Week-end Book Review: My Abuelita by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Yuyi Morales, photographed by Tim O’Meara,
“I live with my grandma. And she lives with me. I call her Abuelita.” So begins this lively love-filled story of a boy and his grandmother going about their morning routine. Tony Johnston’s masterful language and Yuyi Morales’ trademark vibrant palette turn the most prosaic of daily events – getting ready for work – into a magical adventure. As Abuelita bends, stretches, baths, yodels, hums, eats, and packs, the reader turning pages with anticipation: what job could possibly require a scarf like a cloud that flows down to the ground, or a skeleton and plumed snake, or a temple and a crown of stars?
Children and adults alike will delight in discovering Abuelita’s job, even as they revel in unexpected joys and surprises sprinkled throughout the text and images. Johnston’s figurative language perfectly compliments Morales’ intricate, impish visuals, which defy any notions of grandparents as elderly or aging. Abuelita wakes up with the sun and is round “like a calabeza, a pumpkin,” with “hair the color of salt and a face crinkled like a dried chile.” After she takes her morning shower, she looks like a great big bee wrapped in her black and yellow towel, and when they sit to breakfast, she eats fried eggs that look like stars.
Each step in the morning routine flies off the page in this 2010 Pura Belpré Honor book. Award-winning illustrator Morales builds on her former success by introducing a new illustration technique, building and staging puppets and taking photographs of the scenes. With the help of Tim O’Meara, she finishes each illustration digitally, which gives the whimsical, exuberant images a three-dimensional quality akin to a Pixar film. Family love wafts from words and pictures alike, as the narrator assists his grandmother in each step of their familiar morning routine, and confides he wants to be like her when he grows up. Magical realism, traditional iconography, and sprinklings of Spanish all root this story in its Mexican context, while its themes of love, family, and dreams make it immediately and intimately familiar to all. A joyful tale for readers and non-readers alike, and an ideal read-aloud for teachers, families, and friends.