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Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert

Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Illustrator: David Diaz
Publisher: Clarion Books, 2012

Martin de Porres, of African descent, became a revered Christian leader in 17th-century Peru despite racial, social and economic prejudice against him. Gary D. Schmidt, a Newberry Honor-winning author, tells the story in simple, poetic language that's easily read with children.

Martin's mother, a freed African slave, and his father, a nobleman from Spain, weren't married. De Porres and his younger sister, Juana, were born into extreme poverty in the barrios of Lima, Peru. They were often hungry and sick. When Martin was 8, their custody situation and their last names changed. They moved to Ecuador to live with their father. Children may wonder what happened to their mother, since this is left unsaid.

When Martin grew older, his father apprenticed him with a doctor back in Lima. He eventually began working at a monastery, where he was willing to do the most humble of tasks, from sweeping the floor to giving haircuts. Children will enjoy hearing how Martin healed and cared for sick people, grew lemons and fed the hungry. They will sympathize when Martin is called things other than his name (mongrel, son of a slave, "not of pure blood," and just plain "strange").

Children may also delight in discovering that Martin also took in hungry and/or abused dogs. All of the jewel-toned illustrations by Caldecott Medalist David Diaz are gorgeous, but his work showing the dogs are especially moving. In both pictures and words, we learn that while people were healing at the monastery, Martin would carry them out to sit under a lemon tree and play with those dogs. Early "comfort dogs" or therapy animals? Sure sounds like it.

We can tell our child: "By remembering and being who you are, and whose you are (child of God), you, too, can show love and compassion in God's world." 

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