ABeCedarios: Mexican Folk Art ABCs (Cynthia Weill & K.B. Basseches)

Hello, friends! Our book today is the wonderfully educational ABeCedarios: Mexican Folk Art ABCs, written by Cynthia Weill and K.B. Basseches and featuring Mexican folk art from Oaxaca by Moisés and Armando Jiménez.

On each vibrantly-colored page, little ones are introduced to a new letter; both English letters as well as letters and/or sounds (such as ñ or ch) that are native to the Spanish alphabet are featured. Accompanying each of these is a photograph of a beautifully carved and painted Mexican folk-art sculpture of an animal, and that animal’s name in both English and Spanish.

We loved this so much! We’ve been trying to include some dual-language books into JJ’s library, but this is the first that I’ve seen that really focuses on teaching children in two alphabets at once. The inclusion of Spanish-exclusive or -adapted letters and word sounds gives a wonderful foundation, and the use of the Mexican folk art adds a cultural component that gives the Spanish words and alphabet a sense of context, as well as providing some truly engaging visuals for little readers. This one had it right down to the details: for “X”, it includes a sculpture of an imaginary animal, and encourages children to make up their own animal that starts with x – a clever, fun page that allows children to interact with the subject in a new way. The length is fine, and JJ adored it, reading it through three more times after we were done. If you’re looking for a truly immersive dual-language primer for little ones, this is the one to pick! Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

The Chupacabra Ate The Candelabra (Marc Tyler Nobleman)

Hello, friends! Today’s book is The Chupacabra Ate The Candelabra, written by Marc Tyler Nobleman and illustrated by Ana Aranda, the tale of three goats facing off against a legendary monster.

Jayna, Bumsie and Pep are enjoying a twilight picnic one night when Jayna warns that they should head home soon – lest the fearsome Chupacabra happen upon them! You see, the mysterious monster lives nearby, and is rumored to have quite the taste for goat meat! The three goats decide to confront the monster, using a candelabra to light their way. But when they arrive at the Chupacabra’s lair, they find that he is hungry – for their candelabra! Promising to return with more candelabras to stave off the monster’s appetite, they head home. Except they have one problem: that was their only candelabra!

This one is a bit of mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s got fantastic Mexican folk art-style illustrations that are wonderfully colorful and fun, as well as great dialogue and clever wordplay (I dare anyone to say “The Chupacabra ate the candelabra AND the cucaracha!” without cracking a smile). However, there were two things that put me off a bit: first, the length is a bit much for baby bookworms (JJ was starting to get antsy), though that probably wouldn’t bother older kids. However, the conclusion, in which the goats submit themselves to feeding the Chupacabra to stave off his hunger with goat cheese is a bit weird. Oh, he promises that he doesn’t eat “friends,” but there’s definitely something vaguely sinister about it, and makes for an odd conclusion. Otherwise, JJ did love the art, and it was quite a bit of fun to read, so ultimately this one is Baby Bookworm approved!

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight For Desegregation (Duncan Tonatiuh)

Hello, everybody! Today’s book is Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight For Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, the true story of the Mendez family’s fight to desegregate California public schools.

When Sylvia’s father uses his life savings to move his family to a new town, he is thrilled with the promise of his children getting a good education. But when Sylvia’s aunt takes them to enroll, she and her brothers are turned away and told they must attend the “Mexican school.” Despite being US citizens and speaking perfect English, Sylvia and her brothers are forced to attend a substandard school with disinterested teachers, flies, even an electric fence. Sylvia’s parents decide to fight this injustice: her father hires a lawyer and tours to raise support, and her mother works day and night to keep the farm running in his absence. After three years of fighting in the courts, the Mendez family wins their case, and the governor of California signs a law saying that all public schools must be open to ALL children. Sylvia is sometimes taunted at her new school, but she learns to hold her head high regardless: her family fought for justice, and they won.

This book was absolutely incredible. I loved that it did not shy away from the racist mindsets that school officials used to justify marginalizing these families. The story recounts testimony of a school superintendent who cites a lack of intelligence, work ethic, and even hygiene as reasons that Latino children should be barred from attending white schools. It’s an honest example of the extreme systemic prejudice that these families faced at the time, and still face today. This is ultimately a story of triumph, of one family’s fight and sacrifice to provide a better future for not only their children, but all children. The Mexican folk art-inspired illustrations are a wonderful addition, as is the educational appendix. The length may be pushing it for most baby bookworms, but this is a must-read when kids are ready. Absolutely phenomenal, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved.

Strega Nona Does It Again (Tomie dePoala)

Banned Books Week, Day 2: Hello, friends! We are continuing our Banned Books Week theme today with Strega Nona Does It Again by Tomie dePoala, the latest in the Strega Nona (Italian for “Grandmother Witch”) book series. These books have been challenged and/or banned in multiple locations because of their positive portrayal of magic and witches.

Strega Nona is expecting a visit from her cousin’s daughter, the beautiful Angelina. When Angelina arrives, Strega Nona and her friends find that she is quite a handful: she is self-centered and rude, and turns their lives upside-down by making them wait on her hand and foot! Strega Nona decides to concoct a plan to win the heart of Angelina’s beloved Hugo for her, in order to get her demanding houseguest out of her hair, and weaves a little magic along the way.

I have to say, while I have enjoyed the Strega Nona books in the past, I did not like this one. While the folk-art illustrations are always charming and fun, and I love that there is a smattering of Italian vocabulary words and phrases, I disagreed with this book’s overall message. Angelina is spoiled and impolite, so Strega Nona decides to teach her a lesson by… giving her exactly what she wants? Rewarding her for her egocentric behavior? Also, I’m not wild about the notion of marrying a woman of as punishment. From a practical standpoint, the book was also a bit long for JJ, and she started getting squirmy (though, again, she loved the illustrations). 

I’ve been a fan of the Strega Nona books past, but I just don’t think I can call this one Baby Bookworm approved. However, I would definitely encourage readers to check out the previous Strega Nona stories, which are fun and have much better lessons.