Carmela Full Of Wishes (Matt de la Peña)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Carmela Full Of Wishes, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson, a subtle and moving story of a little girl’s birthday wish.

It’s Carmela’s birthday, which means she gets to go with her brother into town today. After a breakfast of pancakes adorned with birthday candles, the children set off, she following on her scooter as he goes about running errands. The unnamed brother, only older by a few years, is annoyed by his sister’s presence, often snippish as she plays or intentionally rattles her bracelets to annoy him. During the course of their day, Carmela finds a dandelion puff and is testily informed by her sibling that she must make a wish when she blows on it. Mystified by the concept, Carmela thinks of several wishes: a machine that dispenses treats, a soft bed for her mother like the ones she makes in the hotel all day, that her father’s papers will be fixed so he can finally come home. As she ponders over which one to choose, she trips and falls, destroying her “wish”. Her brother’s irritation falls away, and he set about lifting her spirits, showing her a place where wishes know no limits.

Touching and beautiful. A careful and delicate tale that follows a day-in-the-life narrative, its the perspective of the characters that is pitch perfect and unique. Carmela acts, thinks, and speaks as a 7-year-old would, and while larger themes such as immigration, Mexican culture, farm labor, and poverty are seen, to Carmela, they are not nearly as interesting as a dandelion puff or accompanying her brother into town – indeed, something she views as an adventure while he views it as a chore (laundry, quite literally). It’s authentically representative in a way that few books are, and encourage discussion yet maintain a childlike innocence that reminds the reader that children, no matter their circumstances or surroundings, are always still children. The art is lovely, especially the innocently heartbreaking wishes depicted on papel picado. The length is great, and JJ and I loved it. Baby Bookworm approved.

Love (Matt de la Peña)

Hello, friends! Our book today is the stunning and profound Love, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Loren Long, a moving meditation on love in all its forms.

The first voices we hear, and the first faces we see, wide-eyed and smiling down at us in wonder: these are love. So, too, is the sunset sky over a happy home, no matter how modest. It’s in music, in words, in gestures of kindness. Love guides us when we are lost, comforts us when we are scared, supports us as we grow. And when the world is cold or cruel or darkened by hate, don’t despair – love will still be there to chase away the darkness once again. Even the face that stares back at you from the mirror – that’s love too. And when you go out into the world, love will be there to send you on your way, as you spread love wherever you go, with every step you take.

It’s really, really hard to describe what makes this book so special. It sounds like a pretty simple concept, and could have made for a very generic book in less-skilled hands. But this is a wonder, and I have teared up at least ten times just thinking of it. The text is simple to read yet filled with quiet depth. The illustrations are earnest and grounded in reality yet carry an overall sense of hope: a spread depicting a nightmare shows a bright light leading the dreamer away from fear, a boy hiding under a piano during an argument between his parents is comforted by his dog. It’s… real, but a reality that encourages hope and understanding and inclusion and connection in terrifying times, with the belief that these things MATTER, and will lead us into the light as well. It’s breathtaking. Please read it. We loved it. You will too. Baby Bookworm approved.

Miguel And The Grand Harmony (Matt de la Peña)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Miguel And The Grand Harmony, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Ana Ramírez, a gorgeous tie-in to the Oscar-nominated film Coco.

Told from the point of view La Música (presented in the form of a delicate golden sprite), the reader follows the spirit of music through the streets of a Mexican town. Music is everywhere: weddings, quinceañeras, funerals, or simply singing through a radio or a local’s guitar. The music is stopped abruptly, however, when it reaches the home of Miguel and his shoemaker family; his abuelita chases the musicians off, claiming they will upset the elderly Mamá Coco. But Miguel clearly yearns to hear the music, even make it, despite his family’s wishes. So La Música enlists the help of a mischievous stray dog named Danté, a broken guitar, and a kindly músico to help Miguel join in the grand harmony.

Full disclosure: Coco was the first movie JJ saw in a theater, so it will always have a special place in my heart (it was phenomenal). And in keeping with Disney’s recent fabulous tradition of high-quality “inspired by” tie-ins, this story is astoundingly good. While knowledge of the themes of Coco and its characters are helpful for context, they are not required – the story works just fine as a standalone, celebrating the power of music and the passion of those who live and breathe it. The watercolor art is gorgeous, evoking a classic picture-book style while infusing it with life and color that makes every page a stunner. The use of Spanish phrases and the inclusion of elements of Mexican culture are perfection, providing contextual clues instead of overt explanations, creating a sense of immersion that both Latinx and non-Latinx readers can appreciate. The length is fine, if a little on the long side for the youngest bookworms, but JJ and I both adored it. A must-read for lovers and makers of mūsica, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!