top of page


🟡 Kid Lit Book Review: Areli Is a Dreamer by Areli Morales

Areli Is a Dreamer written by Areli Morales,

Illustrated by Luisa Uribe

A Review by Alex Morales

Areli is a Dreamer by Areli Morales tells the compelling story of Areli’s experience immigrating to the United States from Mexico as a young child. I am a DACA recipient, and this book uncovered emotions within me that I had not confronted since I immigrated to the United States when I was two years old. As I followed Areli’s story, I found deep resonances with my experience in a country that has high expectations for immigrants, regardless of their age. Through muted color schemes, Colombian illustrator Luisa Uribe encapsulates Areli’s sometimes playful and other times poignant upbringing. From the depiction of her grandmother’s house in Mexico to the bustling streets of New York, the illustrations throughout the book positively impact the telling of Areli’s story. Uribe does a wonderful job engaging readers with the book and demonstrating the differences in culture and setting between the two worlds Areli exists in. For example, readers see her hugging the chickens goodbye in Mexico and in another illustration observing the colorful fireworks during the fourth of July in New York City.  

The book kicks off on a playful note, depicting Areli and her brother Alex playing with their cousins in their grandmother’s backyard in Mexico. The tone quickly shifts to a solemn one as we see Alex and Areli calling their parents who reside in New York City. Morales does a subtle yet efficient job at introducing readers to the significance of Areli’s separation from her parents. This impact is especially felt when she says, “Mamá and Papá had been away so long, they felt like strangers.” Since her brother Alex is a citizen of the United States, he is able to travel and live with their parents. Areli is left in Mexico with her grandmother until her parents are able to send someone to bring her to them. While each of these experiences are sufficient enough to negatively impact a child’s development, Areli endures them all and follows her grandmother’s advice to be brave as she embarks on a journey to the United States. 

Once reunited with her family, Areli notices that her parents look different from the dated photographs in her grandmother’s house, which unveils an aspect of the harsh realities of familial separation. This opens the door to meaningful conversations and the cultivation of empathy, especially for readers who might be encountering these themes for the first time and have never considered what it might be like to be far apart from their parents. In addition, the book depicts an instance of racial bullying when Areli attends her new school. One of her peers calls her “illegal” and tells her to go back to Mexico. This language demonstrates how young people can internalize racist and white supremacist ideas, such as the notion that people who do not have the proper bureaucratic documents are “illegal” and do not deserve to inhabit a country. This moment in the book provides another opportunity for conversation amongst readers. Despite this interaction, Areli finds community with her classmates who speak Spanish and perseveres. She works hard to learn a new language and survive within a completely different culture.

I recommend this book because it provides an uplifting account of a child courageously surviving through the traumatic experience of being an immigrant in the United States. The caveat with my recommendation is the projection of a romanticized message surrounding the United States as a nation of immigrants. In the second half of the book Areli takes a field trip to Ellis Island and learns about the great amount of immigrants that came through New York. Areli is empowered to learn about this history and finds connection to her own story, resisting the charge against her being ‘illegal.’ After the field trip, she speaks with her grandmother over the phone saying, “Those immigrants are part of America.” While this experience serves as reassurance for Areli and her future in this country, it does so to the detriment of decolonial teaching and learning. This message erases the history of colonization and subjugation of Indigenous peoples. A potential conversation topic to have with readers and students is how Areli might have found inspiration for resistance by learning about the original inhabitants of this land. It would also be interesting to consider why Areli’s school chose to emphasize this narrative of the United States, and what that means for decolonial social justice frameworks within and outside the classroom.

My reaction to this book demonstrates the importance and need for stories like Areli’s to be shared and talked about. Having books like these available for immigrant young people is empowering, as it can serve to confront the detrimental effects of assimilation. With the caveat in mind, this book can garner important conversations that resist the notion of humans as ‘illegal’ and the narratives of this country’s history that erase its genocidal past.



Reviewer Alex with Areli Is a Dreamer

Alex is a first generation student at Portland State University studying English. They enjoy reading, writing, and studying social justice literature and its positive impacts on students and society. 

REVIEW NOTE: Alex was a student review writer working with me at Portland State University in partnership with Teaching for Change's Social Justice Books (SJB) Project.



bottom of page