Abuelo vivía solo / Grandpa Used to Live Alone

author: Amy Costales
illustrator: Esperanza Gama
Piñata Books / Arte Público Press, 2010
kindergarten-grade 3 
Mexican, Mexican American

Narrated by the granddaughter whose birth and growing up transform her grandpa’s peaceful, solitary world, Abuelo vivía solo / Grandpa Used to Live Alone is an intergenerational story-poem of adaptation and love. It’s told first in Costales’ rhythmic Mexican Spanish and followed by its equally rhythmic English translation. 

When his daughter and her new baby move in with Abuelo, everyone’s world changes: Mamá, who is depicted in only one scene, works and goes to school; while Abuelo, who had only himself to care for, now takes on the responsibility of raising his nieta. 

Each left page contains text blocks of the Spanish and English, separated by a detail that reflects the theme on the full page illustration on the right. For instance, a few lotería cards on the left segue into an older abuelo and his teenage nieta on the right playing cards at the kitchen table.

Almost all of the images depict Abuelo and his nieta together. Beginning with him as the grandpa of a new baby, story and illustration show time passing. While Abuelo is growing older, Nieta is growing up—her crib is switched for a bed and her high chair for a chair at the table, she grows proficient at making arroz con leche, and eventually learns to drive. But while their roles change, their loving relationship remains the same.

Two poetic themes central to this story—and symbolic of the child’s growth and the grandpa’s aging—are almost identical descriptions of their preparation of the evening’s arroz con leche and the bedtime routine that follows. At first, the toddler plays with the measuring cups and watches her abuelo stirring the arroz con leche in the pot on the stove; later, she’s preparing the ingredients by herself. The other theme centers on their bedtime ritual. Beginning with grandpa’s carrying his grandbaby upstairs and, as she sleeps, rocking in the chair by her crib “sólo para escucharme respirar”—“just to hear (her) breathe.” The story ends with the adult granddaughter holding her grandpa’s hand as he walks upstairs, and rocking in the chair by his bed “sólo para escucharlo respirar”—“just to hear him breathe.” 

Gama’s soft, colored-pencil illustrations reflect the gentleness of the story and, for the most part, cultural details of this Indigenous Mexican family and household. And Costales’ rhythmic Spanish story-poem will have the youngest hablantes—as well as English-speakers who want to learn Spanish—learning the details for preparing arroz con leche, and enjoying the cadence and repetition as well. 

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

— Beverly Slapin
(published 4/6/20)

Hello Night / Hola noche

author: Amy Costales
illustrator: Mercedes McDonald
Luna Rising, 2007
 preschool-grade 2 

Hello Night / Hola noche begins at dusk. With a stroller parked outside, a young child in his mamá’s arms waves to the rising moon. As the two begin their nightly walk down a cobblestone path and through the woods to greet the rich nocturnal world, the child points to—and mamá greets—everything they see. For the two, each nightly experience is new and wondrous.

Hello night. Hello river. Hello bird with a chirp and a quiver.
Hola noche. Hola rîo. Hola pájaro de tímido pío pîo.

McDonald’s soft jewel-toned pastel illustrations of the world around them are as luminous as the night itself. Everything is alive and has volition, and some animals, looking directly at the humans who stroll among them, greet mamá and child in their own unique ways.

Hello night. Hello cricket. Hello mouse under the thicket.
Hola noche. Hola grillo. Hola arbusto y ratoncillo.

Large, double-page spreads alternate with single-page illustrations on the left side and a detail surrounded by white space on the right. Each spread contains, on the left, a rhyming couplet in English. It’s followed on the right by a rhyming couplet in Spanish. Neither couplet is a translation of the other; rather, each is its own poem. 

In an especially beautiful spread, Mamá and son are standing by the edge of a lagoon, looking up at what appears to be the luminous Azteca or Maya Rabbit Moon:

Hello night. Hello moon. Hello sky, dark lagoon.
Hola noche. Hola luna. Hola cielo, grande laguna.

Towards the end, youngsters will see a stuffed toy bunny alone, looking wistfully across the book to mamá giving her son (in ducky pajamas) one last hug before bed. And on the last double-page spread, the boy is asleep, cuddling the bunny, while the moon smiles down at them:

Goodnight night. It’s time to sleep. / I close my eyes without a peep.
Buenas noches noche. Estoy casi dormido. / Cierro los ojos sin gemido.

The luminous endpapers—front and back—depict a small, Mexican-styled house with a cobblestone path leading through a tiny enclosed orchard and out into the woods, where a winding path circles back to the house. There are cacti and agave growing near the house and the woods; and an owl, several rabbits, a cat, a raccoon, and fish swimming in a lagoon. Stars light up the sky.

With gentle, loving Spanish and English texts complemented by soft, vibrant illustrations, Hello Night / Hola Noche are calm, quieting bedtime poems for the youngest hablantes and English-speakers to contemplate and enjoy. 

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

—Beverly Slapin
(published 4/1/20)