Today is the last day of Hispanic Heritage month. I think you’ll agree that today’s Perfect Picture Book selection is a wonderful way to celebrate!
Title: A Song of Frutas
Written By: Margarita Engle
Illustrated By: Sara Palacios
Publisher/Date: Athenium Books for Young Readers/2021
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: intergenerational, multicultural, Cuba
When we visit Abuelo, I help him sell frutas. We sing the names of each fruit as we walk, our footsteps like drumbeats, our hands like maracas, shaking bright food shapes while we chant with a rhythm:
Mango limón coco melon naranja tononja plátano piña.
Brief Synopsis: A young girl visits her grandfather in Cuba and helps him sell fruit.
Links to Resources:
- Learn about Cuba, the setting of this story;
- What’s your favorite fruit? Why? Find out more about your favorite fruit, learn how to say the name of that fruit in Spanish or another language, and/or sing a song about your favorite fruit;
- In Cuba and many other Spanish-speaking regions, people traditionally eat 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and make one wish per month for the coming year. Do you have a tradition in your family to celebrate the new year? Describe in words or pictures things you wish for – either for yourself, your family and friends, or the world;
- Check out the Curriculum Guide for many more activity ideas.
Why I Like this Book:
With its rhythmic prose and detailed, colorful illustrations, A Song of Frutas is a delightful glimpse into the life of a Cuban fruit vendor and his young Cuban-American granddaughter. For those who have never encountered an open-air market or vendors who stroll the streets with fresh foods and other treats, this is a reminder that food doesn’t need to arrive shrink wrapped on large grocery shelves or bundled into bags on your doorstep. It’s also a reminder of the importance and dignity of the people who provide our nourishment, and the happiness that results when others view these vendors as important members of our community.
Engle’s lyrical text sprinkles in Spanish words seamlessly, much like a family with roots in one culture might continue to use those words or phrases when they move to a new land where another language is spoken. With the English phrase or word often following the Spanish one, or with the Spanish words next to illustrations of the items they identify, both of which happens here, Engle provides a wonderful opportunity for younger children to learn some Spanish.
In the story, the unnamed young narrator is visiting her beloved Abuelo and helping him sell frutas. I love that she finds pleasure in working with him and meeting all of the other vendors and customers. Not surprisingly, her favorite is “la ducera, a woman with the voice of an angel, who croons so sweetly in praise of los caramelos”. The love of chocolate and candies just may be universal!
While much of the story takes place during the visit in Cuba, Engle also reminds readers that travel between Cuba and the United States has not always been possible due to political reasons. A New Year’s Eve “wish is always friendship between countries, so that we can visit mi abuelo more often” and that he, perhaps, can visit the United States, too.
Rather than ending on this more somber note, Engle shows the young narrator and her abuelo exchanging letters, singing “rhymes back and forth…all our hopeful poems flying like songbirds who glide and soar through wild sky” sending hugs to each other until their next meeting.
With its Author’s Note that explains the Spanglish used in the text, to a brief explanation of travel restrictions, and an exploration of the singing vendors of Cuba and Cuban New Year’s eve traditions, A Song of Frutas is a wonderful resource for libraries and classrooms. It’s also a joyful read for families, especially for those that blend multiple cultures.
A Note about Craft:
As is evident from the opening lines, Engle’s use of lyrical language enables the text to sing, much like the narrator and her abluelo sing the fruit names.
A Song of Frutas is a work of fiction, but it’s clear that Engle, who is a Cuban American, clearly understands Cuban society and culture and draws on memories of her visits there to add rich details to this story.
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!