Review: Our Celebración! by Susan Middleton Elya

Our Celebración! by Susan Middleton Elya

Our Celebración! by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Ana Aranda (9781620142714)

A community heads to a celebration together in this vibrant picture book that offers a mix of Spanish and English. The celebration features a large parade with fantastic floats, marching bands, fire engines and much more. There is plenty of delicious food to try and refreshing drinks to sip. When the rain begins, the fun doesn’t stop, though everyone celebrates when the sunshine returns bringing with it a celebratory rainbow.

Elya does a marvelous job of offering Spanish words for children to learn. Almost all of them can be figured out from the context in the poem. I appreciate that she uses the Spanish words for many of the rhymes, rather than burying them in the center of the lines. This makes them all the more enjoyable to read aloud and great fun to figure out. The book will also welcome Spanish-speaking children and allow them to decode the English as well. It is a cleverly built picture book.

Aranda’s illustrations are filled with brilliant colors of sunshine yellow, deep purples, bright blues, and hot pinks. They show a diverse community celebrating together with big smiles, lots of fun and whimsical parade participants.

A bright and busy picture book that dynamically includes Spanish and English. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.


Latino Children’s Literature List


The New York Times list of top children’s books of the year doesn’t tend to include Latino authors, listing only one Latino author in the last ten years. 

So the group Latinas for Latino Lit has remedied that by creating their own list of the best children’s books by Latino authors.  Two members of the group appeared on NPR and talked about both the books on their list and other issues like what language those books should be in. 

Arte Kids Book Series

123 Si!: An Artistic Counting Book in English and Spanish Colores Everywhere!: Colors in English and Spanish Hello, Circulos!: Shapes in English and Spanish

123 Si!: An Artistic Counting Book in English and Spanish by San Antonio Museum of Art

Colores Everywhere!: Colors in English and Spanish by San Antonio Museum of Art

Hello, Circulos!: Shapes in English and Spanish by San Antonio Museum of Art

The San Antonio Museum of Art, the San Antonio Library Foundation and Trinity Press have worked together to create a new series of books for children.  The first book, 123 Si!, was published in 2011 and the next two books followed in 2012.  There are plans for a series of 9 books with two more titles being added in the spring of 2013. 

All three books combine art from the collections at the San Antonio Museum of Art with concepts that toddlers can relate to.  The result are books that are bright and colorful but that offer a wonderful depth of subject matter too.  The books are fully bilingual, giving terms for numbers, colors and shapes in both English and Spanish.  Fully embracing early literacy, the books offer ideas for questions on each page, giving parents cues as to what to talk about in each picture.  It is done in such a way that it’s simple, easy and non-threatening.  Additional information on the art is available at the end of each book.

Three very successful board books that combine bilingual content, great art and basic concepts, these books belong at any library serving a Spanish-speaking population.  Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copies received from Trinity University Press.

Book Review: The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha R. Vamos


The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha R. Vamos, illustrated by Rafael Lopez

This is a fresh, fabulous cumulative tale that is made spicier and more interesting thanks to the Spanish sprinkled liberally throughout.  It is the story of a farm maiden who stirred a pot.  Once she started stirring, all of the animals wanted to help with what she was cooking.  The cow gave milk, the hen gave eggs and zested the lime which was picked by the donkey who was carrying the duck to the market.  Eventually everyone is waiting for the treat to be finished until they started playing music and dancing.  Then no one was watching or stirring the pot!  Thank goodness that they returned just in time to enjoy the arroz con leche that they had all cooked together.

When I read this book to myself silently it really didn’t work, but read aloud it merrily dances along, even with my very imperfect Spanish pronunciation.  For classes in our community, the blend of Spanish and English is very desirable.  Happily, the Spanish here forms the real foundation of the story rather than just being extra words that are thrown in.

Lopez’s art is so vibrant and warm.  The sun shines when you open the book, thanks to the use of a beautiful yellow for the majority of the background.  Add to it the purple clouds tinged with red, the orange ground, and the vibrant green of the plants, and you have a book where the colors are filled with heat and spice.

A rollicking picture book that celebrates Spanish and English mixed together sweetly, just like the perfect arroz con leche.  Appropriate for ages 3-5, and in language classes for older children.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.

Check out the book trailer to get a feel for the book and the illustrations:

Welcome to My Neighborhood! A Barrio ABC


Welcome to My Neighborhood! A Barrio ABC by Quiara Alegria Hudes, illustrated by Shino Arihara

This alphabet book, from the author of the musical In the Heights, takes a gritty and realistic look at urban life that will be familiar to many children while exposing other children to a new setting.  Ava takes her friend on a tour of her neighborhood and many words in Spanish.  She starts with a hug for her abuela and passes through G for graffiti, M for los muralistas painting murals on the walls, V for vegetables in what used to be a vacant lot, and ends at Z Street where the cars zoom past.  Ava adds lots of small details to her alphabet tour that really show her enthusiasm for her neighborhood as well as giving the reader more details about her home.  This is a tour worth taking!

This book does not sugarcoat what you will see in an urban neighborhood with abandoned cars, graffiti, and a burned building.  But for children who see these things in their own neighborhoods, they will find a picture book that depicts their own world, something invaluable for a child.  The Spanish words add a great rhythm to the book and another layer of information.  Airhara’s illustrations use a lot of open space, emphasizing the stretches of blocks, the expanse of the city.  They are simple and have a pleasant mix of bright color and earth tones. 

A book that fills a need in children’s alphabet books for books set in urban locations, this will be welcomed on library shelves.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Arthur A. Levine Books.

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Dear Primo

Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin by Duncan Tonatiuh

One cousin in America and one cousin in Mexico write letters back and forth describing their lives.  Carlitos lives on a farm in Mexico with all sorts of animals.  Charlie lives in a city filled with skyscrapers and lights.  The lives of the two boys are contrasted with one another from food and games to shopping and celebrations.  Underlying the differences though are the similarities between the boys with their energy and strong communities.  Tonatiuh’s art strengthens this tie between the boys, making this book a cohesive whole.

Students learning Spanish will find the words peppering Carlitos’ part of the story interesting and useful.  They serve to add more than flavor to the text, strengthening the text and tying it more closely to Mexico.  Tonatiuh’s text is simple and interesting, allowing for a glimpse of two different lives.  It is his art that will really get this book off the shelves.  He combines a primitive feel in the characters faces and bodies with a modern collage technique that uses digital components.  The juxtaposition of the two makes for dynamic art that show both boys living with tradition and modern components to their lives.

A successful book about cousins who have plenty of differences but also lots in common, this book will be useful for young students learning Spanish.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Zoo Day Ole!

Zoo Day Ole!: a counting book by Phillis Gershator, illustrated by Santiago Cohen.

Abuelita takes her two grandchildren to the zoo where they count the animals from uno to diez.  They see bears, seals, monkeys, parrots and many more animals.  Gershator’s text is simple with Spanish counting words woven in.  Cohen’s art is thick-lined. His use of large blocks of color make it very child-like and friendly.

The mix of English and Spanish is nicely done, though I would have liked to have seen the names for the various animals done in both Spanish and English as well.  As a counting book, this one works well because readers have the option of counting or not counting since it isn’t built into the text. 

An ideal book for toddlers who love Dora the Explorer or Sesame Street with their mix of Spanish and English.  It would also work well for children learning Spanish in Kindergarten.  Appropriate for ages 2-5.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

Sopa de Frijoles / Bean Soup

Sopa de frijoles / Bean Soup by Jorge Argueta and Rafael Yockteng

A winner of a bilingual book, this picture book is a poem about making bean soup.  Lovingly filled with great ingredients and metaphors, the poem works well.  It follows a young boy through the steps of making sopa de frijoles, from sorting the beans to chopping onions to peeling garlic, and adding salt.  An adult in near in the illustrations, but the boy does the work himself, adding to the joy of the book.

Without any overly-sweet taste, this book offers a poem for children that is respectful and delightful.  It is distinctly a poem rather than prose chopped into stanzas.  The language alone puts it into that category:

The water boils and sings.

The beans dance


The water has turned brown

the color of Mother Earth.

Your house

smells wonderful

like the earth

after the first

winter rains.

That is just one of many passages that capture a sensory experience with tangible images that children can understand but that also ask children to imagine.

Highly recommended, this book would be ideal for a bilingual story time.  But it is also wonderful in a single language program as well.  Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by La Bloga and Poetry for Children.

Before You Were Here, Mi Amor

Before You Were Here, Mi Amor by Samantha R. Vamos, illustrated by Santiago Cohen.

A familia is expecting a baby and there is lots of excitement and preparation.  Mami is eating healthy foods.  Papi is building a rocking chair. Everyone helps pick out a name.  A tree is planted.  The walls of the nursery are painted.  A mobile is built.  And the older siblings offer their books and stuffed animals.  The book shines with love and anticipation, from the words on the page that offer a wonderful mixture of Spanish and English to the illustrations bright with color.  This book truly captures the wonder of a new baby for an entire extended family.

Vamos’ text effortlessly blends Spanish words with English, creating a mix that reads naturally.  Unlike some books where the Spanish can feel extraneous to the story, here it is an innate part of the book.  Cohen’s illustrations are bold and bright.  They exude a warmth and joy that is a perfect match for the subject and the text.

Highly recommended for all families, this book is appropriate for ages 3-6.