Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Cultural Bridges Through Language

On Monday morning January 23, 2017 the American Library Association Youth Media Awards will be announced.  Of the awards announced that day, one is the Pura Belpre Award.

The award is named after Pura Belpre, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library.  The Pura Belpre Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms and celebrate the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

 As I have said before, there is hardly a day that goes by when I do not thank my Dad for encouraging me to study the Spanish language from junior high school through college.  It opened my eyes to a culture different from my own, enlarging the small world in which I was raised.  As an educator working with English speaking children, their enjoyment in hearing another language spoken, regardless if they understand the words, never ends.  Perhaps they recognize it for more than it is.  It's not just a language but a song of a people.

Two outstanding titles in 2016, both written and illustrated by Latina women, are bilingual.  Both women are recipients of multiple Pura Belpre Honor awards for their work.  The first 2016 title, How Do You Say? Como se dice? (Henry Holt And Company, November 8, 2016) by Angela Dominguez explores a growing friendship between two individuals who do not speak the same language.  It presents simple words and phrases as they share a day together.



Snacking on leaves, they share an appreciation for their delectable taste.  Then they decide it's time to exchange greetings, informal and more formal. After their nibble fest, their thirst is quenched.

Well, there is nothing better than good food and good drink, so the duo is feeling about as good as they can.  They express this freely.  It's time now to ask a question.  They both give the same answer at the same time!

With growing joy they do what anyone would do.  They celebrate! All this activity has drained their energy.  Sweet dreams amigos, dulces suenos, friends.  Again the giraffes reply identically.

For younger readers of either Spanish or English or for anyone desiring to learn another language, Angela Dominguez has written an utterly charming title.  We along with the giraffes are looking at the little, everyday pleasures in life and enjoying them. Single words and short phrases in English on the left and Spanish on the right are punctuated to express emotion.

When you look at the matching dust jacket and book case, besides the display of different languages, you see two happy giraffes on the right and left sides.  The back uses one of the interior images when the twosome is at the height of their merriment.  The opening and closing endpapers are a close-up of the distinctive giraffes' coat pattern.  On the title and verso pages one giraffe is looking up and over at the other which is looking down and over but from the top of the title page.

Angela Dominguez uses liberal amounts of white space as an additional element in her images rendered with pencil and tissue paper on illustration board, then colored digitally.  She places her subjects at different points on a page, coming in from varying edges of the pages.  Sometimes she brings us close to the giraffes as in when they are joyously talking about food.  Or she gives us a larger perspective as in when they are drinking from a pool of water by the tree.

The giraffes, their surrounding area and the text are done in realistic color but then Dominguez brings in purple to heighten the glee.  The eyes and mouths convey a full range of moods.  At one point their front legs are used to express perfect jubilation.

One of my favorite illustrations is for the word Delicious! !Sabrosa!  On either side of the gutter long branches of leaves hang down like a vine and come together toward the bottom.  The giraffes on either side have their eyes closed and long tongues extended out to the leaves.  They look like gourmets tasting their most beloved dish prepared by a master chef.

Certainly every professional and personal collection will want a copy of How Do You Say? ?Como se dice? written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez.  It's a delightful peek at the fun of learning new words and meeting new friends.  I can see developing it into a reader's theater.

To learn more about Angela Dominguez and her other work please follow the links attached to her name to access her website and blog.  To see four interior illustrations follow this link to the publisher's website.  Angela Dominguez has been featured on KidLit TV twice; StoryMakers and Ready Set Draw!  Angela Dominguez was one of three illustrators showcased at Latinxs in Kid Lit.

The second book takes us into another world.  !Olinguito, de la A a la Z!: Descubriendo el bosque nublado Olinguito, from A to Z!: Unveiling the Cloud Forest (Children's Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books Inc., February 15, 2016) written and illustrated by Lulu Delacre is a tribute to the discovery of the olinguito and a stunning presentation of the wonders in this creature's world.  Let's travel to the Andes with a zoologist from Washington, DC.

Alto, alla arriba en los Andes
High, high up in the Andes

A forest lush and green is colored with bromeliads.  It provides a residence for creepers, crawlers, fliers, hoppers and the elusive olinguito.  This place is teeming with life; flora and fauna of all shapes, sizes and colors.

Fig and coffee trees grow together.  Ginger flourishes flowering alongside rivers.  Lizards, tanagers, monkeys, butterflies and moths mingle.  Have you ever heard of spectacled bears?  They live here too.

A tiny hummingbird pauses as a quetzal watches.  The marvelous glass frogs call the cloud forest home.  They share this space with toads and salamanders, too.  There are tarantulas, tiger cats and blueberry bushes.  Yes, blueberry bushes!

After the sun sets and the sky darkens, a full moon rises.  The zoologist from Washington DC catches a glimpse of a modern day miracle.  He lifts his camera.  Click!

For each letter of the alphabet the combination of words penned by Lulu Delacre in Spanish is an alliterative melody. In English the descriptions are lyrical.  In both languages the information, as it is presented, takes us deep into the cloud forests examining the residents and their surroundings.  We get a real sense of how the experience must have been for those searching for the olinguito.  Here are three more combinations of phrases.

brilla un bosque bordado de bromelias...
blooms a brilliant forest embroidered with bromeliads...

y de undivino olinguito, de dia dormidito.
and a dozing olinguito dreaming the day away.

Lagartija sobre liquen, loritos en las lianas y llovizna leve, leve...
A lizard lies on lichen, tanagers line the vines, and the lightest drizzle...

Created using mixed media the illustrative beauty found in this title begins on the matching dust jacket and book case.  The olinguito placed in its natural setting framed in the title text is a varnished image on the jacket.  A specialized technique on the framing is like the atmosphere found in the cloud forest.  To the left, on the back, is a panoramic, bird's eye view of the cloud forest of the Andes.  A deep green covers the opening and closing endpapers.

A smaller version of the framing is set in a replica of the back illustration for the title page.  This smaller frame becomes the holder for each letter of the alphabet.  Each page turn is a single, double-page illustration.  Authentic scenes in realistic color replete with details depict the every aspect of this unique space. You expect to hear the sounds of this living, breathing place at any moment  

The text is set in a border created with the layering style employed by Delacre.  Carefully readers will note the change in the sky from sunrise to moonrise as the narrative moves from A to Z.  It's amazing how much we can see in a single day!

One of my favorite illustrations is for the letters K and L.  On the left a river slowly swirls past banks full of greenery and kermes-colored ginger blossoms.  On the right a branch covered in lichen hangs over the water.  A lizard rests on this branch as tanagers gather on vines.

Olinguito, de la A a la Z!: Descubriendo el bosque nublado Olinguito, from A to Z!: Unveiling the Cloud Forest written and illustrated by Lulu Delacre is the best kind of nonfiction with appeal to all readers regardless of their previous knowledge about cloud forests, the olinguito, Spanish and English.  So many glorious things about our world can be found in the pages of this book.  It will educate, entertain and inspire.  At the conclusion Lulu Delacre includes several pages in Spanish and English about the Discovery of the Olinguito, The Cloud Forest, The Illustrations and hints about being an explorer.  There are thumbnails of the specific flora and fauna discussed in her narrative along with the scientific names and brief descriptions.  There are More Helpful Words and the Author's Sources.  

If you desire to learn more about Lulu Delacre and her other work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  A list of honors and awards already given to this title are listed on a special page along with a teacher's guide. At the publisher's website you can view interior images, access an activity kit, and other STEM resources.  Lulu Delacre has been interviewed at Reading Rockets in a series of videos.


  1. So happy to find more bilingual picture books. Thanks for the recommendations!

  2. I haven't yet read Come Se Dice. I liked Olinguito, but somehow I didn't quite like the art. I think it may have been the colors, which gave it a more artificial than realistic feel. Just my subjective opinion :)