Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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Nina Bonita by Ana Maria Machado

Nina BonitaThis book was originally written in Spanish and I read the English translation. Set in Brazil, with a spotlight on that country’s African Diaspora population, the magical friendship between a child and a rabbit whose speech every human can understand, grounds the narrative in levity and fantasy from the first page. Creating a balanced contrast with the text that likens the child to princesses of Africa and fairies from the moon, the straightforward discussion of family likeness and illustration of a full range of Brazilian phenotypes and ethnicities gave me goosebumps as I read this story. Nina Bonita is a girl whose dynamic dark beauty includes “hair curly and pitch black as if made of unwoven threads of night; skin dark and glossy just like a panther in the rain,” who has captured the heart and adoration of a white bunny who wants so much to have a daughter like her. He thinks he must be black himself to have such a daughter and asks Nina “what makes your skin so dark and pretty?” Nina has no idea how she got to be black especially since her mother is brown and her father is white but she makes up stories of how she may have gotten her color. Although the narrative is funny, Nina’s stories are a testimony to the sad fact that white or light is considered normal in her life so she comes up with extreme reasons for “becoming” dark instead of seeing herself as a reflection of her family. The bunny rabbit’s misfortunes in trying to become black like her by following her stories –mainly ending up sick and with diarrhea from drinking coffee and eating blackberries—also demonstrate the pitfalls of not discussing a child’s heritage with him/her. Ultimately, Nina Bonita’s mother overhears the conversation between the girl and the rabbit and tells them that Nina looks just like her grandmother. “Of course!” declares the rabbit who immediately ventures out to find a beautiful “night black” rabbit wife with whom he can make a daughter.
I don’t know if this is because of the translation or if the original had this wording but I’m disappointed in the language that makes it “natural” that Nina Bonita would become the godmother of the jet black bunny that is born to the bunny couple and the assertion that the bunnies have lots of babies “because when rabbits start having babies they never seem to stop” – I’m aware that I’m made uncomfortable by my own experience with racist stereotypes in the U.S. –an issue a few of you may or may not have as well. Other than those little blips, this story contains lyrical language and spirited drawings that bring to life the beautiful diversity of a Brazilian family, elevating the beauty of the least celebrated phenotype in most societies without any negative controversy over her belonging or her natural beauty. It will take you three weeks to receive the book when you order it from Amazon.com but it is well worth it and if you can read it in Spanish, you should get it in the original or maybe both versions. Enjoy.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Age 5+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

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