Maya’s Blanket / La Manta de Maya

author: Monica Brown
translator: Adriana Domínguez 
illustrator: David Diaz 
Children’s Book Press / Lee & Low, 2015 
kindergarten-grade 4

In the old Yiddish tale I know, a poor tailor finally saves enough to buy some cloth to cut and sew into an overcoat. As decades pass, his coat wears out, so he cuts and sews what’s left variously into a jacket, a vest, a cap, a button and finally—a story. In the song, “Epes fun gornisht,” the refrain is “Makhn vir epes fun gornisht azai,” “That’s how we make something from nothing,” and in the end, he makes a song. The unstated teaching is about poverty, thrift, repurposing, determination, and perseverance.

Although Maya’s Blanket / La Manta de Maya contains some elements of the traditional Yiddish story—involving the recreation of an item into one that becomes smaller and smaller until nothing is left—its characters, scenarios, particular rhythmic pattern and cumulative word structure are Brown’s own. Here, Abuelita sews a blanket, imbued with a touch of magic, for baby Maya. As young Maya matures, she and Abuelita cut and sew what’s left of the blanket into other creations, all with a touch of magic: a dress, then a skirt, then a shawl, then a scarf, then a hair ribbon, and finally a bookmark, which Maya eventually loses. Coming full circle, she creates a picture book called Maya’s Blanket, exactly like the one young readers hold in their hands.

In her cumulative word structure, Brown incorporates the Spanish term in italics for each creation and the English translation for the last on the list: “So with her own two hands and Abuelita’s help, Maya made her bufanda that was her rebozo that was her falda that was her vestido that was her manta into a cinta that she loved very much. Maya wore the ribbon tied around her long, brown hair…”

Domínguez’s Spanish translation is idiomatic and reads naturally. As she did with Brown’s Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match / Marisol McDonald no combina, I would like to have seen the Spanish terms on the English side flipped into English on the Spanish side, like this: “Así que, con sus propias manos y la ayuda de Abuelita, Maya convertió su scarf que había sido su shawl, que había sido su skirt, que había sido su dress, que había sido su blanket, en una ribbon que quería mucho. Maya usó la cinta mágica para recogerse el largo pelo castaño…”

Diaz’s art, rendered in digitally painted mixed media on a bright palette with lightly patterned backgrounds, reflects the story’s warmth and whimsy: purple or blue butterflies adorn almost every page, a child rides on the wind, smiling animals romp with the children, and a spinning jump rope looks like water coming out of a fountain. I especially like that, as Maya matures, her puppy becomes a dog; and when we see Maya’s own child, there’s a new puppy. Abuelita, who is seen only twice, reminds me of Picasso’s work: she has an angular, slightly tilted Latina face, big, wide eyes, a protuberant nose and full lips. My guess is that this is to hint at her “magical” qualities, but the symbolism doesn’t quite hold up. Although for me, the magical aspect is an intrusion, young readers and listeners will enjoy the entirety of this warm little story. Maya’s Blanket / La Manta de Maya is recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
 (published 9/24/15)

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