What’s in a name? A lot, if you ask most kids, and even some adults. I’m one of those adults who still wonders about my Irish first name since neither I, nor the parents who adopted me as an infant, are Irish (although I do have a March birthday and like spring green). I also chose names for my own children that aren’t immediately shortened into nicknames nor readily identifiable as a particular nationality. But they all have a middle name from a grandparent, in a nod to family history. Because isn’t family what it’s all about?
Title: Alma and How She Got Her Name
Written & Illustrated By: Juana Martinez-Neal
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: name; identity; family history; Latinx; multicultural; Caldecott honor
Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela had a long name—too long, if you asked her.
Brief Synopsis: A young girl unhappy with her long name learns the story of each of the relatives whose names she bears and learns to embrace her history and her future.
Links to Resources:
- Play a Name Game, using character or famous persons’ names or repeating names around a circle;
- Are you named after someone in your family, a famous person or a saint? Ask a parent or older relative about the meaning of your name;
- Explore your family history with these fun family-history activities;
- Check out the Activity Kit;
- The Classroom Bookshelf shares several ideas to explore Alma’s story in the classroom.
Why I Like this Book:
Alma and How She Got Her Name is such a sweet, kid-relatable story with such heart. I immediately fell in love with Alma and her story-telling father. Through the introduction of Alma’s ancestors, readers meet the strong family that came before her, and learn about Alma’s heritage. We also see how each of their many attributes come together to form a new, unique person, Alma, who is ready to tell her own story.
I love the message of celebrating each person’s unique talents while cherishing what we have in common with family members. I also love how the story ends on a forward-looking note as Alma prepares to write her story. In an Author’s Note, Martinez-Neal asks readers about the story of their names and asks what story they’d like to tell.
Alma and How She Got Her Name is a 2019 Caldecott Honor Book – not surprisingly. An illustrator-author, Martinez-Neal shows so much of the story in the graphite, colored pencil and print transfer illustrations. For instance, nowhere in the text does it mention Peru as the country from which Alma’s ancestors hail, but the bookshelves contain many references to Peru, including a piggy bank with PERU on its flank, perhaps to collect coins to save for a trip to visit family. The books gracing many of the pages bear titles in
Spanish, and other items, like dolls and toys, are South American folk art pieces. For curious young listeners, a small bird appears somewhere in almost every spread – I loved watching it accompany Alma and her father on her journey of discovery.
A Note about Craft:
In the Author’s Note, Martinez-Neal shares that she, too, has a too-long name that she felt was “the most old-fashioned, harsh, ugly, and way-too-Spanish name in all of Lima, Peru”. Alma, then, is somewhat autobiographical. I think it’s a wonderful lesson to authors to mine their own past to write stories that show universal themes.
At its most basic, Alma’s story is one conversation that occurs in one room. But by showing Alma interacting with her ancestors and at times mimicking their actions, the illustrations caused at least this reader to feel as if I’d undertaken a journey – both in time and distance.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!