Selected Reviews of The Circuit
"When Nancy Vasilakis, chair of the 1998 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards committee, called to tell me about the winners, there was something in her voice that told me that some drama was at hand (for a complete list of the winners, see p. 652). She named the picture book winners, honor books first, then the tip prize. Ditto for the nonfiction, and then she started in with the fiction. Honor book, When No One Was Watching, honor book, My Louisiana Sky. Both terrific choices, I thought. The Winner? The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child by Francisco Jimenez. I had never heard of it.
I should have, though. The book had already won the John and Patricia Beatty Award as well as the Americas Award; the tittle story had also been reprinted in a couple of YA short-story anthologies. But The Circuit was not submitted to the Horn Book for review-which makes sense, given that the book was published as an adult tittle, a trade paperback from the University of New Mexico Press.
This isn’t the first time and adult book garnered children’s-literature honors-think of Alan W. Eckert’s Incident at Hawk’s Hill-but The Circuit’s distinction lies in the fact that it is both a children’s and an adult book; it’s not and adult book that young people can enjoy nor a children’s book that can speak equally to adults. Jimenez’s twelve stories of incidents in the life of a child of migrant workers have a transparency that speaks to the adult’s desire for spare, clean writing and the young reader’s need for immediacy. Told from the point of view of Francisco, a little boy when the book begins, the stories contain not a single image that couldn’t come from a child: “Her head turned left and right a hundred times a second and her index finger moved from side to side as fast as a windshield wiper on a rainy day. ‘English, English, ‘she repeated.” As it evokes the life of Francisco’s family toiling through the fields of late-forties California, the book sees its landscape directly through the eyes and heart of a child, never filtered through adult hindsight or regret. These impulses will be added by the adult reader, who will also feel a healthy amount of anger at the conditions endured by the farm workers. Children, thought, will go from field to field with Francisco, hearing his stories as if from a friend. Both audiences will be enriched. R.S."
(Roger Sutten, Editor, Horn Book Magazine – Sept/Oct. 1998)
"The stories in this book build on each other beautifully. When I finished reading them I felt I knew not only Panchito, the narrator, but also a lot more about a day-to-day life of migrant workers in the United States. With Panchito, I experienced his brother’s illness, his search for a dry place to sleep, the kindness of a conductor on a train. I moved in his family’s old, carefully maintained car from place to place on the “circuit,” from strawberry picking to cotton picking to grape harvesting in the Southern states and into California. I went to school with him, when he was able to go, and agonized along with him as he struggled with English. I also became nervous when the authorities came through the camps looking for illegal immigrants. (His father has a green card, but his mother and sisters and brothers do not, and are all Mexican born.)
Without sentimentally or melodrama, but rather with the simple power and grace of a fine storyteller, Jimenez is able to convince us of the narrator’s authenticity, his good-heartedness, and the good-heartedness of his family. We like him immensely and do not feel pity for him because he does not seem to feel pity for himself. Yet as we contribute to read, we begin to feel a healthy discomfort. This book challenges us as readers, whether we are eleven or fifty, to think about how we, as a country and as citizens, treat those who work so hard to bring us food and clothing, and who often are hungry and cold themselves. Through this collection of stories, each of which can stand on its own, and altogether which create a portrait of a fine family and a sensitive young man, we glimpse the kind of life many children in this country lead. In The Circuit, Jimenez has taken us inside a way of life, in all its sweetness and all its sorrow. It is a valuable book for young people, both for its artistic value and for the issues it illuminates."
Grade 5 and up. Jimenez exquisite autobiographical short story “The Circuit” is widely anthologized. Now he has connected it with 11 more stories that are based on his experience as a child in a migrant farm worker family, from the time they leave Mexico to enter the U.S. “under the wire” through the years of moving from place to place, picking grapes, picking strawberries, thinning lettuce, topping carrots, always moving. Panchito’s dream is elemental: to stay in one place, to go to school without months of interruption. His joy is to return to a place that he recognizes. Each of these short stories builds quietly to a surprise that reveals the truth, and together the stories lead to the tearing climax. The characters aren’t idealized: though the family is warm, their bitter struggle creates anger and jealousy as well as love. They meet a migrant worker who had to leave his family behind in Mexico, but Panchito and his parents and his brothers and sisters are “all living at home,” together, even though they are “moving still”. Some teachers are kind; some classrooms and playgrounds are ugly. The simple words are both fact and poetry; the physicalness of the backbreaking work. (“When you get tired from squatting, you can pick on you knees”): the yearning for education, for place. Almost nothing has been written for young readers about this Chicano experience, except for Pat.Mora’s picture book about Rivera, Tomas and the Library Lady (1997), Ada Flor, Ada’s Gathering the Sun(1997), and a photo-essays, such as Beth Atkin’s Voices from the Fields(1993). Like Steinbeck’s classic Grapes of Wrath, Jimenez stories combine stark social realism with heartrending personal drama.
– Hazel Rochman
“Once we cross la frontera, we’ll make a good living in California,” Papa would say as plans were made to cross illegally into the promised land. Thus begins a family odyssey following crops, living in shacks and tents, always on the brink of disaster from weather, medical emergencies, and immigration agents. Throughout all, the young narrator retains hope and seeks to learn English and receive an education. Jimenez has crafted a gem of a book. The first person voice gives the book immediacy and reality. Without wallowing in self-pity, his story of survival and hope never pulls its punches.
An assortment of stories that remain independent, yet they intertwine, about a child telling the tale of his migrant family. It is a heartrending story of a Mexican family who move to California to grasp just a tiny piece of the American dream: shelter, food an education for the children. The work is hard, long, abusive and low paying. The family has to keep moving and the children cannot be legally in school long enough to learn. The author managed to survive and he became a professor. He wrote the story in a honest and delightful voice. It’s a wonderful representation of a culture that exists in the U.S. but is foreign to most Americans. This book would fit into the adult collection as well as the YA section.
–Sheri Forgash Ginsberg, Chappel Hill, NC
The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child. 2 cassettes or 3 CDs. 3hrs. Audio Bookshelf. 2001 cassette. ISBN 1-883332-44-3: $21.95; CD, ISBN 1-883332-71-0: $21.95. (from School Library Journal, October 2001).
Grade 6 Up- Francisco Jimenez was born in Mexico, entered California illegally as a very young child, and spent his boyhood alternating between migrant farm work and the classroom. This collection of autobiographical short stories was written years later, when Jimenez had become an established professor at Santa Clara University (CA), but they give immediate access to the feelings of the growing boy. Adrian Vargas reads in a lightly accented English, offering a voice that is evidently that of the full grown man remembering, rather than that of the youth he remembers. Each copy is simple, direct, and redolent with the smell of the earth, the sounds of the ever-changing home with its growing number of siblings, and the amazing experience each new schoolroom offers. The frustration range from those specific to poverty and migrancy, including the inability to follow up on promises made by a good teacher because the family moves on the day the offer of trumpet lessons has been proffered, through the universal experience of an older brother saddled with an ignorant younger sibling who insensitively feeds his prized penny collection into the into the grocery store’s gumball machine. Jimenez and Vargas both maintain a leisurely pace appropriate to storytelling that can reach a wide audience, giving the images constructed from works time to bloom in the audience’s mind before wrapping each tale in a tight, often surprising, close. Highly recommended for both pleasure listening and for classroom use and discussion."
–Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Grade 5-up. This episode semi-autobiographical novel by a former migrant worker gives readers many examples of perseverance in the face of physical, emotional, and educational challenges. The protagonist’s family’s struggle with the illness of its baby also offers the opportunity to discuss traditional and nontraditional health care and cultural beliefs. Panchito’s story continues in the sequel Breaking Through (Houghton, 2001)
The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child.
2 cassettes or 3CDs. 3 hrs. Audio Bookshelf. 2001 cassette, ISBN 1-883332-44-3: $21.95; CD, ISBN 1-883331-71-0: $29.95. (from School Library Journal, October 2001).
Gr 6 Up-Francisco Jimenez was born in Mexico, entered California illegally as a very young child, and spent his boyhood alternating between migrant farm work and the classroom. This collection of autobiographical short stories was written years later, when Jimenez had become an established professor at Santa Clara University (CA), but they give immediate access to the feelings of the growing boy. Adrian Vargas reads in a lightly accented English, offering a voice that is evidently that of the full grown man remembering, rather than that of the youth he remembers. Each story is simple, direct, and redolent with the smells of the earth, the sounds of the ever-changing home with its growing number of siblings, and the amazing experiences each new schoolroom offers. The frustrations range from those specific to poverty and migrancy, including the inability to follow up on promises made by a good teacher because the family moves on the day the offer of trumpet lessons has been proffered, through the universal experience of an older brother saddled with an ignorant younger sibling who insensitively feeds his prized penny collection into the grocery store’s gumball machine. Jimenez and Vargas both maintain a leisurely pace appropriate to storytelling that can reach a wide audience, giving the images constructed from words time to bloom in the audience’s mind before wrapping each tale in a tight, often surprising, close. Highly recommended for both pleasure listening and for classroom use and discussion.
-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
“ A jewel of a book”—Rolando Hinojosa-Smith
“These stories are so realistic they choke the heart.”—Rudolfo Anaya
“…[a] moving book…The Circuit beautifully captures the rhythms of everyday life and the dreams and aspirations of a migrant family. Jiménez writes credibly in the voice of his young protagonist. Pancho is a compelling and memorable character, at the emotional center of a book that will appeal to both adult and teenage readers.” - -Multicultural Review
“An assortment of stories that remain independent, yet they intertwine …[Jiménez] wrote the story in an honest and delightful voice. It’s wonderful representation for a culture that exists in the U.S. but is foreign to most Americans.” – KLIATT
“Jiménez’s exquisite autobiographical short story ‘The Circuit’ is widely anthologized… Like Steinbeck’s classic Grapes of Wrath, Jiménez stories combine stark social realism with heartrending personal drama.” – Booklist
“There are moments of wonder…Francisco Jiménez is a master craftsman of words, with a simple yet crystalline style…The Circuit speaks intimately of migrant life in the western United States – a life that might be known by its politics or sociology but here is given a human face.” - - New Mexico Magazine
Jimenez’s childhood and provide the foundation for his first collection of semi-autobiographical stories, The Circuit (1997). As illegal immigrants, the family in the stories have no opportunities for legal employment and thus are forced to earn a living by picking crops, moving every few months as one job ends and another has to be found. Pachito, Jimenez’s protagonist, struggles to reconcile necessity and his hopes for himself –to stay in one place long enough to receive and education. Panchito’s narrative voice is truly that of an observant, wondering child and effectively communicates the frustration and dogged optimism that Jimenez himself felt as a boy. The Circuit quickly won acclaim for its accessible and realistic portrayal of the migrant worker experience. The book received the 1998 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for fiction.
This, then, is the rare gift of Jimenez to his readers: the chance to see that life experience is both individual and universal, and nothing is impossible. Thought he writes specifically about his own life, his work embraces the larger story of the Mexican American experience, and beyond that, the universal emotions and realities of childhood.