Friday, July 3, 2009

A Gift of Gracias: The Legend of Altagracia

A. Bibliography
Alarez, Julia. 2005. A Gift of Gracias: The Legend of Altagracia. Ill. by Beatriz Vidal. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0375824521.

B. Plot Summary
A Gift of Gracias is a retelling of the Dominican legend of Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia, or Our Lady of Thanks. When Maria's family's olive crop fails, the family is worried about losing their farm. Maria dreams of Our Lady of Thanks who tells her in a dream to grow oranges in place of the olives. The dream becomes reality and the family's farm and livelihood are saved. Maria and her family never forget to say 'thank you' to Our Lady of Thanks.

C. Critical Analysis
A Gift of Gracias is a lovely story telling how Our Lady of Thanks helped Maria and her family save their farm. Set in the 1500s when the Dominican Republic was still a colony of Spain, the family's religion is portrayed in their faith in The Lady.
Beautiful illustrations fill every page with full colors depicting the Dominican countryside and the village marketplace. Skin tone and hair colors are authentic. Cultural authenticity is apparent in the names, illustrations, and religion. The story is told in basic narrative form, easily read by any culture. A note from the author explaining more of the history of the story is included at the end of the book.
A Gift of Gracias is an enchanting story that presents the message about the importance of giving thanks that will transcend all cultures.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal After the failure of her father's olive crop, María fears that her family will have to leave their farm in the New World. Then one night, inspiration comes when she dreams of planting the seeds from the oranges that came from her parents' homeland of Valencia, Spain. A beautiful and mysterious woman–Our Lady of Thanks–enters the dream, foretelling a bountiful harvest. The next day, María convinces her family to begin planting the seeds, and soon their land is transformed into a fertile orange grove. Rich in cultural authenticity and brimming with the magical realism that is characteristic of Hispanic literature, this elegantly woven tale introduces the legend of Our Lady of Altagracia, the patron saint of the Dominican Republic. Children of all backgrounds will be drawn in by the universal themes of home and family, but the story will have particular relevance for those raised in Hispanic or Catholic cultures. With an exquisite use of watercolor and gouache, Vidal has painted colorful, yet warm illustrations that add depth to the story. An author's note offers a detailed account of the legend, personalized by actual events from the author's youth.

Booklist The Virgin Mary takes many names around the world, and in the Dominican Republic, the author's birthplace, she is Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia. This magical story, based on a legend of Altagracia, begins as Papa returns home from a trip to the city with an overflowing basket of oranges, like those he used to eat in his native Spain. That night, after Papa warns the family that they may have to abandon their failing olive farm, young Maria dreams of planting orange seeds, and a beautiful lady with a crown of stars, Altagracia, materializes in an orange-laden grove. The next morning, the family plants orange seeds and gives thanks to Our Lady--and sure enough, a bountiful orange crop is born. Argentina-born illustrator Vidal uses small brushes and gouache to create lovely, stylized folk-art-style paintings of the hard-working family and tropical landscapes. The tale unravels rather slowly, but this talented team evokes an enchanted, sun-kissed world where dreams, and gratitude, bear fruit. An author's note tells more about Altagracia.

E. Connections
Read this story at a time other than November, the traditional month for Thanksgiving. Discuss with students that to say thank you is an important part of everyone's daily lives.
Challenge students to become Thank You Detectives: have students keep a tally page of how many times they hear people say 'thank you' or when they themselves say thank you.

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