Without being sentimental, Blue Skies for Lupe narrates the story of a girl with spina bifida who left her native Mexico for California when she was only a baby tucked in her mother’s shawl. Author Linda Kurtz Kingsley has skillfully turned interviews with Lupe and her mother into a sweet and realistic story of perseverance in the face of physical challenges. Moreover, Kingsley’s bright watercolors beautifully capture the colorful landscapes and people in Lupe’s life.
“When I was born,” Lupe says, “I wasn’t perfect. My spine stuck out, my head was too big, and my body was too small.” Doctors told her mother that Lupe would never walk because she has spina bifida. Right from the start, Lupe’s Mami encouraged her ear, “Just you wait. You’ll do fine.” Those weren’t hollow words either. When Lupe’s Mami heard that American doctors were best, she carried Lupe across the Mexican desert and into California. Unfortunately, the doctors couldn’t help. Instead when Lupe’s legs stayed short and weak, while her friends’ legs grew longer and stronger, Lupe received a wheelchair and an aide to help her. Lupe also learned, among other things, how to use a whiteboard and marker so she could complete and show her schoolwork. In response to every adversity, with the help of family and friends, Lupe learned to do things in her own way and did just fine. As such, Lupe serves as an example to all of us how to be ourselves and to follow our dreams, a message that I appreciate both as a reader and as a special education teacher.
“Cielito Lindo … means beautiful little sky, and the California sky was beautiful … like the skies in Mexico.” Blue Skies for Lupe isn’t just about overcoming a disability, but is also a tribute to Lupe’s Mexican heritage. In America, Lupe’s mother got a job as a crop-picker. While she worked, Mami would sing the aforementioned song: Cielito Lindo. At school, Lupe’s aide translated the English of teachers and classmates into Spanish so Lupe could understand what was being spoken. And, on May 5th every year, Lupe’s class would celebrate the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo. Without being blatant, Kingsley has quietly shown respect for Lupe’s Mexican heritage. The picture book even concludes with a short glossary of Spanish-language vocabulary featured in the story. Both as a reader and as a teacher in a diverse school district, I appreciate these multicultural details.
A retired teacher, Kingsley draws on her experience with special-needs young people to write an inspiring true story, with lessons about the value of both hard work and a supportive community for those who face physical challenges. The back pages of Blue Skies for Lupe conclude with an update on an update on Lupe’s accomplishments and optimistic future plans.
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
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