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Naomi Soledad Leon Outlaw is a ten year old girl who lives with her great-grandmother and disabled brother in Avocado Acres Trailer Rancho in Lemon Tree, California. She hasn’t seen her mother in seven years, and her father is in Mexico. Naomi is an avid reader, list maker and soap carver who is devoted to her family and loves works. Her world transforms one afternoon when her glamorous looking mother, who has changed her name from Terri Lynn to Skyla, shows up unannounced with armfuls of gifts. Although Naomi is thrilled to meet her mother, she feels overwhelmed. When it emerges that Skyla is an alcoholic who has been in and out of rehab and that she not interested in Owen, Naomi’s brother, because has a disability, Naomi becomes quickly disillusioned.
The novel follows Naomi’s coming of age story and her development into a young woman. Her unconventional family is made up of her great-grandmother and brother, but also includes her neighbors from Mexico, and her estranged father. In an effort to reconnect with the children’s father – and to thwart Skyla’s attempts to take Naomi from her home – their great-grandmother takes them on an impromptu road trip to Mexico in their airstream trailer, named Baby Beluga. They arrive in the country right before La Noche de los Rabanos, The Night Of The Radishes, a Mexican festival where carvers create elaborate artwork out of radishes. The Leons, they find out, are renowned as carvers, and Naomi experiences a deep cultural immersion in discovering her Mexican roots, wearing a traditional Mexican Village woman’s blouse and huraches, and carving radishes with her friends.
‘Becoming Naomi Leon’ is a poetic, poignant novel with excellent character development and gentle treatment of difficult subject matter. It’s a classic coming of age story that incorporates the positive aspects of cultural mixing, and handles this complex family structure with grace and insight. The discovery of the long lost Mexican father is the highlight of the narrative.
Recommendation: Any advanced reader will enjoy this book, which could also be a good book to read to a child who is ready for chapter books to read aloud.
Book Reviewer: Jill Moffett
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.