My Tata’s Remedies / Los remedios de mi tata // My Nana's Remedies / Los remedios de mi nana

Here are two children’s picture books by the same author. They are almost identical in title, some content and general theme; but much different in concept, approach and overall execution. Although   My Tata’s Remedies / Los remedios de mi tata  appears to be a majorly improved version of  My Nana’s Remedies / Los remedios de mi nana, I’m examining the two titles here because they were published as separate projects.

author: Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford
translators: Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford and Luis Humberto Crosthwaite 
illustrator: Antonio Castro L. 
Cinco Puntos Press, 2015 
grades 2-up 
Mexican, Mexican American

In My Tata’s Remedies / Los remedios de mi tata, young Aaron expresses interest in learning how Tata Augustine (or “Tata Gus,” as everyone calls him) makes his remedies, and the elder curandero decides that this is as good a time as any to begin the child’s education—“poco a poco te voy a ir enseñando qué usar y cuándo usarlo.” He directs his grandson to the shed in which dried flowers hang from rafters, and jars and bags are filled with other traditional medicinals—leaves, herbs and teas—each labeled, sorted and stored in its appropriate place.

As it happens, Tata’s first patient of the day is Aaron, who has hit himself in the forehead with the balero that Tata had given him. With Árnica de la Abuela and Árnica flowers—along with a handclap and a well-known healing rhyme—Tata’s remedy soon has the desired effect.

As each person in the community—relative, friend and neighbor—presents a health problem, Tata tells his grandson exactly what to get and where to find it, and then shows him how a particular herb or tea is used to solve a particular problem. Aaron learns, poco a poco, how to take away a bee sting, how to make feet stop itching, and how to cure diaper rash, burns, eye infections, and even a cold and a toothache. When Mamá and Uncle Mark arrive, they’re invited to spend the night, and Aaron gets to experience yet another cure and some stories from the family’s past. As Tata tucks him in and reminds him of the necessity of practice, Aaron thinks about how fortunate he is to have Tata as his grandfather and his teacher as well: “To have a loving grandfather is like a santo remedio—a magical cure!” / “Tener un abuelo cariñoso es como un santo remedio.”

Castro L.’s realistic and expressive single-page illustrations, rendered in colored pencil and watercolors, complement this authentic and loving portrayal of close family and community ties. Here is a horrified Sara, being stung by a bee. Here is an unhappy Justin, soaking his itchy feet in Creosote rinse. Here is baby Anita, “crying up a storm,” suffering from diaper rash. Here is Malila, in pain from a deep burn on her arm. Here is Rudy, the postman, with a red nose and watery eyes. Here is mariachi José Luis (“Guapo”), massaging his aching mouth. And here is a young child beginning to learn from his Tata how to help people in the community; a kind, generous Tata passing on his knowledge of healing and sharing—while an ever-patient Nana, with a big smile, provides comfort with fresh-baked empanadas and hot chocolate.

The endpapers remind me of earth and roots, and beautifully designed text pages—reminiscent of aged paper on which well-used recipes might be found—extend each full illustration and depict a specific herb with its common name in English and Spanish. As well, the back matter contains a helpful and educational bilingual “Glossary of Medicinal Herbs & Remedies / Glosario de hierbas medicinales y remedios,” in which each illustrated entry has both its common and scientific name in English and Spanish.

The excellent idiomatic Spanish is sometimes translated and sometimes interpreted, so the story flows in Spanish as effortlessly as English. Here, for instance, as Tata intones the children’s healing rhyme, “Sana, sana, colita de rana, si no sanas hoy, sanará mañana” (which translates as, “Heal, heal, little frog’s tail, if you don’t heal today, you’ll heal tomorrow”), young Aaron explains that it’s Tata’s way of saying, “I’ll kiss it and rub it and make it go away. Now that you’re better, you can go out and play!” In the Spanish version, of course, there is no explanation because none is necessary.

Rather than a typical European “beginning-conflict-resolution” children’s story that tells rather than shows, this beautiful book shows how oral teaching of traditional herbal remedies is transmitted across generations of community.

My Tata’s Remedies / Los remedios de mi tata, which won Antonio Castro L. an Illustrator Honor Book Pura Belpré Award, is a pleasure to look at, read, and learn from—and is highly recommended.

author: Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford
translator: Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford 
illustrator: Edna San Miguel 
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, 2002 
grades 2-up 
Mexican, Mexican American

In My Nana’s Remedies / Los remedios de mi nana, there is no community to speak of. All we see of the family are a young unnamed narrator, her unnamed Nana, and her unnamed baby brother, who observes what little action there is. The story consists in its entirety of a list of conditions (“when I have a headache…”) followed by Nana’s cure (“my nana prepares for me…”). Each double-page spread depicts the narrator’s or her brother’s problem (sore throat, sleeplessness, stomachache, headache, chill, and fright) and Nana’s dispensing the traditional or herbal remedy.

The Spanish is grammatical and functional, closely following the English. Except for the next-to-last spread, which has a number of errors. Here, the English reads:

Whenever I don’t feel well, my nana is always at my side.
“I’ll kiss it, I’ll kiss it, and make it go away; then you can go out and play.”

And the Spanish reads:

Cuando no me siento bien, mi nana siempre está a mi lado, y me dice:
—Sana, sana, colita de rana. Si no sanas ahora, sanarás mañana…—

Here, “Sana, sana,” the healing rhyme, which is used by parents and grandparents all over Latin America to take a child’s attention away from a hurt or illness, is confusing; it's neither a translation nor an interpretation of the English that precedes it. Rather, the English, if anything, should have been used to explain the Spanish (as it was done in My Tata’s Remedies / Los remedios de mi tata). And “ahora” should be “hoy.”

San Miguel’s bright and colorful single- and double-page watercolor illustrations may appeal to some children, but they’re cartoonish and jarring. For instance, the young narrator and her little brother have exaggerated expressions and Walter Keane-like eyes, Nana’s eyes are often hidden behind her spectacles, and there’s just too much going on in each illustration. In addition, some of the pictures are confusing: the narrator’s “little baby brother,” on one page, is an infant; a few pages later, he’s about three years old; and on a later page, he’s a toddler. 

The back matter contains a “Medicinal Plants Glossary / Glosario de plantas medicinales,” with illustrations of several medicine plants, along with their common and scientific names in English and Spanish. The introduction to this section in English, in referring to the Native peoples of Mexico and southwestern US, uses the word, “Indian,” eight times (Mayo Indians, Yaqui Indians, Seri Indians, etc.); while the Spanish more accurately refers to the Native Nations without the extraneous ending “Indians” (“Los Mayos viven al sur de Sonora en las orillas,” “Los Yaquis viven a lo largo de las márgines del río Yaqua,” etc.). 

In Mexico, the southwestern US, and all over Latin America, curanderas are important and esteemed community members who practice and teach traditional and herbal cures to everyone, not just to their immediate families. But here, on a close to last spread, our young narrator (who is finally smiling) says, “How lucky I am to have such a special nana! She is my very own, personal healer.” (“¡Qué fortuna tener una nana tan especial! Ella es mi curandera personal.”) Except for information about specific traditional cures, there is no story here—no cultural teaching—and, unlike My Tata’s Remedies / Los remedios de mi tata, there is no relationship with the community. Many lost opportunities here; My Nana’s Remedies / Los remedios de mi nana, the earlier version, is marginally recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
 (published 6/12/16; revised 6/14/16)

Luis Paints the World

author: Terry Farish 
illustrator: Oliver Dominguez 
Carolrhoda Picture Books / Lerner Publishing, 2016 
grades 2-5 
Dominican American

In the 1960s, Chicanos comprised only about 5% of the US population, yet made up about 22% of the US casualties in Vietnam. So towards the end of the decade, the Chicano community in California began organizing against their young people being drafted into the US war against Vietnam, comparing it to the US war against Aztlán. “Too many Chicanos have died in foreign jungles,” activists said, “and too many have died in barrio streets. ¡Ya, basta!”

On August 29, 1970, some 25-30,000 mostly Chicano people marched through the heart of East Los Angeles. This enormous, community-based familia included elders and parents and babies, students and teachers and seasoned political activists, documented and undocumented workers from the factories and the fields, and veterans from World War II and Korea and Vietnam. They came together from barrios all over the country: from San Diego, from Chicago, from Denver, from San Antonio, from Seattle. From New York, a large contingent of Puertorriqueño members of the Young Lords Party joined them. Here, at the National Chicano Moratorium Against the War in Vietnam, organizers declared that, for Chicano youth, the front line in the struggle for justice and human rights was not in Vietnam, but rather, in the barrios of the United States.

Soon after the march was over, thousands of demonstrators entered Laguna Park to hear the speeches and entertainment—and squads of LA county sheriffs, backed up by busloads of city police, attacked, wading into the crowd with tear gas rifles and batons. Most of the people tried to run for safety. There was none. Some fought back. By the end of the day, the cops had injured and arrested many, and killed three Chicanos, including the well-known and -respected journalist Rubén Salazar. For many reasons, the Chicano Moratorium was a day to remember and a day that the Chicano people hold in their hearts. It was a new day that was instrumental, a few years later, in ending the draft and the US war against Vietnam.

The great Chicano Moratorium is the context in which a colleague and I read Terry Farish’s picture book, Luis Paints the World. Here, young Luis, who is Dominican American and lives on the East Coast, can’t understand why his older brother, Nico, has decided to join the army and is about to be deployed. Nico’s answer is simply—and incomprehensibly for young readers and everyone else as well—that he will be “[s]eeing the world. Just like the army promised.” This is all that’s said about Nico’s military service. We don’t know where he’s going, we don’t know why, and we don’t know if or when he’ll be back. Just that he’s wearing camo (referenced in the art, but not the story) and he’s being sent “far away” “to see the world”—a phrase that Farish inserts into the story nine times. Luis, who doesn’t want Nico to leave, tries to convince him that “the world” is right here, by painting “the world” as a mural on an alleyway wall. But Nico leaves, and, as Luis awaits his return, neighbors join in to paint their world. Although Mami hints that, “some people don’t come back,” Nico does, and the reunification—as is the mural—is complete.

The murals in Dominguez’s brightly colored artwork—in what appears to be rendered in pastels—are chalky and less detailed than the people, who are more sharply outlined. This is a close-knit, economically marginalized Dominican neighborhood, with plenty of concrete on which to paint. I especially like the double-page spread that shows adults and children working together to create a beautiful and lively depiction of their world.

But. By creating a sanitized, feel-good picture book about a young Dominican American man who joins the Army to “see the world”—by focusing solely on peace and art and a thing called “multiculturalism”—Farish ignores the harsh realities of the lives of poor and disenfranchised people and the political and economic issues of why Latinos and other peoples of color disproportionately enlist in the US military. By doing so, and by ignoring the historical, political and cultural significance of the Chicano Moratorium and its aftermath, she is lying to innocent little kids about armed combat, about who goes and who gets to stay home, about US imperialism and world hegemony, and about peace, justice, community, struggle, and protest.

Luis Paints the World is not recommended. Older readers who are looking for the important historical context omitted here should read Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s outstanding YA novel, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood (Cinco Puntos Press, 2004).

—Beverly Slapin
(published 6/2/16)

Mil gracias a mi colega, Ricardo Ramirez.

ABeCedarios: ABCs in English and Spanish // Opuestos: Opposites in English and Spanish // Colores de la Vida: Colors in English and Spanish // Count Me In! Numbers in English and Spanish // Animal Talk: Animal Sounds in English and Spanish

Oaxaca has had a wood carving tradition since long before first contact; the products of this tradition—from sacred to practical to whimsical—have taken the forms of religious statuaries, cooking utensils, household instruments, children’s toys and the like. Fast-forward to the 1950s, when a shepherd named Manuel Jiménez from the town of Arrazola was carving little wood animals while grazing his sheep at Monte Albán. When a white guy who owned a folk art shop in Oaxaca City “discovered” Jiménez and offered to buy everything that he could produce, others started to imitate Jiménez’s style, and the craft spread to San Martín Tilcajete and La Unión.

At about the same time, the opening of the Mexican span of the Pan American Highway brought to Oaxaca an influx of tourists, whom folk art dealers realized would happily purchase both replicas of old carvings and work that had no longstanding cultural traditions. This beginning of the folk art woodcarving practice has brought construction of paved roads, schools and hospitals to the area, and has been an important source of cash income for the woodcarvers and their families. And it’s one of the crafts that have made the state of Oaxaca world famous.

Weill, an English teacher who is fluent in Spanish, spent a Fulbright Teacher Exchange year in Mexico City and travelled to Oaxaca on weekends. Initially drawn to its abundance of crafts, she later enrolled in a doctoral program, researching intercultural collaboration in folk art production—and what would result if artisans created what pleased them rather than what might appeal to potential buyers. She also wanted a platform, as she told me, to showcase the work of the artists and artisans in ways that would recognize their unique talents.

Weill’s academic work eventually became a cross-cultural collaborative art project with several folk art producing families in Oaxaca. If a project were to be collaborative as well as cross-cultural, Weill would find out, she would have to give up a lot of control and become “joined at the hip” with the families with whom she worked. And everyone would have an equal voice.

One of the results of this collaboration is a series of five adorable bilingual concept books that introduce the littlest learners to the alphabet, colors, counting, opposites, and animal sounds. Anyone who is able to sit still for a moment will thoroughly enjoy the brightly colored- and -patterned wooden animalitos, on highly saturated backgrounds that bring to mind the texture of plastered walls.

author: Cynthia Weill 
artists: Armando Jiménez, Moisés Jiménez  
Cinco Puntos Press, 2007, all grades

The first in the series, ABeCedarios: Mexican Folk Art in English and Spanish, features well known animals (“the Elephant / el Elefante”), and rare (“the Quetzal / el Quetzal”), and imaginary ones (“the Unicorn / el Unicornio”), and one that is as yet “undiscovered” (the mysterious “X / el/la X,” a winged creature that breathes fire); as well as animals for which there are uniquely Spanish sounds (“el Chapulín” to demonstrate “ch,” “la Llama,” to show “ll,” “el Ñu” or “gnu,” and “el Zorro,” to depict “rr”).

author: Cynthia Weill
artists: Martín Santiago, Quirino Santiago
Cinco Puntos Press, 2009, all grades

The second work, Opuestos: Mexican Folk Art Opposites in English and Spanish, depicts contrasting concepts on opposing pages (“asleep / dormido” and “awake / despierto”), sometimes depicting the same animal (“inside / adentro” and “outside / afuera” the frame) and sometimes showing a different animal or insect: The opposing concepts “high / alto” and “low / bajo,” show a butterfly on the upper left corner of the left page, while a dog, on the center of the right page, looks hungrily up at it; in another spread, two almost identical dogs, one with a “long / larga” tail faces one with a “short / corta” tail.

author: Cynthia Weill
artists: Rubí Fuentes, Efraín Broa, María Jiménez, Jesús Sosa, Angélica Vasquez, Carlomagno Pedro Martínez, Eleazar Morales, René Mandarín, Eloy Santiago, José Miguel Pacheco Aguero, María Jiménez  
Cinco Puntos Press, 2011, all grades

In the third librito, Colores de la Vida: Mexican Folk Art Colors in English and Spanish , the animals—done in different techniques this time—are mostly displayed on background colors that correspond to the animals themselves. So, for instance, two purple bunnies (with orange carrots, which add some contrast and realism) sit on and opposing a “purple /  morado” background, and a glorious orange lion (with a full mane and what appear to be actual orange slices as ears and eyes) sits on an “orange /  anaranjado” background. I especially like the question at the end (with a cow and her calf on a green background and the lettering on a blue background):  Can you say all the colors in Spanish? / ¿Puedes nombrar todos los colores en inglés?

author: Cynthia Weill
artists: Guillermina Aguilar, Josefina Aguilar, Irene Aguilar, Concepción Aguilar
Cinco Puntos Press, 2012, all grades

Unlike the others, Count Me In! A Parade of Mexican Folk Art Numbers in English and Spanish features all humans, decked out to participate in a festival called “Guelaguetza,” which is Zapotec for “to share.” Except for the initial two-page spread, which shows a line of people beginning the parade (Here comes the parade! / ¡Aquí viene el desfile!), all of the other illustrations (along with captions that will entice the youngest of listeners) land on the right-hand pages on solid backgrounds with only the numbers 1-10 in English and Spanish. Opposite “four / cuatro,” for instance, is this: The giants are my favorite! See the person wearing the costume peeking through from inside? / ¡A mí me encantan los gigantes! ¿Ves a la persona que lleva el disfraz mirándonos desde adentro?

author: Cynthia Weill
artists: Rubí Fuentes, Efraín Broa 
Cinco Puntos Press, 2016, all grades

And finally (for now), there’s Animal Talk: Mexican Folk Art Animal Sounds in English and Spanish. Here, probably the most beautiful and detailed animals and insects in the series demonstrate how sounds from everyday animals and insects (roosters, kitties, fish, goats, tigers, cows, horses, dogs, frogs, piggies, lions, snakes, turkeys, and owls) make sounds that may or may not be pronounced differently in two languages. For example, Roosters say Cock-a-Doodle-Doo. Can you? / Los gallos dicen Ki-Kiri-Ki. ¿Puedes tú? But fish say “glub-glub” in both languages. And the humor is sometimes slyly tucked in for the benefit of children who may be bilingual: Turkeys say Gobble Gobble / Los pavos dicen Gordo Gordo (!) The back cover, which may be my favorite, clearly and hilariously demonstrates how and why this all works: Sometimes they’re talking to you. / A veces me están hablando a mí.

Bilingual, colorful, inviting, absolutely adorable—and definitely child-centric—these libritos will capture and hold the attention of the littlest to the biggest kids (and adults alike—I keep coming back to them, and I’m known to be hard to please). All are highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 6/1/16)

*Highly recommended for all home, classroom and library collections.

[Reviewer's note: I want to share with readers some information about how this project's collaborative plan becomes a reality. Cynthia Weill and the artists work together for between two and four years to produce each book. (Cynthia mentioned to me that her role often includes babysitting so that the artist families can concentrate on their craft.) She pays the artists market rate for their work, which she then donates to the Field Museum of Chicago. After each book has been produced, Cinco Puntos Press gives each artist family 100 copies of the book that features their work.]