“When Papa was around, Mama loved to dance, but Mama doesn’t dance anymore,” is the first line of Mama I’ll Give You the World and that semi-vague statement is all that is ever said about the absent Papa that lives in the subtext of this children’s story. Perhaps he has passed away, maybe he has abandoned the family; either way, children being raised by single mothers with no father in their lives will feel like their family construct is reflected in Luisa and her mother’s family. Luisa’s mother wants to give Luisa the world that is “so big. So much more for you to know. So much more for you to see.” And that starts every day with Luisa doing her homework beneath a palm tree in the beauty salon and Luisa’s mother saving for Luisa’s college tuition. Doing homework looks exotic, Luisa’s working class world looks like a holiday getaway.
The text is accessible prose that brings the reader smoothly and easily into Luisa’s daily life with her mother in Walter’s World of Beauty– the beauty salon where her mother works. As is so often the case in real life, the salon where Luisa’s mother works is a community gathering place where Luisa’s extended family bonds. The story is a narrative of Luisa communicating with all the adults (hairdressers and clients in her mother’s hair salon) to organize a special gift for her mama—a secret gift that even surprises the reader. Luisa’s dedication to her mother culminates in a climax that made me cry as her daughter celebrates her mother’s birthday by connecting her mother to the past. In the midst of the celebration, the story subtlety introduces a new suitor who has been a trusted friend throughout the book.
Luisa is an observant, sensitive, intelligent character who loves her mom, communicates impressively, and with the realistic precociousness of a child, who while protected by many adults in her life, also lives with the worry about her mother’s happiness and past that overshadows their lives. The illustration is fanciful and engaging, telling the story of the loving community to which Luisa belongs.
Luisa’s world is diverse, filled with people of all races and may ethnicities. Although there are no Spanish words spoken, several of the characters bear Spanish names and the full range of physical features found amongst white, tan and moreno Latinos. Children whose families are from many parts of Latin America—whether the Spanish Caribbean, Central, or South America will feel reflected in the characters represented. Additionally, there are two male hair dressers working with Luisa’s mother—one of whom seems to be slightly effeminate so that without saying it directly, we see that Luisa lives in a diverse and all inclusive world.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda