Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia // In My Family / En mi familia // Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas

author: Carmen Lomas Garza
illustrator: Carmen Lomas Garza
translator (Family Pictures): Rosalma Zubizarreta
translator (In My Family and Magic Windows): Francisco X. Alarcón
Children’s Book Press/ Lee & Low, 1990 (Family Pictures), 1995 (In My Family), 1999 (Magic Windows)
all grades
Mexican American

In her introduction to the Fifteenth Anniversary Edition of Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia, Sandra Cisneros writes: “It’s as if we’re pressing our face against the window screens and peeking inside our house. These are family pictures. And it doesn’t matter if your family is from Kingsville or Cairo, Sarajevo or Katmandu. They are your family’s pictures, too.” 

With those words, she truly captures the magic of both Family Pictures and its later companion, In My Family / En mi familia. Carmen Lomas Garza’s snapshots are real, personal, and compelling—full of details that you couldn’t make up. On the cover, for instance, you see a toy truck, along with tamale wrappers, in the middle of the kitchen floor. There’s a dish rag hanging off the counter next to the stove. These are not posed photos; indeed, they really are family pictures.
As Cisneros puts it, “They say every picture tells a story. But the pictures of Carmen Lomas Garza tell many, many stories.” These are paintings you can get lost in, imagining all the alternate stories unfolding on each page. In Family Pictures, there is a curandera caring for a sick neighbor, a cat with nursing kittens stretched out on Grandma’s bedroom floor, a birthday barbeque with children playing piñata and a teenage couple meeting behind a tree, and children finding out exactly how chickens get to be soup.

In In My Family, we see a barefoot quinceañera attendant running across the church steps, relatives preparing dozens and dozens of empanadas, Grandma telling the children stories of La Llorona, dead rattlesnakes hanging in warning from a water tower, and a mother’s wedding-day blessing of her daughter.

Carmen is an amazing narrative and visual artist whose work lovingly reflects her Chicana childhood, family and culture. Her oil and acrylic paintings, on a palette of bright colors, are filled with love and light, and rich in glowing detail. From the dates on the paintings, you can see that they are part of a large collection spanning years. Each has a life of its own, and, rather than “merely” being illustrations for a story, come together in a wholeness that I can’t remember being duplicated elsewhere.

Both of Carmen’s books will appeal to children, from the youngest listeners to the oldest readers; and to hablantes and English speakers as well. While Family Pictures centers on Carmen’s experiences as a younger child, In My Family begins to explore some more adolescent themes that may appeal to upper elementary school children.

In Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas, as in her two earlier two picture books, Carmen introduces young readers to her family and community through the magic windows of the traditional folk art form called “papel picado.” With bold, thick lines framing delicate connectors (such as corn silk and cactus spines) that hold each image together, each piece is breathtaking. Here are the author’s grandfather, cutting nopales and watering the corn in his garden; skeletons dancing on El Día de los Muertos and family members making paper flowers for the tombstones; hummingbirds crossing the barbed wire Mexican-American border to get to the cactus flowers on the other side; an eagle with a rattlesnake; and many scenes in this delicate art form—including a self-portrait of the artist creating a papel picado. Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas is a lovely bilingual book, seamlessly combining art and story from Carmen’s family and ancestors.

Unfortunately, the title pages on all three books note that each of the stories is an “as told to,” actually written by Harriet Rohmer. Since these are picture books that focus on Carmen’s family and these are Carmen’s stories and art, using this literary descriptor diminishes Carmen’s artistic genius and her storytelling ability. It’s also disorienting. Nevertheless, we highly recommend all three of Carmen’s books.

—Grace Cornell Gonzales and Beverly Slapin
(published 4/7/13)

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