Book Review: Tito Puente: Mambo King / Rey del Mambo by Monica Brown

Tito Puente, Mambo King/Tito Puente, Rey del MamboBy Sujei Lugo

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Meet Tito Puente, the King of Mambo. Tum Tica! From musical prodigy on the streets of Harlem to five-time Grammy Award winner, Tito’s life was full of rhythm. Drums and claves, saxophones and tambourines were all part of the fun. Tac Tic! Monica Brown and Rafael López, the award-winning creators of the Pura Belpré Honor Book My Name is Celia/Me Llamo Celia, team up once again for another spectacular collaboration in this upbeat tribute to a musical legend.

MY TWO CENTS: Brown was presented with the challenge of summarizing Tito Puente’s life and music career in a picture book, and with the collaboration of Rafael López and his lovely illustrations, she succeeded wonderfully. What makes this picture book stand out is how beautifully words (English and Spanish) and images resonate with Tito’s sounds. The illustrations here are so vivid that you can almost see movements and listen to the sounds that are evoked. Brown and López effectively capture the beat and feeling of Tito Puente’s music throughout every page.

The book starts with an image of a boy and girl peeking through a curtain, as if we are about to start a show. This is where we are welcomed to Tito’s story from his childhood in El Barrio to his Grammy award-winning years. López’s colorful and vibrant images, along with Brown’s words and onomatopoeia, show us how music was constantly present in Tito’s life. These same images and words also construct a fond view of Latino life and music in NYC during Tito’s life.

Brown and López give us a very entertaining book that also manages to educate us about Tito’s life and the importance of music education. It is important to remember that Tito Puente was a product of music education and a supporter of music programs in schools. He even successfully worked toward the creation of the Tito Puente Educational Foundation that offers scholarships to children interested in learning music. This is an issue that is relevant when arts and music programs are constantly facing budget cuts. Being in tune with Puente’s life (and other great musicians and singers) helps to inspire us to support arts and music education, thus this picture book also serves as a great tool to familiarize with the power of music and arts as an important aspect of the learning process.

Tito Puente: Mambo King/Rey del Mambo is the second collaboration between Monica Brown and Rafael López. Published in March 2013, the book was selected by various Best of 2013 lists such as: Latinas for Latino Lit’s Remarkable Latino Children’s Literature of 2013, School Library Journal’s Top 10 Latino-themed Books of 2013, and Center for the Study Multicultural Children’s Literature Best Multicultural Books of 2013. Here is the wonderful bilingual trailer for this picture book:

TEACHING TIPS: This is a bilingual picture book (ages 4-7) that works well for early readers, but is a perfect one to read aloud. Parents, grandparents, family members, friends, or guardians can read in English, Spanish, or both, while teaching words and sounds to their young ones. School and public librarians can also use this book during storytime, and they can incorporate Tito’s songs and beats as the closing songs.

Going along with Tito Puente’s sense of collaboration with music, teachers (pre-school-2 grade) can also collaborate in school with this book. Language Arts, English, and Spanish teachers can read this book to their students, while teaching new words (in English and Spanish), onomatopoeia, and Tito’s life (the book includes a short biography). Art teachers can encourage and help students to create different musical instruments that are mentioned in the book. Music teachers can use the basic musical notation of a rumba for timbales, bongo, and congas that is available at the end of the book to teach some beats to the students.


AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR: (information comes from HarperCollins Publishers, Monica Brown’s website, Rafael López Books’ website, and Rafael López’ website.

Monica Brown is the author of many award-winning children’s books and an English Professor at Northern Arizona University, specializing in U.S. Latino Literature and Multicultural Literature. She has a BA in English from University of California, Santa Barbara, an MA in English from Boston College and a PhD in English from The Ohio State University. In addition to children’s books, Monica Brown also writes and publishes scholarly work with a Latin@ focus. She is a recipient of the prestigious Rockefeller Fellowship on Chicano Cultural Literacies from the Center for Chicano Studies at the University of California.

Brown has stated that her Peruvian-American heritage and her desire to share Latin@ stories are the inspiration for her books. Her first book of the Marisol McDonald series, Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald No Combina is the winner of the Tejas Star Book Award (2012-13), the International Latino Book Award (2012) and a Pura Belpré Honor for Illustration (2012). Other of her numerous awards are: the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature (2005) for her picture book My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/Me Llamo Celia: La Vida de Celia Cruz; the Pura Belpré Award (2008) for My Name is Gabito: The Life of Gabriel Garcia Márquez/Me Llamo Gabito: The Life of Gabriel Garcia Márquez; and the International Latino Book Award (2006) for My Name is Gabriela: The Life of Gabriel Mistral/Me Llamo Gabriela: La Vida de Gabriela Mistral

Rafael López is a Mexican award-winning illustrator and artist, whose work is influenced by his cultural heritage, colors of Mexican street life, and Mexican surrealism. In addition to children’s books, López has illustrated posters, United States Postal Service stamps such as the Latin Music Legends series, and he has launched street art projects to revitalize urban neighborhoods, such as the Urban Art Trail Project.

He is the recipient of various Pura Belpré Honor for Illustration awards for books such as: My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/Me Llamo Celia: La Vida de Celia Cruz (2006), Book Fiesta!: Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day/ Celebremos El Día de los Niños/El Día de Los Libros (2010) and The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred (2012). He also received two Américas Awards for Children’s and Young Adult Literature for My Name is Celia (2006) and ¡Yum! ¡Mmmm! ¡Qué Rico! Americas’ Sproutings (2007).

For More Information about Tito Puente: Mambo King / Rey del Mambo (2013), visit your local library or bookstore. Also, check out, ,,,  &

9 comments on “Book Review: Tito Puente: Mambo King / Rey del Mambo by Monica Brown

  1. What a colorful book and great musician to learn about. I found this site yesterday thanks to someone knowing the writer of this particular article. Great information for children of bilingual homes. ¡Exito!

  2. This is a great resource and I stumbled upon it because someone who knows the writer of this post, forwarded the information on Twitter. This book is colorful and can’t wait to go through the site to see what books we can acquire for our three year old. ¡Exito!

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