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!

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