Grandparents might live nearby, or in another country. They might be related to you by blood or simply be a kindred spirit. Perhaps they are here, telling stories by your bedside, or gone, whispering stories in your dreams...
"When Abuela, my grandma, tells me stories, we can fly anywhere", says Rosalba, in Arthur Dorros' Abuela. In this and in all the other books I have selected here in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, children will find grandparents' love in action, whether they are reading to their grandchildren, telling stories, or simply being there, quietly passing on wisdom and traditions. Some of the stories are whimsically imagined; others are biographical; the majority also highlight a crucial aspect of Hispanic culture the role elders play in the fabric of family and community life and can be used as starters for a discussion about intergenerational relationships.
In a recent interview to the website Colorín Colorado, writer Alma Flor Ada mentioned the importance of the knowledge children gain from "the heritage of having listened to the stories of their ancestors, and having listened to how other people in their family have gone through life". So the intention of this no doubt incomplete reading list is to nod to her beautiful statement (thanks, Alma!).
And may our grandchildren one day be able to tell their grandchildren spellbinding stories of family love and heritage.
Liliana's Grandmother, by Leyla Torres
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998
Also available in Spanish as Las abuelas de Liliana, this is the story of a young girl and her two grandmothers, one who lives in the United States and one who lives in South America. Liliana's grandmother Mima lives up the street, does yoga exercises, and likes crossword puzzles. Liliana's other grandmother, Mama Gabina, lives in South America, enjoys gardening, and likes to dance around the house. The meals they cook are different, the stories they tell are different, but one thing they have in common: their love for their granddaughter. A 1998 Américas Award commended title.
I Love Saturdays & Domingos, by Alma Flor Ada, illustrated by Elivia Savadier
Saturdays and Sundays are very special days for the bilingual girl in this 2002 Américas Award commended title. On Saturdays she visits Grandma and Grandpa, who come from a European-American background, and on Sundays (Domingos) she visits Abuelito y Abuelita, who are Mexican-American. The depth and joy of both cultures are conveyed in Spanish and English and children will learn that despite the differences in language and culture, the love of her grandparents has no boundaries.
Abuela, by Arthur Dorros, illustrated by Elisa Kleven
In this brief story, also available in Spanish, images of flight abound, and the bond between young Rosalba and her abuela (grandma) is expressed through lovely flights of fancy. During one of their regular outings to a New York City park, Rosalba's imagination soars high, with grandma in tow, landing here and there to contemplate different parts of the city and of grandma's memories. Their shared flight unveils colorful aspects of abuela's ethnic origin, and enhances the already strong connection between them. The book, which has Spanish words woven into the story, has received many awards and honors. And the joy of this book goes on to feature Rosalba and abuela in yet another adventure...
Isla, Arthur Dorros, illustrated by Elisa Kleven
Rosalba and abuela use their imagination once again to visit the Caribbean island where the grandmother grew up. They take an imaginary trip to the island where Rosalba's aunt and uncle and cousin still live, and amongst other sites they visit the market, where they "see" Abuela's family selling pineapples when she was a little girl, a long, long time ago... This one is a treat as sweet as the pineapples themselves.
Tales our Abuelitas Told: A Hispanic Folktale Collection, by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy, illustrated by Felipe Dávalos, Viví Escrivá, Susan Guevara and Leyla Torres Atheneum, 2005
In Tales Our Abuelitas Told, or Cuentos que Contaban Nuestras Abuelas (its Spanish edition) Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy's retellings are a treasure deeply rooted in collective memory and heritage. This handsome volume will provide granparents and their grandchildren with everything they need to build lifetime memories. Well, everything but grandmother's lap.
Abuela's Weave, by Omar S. Castaneda, illustrated by Enrique O. Sanchez
Lee & Low, 1993
In this award-winning, highly recommended book, Esperanza's grandmother shares with her the gift of weaving, urging her to pull the threads close, 'like family'. Together they weave some traditional Mayan tapestries to be sold at the local market in Guatemala, where they live. Abuela has a birthmark on her face that scares some customers away, so Esperanza must venture out by herself to find buyers and in the process she learns important lessons about trust and family love. Also available in Spanish as El Tapiz de Abuela.
Saturday Sancocho, by Leyla Torres
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995
Set in Colombia, this book evokes the busy atmosphere typical of the village markets of Central and South America. Making chicken sancocho (a Colombian dish) with her grandparents is a Saturday tradition for Maria Lili: but one morning grandpa says there is no money for sancocho, and she has to go with grandmother to the market to, somehow, without money, get the ingredients they need. A lesson is in store for Maria Lili when Mama Ana manages to barter their eggs (all they could find in the house) for all the ingredients they need. Saturday Sancocho is available in Spanish as El sancocho del sábado, and is a 1995 Américas Award commended title.
A Gift For Abuelita: Celebrating the Day of the Dead / Un Regalo Para Abuelita: En Celebracion Del Dia De Los Muertos, by Nancy Luenn, illustrated by Robert Chapman
Rising Moon, 1998
In this 1999 Américas Award Honor title, whether Abuelita is teaching Rosita about gardening or creating a game out of making tortillas, Rosita always feels the warmth of her love, so when grandma passes away, Rosita tries to express her undying love by preparing a gift for the Day of the Dead celebrations a joyful, family festivity in which one remembers family members who have passed away. In this bilingual book, the magic of love and the rituals surrounding this memorial day celebrated in Mexican American communities are beautifully woven together in an accessible and gentle way.
Where the Fireflies Dance/ Ahí donde bailan las luciérnagas , by Lucha Corpi, illustrated by Mira Reisberg
Children's Book Press, 1997
Award-winning author Lucha Corpi's Where the Fireflies Dance is the bilingual story of young Lucha and her brother Victor, told in the style of a Mexican grandmother telling stories by the fire. The author remembers colorful details of rural Jáltipan, in Mexico, where they grew up, and most of all, the ballads her father sang and the stories her grandmother told. In this great bilingual tale of family life, music, and cultural pride we see how her grandmother passes on a very important message about growing up confident and rooted in love.
Icy Watermelon/ Sandia Fria, by Mary Sue Galindo, illustrated by Pauline Rodriguez Howard
Arte Público Press, 2000
This bilingual picture book, yet another Américas Award commended title, is about three generations enjoying chilled watermelon outside on a summer day, as Abuela recounts the story of meeting Abuelo when he drove his watermelon truck to her barrio. The warmth of family life and the planting of the watermelon seeds at the end of the story remind us that the love and security the children feel with their grandparents will be there for future generations to harvest.
posted: September 2006