Mis papitos: Héroes de la cosecha / My Parents: Heroes of the Harvest

author: Samuel Caraballo
illustrator: Obed Gómez
Piñata Books / Arte Público Press, 2005 
grades 1-5
Puerto Rican

Front and center in the cover illustration, the first thing young readers will see—and possibly look at for a long time—is a child, struggling to fall asleep. His body cannot relax because he is worried. In suspended consciousness, he sees his parents, at dawn, walking to work. They are looking straight ahead and their chins are slightly raised. Papi, his left hand on Mami’s shoulder, is holding a rake. Mami, her right arm on Papi’s back, is pointing toward the east, beyond the early rays of sunlight shining on them, and a white dove hovers overhead. Framing the boy in his bed are baskets, cut sugarcane, and lots of laughing fruits and vegetables. 


Gómez’s artwork, utilizing black ink and watercolor on a muted palette of mostly yellows, purples, browns, and reds, beautifully reflect the art deco style of the 1950s and are symbolic of the farmworker struggle. Full-bleed illustrations appear on the right side, and a detail from the painting separates the Spanish and English texts on the left. The white dove appears on almost every page.


The child, whose parents labor in the fields, sees their exhaustion every day when they come home. And the next day, they take on this grueling work again, and the next day, and the next.


¡Zum! ¡Brun! ¡Trac! ¡Ras!

Mañana, bien tempranito,

continuarán la cosecha.


Zoom! Vroom! Sap! Scratch!

Early tomorrow, once again,

they’ll return to the harvest.


This child sees his parents as “héroes de la cosecha”—heroes of the harvest.


In words and pictures, in reality and in a child’s imagination—every page speaks to the difficult lives of the agricultural workers and their families. At the same time, his voice reimagines his parents’ experiences and, in his mind, constructs a better world. He acknowledges the good in his family’s life—including their devotion to him and his younger sister—and transforms what’s not good. 


In this child’s fantasy world, everyone is happy, everyone has enough, and everything has volition. He imagines, for instance, that the fruits and vegetables and the cut sugar cane, happy to be harvested, jump into the baskets and boxes by themselves. And,


¡Ja, ja!

Gozan las fresitas

al sentir el toque de las manos.


Ha, ha!

The strawberries enjoy

the feel of my parents’ hands.


That a child of farmworkers narrates the story honors the children of farmworkers and other working children as well. In forefronting this child’s voice, Caraballo’s unrhymed tercets, in Spanish and English (each with its own pattern and flow), complement the dream style of the boy’s imagination and deflect his harsh reality. The first line creates a sound, the second identifies the sound, and the third expands his mental picture.


Rather than translating, Caraballo typically writes in Spanish first and then rewrites in English, so each version flows naturally and neither is an exact “translation” of the other. 


As Gómez infuses bright yellows into every scene of the child’s parents at work, young readers will feel the blazing sun beating down on them.


Gómez’s final illustration replicates the one on the cover. The child is still trying to sleep, but sleep still does not come easy. His body is still tense. His hands still grip his blanket. Laughing vegetables continue to surround him, his parents are once again off to work at dawn, and the little white dove still hovers overhead. Young readers who initially might have wondered about the laughing fruits and veggies on the cover will, by the final illustration, understand their symbolism and significance. And they will empathize with this loving mom and dad, toiling in the fields, day after day, under a sweltering sun. 


¡Zum! ¡Brun! ¡Trac! ¡Ras!

Mañana, bien tempranito,

continuarán la cosecha.


Zoom! Vroom! Sap! Scratch!

Early tomorrow, once again,

they’ll return to the harvest.


In short, profound Spanish and English verses and evocative images, Samuel Caraballo and Obed Gómez beautifully depict a farmworker family’s child, desperately trying to create a world that is much better than the one he and his family inhabit. For now, it’s his only survival technique. Mis papitos: Héroes de la cosecha / My Parents: Heroes of the Harvest is highly, highly recommended.


—Beverly Slapin

(published 10/24/20)

3 comments:

  1. This book appears to only be available on kindle on Amazon. It seems to be available from the University of Houston but libraries don't order from individual sources and rely on distributors which won't be carrying this book. Please let us know at the beginning of the review whether it is available. Year of publication and where available might also be useful.

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  2. Hi, Linda. Thank you for your comment. This book is published by and available from Arte Público Press at the University of Houston. Arte Público publishes hundreds of children’s books, many of which have won notable prizes such as the Pura Belpré. Researching where a particular book might be available (other than from the publisher) is beyond what we can do.

    That libraries order only from distributors—and distributors choose not to carry books from small, mid-size and university publishers—is a loss for all the patrons, and especially for children, who will not have the opportunity to enjoy some of the best books. Grrrr. Something needs to change.

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  3. Hi again, Linda. Marina Tristan, Assistant Director at Arte Público Press, asked me to send you this information: “Arte Público books are available through all book wholesalers and distributors, including Follett, Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Brodart, Childrens Plus, and others.”

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