¡Mira Look!: Martina the Beautiful Cockroach

Image result for martina the beautiful cockroachSaludos todos! This week we are concluding our monthly theme of love with Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, an adaptation of an old Cuban folktale, written by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Michael Austin. This book won recognition as a Pura Belpré Honor Book. According to the introduction of the book, this folktale is one of the best known in Latin America, but versions of this classic tale also exist in other regions of the world. Nonetheless, Deedy takes this traditional tale, and its familiar themes, and intertwines it with her own creative twists and childhood memories. This in itself is one of the beautiful things about traditional folktales—their themes and plots have become so familiar to most people that they can be retold and adapted across countries, cultures and individual experiences to reflect both common sentiments of society, and the particular lives of individuals. Martina the Beautiful Cockroach deals primarily with themes of romantic love, but also of familial love, as young Martina relies on the advice of her wise abuela in choosing a future spouse. This charming story conveys themes of respect, compatibility, and family love, and is bound to make any reader smile as they follow the journey of Martina the beautiful cockroach.

martina-1 martina-2The story begins with a scene of the young Martina with her family inside their lamp post home. The warm hues of the illustrations evoke feelings of comfort and good company, while also accentuating witty details, such as a sofa made of a can of beans, a staircase made of books, and a stamp as a wall-hanging portrait. Martina has just turned 21 years old, and her family thinks that it is now time for her to find a husband. Her wise abuela tells her to go up to the balcony to await her suitors. Since Martina is stunningly beautiful, the entire town is abuzz with talk about marrying her: “Soon all Havana—from the busy sidewalks of El Prado to El Morro castle—was abuzz with the news.” However, her abuela also tells her to use the famous “coffee test” to pick the right suitor. When a suitor comes to speak to her, Martina must “accidentally” spill coffee on their shoes, and watch how they react. Based on their reaction, she will see how they will act towards her when they are angry. If they lose their temper and act disrespectfully, then they are not the right suitor. Although Martina is skeptical of her abuela’s eccentric advice, she follows it nonetheless.

martina-3 martina-4The first to come speak to Martina is Don Gallo, the rooster. The rooster has “splendid shoes,” and exclaims, “Caramba! You really are a beautiful cockroach. I will look even more fabulous with you on my wings!” But when Martina “accidently” spills coffee on his shoes, he erupts in a fury, insulting her and her “clumsiness”: “Clumsy cockroach! I will teach you better manners when you are my wife!” Alas, Don Gallo has failed the coffee test. Martina tells him cooly, “A most humble offer, senor, but I cannot accept. You are much too cocky for me.” These little play on words continue throughout the story, adding a layer of humor to an already charming and endearing story. While portraying the all-too-human sensations of searching for love and finding love, this story also self-consciously highlights the witty absurdity of the anthropomorphized characters: “Daintily, she sat down/ and crossed her legs,/ and crossed her legs,/ and crossed her legs.” As one suitor comes after the next, Martina grows more and more appreciative of her abuela’s unique advice.   Many of her suitors do not react kindly to having coffee spilt on their shoes, and this little experiment enables her to see each suitor’s true colors.

martina-5Finally, Martina spots a cute little mouse who’s been waiting in the bushes below the whole time. Martina, instantly drawn to him, goes to speak to him, but not before her abuela brusquely reminds her, “Don’t forget the coffee!” The little mouse blushes while speaking to Martina and tells her that although she is very beautiful, his eyes are not very good; his ears, however, are very sharp and he knows that she is “strong and good”: “Then he squinted sweetly. ‘Who cares if you are beautiful?’” Although this old folktale relies on old traditions of courting suitors, the values that it conveys—mutual respect, kindness, and a focus on internal values rather than external appearances—are timeless and remain important for any couple to this day. Although Martina is reluctant to try the coffee test this time, she does as her abuela says. Just as she is about to spill the coffee on the mouse’s shoes, though, he surprises her by doing something none of the other suitors have done. So as not to ruin the ending, which is my favorite part of the story, I will leave it at that. But in the end, Martina ends up falling in love with the most unassuming suitor, while also realizing how important her Cuban roots and family traditions really are.

For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned for an introduction to our March themes and for more great reads!

Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images modified from: Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, pages 3, 7, 9, 11, 18

¡Mira Look!: Under the Lemon Moon

Image result for under the lemon moonSaludos todos! This week we are continuing our monthly theme of love with an especially heart-warming book, Under the Lemon Moon, written by Edith Hope Fine and illustrated by Rene King Moreno.  This lovely story specifically focuses on themes of forgiveness, generosity and personal growth, expanding our theme of love to include other feelings, values, and personal goals.

This book takes place in the Mexican countryside and the English narration is interspersed with Spanish vocabulary words. Fine has provided an index at the beginning of the book to help non-Spanish speaking readers puzzle through the Spanish interjections.  Not only will students learn lessons on patience, forgiveness, and compassion, but they‘ll also get exposure to new vocabulary, while practicing using an index as a tool for comprehension.

lemon-1The story starts by introducing the female protagonist, Rosalinda, who has started to grow her very own lemon tree in the backyard. One night she hears something rustling outside.  When she goes with her pet hen, Blanca, to investigate, she sees a “man with hunched shoulders” picking all the lemons off her tree and stuffing them into a sack before scurrying away into the night. Rosalinda is furious: “Her lemons. From her tree.” As Rosalinda is learning to take care of her plants and her pets, reinforcing feelings of pride, care and responsibility, her sense of possession also starts to get the best of her.  In portraying this delicate balance, Fine shows how important it is for children to have things that they can take care of on their own, that they can be proud of and responsible for, while also showing how this is in itself a learning experience and an opportunity for growth: Rosalinda asks herself, “Who is the Night Man? Why does he take my lemons?”

lemon-2The next morning Rosalinda finds that not a single lemon is left on her tree. The branches are bare and the leaves have a yellow, sickly tinge to them: “Rosalinda crooned a sad song as Blanca brawked along. She loved her lemon tree almost as much as she loved Bianca.” As the week goes by Rosalinda notices that the leaves on her precious lemon tree are turning more yellow, and starting to fall off, and she begins to worry that the tree is dying. When she goes to her parents for comfort they suggest that maybe a friend or a neighbor could help, or her dear abuela. Rosalinda’s parents are kind and compassionate and try their best to soothe her worries, while also encouraging her to find a creative solution on her own.Throughout the story, Rosalinda’s agency and independence are consistently reinforced: “Rosalinda set out.” Ultimately, the story culminates in Rosalinda resolving her own predicament in a way that is both gratifying for herself and compassionate towards others.

lemon-3As Rosalinda talks to various people in her neighborhood they each give her tips on how to care for a tree, watering it and even talking to it to make it feel better. But Rosalinda has already done all of these things and nothing has worked. Rosalinda takes good care of her plants and has already tried everything that she can think of. Finally, though, she goes to speak to her wise abuelita. Her abuela tells her that she’ll light a candle for her tree, something Rosalinda has not tried yet, and that maybe the candle will summon La Anciana, a wise old spirit known for making things grow. Abuela “eased the worries from Rosalinda’s forehead with her warm palm,” and proceeds to lovingly tell her the legend of La Anciana. Little does Rosalinda know, as she awaits La Anciana and her powers to make her tree grow, she also awaits her wise words and her powers to make her, Rosalinda, grow and mature.

lemon-4As Rosalinda makes her way back home she stops by the local market. As she walks by all of the stands she notices the Night Man. He’s sitting in front of a stand selling lemons, her lemons! Just as Rosalinda begins shivering with rage and fear, La Anciana appears, “her wrinkles deep, her eyes gentle.”  After listening to Rosalinda’s predicament, La Anciana agrees, “to take your lemons was wrong,” but then adds, “Perhaps he had a need.” Indeed, when Rosalinda goes back to the market the next day she notices that the Night Man’s hands are rough and hardened by tough work, and his family beside him looks hungry and disheveled.

Before leaving, La Anciana tells Rosalinda how to cure her tree, and, after following her instructions, Rosalinda wakes up the next day to find her tree overflowing with big, juicy lemons. She loads them up in a crate and takes them to the market, generously handing them out to everyone she sees, her neighbors, her friends, and even complete strangers. Finally, she stops by the Night Man’s stand. Rosalinda hands him her last lemon. She tells the night man to “siembra las semillas,” or “plant the seeds,” so that he can grow a lemon tree of his own. The Night Man thanks her and when Rosalinda leaves, her feelings of anger and worry from a week prior are now replaced by feelings of love and joy: “Rosalinda felt content, too. Except for one fat hen, Rosalinda’s cart was empty, but her heart was as full as a lemon moon.”

lemon-5This beautiful story shows readers the power of forgiveness and generosity, and how sometimes, by taking care of others, we ultimately take care of ourselves. With Moreno’s stunning illustrations, this book exudes a calming tone that encourages readers and young children to reflect upon their feelings and the feelings of others. Moreno’s illustrations have also appeared on our blog before with my book review of Uncle Monarch and the Day of the Dead, which is also a lovely, calming story about the flourishing wisdom of young children. In Under the Lemon Moon, the protagonist embarks on a journey of personal growth and maturity that ultimately teaches her to care not only for her own plants and pets, but also for her neighbors and for the people around her. In the end, the best way to feel as round and full as a lemon moon or a shimmering lemon tree is to spread kindness and generosity to the people around us.

For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned for more great books!

Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images Modified from Under the Lemon Moon: Pages 9, 14, 17, 21 and 26

Our Next Good Read: Dancing in the Rain

Join us March 13 at Tractor Brewing (1800 4th Street NW) from 5:00-7:00 pm to discuss our next book.  We are reading Dancing in the Rain by Lynn Joseph.

Here’s a sneak peek into the book from Goodreads:

Twelve year-old Elizabeth is no normal girl. With an imagination that makes room for mermaids and magic in everyday life, she lives every moment to the fullest. Yet her joyful world crumbles around her when two planes bring down the Twin Towers and tear her family apart. Thousands of miles away, yet still touched by this tragedy, Elizabeth is swimming in a sea of loss. She finally finds hope when she meets her kindred spirit in 8 year-old Brandt and his 13 year-old brother, Jared.

Brandt and Jared, two boys as different as Oreo and milk and just as inseparable, arrive on the island to escape the mushroom of sorrow that bloomed above their lives in the wake of the tragedy. Elizabeth shows them a new way to look at the world and they help her to laugh again. But can Elizabeth and Brandt help their families see that when life brings showers of sadness, it’s okay to dance in the rain?

Set against the dazzling beauty of the Dominican Republic, Dancing in the Rain explores the impact of the tragic fall of the Twin Towers on two Caribbean families. It is a lyrical, well-crafted tale about finding joy in the face of loss.

Dancing in the Rain won a Burt Award for Caribbean Literature (2015) prize.

Be sure to get entered in our drawing for a free copy of the book!! All you have to do is comment on any blog post by March 6!

We’ll also be raffling off a copy of April’s featured book, The Head of the SaintJoin us that evening to be entered!

We hope to see you on March 13!

¡Mira Look!: Haiti My Country

Image result for haiti my countrySaludos todos! This week I will be reviewing Haiti My Country, a collection of poems written by a variety of Haitian school children, illustrated by Rogé and translated from the French by Solange Messier. As we continue with our February theme of love, including love of self, love of community, and love of others, to name a few, this book resonates primarily with themes of love of country and love of nature. Through each individual and unique poem, these children express pride in their country, adoration for its natural beauty, and, ultimately, the love that they have for themselves and for their own particular identities.

haiti-1This book on Haiti also harkens us back to my February posts from last year, where I used Black History Month as an opportunity to focus my book reviews for the month on books about Haiti, a country that is sometimes overlooked in our studies of Latin America. Of course, Afro-Latino culture and populations are prominent in all countries of Latin America, however Haiti’s history and society stands apart, as the majority of the population is made up of Afro-descendents, and it was the first country in the Americas to lead a successful slave rebellion. Some of my posts from last year include, Sélavi / That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope, Eight Days, A Story of Haiti, Running the Road to ABC, and Children of Yayoute. You may also be interested in Keira’s post on Resources to Teach about Haiti and Afro-Caribbean Cultures, or  Charla‘s post on Teaching about Haiti with Love. While Haiti My Country fits in with out general theme of love for this month, it also helps us remember and link back to some great resources and teaching plans from last year.

haiti-5The introduction of Haiti My Country, written by Dany Laferrière, provides some geographical and historical context for this collection of poems:

After the ongoing deforestation of the last few decades came a succession of cyclones, deadly floods, and then the horrific earthquake. I should clarify that these poems were written before the earthquake of January 12, 2010. What’s more, the region where these young poets live has been largely unaffected by the calamities that I have just mentioned. The natural landscapes that surround these teenagers inspire such dreams that visitors are often surprised they originated in Haiti.

haiti-2Laferrière notes that when he reads novels he can usually discern the age of the author based on a variety of cultural and historical context clues; however, with poetry it is different. He remarks that one of the enchanting and even mysterious aspects of these poems is that the poets themselves are so young, yet their words evoke such wisdom.

haiti-3One of the things that I find especially beautiful about this book is Rogé’s stunning, detailed, and humanistic portraits. Each portrait is presented on the adjacent page of the poem, depicting the poem’s author. The children are smiling, and resting their faces in an expression of serenity and tranquility; however, sometimes their expressions bear a degree of mystery, a complacent smile that hides a deeper truth: “The illustrator (I say illustrator and not painter because these portraits force us to think rather than to look) seems to be trying to resolve a deep mystery behind the faces that are suddenly unreadable.” According to Lafereire, one of the most poignant aspects of this book is the combination of the magical scenes painted by the children’s poetry, and the portraits of their calm, tranquil faces, coupled with the unavoidable context of poverty and devastation that has plagued Haiti for years.  He explains, “Such energy inhabits these adolescents! It overflows and consoles us, even as unfathomable sadness invades our hearts. Their vitality is irresistible. But as heavenly as the setting is, it does not distract them from the human condition.”

haiti-4Nonetheless, Laferrière also notes that these stunning portraits help paint a more holistic image of Haiti, the natural beauty of the country, articulated through the poems, and the endearing faces of its children, the faces of hope and the future. Again, what is so compelling about this collection is what is said and what is not said, the sweet smile on the face of a Haitian adolescent, and the tinge of sadness in her deep, dark eyes. This poignant duality is felt in a poem by Annie Hum: “Magnificent country becomes/ Broken land/ All smiles are lost.”  Yet these poems are also imbued with inspiring hope and faith in the future, in the future that these children will bring: “Everything is born, everything lives, everything perishes./ But this country, her exceptional natural beauty–/ I want her to live forever.” Another poem, shown beside the portrait of a somber looking boy starts with “I dream” and concludes with “I do not want to see these things in dreams/ But in reality…”  That poem alone is reason enough to use the book in the classroom–what a wonderful writing prompt that line could be!

For those of you interested in learning more about contemporary Haiti, here are some additional links:

For those of you interested in learning more about the book’s artist, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned for more great books!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice

Save

Save

Save

¡Mira Look!: My Tata’s Remedies/ Los remedies de mi tata

my tata's remediesSaludos todos! This week we are kicking off our February themes of love, including romantic love, love of self, love of community, and love of country by featuring My Tata’s Remedies/ Los remedios de mi tata. This wonderful story emphasizes themes of love through community and family support, but also of self love and care by showcasing various natural remedies that have been passed on through various generations of a young boy’s family. Aside from this unique and engaging narrative, My Tata’s Remedies/ Los remedios de mi tata also won the 2016 Pura Belpre Honor Book for Illustration. This bilingual story, written by Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford and illustrated by Antonio Castro, is a sequel to its precursor, My Nana’s Remedies/Los Remedios De Mi Nana, now narrating the herbal remedies and natural medicinal recipes of the young protagonist’s grandfather rather than his grandmother. This informative tale is best for ages 4-11, though its abundant, non-fictional information may also be interesting for older readers.

tata 1My Tata’s Remedies/ Los remedios de mi tata reinforces the importance in respecting, admiring and preserving cultural heritage within a community or a family, but also of sharing and communicating that cultural heritage with others through acts of care and kindness. As the young, male protagonist learns of all the things his Tata can do with healing herbs, and the integral part that he plays in the community, he witnesses firsthand the power of tradition. Likewise, with the scientifically-correct illustrations of herbs and realistic recipes for healing, the book itself plays a role in passing on these old traditions to its readers. Overall, however, this story shows how the knowledge of one person can heal the aches and ailments of an entire community.

tata 2At the back of the book Rivera-Ashford includes three whole pages of plant encyclopedia, which was prepared by “Armando Gonzalez-Stuart, Ph.D. Professor of Herbal Medicine, El Paso Community College.” Each plant is show with its drawing, its scientific name, and a brief, yet highly informational description of its characteristics, where it’s found, and what it is used for. These descriptions also relate back to the story for context: “Creosote Bush. Tata used the branches to make a wash for Justin’s feet, to help against itching and ‘stinky feet.’ This plant has natural chemicals that can fight the fungus that causes athlete’s foot and other infections like ringworm, for example.”

tata 3Furthermore, these encyclopedia-like entries, like with the rest of the narration, are bilingual, including a full Spanish translation after each one, emphasizing the bicultural heritage of many Southwestern communities, and their traditional, natural remedies. The dual-language nature of the story and the encyclopedia entries also emphasizes one of the main themes of this story: communication. To ensure that this knowledge is passed on throughout the generations, they must be taught and told to others, in English or in Spanish.

tata 4On nearly each page of the story, a different community member or character comes to visit Tata and ask for his help with a variety of ailments. Not only is the reader (and Tata’s grandson) exposed to a variety of ailments and resources for curing them, but also to many different community portraits. Each person has a different background, a different story, and a different reason for seeking Tata’s help. Castro’s paintings expertly depict these portraits with realistic expressions, emotive shading and convincing detail.

tata 5In a review of My Tata’s Remedies/ Los remedies de mi tata, Goodreads comments upon Castro’s life and work: “Antonio Castro L. is nationally recognized for his illustrations of books by Joe Hayes. Teaming up with his son, book designer Antonio Castro H., he uses his exacting illustrative skills to bring to life this story of family and plants. Born in Zacatecas, Mexico, Antonio has lived in the Juarez–El Paso area for most of his life.” The stunning illustrations, which won this book the Pura Belpre award for illustration, compliment the narration’s reliance on non-fictional information by contributing highly realistic human portraits, and scientifically precise plant illustrations. The illustrations are nearly as detailed as the text and draw readers into the realistic community of the protagonist, his Tata and their ailing neighbors. The non-fictional aspect of both the narration and the illustrations further enables readers to think about their own familial or cultural traditions and how they can make more of an effort to learn about them. Finally the detailed portraits of all the community members humanize the various characters, reminding readers of why they love all of their own neighbors and their differences.

For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional links:

Stay tuned for more Pura Belpre awardee books!

Alice


Images modified from My Tata’s Remedies/ Los remedies de mi tata: Pages 7, 9, 13, 16, 17

¡Mira Look!: Moví la mano/ I Moved my Hand

movi-la-manoSaludos todos! This week I will be reviewing Moví la mano/ I Moved my Hand, written by Argentinian author Jorge Lújan and illustrated by French artist Mandana Sadat, as our last January book on “unsung heroes.” So far this month I’ve reviewed children’s books that focus on heroic and fearless parents, lesser-known cultural icons, like Tito Puente, who were also active humanitarians, and brave firefighters whose invaluable work sometimes goes unnoticed. However, this week’s “unsung heroes” are children themselves.

la-mano-1Moví la mano/ I Moved my Hand tells the story of a young girl whose imagination, creativity and drive hold the power to change the world around her: “When a little girl moves her hand, she discovers the world and her power to change and create it anew.” Lújan’s story reads as a bilingual Spanish/English poem, complemented by Sadat’s stunning illustrations. Every one of the female protagonist’s actions, moving, shaking, stirring and swirling, to name a few, is met by a magical effect, the creation of a lake, finding the moon, and soaring through the sky. This fantastical narrative and its equally enchanting illustrations serve as a metaphor for the infinite potential at the hands of young children: “an empowering and inspiring tribute to children’s magical possibilities.” As a result, this beautiful book helps us honor and celebrate the infinite potential and imagination of young children, the “unsung heroes” of the future, as well as their magical ability to find and create beauty in the world around them.

la-mano-2The first two pages create a spread of two side-by-side illustrations showing the little girl standing in the middle of the living room in her pink tutu and her parents watching lovingly from the couch. The illustrations are done in black, white and gray hues with just a small splash of color for the girl’s tutu, her ballet slippers, and Lújan’s text. Already, this use of color and contrast shows how two distinct forms of art, the little girl’s dance and Lújan’s poetry, can light up a room, alter the ordinary, and dazzle an audience.

The meta-fictional dynamic found within this text— the parents portrayed as audience members for their daughter’s dance performance, and the story’s readers as audience members of Lújan’s narrative— exemplifies the ways in which children can be part of the audience, readers of this text, but also part of the performance, as dancers, writers, artists, or whatever they choose. On the following page, the protagonist’s imaginative journey and artistic performance take center stage, and the detailed, “real life,” black and white world starts to fade as additional splashes of color start to emerge. The image of her parents sitting on the couch, which previously occupied the entire first page, now appears as a silhouette in the distant corner of the next page. The presence of the girl’s parents in this story shows them as loving and supportive but also respectful of her independence and her ability to create things of her own.

la-mano-3As the story progresses, readers will notice more and more splashes of color as bright orange fish and rainbow unicorns appear against the black backdrop. As noted by Kirkus Reviews, the black backdrop serves as a canvas, a stage or a blank sheet of paper, waiting for the artist’s hand to take control: “Digitally collaged creatures done in colored pencil, ink and crayon interact with the precocious ballerina, who creates a universe with a wave of her hand…” All three forms of art found within this wonderful story— Lújan’s poetry, Sadat’s illustrations, and the protagonist’s dance— interact to create an enchanting mix of color, rhyme and movement.

Kirkus Reviews also notes the existentialist undertones of this picture book: “A tutu-clad child encounters existentialism through movement in this 47-word poem by award-winning Argentine poet Luján.” Although the basic tenets of existentialism—that one’s destiny is not predetermined, but, rather, reliant on one’s own independent actions—are surely too abstract for young children, when simplified and synthesized, as they are in this picture book, they serve as empowering reminders that children are in la-mano-4control of their lives, and capable of dreaming big. In addition, some of the actions described in the book appear rather simple and mundane, yet their reactions are grandiose and fantastical: “Toque la la luna y rodo en el cielo./ I touched the moon/ and it rolled through the night.” Just a gentle touch can set the moon traveling throughout the starry night. Again, this is a reminder of the infinite magic and potential waiting at the hands of children. A child’s actions, creations or ambitions don’t have to be monumental and sensational for their effects to be meaningful and magical.

la-mano-5The story ends with another two page spread mimicking the one found at the beginning of the book. After the protagonist’s journey she is welcomed home by the loving embrace of her two parents and her world has returned to its black and white palette. The following pages show the same living room, but now the lights have been turned off (the room is mostly shades of black and gray) and the family has presumably gone to bed. Out of the corner of the room emerges a rainbow unicorn who skips off across the black canvas, presumably in search of its own destiny. These final illustrations are shown without words, but they speak volumes nonetheless, reminding young readers that even once the day is done and they’ve gone to bed, the magic and beauty that they’ve contributed to this world lives on.

For those of you interested in learning more about the author and illustrator, here are some additional links:

Stay tuned for more great reads and an introduction to February’s themes!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images Modified from Moví la mano/ I Moved my Hand: Pages 2, 3, 8, 12, 13

¡Mira Look!: Tito Puente, Mambo King/ Rey del Mambo

tito puenteSaludos todos! This week we are continuing our theme of unsung heroes, or lesser-known figures, with Tito Puente, Mambo King/ Rey del mambo, written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Rafael López. This lively book narrates the biography of renowned Puerto-Rican/New Yorker musician, Tito Puente, and the lasting impact that he has had on Hispanic-American heritage. Although Tito Puente was a beloved and iconic musician, he is not as well known outside of the Hispanic-American community.Tito Puente, Mambo King/ Rey del mambo is a bilingual picture book that is best for ages 4-7. It won the Pura Belpre Honor Book for illustration in 2014.

tito 1Brown and López have collaborated before to write My Name Is Celia (2004), a children’s book biography of Celia Cruz, the spectacular, Cuban jazz singer, and one of many iconic musicians with whom Tito Puente worked alongside. In the back of Tito Puente, Mambo King/ Rey del mambo, Brown includes a brief, non-fictional biography where she mentions Tito Puente’s many, star-studded collaborations: “He collaborated with the most famous Latin musicians of the twentieth century, including Machito, Santana, Willie Bobo, Gloria Estefan, La Lupe, and especially Celia Cruz.” Yet many of these names have gained more recognition in the U.S. than Tito Puente himself.

tito 2This wonderful, colorful story centers on a timeless Latino idol and the musical webs of talent, heritage and friendship that he spun. In general, this book focuses on the collaborations of inspirational Latino icons and their wonderful contributions to the world of music and the arts.

tito 5The brief biography provided by Brown also mentions Tito Puente’s humanitarian endeavors: “Tito founded the Tito Puente Educational Foundation, which offers scholarships to students to study music at the Juilliard School of Music. He wanted to inspire other young musicians to pursue their dreams.” In effect, Tito Puente is a particularly fitting Latino figure to feature both here on our blog, and in your classrooms, given his immense dedication to the lives, educations and creative spirits of young children. While Tito Puente spent much of his career collaborating and connecting with other prominent Latino musicians, that care and comradery that was such an integral part of his life and work lives on in the children whose lives he has touched.

tito 3These themes of community, care and shared heritage are wholly apparent not only in Tito Puente’s actual life story, but also in this book’s narration, and throughout the award-winning illustrations. According to a review from Kirkus Reviews: “Multihued swirls and plumes emanate from Tito’s timbales and drumsticks; Celia Cruz (a frequent collaborator) soars in a costume whose fuchsia feathers seem to morph from the sea green waves below.” Indeed, the radiant illustrations not only capture the melody and joviality of Tito Puente’s rhythms, but also the community and culture associated with music, the power of songs to bring people together, and the unifying heritage of moving lyrics, memorable beats, and inspirational figures. López’s warm palets, dazzling patterns and designs, and beaming faces capture Puente’s gifted ability to light up a room. In essence, Tito Puente’s music and Rafael López’s art, though very different in nature, breadth, and time, exemplify two different types of wonderful Latino art, and the comforting and convivial sensations that they can both inspire.

tito 4Through this lovely story, music appears as the narrative thread that runs through every scene and phase of Tito Puente’s life. This not only reflects the immense influence that music had on him, but also provides a consistent theme that can help young children follow the storyline more easily. In addition, the short and sweet, rhythmic syllables of the text will have young readers excitedly breezing through the literary challenge, bouncing from page to page as they exercise their novice reading skills. With Lopez’s vibrant illustrations, one can almost hear Puente’s contagious music, making readers want to dance and skip right through the text. As a result, this book could be especially useful for challenging younger, less-advanced readers, since the liveliness of the text would disguise a difficult task as a fun, light-hearted activity.

While the rhythm of the story is emotionally uplifting, many of the themes are equally inspirational and encouraging. The beginning of the story places quite a bit of emphasis on Puente’s childhood, banging “spoons and forks on pots and pans, windowsills and cans,” and creating beats that would resonate throughout his entire Spanish Harlem community. This focus on Puente’s early years is also important for young readers, who will identify with young Puente’s abounding creativity and ambitious dreams, and look to both his success and humility for inspiration. Children and adults alike can learn from Tito Puente’s life story, his persistent work ethic and resounding humanity. This book is a treat in more ways than one, educating young readers through a fun, light-hearted introduction to the history of Latin American music.

For those of you interested in learning more about the author and illustrator, here are some additional links:

For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional links:

Thank you for welcoming me back as a guest blogger this month!

Saludos,

Alice