Wounded Falcons

 


author: Jairo Buitrago

translator (from Spanish): Elisa Amado

illustrator: Rafael Yockteng

Groundwood Books, 2021 

grades 3-up


“It was a bad day at school.” Young Adrián’s face is bloody and bruised, his shirt is torn, and his fists are clenched with rage. It’s always a bad day at school. Adrián gets into trouble with everyone—except his friend, Santiago, who never has any problems and never has any bad days. Yet the two are friends.


Before going home, the two friends sit in the middle of a garbage-strewn empty lot “that doesn’t belong to anyone, where no one ever comes.” In a clump of grass, Adrián finds a young, wounded falcon, scared and unable to fly. The boy wraps the bird in his jacket to keep her warm, and promises to take care of her.


At home, Adrián looks to his mother for advice about curing the bird’s broken wing—but receives instead a mean-spirited promise: We already know what happened at school…Later, your father will give you what you deserve. The next day, Adrián skips school and meets up with Santiago in the empty lot “where no one ever comes.” Santiago takes him and the falcon to someone who “cures broken bones”—and pays for the treatment with his Christmas money. Together, the two friends gently care for the wounded falcon. And in science class, “even though the others laugh and whisper,” Adrián speaks for the first time, giving a talk “about birds of prey, about their strength, about their beauty.”


Adrián encloses the falcon and her nest in a box he has built and sets it in a tree. When he is sad, he visits with the falcon: “They know each other, they can feel their hearts beating when they are together.” 


Weeks later, there is a storm—and the two friends discover that “the falcon has gone with the squalls of rain and the wind.” The next day, they go back to the lot “that belongs to no one, where no one comes.” They look up and see a falcon—like a bolt of lightning—dive from the sky, grab a pigeon in flight—and scream to salute them. Santiago sees tears on his friend’s cheeks: “his friend who never cries, not even when they were both little children.” As the two friends silently go home,


Santiago thinks that Adrián has a big heart, even if he gets into trouble. Tomorrow when they leave school to go to the empty lot that belongs to no one, where no one comes, maybe they can see the falcon hunting again, and they will be closer than ever.


Young readers will intuit that the title—Wounded Falcons—refers to both the bird of prey and the bullied child. For the falcon and Adrián—both wounded and now healing—it will be a good day.


Buitrago’s sparse descriptions and economy of words—together with Yockteng’s digitally-created illustrations that resemble pen-and-ink drawings—lay out the scenarios and encourage young readers to draw their own interpretations and conclusions. The final illustration will surprise them. 


Wounded Falcons is highly recommended for home, school and library collections.


—Beverly Slapin

(published 9/18/2021)



Mis Dos Pueblos Fronterizos // My Two Border Towns




David Bowles
Mis Dos Pueblos Fronterizos // My Two Border Towns 
illustrated by Erika Meza 
Kokila Books, 2021 
Mexican (preschool-grade 4)


Every other Saturday, a young child’s father wakes him up early. It’s time to go shopping, and then to el Otro Lado—the Other Side, across the U.S.-Mexican border. As they cross, the father reminds his son of the time when the Indigenous people—Coahuiltecans—once lived here, before both riverbanks were Mexico.


For the boy, their shopping trip is a large part of his education. On the way, the child’s dad quietly instills in his young son important values, such as respect for elders. As he holds out a dollar and calls to an elderly newspaper seller, “Aqui tiene, Don Memo. Thanks!”—his dad refers to him as “Don,” an honorific. Although the child appears to be unaware that he is learning something important, he is, in fact, learning. Later, he notices that his dad has tipped another elderly man, Don Chava, for washing his truck.


After breakfast at their favorite restaurán, father and son go shopping. They’ve done this often, and the child recites what’s on the list for their friends: medicine, T-shirts, chanclas, bottled water. And “cold, sweet Gansitos and lots of chewy Glorias, too.” And one last stop, for comics, notebooks, pencils, and game cartridges. “I add the things we bought today,” he tells young readers. “I hope all the kids will enjoy them.” 


His dad calls the child’s friends “refugees” …. “stuck between two countries. The U.S. says there’s no room, and Mexico says it can hardly look after their own gente.”


A line of people from the Caribbean and Central America camp along the edge of the bridge, waiting for their numbers to come up; and a border patrol cop, hanging on to his guard dog, suspiciously eyes father and son.


Dad pulls over, and the boy’s young friend, Élder—who lives on the bridge with his mom and siblings—runs to greet him. While he distributes the comics, games, snacks, bottled water and medicine that he and his dad had bought for them, a group of white tourists passes. They look straight ahead, as if the people sitting at the curb with their children and everything they own—hanging laundry, a blanket, a mattress—are invisible. Several women tightly clutch their purses.


The boy may not notice the white tourists who look away, pretending not to see the poverty right in front of them. But the boy’s father tells him and models for him this family’s duty to care for their gente. “I add the things we bought today,” he tells young readers. “I hope all the kids will enjoy them.” (They will. Among the games, snacks and bottles of water are great children’s books: They Call Me Güero and Gustavo, el Fantasmita Tímido.)


Neither Bowles’ Spanish version nor his English is a translation of the other. Rather, he tells the story in Spanish and in English, with each complementing the other. A piece in English reads, for instance, “This town’s a twin of the one where I live…,” and in Spanish reads, “El pueblo es como el nuestro en un espejo…” (“The town is like ours in a mirror…”)


Meza’s artwork—using gouache, soft watercolors, pencil illustrations and “digital gimmicks”—is rich in detail. The broad river does, indeed, resemble “a watery serpent that glints with the dawn.”


Young readers look intently at the cultural images and define them: In dad and son’s favorite restaurán, a string of delicate papel picado hangs overhead and an altar to the Virgen de Guadalupe and el Niño Dios contains a fresh flower in a glass of water as an offering. As an elder woman flips tortillas with her hands, a waiter carefully balances a large basket full of them and a bowl of salsa, and the boy uses a rolled-up tortilla to scoop up his food.


Other illustrations almost force young readers to notice things they otherwise might not. A white woman, for example, looks straight ahead and tightly clutches her purse in fear of the line of Mexican and Central American asylum seekers at the border.


The young boy’s empathy is real. This Mexican kid knows who he is and what he comes from because he absorbs his parents’ compassion—and because they teach him by word and example his responsibilities for his gente. This kind and generous child—of kind and generous parents—is learning that he is part of his gente and his gente are part of him. My Two Border Towns and Mis Dos Pueblos Fronterizos tell an important story. 


Compassionately written and beautifully illustrated, both Spanish and English versions are highly recommended for all home, classroom and library collections.


—Beverly Slapin

(published 9/12/2021)


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


Un tren llamado Esperanza / A Train Called Hope

author: Mario Bencastro

illustrator: Robert Casilla

publisher: Piñata Books, 2021

grade level: 3-up

(Central American, immigration)


For many immigrants from Central America, part of their journey might be on top of a dangerous, speeding train. They often refer to the train as “La Bestia” (“The Beast”), and pray that they arrive in one piece. Un tren llamado Esperanza / A Train Called Hope is one person’s memory of that train ride. 


On the cover, a young child is stretched out on his bed. As he plays with a toy train—a gift from his mother—that crosses “the mountain of (his) pillow into the valley (on his) bed,” the boy dreams about faraway places: big cities, mountains, the Statue of Liberty. The boy we see here is a young adult now, and this toy train was his first present. He imagined then that “the girl in the window looked just like (his) sister.” 


Now, this young man is about to ride on a real train to meet up with his family, who are working “in far off places.” Not in a train, but on top, traveling with several hundred strangers—children, women with babies, young men—all sharing the perilous journey and little else. When they reach the border, all of them “leap down from the train and hide in the thick brush to wait for night to fall.” Now he “begs the moon to rise and illuminate the border”—


Ahora ruego a la luna que salga

y nos alumbre la frontera

para llegar a mi madre 

que con alegría me espera.


It’s not unusual that people fall from these trains and are killed. Casilla’s brilliantly detailed illustrations—created with watercolor, pastel, and colored pencil on cold press watercolor paper—show the shocked faces of five “passengers”—their fear and horror—as they ride atop the dangerous train and witness an almost fatal accident. A woman covers her face in prayer, a man squelches a scream with his hand, another woman’s shocked expression asks: “Why is all this happening?”


As a young adult, the young man and his mom finally embrace (he imagines)—they are together. He names his remembered toy electric train “Esperanza” (“Hope”)—because, unlike the dangerous train whose top carries agricultural workers from Central America to here, “it will cross the planet freely / uniting sons and mothers / carrying and bringing the happiness / that all children dream of.”


Pienso llamarlo “Esperanza”

porque recorrerá libre el planeta

uniendo hijos y madres,

llevando y trayendo la dicha

que todos los niños sueñan.


As Bencastro and Casilla transport young readers back to the childhood of a son of migrant farmworkers—the son who narrates as a young adult—, poet and artist together portray a deep and important story. Beautifully told and illustrated, Un tren llamado Esperanza / A Train Called Hope is not only about one family. It’s a call for justice for those who labor in an unjust society and have to ride atop dangerous trains to get to work. Although it’s accessible for young readers, Un tren llamado Esperanza / A Train Called Hope is not “just” for children. 


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


—Beverly Slapin

(published 8/24/2021)


Note: a companion book recommended for children is Dos Conejos Blancos (Two White Rabbits) by Jairo Buitrago, Rafael Yockteng, and Elisa Amado, which takes place on an actual journey. Its review can be found at decoloresreviews.blogspot.com dosconejosblancos.


—BHS


ABC El Salvador

author: Holly Ayala

illustrator: Elizabeth Gómez

Luna's Press Books, 2021

preschool-up

El Salvador, Salvadoreños


On the front cover, raised lettering in glossy relief—large ABCs on which two Indigenous children climb—invites young readers to touch the painted block letters similar to the wood block letters that El Salvador is known for. And as they “visit” the country and towns in El Salvador, the carefully crafted ABC format shows them aspects of rural life and some history as well. 


Within the country of El Salvador, the author highlights the city of San Salvador and the town of Santo Domingo de Guzman (Witzapan). Here, youngsters from el Norte will get to meet Xiomara and her familia—and learn about some history and culture of El Salvador. 


In the voice of Xiomara, a young Indigenous Salvadoreña, this beyond beautiful abcdario is about and especially for the children of El Salvador, who will see themselves reflected here. The child’s mixed family has darker and lighter complexions. 


The author highlights the city of San Salvador and the town of Santo Domingo. When she is in the city, Xiomara wears an orange shirt with a green skirt. When she is in the town, she wears a blue shirt with a red skirt. And a few times, she is in athletic clothes. Kevin wears his soccer outfit with ES and A for Alianza (his favorite soccer team). 


Forefronting the Indigenous-influenced Salvadoran Spanish with the English translation below, Xiomara introduces young readers to her relatives, her friends and her neighborhood. The Spanish and English, as well as the illustrations, are personal and cultural, and community specific.


[In a personal communication, the author told me that she based the words and illustrations on her own experiences. For instance, “atol” is her favorite beverage; and for “quesadilla,” she remembers that, “when I was little, my father’s friend, Doña Aida, would always make me quesadilla. I still have her recipe!”]


Rather than beginning with “who I am” (which is more like an American English way of beginning this genre), the young narrator here uses the A for “atol” to describe what she likes: “Me gusta el atol de elote bien calientito” (I like my sweet corn beverage nice and warm). In this first illustration, as she holds the bowl of atol to show young readers, Xiomara is dressed in sandals, a red skirt and blue patterned blusa, her hair neatly tied with blue cloth. Behind her is a meadow with some corn growing, and flowers, birds and butterflies circling. 


The other letters of the alphabet name and show who and what Xiomara finds meaningful: “barro” (clay, out of which her grandma makes pans and pots); “cipotes” (the neighborhood kids who join her at play), “chucho” (her dog, whose name is “Chocolate”), “dulces” (her favorite candies), El Salvador, “farolitos” (her favorite lanterns), “garrobo” (a gigantic lizard who visits her backyard); “huacales” (the large and small bowls in her house). Readers also meet her relatives and the things she enjoys eating, the delightful rain, the music in the town plaza, the Nahuat language, and all the people, places and things that encompass her life. 


For “O,” there’s a painting on Abuelita’s wall of the beloved Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero in the park, surrounded by children. Young readers will not learn here that he was an advocate for the poor who was assassinated while celebrating mass—and later, beatified—for his passionate voice against injustice. That’s a story for another time; but it’s an important part of young Xiomara’s and her family’s lives and El Salvador’s history.


Gomez’s art, done with gouche, has a rustic look, accomplished by sanding the colors down and uncovering a previous acrylic layer. What results is a bright “painting” of a small town in El Salvador and an invitation to celebrate Xiomara’s and her Indigenous family’s life, culture and neighborhood. ABC El Salvador is an extraordinary little book. 


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


—Beverly Slapin

(published 8/11/2021)


Isabel and Her Colores Go to School

author: Alexandra Alessandri

illustrator: Courtney Dawson

Sleeping Bear Press, 2021 

preschool-up

Mexican American


Young Isabel is lost and frightened. As a Spanish-speaker—an hablante whose language is made of “pinks and yellows and purples”—she’s about to begin kindergarten, where English—“with stormy blues and blizzard whites”—is the only language spoken. Her heart “pitter-pattering like a summer’s rain,” Isabel pleads with her mother not to send her, and her mother encourages her with a hug and a dicho: “Al mal tiempo, buena cara”—“To bad times, a good face.” 


As the anxious little girl enters this foreign place, her teacher welcomes her in Spanish:—“¡Bienvenidos!”—a greeting she understands. Still, in her new, mixed classroom, she struggles with this strange-sounding language; the easy communication among the children and between the children and their teacher. While she knows that, like her own language, these foreign words mean things, she doesn’t know which words mean what things. It’s all so confusing!


Over and over, Isabel misunderstands her teacher: When the children exercise and count “one, two, three,” Isabel joyfully counts “uno, dos, tres” and then realizes that the colors in her head are “crashing against each other like planets colliding in an explosion of stars.”


And when Sarah, a Black child, offers her friendship, Isabel doesn’t understand. She responds, “no entiendo,” and the miscommunication embarrasses both of them.


But things change slowly. When the teacher announces that it’s coloring time, Isabel recognizes that the word, “coloring” sounds like “colorear,” and she draws a picture of herself and Sarah together. The first Spanish word that Sarah learns is “amigas,” and the first English word for Isabel is “friends.”


And when the teacher holds up Isabel’s drawing, of the two friends, “the stormy blues and blizzard whites softened to a brilliant aguamarina—just like home.”  


Alessandri’s conversational Spanish translations, which appear both in the English narrative and on a bright box at the top or bottom of each page, are excellent. For instance, when Isabel’s mom comforts her daughter on the night before the first day of school, the English text reads:


“It’s OK to be scared.” Mama’s voice was soft and amber like a ripened mango. She gave Isabel a squishy, squashy hug.


And the Spanish reads:


“—Es normal tener miedo—dijo mami, con su voz dulce y dorado como el mango maduro. Ella le dio a Isabel un abrazo de oso. (“It’s normal to be scared,” Mommy said, her voice sweet and golden as a ripe mango. She gave Isabel a bear hug.)


Courtney Dawson’s vibrant illustrations perfectly reflect Isabel’s emotions as they transition from fear to confusion to understanding to confidence, and the colors in her head slowly change from the “stormy blues and blizzard whites” of English to join with the “pinks and yellows and purples of español.” 


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


—Beverly Slapin

(published 8/6/2012)



Papa Gave Me a Stick

author: Janice Levy

illustrator: Simone Shin

Star Bright Books, 2015

preschool-grade 3

Mexican


On the cover, a young Mexican child sits on the ground in his barrio. With his dog serving as a cushion, the child uses a stick to carve out his dream: owning a mariachi guitarra with a leather strap and fringes.


When they hear music in their courtyard, Antonio and his father run out to enjoy a performance by the local mariachi.


Papá y niño see and hear a traditional Mexican mariachi—one plays una vihuela Mexicana (a Mexican violin), another plays una trompeta (a mariachi horn), and several play their guitarras. The child is mesmerized, and tells his father that he wants a mariachi guitar. But his dad can’t afford one (“Ay, hijo, I have no money for such things”), so he gives his young son a stick instead. 


Papa Gave Me a Stick transforms a Japanese Buddhist folk tale, “the straw millionaire”—in which a poor man, starting with a single piece of straw, becomes wealthy through a series of successive trades—into a morality tale: a “give and ye shall receive” for young children.


Antonio selflessly helps a number of animals, who show their gratitude in various ways: He uses the stick his father had given him to start a fire in the comal, which warms a shivering dog, who gives him a tortilla, which he feeds to a hungry bird, who gives him a piece of string, which he uses to help a donkey with a rotten tooth, who gives the boy his blanket, which he uses to save a drowning cat, who gives him a gold ring from his collar, which Antonio gives to a young mariachi who had lost his bride’s wedding ring. And the grateful mariachi gives the boy a beautiful—guitarra! 


Simone Shin used a combination of pen and ink with acrylic paints and digital finishing, to create her spare, uncluttered illustrations. Her style, especially in the backgrounds, evokes soft colors and subtle textures. The Mexican characters are individuals, with varying skin tones and body types. The detailed mariachi instruments are right on target, and the backgrounds, many of which are white or a single muted color, leaves plenty of room for Antonio, his father, and his animal friends.


When the boy brings home his cherished prize and tells his father how he earned it, his father laughs: “All that to earn your guitarra” (which diminishes all that this child has done and the value of what he has earned). Then he divulges that, as a boy, he also earned a guitarra after his papa had given him a stick. 


If the boy’s father earned his guitarra in the same way as his son, what happened to it? (In mariachi families, the instruments are passed down. And there’s a lot of serious study with teachers and relatives and a ton of practicenot to mention fundraising and community service—before someone is recognized as a mariachi.)


Pros

Papa Gave Me a Stick is a warm story that demonstrates kindness to animals without asking anything in return. The story is soft and gentle, with a rhythmic cadence, uncluttered artwork, and an unspoken message of reciprocity. The story demonstrates a close relationship between a Mexican father and his young son.


The adobe buildings with gates at the windows, a cobblestone street, and a hanging string of papel picado in the courtyard, are reflective of small Mexican towns in which street mariachi often play.


Cons

Papa Gave Me a Stick contains multiple errors in colloquial Mexican Spanish. For instance, a mariachi band should be referred to as a “mariachi.” A mariachi singer should also be referred to as a “mariachi.” And “mariachi” should be used as both a singular and plural noun (no “s” at the end). 


In the illustration where two mariachi are playing their instruments, the “violin” should be violín, and the “horn” should be trompeta (trumpet). (The names of the five major mariachi instruments are shown in the back matter, but not as part of the story. This takes away important cultural information.)


• As Antonio accepts each gift from a particular animal, he dismisses its value: “What good is this?” What’s the point of his reacting rudely in a story that focuses on empathy and generosity?


• While everyone else is enjoying the mariachi performance, the story reads: “The mariachis [sic] sing as they strum their strings. But Antonio hardly listens. He is too busy staring at the mariachi’s guitar.” Why is Antonio portrayed as an empathetic kid who helps animals in need—and as an obsessively materialistic little boy who doesn’t even appreciate his own people’s music? Although he longs to own a mariachi guitar, he has no particular interest in becoming a mariachi. In a sense, this story objectifies both the mariachi culture and its material aspects.


• Another problem is that the Spanish words and phrases appearing in the story are italicized. Why are they italicized? And they’re immediately translated into English, even in dialogue. Like this: “ ‘¡Qué bueno! Good for you!’ Papa laughs.” Bilingual people do not talk like this—unless they’re kindergarten teachers of English as a Second Language (ESL).


• And finally, except for the bride, who “stands alone at the altar, (stereotypically) scowling and tapping her foot” because her novio misplaced the wedding ring, why is just about everyone else (including the animals) male?


The author’s intended audience is clearly not Mexican or Chicano kids. Rather, she apparently envisioned and wrote this story to appeal to a “universal” child audience, which dismisses those young people who want and need books that speak to them.


Papa Gave Me a Stick is not recommended.


—Beverly Slapin

(published 7/31/2021)


[Random note: The second creature young Antonio helps appears to be a male bluebird (el pájaro). “ ‘¡Qué hambre! I am so hungry!’ chirps el pájaro. ‘I am too weak to build my nest.’ ” (Actually, male and female bluebirds gather material and build the nest, but the male generally does more gathering and the female generally does most of the work.) Bluebirds eat insects, and will eat fruit if they can’t find any insects. But tortillas? No.]


Rata-pata-scata-fata: A Caribbean Story

author: Phillis Greshator
illustrator: Holly Meade 

Star Bright Books (1994, 2005)

African-Caribbean, preschool-grade 3


Rata-pata-scata-fata was originally published in 1994 and re-released in 2005, ten years before the advent of the #OwnVoices movement, which began on Twitter in 2015. #OwnVoices is a campaign advocating for the rights of authors and illustrators to tell their own stories aligned with their identities. #OwnVoices asks the questions: Whose voices are being written and illustrated? Whose voices are being published? Whose voices are being promoted? Whose voices are being heard?


#OwnVoices was not the first such movement. Since 1994, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has collected and documented books for children and teens by and about Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). Each year, CCBC releases a list of “Diversity Statistics,” a helpful guide for educators, publishers, and others in the field.


All of this doesn’t mean that every single published children’s book used in libraries and classrooms is required to have the #OwnVoices and CCBC imprimaturs. But it helps. It is within this context that Phillis Greshator and Holly Meade’s picture book, Rata pata scata fata: A Caribbean Story is reviewed.


Illustrator Holly Meade’s brightly colored torn-paper collages, with white borders surrounding the characters, trees, foliage, and land areas, are gorgeous. Entirely double-page spreads convey the expanse of the tropical Caribbean land and leave plenty of room for the characters as well. Young Junjun and his mother are close, and realistically portrayed. She is warm and loving and very, very busy. He is active and likes to play. They are part of the land and the land is part of them.


It’s the story that is problematic. Junjun’s mother wakes him and asks him to do a few chores while she does the laundry. Instead, he stays home, leans against a tree, and chants, “rata-pata-scata-fata”—while wishing for the chores to get done by themselves. They do: A fish flops out of a fisherman’s basket and into Junjun’s arms. The family goat returns home. A big wind fills Junjun’s basket with tamarinds. And each time, Junjun lies to his mother. Finally, when his mom asks Junjun to fetch some water from the well, he convinces her to chant “rata-pata-scata-fata”—and rain fills the empty rain barrel. The chores have done themselves and all is well.


Here’s what young readers might well take away from this story:


African-Caribbean people are lazy.

African-Caribbean people—children and adults—are superstitious. 

African-Caribbean people are magical.

African-Caribbean children get away with lying to their parents.


Imagine a teacher’s reading Rata pata scata fata aloud in a mixed classroom. How might white students in this classroom react? Might they laugh and applaud—while the stereotypes of Black children and their families become embedded in their psyches? How might Black children in this classroom react? Might they laugh and applaud like everyone else—or might they slump in their chairs, embarrassed? In any event, yet another micro-aggression will have been launched at them and the psychic damage will eventually take its toll.


Despite Holly Meade’s gorgeous artwork, Rata pata scata fata is not recommended. 


—Beverly Slapin

(published 7/28/2012)


Thank you to my friend and colleague (not to mention dedicated librarian) Betsy Bird.

21 Cousins // 21 Primos


author: Diane de Anda

illustrator: Isabel Muñoz

Star Bright Books, 2021

Mexican, Mestizo

grades: preschool-up


Against a brightly colored background of blue sky, growing greens, and festive papel picado, the 21 cousins—with 21 hair textures, styles and colors; and 21 complexion tones ranging from chocolate to café con leche—sit, stand, wave, laugh, and make funny faces for the cover shoot. 


On the frontispiece, the young narrators—grade-schoolers Alejandro and Sofia—stand on a stairwell, talking with each other. They’re about to introduce readers to each of their 21 cousins. Young readers will see that this book is, in effect, a “photo” album, with one page for each member of this diverse, loving family. 


The first spread, which contains black-and-white wedding photos—of Abuelo Pedro and Abuela María in 1953; Abuelo Juan and Abuela Marta; and tías Rosa María and Juanita as teenagers—are together a testament to the family’s mestizaje. As with all mixed families, relatives “look different in many ways.”


Alejandro and Sofía invite young readers to meet their “primos and primas.” Some of them: Cousin Enrique (“Kiki”) is a football player who has “long, strong legs.” Cousin Elena, whose nickname is “Guera” (“Whitey”) because she is light-complected, wants to teach in English and Spanish. Twins Tony (who plays soccer) and Tonia (who plays basketball) are tall. Young Teresa, who’s called “Morena” because she has “milk-chocolate skin,” likes to jump rope. Baby Miguel has no hair yet, so his nickname is “Pelón (“Baldy”). Martina (“Teenie”) is a gymnast.


Some adult readers from outside the culture may find offense at some of the nicknames the relatives give each other. Don’t. Loving teasing among close friends and relatives is indigenous to Mexican culture and to other cultures as well.


Lesser authors would have called undue attention to some of the relatives for their disabilities or differences. Diane de Anda doesn’t. Rather, she sometimes mentions a disability as one element of a child’s life, and then lets it go. For instance:


Eight-year-old Beto “goes to a special class in school. He has Down syndrome. Sometimes he needs our help to do things.” Alejandro and Sofía make sure that readers also know that Beto has fun playing games with them and sharing their favorite flavor of ice cream, dulce de leche. Another page shows Maricela, who “can spell words in Spanish and English” and “won the third-grade spelling bee.” That Maricela uses a wheelchair is shown but not even mentioned. Rather, everyone “cheered when she rolled up the ramp to get her trophy.” 


In the final spread at the end of Alejandro and Sofía’s introduction to each family member, the two pose for a family portrait—in which they welcome cousin number 22, Baby Christina. 


Using a bright spectrum of colors, soft strokes, and a lot of background detail, Isabel Muñoz created her vibrant, expressive artwork on a digitally manipulated “canvas.”  


Writing and illustrating a children’s picture book that describes the lives of 21 individuals in a family—and holds the attention and imagination of very young children—is no easy task. But Diane de Anda and Isabel Muñoz have pulled it off, seemingly effortlessly.


Diane de Anda’s outstanding writing and Isabel Muñoz’s gorgeous artwork give new meaning to the term, “We are all related.” 


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



—Beverly Slapin

(published 7/27/2021)

Alicia's Happy Day / El Día Más Feliz de Alicia

author: Meg Starr

illustrator: Ying-hwa Hu

illustrator: Cornelius Van Wright

translator: María Fiol

Star Bright Books, 2002 

Puerto Rican


In this bilingual edition of Alicia’s Happy Day (translated as Alicia’s Happiest Day)the Spanish is an excellent reimagining of the English with rich cultural details throughout. Here, the translator is instrumental in transforming the story, assigning the child protagonist a measure of autonomy absent in the English-only version and the English text here. 

Alicia is a strong, self-sufficient young girl, a Puertorriqueña who lives with her family in the large Puerto Rican barrio in East Harlem. Today is her birthday, and her family, friends and community bless her. They wish for her all good things, large and small. Among them:


Que todas las banderas ondeen en tu honor (“May all the flags wave in your honor”)

Que las palomas se inclinen para saludarte (“May the doves bow to greet you”) 


Que rías con todas tus ganas sin que nadie te interrumpa…(“May you laugh deep and rich with no one getting in your way…”)


Without going into overtly descriptive details, all of these good wishes bring life to the story, and it’s Ying-hwa Hu’s and Cornelius Van Wright’s gentle illustrative work in soft, realistic watercolors that defines Alicia, her family and her barrio. They portray a warm Puerto Rican community where everyone knows everyone, and the doves and squirrels in the park (in their own languages) bless Alicia on her happiest day. 


María Fiol’s excellent Spanish translation is a great improvement on the original English text, which was left unchanged. For instance, every sentence in Spanish (except for the first one in the story) begins with “que,” in this context a blessing that expresses a wish or hope. After the first few pages, the Spanish text maintains this warm, hopeful feeling, and the sometimes weak English (although the hope is understood) switches from hope to fact. For example, returning to the doves: (Que las palomas se inclinen para saludarte), the English text reads, “And pigeons bow shiny necks to you.”


Throughout this story, the Spanish implies: May you see a shooting star. May you have an extra scoop on your ice cream cone. May you be blessed.


At the time Alicia’s Happy Day was first published (2002), it represented a move towards more diverse publishing. In this bilingual edition, Alicia’s Happy Day / El Día Más Feliz de Alicia (translation: Alicia’s Happiest Day) is a better story for the Spanish.


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


—Beverly Slapin 

(published 7/23/2021)


I Love You, Baby Burrito

author: Angela Dominguez

illustrator: Angela Dominguez

publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2021

preschool-up (Mexican American)


On the cover, a tightly-swaddled infant, fists slightly emerging, is fast asleep in an oval cradle—resembling a “baby burrito” in a basket.


Next to a birdhouse in the crook of a tree, a protective mamá and papá robin greet their newly hatched nestlings; while inside their home, a mixed couple celebrate the swaddling of their new café-con-leche infant. 


Dominguez’s artwork—using a gentle, pastel palette of watercolor paint and colored pencil combined with digital imaging—lovingly portrays the first few hours in the lives of the young couple together with their beyond adorable bebé.


Throughout, one of the dominant colors is a soft green, which readers will see on the cover and the infant’s cap and blanket, and a toy llama. While most of the English text is set in black type, each larger bolded word and phrase in Spanish, appearing together with an illustration—is highlighted in the same, gentle green, and merges with the other design elements.


As the new parents speculate on their baby’s face, fingers, and toes, Dominguez deftly conveys the meanings of the Spanish words and phrases by her illustrations—“This is your delightful carita, which I think looks a little bit like mine. And these are your precious manitas and deditos…that I could gobble up”—and there’s also a helpful Spanish-English glossary and pronunciation guide on the final pages. 


As their baby awakes and begins to signal distress, one of the parents asks:


Speaking of . . . 

Are you hungry? 

¿Tienes hambre?


I Love You, Baby Burrito is a serene and tranquil portrait of a loving family welcoming their new addition.


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


—Beverly Slapin

(published 7/18/2021)

Little Polar Bear: Where Are You Going, Lars? / El Osito Polar: ¿Adónde vas, Lars?

author: Hans De Bee
illustrator: Hans De Beer

translator (English): Dr. Kristy Koth

translator (Spanish) Beatriz Bernabé

NorthSouth Books, 2020; ages 8-up


This first book in the classic “Little Polar Bear” series by Hans de Beer was published in Switzerland in 1987 under the title, Kleiner Elsbär—Wohin Fährst du, Lars? In 2020, NorthSouth Books, in association with Edition bi:libri, co-published this story in ten bilingual editions. The bilingual (English-Spanish) version is reviewed here. 


After learning from his father the things that a young polar bear needs to know, young Lars and his dad build their snow piles and settle down to sleep. But when Lars wakes up, his dad is gone and he is all alone with his little snow pile, stranded on an ice floe in the middle of the ocean.


Lost and frantic, Lars encounters a friendly hippo, who takes him across the river; a helpful eagle, who escorts him to the bay; and a generous whale, who navigates him home to his family. 


The Spanish translation is excellent. When Lars meets the hippo, for instance, “a huge animal emerges in front of him,” and Lars runs away. “Wait, wait! I’m just teasing you!” yells the big animal. The idiomatic Spanish—“¡Espera, espera!¡Sólo te estaba tomando el pelo!”—translates literally as “Wait! Wait! I’m just taking your hair!”


The author’s beautiful illustrations—in what appear to be pen-and-ink and mostly pastel-hued watercolors—complement this warm story of a bear cub in a cold environment.  


Unfortunately, in centering the little bear’s whiteness—making whiteness thematic—the story dives into precarious waters. While, of course, it’s appropriate to describe a polar bear as white, and ice as white, there is this: 


  • The hippo asks him: Why are you so white?
  • And he answers: Where I come from, everything is white!
  • When Lars and his eagle-friend stray into Africa (a racially and ethnically mixed continent) the eagle appears to signify: Well, well, a polar bear in Africa! You’re a long way from home…
  • When Lars arrives home and tells his father about his adventures, his father asks, And no one there was white? Not anyone?


Used with caution, and possibly as an instrument for discussion with older readers, Little Polar Bear / El Osito Polar is recommended.


—Beverly Slapin

(published 7/16/2021)



The Rainbow Fish / El Pez Arcoíris

 

author: Marcus Pfister

illustrator: Marcus Pfister

translator (English): Dr. Kristy Koth

translator (Spanish): Dr. Olga Balboa Sánchez

North / South Books, 2019, preschool-up


In 1992, Marcus Pfister wrote, illustrated, and published Der Regenbogenfisch in Switzerland. In 2019, Dr. Kristy Koth translated the story into English (The Rainbow Fish); and Dr. Olga Balboa Sánchez set it into Spanish (El pez arcoíris). This English / Spanish bilingual story is the product of these talents. 


On the cover is a fish—“the most beautiful fish in the ocean”—whose textured scales literally sparkle in all the colors of the rainbow. As the story begins, the other fish invite him to play, but he ignores them because he’s way too busy showing off his sparkling scales. When a little blue fish asks him for one of his beautiful scales, he refuses to share. This guy—let’s call him “Rainbow”—is so full of himself that the other fish decide they no longer want anything to do with him—and he becomes “the loneliest fish in the whole ocean.” 


On the advice of a helpful starfish-therapist, our sparkly-but-egotistical Rainbow consults the ocean’s resident wise Octopus, who suggests that Rainbow give each fish one of his scales—so he could trade, as it were, beauty for friendship and happiness. This is a majorly difficult choice for Rainbow. 


But once he starts giving away his sparkly scales—the first one to the little blue fish who had previously asked him for one and whom he had rebuffed—Rainbow changes. He begins to feel happier with each gift and he begins to know what it is to have friends—“The more sparkly the water became, the more he enjoyed being among the fish.” In the end, Rainbow has only one glitter-scale left, and each of the fishes has one as well. And the entire ocean sparkles.


Pfister’s ink and watercolor art on a blue, green and sometimes purplish “ocean” background enhances Rainbow’s colorful metallic glitter scales; and as Rainbow distributes his sparkly scales to the other ocean denizens—leaving only one for himself—he realizes what it is to be happy, and goes off to join them in play. Two particular favorites are the illustrations in which Rainbow gives one of his sparkles to the excited and happy little blue fish, and another in which all the fish—each with one sparkly scale and a fishy grin—swim around Rainbow.


Rather than producing an exact Spanish translation, Dr. Olga Balboa Sánchez’s use of conversational Spanish demonstrates her own storytelling talent. For instance, where the English reads, “But he wasn’t a normal fish, no!” the Spanish reads, “¡Pero no era un pez cualquiera, no!” (“But he wasn’t just any fish, no!”) And when Rainbow ignores his friends, gliding past them, “silent and proud, letting his scales glitter,” the Spanish reads, “Pero el pez Arcoíris siempre se deslizaba callado yorgulloso a su lado mostrando sus escamas brillantes” (“But the Rainbow fish always glided quietly and proudly by their side showing his shiny scales.”)


Young readers and listeners will particularly enjoy Rainbow’s textured sparkly scales on the cover. 


With shimmery holographic art providing the textured fishy sparkles, The Rainbow Fish / El Pez Arcoíris is a delightful story that encourages young children to experience the joy of sharing.  


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


—Beverly Slapin

(published 7/14/2021)