Maria Isabel enjoys reading and school, but this year is hard for her. She used to go to school in Puerto Rico, but now that she has moved to the US, she has to go to a new school as well. On the first day of third grade, the teacher decides that since there are two other Marias in the class already, that Maria Isabel will have to go by “Mary” instead. But Maria Isabel isn’t used to that name, and she is constantly in trouble because the teacher thinks she isn’t listening, when really it’s just that she doesn’t recognize the unfamiliar name. Worst of all, the teacher thinks she doesn’t want to participate in the Winter Pageant. When an assignment is given to write about one’s “Greatest Wish” Maria Isabel sees her chance to talk about being in the Pageant after all. But is that really her greatest wish? What about her name and identity?
Alma Flor Ada is also a professor of multicultural education, and no doubt writes this story in part as a response to what many multicultural children experience. I would hope that there are no teachers left that are so insensitive that they would haphazardly rename a child, but I fear that this might be the case. Maria Isabel’s pride in her name and her heritage is strong, even if she is too shy to stand up for herself at first. While the ending is a little too pat – what would she have done if the essay had not been assigned? – the strength of the story lies in Maria Isabel’s struggle and eventual growth to speak up for herself.