During the 2017 Maine wild blueberry harvest, Melanie Shelton and Estela Albor Villafuerte shared stories and experiences of Estela’s childhood in the small town of El Toronjo, Michoacán, México. Sitting together on a red picnic bench at the workers’ camp where Estela and her family live for the season, the two would spend hours talking. It wasn’t until Estela’s daughter Cinthia suggested they write these stories down that they thought of making a book together.
Melanie, a master’s student at the University of San Francisco’s Migration Studies program, had read many books about migration but never thought of creating something new. Estela wanted to share her story to educate children about the realities of migrant and immigrant families in the United States. Both were motivated by the desire to tell true stories and amplify voices of women like Estela.
“I always tried to have fun, even when I was doing difficult work,” Estela explained her motivations behind the project. “I had a fun life, but I also suffered. I want other children to value their opportunities and take advantage of what they have.”
Melanie added that it’s important “for kids to hear from different perspectives. Migrant kids can hear stories from their community and know that they matter, and their stories are important. They can see themselves reflected in the story.”
The project developed quickly and by February 2018, the co-authors presented their book, “Adventures, Mischief, and Dangers of the Fields: Three True Stories from my Childhood,” at the 2018 National Latino Children's Literature Conference in San Antonio, Texas. They received a standing ovation from the audience of teachers, writers, and librarians, who were eager to learn more about stories created with Latinx children in mind.
Estela is proud of her work and her ability to share these experiences. “I never was able to tell my own stories,” she said. “I always had to listen to others, but no one ever asked about me. Some people didn’t think I could write a book, but I did.”
This summer, the book is featured in the curriculum at the Blueberry Harvest School. Estela and Melanie are currently working on their second book, which they hope will surpass the accomplishments of the first. This next book continues to explore themes of family, hard work, and poverty. Their dream is to have their bilingual stories in schools in Maine, Florida, and Mexico for all children to enjoy.
“This was more than a master’s project,” Melanie reflected on her work with Estela. “It’s a friendship that will last forever.”