Agua, Agüita / Water, Little Water / At Achichipiga At

author: Jorge Tetl Argueta
illustrator: Felipe Ugalde Alcántara 
English translator: Gabriela Baeza Ventura 
Nahuat translators: Jorge Tetl Argueta, with Genaro Ramirez, María de la Paz Pérez and Paula López 
Piñata Books / Arte Público Press, 2017 
Pipil Nahua, Salvadoran

In just about every Indigenous culture and language, there is a millennia-old teaching: Water Is Life. Wherever and whenever this teaching is spoken or sung, youngest children learn that, without water, no living thing can exist.

Narrated by a bead of water, a tiny drop who likes to be called “Agüita” or “Achichipiga,” or “Little Water,” this exquisite story of life begins deep in Mother Earth, where una gotita emerges singing. Drop by drop, as she grows, la gotita, passing through roots and rocks, traveling through light and darkness, climbs to the surface. Here, she rests “by hanging / on the tips of leaves, / on spider webs / or on flower petals.” During her journey, the little drop transforms into Agüita, “a sigh of morning dew,” “a sweet, tender and strong song.” She transforms into a river, a lake, an ocean, and climbs to the sky, becoming a cloud and, ultimately, as rain, returns to Mother Earth. And throughout her journey, throughout her many changes, she remains indescribable: “Soy de todos los colores / y no tengo color. / Soy de todos los sabores / y no tengo sabor. / Soy de todas las formas / y no tengo forma. / Soy Agua, / soy Agüita.”

Listen: Can you hear Agüita singing? Water is Life. All life is sentient. All life is a circle. We are all related.

Ugalde Alcántara’s gorgeous, stylized full-page illustrations, using watercolor and acrylic on paper and then finished digitally, complement Agüita’s song. On a luminous jewel-toned palette of mostly cool blues and greens, and sometimes warm reds, oranges and golds, the artist vibrantly depicts the many colors and shapes of little water. As one becomes many, Gotita / Agüita shows herself as part of everything that is: a blue rivulet cascading out of clouds and purple mountains through a green expanse, a blue-green river washing over brown rocks, white drops falling from clouds onto bluish land, and, as part of a waterfall, she provides a life-giving drink in a blue-white pond. 

Argueta’s poem in Spanish and Nahuat, together with Baeza Ventura’s translation into English, flow with grace and beauty. 

It’s unfortunate that the Nahuat version—Argueta’s first language and the language of the Pipil Nahua, Indigenous people of El Salvador and Mexico—is relegated to one double-page spread at the end with no accompanying illustration. As well, the Nahuat title, At Achichipiga At, is absent from both the CIP data and the cover (which has, instead, a small line at the bottom that reads, “Includes a Nahuat version”); and it’s shown, only in very small type, on the title page. The book design could easily have accommodated the Nahuat version, and, inasmuch as this poem / song is a First Nations’ teaching, placing it in the primary spot would have empowered Indigenous young children to see an Indigenous language on par with two colonial languages. 
It’s also unfortunate that the cover illustration, which focuses on a deer drinking from a pond, diverts the attention of young readers from Agüita herself. 
Nevertheless, for the great beauty and teaching that it encompasses, Agua, Agüita / Water, Little Water / At Achichipiga At is *highly recommended for all home, classroom and library collections.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 2/24/18)

You are brave. We believe you. We support you. We care about you.

To those survivors who have recently spoken or written of experiences of sexual harassment and abuse and predatory sexual behavior in the children’s literature community, and to those survivors of sexual harassment and abuse who remain silent: You are brave and we believe you. We support you and we care about you. And we will do all we can to lessen your pain.

We have become aware that we have previously reviewed the work of a well-known illustrator who has been called out for his history of sexual harassment and predation. We have redacted all references to his art in our posted reviews of the books he has illustrated. At the same time, we are maintaining these reviews because we don’t want to negatively impact the authors whose publishers had contracted with this illustrator. 

Here are our reviews of the books in question: 

Along with Latinxs in Kid Lit, we will be attentive to updates on the accusations and fallout as this issue is tackled within the Kid Lit community.

We also encourage everyone to read articles (see links below) that shed light on the issue and to change the ugly and dangerous climate that exists in the world of children’s literature. We need to reclaim and safeguard the networks and encounters through which we navigate and intervene to disrupt the dynamics that feed predatory actions. 

Those who want to take a step in this direction may decide to repost the pledge on Gwenda Bond’s site, which articulates a determination to make conferences safer for everyone. In addition, please read:

We thank Latinxs in Kid Lit ( for calling public attention to this important matter and for their support and camaraderie. 

—De Colores
(published 2/17/18)

Family Poems for Every Day of the Week / Poemas Familiares para cada día de la semana

author: Francisco X. Alarcón
illustrator: Maya Christina González 
Children’s Book Press / Lee & Low, 2017 
Mexican American

We all know that a circle has no beginning and no end. In Family Poems for Every Day of the Week / Poemas Familiares para cada día de la semana, everything is circular, everything is happening at the same time, and everyone is present at every moment. 

Each double-page spread contains an etymology of a particular day of the week. With Spanish predominating and English following, an individual poem stands alone and, at the same time, joins with the others to create a circle with the subliminal message that we are all related.

The life and work of the beloved, openly gay Chicano poet and educator, Francisco X. Alarcón, straddled three cultures. Creating work for children and adults in Nahuatl, Spanish and English, Alarcón passed on too soon—almost at the completion of this, his last book. Here, he returns to visit as a queer child, embodied in the book’s young narrator. Alone or in the company of family and friends, this child traverses the days of the week, displaying varying emotions: boredom, loneliness, thoughtfulness, joy—and, as did Alarcón, awareness of everyone and everything in the many circles of life. 

Although Spanish is a gendered language and Alarcón’s poetry maintains it as such, Maya Christina González's art is gender-expansive and loaded with visual subtext. While each of Alarcón’s poems is rich, brilliant and almost always playful, so is González s art. As she writes in her Illustrator’s Note, the art “tells the story inside the story.”

Rendering her full-bleed double-page spreads in watercolor, gouache and acrylic markers, González uses color as a form of spiritual expression. Her bright palette encompasses both warm and cool colors that dance together on every page, complementing rather than competing with each other. As well, lines are rounded and curved, and everywhere there are circles. In backgrounds, on clothing, in the patterns on the animales, and even on the faces of the elders, they display a connectedness of everything and everyone.

Alarcón’s craft, as always, shines. On each spread he presents two or more poems in Spanish and English. Although he connects them to a particular day of the week, neither is a translation; rather, each has its own internal rhythm that reflects both the dreams and realities of the young narrator. 

For instance, on Monday, there is daydreaming:
este día se llama
igual que la Luna—
por eso quizás
this day is named
after the Moon—
maybe that’s why
al mediodía aún estoy
soñando con la Luna
el lunes
at noon I’m still
daydreaming on the Moon
on Monday
But Monday also brings an impossible wish:
cómo me gustaría
que el lunes se volviera
en domingo otra vez
how I wish Monday
would just turn
back into Sunday
para que mis papacitos
no tuvieron que salir
a trabajar al amanecer
so my dear parents
wouldn’t have to go
out to work at dawn
Family Poems for Every Day of the Week / Poems Familiares para cada día de la semana is both playful and serious, an LGBTQ-friendly children’s book that works with words and images in ways that encourage young readers and listeners—hablantes and English-speakers alike—to embrace who they are and how they see themselves. It’s full of verbal and visual communication that sends messages of love, comfort and belonging to everyone who is part of the great circle. 

There are far too few books for young people like this. One of my all-time favorites is González’s Call Me Tree / Llámame arbol (Children’s Book Press / Lee & Low, 2015). (See De Colores review here: And Family Poems for Every Day of the Week / Poemas Familiares para cada día de la semana is another. 

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

—Beverly Slapin
(published 2/11/18)

Francisco X. Alarcón: ¡Presente!

Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

author: Pablo Cartaya
Penguin / Random House, 2017 
grades 5-up 
Cuban American

At the beginning of the summer, 13-year-old Arturo Zamora is not looking forward to his “promotion” to the position of Junior Lunchtime Dishwasher at his family’s Cuban restaurant in a suburb of Miami, Florida. Not only will he miss his two best friends, away on a family vacation and at summer camp, but dishwasher is also the worst job at La Cocina de la Isla. Still, Arturo is happy to spend the summer with his large family and his beloved Abuela, the restaurant’s co-founder and cook who can no longer work there because of health problems. 
Two things make this summer especially challenging for Arturo. One is Carmen, the “cousin who isn’t a cousin” but the 13-year-old daughter of his mother’s best friend, who recently died of cancer. Carmen and her father live in Spain but are spending the summer with the Zamora family, and Arturo is immediately captivated by her beauty, spunk, and love of poetry. More ominous is the arrival of the developer Wilfrido Pipo, who has planned a luxury condominium with all the amenities—to be built on the site of La Cocina de la Isla and its parking lot. Wilfrido plans dinners, festivals, and other activities to gain the support of the Zamoras’ neighbors and the town council that will ultimately grant or deny a zoning permit for Pipo Place. Instantly, the Zamoras and their beloved restaurant are all alone, for the developer has turned the entire town against them. But this large family, residents of the town for three generations, will not go down without a fight.
The author of several picture books, Pablo Cartaya debuts as a middle grade author with The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, and what a delightful and endearing debut it is! Arturo’s first-person, present-tense narrative voice is authentic and believable, as is his awkwardness around Carmen, the first girl he has truly noticed: (“'Um, are you hot?” I asked. “I mean not hot like hot, but like sweating hotness…from the heat, and, um, you’re in Miami.”). Readers will also enjoy the the smooth use of code-switching in dialogue between English and Spanish as Arturo interacts with his family members and other “cousins.” For example, this exchange between Arturo’s mother and his firebrand aunt:
“Cari, did you read the paper today?” she asked my mom. “I can’t believe there’s another bid for the lot next door! Did you tell Mami?”
“Yes, I read it. And, no, I don’t want to worry her.”
I watched Aunt Tuti pace nervously around the dining room at the restaurant while making a face like she was about to swallow an entire apple.
“Every day this week!” she yelled at the top of her lungs. “He’s stopped by the restaurant every day. He even invited me to lunch. Can you believe it? He. Invited me. To lunch. Engreído. Mentiroso. Ah no, no way. No way!”
“Tuti, cálmate. You’re getting hysterical.”

The characters’ (and author’s) Cuban heritage comes through in the food, the family relationships, and the writings of José Martí, the nineteenth-century poet and patriot who inspires Arturo to stand up for his family against the powerful developer. 
That poem was the result of an extreme emotional situation. It was a one-time thing! I had no desire to ever read in public again. Carmen stared at me and smiled. I wasn’t José Martí—I didn’t have his mojo—but if I could make Carmen smile like that, then I could totally recite my poem again.

The story concludes with pair of favorite recipes and a brief author's note about Martí's life and work. The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora is highly recommended.
—Lyn Miller-Lachmann
(published 2/5/18)
An earlier version of this review first appeared in The Pirate Tree ( We thank The Pirate Tree for permission.