illustrator: Loretta Lopez
Lee & Low, 1999
In this sweet autobiographical story, six-year-old Lori, who lives with her family in a town on the US side of the border with Mexico, wants to find the perfect birthday gift for her teenage sister, Cookie. On the day before the annual family reunion that marks Cookie’s birthday, Lori and her mother go shopping at a mercado on the Mexico side. Although Lori finds things she would like for herself—such as a donkey piñata or a puppy—she just doesn’t find anything she thinks her sister would like. When they arrive home, the whole family’s involved in preparation for the party; and the next day, Lori, whose birthday is in December, finds that Cookie has “swapped” birthdays so that Lori could have a huge summer party, too. And, there’s the donkey piñata she had seen at the mercado and, best of all—the puppy.
The text is in English with a smattering of Spanish terms, mostly family words and endearing phrases; this is very common with families who’ve been in the US for several generations.
Lopez’s illustrations, rendered in gouache and colored pencils on watercolor paper, are warm and bright and inviting. The text is attractively bordered with pictures of objects commonly sold in mercados, so different from supermarkets here. And I especially appreciate that Lopez has portrayed Lori and her relatives—actually, Lopez’s own relatives—as real people, clearly Latino, without exaggerated features, with varying skin tones. It’s unfortunate that this is not the case in many, if not most, picture books in today’s “multicultural” market.
Based on the author’s own surprise birthday party, Birthday Swap realistically depicts an event in the life of a Mexican family residing in a border town, easily moving back and forth between the US and Mexico to visit, shop and run errands. Although it was disappointing that Lori did not wind up finding or making a gift for her older sister, Birthday Swap is a good addition to a collection about Latino families, and is recommended.