Book Review: Dalia’s Wondrous Hair/El Cabello Maravilloso de Dalia by Laura Lacámara

By Sujei Lugo

18654384DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK: A Cuban girl transforms her long and unruly hair into a garden.

MY TWO CENTS: In this bilingual picture book, with a Spanish translation by Gabriela Baeza Ventura, Laura Lacámara brings us a whimsical Caribbean tale of a young Cuban girl and her luxuriant hair. Lacámara’s colorful illustrations express the joyful spirit of the main character and transport us to the sunny, tropical Caribbean.

The story introduces us to Dalia, a young girl who one day wakes up and finds out that her hair has grown straight up and as tall as a Cuban royal palm tree. Many children would panic with such news, but Dalia can’t hold the excitement of her new wondrous hair. She then embarks on a journey to add to her hair different natural elements of a Caribbean tropical island, such as wild tamarind, coontie plant, and violet leaves. Her purpose is to show her mother the different types of “trees” she can recreate using her hair, ending with a beautiful and unique one.

What stands out in this picture book is Lacámara’s ability to portray through her paintings the endearing relationship between Dalia and her mother and their lives in harmony with nature. The expressions on their faces capture the happiness and warmth of a loving mother and daughter bond. Other characters in the book, Señora Dominguez, Señora Soledad and Soledad’s daughters, all play supporting roles to Dalia’s “hairy” journey and to their connection to the natural world. Through this all-women set of characters, we see a growing sense of community and a sympathetic portrayal of peculiar characters we can encounter in a rural neighborhood.

By situating their home in rural Cuba, the author incorporates the Caribbean’s particular flora and fauna into the story. Through beautiful landscapes that fill the book with a graphical sense of the fresh air and natural environment of this tropical island, the book introduces young readers to different components of the natural world: royal palms, sugar cane fields, wild tamarinds, moonflowers, coontie plants, wild violets, caterpillars, birds, fireflies, ponds, and the ocean. Even the characters’ clothing are filled with flowers and leaf patterns, giving us powerful images that convey a reverence to the natural world.

According to a statement on the first page, the publication of Dalia’s Wondrous Hair/El Cabello Maravilloso de Dalia was funded by a grant from the city of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance and published by Piñata Books, the children’s literature imprint of Arte Público Press. We should acknowledge their efforts, along with other great publishers,  to continuously provide a space for the publication of Latino/a authors and illustrators.

TEACHING TIPS: This bilingual picture book is recommended for children ages 4-7. It works well as a read aloud and for early readers. At home or at the library, librarians, parents, grandparents, family members or guardians can read with their young ones in English, Spanish or both, while teaching new words and identifying different colors, animals, and plants. The author provides a guide to create your own butterfly garden at home, a fun activity for everyone to enjoy.

Language Arts, Science, and Art teachers can create different activities where students can learn new words, identify adjectives mentioned throughout the story, and learn about different types of plants, trees, and animals. The book includes notes of Cuban natural world references (in English and Spanish) that are part of their stories, with a description. Art teachers can use this book to incorporate science to their classrooms. Students can draw, paint, or use different materials to create their own version of Dalia’s hair, using as reference words learned and natural elements of the story. 

AUTHOR: Laura Lacámara is a Cuban-born children’s books author and illustrator. Lacámara holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing and Painting from California State University, Long Beach and studied printmaking at Self Help Graphics in East Los Angeles. Her love for writing and illustrating children’s books grew when she signed up for a children’s book illustration class at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, California.

She is the author of Floating on Mama’s Song/Flotando en la Canción de Mamá (Junior Library Guild Selection, Fall 2010 & Tejas Star Book Award finalist 2011-12) and illustrator of The Runaway Piggy/El Cochinito Fugitivo (winner of 2012 Tejas Star Book Award) and Alicia’s Fruity Drinks/Las Aguas Frescas de Alicia.

Laura Lacámara is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and frequently serves as a presenter at conferences, book festivals, and schools. She currently lives in Southern California.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Dalia’s Wondrous Hair/El Cabello Maravilloso de Dalia, visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.org, indiebound.orggoodreads.comamazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.

Diversity in Kid Lit was ‘On Fire’ at National Latino Children’s Literature Conference

My signed conference poster! The gorgeous artwork comes from Laura Lacamara's new book, Dalia's Wondrous Hair.

My signed conference poster! The gorgeous artwork comes from Laura Lacamara’s new book, Dalia’s Wondrous Hair.

By Lila Quintero Weaver

Let me float down to earth, grab a keyboard and pound out a report about the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference. That was my self-talk on March 15. The two-day conference, held at the University of Alabama and headed by mover-and-shaker Dr. Jamie Naidoo, had wrapped up at 4 pm the previous day.

Sixteen hours later, my whole being still felt tingly with the residual vibrations of what we’d experienced: great dialogue, stimulating talks, and warm connections with people passionate about the same thing, increasing diversity in children’s books. And it’s amazing how many presentations referenced last year’s incendiary New York Times article on minority characters in kid lit. The conference stirred my juices, but before I could touch my keyboard to write about it, Marianne Snow posted a great recap on her blog. There’s no way that I could improve on her account. 

That’s not the end of the story. Over the same weekend, The New York Times published a pair of essays from prize-winning YA author Walter Dean Myers and his son Christopher, an author-illustrator of note, on the scarcity of characters of color in children’s books. Spine tingling, timely, and powerful. Clearly, diversity in children’s books is a topic on fire!

And now, back to the conference. Since Marianne’s recap covers only the second day, here are select quotes and highlights from the first day:

NLCLC LogoLiterary agent Adriana Dominguez outlined some of the challenges facing Latin@ children’s literature: “Many editors think about Latino books as niche or institutional.” Neither of these spells the huge sales figures that the industry has become hungry for. She pointed to the Harry Potter phenomenon as a watershed moment in children’s publishing. Previously, marketing departments targeted libraries and schools, but the commercial success of Harry Potter and other blockbusters has shifted the dynamics.

Members of the audience asked how to best advocate for Latin@ children’s literature. Librarians can push these books, Dominguez said. She cited the late Rose Treviño as a personal mentor and a role model in the field of library services to children. Ms. Treviño was a beloved Houston public librarian who served the local Latin@ community and brought Latin@ books to the attention of a wider audience. Her passionate advocacy was captured in this extensive interview by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Someone else asked, would more Latinos on the “inside” of publishing help to balance the equation? Yes, Dominguez said, because “you’re a stronger advocate for something you truly believe in.” She pointed out that graduate programs in publishing are recruiting zones for the “big five.”

In her keynote, recent Pura Belpré winner Meg Medina raised the topic of universal themes, those that address the experiences of all children, regardless of demographic labels. She reminded us that “Latino” is a uniquely American concept. Many Latin@ children grapple with the additional challenges of biculturalism. She shared that in her work, she strives to present a range of Latin@ characters, a “whole tapestry,” not merely those that the public has come to expect. (In her Monday post, Meg offered a terrific conference recap of her own.)

7789203Author-illustrator Laura Lacámara gave the day’s final keynote. Her journey into publishing has taken some interesting turns. She was first an illustrator of children’s books. Then came her debut as a writer, Floating on Mama’s Song, a story inspired by her mother’s devotion to opera. But Laura didn’t illustrate it; Yuyi Morales did. Now, hot off the presses is Laura’s newest book, her first to write and illustrate, the delightful Dalia’s Wondrous Hair (see the conference poster image, above). Count on a book talk in the near future!

The variety of breakout sessions boggled the mind. Thursday, I sat in on Lettycia Terrones’s illuminating talk on image-making in Latin@ children’s literature, followed by Araceli Esparza’s “Roots of Race in Chicano/Latino Picture Books,” another enriching experience. The next day, I heard an expert presentation by Catalina Lara on the Latin@ child and language.

Social media is an excellent tool, but let’s not forget the value of face-to-face meetings. They spark connections like nothing else. Next time you hear about a conference that addresses diversity or Latin@ children’s books, consider attending.