Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin

DearPrimo

Image Credit: Abrams Books for Young Readers, Duncan Tonatiuh

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that Duncan Tonatiuh is one of my favorite author/illustrators. Not only does he write great stories, he’s an amazing artist. I got the chance to read this book (his very first one!) while preparing for my interview with him and I’ve also reviewed his more recent books Salsa and Funny Bones.

Dear Primo is a story about two cousins. Carlitos lives in Mexico, in the country and on a farm and Charlie lives in a big city in the United States. They write letters back and forth to each other, explaining their daily lives and the things they like to do. While Carlitos rides his bicicleta to school every day past the perros and nopal, Charlie rides the busy subway, which he describes is like a long metal snake that travels underground. The duality of the storytelling makes it easy for children to compare and contrast. At the end of the story, both boys come up with the same conclusion; it’s time to visit each other! 🙂

Though it seems their lives are very different, there are more similarities than differences. Duncan incorporates Spanish words into the text and they’re also printed in bold, white letters in the illustrations. Children can pick up the words and definitions easily, matching visuals to the words.

I’ll never get enough of Duncan Tonatiuh’s art style. Inspired by Mixtec codices, his figures are inspired by the past and updated for modern day. He uses digital collage for texture; an image of blue jean for Charlie’s pants and images of marbles for Carlito’s game of canicas! I love the well-balanced cover with crinkly lined paper in the background. As I mentioned to Duncan in our interview, it’s interesting to see how his lines have become cleaner and more polished over the years. Dear Primo‘s art is much more “raw” as he put it, compared to his most recent book Funny Bones, but I enjoy the art of both for their similarities and differences. Teachers, this book is great to introduce a unit on pen-pals. I think you’ll enjoy Dear Primo. Check it out!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Family, Cousins, Friendship, Duality, Relationships, City Life, Country Life, Culture, Cultural Relativism, Games, Daily Life, Traditions, Mexico, Mexican-American, Food Culture, Mexican Food, Spanish Language, Pen-Pals
Book Info: Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin by Duncan Tonatiuh, 2010 Abrams Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 9780810938724

Too Many Tamales

TooManyTamales

Image Credit: Paperstar Book (Penguin Young Readers Group), Gary Soto/Ed Martinez

Merry Christmas!

Too Many Tamales is a funny and cute Christmas tale. Maria is finally old enough to help her mother prepare tamales for the family Christmas get-together! She’s excited to help her mom but she’s also tempted by her mom’s shiny ring sitting on the table. She slips it on (just for a minute!) to knead the masa for the delicious tamales but it falls off her finger! Her father helps finish the tamales and Maria runs off to play with her cousins as family members slowly arrive. Maria realizes the ring has slipped off her fingers and she corrals her cousins into helping her eat all twenty-four tamales! Bellies full of too many tamales and no ring in sight, she faces her mother, eyes full of tears but ready to confess the truth.

Ed Martinez’s oil paintings are warm with dark colors and glowing skin to reflect the lighting of a warm home during winter. The big plate of tamales looks tantalizingly delicious and Martinez pays special attention to the characters’ expressions. I love stories that talk about family, culture and food and this one reminds me of my family’s Christmas get-togethers when I was a child, when I’d run off to play with my cousins.

Too Many Tamales has been around since the early 90s so perhaps many families have grown up with this cute story of a Mexican-American family during Christmas. If you read this book, maybe you’ll be inspired to make tamales for Christmas. Mmmm delicious. Just don’t lose your ring in the masa like Maria!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Humor, Friendship, Family, Cousins, Christmas, We Need Diverse Books, Cultural Diversity, Mexican-American, Food Culture, Mexican Food, Tamales, Lessons, Discussion
Book Info: Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto/Illustrated by Ed Martinez, 1993 Paperstar Book (Penguin Young Readers Group), ISBN: 9780698114128

Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic

AuntieYangSoybeanPicnic

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Ginnie Lo/Beth Lo

 

There’s nothing like finding a little bit of home in a new place.

Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic tells a story that may be familiar to many immigrant families in the US; a story about finding comfort with like minded people and forming community in a new country. Jinyi lives a little far away from her Auntie Yang but her family makes sure to visit often and stay close. She grows up with Chinese lessons, art lessons, cooking Chinese food and lots of playtime with her cousins.

One day on a lazy Sunday drive, Auntie Yang spots soybeans growing in a field! At this time, soybeans aren’t commonly eaten in the US. The farmer thinks the Chinese family wants the beans to feed their pig, but no, they will boil them to eat! And so begins the yearly tradition of The Great Soybean Picnic. Each year it gets bigger and bigger and more Chinese families in the Chicago area join in with lots of delicious Chinese dishes. Auntie Yang and her sister become less homesick because the happy discovery of soybeans brings them a new large and loving Chinese community in the US.

This is a sweet story of family, food and finding place…in a new place. It’s inspired by real events and in the back of the book, Ginnie and Beth Lo share family photos, more information about the Soybean Picnic, information about soybeans and a glossary of the Chinese words used in the book. We even get to see photos of the dynamic Auntie Yang!

Beth Lo’s paintings have a vintage mid-century Chinese art vibe to them that I like. I didn’t realize that the illustrations are actually painted on porcelain plates until I read the back of the book. I’ll repeat that, each “illustration” is a plate! How cool is that?? Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic is a great story to share with your family. I’m off to get some edamame! 😉

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Chinese American Culture, Chinese Food, Friendship, Family, Food Culture, Community, Immigration, Soybeans, Cousins, Siblings, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Home Sickness, Discussion, New Traditions in a New Place, Chinese Language, Cultural Relativism
Book Info: Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic by Ginnie Lo/Illustrated by Beth Lo, 2012 Lee & Low Books Inc., ISBN: 9781600604423