author: Samuel Caraballo
illustrator: D. Nina Cruz
translator: Ethriam Cash Brammer
Piñata Books / Arte Público Press, 2004
The title page shows a small framed photo of a smiling young boy and his abuelos. Next to it sits a little frog in a tiny pool of water. He is el coqui, the national symbol of Puerto Rico. (Throughout the story, astute youngsters will catch sight of several more coquis.)
Together, Caraballo’s evocative, rhyming Spanish text and Cruz’s detailed, full-bleed ink-and-watercolor illustrations convey the warmth and joy of a young Puerto Rican child’s loving relationship with his abuelos.
The cover illustration depicts the youngster, playing with his abuelos, who appear on just about every spread. The three of them—with varying skin tones and hair color and textures—reflect the Puerto Rican people and their colonial and Indigenous heritages.
Cruz’s soft portrayal of the child and his abuelos is warm and lovely. On just about every page, the elders are embracing or holding hands, smiling at each other and their nieto. Together, the three enjoy the simple things: cooking, playing in the garden, walking on the beach, watching the moon lighting up the horizon, strolling through the museums, taking photos of cruise liners (one of which is named “el coqui”). And the child’s abuelos enjoy watching their young nieto pretend to lead a chorus of birds in the park.
In Caraballo’s first verse (which comes around full circle to end the story) and Cruz’s first spread, the child sits cross-legged on his bed. His neat room is full of meaningful stuff, including a stereo, an enormous wooden box to store his toys, a pet goldfish, a large book entitled Puerto Rico, sports equipment, and a clock (whose face is the open mouth of a coqui!).
The child embraces the framed photo duplicated from the title page. With a wide smile, he introduces his abuelos to his new friends, the young readers:
Mis abuelos son mi vida,
mi manojito de rosas,
mi música preferida,
mis prenditas más valiosas.
My grandparents are my life,
my little bundle of roses,
my favorite music,
my most valuable good-luck charms.
Caraballo’s beautiful, poetic, rhyming Spanish will appeal to young Spanish-speakers as well as English-speakers who want to learn Spanish. Unfortunately, the English translations, while relying on the same imagery, seem awkward—sacrificing nuance for rhyme and failing to capture Caraballo’s lyrical feeling:
My grandparents are my universe.
They are my rosy bouquet,
my favorite musical verse,
and my most prized treasure.
Here, in Spanish, the young child describes Navidad (Christmas) with his family:
Las fiestas de Navidad
celebramos bien juntitos
cantando de felicidad,
abriendo los regalitos.
During Navidad fiestas
we all celebrate together
singing of joy,
opening the gifts.
However, the published English translation maintains the rhyming cadence at the cost of meaning for child readers:
During Christmas gaity,
we sing together happily,
we celebrate our unity,
we open presents thankfully.
Caraballo is an outstanding poet who typically composes in Spanish, and then in English—so that each version reads smoothly and maintains its own integrity. Unfortunately, the translation here lacks this important connection to the author’s Spanish version. This warm story of a young child and his loving grandparents (in Spanish) is highly recommended.
Note: In working on the translations, I phoned some Spanish-speaking friends and colleagues about the meaning of one particular word. It took many phone calls until one said, “I’ve known that word since I was a child!” and told me what it was. I found out that not all Spanish speakers know everything about Spanish.—BHS