Childrens Book Review of A Gift of Gracias: Legend of Altagracia by Julia Alvarez and Beatriz Vidal

by DerdriuMarriner

Two beloved tales about Our Lady Mary honor Latin America. One involves a peasant’s rose-filled cape in Guadalupe, Mexico. Our Lady of High Grace is retold in “A Gift of Gracias."

The Dominican Republic appears high on the list of preferred Caribbean islands to visit.
• Culturally, the island boasts preserved cave paintings and pottery designs from the Arawakan-speaking Taíno culture of the seventh to fifteenth centuries A.D.
• Geologically, it claims the Caribbean’s highest mountain with 10,164-foot (3,097.99-meter) high Pico Duarte and largest lake and lowest elevation with Lago Enriquillo 9 – 12 miles (14.48 – 19.31 kilometers) wide and 148 feet (45.11 meters) below sea level.

Historically, it is the site of Genoa-born New World discoverer Christopher Columbus’s (October 31, 1450? – May 20, 1506) first permanent settlement after landing on December 5, 1492.
• Socio-economically, it offers world-respected fashions.
• Traditionally, it outsources the Marian legend recreated in “A Gift of Gracias.”




Mexico's image of Our Lady Mary appearing on Juan Diego's rose-filled cape in Mexico City's northern neighborhood of Guadalupe enjoys worldwide renown; less well known is image of Our Lady on Quisqueya's blanket on Caribbean island of Dominican Republic:

Within Taino culture, Quisqueya, a name for the Dominican Republic, translates as "Mother Earth" or "Mother of All Lands." ~ Our Lady Mary is the patron saint of the Dominican Republic.
Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City, central Mexico: image of Our Lady Mary, Virgin of Guadalupe
Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City, central Mexico: image of Our Lady Mary, Virgin of Guadalupe


María appreciates life on her family’s finca (farm). Her parents are happy in their new homeland, the Dominican Republic, despite happy memories of pre-emigrant lifestyles in Valencia, Spain. They cultivate olives while regretting their homeland’s oranges. But soil and weather sometimes do not sustain the best of small-farming endeavors. Despite contrary assertions by family friend Quisqueya, Papá equates failed crops with city jobs. He and Quisqueya get a basket of oranges for one such urban opportunity. The sunrise-looking, sweet-tasting fruit gives María a refreshing but unusual night’s sleep despite an evening-long cry over her orange pit-filled bowl. María has dreams of:

  • Giving thanks per Quisqueya’s prompts;
  • Glimpsing a blue-robed, golden-skinned, red-dressed, star-crowned, tree-shrouded beauty;
  • Planting orange seeds.


A Gift of Gracias by Julia Alvarez ~ illustrated by Beatriz Vidal

After their olive crop fails, Maria fears that her family will have to abandon their farm on the new island colony. Then, one night she dreams of a mysterious beautiful lady shrouded by trees with branches hung with hundreds of little suns.
Our Lady Mary children's stories


In the morning, María describes her dream. With her parents and Quisqueya, she gathers the seeds from the previous night’s feast. All four give thanks as they place each seed in the barren ground. Within months, not years, they have fruit-bearing, full-grown orange trees. Papá is happy with bounteous harvests to sell in city markets. But he and Quisqueya leave for home without finding any image of Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia (Our Lady of High Thanks) for María.  Our Lady nevertheless lets stars drop onto Quisqueya’s blanket during a stop homeward. Like Juan Diego and his rose-filled cape in Guadalupe, Mexico, Quisqueya opens his blanket at home to find Our Lady’s perfectly preserved image for María.


Shrine of Our Lady of Altagracia in Salvaleón de Higüey

Salvaleón de Higüey, eastern La Altagracia Province, eastern Dominican Republic
Salvaleón de Higüey, eastern La Altagracia Province, eastern Dominican Republic



A Gift of Gracias acts as a colorful, endearing, inspiring back-story to two of the Dominican Republic’s most beloved icons. Dominican Republicans consider Our Lady Mary (18 B.C.? – A.D. 41?) the island’s patron saint. They deem as the earliest Marian shrine in the Americas La Basílica Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia in Salvaleón de Higüey. The basilica cathedral indeed exists on the original, sixteenth-century location of María’s family farm. Its scenery finds lovingly accurate contexts and respectfully colorful depictions in:

  • Ageless, elementary school-friendly words by Dominican Republic-born writer Julia Alvarez;
  • Green- and orange-rich, small-brushed gouache and watercolor artistry of Argentine illustrator and storyteller Beatriz Vidal.

This must-own book gives timeless perspectives on Latin America’s fascinating cultures.  


An interview with Julia Alvarez

Uploaded to YouTube on January 18, 2007 by Boston Latino TV ~ URL:



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.


Sources Consulted


Alvarez, Julia. 2005. A Gift of Gracias: The Legend of Altagracia. Illustrated by Beatriz Vidal. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers.


Basílica Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia

Salvaleón de Higüey, eastern La Altagracia Province, eastern Dominican Republic
Salvaleón de Higüey, eastern La Altagracia Province, eastern Dominican Republic
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

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DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 01/21/2015, DerdriuMarriner
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