Book Review: …and now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold

September 3, 2004


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This book is the winner of the 1954 Newbery medal which, along with Onion John, makes its author one of the few two-time winners of the American Library Association’s highest honor for children’s literature. Like many of its fellow medalists, this story is set in a culture that is different from most American readers. This probably has less to do with the hispanic background of its characters and more to do with the culture of shepherds and people who make their living almost entirely from the soil.

Miguel Chavez comes from a large family of shepherds living in northern New Mexico, at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. At twelve years old, his dream–his desperate wish, even–is to join his father, uncles, and older brothers in driving the sheep into the mountains for the summer. But it seems, once again, that he will be left behind–too young, not useful enough.

So Miguel tries catching everyone’s attention by being as useful as possible, but this backfires. His only hope now is to pray hard to the patron saint of all farmers everywhere, who is also his village’s particular saint. And wouldn’t you know, San Ysidro comes through for him, but in an unexpected way, taking something Miguel loves away in return for granting him his heart’s desire. Somehow this turns out heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time, particularly in the scene that stands at the heart of the whole book, in which Miguel and his brother Gabriel work out what has happened and why it happened.

It’s a fine example of the coming-of-age story told in the simple, somewhat crude but often hauntingly poetic, diction of its young hispanic narrator. It’s also a very interesting lesson in the realities of farm life, including descriptions of lambing time, sheep shearing, and looking for lost sheep. But finally, it hashes out a philosophy of life that is at once naïve and wise; doubting and believing; religious and superstitious; and most importantly, a breakthrough from boyish selfishness to thinking about others–from the family circle to the wide, wide world.