DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Above Reyna’s favorite booth in her family’s restaurant hangs the old vihuela, a small guitar-like instrument, that belonged to her abuelito when he was in a mariachi band. Reyna has never heard the vihuela played, but her mamá treasures the instrument as a reminder of abuelito and his music. One noisy day in the restaurant, Reyna accidentally damages the vihuela. Determined to get it repaired before Mamá notices, Reyna sets out to search her neighborhood for someone who can help her fix the instrument. Little does Reyna know that along the way she will find herself growing closer to abuelito and to the power of his music.
MY TWO CENTS: From the winner of the 2011 Lee & Low Books New Voices Award, here we have a bilingual story filled with charm that showcases the power of music as an intergenerational unifier.
Every weekend, Reyna hangs out at her mom’s restaurant, Cielito Lindo, reading and enjoying the cast of characters that visit the place. One day, she accidentally breaks her grandfather’s precious vihuela that hanged on one of the restaurant’s walls. Reyna never met her abuelito, but her mother’s tales about him and the way he played the vihuela are near and dear to her. Reyna knows she must embark on a journey to fix her abuelo’s beloved instrument.
This journey will bring her to learn, first hand, about his legacy and the importance of music and the power of community engagement. Throughout each page, and Reyna’s conversation with different community members, her abuelo’s presence can be felt. Jennifer Torres uses Reyna’s journey as a great portrayal of how meaningful everyday life is for a community. The vihuela becomes a powerful artifact that jump-starts the memory of the past, the important history of the community that tends to be invisible but is so essential to understanding the present. The broken vihuela reveals other anecdotes from the past that will help Reyna see the bigger picture of who her abuelo was and how the community remains united through their shared past. And it is through oral history and the passing of this knowledge that Reyna becomes aware of the real importance behind the vihuela and why it was hanging on the wall. The breaking of the vihuela is not a tragedy, but the catalyst for Reyna to better understand where she came from and get closer to her mother and her community.
The realistic illustrations by Renato Alarcão, enhance the warmth of the tale and allow readers to see the characters’ expressions and feelings. Each image is filled with pastel colors and a consummated care to portray the connection and relations of the characters. The illustrations really echo a phrase said by Reyna’s mother at the beginning of the story, “these are the sounds of happy lives.” The illustrations truly convey the sounds of these lives.
Torres’s first picture book, Finding the Music/En Pos de la Música, is a solid work that is very much welcomed. The importance of oral history, the unifying qualities of music and the importance of preserving the artifacts that trigger the remembrance of who we were are all important concepts to help spark the curiosity of children among their own families and communities. We are in a constant search of adequate representation and we sometimes fail to see that in our own stories lie strong narratives that empower us and unite us.
*The book includes a glossary and pronunciation guide. The backstory of the Cielito Lindo and author’s note about mariachi music and band are also apprehended. Spanish translation by Alexis Romay.
TEACHING TIPS: This bilingual picture book is recommended for children ages 4-9, and works well for early readers and as a read aloud with musical interventions as a bonus. Librarians, parents, grandparents, and caregivers can read with the young ones in English, Spanish, or both, while practicing or learning new vocabulary, identifying the different images and community components presented through the illustrations. It’s also a perfect book for a StoryWalk, given that our main character walks around her neighborhood finding some clues and stories about her abuelo. StoryWalk allows people to visit different points (parks, local stores, buildings) around the neighborhood where pages of the books are spread, they would walk to one point to another to follow the story.
Language Arts, Social Studies, Arts, and Music educators can collaborate in the development of different activities: vocabulary and writing activities, discussions and conversations regarding community, neighborhoods and Mexican, Chicano, and Latino history; the incorporation of drawings with writing activities; and the history of Mexican folk music. The author includes helpful activities for the Language Arts classroom: Story Map and Mini-Memoir. On the publisher’s website, you can access teaching guides developed for this book and other resources.
AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR:
Jennifer Torres is a freelance journalist, author, and coordinator of a community-wide literacy initiative at University of the Pacific, California. She studied journalism at Northwestern University, Illinois and at University of Westminster, London, England. Torres also worked as reporter for The Record newspaper, covering education, immigration, and other issues related to children and families. FINDING THE MUSIC/EN POS DE LA MÚSICA is her first picture book and her first middle grade novel, STEF SOTO, TACO QUEEN, will be published in Fall 2016.
Renato Alarcão is a graphic designer, illustrator and professor of visual arts. He studied in the Illustration as a Visual Essay program at the School of Visual Arts of New York and at The Center for Book Arts. In addition to his work as an illustrator, Alarcão has collaborated in different youth arts projects and has presented lectures on illustration, creativity, and artistic techniques. He has presented his work in exhibitions at the American Institute for the Graphic Arts, the American Society of Illustrators, the New York Public Library, the Skirball Cultural Center of Los Angeles, the Biennale of Illustrations in Bratislava, where he won the NOMA Prize for Illustrated Book. Some of his illustrated books: RED RIDIN’ IN THE HOOD: AND OTHER CUENTOS by Patricia Santos Marcantonio, SOCCER STAR by Mina Javaherbin, ROBERTO’S TRIP TO THE TOP by John B. Paterson & John Paterson, ELLA ENFEITIÇADA by Gail Carson Levine, Andiana Figueiredo.