Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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Dear Primo: a Letter to my Cousin by Duncan Tonatiuh

cover for Dear Primo- A Letter to My CousinComparing Cultures, A Review of Duncan Tonatiuh’s “Dear Primo: a Letter to my Cousin”

This epistolary children’s book not only fills a much needed niche in the narrative for children living in America, it gives us a glimpse into a different kind of family structure, a family structure whose existence is an arbitrary border away.

 Charlie, the Mexican-American boy living in New York, experiences life as an assimilated child: basketball, pizza, and video games; while his cousin, Carlitos, a village dweller in Mexico, experiences a similar but different experience: his sport is soccer, his cheese is found in a quesadilla and his games are found in the beauty of his natural environment. The two kids’ lives mimic one another; one is associated with the other in a way that would be interesting to a child, if cliche for adults.

 Children like familiarity which is provided through Charlie’s perspective, but children also respond to new sounds, so the sprinkling of Spanish is welcomed. Familiar Spanish nouns like perros (dogs) and gallo (rooster) are introduced as captions or interjections which provide intertextual experience; you and your child could spend extra time on the page isolating those words and building a small vocabulary.

 But the most amazing part of this book is beyond the words: the illustrations! These full-page, hand-drawn, hand-colored images are warm with the color of earth when we experience Carlitos’ narrative and steely cool when Charlie’s sterile city scene is set. The boys are boxy and asymmetrical with profile-facing, round heads in a style reminiscent of Mayan art. The boys are modern versions of their ancestors: a mixture of animal and human, earth and man; even their spirally fists are imaginative.

 This book presents two cultures which overlap and exist on the same continent. Two cultures positioned in contrasting contexts: different settings in the same family.

 Recommendation: Highly recommended, ages 4 – 8

 Book Review by: Rachelle Escamilla

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