Milagros de le Torre hasn't had an easy life: ever since her father sailed away with pirates she's been teased at school, and her family struggles to make ends meet. Still, Milagros loves her small island in the Caribbean, and she finds comfort in those who recognize her special gifts. But everything changes when marauders destroy Milagros's island and with it, most of the inhabitants. Milagros manages to escape in a rowboat where she drifts out to sea with no direction, save for the mysterious manta rays that guide her to land. In stunning prose, Pura Belpré award-winning author Meg Medina creates a fantastical world in which a young girl uncovers the true meaning of family, the significance of identity, and, most important, the power of a mother's love.
"Give this to readers who are looking for something original, something wishful, and something strange, in a good way." - The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Meg Medina is the recipient of the Pura Belpré Award (2014) and the Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award winner (2102).
About the Author
Meg's other books are THE GIRL WHO COULD SILENCE THE WIND, a 2012 Bank Street Best Book and CBI Recommended Read in the UK; and MILAGROS: GIRL FROM AWAY, now available as an Amazon e-book.
Meg's work examines how cultures intersect through the eyes of young people, and she brings to audiences stories that speak to both what is unique in Latino culture and to the qualities that are universal. Her favorite protagonists are strong girls. In March 2014, she was recognized as one of the CNN 10 Visionary Women in America.
When she is not writing, Meg works on community projects that support girls, Latino youth and/or literacy. She lives with her family in Richmond, Virginia.
Read an Excerpt
It's true that Las Brisas is not on any map, and for this reason there are always doubters, who say such a place never was. They're wrong. In fact, if you are determined, you can still find that old jewel in the Caribbean. You'll have to fly a tiny plane to get there, the kind with sputtering propellers and only two shotgun seats. And you'll have to fly it so close to the water that the cool spray will prick your skin. Only then will you see itor at least what remains: a perfect circle of vegetation dotting the green waters, just a bump in the sea to an ordinary eye. Those who lived there peacefully are long gone, their bones and stories swallowed whole and cast about the world like broken shells. All that's left of it is the story of Milagros de la Torre, a brave girl, the only child known to have gotten out of Las Brisas alive.
In its day (which is to say, when Milagros was a girl of only twelve), Las Brisas had sand as white and smooth asflour. It was nothing like islands you might know in the watery neighborhood todaysay, Grand Cayman, Cuba, or Jamaica. First, it was much smaller and infinitely more humble. You wouldn't have found fancy golf courses or foreign ladies holding frosty drinks decorated with tiny parasols. In fact, Las Brisas was so very small and remote that no big countries like England or Spain had ever bothered to bend it to their will. In all its history, not a single slave was brought to or taken from its shores. People simply didn't assign more value to some people over others, and as a happy result, no opportunists rose to bang their chests and start wars. And so, in the end, Las Brisas was just an innocent paradise untouched by modern ways, where people lived without any notion of being rare. It was this blindness to the world's darkness that blessed but later doomed that lovely pearl in the sea.
At the center of Las Brisas was a charming town that bustled with families and workers. The town gleamed with its wide, white streets and pastel buildings. It was squinty bright and hot at midday. But by four o'clock each afternoon, the air was cooled faithfully by a steady ocean breeze that fluttered ladies' skirts and filled the sleeves of men's shirts like balloons. Mothers scolded their children and chatted about the day's events over crooked picket fences. In the park, young ladies and heart-struck young men strolled along the green lawn.Their hands only grazed as they walked by their shiny-haired fathers, who told loud jokes over dominoes and watched their children grow up out of the corner of their eyes. At night, children slept peacefully under mosquito netting. Each morning, still sitting in their beds, they drank sweet coffee milk from chipped porcelain cups.
This was the paradise where Milagros lived in a small house with her mother, not far from Avenida Central, a wide paved street that ran through the town's belly and ended at the glistening shore. Milagros walked the Avenida Central each day, passing all the stucco buildingsthe post office, the library, the coffee shop, the lopsided fish shackeach painted the spectacular yellows, greens, and blues of a macaw's feathers. But it was the school that was especially beautiful in her view. Later she would recall how pleasing it was to cross its threshold. It was painted the orange and lavender of a sunset and had enormous floor-to-ceiling windows that let in the fresh air all day long. Three wide marble stairs ran across the length of the school and led up to the shiny wrought-iron doors. Through those doors you could see young Señorita Almaher beauty and wisdom radiating from behind thick cat-eye glassesmolding them with patience. Together they studied the map; conversed easily in the musical sounds of at least four of the world's languages, depending on the hour of the day;pounded out Mozart on the sticky-keyed piano; and breezed through addition drills with the ease of born mathematicians. It was Señorita Alma's laugh that one would hear in the school yard as she gathered her skirt sensibly around her legs and jumped rope like a child.
"¡Milagros, bájate, por favor! Come down from the tree and walk me to school," Señorita Alma said one morning, without even glancing upmere seconds before Milagros had planned to pounce on her adored teacher. It was a daily habit, one that kept each of them alert in the mornings.
Laughing, Milagros landed on all fours in the dusty road, her books, bound with a thick book strap, in one hand. She was tall for her age, with crooked black braids and skin as white as a cup of cream. "How did you know this time? Did you hear me? Could you see me in the leaves?" she asked, dusting her knees off.
"Ay, Milagros," Señorita Alma replied without a trace of irritation in her voice. "I know all your tricks!"
"Imposible," said Milagros defiantly. She crossed her arms and added the protest in German, Portuguese, and English, too. "Unmöglich! Impossívelquite impossible!"
Señorita Alma tried to keep from smiling proudly.She hesitated a moment. "Where is your mamá this " she asked, peering through the kitchen window. "I was hoping to have a word with Rosa today."
"In the avocado rows," Milagros said simply. For good measure, she added, "She won't be home until sunset."
"I see," answered Señorita Alma, admiring the lovely roses that climbed the entire side of the small house. She leaned in and took a deep breath of fragrance. The perfume of love, she thought sentimentally. She would have to remember to ask Rosa the secret to such hardy specimens. The bloom Milagros had brought her last month had only just faded, long after it should have shriveled to seed.
"That one there will last long, too, maestra," Milagros said, pointing at a rose nearest the window.
Señorita Alma straightened in surprise and smiled. She clipped the large pink flower and started to stroll toward school. "Well, my little mind-reader, do you think I might talk to you, instead? Can you guess what I might want to say?"
Milagros's face darkened. She shrugged.
"Perhaps this will help?" Señorita Alma unzipped her satchel and reached inside. She curled her fingers around a palm-sized anole and held it out to Milagros. The black lizard inflated its red dewlap nervously.
"It seems someone put this lizard inside Eugenia'sschoolbag. She got quite a start. You know, the girl is given to fainting spells. It took Dr. López ten minutes to revive her."
Milagros took the lizard, stroked its head gently, and released it into the tall grass on the side of the road.
"Ten minutes? That's an awfully long time," Milagros said mischievously. "Is he a good doctor, maestra? Maybe he got distracted."
Everyone knew about the quiet romance brewing between the handsome doctor and Señorita Alma, a fact that made the older girls at school sigh with longing. Tall, with slick black hair and a wide, ready smile, Dr. López made all the girls titter when he peeked inside the schoolhouse each day to say buenos días. Even Milagros, who found most boys bossy and dull, looked forward to his daily visit.
Her teacher blushed and arched her brow. "That is beside the point, Milagros."
Milagros kicked at a pebble as she walked. She knew that it wasn't lovesickness or a lack of talent as a doctor that was the trouble. Like most adults, he had simply been duped. Why was it so hard for adults to see the truth of things? she wondered. Eugenia was the judge's sixteen-year-old daughter, a girl being raised to be as unobtrusive as a pretty knickknack on a mantel. The attention-getting fainting spells were a ruse. Milagroshad once seen Eugenia practicing them behind her house. How conniving of that liar to faint into the arms of Dr. López, a man who belonged to Señorita Alma!
"Milagros, there is no need to scare the other children," her teacher continued gently. "It is not the way to have friendships. It only makes more trouble for you."
Milagros pretended to listen. It was useless to explain why these things had to be done. Señorita Alma was too kind to guess Eugenia's scheme. Still, Milagros hated to cause Señorita Alma pain. She thought guiltily now of what would happen later that morning. Perhaps she should mention the large tree frog buttoned inside the pocket of an art smock. Señorita Alma hated those noisy ranas and would not be amused. But it had also been Señorita Alma who had unwittingly given Milagros the idea in the first place.
"Detestable creatures," the teacher had muttered last week as she shooed the croaking green glob away with a broom. "Do you know, children, these tree frogs will cannibalize each other?"
If only you could see how perfect a remedy it is, Milagros thought now. A most suitable fate for Eugenia.
"You've made a mistake, Milagros," Eugenia had sneered in yesterday's art class. She was always torturing other people with a know-it-all tone that ate up everyone's self-confidence. "Your nose is much bigger in reallife. You should draw some twigs and dirt in the hair, too." Giggles had floated from the other students at the back of the room.
Perhaps the frog will do the world a favor and eat Eugenia for breakfast. A cannibal deserves a cannibal, Milagros had thought as she buttoned the slimy creature inside the smock.
Señorita Alma's voice broke her concentration.
"Will today be a better day, then, Milagros? Promé-teme. Promise me."
Milagros said nothing. As they rounded a mimosa tree, she froze momentarily and then pounced at the lowest bloom.
"Here you are, señorita," she said, opening her closed fist. An angry yellow hummingbird, no bigger than a bumblebee, darted away. Milagros raced after the tiny bird.
"Let's catch it again, maestra!"
Señorita Alma watched the lanky, barefoot girl go. Talk is useless here, she concluded. She knew better than to expect a day without a small disaster orchestrated by Milagros, anyway. She would have to find another way.
She broke into a run behind her favorite student, listening to the sound of trouble in the rhythm of their race. It followed Milagros everywhere. Whispers. Gossip. Humiliating family stories. All of these scraped and rattled behind Milagros, fastened miserably to her like noisy tin cans on a string.
Henry Holt® is a registered trademark of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Text copyright © 2008 by Margaret Medina All rights reserved.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Take mysterious messages in bottles, wild-eyed pirates, and rays of many colors and you have the concept behind Milagros, the Girl From Away. The story begins in the tropical island of Las Brisas, but ends in the seaport town of Holly Point, Maine. In between we meet her mystical mother, her pirate wanna-be dad, and the people of Holly Point who discover Milagros after her arduous journey in a flimsy boat. Most of the residents are suspicious of anyone from ¿Away¿, but her friend Old Woman Perez helps everyone find common ground and Milagros realizes the ¿happiness could take root in the most unlikely places¿.