María Had a Little Llama / María Tenía una Llamita

author: Angela Domínguez
illustrator: Angela Domínguez
translator: Angela Domínguez
Henry Holt, 2013 
preschool-grade 2 
Peruvian

Here, Domínguez brings 19th-Century American schoolteacher, Sarah Josepha Hale’s nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” into modern-day Peru, where “Mary” becomes “María” and her faithful lamb is a llamita. Beautifully and conscientiously executed in intention, art and translation, María Had a Little Llama / María Tenía una Llamita is a picture book that “shows” rather than “tells” a particular child’s world that in some ways is the same as, and in other ways is different from, those of children who may be reading it.

María is an Inca-Peruvian girl who loves her pet llama and her pet llama loves her—so much so that, while the other llamas (and a few sheep as well) trot off the other way, Maria’s llamita follows her to school. The children are amused of course, but her beloved llama has to wait patiently outside (rules, you know), while the teacher explains the close relationship between the girl and her pet.

While the English text follows Hale’s original poem word for word, Domínguez’s Spanish translation is conversational and charming, and keeps a rhythm that will appeal to hablantes and young bilingual readers as well. 

Effectively employing mixed media consisting of watercolor, gouache, inks and colored pencil on an earthy palette, Domínguez reserves the more opaque inks and gouaches to center María and her bright red hat—as well as her solid white llama—while using the flatter watercolors for the backgrounds. This works especially well, for instance, in depicting the vast blue-green Andes mountains on all of the spreads that show the land.

Domînguez presents physical and cultural details in a subtle, organic way. As an Inca-Peruvian child, Marîa’s traditional outfit consists of a plain woolen poncho and skirt, a bright red chullo (a woolen cone-shaped hat with earflaps), and a pair of ojotas (sandals made from recycled tires). On her way to school, she also carries a bright purple cloth bookbag on her back. In the classroom, María’s teacher wears a traditional embroidered Quecha jobona (wool jacket) and montera (basket-hat). She also wears eyeglasses. On her desk are a stack of books and a globe, while the children sit at desks and write on paper with pencils. While these are important visual cues for young readers in the US to absorb, Domínguez’s illustrations do not depict cultural anomalies. Rather, they show an everyday mix of old and new in a rural Peruvian village.

Domínguez’s careful attention to detail shows throughout. Here are children and adults in a mixed-grade classroom who vary in age, dress and complexion tones. Here is María’s home village, with tile-roofed houses and an open-air marketplace. Here are the animals—llamas and sheep, free and corralled—of different sizes, shapes and colors. Here is a group of musicians in the background, who vary in ethnicity, gender and body types.

Some of my favorite illustrations: 

María’s llama is patiently waiting outside—“But still he waited near and lingered patiently about” / “Pero ella se quedó cerca esperando pacientemente…”—sitting on the grass, ever smiling as llamas do, while clocks float in the background to mark the slow passage of time. 

Domínguez depicts “everywhere” (“And everywhere that María went, the llama was sure to go” / “Y a donde María iba, la llama la seguía”) as a roughly drawn map of Peru that focuses on the Inca Trail: the Andes, Cuzco, the rivers and the sacred Machu Picchu. This spread spans the top half, while the bottom half shows María and her llamita, always together. This is María’s world. This is everywhere.

The final spread opens to a scene of llamas looking on from inside a corral as musicians play traditional musical instruments, which include quena (flute), guitarrón, and arpa indígena (harp); and children, with smaller instruments, wave. In the background are the Andes and forefronted is María, playing her zampoña (pan pipe) and dancing, her llamita dancing beside her. Some of the children are wearing contemporary clothing and some are dressed traditionally; their hairstyles as well reflect their ethnic and cultural mixes. Everyone is smiling, llamas included. It’s a scene of pure joy, one to which young readers will keep returning. 


A well-deserved Pure Belpré Honor Book, María Had a Little Llama / María Tenía una Llamita is highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 7/11/17)

Los Pollitos / Little Chickies // Elefantitos / Little Elephants

author: Susie Jaramillo 
illustrator: Susie Jaramillo 
translator: Susie Jaramillo
Encantos Media Studios, Cantícos series (2016) 
toddlers-up

Conceived for the youngest hablantes, and bilingual and non-Spanish speakers as well—these whimsical, engaging and impossibly adorable accordion-styled board books are too heavy for toddlers to chew up or throw across the room. Which they wouldn’t want to do, anyway. For everyone else, they are an artful, well thought-out and beautifully produced treasure, keepers for sure.
Jaramillo creates her art by first sketching in pencil, then painting with acrylics to bring out the characters’ textures and “plumpness,” and finally, overlaying with black ink to bring them to life. Each librito has its own bright palette that highlights one color: yellow for Pollitos, for instance, and gray for Elefantitos. Printed on smooth, heavyweight paper, each page contains a partially hidden pull tab or flap that adds surprise, life and motion to the characters. It’s an art style that’s both interesting and fun for the littlest kids for whom Jaramillo produces them. Her goal, she told me, is to create bright, fun, “cute little characters that kids fall in love with and want to hug.”

The rhymes—something not often seen in children’s books—are conceived in Spanish and interpreted rather than translated into English. Rhyming in Spanish and English, they roll off the tongue and capture the melody, spirit, and sense of humor of both languages, engaging hablantes and non-Spanish speakers alike. In addition, they carry a subtle message—not that everyone’s the same, but that everyone’s different and they all get along.


For instance, the Mexican folk song, “Los pollitos dicen,” goes:

Los pollitos dicen
¡pío! ¡pío! ¡pío!
Cuando tienen hambre…
cuando tienen frío.
La gallina busca
el maíz y el trigo…
les da la comida…
y les presta abrigo.
Bajo sus dos alas…
a-cu-rru-ca-ditos…
duermen los pollitos,
hasta el otro día.




And the English interpretation, “Little Chickies”:

Little chickies squeal
¡pío! ¡pío! ¡pío!
When they get so cold…
and when they want a meal.
Mama goes and gets them
corn, from the field…
serves them each their food…
and warms them head to heel.
Chickies sleep so yummy…
snuggled up with mummy…
And that’s just where they’ll stay,
until another day.



Similarly, the Mexican counting song, in Spanish:

Un elefante se balanceaba
sobre la tela de una araña,
como veía que resistía
fue a llamar a otro elefante.

is interpreted into an English version:

One little elephant balanced oh so elegant
right on the web of a spider.
Along came a friend from around the bend
and the elephant called to invite her.

One of the differences in Jaramillo’s version as opposed to the “traditional” one, is that the elefantitos are babies who have a lot to learn. Maybe. As the group grows in number, the first one's expression —then that of the second, third, fourth and fifth—grow from carefree to concern to a sense of imminent danger as they start to think that balancing on a spider’s web might not be such a great idea. And the little spider—whom Jaramillo portrays as a big-eyed black ball of fuzz—is becoming frantic as well. Since no one gets hurt here, kids can happily repeat the song until they get sleepy. Or the adults do.

Frustrated with the lack of beautiful, high-quality bilingual books that, as Jaramillo told me, “tell stories inspired by our cultures, in a simple format that’s accessible to very young children,” her family joined with another to found Encantos Media Studios. It’s a homemade small business, a public benefit corporation with a social mission, as Jaramillo told me, “to bring people together, to tell stories inspired by our cultures.” As a sustainable business that is also a force for good, Jaramillo says that Encantos gives away “lots and lots of books to the communities we serve. It’s a complete labor of love.”


“It’s so important,” Jaramillo says, “to impart to kids both language and culture so that they can be proud of their families and bond with their grandparents.” 

Each accordion shaped book in the Cantícos series comes in a sturdy box for added protection, and there’s a free app, so the littlest ones can sing along. These absolutely adorable, good-natured, hilarious, and virtually indestructible (except for the pull tabs and flaps) little-kid books—in Spanish and English—are highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 7/8/17, revised 7/10/17)


One Minute Mysteries: Short Mysteries You Solve with Math! / Misterios de un minuto:¡Misterios cortos que resuelves con matemáticas!


author: Eric Yoder
author: Natalie Yoder 
translator: Esteban Bachelet 
Science, Naturally! (2017) 
grades 4-8

This fifth volume in the Yoders’ One Minute Mysteries series, and the second in both Spanish and English, is the sister book to the science mysteries titles. As the publisher, Dia Michels, wrote to me, “Doing a bilingual math book brought with it a whole new set of challenges.”

The original project began as a series of father-and-daughter activities in which one wrote and the other edited, or both wrote together. Eric’s vision was, as he writes in his part of this foreword, to “show real-world applications of academic subject matter, using mystery as the vehicle,” and Natalie’s vision was to be able to figure out “everyday problems that could be solved using math.” Together, their aim was to make math more accessible and enjoyable. 

As with the science volumes, these challenging problems open up both discoveries and potential for curious, inquisitive minds. And that these 40 pint-sized “mysteries”—covering Math at Home, Math Outside, Math at Play, and Math Every Day, and including a Science Bonus Section—are presented as encountered and solved by children themselves, actually make math both approachable and fun.

As with the science volumes, the book design here is clear and the text is readable, without illustrations or clues to detract from each “mystery.” The problems are presented in English on the left and Spanish on the right and generally headed by puns in each language to grab attention. The images—black-and-white photos and drawings—are appropriately reserved for the “solution” pages: those on each two-page spread are related to each other so young readers can intuit more than one connection between image and solution. 

Among my favorite brain-teasers is “Pancake Mix-Up,” in which Meg has to figure out exactly how many single-serve packages of pancake mix to combine with milk, using several different kinds of measuring cups. All she had to do, she says, was to find the smallest number that was a multiple of both ounces of pancake mix and ounces marked on the measuring cups. As someone who’s math-challenged, to say the least, my solution would have been to make scrambled eggs.

But my hands-down favorite, probably because I was able to figure it out, is “Ice Cream, Anyone?” in which 21 energetic middle-school girls, celebrating the end of their field hockey season, visit Cora’s Ice Cream Parlor and request that each them get two different flavors of ice cream—and that each get something different from anyone else. But Cora has only 12 flavors.

Bachelet’s colloquial Spanish translation reads well, and this layout of the mysteries and solutions enable hablantes, bilingual students, and English-only speakers to work in the language in which they’re most proficient, and look to the other side for corresponding words, phrases, and idioms that particularly interest them. And his puns are hilarious; for instance, his version of “Pancake Mix-Up” is “Manos en la Masa.” For those who don’t know, the interpretation would be “caught you with your hands in the cookie jar,” which, of course, has nothing to do with this math problem. I’m betting that it’ll cause both hablantes and bilingual kids to laugh out loud.

While it’s obvious that the authors used great care in choosing the photos of both children and adults who represent a diversity of age, ethnicity, and gender, I would like to have seen a representation of children and adults with disabilities and the spectrum of family configurations as well.

Also missing was a diversity of income levels. The problems feature predominantly middle- to upper-income families taking private golf lessons, staying at a dude ranch (in which they’re required to take part in the daily chores), or figuring out which kind of new car to purchase. One problem that was particularly problematic for me was this one:

Jada and Michelle’s school was closed for a winter teacher training day, so their parents decided to take a day off from work to take the family skiing. They were glad to see when they got there that there were no lines at the chair lifts.

With those suggested changes in mind, One Minute Mysteries: Short Mysteries You Solve with Math! / Misterios de un minuto:¡Misterios cortos que resuelves con matemáticas! is engaging and fun for math nerds (and their parents, if permitted), as well as youngsters who could benefit from some time away from video games. It’s recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 7/4/17)

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale


author: Duncan Tonatiuh 
illustrator: Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2013 
preschool-up 
Mexican

There are far too few picture books for children that depict refugee families or families of undocumented workers in such a way that young children can see reflections of their own lives. Some of the best include Jorge Tetl Argueta and Alfonso Ruano’s Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds (Groundwood, 2016) and Jaime Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng’s Dos conejos blancos // Two White Rabbits (Groundwood, 2016)—all of which have been previously reviewed here—and one published earlier, Duncan Tonatiuh’s Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote (Abrams, 2013).

While Argueta’s and Buitrago’s stories are achingly beautiful and loaded with symbolism, Tonatiuh’s evocative fable, with familiar animals as characters, lightens the symbolic load a bit. Still, it takes young readers and listeners into an ominous world that forces undocumented migrants to leave their families and communities and risk their lives for a chance to earn enough to survive until the next harvest season, when they will have to cross again. While children of undocumented workers will easily relate to this story, it also builds empathy and invites children who may never have thought about what it is to live these lives to imagine how they might deal with the harrowing circumstances portrayed here.

When the rains do not come, Papá Rabbit, Señor Rooster, Señor Ram and some others from the rancho head out to work the “great carrot and lettuce fields” in El Norte. Several harvests later, they haven’t returned, and Pancho Rabbit, the eldest, is worried. Late at night, he fills his backpack with mole, rice and beans, “a heap of still-warm tortillas, and a jugful of fresh aguamiel” and embarks on a journey to find Papá.

Following the stars north, Pancho meets a coyote who offers to guide him—for a price, some of the food he has packed for Papá. As their dangerous trek continues—atop a moving train, across a river, through a tunnel, and into the scorching desert—the coyote demands more and more food. When it’s gone, the coyote tells Pancho that he is about to become the next meal. But just in time, Papá Rabbit, Señor Rooster, and Señor Ram, who have heard the little one’s cries, come to the rescue. Pancho learns that Papá and the others had been stranded in the desert after being attacked by a gang of crows who took all the money they had earned. And after a long embrace, Pancho guides them home to their joyous families and friends. 

Hand-drawn and then digitally collaged illustrations, which Tonatiuh has adapted from the style of the old Mixtec codices, are rendered on a warm palette of mostly flat browns and greens that beautifully frames the story. As well, by incorporating the many textures of fur and feathers, train wheels and gears, cactus spines, denim jeans, canvas backpacks, bandanas, plaid shirts, and borders of papel picado, he brings together the “past” of the codices with the “present” of the Rabbit family’s difficult life. Although the faces are represented in profile, there are expressions. Here are the Rabbit children, holding hands and sadly waving goodbye to Papá Rabbit and his compañeros. Here is Pancho, terrified after losing his balance atop a speeding train. Here are Pancho and the coyote, sweating and panting, about to collapse in the scorching hot desert. And here are Pancho and Papá, joyously hugging each other, while the coyote, his tail between his legs, flees from the fury of Señor Ram and Señor Rooster.

The animals on Pancho’s perilous journey mirror the terrible exploitation that undocumented migrants are forced to endure. The nasty, threatening coyote represents, of course, the human smugglers who extort exorbitant amounts to bring migrants to El Norte (and often take the money and run before reaching the border); the menacing, bribe-taking border guards are appropriately depicted as rattlesnakes; and a “gang of crows” (not depicted) represents the bandits who accost defenseless migrants on the road and take everything they have. 

Finally reunited (for now), the Rabbit children try to convince Papá Rabbit not to leave again. But child readers and listeners soon find out that a happy ending is not guaranteed; as in real life, Pancho’s rabbit family does not know what the future holds for them. They can only hope that there’s enough rain for the crops next year. 
:
“I don’t want to leave you,” said Papá Rabbit, “but the crows took all our money. If it doesn’t rain enough again this year, and if there is no food or work here on the rancho, what else am I to do? I will have to leave again.”

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote had an immediate and strong impact on middle-schoolers Amelia Edosia and Maribel Linda, who recognized their own parents in the Rabbit family and themselves in the Rabbit children. This is what they  had to say:

Amelia: “My dad is a migrant. He walked all the way here from Mexico. He told me he walked by himself. Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote makes me think of dad and when he leaves and mom doesn’t know where he is and when he’ll come back. ‘Pancho’ is like my little brother—or all of us."

Maribel: “A lot of Mexican kids would understand this story because they may have parents who are farm workers who work really hard. And sometimes the parents have to go to other places to work and their kids miss them and feel sad.”

Amelia: “Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote is kind of like Two White Rabbits, where the little girl and her dad are traveling to El Norte so he can find work. There are mean-looking coyotes in both stories. Pancho is being used by the coyote: he’s bad, he’s dishonest, and after he takes everything Pancho has, he tries to kill him. It’s obvious that coyotes like to eat rabbits, but in real life, this coyote (the smuggler) would have left Pancho in the desert to die.”

Maribel: “The snakes represent the border patrol: they strike, they have fangs, they can be poisonous. It makes me think about how dangerous it is for my father and what if he didn’t come back. Not a lot of parents always come back.”

Amelia: “It’s tough for the family because you don’t know when they’ll come back or if they’ll come back.”

And the verdict: 

Beverly: “A well-deserved Pure Belpré Honor Book, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote speaks to children of migrant workers as few children’s books do. Along with an extensive author’s note about the difficult lives of migrant workers and the dangers they face, and web-based research and resources for older readers, it’s highly recommended.”

Maribel: “Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote is highly recommended because it teaches Mexican kids what their parents could be going through when they have to leave them to go to work. Respect your parents because you don’t know if they’ll come back.”

Amelia: “Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote is highly recommended because kids who don’t have parents who are migrants will learn how dangerous the lives of migrant farm workers are, and they might learn to care more about other people. And it also helps the Mexican kids feel better.”

Maribel: “And Trump is not gonna finish his wall!”

Amelia: “Yeah!”

—Beverly Slapin, Maribel Linda, and Amelia Edosia
(published 6/22/17)


(Note: For more info about Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote, see this excellent review by Lila Quintero Weaver, in Latinxs in Kid Lit (https://latinosinkidlit.com/2014/03/20/libros-latinos-pancho-rabbit-and-the-coyote-a-migrants-tale-2/). It contains information about the author and a reference to his TED talk, a section about the characteristics of Mixtec art, and teaching suggestions.)

The Long Journey of Mister Poop / El Gran Viaje del Señor Caca


author: Angéle Delaunois
illustrator: Marie Lafrance
translator: Daniel Zolinsky
Cinco Puntos Press, 2007
preschool-up

Here, our wolf-guide—sometimes wearing a lab coat and stethoscope, sometimes sporting a chef’s toque, sometimes waving a pointer—takes young readers on a tour of the human body from the inside, pointing out and explaining the bodily processes that transform food into poop. Lafrance’s hilarious pastel illustrations—on a bright palette of mostly yellows, reds, greens and, um, browns—complement Delaunois’ kid-friendly scientific text that even contains the sound effects of digestion! Zolinsky’s Spanish—sometimes placed above and sometimes placed below the English—is a hoot as well.

My young granddaughters (who are excited about reviewing for DE COLORES), middle-schoolers Amelia Edosia and Maribel Linda, couldn’t believe their eyes: A book about poop? Caca? Popó? Really? Maribel laughed because she initially thought that “el gran viaje del Señor Caca” was about “someone named ‘poop’ who was going places.” (The faceless Señor Caca is carrying a satchel and wearing a hat, which is actually a piece of apple core.) And Amelia thought it was funny because “we don’t usually talk about this stuff.”

As they started reading, they saw Doctor Wolf offering an apple to a little girl and telling the teeth to get to work (¡Vamos, dientes! ¡A trabajar!). Maribel noticed that each double-page spread contains both dialogue from Wolf to the little girl, as well as an informative sentence in Spanish and English that explains the particular process. Both reviewers were initially grossed out (“ugh!”) at the illustration of Chef Wolf stirring vegetables in a stomach but began to be impressed at the sight of little enzyme-fishes gobbling up the food and changing its texture. Maribel remarked that “the enzymes turn the food particles into a sort of compost and the stomach is like a compost bin, sucking out the good stuff.”

And now, for the evaluation.

Amelia: “I think El Gran Viaje is important because you can learn something about your body. And it’s funny, too, especially the Spanish. I think the words ‘popó’ and ‘caca’ are funnier than ‘poop.’ I like the drawings because they show things like the intestines being measured off. It’s sort of like a big ruler so you get the idea that the intestines are very long. I like that better than just telling you a fact, like the intestines are very long.”

Maribel: “I think this book is good because you learn about things you didn’t know like how your body actually turns food into poop. For example, you eat something and maybe a few days later it comes out and stinks because it’s been up in your body for days and all the good stuff has been sucked out and used. Poop is what your body doesn’t need.

“I think the drawings are very good because young children can look at them and see what’s in their bodies. I like the pictures of Chef Wolf—he’s leading the story like a teacher and a guide leading you on your journey. For instance, he’s in the stomach and he’s got scuba gear, and he’s grocery shopping in the intestines while the blood and organs take what they need.

“I also like that It’s really funny because it’s teaching real things in a cartoon way and textbooks are boring. I understood this stuff when I read about it in a textbook, but that’s because my teacher went over it a hundred times. But I like this one better because I just studied the digestive system and this was easy and fun.”

Amelia: “I like to look at this kind of book because it has information to read and the pictures show me what’s next.

“I learned about digestion, that the stuff you eat has to do with how you feel. We eat healthy because we want to be strong. Our bodies need all this stuff —vitamins and minerals—so we can live healthy. Mom gives us an option—a sandwich or fruit or vegetables, and once in a while, we eat junk like at McDonald’s and then I get a stomachache. I learned to eat healthier and not eat too much junk food.”

Maribel: “I’m on the wrestling team and losing or gaining weight depends on what you eat. You can eat some carbs but mostly you have to eat fruits and vegetables. Some foods make me feel crummy before a wrestling match. I can tell the difference when I eat certain foods. Eating pancakes before wrestling, for instance, doesn’t give me strength, but fruits and vegetables do.”

And the verdict:

Judy: The Long Journey of Mister Poop / El Gran Viaje del Señor Caca is highly recommended.

Maribel: El Gran Viaje del Señor Caca is highly recommended.

Amelia: The Long Journey of Mister Poop is highly recommended.

We’re all disappointed that this excellent, funny book is currently out of print, and encourage the publisher to bring it back!

—Judy Zalazar Drummond, Amelia Edosia and Maribel Linda
(published 6/15/17)


Sing, Don’t Cry


author: Angela Dominguez 
illustrator: Angela Dominguez 
Henry Holt, 2017 
preschool-up
Mexican, Mexican American


Ay, ay, ay, ay.
canta y no llores.
porque cantando se alegran,
cielito lindo, los corazones.

Ay, ay, ay, ay.
sing and don’t cry.
because singing gladdens
the heart, sweet lovely one.

When people think of a “Mexican” song, “Cielito Lindo" is one of the first that comes to mind. It’s a positive song, a unifying song, a song of hope and a new morning.“Cielito Lindo” goes back to the 1880s and remains the single most popular mariachi song in Mexico. In restaurants, mariachis enter singing it, and people stop eating and, swaying back and forth, sing the refrain.

My friend and colleague, Judy Zalazar Drummond, told me that her uncle had been a mariachi, and that “Cielito Lindo” was always the song that brought everyone together. She remembers her mother’s singing it all the time and, in Mexico, “someone always picked up the guitar and played it.” It’s an easy song and was the first song she learned as a child. It’s a pretty song, she told me, and always gave her a good feeling.

Dominguez’s story, she writes, was inspired by the refrain in “Cielito Lindo” and by her mariachi grandfather, who turned to music after a serious childhood accident. She centers this poignant story—narrated by a child who fondly remembers Abuelo and the lessons he taught his grandchildren during his annual visits from Mexico—on the healing powers of song and a positive outlook and love of family and community. 

Her artwork—pencil drawings on tissue paper on illustration board, digitally colored in Photoshop—beautifully complements the story’s gentleness. There are two different, both calmly subdued, palettes here: more sepia tones for  “past memories” and slightly brighter, mostly greens, blues, browns and yellows for “present moments.” And I’m impressed as usual by Dominguez’s use of varied skin tones and hair colors, as well as rich details such as bricks on buildings, leaves on trees, a banner of papel picado fluttering in the breeze, the fabric of a couch and balls of yarn in a basket. 

Dominguez has made sure that, although she doesn’t center Abuelo’s disability (he probably would not have wanted her to), it’s clear that it changed his life. So, in four illustrations placed throughout, is a story within the story. The first three are rendered in sepia tones, representing the past. Here is a worried mom, standing over her child’s bed. He is in pain. Here is the child, viewed from behind, leaning on crutches and looking out the window. His friends are waving to him, but he can’t go out. Here is a young man, joyfully singing and playing his guitar. A crutch leans against the couch. And finally, in full color, here is an older man—Abuelo—standing up, exuberantly holding his guitar and smiling at his grandchildren. They are hugging him and his arms are open wide in an exchange of love. 

Dominguez’ spare text virtually frames all of her illustrations and hints at their content: “Some things may be lost forever / it’s true.” / “But maybe that makes room / for new and wonderful / things to be found.” This story showing technique cannot help but engage young readers and listeners and encourage them to imagine, and maybe share their own stories. 

And finally, there’s this:

When you are misunderstood,
and when people are unkind,
remember—sing, don’t cry,
even if it is only in your soul.”

There is one problem—and it’s major: Dominguez’s lovely story and beautiful art, informed by a Mexican song, about a Mexican American family with a Mexican abuelo who is a mariachi, was published in an English-only format. It certainly should have been bilingual, and I hope that the next printing will be. In the meanwhile, just as a stop-gap, perhaps Dominguez and/or the publisher will insert a translation into each book as it comes off the press. Nevertheless, Sing, Don’t Cry is highly recommended.


—Beverly Slapin
(published 6/7/17)
Hello, everyone—

I’m honored and humbled to tell you that, sometime last night, DE COLORES (decologresreviews.blogspot.com) reached 300,000 visits!

Beverly Slapin 
Founder and Editor 
DE COLORES: THE RAZA EXPERIENCE 
IN BOOKS FOR CHILDREN
(decoloresreviews.blogspot.com)
2702 Mathews St.
Berkeley, CA 94702
510-647-8912
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Lola Levine and the Ballet Scheme

author: Monica Brown
illustrator: Angela Dominguez 
Little, Brown, 2016 
grades 1-3 
Peruvian American


As we all know by now, our young protagonist is a super-smart, super-outspoken, and super-opinionated second-grade goalie who won’t back down, no matter what. And she speaks without filters, telling everyone within earshot what she’s thinking at the speed that she’s thinking it. Here, for instance, is Lola’s breathless first encounter with her new classmate, Isabella Benítez, who is decked out in pink, which, of course, Lola just cannot abide:
“I’m Lola…. Lola is short for Dolores. My mom is from Peru—is yours, too? Do you speak Spanish? I do. My dad is from here. He’s Jewish. My mom’s Catholic. I’m both. Do you play soccer? I do. Are those bedroom slippers on your sweatshirt? Do you always wear pink? Don’t you get tired of it? It isn’t a very interesting color, in my opinion—”
Isabella (or, as she prefers, “Bella”) is a student of ballet, a girl who is happiest dressed in pink all the time—this day she wears pink hair ribbons, a pink sweatshirt, a fluffy pink skirt, and even pink tennis shoes. And she’s not about to allow Lola’s attitude to go unchallenged: “Actually,” she says, “pink is a very interesting color. It’s the color of bubble gum and cotton candy and bunny eyes and—”

Lola argues that, in her opinion, pink is just pale red and Bella argues that, in her opinion, soccer is boring; and, except that they both speak Spanish, there are few things that the two have in common. Will they ever get along?

When an accident occurs—involving an explosion of black dye that ruins everyone’s clothing—the moms get involved and, with Principal Blot’s blessing, the two girls are forced to switch roles: while Bella engages in soccer drills (in which she excels), Lola puts on “weird clothes” and attends ballet practice (in which she is definitely “not horrible”).

And meanwhile, Lola’s kindergartner brother, Ben, starts to experiment with what he has been led to think is only a “girl” thing:

Bella and I take a look, and that’s when I see Ben. He’s leaping, spinning, and dancing around the lobby. He must have been watching the ballet class very closely through the window, because he seems almost good at it.

When the ballet coach remarks to mom about Ben’s natural talent, both plant the seed and give Ben space and time to think about becoming a ballet dancer. “OK,” he says.

Meanwhile, Lola’s Peruvian mom and Bella’s Mexican mom are becoming fast friends, as are Lola and Bella. And, when Lola discovers how her own quick thinking and a ballet move can destroy the opposing team’s attempt at a goal, well, that’s it. The moms’ ballet scheme has worked and the two girls find, as Lola muses, “just because we’re friends doesn’t mean we have to do everything the same, right?”

Dominguez’s grayscale interior illustrations, begun with loose pencil sketches and digitally finalized, beautifully maintain the ethnic similarities and differences within Lola’s own family and among her friends, teachers, and schoolmates.

But her cover art—just wow! Rendered in pencil with tissue paper on illustration board and finished with digital color, here are Lola and Bella, standing back-to-back, facing the reader and slightly turned toward each other, smiling widely. Bella is wearing a pink ballerina outfit and holding a soccer ball, while Lola is wearing a pink tutu over her soccer uniform. Here are two Latina children—one Peruvian and one Mexican. They have different skin tones and different facial features and are not, in any way, caricatured. How rare and real and beautiful and affirming is that?

Lola Levine and the Ballet Scheme is an easy-to-read, smart, funny and affirming story that challenges socially established gender roles in an age-specific way that will especially resonate with young readers who feel—or actually are—marginalized by these norms. It’s not only a typically fast-paced “Lola” story but an important one as well. It’s highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 5/6/17)

Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean // Lola Levine and the Vacation Dream


author: Angela Dominguez 
illustrator: Angela Dominguez 
Henry Holt, 2017 
preschool-up
Mexican, Mexican American


Ay, ay, ay, ay.
canta y no llores.
porque cantando se alegran,
cielito lindo, los corazones.

Ay, ay, ay, ay.
sing and don’t cry.
because singing gladdens
the heart, sweet lovely one.

When people think of a “Mexican” song, “Cielito Lindo" is one of the first that comes to mind. It’s a positive song, a unifying song, a song of hope and a new morning.“Cielito Lindo” goes back to the 1880s and remains the single most popular mariachi song in Mexico. In restaurants, mariachis enter singing it, and people stop eating and, swaying back and forth, sing the refrain.

My friend and colleague, Judy Zalazar Drummond, told me that her uncle had been a mariachi, and that “Cielito Lindo” was always the song that brought everyone together. She remembers her mother’s singing it all the time and, in Mexico, “someone always picked up the guitar and played it.” It’s an easy song and was the first song she learned as a child. It’s a pretty song, she told me, and always gave her a good feeling.

Dominguez’s story, she writes, was inspired by the refrain in “Cielito Lindo” and by her mariachi grandfather, who turned to music after a serious childhood accident. She centers this poignant story—narrated by a child who fondly remembers Abuelo and the lessons he taught his grandchildren during his annual visits from Mexico—on the healing powers of song and a positive outlook and love of family and community. 

Her artwork—pencil drawings on tissue paper on illustration board, digitally colored in Photoshop—beautifully complements the story’s gentleness. There are two different, both calmly subdued, palettes here: more sepia tones for  “past memories” and slightly brighter, mostly greens, blues, browns and yellows for “present moments.” And I’m impressed as usual by Dominguez’s use of varied skin tones and hair colors, as well as rich details such as bricks on buildings, leaves on trees, a banner of papel picado fluttering in the breeze, the fabric of a couch and balls of yarn in a basket. 

Dominguez has made sure that, although she doesn’t center Abuelo’s disability (he probably would not have wanted her to), it’s clear that it changed his life. So, in four illustrations placed throughout, is a story within the story. The first three are rendered in sepia tones, representing the past. Here is a worried mom, standing over her child’s bed. He is in pain. Here is the child, viewed from behind, leaning on crutches and looking out the window. His friends are waving to him, but he can’t go out. Here is a young man, joyfully singing and playing his guitar. A crutch leans against the couch. And finally, in full color, here is an older man—Abuelo—standing up, exuberantly holding his guitar and smiling at his grandchildren. They are hugging him and his arms are open wide in an exchange of love. 

Dominguez’ spare text virtually frames all of her illustrations and hints at their content: “Some things may be lost forever / it’s true.” / “But maybe that makes room / for new and wonderful / things to be found.” This story showing technique cannot help but engage young readers and listeners and encourage them to imagine, and maybe share their own stories. 

And finally, there’s this:

When you are misunderstood,
and when people are unkind,
remember—sing, don’t cry,
even if it is only in your soul.”

There is one problem—and it’s major: Dominguez’s lovely story and beautiful art, informed by a Mexican song, about a Mexican American family with a Mexican abuelo who is a mariachi, was published in an English-only format. It certainly should have been bilingual, and I hope that the next printing will be. In the meanwhile, just as a stop-gap, perhaps Dominguez and/or the publisher will insert a translation into each book as it comes off the press. Nevertheless, Sing, Don’t Cry is highly recommended.


—Beverly Slapin
(published 6/7/17)

All They Will Call You: The Telling of the Plane Wreck at Los Gatos Canyon

author: Tim Z. Hernández
University of Arizona Press (2017)
grades 9-up 
Mexican


The crops are all in and the peaches are rottnin’ 
The oranges are piled in yer creosote dumps
Yer flyin’ em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again
Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria
You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane
All they will call you will be…deportee.


Ever since the Great Depression, the US has had a “revolving door” policy tied to its capitalist economy. When the economy starts to pick up, the door opens to immigration as a source of cheap labor; and when times get tough—immigrants (“illegals”) are the first to be blamed, rounded up and deported.[1]

In 1942, with increased demands for production, the US and Mexico initiated the Bracero program, which brought millions of Mexican “guest” workers to US agricultural fields in California and Texas. This program was immensely profitable for the large growers, who used it to thwart unionizing efforts and drive down wages of all agricultural workers.[2] By the autumn of 1947, soon after World War II ended, Mexican labor became dispensable, and more than 600,000 were rounded up and sent back to Mexico—even though many were US citizens.

On a cold winter morning on January 28, 1948, a plane crash at Los Gatos, California—what was then called “the worst airplane disaster in California’s history”—claimed the lives of 32 passengers, including 28 Mexican agricultural workers.[3] At the time of their deaths, these Mexican citizens were in the process of being deported by the US government.

Within a few days of the crash, the members of the flight crew had been identified and their remains collected and returned to their families and communities. But the Mexican citizens on board remained anonymous—and newspaper stories for that day referred to them only as “deportees.” When their charred remains were interred in an unmarked mass grave in the Central Valley, the records of Holy Cross Cemetery identified each person simply as a “Mexican National.”

Just a few days after the tragedy, on February 3, the great Woody Guthrie, protesting the anonymity of these farm workers and their tragic deaths, penned a poem entitled “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee).” Guthrie’s poem later became a song and, through the years, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen have brought it to wide audiences.

Inspired by the song and motivated by his dying grandfather’s memories of life as a campesino—and with a combination of dogged journalistic spirit and empathy, heart and Chicanismo—Hernández set out to uncover the family stories of these passengers. The search, he writes, “required traveling six decades back in time, to numerous cities, ranchos, and barrios, in three countries, three languages, with limited resources, and only a single shred of old newspaper as the clue.” Hernández was eventually able to locate the families of seven of the “anonymous” agricultural workers who perished in the crash. Here, readers—told from the beginning when and how these campesinos would meet their tragic deaths—come to know them as real people with families, friends and communities; real people with impossibly difficult lives and also with loves and passions and dreams.

Major sections—“The Witnessing,” “The Stories” and “They’re Flyin’ ‘em Back,”—begin with a line from the song, and readers will find as well several aged, almost unrecognizable black-and-white family photos mixed in. Together, this approach effectively sets each telling into a time and place, and encourages readers to want to learn more.

These engaging, sometimes heartbreaking stories are circular and multilayered. Often beginning decades after the tragedy with a relative’s memory told contemporaneously, Hernández’s own recreations connect the tellings and take them back in time. Here, Ramón, as a young man about to head north, stops at the community’s ejido:

The whispers of birds in the nearby bushes could be heard. In the perfect silence of the evening, Ramón looked across the ejido and could almost envision the well. He could see the glistening rows of water and hear the infinite trickling of a stream. It was the sound of (the community’s) success. His own success. He could see the corn growing to unfathomable heights, garbanzos as large as fists. The fertile earth a shade of red, umber, its scent wafting like a sash across his chest. There was only one choice. As much as he hated to admit it, el Norte was the only solution.

With the community depending on him, Ramón tells his wife: “Necesito ir pa’l Norte…. I have to, mi amor. It’s the only choice.”

Above all, the narratives—what the relatives wanted to tell—are stories of humanity and kindness. Here, Jaime tells of how he remembers his uncle, Guadalupe:

“My uncle was a very tall man, and oftentimes, when he would go, he would cross el Río Bravo, and he would help the women and children cross by carrying them on his back, or on his shoulders. Yes, my uncle did that, and people knew him for that. How he would help people cross.”

As they read the events on the day of the tragedy—interspersed with recollectionns from before—readers will have become familiar with, not only the campesinos themselves, but also their families and communities. Early that morning, for instance, Luis is looking at Casimira’s photograph and is excited about their upcoming wedding. It’s forty-one degrees in downtown San Francisco, and the passengers are boarding the bus that will take them across the Bay Bridge toward Oakland. When they arrive at the Oakland Municipal Airport, a member of the flight crew instructs them: “Formen una sola linea, por favor.”

A light gust of wind blew José Sánchez Valdivia’s baseball cap off his head, and he scooped it up before it had a chance to go skipping down the tarmac…. Everyone made small talk to pass the time…. The air was frigid still, and María huddled against her husband, Lupe. Ramón and Guadalupe spoke of plans for the ejido, and how it would be nice to return home again…

The family members’ tellings, in all their intimacy and love, are beautiful to read—all the more so because we know how these stories end. The events before, during and after the crash, in all their minute detail, are painful to read, but high school students will gain an empathetic perspective, the scope of which they may never have experienced before.

While these family tellings maintain the loving intimacy of relatives, friends and communities, Hernández’s journalistic perspective places readers into the picture that’s generally seen only in headlines or sanitized stories. With detail as important as the family stories, he writes, for instance, about the degradation of the fitness evaluations—which he calls the “bracero entrance exam”—that guaranteed that only those who were fit enough to be field laborers, yet “would not look to raise trouble” were deemed capable of enduring life as braceros in el Norte. 

It was not until 1989—more than 40 years after the tragedy—that Jaime Ramírez, carrying with him a newspaper clipping from 1974, which had a list of those who had been killed in the crash—was able to find the unmarked gravesite where his grandfather, Ramon Paredes and uncle, Guadalupe Ramírez Lara, were buried. He showed the list to Hernández in 2013, and gave him an audiotape of Woody Guthrie’s song. “Had it not been for the song,” Hernández writes, “I would’ve never known about the plane crash in the first place. The song, by all definitions, was the beacon.”

There is much more to All They Will Call You, including stories of the flight crew members; Hernández’s interview with Pete Seeger; the story of a troubled young man named Marty Hoffman, who wrote the music; an account of the day of the memorial headstone celebration; photographs of the author with some of the families; and a long, long list of acknowledgements.

Hernández’s Field Notes (2012-2015) begins with a section from “La Huesera” by Ire’ne Lara Silva:

…here, where the world is undone, and their bodies are remade, their spirits rise in star-flecked spirals. The pooling blood runs backwards, their splintered hearts come together. I know all their names. I will call them, and they will come…

In All They Will Call You, Hernández transforms his tape recorder into a tool for gathering stories. “While the telling itself is true,” he writes, “its loyalty is not to people of fact but rather to people of memory…. In this way, it’s inevitable that some rememberings will contradict other rememberings…. In this case, perception is truth.”

There is no pretense of objectivity here, nor should there be. Trusting in the multiple rememberings and perceptions of the tellers here—rather than attempting to sift out or retell one “truth” of a story—is the mark of a brilliant advocacy journalist.

Indeed, All They Will Call You is intense and compassionate, and places teen readers into the stories and struggles that have at least as much meaning today as they did almost seven decades ago. And together, they serve as a model for readers considering a career in the kind of journalism that speaks truths about power.


Especially now, in these dark and dangerous times, it’s important for readers to know the “deportees,” how hard they worked and shared with their communities. They were disrespected in life, and in death, they were just tossed away. All They Will Call You is a humbling book that honors and memorializes these “deportees” and all the humble people whose backbreaking work puts food on our tables. To say the least, it’s major Pulitzer Prize material.


Miguel Alvarez Negrete ¡Presente! Francisco Durán Llamas ¡Presente!
Santiago Elizondo García ¡Presente! Tomás Gracia de Aviña ¡Presente!
Salvador Hernández Sandoval ¡Presente! Severo Lara Medina ¡Presente!
Tomás Márquez Padilla ¡Presente! Luis Medina López ¡Presente!
Manuel Merino Calderón ¡Presente! Martín Navarri Razo ¡Presente!
Ramón Ochoa Ochoa ¡Presente! Ramón Paredes González ¡Presente!
Alberto Carlos Raygoza ¡Presente! Guadalupe Rodríguez Hernández ¡Presente!
María Rodríguez Santana ¡Presente! José Sánchez Valdivia ¡Presente!
Jesús Santos Meza ¡Presente!Baldomero Marcos Torres ¡Presente!
Bernabé García López ¡Presente! Rosalio Estrada Padilla ¡Presente!
Juan Ruiz Valenzuela ¡Presente! Elias Macías Trujillo ¡Presente!
José Macias Rodriguez ¡Presente! Wenceslao Ruiz Flores ¡Presente!
Ignacio Navarro Pérez ¡Presente! Luis Miranda Cuevas ¡Presente!
Apolonio Placencia Ramírez ¡Presente! Guadalupe Ramírez Lara ¡Presente!


—Beverly Slapin
(published 4/26/17; revised last four paragraphs, 4/28/17)



[1] An excellent source of historical information is 500 Años del Pueblo Chicano / 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures by Elizabeth (“Betita”) Martinez, reviewed on this site.

[2] See also The Bracero Program: 1942-1964 by Sarah Hines, http:///www.counterpunch.org/2006/04/21/the-bracero-program-1942-1964/

[3] This is the number that was officially recorded; there may have been as many as 39 Mexican passengers on board.