Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book

author: Yuyi Morales
illustrator: Yuyi Morales 
Roaring Brook Press, 2008

Just in case young readers may have forgotten from Morales’ earlier book, Just a Minute: Señor Calavera, the dapper-yet-befuddled, bicycle-riding Mr. Death—who couldn’t quite figure out whether or not the elderly Grandma Beetle was really his friend—has indeed been invited to her birthday party.

The day has arrived, and now his friend Zelmiro the Ghost reminds Señor Calavera to get Grandma Beetle a present. His advice: “The best present to give a friend is the thing she would love the most.” As Señor Calavera frantically searches through the Spanish alphabet and collects gifts—un Acordéon (“an accordion for her to dance to”), Bigotes (“a mustache because she had none”), un Chiflido (“a whistle he trapped in a bag”)—Zelmiro counsels his friend to look again, “just in case…”

As with Just a Minute, Pura Belpré Award-winner Morales’ luminous jewel-toned spreads, in acrylics and mixed media on paper, are filled with action and perfectly capture both the whimsy of the Mexican cultural icons and the rollicking humor in the story. Here is “una Historieta, a one-of-a-kind comic book” that contains a scene from Just a Minute. Here are “Quince años, fifteen more years of life,” illustrated by a lovely quinceanera on a cake. Here are “Cosquillas, tickles to make her laugh”—in a brightly decorated box.

But when Señor Calavera loses control of his bicycle (on the hill where Zelmiro had been buried and where he is now planting flowers) and all the presents are ruined, he quickly has to figure out what Grandma Beetle really would love the most. “Perhaps? Maybe? ¡Quizás!” Of course!

Youngest listeners and readers will appreciate the predictable-for-some, surprising-for-others, and totally heartwarming ending. They will want to hear Just in Case, which complements the celebrations of el Día de los Muertos, over and over. Yuyi Morales is a treasure, and Just in Case is highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 7/6/14)

Mama’s Milk / Mamá me alimenta

author: Michael Elsohn Ross
translator: Aurora Hernandez
illustrator: Ashley Wolff
Tricycle Press, 2007
preschool-grade 2

This lovely little story-poem shows the youngest listeners, in words and pictures, how all mammals feed their young. Besides showing human mamas nursing their babies, Mama’s Milk incorporates an amazing amount of facts about mammals and their young. Did you know, for instance, that platypus babies are called “puggles,” and that kangaroos make pink milk? (This information is relegated to the back of the book, so as not to overwhelm the poem or the illustrations.)

Wolff’s lush illustrations, rendered in watercolor and ink on a palette of soft, natural colors, are presented across two-page spreads and on single pages framed by white borders. They’re calming and lovely; perfect for a quiet, restful story-poem that mostly shows animal families, both familiar (such as cats and foals) and less familiar (such as bats and river otters). At beginning, middle and end, there are human families of varying ethnicities, babies and children of varying ages, and two pages in which a daddy is present. Here, mama nurses her baby in the evening, while daddy snoozes next to her. Here, a little girl munches on a sandwich while she watches her mama breastfeed her infant sibling. Here, a father holds a toddler as they watch a mama hamster nursing her babies.

One of the most satisfying things for me is that the English and Spanish versions of each rhyming couplet are different. Rather than being a hokey “translation” that often makes the Spanish in a book for children seem like a mere afterthought, Hernandez’s Spanish is deep and nuanced; it flows beautifully and makes cultural sense. So, for instance, while an English couplet reads: “Cuddle little baby, take a rest/ Fall asleep on mama’s breast,” the Spanish reads: “Ven aquí a mi lado, ven aquí mi amor/ Quédate en mi pecho, duerme sin temor,” which in English would be: “Come here to my side, come here my love./ Stay at my bosom, sleep without fear.” As well, the title reflects two distinct cultures: In English, it’s Mama’s Milk and in Spanish, it’s Mamá me alimenta (“Mamá breastfeeds me”). Nicely done in both languages and highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 7/4/14)