I couldn’t think of a better holiday book to feature this year, as I’ve been focusing on the stories of refugees, migrants, and generally those making journeys from areas of conflict or poverty and trying to navigate new lives. I look forward to continuing to focus on picture books dealing with these themes in 2018.
This is the last post of 2017, as I journey to South America later today to spend the holidays in Brazil with our son-in-law’s family and friends. Happy holidays dear readers. I hope you receive a special gift this season, too!
Title: Grandma’s Gift
Written & Illustrated By: Eric Velasquez
Publisher/date: Bloomsbury Children’s Books/2013 (originally published, Walker & Company, 2010)
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: Puerto Rico; intergenerational; art; holiday foods; journeys
“Feliz Navidad, Eric!” My teacher walked me to the classroom door, where my grandmother was waiting to take me back to her apartment for my winter break. I used to spend all my school vacations with her so she could take care of me while my parents worked.
Brief Synopsis: Eric helps his grandmother prepare a special Puerto Rican food for Christmas, and she accompanies him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to complete a school project.
Links to Resources:
- A Teacher’s Guide provides several ideas, including identifying gifts or other items kids value and describing and discussing them;
- The narrator’s Grandma hailed from Puerto Rico. Find out more about this US territory;
- Eric and his grandmother visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they viewed Diego Velázquez’ portrait of Juan de Pareja. Try drawing a portrait or self-portait;
- Grandma makes pasteles, a traditional Puerto Rican dish. Try making pasteles using Velasquez’ recipe and/or make a holiday food that is important in your family or culture.
Why I Like this Book:
I love the many layers of this holiday picture book. Not only does Grandma’s Gift include heartwarming intergenerational interactions, but it also features two journeys of discovery: Grandma shares La Marqueta with Eric, and he helps her navigate a trip out of El Barrio to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There, they discover a famous painting that Grandma remembered from her Puerto Rican school days and that Eric realizes was “painted by someone we might see walking around El Barrio.”
Velasquez is an illustrator-author and his realistic, detailed paintings bring the words to life. Particularly poignant is a double-page spread showing Grandma and Eric starting up the grand steps to the Museum while men who clearly are more comfortable there face them, arms folded, as if to indicate that Grandma and Eric are not welcome to enter. I think this spread could generate some wonderful classroom discussions about how our body language makes others feel and how someone entering an unfamiliar institution may feel.
A Note about Craft:
Grandma’s Gift was published seven years ago, and it’s interesting to note a few differences from works published today. While there is inclusion of Spanish text, in italics, the text is much longer than much of what is included today, and the translations appear in parentheses directly afterwards. The word count generally is higher than that of today’s picture books, too.
Grandma’s Gift would pair well with Last Stop on Market Street (Matt de la Peña/Christian Robinson, 2016).
Visit Eric Velasquez’ website to see more of his books and illustrations. Grandma’s Gift was awarded the Pura Belpré Medal for illustration in 2011. I reviewed Grandma’s Records last week. These two would pair nicely for classroom discussion, too.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!