helps children discover themes like family, honesty, friendship, hope, and change. For the most part, Julia Alvarez, portrays her themes explicitly. It is easy to tell what the points and principles she is trying to get across. To understand these themes, we look into questions like, “What is this work really about...Why did the author write this work? “(Temple,Martinez, & Yokota, 2011, p. 41). Rebecca Lukens says themes are a “source of insight into people and how they think and feel” (Temple et al.,2011, p.42). Alvarez does a great job of explaining her themes through her character development. Good character development is a very good strong point of this story. Tyler is characterized by his relations with others. “Often book characters are portrayed as being out of harmony with their own group” (Temple et al.,2011, p.35). Tyler feels awkward and unsure about his family hiring this family. He is uneasy about his family, his relationship with this girl Mari, and what he should do about these feelings. Mari is developed through a sense of herself and her own feelings. She has a lot of internal conflict also between herself and thoughts about her relationship with her sisters, dad, Tyler, and the other people at the school. Julia Alvarez does such a great job portraying these characters by the style she uses. “Style is not what is said, but how it is said” (Temple et al., 2011, p.47). She uses letters from Mari (to her missing mother) and third person narration through Tyler’s viewpoint. This way the reader can examine two points of view, thus giving both characters a strong sense of personality.Also, this gave her a “broad range of choices on what to show the reader” (Temple et al., 2011, p.46). Because of this, students can use their literature in many different ways when relating to the character(s) and also when using it to cope with their own emotions on the issue(s) at hand. Overall, I think Julia Alvarez did a good job writing the book to address children’s thoughts on the topic of immigration. She did her best trying not to make it one sided or political. I'm sure many children have benefited from this story. Temple, C., Martinez, M., & Yokoto, J.. (2011). Children’s Books In Children’s Hands. Boston, MA: Pearson.

This title has:

Educational value
Great messages
Great role models

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (2 ):
Kids say (3 ):

RETURN TO SENDER is a compassionate narrative that puts a human heart to the hot-button topic of illegal immigration. The story portrays the desire for a better life and how hard work is the means to achieve it. The author captures the intense emotions of both farmer and worker, and tells the story through the questioning innocence of children. However, the main characters -- both 11 years old -- are strapped with enormous emotional burdens and life's adult responsibilities, and the story is laden with their fear and worry.

Parents and educators will find this an important and significant read, but the question remains if kids will actually enjoy reading it.

Book Details

  • Author: Julia Alvarez
  • Genre: Contemporary Fiction
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
  • Publication date: January 13, 2009
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
  • Number of pages: 336
  • Available on: Paperback, Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
  • Last updated: July 12, 2017

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