Saludos, todos! Welcome to our last book review of the year. This week I will be reviewing Feliz Navidad, written by José Feliciano and illustrated by David Diaz, to wrap up this month’s holiday themes. This book is written in both Spanish and English and is best for ages 3-7. However, with a sing-song rhythm and dramatic illustrations, it could brighten any home or classroom.
The book begins with a two-page introduction describing the Puerto Rican holiday tradition of parranda. Parranda is a yuletide tradition where carolers, or parranderos, go from house to house singing classic holiday songs called aguinaldos. The first neighbor to receive a visit invites the carolers in for singing, dancing, and food. From there, the party of carolers grows and the group continues to other houses in the neighborhood. At the final house, there is a big party where everyone gets together to celebrate family, friends, and the holiday season. According to the book’s introduction, “This feast unites families, friends, and neighbors for a magical celebration during the Christmas season.” For those of you who read last week’s book review, the tradition of parranda may remind you a bit of las posadas, a Mexican tradition where a group of people go from house to house asking for food and warmth in a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. Parranda, however, is a unique Christmas tradition celebrated on the tropical island of Puerto Rico, as well as other Caribbean islands, such as Cuba.
The final celebration during parranda usually takes place outside in a “huge outdoor cookout.” This kind of celebration is dependent upon the tropical climate of Puerto Rico, as most North-American states would be too cold to have an outdoor Christmas celebration. While many North-American cultures and communities identify the Christmas season with piles of snow, frightful weather, and a warm cup of hot coco, tropical cultures inevitably have very different climatic associations with the holiday. This theme of environmental differences resonates throughout the book. The first half of the illustrations depict Puerto-Rican Christmas scenes, with warm weather and outdoor celebrations, whereas the second half of the illustrations depict a Northern climate with mounds of snow visible through the window of a warm, welcoming home. As the introduction states, “From winter wonderlands to warm tropical climates, people from every background celebrate the joy and beauty of Christmas.” Diaz’s beautiful illustrations show palm trees, clear skies, and a big, smiling sun, transitioning into piping hot mugs, snowy landscapes, and bundled-up families.
The book’s introduction continues with details about the parranda traditions, and emphasizes the power of giving and kindness associated with the Christmas season: “the real miracle of Christmas is in the power of giving and in the wonderful connections people make with each other around this enchanting holiday.” The following pages of the book show the words of Jose Feliciano’s “bilingual pop-music carol” in celebration of the joy and unison brought upon by music and song. As the carolers, or parranderos, spread holiday cheer from house to house during parranda, Feliciano’s book aims at spreading cheer to its readers and their families during the holiday season.
As Kirkus Reviews states, “Diaz’s bold, colorful pages create a celebratory rhythm and invite readers to contemplate the similarities and differences in the two settings. The implied stories and the numerous Christmas symbols provide much to discuss, and may well inspire readers to engage in celebrations of their own.” Indeed, the illustrations are rife with symbols, colors, and designs—a rich visual narration to accompany the sing-song lyrics. This book presents a unique form of story-telling as it focuses primarily on modes of art and music, rather than narrative text, which could surely inspire a lesson on non-traditional forms of narration. This could also transition into a multicultural lesson on the ways in which various cultures communicate and express themselves differently. In addition, a classroom reading of this book could always evolve into a fun, holiday dance party before school lets out!
On that note, I will leave you here with some additional links on lesson plans as well as a YouTube video of Jose Feliciano performing this lively tune:
- Video of Jose Feliciano performing Feliz Navidad, with lyrics
- Lesson plans on Christmas around the world
You can also check out Charla’s World Wide Web post on holiday music, Rhythm Brings the Holidays to Life.
Happy holidays to all, and we will see you again in the New Year!
Images modified from Feliz Navidad pg. 3, 8, 10, 14