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From the Bellybutton of the Moon/ Del Ombligo de la Luna And Other Summer Poems/ y otros poemas de verano by Francisco X. Alarcon
This is a book of free verse poems about the poet’s childhood experiences in nature, travel, and with his family during his visits to his grandparents’ home in Mexico. The poems are filled with simple vignettes of imagery. They are printed first in Spanish then in the English translation. All poems are accompanied by vivid oil painting illustrations. This is a great book to introduce middle school and older elementary children to free verse poetry while imparting the wonder of being a part of the life of grandparents in a different rural country every summer. All children who spend extended vacations with family members during the summer will relate with these poems of familial love and journey and those who visit Mexico will enjoy this celebration of the rural Mexican landscape, lifestyle and Mexican culture.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages: 8+
Book Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
Oh, the piñatas talk and I love this book but more importantly, my daughter loves this book. She asked me to read it to her five times the first night and three times the next. It sits atop her dresser like a favorite family photo—her comfort and entertainment. This is the magical Pinnochioesque story of Pancho the Piñata. Pancho is a creation of Jorge the piñata maker who uses a magical, secret, paper mache mix to bring to life piñatas that speak.
Other than the fact that there is only a partial commitment to rhyme in the story, this is a narrative that transports you into a mystical reality and keeps you there. These piñatas enjoy being at the center of a party. Making the children who break them happy is their life mission. With a plentiful smattering of Spanish words of endearment, Pinata tells the story of Pancho maturing from a scared new piñata into a piñata who finds his self-worth in making Lulu, Jorge’s granddaughter happy on her birthday.
Lulu is confined to a wheel chair but that is never mentioned. So, in just a few pages and with the answering of my daughter’s one question about her, “Why does she have that chair?” the story transported differently abled people from unseen in my daughter’s life to normal. Pancho lives on after his candy is spilled and the extra special fantasy of Pinata continues through the other characters, especially the little candy addicted mice that keep the wonder of this world going. Pinata is an exciting, bilingual, magical experience. At the end of the book, you and your child will learn how to make your own, real life, magical pinata. So, turn a page and swing a bat!
Recommendation: Highly Recommended
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
A very simple story told by a little girl who seeks comfort in her mother’s smell, embrace, and love. The first person narrative partially frames the oil painting illustrations with the English text at the top and the Spanish text at the bottom of the page. The protagonist enters the story through a discussion of her family’s different hair types. With uncommon descriptions of their hair as analogous to brooms, rosettes, and fur, she tells us of the diverse look and behavior (slippery, lazy, etc.) of her family members’ hair. Diversity is also found in the family through the illustration of each of them as a different color so that they are literally a rainbow family. The front and back covers of the book have educational lessons and crafts exercises for readers making this a hands on bilingual story of family love.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; ages 5+
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
This is a valuable book to show the bilingual and bicultural immersion of a girl who is multiracial Mexican and Caucasian USAmerican. On every alternate page the protagonist speaks Spanish with her Mexican grandparents. On the surface, the grandparents are different—in addition to their race/ethnicity, the USAmerican grandparents live in the city or suburbs, the Mexican grandparents live on a farm near a fishing pier. The illustrations are lively and evocative. It is a formulaic story of comparisons: My grandpa buys me balloons: my abuelo buys me a kite; my grandma makes pancakes; my abuela makes me huevos rancheros…fourteen pages in, I drifted from boredom. Despite the fact that the comparisons went on for too long in my opinion, the parallel lifestyles and interests of the grandparents makes a powerful impression on the reader of the similarities of people who seem very different. Although the details of their lives are very different, both sets of grandparents love their pets, enjoy the circus, like making things by hand, create exceptional ways to make the protagonist happy and, of course, love their granddaughter.
The plot turn which is actually fun should have come earlier in the book—the protagonist has a party at her house that both sets of grandparents attend during which the grandparents help out with the children. The Pinata and the traditional Mexican birthday song are fun. You and your child may actually want to learn the song as I did.
Recommendation: Mildly recommended
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
This book by Julianne Moore, primarily written in ABCB rhyming quatrain stanzas, is a first person narrative from the perspective of a dozen different children, which talks about the varied experiences of a child living in the U.S. with a mother from another country. The illustrator, Meilo So has chosen a “framed” illustration style which, other than the fact that it leaves a lot of white space on the page is successful at providing images for many different aspects of the “story” simultaneously.
Not only do I like the fact that Moore’s rhyme is perfect ninety per cent of the time, the text shows the dynamic conflicts faced by children who love their mothers but experience, with a little shame, all of the ways in which their mother is different from other mothers and people they encounter daily, including their different food and culturally different greeting and doting customs. The children also communicate their discomfort with their mothers’ use of a different language in communicating with them and their mothers’ slow mastery of English as their second language.
Most of the children from whose voice the book is written appear to be between the ages of 7-11. While there are several pages in the book illustrating the mothers caring for a second child in the infant/toddler age range, there is only one page in the book that shows a mother and father together (in a photo on a dresser) so children living in single-mother led households can easily find a reflection of their family construct in this book.
Most of the mother-child relationships in the book are clearly representative of an interracial family (even though we don’t see fathers) with children who look racially different from their mothers. Moore and Meilo So cover the full gamut of children who look racially different from their mothers whether the mothers are East Asian, Subsaharan African, or Dutch with children whose features present as the entire world spectrum of all racial/ethnic features. Meilo So does not just throw kids on the page who are holding hands with mothers—no, her vivid, emotionally realistic, water color illustrations are done with such attention to detail that on one page there is a brown-skinned, gele scarf wearing mother with her pale-skinned, red-haired daughter who the reader can see look exactly alike–like twins except their skin color, height, and weight are different. The “twin” mother and daughter are walking up the stairs as a boy behind them keeps staring at them and a mother holding a child that is like her in every obvious way walks towards them staring at them with a surprised, questioning look on her face. The text that goes along with this illustration speaks of the emotional weight a child faces when her features are just like her mom’s but because of different racial markers people don’t always see their likeness:
“Some people say we look alike
Others wonder: What’s HER name?
I get so upset when they say,
“Why don’t you look the same?””
Finally, this book ends with a celebration of all the universal ways in which a mother and child bond,
“She gives me lots of kisses,
she tucks me in at night,
she laughs at ALL my jokes,
SHE HOLDS ME VERY TIGHT”
With this well-written, fancifully illustrated picture book, Julianne Moore and Meilo So have hit a home run for all readers and definitely for intercultural and multi-lingual and interracial families that also keeps children belonging to single parent households from feeling like outsiders.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages–3-10
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
This 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
With beautiful illustrations from Robert Casilla, this story which reads like a training and orientation day in a bakery, comes to life. This is a first person narrative from Pablo, the son of a Mexican mother and Jewish father who own a bakery together. Pablo has to decide what to take to school for International Day and throughout the story as he helps his mother make Mexican pastries and his father make Jewish pastries, he questions if each pastry is the one he should take to his school. A story peppered with Pablo’s easy translations of his parents’ Spanish and Yiddish words of expression and names of food, makes one feel like they are in a regular day in the life of Pablo and his parents. On this day, Pablo decides to take Jalapeno Bagels to school because, like him, they represent the cultures of both of his parents. The back of the book contains two recipes and a glossary of the terms used throughout the book. While I think this is a valuable representation of a Mixed Heritage family of Mexican/Jewish ethnicities which gives some history of the two ethnicities, the most exciting aspect of the book is its title.
Recommendation: Unenthusiastically recommended for the sake of diversity representation; Ages 4+
Book Review by Omilaju Miranda.