Little Chanclas

author: José Lozano
illustrator: José Lozano
translator: Luis Humberto Crosthwaite 
Cinco Puntos Press, 2015 
preschool-grade 2 
Mexican American

Little Lily Luján loves her chanclas. In a whole school year, their flipitin-flipitónes have accompanied her to “six quinceñeras, four baptisms, three weddings, two graduations, and sixteen family barbecues.” Everyone can hear Lily coming and going, and that’s why her nickname has become “Little Chanclas.”

Although the unrelenting, noisy flipitin-flipitón of Lily’s chanclitas majorly annoys everyone—relatives, neighbors, and others in the community—no one takes her flip-flops away. After all, they are part of who Lily is and how she navigates her world.

Now, every adult (but not necessarily every child) knows that nothing lasts forever—even flip-flops. Once their delicate straps break, it’s over. Lily’s personal tragedy occurs when the straps snap during a family barbecue, one of the chanclas falls into the guacamole bowl, and Chewcho, the neighborhood bulldog, quickly swallows the other one. ¡Aye, que no! Lily’s chanclitas are gone, she’s totally bummed, and there’s no consoling her.

Lily’s relationship to her beloved flip-flops and how friends, family and community members react to the strong-willed little girl is the essence of the story. As her Abuela gently and wisely reminds frustrated family members of their own childhood flirtations with flip-flops, the unspoken subtext demonstrates the acceptance of individual differences and the care and patience bestowed on the community’s children, who are to be loved and indulged rather than scolded or punished.

Using watercolor and inks on a vibrant palette of mostly oranges, yellows, blues and greens, Lozano’s art is reminiscent of the great Mexican and Chicano murals, especially those in East Los Angeles, the Mission District of San Francisco, and the Tex-Mex border towns. Flip-flop designs fill all of the front matter and back matter, and there are chanclas on virtually every interior page as well. Stylized full-bleed illustrations that often spread to parts of the accompanying pages contain real cultural events and real characters whose faces encompass the wide range of ethnic mixes among the Raza peoples in the Chicano communities.

Adding cultural authenticity and lively storytelling for young readers and listeners—hablantes and English speakers together—are the Spanglish words and phrases, together with onomatopoetic word play, all flawlessly woven into both texts. There’s, for example, Lily Luján’s “chanclas slippity-slappetying like castanets” (or, in Spanish, her “chanclas flipitín-flipitoneaban como castañuelas”). And, after Chewcho gobbles down one of Lily’s chanclas, “Chewcho se enfermó de chanclitis.” There are also some tongue-twisting place names tossed into the mix: Benny’s Burgertería, por ejemplo, and Sukey’s Sushitería.

It would seem that author-illustrator José Lozano and translator Luis Humberto Crosthwaite —who both demonstrate a dry wit and deft command of language—worked together, a practice rarely permitted in publishing.

Of course, Lily eventually grows to love a variety of other kinds of shoes—including high heels and moccasins—as well as her beloved chanclas. But her new favorites become—CLEATS! And, while everyone hears Lily’s “clickety-clackety ruckus” on the soccer field, no one cares. As she scores one goal after another, “todos gritarán de emoción,” ¡Échale ganas, Chanclitas!

The charm and enthusiasm of Little Chanclas (the child) invites young readers and listeners into her world, and the vibrant illustrations and upbeat word play of Little Chanclas (the book) is a delight for everyone.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 8/11/16)

Rooster / Gallo

author: Jorge Luján 
illustrator: Manuel Monroy 
translator: Elisa Amado 
Groundwood Books / House of Anansi Press, 2004 

El gallo abre su pico
y sale el sol.
El sol abre su mano
y nace el día.
El día se asombra cuando la noche
tiende su capa y la colma de estrellas
para que coma el gallo
y vuelva transparente
al nuevo día.
The rooster opens its beak
and up comes the sun.
The sun opens its hand
and the day is born.
The day is surprised when night
spreads its cloak and fills it with stars
that the rooster can eat
and so clear the sky for
a new day.
With only three lyrical sentences, this elegant, simple yet complex poem about the diurnal round brings to life all of the aspects of day and night. Here, all have volition and all cooperate for the greater good of the whole: Rooster pulls in his blanket of clouds to bring in the sun, who opens its hand to bring forth the day, who is surprised at the advent of night, who brings forth the stars for Rooster to eat and clear the sky for a new day.

Monroy’s striking images of bright and muted watercolors on a palette of blues, browns, golds and greens darken as night approaches and lighten at daybreak; he masterfully depicts Rooster sometimes as a weathervane, sometimes in the shape of a cloud, sometimes bringing in the day, and sometimes spreading his cloak to release the stars. The design, which forefronts Luján’s original Spanish in large red letters, is followed by the English translation below in smaller black or blue type that contrasts with the background.

Written in Spanish and beautifully translated into English, Rooster / Gallo is a brilliant little book with a large meaning. For babies, children and adults to enjoy at their own levels of understanding, it’s highly recommended.   

—Beverly Slapin
(published 8/7/16) 

Clara and the Curandera / Clara y la curandera

author: Monica Brown
illustrator: Thelma Muraida 
translator: Gabriela Baeza Ventura 
Piñata Books / Arte Público Press, 2011 
Mexican American

When I was a little girl, my family and I lived in Borough Park, a low-income Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. My grandparents, economically marginalized people with large families, having been hastily transplanted some 30 years earlier from stetls in Poland and Russia, had brought little with them to the “goldene land”—pretty much just each other and the clothes on their backs. And their stories. Some of the stories were heartbreakers—such as the one my father told me about when the family had to sell their cow to the butcher in order to get the money for them to leave. As the butcher led her away, my father recalled, she turned her head to the family and mooed her goodbye.

The traditional stories were often hilarious, with each having an embedded “lesson.” In one, a poor peasant with a large family, including his wife, many children, and his mother-in-law, live in a tiny house in a tiny stetl somewhere. All he wants is peace and quiet. So he enlists the aid of the rabbi, who, after lots of beard-tugging and heavy thought, tells him to bring the dog and cat inside. When the noise worsens, the rabbi tells the man to bring in the cow, then the goat, then all the ducks and chickens. When the man can no longer bear the chaos, the rabbi tells him to put the animals back outside. After which the man enjoys his newfound peace and quiet, and finds out—as listeners already know—that life could always be worse.

Monica Brown’s Clara and the Curandera / Clara y la curandera was inspired by this traditional Jewish story. Here, a grumpy little girl, one of eight children, is “tired of not having any space or time” to herself. She doesn’t like to share, doesn’t like to do her chores, and doesn’t like to read. Overwhelmed, the child’s mother sends her to the curandera down the hall. But, rather than being taught how to survive the chaos of everyday life, Clara is given more tasks than she’s ever had—which indirectly teaches her that she has value in her community. In the end, when the curandera allows the transformed Clara to resume her old habits, she chooses to be helpful to everyone, and—while her family, friends and neighbors appreciate her for this newfound generosity—the curandera goes on to help another child with a problem.

Brown’s story has little left of the traditional one that inspired her—she’s flipped the time, the place, the characters, the cultural elements—and even the lesson learned. Yet, Brown is a talented storyteller and her version has a genuine feel to it, it’s got good rhythm, and it’s respectful of Mexican American elders, children, and the community in general. And, similarly to the “original,” the story is nuanced rather than “teachy-preachy”—the words show rather than tell. Young listeners will enjoy how Clara and the Curandera gently conveys its lessons.

Unfortunately, Muraida’s pastel artwork, on a palette of mostly blues, browns and golds, sabotages the story. Although the facial expressions of the main characters—Mami’s exasperation, Clara’s grumpiness, and the elderly curandera’s wisdom—are portrayed well, there are too many errors, ethnically and culturally. There is no father in the text; rather, it appears that Mami is a single mother of eight. Yet, the father appears as a small figure in the background of two illustrations. In the text, the family and community are Mexican American, but except for the curandera’s apartment (with candles, carved boxes and frames, and patterned tablecloth), nothing in any of the illustrations reflects the community’s culture. Rather, every room, hallway, and street appear to be bare; and in Clara’s apartment, which is home to her large family, nothing is out of place and there’s not a speck of dirt anywhere, not even a spot of grease on the oven.

Everyone—even the neighborhood children—has the exact same (light) complexion. And several of the artistic details—two of which separate the English from the Spanish text—are unforgivable. In one, Clara, hauling a heavy, stinky bag of trash, imagines herself enslaved. She is painted as dark. In another, a mini-portrait of Mami, Papi and the eight children, all of them are painted as dark. And in a third illustration, while Clara’s favorite doll is Mexican, the curandera gives her a new doll. This doll is white.

Behind the substandard art and boring design is this question: What kind of damage does this type of illustration inflict on children, especially the children whose cultures are being depicted? The lack of editorial attention, direction, and cohesiveness here are unacceptable. Our children deserve much better than this.

Unfortunately—despite the fact that Monica Brown is a very good storyteller—Clara and the Curandera / Clara y la curandera, as a picture book, can’t be recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 8/1/16)