My Very Own Room / Mi propio cuartito

author: Amada Irma Pérez
translator: Consuelo Hernández
illustrator: Maya Christina González
Children’s Book Press / Lee & Low, 2000
grades 2-up 
Mexican, Mexican American

When we were kids, we slept four in a bed; the girls slept in one bed and the boys in another. Living with ten people piled into a small house was just our reality. For me, there was no place to be by myself, to read, to do my homework; it was a common occurrence to see my homework stuck to the table or with milk spilled on it, and there was no such thing as quiet in our house.

For a large traditional Mexican family such as ours, it was a matter of both culture and economics: family and friends came and went, and people either shared space with relatives or lived in made-over garages. There wasn’t much room, so children usually slept together in one or two beds and sometimes on the couch or on the floor.

My Very Own Room reminded me of my impossible wish. The narrator is a nine-year-old girl who shares a room with five brothers and imagines her own space “with my own bed, table, and lamp—a place where I could read the books I loved, write in my diary, and dream.” How she transforms a storage closet into a perfect, private space shows, not only her own determination and resourcefulness, but how her family joyfully pitches in and helps out. Here’s a bed from Tío Pancho, who is returning to Mexico. Here’s a white ceramic glass lamp from the Blue Chip store, for redeemed Blue Chip stamps. Here are several paint cans, each with a little paint in it that when blended, makes a gorgeous magenta color for her walls. And here are lots and lots of books, borrowed from the library.

González’s art, in oil pastel on a rich palette of bold, warm colors, complement the story. I especially like the image of the whole family licking Blue Chip stamps, the swirls of the paint colors coming together, and finally, “the luckiest, happiest little girl in the whole world,” falling asleep under a blanket of books in her very own room.

Hernández’s idiomatic Spanish translation reads as well as the English, so both hablantes and English-speakers can enjoy this warm story of a little girl who is part of a loving family and finds a way to acquire her own space. Based on the author’s own family story, My Very Own Room / Mi propio cuartito is highly recommended.

María Cárdenas
(published 3/27/14)

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