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

author: Monica Brown 
illustrator: Angela Domínguez 
Little, Brown (2017) 
grades 1-3 
Peruvian American

Are you ready, world? Lola Levine is back! Lola Esther Levine, our energetic, super-smart, opinionated, eye-rolling, list-making, diario-keeping, not mean, Peruvian-Catholic-Jewish drama queen—is a second-grader who loves soccer, swimming, and climbing trees—and abhors the color pink. Oh, and she super-dislikes making sure that her kindergartner brother, Ben, doesn’t run off and create havoc the moment she turns her back. Which happens a lot.

In Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean, Lola’s journalist-mom and artist-dad have agreed that now that school has let out for the summer, it might be a good time to welcome a new family member—and the long-awaited kitty-cat countdown begins! There’s so much to do, including a mom-guided library visit to find out everything there is to know about cats and a dad-guided plan to develop and construct a cat play structure. Finally, the big day arrives and there’s no question about which kitty is coming home from the shelter: Jelly Levine.

But when Lola discovers that Ben is allergic to cats, both children find out that lying is never okay. Rather than return Jelly to the shelter, they sadly agree to search for a new home for her. The problem is resolved as Lola’s super best friend’s mother, aka Principal Blot, agrees to adopt Jelly as a second cat and Lola gets to visit whenever she wants to. And, as Lola begins to think that things couldn’t get better, dad and Ben have been visiting the shelter and come home with the family’s new puppy—whom they have named “Bean” (in honor of “Jelly.”)

Lola’s exuberant and imaginative narratives, which include information-rich diario entries, letters and conversations—as well as the questioning of everything—will totally engage young readers. Here, during swim lessons, 

[W]e spend each lesson practicing different strokes—today we focus on the backstroke and the breaststroke. I like the breaststroke because I imagine I’m a frog swimming in a swamp looking for flies and insects to eat. I also dog-paddle in the water and ask the teacher why there isn’t a cat paddle or a cat-stroke. She doesn’t have an answer for me. 

Domínguez’s appealing gray-scaled illustrations beautifully reflect the ethnic mix of the community’s children and adults, as well as Lola’s and Ben’s mixed parentage: While Lola’s straight dark hair and brownish complexion more resemble Mom’s, younger brother Ben’s light curly hair and fair complexion look more like Dad’s. I especially like the scenes where all are together.

author: Monica Brown 
illustrator: Angela Domínguez 
Little, Brown (2017) 
grades 1-3 
Peruvian American

In Lola Levine and the Vacation Dream, dad has sold lots of his paintings at an art show so the Levine family gets to visit “fun and awesome” Tía Lola—Lola’s namesake and “favorite aunt in the whole wide world”—who lives in Lima, Peru. Lola’s teacher, Ms. García, assigns her to write a couple of short reports about Peru—which is great because writing is Lola’s thing. Plus, Lola will “get to speak Spanish all day!”

Here, young readers will find lots of well-placed information, seamlessly incorporated into the story. For instance, in one of Lola’s reports, young readers will encounter the great Quechua archeologist, Julio César Tello; and in others, she writes about fútbol, llamas, and Pachacamac (the Temple of the Sun). 

While Lola questions, for instance, why students wear uniforms and why the school has a dirt field rather than a big playground with grass, the fact that she’s bilingual is a matter of her upbringing, so there are no inappropriate “fish-out-of-water” scenarios here. Rather, Brown presents the information in a way that works for young readers without disrupting the flow:

“Welcome to the class, Lola,” he says in Spanish. “I’m Mr. Sanchez.”

One of the students says, “Hola, Lola!” and then everyone starts saying it. I like the way it sounds.

“Where are you from”? a girl asks in Spanish. “The United States,” I reply. 

However, the fact that the Spanish words and terms in Lola’s narrative are unnecessarily italicized breaks the rhythm. Note to publishers and editors: Please italicize words and phrases—including foreign terms—only if they’re supposed to be emphasized. And in the case of “Hola, Lola!” the greeting should have begun with an initially inverted exclamation mark so it would look like this: “¡Hola, Lola!”

As Lola and her family eat Peruvian mangoes, tour the Mercado Indio, pet llamas, climb the Temple of the Sun, and see other palaces and pyramids, young readers will also discover how many zeros are in ten million (the population of Lima), the national colors of Peru, the history of fútbol, and the local historic spaces. 

Mom’s and Tía Lola’s discussion of the Temple of the Sun (with Lola and Ben) is, for the most part, excellent:

Mom: “There have been indigenous peoples living in Peru for over eleven thousand years. But around five hundred years ago, Europeans from Spain came and wanted to conquer the indigenous peoples and take their gold and use their land.”

Tía Lola: “But even though many died, and the Spanish destroyed this temple and stole the gold, indigenous people are strong, and we found ways to survive. We’re still here.”

Lola: “We’re smart and creative people,” I say, and I feel proud that I am Peruvian.

However, there was an opportunity lost here. The Inca, who built Pachacamac and other sacred structures, chose these sites for astrological reasons. It was the center of their world. Rather than referring to these sites, throughout the story, as “ruins”—which is colonialist language created to lessen their power—we should be teaching their existence as ongoing history. These amazing stone structures, like the people, are still here. 

In this story, Lola could have referred to the Temple of the Sun as a “ruin”—because that’s how she may have heard it described—and Tía Lola could have explained that, although it looks like a “ruin,” it’s actually a temple, one of many holy places that have, despite the efforts of the Spanish conquistadores to destroy them, endured. 

The morning after the family returns home, Lola finds a surprise. Not another trip to Peru, but a breakfast of bagels from Biff’s; and from the new grocery store, “a big bowl of delicious mangos that glow yellow, orange, and red. (Lola reads) the sticker on one of them and it says GROWN IN PERU.”

Except for the lost opportunity in describing Pachacamac, Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean and Lola Levine and the Vacation Dream are absolutely delightful and highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin

(published 5/2/17)

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