In Mañanaland, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Newbery Honoree (Echo) and Pura Belpré Award winner (The Dreamer), creates a richly satisfying novel that is both contemporary and timeless. Almost 12, Maximiliano Córdoba is ready for a summer full of fútbol--instead, he explores family history and tests his courage as he rescues a small girl from horrible conditions.
There is a cruel dictator in Abismo from whom many have fled. In the neighboring country, Santa Maria, several of Max's family members have worked to rescue the refugees--"Los Guardianes de los Escondidos, the Guardians of the Hidden Ones." In fact, his papá was a rescuer who met his mother when she was fleeing, helping her to become a "hidden one" in Santa Maria; she later selflessly decided to flee again because her family could be persecuted for harboring a refugee. When Max's father briefly leaves their village, a priest shows up with Isadora, a young girl who must be brought to the "next safe place." With his father away, the priest asks Max to guide the girl. He agrees, with a secondary aim of finding out about his mother and the place where Max thinks she has gone: Mañanaland.
Ryan's portrayal of Max's village life and the children's perilous three-night trek is realistic, but there is also a hint of magic to the work, including an imposing tower, a peregrine falcon, a guardian whom some "think [is] a troll or a witch" and even Mañanaland itself. The author seamlessly weaves into Max's journey important themes about asylum seekers and the people who help them. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer