PPBF – Alma and How She Got Her Name

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

Opening:

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:

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.

Learn more about Martinez-Neal and her other work, including La Princesa and the Pea, the winner of the 2018 Pura Belpré Medal for Illustration, by visiting her website.

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!

13 responses to “PPBF – Alma and How She Got Her Name

  1. I fell in love with this one when I read it with my kids. Beautiful choice!

  2. I was very happy that this one won a Caldecott Honor this year as I love all the nods to Peruvian culture.

  3. Very interesting comment about taking a child on a journey that doesn’t include a physical relocation, more like a psychological relocation. I like that. And I like the subtle way the illustrator inserted valuable information that adds to our understanding of the child’s history. Thanks for the rec! I saw this on the Caldecott list and was thinking that I needed to take a look. Now adding to my pile. Thanks!

  4. I have heard about this story and am interested because of the Peruvian cultural influence. I especially enjoyed your excellent review because I know a little more about the story. I had a Great Aunt Alma — and that’s the only person I’ve known with this unique name. So many beautiful older names are returning.

    • What a small world – my grandmother’s sister, whom we called “Auntie” was my Great Aunt Alma. I agree that these older names are making a come-back. I’m happy about it, too.

  5. This sounds like a wonderful story, and an opening for kids to explore their own names. I once worked for a cook who had such a long string of names we called her Gert.

  6. Great review of a really fun and thought provoking book. By the way, it is a finalist for a Cybils as well.

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