Julia Alvarez is the author of many wonderful books, including Before We Were Free, winner of the Pura Belpre Award. In A Gift of Gracias, Ms. Alvarez pulls from the legends of her Native Dominican Republic to weave a magical, meaningful and completely charming story that is recommended for kindergarten to grade three.
A Gift of Gracias is the story of María, who lives on a finca where her family are trying unsuccessfully to grow olives. One day María’s father and Quisqueya, the Taino Indian who is part of the family, bring home a basket of oranges as payment for work they had done in the city.
As María’s father talks of moving his family to the city where there is work, María begins to cry into her bowl of orange pits. That night, she dreams of planting oranges on the barren land and of a beautiful woman wearing a robe of stars who says that her name is Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia.
The next morning, María tells her family of the dream and they all gather the orange seeds and begin planting them, saying gracias after each individual seed is placed into the waiting earth. In just a few short months, the trees are fully grown and give a bounteous harvest of oranges. As María’s father and Quisqueya prepare to take the oranges into the city to sell them, María asks her father to bring her an image of the Señora de la Altagracia.
Her father searches but no one has such an image and he and Quisqueya head back to the finca. As Quisqueya sits in the night, he sees la Señora in the sky smiling at him. Stars fall and Quisqueya catches them with his blanket.
When they arrive home, it is far too dark to pick the oranges and Quisqueya opens his blanket where miraculously an image of the Altagracia appears glowing with light enough to illuminate the orchard.
This story reminded me so much of the stories I grew up hearing from my grandmother about Juan Diego, of his tilma santa and the Virgencita de Guadalupe or Tonantzin as the Mexica called her.