Arriba, Abajo y Alrededor // Up, Down, and Around // Nuestro Huerto: De la semilla a la cosecha en el huerto del colegio // It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden

author: Katherine Ayres 
illustrator: Nadine Bernard Westcott 
translator: unknown 
Candlewick Press 
(English, 2007 // Spanish, 2012) 

There’s enough for everyone to share in a small, bustling garden of edible plants inhabited by crows and creepy-crawly snails, worms, caterpillars, butterflies, and ants—all smiling and inviting young readers to join them. A crow perches on a scarecrow’s arm and calls to the other crows, who happily feast on some tomato seeds. As a man waters a newly planted row, a rabbit observes and a kitty makes space for a cavorting puppy—and multiethnic children help and watch as the veggies grow up, down, and around. And on the final pages, everyone—yes, everyone—enjoys a feast prepared from their bounty.

Young readers and listeners will be entranced as they observe the processes of planting, watering, and harvesting veggies. Westcott’s cartoonish ink and watercolor illustrations—on an eye-catching, bright palette of earthy colors with lots of white space—complement Ayers’ spare text. As well, each Spanish and English set—“El maíz crece hacia arriba. Las zanahorias crecen hacia abajo. Y alrededor, los pepinos trepan, trepan y trepan.” // “Corn grows up. Carrots grow down. Cucumbers climb around and around”—has its own playful rhythm and an economy of words that echo the action. It's unfortunate that the translator is not named.

Arriba, Abajo y Alrededor // Up, Down, and Around are perfect for bilingual preschool classrooms—especially those with an “empty” space (even a very small one) in which to plant, care for and harvest seasonal veggies. They’re both highly recommended.

author: George Ancona
translator (Spanish): Esther Sarfatti 
Candlewick Press 
(English, 2013 / Spanish, 2016) 
grades 3-adult

The school bell sounds…and the classrooms explode with the noise of books closing, chairs sliding on the floor, and kids chattering. It’s time for recess! The students head outside to the school garden.

For children who have “graduated” from Arriba, Abajo y Alrededor // Up, Down, and Around—and for educators to dream about—comes the creation of multi-talented photographer and documentarian George Ancona, who takes readers on a year-long visit to the Acequia Madre Elementary School in New Mexico, where he watched and photographed young students working side by side with their parents, teachers and friends—including volunteer college students—on all aspects of their large community garden behind the school. In early spring, the youngsters cut out pictures from seed catalogs and, with guidance, decide which flowers, fruits and vegetables they would like to grow. Starting with building and maintaining compost piles from food scraps, to planting seeds in the greenhouse and later transplanting them into the garden beds, to watering, to raising butterflies from cocoons, to worms, bees and garter snakes, to making adobe bricks and constructing waffle beds, to writing their thoughts and experiences and creating leaf prints to decorate the greenhouse and the outdoor classroom—the children have so much to learn and do. As their school garden flourishes, it also becomes a shared experience and a gathering place for the whole school community.

Ancona’s gorgeous full-color photographs are laid out with lots of white space to accommodate his clear, accessible text and student art rendered in marker or crayon.

To celebrate the end of the harvest, there are lunches prepared with the garden’s vegetables, and they “become festivals of good food and fun.” And on the last community day of the year, students and families come together again to prepare the garden for its winter rest: “All is ready to be covered with a blanket of snow. Sleep tight, garden! Until next year!” Nuestro Huerto: De la semilla a la cosecha en el huerto del colegio // It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a school garden are both highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 4/15/18)

Gift from Abuela

author: Cecilia Ruiz 
illustrator: Cecilia Ruiz 
Candlewick, 2018 

On the cover is a scene of an elder and child, with the Mexican countryside in the background. The two are embracing and smiling at each other. The scene is framed by a papel picado with non-traditional designs, including scissors. A close look reveals that the papel picado has been cut from an old Mexican peso.1

In December 1994, just a few months after NAFTA took effect, the Mexican economy tanked as the government devalued the peso against the US dollar. The peso suddenly became worthless, which sent inflation soaring and set off a severe recession, causing widespread unemployment and poverty among the Mexican people. 

This is the hinted-at backstory for Ruiz’s gentle, loving tale that focuses on Abuela and Niña, and how, through the years, they spend time together in Mexico City. In the first image of the two, Abuela sits in a rocking chair, holding the sleeping, swaddled Niñita on her lap. The next page—one of my favorites—depicts several stages in their lives together: Abuela with Niñita in a bib and onesies, dancing together; Abuela with Niñita as a toddler, spinning around; and Abuela teaching an older Niña how to make papel picado. Meanwhile, Abuela is putting away some pesos each payday to surprise Niña with a special gift.

Ruiz’s art is a combination of traditional printmaking and digital work. First, she told me, she carves all the shapes and textures within each image into rubber, and prints them with black ink. She then scans all the images and composes and colors them in Photoshop. The pleasing result here is a gently textured design on a light pastel palette of mostly gray-blues and golds, with some greens, browns and red-oranges for accent, and lots of white space. I especially like that, while the images may appear simple at first glance, they contain lots of symbolism and the faces portray the varied ethnicities of the Mexican people.

Abuela and Niña are getting older, of course, and their country is changing as well. In one illustration, Abuela and her granddaughter are bringing their groceries home. In the background are a butcher shop (“Carnicería ‘El Chato’”) and a gift shop (“Miscelánea ‘La Macarena’”). The workers, as well as bus passengers, are waving. And Niña is clowning around while Abuela laughs. “But their favorite thing of all,” Ruiz writes, “was a much simpler one. Every Sunday, they would sit quietly in the park, eat pan dulce, and watch the people pass by.”

A spread a few pages over shows the economy’s getting difficult: both stores have been gated shut, and the owner of the small restaurant next door sadly waits for customers. And Abuela’s pockets are empty.

As the recession worsens, Ruiz symbolizes its terrible effect in three almost exact images of a Mestizo pan dulce vendor in the park. In the first, he’s calmly standing behind his wagon, waiting for customers to come along. The sign painted on his wagon says, “Pan Dulce, 10 pesos.” In the second image, the vendor is gesturing apologetically to Niña that the price has increased to 100 pesos, and what she’s holding out is not enough. And in the third, the price has again increased—to 1,000 pesos—and, while there are several people standing around, the vendor is calling out and no one is responding.

The recession also forces Abuela to “work twice as much,” which tires her out. And Niña begins to hang out with her friends more. “Sometimes life just gets in the way,” Ruiz writes. One day, as she plans to surprise Abuela by cleaning house for her, Niña discovers Abuela’s cache of now-worthless pesos. And together, Abuela and Niña create something out of nothing—they transform the pieces of paper into beautiful papel picado. 

The papel picado have become a gift from—and to—Abuela.

On the last spread, their “peso papel picado,” with traditional and non-traditional designs, are hanging across the room, and Abuela and Niña are laughing and laughing and laughing. And they still enjoy going to the park and munching on pan dulce and watching the people pass by.

With lovely illustrations that complement an economy of words, Ruiz’s semi-autobiographical tale is a gift to younger listeners as well as older readers who might enjoy looking at the art and deconstructing symbols. Attention, Candlewick: Please publish this story in a Spanish edition as well. A Gift from Abuela is highly recommended. 

—Beverly Slapin
(published 4/13/18)

1 Making papel picado is a traditional Mexican art that’s been passed from generation to generation. These beautiful, delicate cut-outs, usually created from colored tissue paper, are generally made in stacks and, over time, the tool used has changed from scissors to chisels to allow for greater precision in the detailing. In teaching children to construct papel picado, however, scissors are generally used.

The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary

author: NoNieqa Ramos 
CarolRhoda, 2018 
grades 9-up 
Puerto Rican

Macy Cashmere MYOFB was named for a sweater her mother found in a department store shopping bag. She’s a tough, strong-headed 15-year-old Borinqueña who’s been diagnosed with ADHD and labeled as “emotionally disturbed,” “compulsive,” and “learning disabled.” She and one of her two besties, George, are stuck in a Special Education classroom that provides little actual education.The one good thing in Macy’s life is her main bestie, Alma, who’s in the Gifted and Talented Program and whom few know is perpetually exhausted because, after school and through the night, she is responsible for the care of her “babies”—siblings, step-siblings and cousins, including three infants.

Written in a vignette style reminiscent of The House on Mango Street, Macy’s narrative is organized as alphabetically arranged dictionary entries, with each letter and “definition” hinting at or revealing a part of her life: 

Answer (Noun and verb. Example: Ahnsuh me, bitch!”)
Disturbed (Adjective. Synonym: Me.)
Like the River (Transitive verb. Sam Cooke: “I keep running…”)
Agüeybaná II (Verb. Here comes the Sun, motherfoes.)

Macy’s story is not the sort of autobiography YA readers will expect, because she insists on using her own loud, inimitable voice—her own rough vocabulary and grammar and metaphor—to empower herself. She does this because she damn-well knows that no one else is gonna do it for her. And she never lets go:
Teacher Man glares at us. He is annoyed because our ignorant asses broke the school firewall again to check social media posts, but we can’t even pass a daily quiz.
Me: “Alma always never posts pics of herself. Even her profile pic is of one of her kids. Check it out. This girl is Alma’s mini-me. She always never—”
“Macy! George!” Teacher Man is staring us down. “Let’s talk about why we cannot use the words always and never in the same sentence.”“What do you mean by we?” I lean way back in my seat. People are always talking like that to me. Saying our and we
Teacher pops a cap off a black marker and writes the sentence I said on the whiteboard in Caps Lock.
He’s trying to turn this into what he calls a teachable moment. Like that time he made us proofread all the graffiti in the bafroom.
With a red marker, he crosses out the word always and rereads it. He says, “See, always is what we call superfluous. It’s clutter.”
Clutter? Like he knows my life.
Macy lets Teacher Man know that he is pissing her off. Teacher Man says he’s sorry that she’s “angry.” Macy shows him the difference between being pissed off and angry by taking out History of the American People and editing it by crossing out “all the pages about shit that’s got nothing to do with me.” Teacher Man’s nostrils begin to twitch. Macy asks him if he’s pissed off or angry. Teacher Man escalates with a threat. Macy throws her desk, loudly accuses Teacher Man of “depriving my ass of a education,” and takes herself to the principal’s office.

Throughout, Macy empowers herself while she endures the chaos and danger of an impossible social and economic situation—her father’s in prison, her mother takes in “guests” by the hour and sometimes by the night, and her younger brother has been nabbed by CPS and put up for adoption. Macy’s hungry enough to steal anything edible and semi-edible from the grocery store and from anyone who’s not looking, and she carries a slingshot thong as a weapon. And she bluntly and honestly addresses readers and aggressively smacks down assumptions they may have about her: 
I opened the fridge and pulled out the butter and syrup. In the cupboards was a shitload of Sudafed and I pulled out two bottles. I pulled the medicine cups off and made our favorite recipe. Inside the cups I squeezed a swirl of sugar, butter, and pancake syrup, the only things in the fridge. (What? You thought I was going to say I drank up all the Sudafed, didn’t you? You stereotyping motherfoe.)
Macy uses “MYOFB” almost as a surname, especially when she’s trying to keep control, when she senses a contradiction between self-revelation and maintaining some semblance of privacy. In some ways, she hides her family while she exposes them.

Ramos paints a few characters with a broad brush—Macy’s classroom teacher, for instance, who insists on “correct” grammar that eschews the complexity of the street. The white couple who’ve adopted Macy’s younger brother, and are relieved to find that he has “only” Asberger’s rather than an intellectual deficit. Another teacher, a white woman who genuinely cares about Macy—and then packs up and leaves town. On the other hand, readers will get to know some secondary characters, including a sex worker whom Macy befriends, a woman who clings to survival in a place in which survival is not a given. And of course, there is Alma, whom readers may have hoped and expected would emerge unscathed. 

Macy Cashmere MYOFB exists in a cray-cray world of racism, poverty and dysfunction, a one-size-fits-some educational system, and dysconscious white-savior wannabes. She fears nothing and no one. With both hands on the machete her great-grandma had used in the sugarcane fields, hidden in her pocket an antique silver pen she’s stolen that’s “sharp enough to cut out someone’s heart,” and with her spirit focused on Agüeybaná II, the Great Sun, this brave young Borinqueña named after a department store is at war. She takes crap from no one and nothing—not the “educational” system that fails young people who can’t or won’t conform, not the mental health institution that medically enforces passivity, not the white “savior” families whose self-involvement trump emotional attachment. Rather, Macy Cashmere MYOFB knows who she is, what she comes from, and that, somehow, she will survive.

The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary is empowering for YA readers who may never have seen themselves and / or their difficult lives honestly and compassionately portrayed—by a protagonist-narrator who takes charge of her own life and her own story. It’s highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 4/11/18)

A note about the Topics for Discussion section: The purpose of discussion topics and questions in general is to guide readers as they approach the issues raised in a particular story. In The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary, NoNieqa Ramos raises issues of identity and culture, race and racism, material poverty and spiritual impoverishment, education and miseducation, and many more. Unfortunately, the questions in this section are inappropriate and off-base, eliciting quick, easily found “answers” rather than thoughtful responses. And requiring readers to “name the forms of sexual violence Macy experienced,” for instance, is not only beyond inappropriate, it’s triggering. Rather, asking readers to examine Macy’s language, for instance—her tone, her choice of words, her direct challenging of the reader—might lead students to change their ideas about what constitutes “correct” writing, and might inspire them to tell their own stories in their own ways. I strongly encourage the publisher to rewrite the Topics for Discussion in a way that will motivate readers to think more deeply about Macy and her story—and their own lives.

A note about the Acknowledgments section: Here, NoNieqa Ramos sends “much love to Titi Matilde for the entire set of Little House on the Prairie books that I pulled all-nighters to read.” While I understand Ramos’s childhood passion for the Little House on the Prairie series—one of the few series for children in which the protagonist is a young child—it remains one of the oldest and most hurtful, harmful, racist children’s series still in publication. A revised Acknowledgments section should remove Ramos’ reference to this series.


My Year in the Middle

author: Lila Quintero Weaver  
Candlewick Press, 2018 
grades 4-7 
Argentinian American

It’s the school year of 1969-1970. “The Vietnam War,” known in Vietnam as “The American War,” has been raging for 15 years. The US is continuing to drop millions of tons of bombs on three small countries. US soldiers had massacred some 500 Vietnamese villagers, including children and babies, in a tiny hamlet called My Lai. US campuses are erupting: Ohio National Guardsmen kill four Kent State students and wound nine, and a few days later, police kill two Jackson State students and wound a dozen more.

And, as another war—the war for human and civil rights—continues to be fought in this country, the music of Sly and the Family Stone becomes an anthem that resonates with millions of young people:

For the things you know are right.
It’s the truth that the truth makes them so uptight.
All the things you want are real.
You have you to complete and there is no deal.
Stand. Stand. Stand.

This school year is Argentinian-born Luisa (“Lu”) Olivera’s year in the middle. She’s entering sixth grade in an Alabama school that’s newly integrated by law but segregated by social reality: Black students are seated on one side of the classroom and white students on the other; and a few, like Lu and her white friend, Sam, sit in the middle. 

Lu also admires Belinda Gresham, the school’s star track-runner, who’s always either reading or hanging out with her friends, Angie and Willa. But around here, Lu says, “black and white kids don’t mix. No siree bob.” 

As Lu dreams of fitting in and running track like her idol, Olympic champion Madeline Manning, she’s confused. The notorious segregationist, George Wallace, is running for re-election and, most of the “mean girls”—popular, white, and racist—will soon be transferring to a nearby whites-only private school. They call Lu, “Loser Olivera,” and taunt her mercilessly.

As the school year progresses, Lu becomes more aware of her surroundings and of the choices she must make: 

What’s really got me worried is crossing over a line I’m not supposed to cross, if [white] people see me getting friendly with Belinda and Angie. I’m already on the outs as it is, being Loser Olivera and all.

Throughout the story, Lu witnesses racist remarks and actions from white students and adults. A bully mocks Lu’s people as “dark-headed spinach speakers.” A sales clerk loudly objects to Belinda’s trying on a headband. A classmate’s parent is “counting on Wallace putting everything back the way it used to be.” 

“Oh, Lord,” Lu says to herself, “I’m finally catching on, and it’s a scary, sinking feeling, like quicksand under my feet.” Meanwhile, Lu’s own immigrant parents are “worrywarts,” her older sister encourages her activism; and Belinda invites her to visit her neighborhood, where “nobody seems to think it’s strange that two girls, one black and one not, would ride bikes together.”

When Lu’s classmate, Spider, tells her why he plays “Stand” on a local Black radio show every afternoon—“That’s just me trying to get the message out…to whoever needs to hear it…. To open their minds to what’s real, dig?”—she takes a stab at the concept: 

If you listen to the words of “Stand!” it’s all about…well, standing up against things that are wrong, speaking up for the truth, and not just sitting around on your duff when you know better. 

Shortly after a classroom confrontation in which Charles loudly calls out Miss Garret about an extra-credit assignment—“Those of you who attended the Wallace rally have an excellent topic”—that in fact discriminates against the Black students, Lu’s friend Sam picks up his books and moves over to the Black section.

“I’m sitting over here from now on, if that’s okay with y’all,” he says to Spider, (who) gives him a high five, then a low five and another high five. “Out of sight! Welcome to the sunny side of the street, brother!”

After the teacher tries to stall the inevitable, and some white students continue their harassment, Lu is no longer in the “middle.” She knows where she belongs.

Sam’s at his new desk on the black side of the classroom, looking perfectly hunky dory. And now Belinda’s on the edge of her seat. She jerks her head at me in a come-here motion. She’s telling me: leave the middle row and join us. But I’m scared. 

For a few seconds, I lock eyes with Belinda, still scared. Hardly able to breathe, I scoop up my book bag, still scared. I hurry over to the only empty desk on that side of the classroom and claim it for my own. When Belinda reaches over to squeeze my hand, I feel much better. 

A series of white-initiated lunchroom fights breaks out, Spider is arrested and suspended when he stops a fight, and pressure from the newly-activated students gets him released. 

And Lu takes her own stand: With her heart pounding and the music of Sly and the Family Stone in her head—and despite Miss Garrett’s warning that her grade will be dropped and she might lose her place on the honor roll—Lu, realizing that she shouldn’t have personally benefited from attending a hate rally, takes back her extra-credit report.

Lu’s 1960s-‘70s southern voice is authentically rich (“might as well poke an ant pile with a stick,” “jittery as a cat near water”), and her slang is contextualized (“you can bet your sweet bippy,” “higgledy-piggledy”). Although she’s not totally fluent in Spanish, Lu translates for a neighbor, and in a conversation where “Spanish and English get all chopped up and mixed together,” she translates for Belinda. Middle-grade readers will see these conversations in English and know that Lu is translating. And that Lu’s parents’ Spanish, generally honorifics, is not italicized is important and refreshing.

In a helpful Author’s Note, Weaver fills in the historical events that shaped Alabama at this time, describes the racist origins of the Southern tradition known as the “cakewalk,” and tells readers which parts of this semi-autobiographical story are true and which are fictional. 

During this momentous school year, as history is being made in the Deep South and all over the world, young Luisa Olivera is growing from a naïve child desperately seeking to “fit in,” into a young woman who knows where she stands. Without polemic or hyperbole, Weaver exposes the ugliness and injustices of Wallace-era racism, the tensions of young people’s finding their road, and the solidarity that comes from conscience, friendship and realizing where you stand. 

In these hard times, when the campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” means “Make America White Again,” when white supremacists parade openly and “our” government demonizes immigrants and Muslims, when police shoot and kill Black children and adults with impunity—and when young people dare to place themselves in the forefront of national change—My Year in the Middle is a brilliant, fast-moving story that will resonate with middle-grade readers and could not have been published at a better time. Thank you, Lila and Candlewick.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 4/2/18)

“Mamá Dearest”: Evaluating Latino Nursery Rhymes in Books for Children

Rhyming songs, proverbs, riddles and games for children present fun ways to play with words and meaning, to develop language learning, and to remember and pass on culture and history from generation to generation. They also provide opportunities to introduce young children to cultures other than their own. 
Following is a comparison of two children’s books that contain rhymes for young children. We highly recommend one of them and do not recommend the other. 

author: Susan Middleton Elya
illustrator: Juana Martinez-Neal 
Putnam, 2016 
preschool-grade 3

La Madre Goose is Elya’s reworking of 18 classic Mother Goose “nursery” rhymes, with Spanish words thrown in. The idea seems to have been to introduce Spanish words to English-speaking children who are already familiar with these rhymes; and if there’s any appeal at all, it’s to parents looking to add Spanish words to their young children’s vocabularies. 

But the subtitle of this volume, “Nursery Rhymes for los Niños” notwithstanding, it was not intended for Spanish-speaking youngsters. Tossing a few Spanish words or phrases into European nursery rhymes does not transform them into something that’s “multicultural” or “bilingual” or “code switching” or anything other than opportunistic and appropriative. The result of what might have been envisioned as creative and fun wordplay is a hodgepodge of phrases that make no sense in Spanish or English. La Madre Goose is confusing, not to mention insulting, to young hablantes—the Spanish-speaking children who are never considered in this kind of project.

In addition, classic Mother Goose “nursery” rhymes were never meant for the nursery. Rather, they were hidden political commentary satirized as children’s rhymes. Take, for instance:

Peter, Peter pumpkin eater
had a wife but couldn't keep her.
He put her in a pumpkin shell,
and there he kept her very well.

This poem is about infidelity and murder. The gruesome message here is that “Peter” couldn’t “keep” his wife at home because she kept running away to have numerous encounters with other men, so he killed her and hid her body in a ludicrously large pumpkin shell, in which he “kept” her “very well.” 

Here is Elya’s version, which she entitles “Peter, Peter Calabasa,” and which is not only sanitized, but doesn’t make sense at any level:

Peter, Peter Calabasa,
got a wife for his new casa.
When she saw the round casita,
she repainted it—bonita!

Peter Pumpkin got a wife for his new house, which she repainted. Wouldn’t he have gotten a house for his wife? Does Peter consider his wife like a piece of furniture? If Elya had something in mind beyond rhyming when she created this, it’s hard to tell.

Then there’s the famous “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.” One of the first versions reads:

Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool?
Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full.
One for the master 
One for the dame
And one for the little boy 
Who cries down the lane.

In this poem that originated in medieval times, the three bags of wool are said to represent one-third for King Edward I (the “master”), one-third for the Church of England (the “dame”), and the rest (after he’d paid the 66% wool tax) for the poor shepherd, whose children were probably starving (“the little boy who cries down the lane”).

And here is Elya’s version: “Baa, Baa, Black Oveja”:

Baa, baa, black oveja, have you any lana?
, sir, , sir, three bags llenas.
One for my sister, una for mi madre,
and one to be shared by my brother and mi padre!

What is this? Is Elya’s poem about the necessity of sharing with your family? If so, then why isn’t the wool divided into four equal parts, instead of three? Why do sister and mom each have one bag full, while brother and dad have to divide one between them? Is this a lesson about fractions? Or about making amends for centuries of inequality? Or is it possible that Elya’s sheep is distributing her own wool—in bags—to her own family?

While Elya’s gratingly awkward combinations of English and Spanish don’t make any linguistic or cultural sense, Martinez-Neal’s luminous artwork makes this book lovely to look at. The softness of her warm, gentle paintings, on an earthy palette of blues and teals, beiges and yellows, highlighted by purples and oranges, appears to be a true labor of love. 

In describing the collage-mixing process for her debut picture book, Martinez-Neal told me that she selected different papers with a variety of textures and additionally hand-textured them, using matte medium as a glue that dries clear and soaks in the color, adding and drying one layer at a time. She then painted in her images in acrylic, colored pencil and graphite—or sometimes all acrylics—that, together, adds a gouache feeling to them; and then brushed on a white layer to soften the images. Martinez-Neal slowly developed this technique “organically experimenting,” she said, and makes changes in every book because she often “gets bored.”

The results here are depictions, many in groups, of chubby-cheeked multiethnic children and cuddly animals with childlike expressions to whom the youngest kids can relate. Martinez-Neal’s own babies, she told me, were models for some of the children here.

It’s unfortunate that Martinez-Neal’s beautiful artwork cannot save this contrived, formulaic and unimaginative book. La Madre Goose: Nursery Rhymes for los Niños is not recommended.

author: Alma Flor Ada
author: F. Isabel Campoy
illustrator: Maribel Suárez
editor (English): Tracy Heffernan
Hyperion Books for Children, 2004
preschool-grade 3

Mamá Goose: A Latino Nursery Treasury / Un Tesorio de Rimas Infantiles is everything that La Madre Goose: Nursery Rhymes for los Niños is not. 

Ada and Campoy planned the sections together and then chose the selections in this extensive compendium that contains lullabies, finger games, lap games, sayings, nursery rhymes, jump-rope songs, song games, proverbs, riddles, tall tales, and much more (including an outrageous ballad about a dead cat—“El señor don Gato”—who is brought back to life by the smell of sardines). The entire volume is lovingly compiled and beautifully illustrated with exuberant children and animals; and the poetic Spanish is “creatively edited” into English. Each section has a thoughtful and educational introduction and, although I would like to have seen a note about each piece’s cultural origin, it’s clear that great inspiration, planning, talent and execution went into every aspect of this project. 

Suárez’s deceptively simple watercolor illustrations, on a bright, earthy palette of mostly browns, greens, blues and golds, portray multicultural and multiethnic children and their relatives, and the design elements reflect the diversity of Latin-American and Spanish traditions as well. For instance, young readers will see children and adults in Peruvian, Mexican—and even medieval Spanish—dress, and there are Mexican adobe houses and Cuban and Puerto Rican tropical beaches and huge Spanish edifices along with borders that feature Spanish tiles and Mexican piñatas and papel picado, just to name a few. And children will love the illustrations of smiling animals behaving in species-anomalous ways—such as carefree rabbits, playing and chasing carrots in the sea, while smiling fishes happily cavort on dry ground.

Colorful chapter headings and borders, along with white space that leaves lots of room for both the Spanish and English texts as well as the illustrations, make for an attractive, uncrowded, child-friendly design. 

One thing rarely portrayed in this kind of anthology for children—and something that deserves special mention—is the depiction of a variety of social classes, some in poems that abut each other. Here, for instance, are two upper-class girls and a boy in Spain. The girls, in red dresses and mary jane flats, carry white parasols and the boy, in an expensive-looking suit and hat, carries his schoolbooks. They are on “el paseíto de oro”—the golden path—without a care in the world. Here is a poor vendor (“la carbonerita”), also in Spain, wheeling a heavy coal-filled cart. Her face and apron covered with soot, she asks the reader, “How can you expect me to keep my face clean, if I am a coal-seller?” And here is a hard-working young servant girl, who washes, irons, cooks, cleans, sews, and sweeps—until Sunday, when she can go out to play. 

Since Ada and Campoy selected pieces recognized all over the Spanish-speaking world, it seemed natural for them to offer the Spanish versions first—which encourages Spanish-speaking parents and grandparents (as well as teachers) to share their own remembered rhymes and stories with their young hablante relatives and students. As well, following the Spanish pieces with those that have been “creatively edited” in English—and set off in italics—will have English-speaking children enjoying them as well and, by looking over to the Spanish, learning some Spanish and connecting with cultures other than their own.

A particular rima or canción brings back memories of when my child was a toddler. Next to a brightly colored full-page painting of a green mama frog in a blue dress comforting her youngster who has fallen off a tricycle, the rima or canción reads:

Cura, sana,
madre rana,
dame un besito
y vete la cama.

Kiss, kiss,
Mother Toad,
Send the pain
Down the road.

I remember often laying a hand over my own son’s scraped knee and singing,

Sana sana,
colita de rana,
si no sanas hoy,
sanarás mañana.

Heal, heal,
Little frog’s tail.
If you don’t heal today,
You’ll heal tomorrow.

Until one day (mid-“sana, sana”), he interrupted me and said, “It’s OK, mom, I’ll just go get a bandaid.”

Unfortunately, the introductions for each section appear in English only. This is frequently an issue that publishers justify by design space limitations and assumptions about “secondary” languages’ (although, in this case, Spanish is the primary language) being unnecessary in prefatory material. In education, while language equality is improving, la lucha continúa.

Mamá Goose: A Latino Nursery Treasury / Un Tesorio de Rimas Infantiles is indeed a treasure. It’s highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 3/11/18)

Míl gracias a mi amiga y colega, María Cárdenas.