Book Review: Grandma’s Records by Eric Velasquez

Grandma'sRecordsCoverBy Sujei Lugo

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Every summer, Eric goes to live with his grandmother in El Barrio (Spanish Harlem) while his parents work. Through the long hot days, Grandma fills her apartment with the blaring horns and conga drums of bomba y plena, salsa, and merengue–the music she grew up with in Puerto Rico–sharing her memories and passions with Eric. But Eric sees Grandma in a new light when she gets them tickets to hear their favorite band in concert. The music sounds so different than it does at home on their scratchy records. And then the lead singer serenades Grandma right in front of the whole audience! Join Eric Velasquez on a magical journey through time and across cultures, as a young boy’s passion for music and art is forged by a powerful bond between generations.

MY TWO CENTS: Eric Velasquez gives us an autobiographical narrative of emotional connections to music, family, and the homeland.

The book introduces us to Eric by his retelling of how every summer he went to his grandma’s apartment in El Barrio while his parents worked. From the first day, she wrapped him around her music, her dances, her special song, and her stories about growing up in Puerto Rico. Eric, due to the insistence of his grandmother, carefully selected records to play for both of them. Selecting and playing records became a ritual during which he became fascinated with the album covers and his grandma’s love for Puerto Rican music.

These music-filled summers are delightfully represented through each carefully crafted illustration and each story. We can see how their joy for music is portrayed through images that are playful but veer into photo-realism, while their emotions are carefully captured through the text. Velasquez was able to pay tribute to his grandma’s connection to and love for music and Puerto Rico, the same love that cemented a strong connection for Eric to his grandmother.

This book has a wonderful moment I must highlight as an example of bringing historical context to a memoir to convey the power of music in our daily lives: One day Grandma’s nephew, Sammy Ayala, paid them a visit. Sammy was a musician and came from Puerto Rico because his musical group was going to perform for the first time in New York. Sammy gave his loving grandmother a copy of their brand-new record and two tickets to see his band: the now legendary Cortijo y su Combo with lead singer Ismael Rivera. This concert became for Eric and his grandmother a very personal and magical moment that captured their ongoing love for music and their 1950s summers in El Barrio. This melding of the historical with the personal is executed in a very endearing way, and it becomes a very powerful moment with the detailed illustrations.

What I loved about Grandma’s Records is how Velasquez depicted the power of music and how it can be a strong vehicle to guide you toward memories, people, and places. How Grandma felt connected to her home country, to her family, and to her Afro-Puerto Rican roots is portrayed perfectly. At the same time, we can see how music becomes an ideal bridge that helps erase multi-generational gaps and serves as a medium to share stories and create new memories. Through his grandma’s music collection, Velasquez illustrated the presence of Afrolatin@ musicians and singers. Through his words, images, and stories he placed Afrolatinidad in children’s literature and contributed to its much-needed visibility and representation in literature and media.

TEACHING TIPS: Due to its rich vocabulary and length, this picture book works well for 7-9 year-olds and third graders. At home and at the library, adults can read the story aloud or provide support with words that might not be familiar while kids are reading independently. Storytime with grandparents and their grandchildren will provide the opportunity to share the story and will also build multi-generational memories as with the beloved characters of Grandma’s Records.

English Language Arts teachers can develop reading comprehension activities, as well as word searches and word scrambles with the music-themed vocabulary. As Eric liked to look through his grandma’s records and make sketches of the album covers, Art and Music teachers can collaborate in activities that intersect music history and album covers in which students can recreate their favorite covers or design their own. The book provides brief biographies of Rafael Cortijo, Ismael Rivera and Sammy Ayala, information that can be useful to discuss Afrolatino music in the classroom.

Lexile: 780L

AUTHOREric Velasquez is an Afro-Puerto Rican illustrator born in Spanish Harlem, New York. He attended the High School of Art and Design, the School of Visual Arts, and The Art Students League in New York City.

As a children’s book illustrator, Velasquez has collaborated with several writers in titles such as: Journey to Jo’burg: A South African Story by Beverley Naidoo, The Skirt by Gary Soto, The Sound That Jazz Makes by Carole Boston Weatherford (Nominated for 1999 NAACP Image Award in Children’s Literature), Champion: The Story of Muhammad Ali by James Haskins, Liberty Street by Candice F. Ransom, Houdini: World’s Greatest Mystery Man and Escape King by Kathleen Krull, A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson (2006 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People), My Friend Maya Loves to Dance by Cheryl Willis Hudson and As Fast as Words Could Fly by Pamela M. Tuck (2007 Lee & Low’s New Voices Award Winner).

Eric Velasquez is the recipient of the 2011 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award for Grandma’s Gift and the 1999 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for The Piano Man.  He currently lives and works in Hartsdale, New York.

For more information about Grandma’s Records visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out Goodreads, IndieBound.org, WorldCat.org, Amazon, Barnes and Noble. In 2002 it was translated to Spanish, Los Discos de Mi Abuela.

2 comments on “Book Review: Grandma’s Records by Eric Velasquez

  1. Pingback: Celebrating Pura Belpré Winners: Spotlight on Grandma’s Gift by Eric Velasquez | Latinxs in Kid Lit

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