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A Gift of Gracias: The Legend of Altagracia Hardcover – October 11, 2005

4.2 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Kindergarten-Grade 3–After the failure of her father's olive crop, María fears that her family will have to leave their farm in the New World. Then one night, inspiration comes when she dreams of planting the seeds from the oranges that came from her parents' homeland of Valencia, Spain. A beautiful and mysterious woman–Our Lady of Thanks–enters the dream, foretelling a bountiful harvest. The next day, María convinces her family to begin planting the seeds, and soon their land is transformed into a fertile orange grove. Rich in cultural authenticity and brimming with the magical realism that is characteristic of Hispanic literature, this elegantly woven tale introduces the legend of Our Lady of Altagracia, the patron saint of the Dominican Republic. Children of all backgrounds will be drawn in by the universal themes of home and family, but the story will have particular relevance for those raised in Hispanic or Catholic cultures. With an exquisite use of watercolor and gouache, Vidal has painted colorful, yet warm illustrations that add depth to the story. An author's note offers a detailed account of the legend, personalized by actual events from the author's youth.–Debbie Lewis O'Donnell, Alachua County Library District, Gainesville, FL
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Gr. 1-3. The Virgin Mary takes many names around the world, and in the Dominican Republic, the author's birthplace, she is Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia. This magical story, based on a legend of Altagracia, begins as Papa returns home from a trip to the city with an overflowing basket of oranges, like those he used to eat in his native Spain. That night, after Papa warns the family that they may have to abandon their failing olive farm, young Maria dreams of planting orange seeds, and a beautiful lady with a crown of stars, Altagracia, materializes in an orange-laden grove. The next morning, the family plants orange seeds and gives thanks to Our Lady--and sure enough, a bountiful orange crop is born. Argentina-born illustrator Vidal uses small brushes and gouache to create lovely, stylized folk-art-style paintings of the hard-working family and tropical landscapes. The tale unravels rather slowly, but this talented team evokes an enchanted, sun-kissed world where dreams, and gratitude, bear fruit. An author's note tells more about Altagracia. Karin Snelson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 3 - 7 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 2
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (October 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375824251
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375824258
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 0.4 x 11.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,013,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. Allen Greenbaum HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on February 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"A Gift of Gracias" is a reverent, somewhat religious book about young Maria's dream of a beautiful and luminous figure, Muestra Senora de la Altagracia ("Our Lady of Thanks"), whom Maria dreams about and who subsequently helps her poor family stay on their struggling olive farm. Our Lady of Thanks, wearing a gold crown topped with religious imagery, and a flowing purple-blue cloak over her "golden skin," appears in various guises throughout the story, inspiring and helping the transformation of the farmland into an orange grove. Later, the family patriach, Quisqueya, magically catches an image of Our Lady of Altagracias, and her symbolic presence again unites the family with nature's offerings. When the crop grows so quickly that it threatens to spoil, "Quisqueya hung the picture with the lady's picture from an orange bough," and, by her reflective light, "Maria and her family picked all the oranges that night."

Outwardly, the story has a simple grace to it, yet the author's effort to achieve a sort of religious/magical realism seems patched together and with little context. If one didn't read the author's page-long "About the Story" afterwards, one would never know that the story takes place on an island, the Dominican Republic, that "legend says she (Our Lady of Altagracias) first appeared when the island was still a colony of Spain," or that the figure is indeed the local "image of the Virgin Mary." Perhaps someone thought that omitting these crucial facts from the main story would attract a broader audience, but if you have to wait until an afterward to get the context, there's something almost compromising about the basic stance.
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Format: Hardcover
Rediscovering an illustrator you loved as a child, even if you never knew their name back in the day, is a treat. Julia Alvarez, of course, is an author who needs no explanation. If you haven't picked up one of her well-known children's books ("Before We Were Free", for example) then the title, "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, In the Time of the Butterflies" is bound to prick up a couple ears here and there. Illustrator Beatriz Vidal, on the other hand, was a mystery to me. In vain I attempted to find her website or Google her so that I could learn more about her as an artist. I had nearly given her up as a newby illustrator when I looked at some of the other books she had done via Amazon. If you are a child of the 80s like myself then the odds are good that "Reading Rainbow" constituted some of your television fare. And if you watched any early episodes then you'll probably recall James Earl Jones reading, "Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain" by Verna Aardema and (dum dum da dum!) illustrated by the one and only Beatriz Vidal. In this way, "A Gift of Gracias" was a welcoming return to an artist I loved especially as a child.

Maria lives in the Dominican Republic with her mother, father, and the old Indian Quisqueya. Her father's olive tree crop has been failing miserably in the Dominican soils and it looks as if the family will have to give up the farming life and move to the city. That night, Maria dreams of a grove of orange trees planted with the blessing of the most beautiful Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia, or Our Lady of Thanks. The oranges her father recently purchased in the big city are reaped of their seeds and planted with thanks. In no time at all they bloom and miraculously yield a crop that would normally take years.
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Format: Hardcover
Poor harvests in the Dominican Republic have left the country's farmers desperate. Marie's papa is on a trip to market in the city to sell their goods and he has promised to return with a gift for his young daughter. In the morning, the first thing Maria sees, besides her papa sitting at the table, is a basket of golden fruit, "oranges" like those in Valencia, Spain, her parents' homeland. Worried about having to leave the family farm for the city, Maria has a dream, trees bursting out of the ground, heavy with oranges, a beautiful lady with a crown of stars standing in the grove, Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia, Our Lady of Thanks. Because of Maria's dream, her family plants orange seeds on their land, seeds that "sprouted into shoots that grew into trunks that spread into branches filled with oranges that glowed like little suns." The family's income is secured, guided by devotion to Our Lady of Thanks, whose image is the inspiration for this retelling of the Dominican folktale.

In the author's afterward, Alvarez speaks of the legend of the Lady's appearance in the early 1500's, when the island was still a colony of Spain, her saint's day, January 21, a national holiday. In her modern retelling of a beloved tale, the Alvarez illustrates the power of faith and the natural expressions of gratitude, Our Lady at home with the people in the fields under the stars, the orange trees spreading their bounty throughout the land. With its lush illustrations, this charming story brings to life the beliefs of the past as they are still embraced today: "Our Lady of Thanks, like Mother Earth, really belongs to all of us." Luan Gaines/ 2006.
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