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

Just a Minute

JustaMinute

Image Credit: Chronicle Books LLC, Yuyi Morales

Aye! I love a good trickster tale. Just A Minute is so clever and memorable and features the bony Señor Calavera. If you want to learn more about calaveras, check out the book Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh.

Just a Minute begins with Señor Calavera’s visit to Grandma Beetle’s doorstep. Her time for death has come BUT…she has other ideas! 😉  She tells him “Just a minute…” because she has one house to sweep and so, Señor Calavera, being the agreeable reaper that he is, waits patiently. And so the story continues. This book is also a counting book in English and Spanish and with each number, Grandma cleverly secures a little more time on this earth and Señor Calavera gets more impatient. She is preparing her house and cooking food for her birthday party with her grandchildren…Death can certainly wait! The format of the story is repetitive but this isn’t a bad thing; repetition can help children become comfortable with a story, and with reading as well.

Yuyi Morales is one of my favorite author/illustrators because her stories have so much life! You can taste the food she draws and you can feel the energy. The family she creates in this story, with their warm brown skin, expressive faces and smiling eyes, is beautiful. The big body of Grandma Beetle reminds me of my Grandma Eva who also loved to cook and spend time with her grandchildren. Morales uses acrylic and mixed media to create her illustrations and her color palate is warm and vivid; the colors on the pages remind me of rows of papel picado. If you’re charmed by Grandma Beetle and Señor Calavera, check out the sequel to this book, Just in Case!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Trickster Tales, Cultural Diversity, Mexican Culture, Spanish Language, Mexican Food, Food Culture, Calaveras, Counting, Family, We Need Diverse Books, Grandmothers
Book Info: Just a Minute by Yuyi Morales, 2003 Chronicle Books LLC, ISBN: 9780811837583

Salsa

Image Credit: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press), Jorge Argueta/Duncan Tonatiuh

Image Credit: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press), Jorge Argueta/Duncan Tonatiuh

I couldn’t stay away for long…I’m reviewing another book illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. Check out my review for his book Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras. This book is written by Jorge Argueta and the topic is something many people will agree is very delicious, SALSA!

Salsa is bilingual (Spanish and English) and takes the reader on a journey through all aspects of salsa. It’s a “Cooking Poem” with rhythm and vivid imagery. Argueta begins the poem with a volcano whose hardened lava becomes the rock that makes molcajetes and tejolote which Nahua, Aztec and Mayan people used to grind, grind, grind delicious things. Cultural tradition continues to this day and the family in the story use these ancient tools to make delicious salsa! Lots of similies and metaphors fill the pages and bring the words and illustrations to life. Like musical instruments, they use their ingredients to make a “salsa orchestra.”  While enjoying the poem, we also learn how to cook salsa!!

As always, Tonatiuh’s signature illustrations draw from his indigenous Mexican heritage: I always enjoy the ears and lips of his people. He hand draws the images and digitally collages in interesting textures for color and design. I love how each illustration is framed top and bottom with a motif that reflects the stage of the recipe process; look at the wise chili peppers with faces like grandmother and grandfather! This beautiful book is a delight and your family or classroom will enjoy learning about delicious Salsa. 🙂

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Cultural Diversity, Food Culture, Poem, History, Mexican Food, Family, Teamwork, Read-Aloud
Book Info: Salsa by Jorge Argueta/Illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh, 2015 Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press), ISBN: 9781554984428