JOELITO’S BIG DECISION, LA GRAN DECISIÓN DE JOELITO
by Ann Berlak, illustrated by Daniel Camacho (Hardball Press, 2015)
Book review by Marcia Newfield. Marcia recently retired from 30 years of adjunct teaching at BMCC/CUNY, and is Vice President emerita for the adjuncts at her union, the Professional Staff Congress. She is currently an adjunct grievance counselor.
JOELITO’S BIG DECISION, LA GRAN DECISION DE JOELITO is a well-intentioned and dramatized account of a nine-year-old boy and his six-year-old sister’s introduction to workers’ struggles for a minimum wage. Didactic as this message is (get on the right side and support the battle for $15 an hour), it is a hard task to communicate to 6-12 year-old children. Or is it? My community college class thought it was too political, but a friend said her 7-year old was very receptive and connected it to the carwash picket he had recently seen in Brooklyn. The story is enhanced by its appealing soft pastel drawings and bilingual presentation.
The plot is simple enough. Joelito and his sister Alma Sanchez are accustomed to going to MacMann’s with their parents for hamburgers every Friday night. Their school friends, Brandon and Kayla Thomas’s parents are low-wage workers at MacMann’s but Joelito is not aware of that. When Kayla loses her backpack, Joelito thinks it will be replaced immediately, based on his own experience. Kayla knows better; she understands that she is poor.
The climax comes when the Sanchez’s get to MacMann’s and see there is a picket line and the Thomas family is on it, holding signs and chanting. A quick lesson in capitalist ethics ensues–the exploitation of the workers while the owner earns millions. The Sanchez parents go to a local cocina to buy burgers for everyone while the kids join the picket line.
The book includes an information on what happened next and the publisher has a study guide. What a great beginning to nurturing labor consciousness in children.