Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Mañanaland presents a dreamlike Latin-American landscape and a young boy taking a giant step toward adulthood.

Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Scholastic, 2020, 247 pages.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 8-10

Recommended for: ages 10-14

Somewhere in the Americas, many years after one-upon-a-time and long before happily-ever-after, a boy climbed the cobbled steps of an arched bridge in the tiny village of Santa Maria, in the country of the same name.

The boy is Maximiliano Cordoba, or Max, the only son of a stone mason who has inherited his father’s and grandfather’s talent for (and love for) soccer. He’s secure in his small village with good friends and a loving family, but now that Max is getting older, his thoughts are straying outside comfortable boundaries. In particular, he’s starting to wonder about his mother, who left when he was too young to remember. Papá’s restrictions are also starting to chafe: don’t ask too many questions, don’t stray too far from home, and never venture inside the tower known as the La Reina, the “Great Queen.” The breaking point comes when Max isn’t allowed to go to soccer summer camp, even though it’s free. Papá seems fearful as well as maddeningly uncommunicative, but Buelo only says Max will know everything in time, once his father judges him ready to hear it.

One night, when both the grownups are gone, Max opens the door to a stranger, Father Romero. A stranger to Max, that is; Father Romero knows the rest of his family well, and needs their help for a secret mission. Max volunteers for the job, as there’s a possibility it might lead to his mother. But he doesn’t suspect the dangers ahead.

The story is an engaging blend of realistic elements and fantasy that underscores its enduring themes: individual freedom, duty to family and community, holding the two in balance, becoming sympathetic to others, and taking responsibility for one’s own actions. The gentle narrative style communicates a full range of emotion, from love to anger to fear, and the conclusion is both satisfying and real.

Overall Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 4
  • Artistic value: 4.5

Consideration:

The underlying spirituality is a blend of Catholicism and Spiritism, which may not set well with Protestants but is typical of the Latin-American setting.

Discussion questions:

  • Why did Max’s mother leave her family? Was it a good reason, or a selfish one?
  • How does the story Max tells at the end reflect his own story?

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Janie

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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