Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin




Monday, April 9, 2018

Como se llama? What is your name?

For every name given to a child, there is a story behind the giving of that name.  It is the story attached to each name which children find most fascinating.  Once they understand the reasoning behind their name, they desire to know the name's meaning and origin.  Many names originate from a country other than the country in which the child lives.  In the native country of the word, it can have a completely different definition.

It's uncanny how aptly named most of us are.  We are constantly a reflection of our names.  Alma and How She Got Her Name (Candlewick Press, April 10, 2018) debut as both author and illustrator for Pura Belpre 2018 Illustrator Award Winner (La Princesa and the Pea G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, September 5, 2017) Juana Martinez-Neal follows a conversation with a child and her father.

Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela had a long name---too long, if you asked her.

She approaches her daddy one day wondering why her name is so long.  He suggests she listens to the story of her name.  Then she can decide if it is too long.

Sofia is the name of her daddy's mother.  There were several things this woman loved but books and reading were a part of her life.  They're a part of Alma's life too.

Next is the name of a great-grandmother who longed to travel but never ventured from home, but her son did.  Each name represents a member of Alma's extended family, her father's father, a great-aunt and her other grandmother.  These family members are remembered for special qualities; qualities which Alma already sees as important in her life.

When the story of her name is nearly finished, the daughter requests of her father the reason for her first name, Alma.  His reply is what everyone needs to hear.  His reply is a gift born of love.


For a child their name can be a puzzle, especially if the name is unique or longer than the names of other children.  The gentle beauty of this story is in the rhythm Juana Martinez-Neal supplies through the conversation between Daddy and Alma.  For each of the names he explains the heart's desire of those relatives.  When he finishes Alma responds by comparing her similar accomplishments.  After Daddy speaks about his father, Jose, an artist, Alma's reply further confirms the love shared by father and daughter.

"I wake up early every day, and I draw a lot, too!
This morning, I drew a kitty cat for you, Daddy!"


The limited color palette shown to readers on the front of the dust jacket is used throughout the remainder of the book.  The subtle, soft texture is evident in every line Juana Martinez-Neal makes.  To the left, on the back, Alma is cozily seated next to her daddy in a large comfy chair.  They are looking at a picture of Sofia.  Next to the chair is a potted tree which grows up and over the duo like a delicate frame of tiny leaves and flowers.  It is in this picture we are introduced to one further color, a bit of blue.

It is this special shade of blue which provides the canvas on the book case.  In the center of the front, within a frame like a photograph is Alma.  She is hugging a book with her name on it and holding a pencil.  Her eyes are shifted up to look at the tiny bird perched on her head.  Readers are going to love looking for the bird in each illustration.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a cream and pale red striped pattern like the clothing worn by Alma.  Rendered in graphite, colored pencils, and print transfers on handmade textured paper each image is worthy of framing.  Many of them span a single page except when Alma is talking in response to her father's story.  Then we are treated to double-page pictures.

What will have readers pausing at every page turn are the details. These elements are a mirror of a culture and a family.  The potted plant in Sofia's picture is still alive and next to Alma and her daddy.  In several of the illustrations Alma is interacting with the relatives.  It's as if she is stepping back into the past to meet them.

One of my many favorite illustrations is the wall in Alma's bedroom.  In the background is a gathering of her favorite animals covering two pages.  Each has the Spanish name on or near it.  On the far right is a drawing of Alma holding a balloon.  A line is strung across her room with pictures hanging from it, held in place by clothes pins.  On the left Alma is busy working.  A ladder leans against the wall next to her.  A bucket of her artist's brushes hangs from it.  The picture of the kitty she made for her daddy is clipped to a rung.  Alma's back is to us as she reaches with a paint brush to complete another element of her mural.


Surely Alma and How She Got Her Name written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal is one of the most delightful titles available addressing the story of names.  It reinforces the value of family history and tradition.  Once we know from where we come, it is easier to move forward making our own story. At the close of the book Juana Martinez-Neal writes a note to readers about her name and invites them to learn about their names.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Juana Martinez-Neal and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Juana also maintains a blog.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior illustration.  At Penguin Random House you can view other images.  The cover was revealed at All The Wonders along with a short interview.

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