Navigating through life, even if you tend to be an optimist, is much better when shared with a friend. If this friend should happen to be a dog, you could not ask for a better companion and confidant. A dog's affection never wavers plus they probably understand every single thing you say. They are the best secret keepers. They dispense advice with a look, a nudge or a tail wag.
If you happen to be beginning another year of school, a dog can get you through any difficulties you encounter. Juana & Lucas (Candlewick Press, September 27, 2016) written and illustrated by Juana Medina provides readers with an up-close and personal view on growing up in Bogota, Colombia through the eyes of a lovable, lively little girl. She gives new meaning to the word energetic.
My name is Juana.
and it is pronounced
Right away Juana lists her favorite things: drawing, Astroman, Brussels sprouts and Bogota, Colombia. As she chats a bit about each thing, we learn a little bit more about Juana. When she explains more about why she loves Bogota our understanding of this city and Juana grows.
When she continues her favorite things' discussion including reading, even when she should be sleeping, we learn of her most favorite thing of all, her dog Lucas. Her seven reasons for loving Lucas are truthful and hilarious.
His vision and hearing are so good that when Mami is making her way toward my room, Lucas gives me a little push with his snout, which gives me time to turn off the light. That always saves me from a talk or two about still being awake past bedtime.
In several chapters we follow Juana from one disaster to the next; a bubble blowing blow-up on the school bus, a ruined lunch box and the contents inside, a math problem fiasco, a toe-stomping dance class, the perils of school uniforms, a futbol game at recess with teammate problems and the worst possible news of all. Mr. Tompkins is going to be teaching his students the English. When Juana gets home and her Mami thinks learning English is good thing, there is only one solution to this problem. She hugs Lucas.
Juana feels like the odds are stacked against her when her neighbor Mr. Sheldon, the local grocers, the Herrera brothers, and even her Tia Cris think the English language offers opportunities. As she continues to struggle with the new words, a fresh worry starts to bother her. Parent-teacher conferences are coming. On the day of the meeting her grandparents, Abue and Abuelita, arrive after school to take her to their home. Juana is very grateful to notice they also bring Lucas.
During her visit with them, her grandpa, Dr. Rosas, a neurosurgeon, explains the importance of English to him. Juana is amazed. Then he reveals a plan, an epic plan. Juana knows she must devote all her efforts to learning English. If she succeeds, Mr. Shelden, the Herrera brothers and Tia Cris will share in her accomplishments. If she succeeds her Mami and Abue and Abuelita will share an out-of-this-world adventure with her. Lucas already knows what will happen because best furry friends are special.
Within these short eleven chapters the zest in which Juana greets every situation is made abundantly clear to readers. Juana Medina brings us into the everyday events with truth and humor. We are made aware of those things Juana really loves and those things she distinctly dislikes. Throughout the narrative Medina asks us to pause when she writes variations of
And here's why:
Spanish words are sprinkled in sentences. Given the context we can figure out their meaning. It's a wonderful way for English-speaking readers to learn and for Spanish-speaking readers to connect. Here is a passage from the beginning of chapter four.
Back inside, in Mr. Tompkins's clase, it feels like a sauna, and after that intense futbol game, this classroom is seriously stinky. Even stinkier than after dance class, and that's a lot of stinky!
We might have fallen asleep at our desks in the stuffy room if Mr. Tompkins hadn't anunciado,
"Ladies and gentlemen!
Are you ready for a ton of fun?"
When a grown-up says something is going to be a ton of fun, it means there will be NO FUN AT ALL. Not even a single bit of fun. Nada de fun.
Rendered in ink and watercolor (I am working with an F & G. All the illustrations are in black and white but the final copy will be in full color.) the illustrations are full of animation. The smile on Juana's face on the front of the book case hints at the fun to follow. Lucas is a patient pal in everything she does and almost wherever she goes. Every page turn has a picture.
Juana Medina alters the image sizes and perspective to enhance her text, supplying us with the true emotional moods Juana experiences. She has the ability to convey much with small lines and dots. Another important feature of this title is the shifting size and placement of the text for emphasis.
One of my many favorite illustrations is in the first chapter. Taking up the bottom half of two pages spreading from edge to edge is a scene in Juana's bedroom. From the right and crossing the gutter is her window giving readers a view of the city of Bogota. Juana is reading with a flashlight under her covers on the left. Lucas is sleeping with his head next to her. The word contentment comes to mind.
The first in a series Juana & Lucas written and illustrated by Juana Medina is a charming, insightful look at the world of a girl growing up in Bogota, Colombia. The intended audience will easily relate to the ups and downs in Juana's life. The underlying current of humor in the text and pictures will touch all readers. I highly recommend this title especially as a read aloud.
To discover more about Juana Medina and her work please follow the links attached to her name to access her website and blog at Tumblr. You can view an inside spread at the publisher's website. Here is a publisher generated A Q & A with author-illustrator Juana Medina about this title which is wonderful. Here is a link to a series of flash cards in Spanish and English featuring Juana and Lucas on the Spanish cards. Make sure to read the article, A Girl and Her Furry Amigo | Up Close with Juana Medina in School Library Journal. Juana Medina is featured with two other Latina illustrators here.
UPDATE: November 10, 2016 Juana Medina is interviewed at Latinxs in Kid Lit.