I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: picture books are for everyone. Through relatively simple premises, picture books can shed light on deep truths, or serve as the starting point for nuanced conversations on complex topics. My Uncle is Coming Tomorrow/Mañana viene mi tío is a very simple book that addresses the forced disappearance of citizens by repressive governments.
A child, rendered in stark black lines upon a white background, sits on a low stool in front of a closed door. He is waiting for his uncle, who “is coming tomorrow to stay with us for a few days.” As the story continues, the child continues to expectantly wait for his uncle. Every turn of the page reveals a new milestone that the protagonist hopes to share with his uncle: his school grades, his first apartment, the birth of his son, the completion of his degree. The child grows old, yet he continues to sit before the door, which remains closed. His uncle never comes.
The narrative text gives no reason for the uncle’s decades long absence, but the loneliness of the boy against the plain white background intimates that something is very wrong. It is only once the stool where the boy once sat is empty and the story ends that we learn that the book is dedicated to people—who like the boy’s uncle—have been forcibly disappeared.
This is not an ornately illustrated book, nor does it have rich vocabulary or sonorous language. But it is because the book is so simple that it is so powerful. Each line of text (in English and in Spanish) begins the same way: “Great!” or “¡Genial!,” followed by what the boy hopes to share with his uncle upon his arrival. The reader feels the boy’s hope and expectation, only to hurt with him when it is dashed. In an afterword, author and illustrator Sebastián Santana Camargo describes this as “a searing pain in those left behind.”
The afterword provides further information about the rise of forced disappearance as a tool of political terror, particularly during the Cold War in the second half of the twentieth century. My Uncle is Coming Tomorrow/Mañana viene mi tío is designated as being for children ages ten and up; it can therefore be used in the middle (intermediate) and high school classroom in units on human rights or global conflicts. While the book does not explicitly mention a specific setting for its narrative (therefore giving us an universal story), the afterword reveals that is set in South America, where forced disappearances took place by the thousands. In Chile, for example, forced disappearances were a tool of terror of the Pinochet regime, which rose to power after the 1973 CIA backed coup that deposed democratically elected president Salvador Allende. In Camargo’s native Argentina, the military junta’s Dirty War (part of Operation Condor) disappeared over 30,000 people, including children born to political dissidents who were then trafficked to families aligned with government authorities. This book, therefore, would fit in very well in an unit on Latin America, especially one that does not obfuscate the truth about U.S. machinations in the region.
Libraries can include My Uncle is Coming Tomorrow/Mañana viene mi tío in a display marking the annual observation of the International Day of the Victims of Forced Disappearances. Niños: Poems for the Lost Children of Chile (another translated text from South America) would be another appropriate addition to such a display. There are still governments and armed forces around the world that use enforced disappearances to repress and oppress those who are different. We have yet to consign it to the past.
Title: My Uncle is Coming Tomorrow/Mañana viene mi tío
Written and Illustrated by Sebastián Santana Camargo
Translated from Spanish by Elisa Amado
Greystone Kids, 2022
Originally published 2014, Ediciones Del Eclipse
Prizes (for Spanish edition): Asociación de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil de la Argentina (ALIJA) Grand Prize, 2014
You can purchase this book here.*
Reviews: School Library Journal, Quill & Quire, Kirkus (for English language edition)
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Klem-Marí Cajigas has been with Nashville Public Library since 2012, after more than a decade of academic training in Religious Studies and Ministry. As the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life!, Nashville Public Library’s award-winning early literacy outreach program, she delivers family literacy workshops to a diverse range of local communities. In recognition of her work, she was named a 2021 Library Journal “Mover and Shaker.” Born in Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí is bilingual, bicultural, and proudly Boricua.