Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

Hello, Ernesto Cisneros! I am GRATEFUL you dropped by Watch. Connect. Read. to share Jay Bendt’s powerful, memorable, and poignant cover illustration for Efrén Divided. I’ve gone back to my email inbox to look at it multiple times since you sent it to me two weeks ago. What went through your head (or heart) the first time you saw it? 

Ernesto Cisneros: Thank you for having me. I have been a fan of your efforts helping to spread the love of reading to children everywhere. To answer your question, it was not so much a thought, but a mixture of joy and disbelief. Jay did not simply create a beautiful cover, her concept absolutely captured the essence of the story. Like the cover suggests, Efrén’s life is divided. At school, he is a happy, kind-hearted student who loves reading—the kind every teacher would love to have in his/her classroom. However, at home, Efrén puts on a brave face as he struggles to look after his brother and sister once his mother is taken away. Sadly, Efrén’s story is a reoccurring theme I see too often in the lives of the students I teach.

Scenario: One of the students at the intermediate school where you teach reading and writing spots you holding an ARC of Efrén Divided.  He asks you what it is about. How would you booktalk it to him?

Ernesto Cisneros: This is a tough question. I think I would point out from my classroom window, toward the nearby neighborhood, and say: It’s simply one of the many stories of families like yours and mine. One of a boy doing his best to help keep his family together at all cost. 

I read the following statement on your website: “Life is but a book and you are the author. Make it epic.” 

Ernesto Cisneros: What I mean by this is simply that we all have stories to tell. Each of our experiences is unique and equally important. In a sense, we are all authors, and EVERY ONE of our stories is worthy of being told—and that is true of everyone, regardless of one’s skin color or socioeconomic status. 

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Please finish the following sentence starters:

I hope Efrén Divided strikes a chord with any Latinx child who yearns to see themselves represented in books. In addition, I hope it helps break down the walls currently being built by hatred and intolerance, and that it provides support and an understanding of the realities immigrating families experience.

Did you know Efrén Nava might be a fictitious character, but his struggles are very real for thousands of children across this country as well as countries all over the world? I would like to think that most of the hate directed at immigrants could be resolved if only we all had the opportunity to know each other and see that we are in fact more alike than we are different.

School libraries are gateways to the soul. Librarians understand that even the most reluctant reader will read if given the right book, something they can relate to… something they can see themselves in. It is my hope that Efrén Divided's universal theme of love and family will connect with all children (and adults too).

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what inspired this novel, where I got my idea, and why this book is so important to me.

Some time ago, my daughter asked why so much of America was so angry at families like ours for simply trying to make a better life for themselves. “Because they do not know us” was the best response I could give her. And this is pretty much how the book came to be. Not only was it an attempt to have Americans experience America through an entirely different lens, it was also an attempt to let Latino children (my son and daughter included) know that they are worthy of being included on the pages of American literature.

Look for Efrén Divided on March 31, 2020. 


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