Tag Archives: identity

PPBF – Where Are You From?

Who hasn’t heard the question that forms the title of today’s Perfect Picture Book? I have vivid memories of the first weeks at university when this question could be heard in every classroom, corridor and dormitory. I probably asked it myself. But when a classmate mimicked my accent and posed the question, I confess to wondering if I truly belonged and feeling rather hurt. Luckily, today’s Perfect Picture Book exists to help those now facing that question.

Title: Where Are You From?

Written By: Yamile Saied Méndez

Illustrated By: Jaime Kim

Publisher/Date: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: identity, self-acceptance, family, intergenerational, multicultural

Opening:

Where are you from? they ask.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl asks her Abuelo, “Where am I from?”

Links to Resources:

  • Ask older relatives for information about your family history;
  • Create a family tree. Be creative – it doesn’t need to be an actual tree. Our family used flower petals to feature each person in our immediate family. You could use other shapes to highlight features that define each person (sports equipment, animal shapes, etc). Check out some other ideas here or use this printable tree with spaces to include family names and/or pictures.

Why I Like this Book:

In lyrical text, Where Are You From? explores a question that troubles children of mixed heritage who seek to understand why their skin tone or hair or language may be different from those around them. Interestingly, the unnamed narrator asks the question of her Abuelo, not because she notices the differences, but because others ask her, questioning whether she belongs.

I think all children wonder where they’re from, but for children whose features differ in some way from others in their school or community, this is an especially important issue. Thankfully, the young narrator has a wise grandfather who understands his granddaughter’s concerns and reassures her of her family’s love.

Kim’s rich illustrations provide a colorful accompaniment to Méndez’ text, as Abuelo describes the places of origin of the narrator’s ancestors.

A Note about Craft:

In Where Are You From?, Méndez utilizes first person point-of-view, which helps make the story seem more personal. But interestingly, the title and first lines indicate that the narrator reacts to the words of those around her. By using a question as the title and including “you” in that question, Méndez also draws readers into the story and may make them consider their own family or cultural background. It may also help them realize the hurt they cause when they pose this question to someone who differs somehow from the group.

Check out Méndez’ website to see more of her books. See more of Kim’s work at her website. There’s also a Spanish-language version of this picture book.

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

 

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!