This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Pura Belpé Awards. Starting in the spring, we began shining a spotlight on the winners. This post features the beautiful and imaginative illustration work of Stephanie Garcia for Snapshots from the Wedding, a delightful picture book written by Gary Soto, and the winner of the 1998 Pura Belpré Illustration Award.
Review by Lila Quintero Weaver
DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Meet Maya, Isabel’s flower girl, as she describes in vivid detail the exciting wedding day. Maya introduces us to Danny, the ring bearer; Aunt Marta, crying big tears; Uncle Trino, jump-starting a car in his tuxedo; and Rafael, the groom, with a cast on his arm. Of course, the big day also includes games, dancing, cake, and a mariachi band that plays long into an evening no one will ever forget.
Snapshots from the Wedding captures the unique moments of a special occasion—the big scenes as well as the little ones—that together form a rich family mosaic.
MY TWO CENTS: Snapshots from the Wedding is a lightly humorous story told through the eyes of a young girl named Maya. Gary Soto delivers this joyous narrative of a traditional Mexican boda in lyrical and rhythmic language.
By casting Maya in the role of narrator, Soto allows the reader the same view of the festivities as a member of the wedding party. From her position, Maya observes and comments on the assembled guests, the bridal procession, the photographer at work, and the moment when the couple exchanges vows at the altar. Afterward, at the reception, Maya revels in the mariachi band, the pinning of paper money to the bride’s skirt, and the couple’s departure beneath a shower of rice. As her gaze travels across each scene, she stops to focus on details ranging from the ring bearer’s slicked-back hair, to a boy whose tongue wiggles through the space left by newly lost baby teeth, and to the eye-popping spectacle of a towering wedding cake.
In Soto’s words, “Here’s the wedding cake, seventh wonder of the world, from Blanco’s Bakery, with more frosting than a mountain of snow, with more roses than mi abuela’s back yard, with more swirls than a hundred turns on a merry-go-round.”
Stephanie Garcia, the Pura Belpré-winning illustrator, depicts Maya’s wide-eyed experience of the wedding as something remembered through a series of winsome snapshots. Yet, in one of the most surprising and original aspects of this book, Garcia brings the scenes into sharp relief through exquisitely constructed dioramas that defy all expectations for a story conceived around the idea of photographs.
Each of the three-dimensional illustrations is a miniature stage that sits within a shallow wooden box. The overall effect is that of a dollhouse whose rooms brim with texture and engaging detail, and which cry out to be touched and played with, in order to fully appreciate the tactile gifts they offer. Using a wide range of materials that includes fabric, clay, paint, and found objects, Garcia populates her scenes with individually rendered characters, furnishings, and backdrops. Fashioned from Sculpy clay, each human figure bears distinct facial features and expressions. The skin tones come in varied shades of brown, and each is dressed in clothing suitable for that person’s role in the wedding.
By leaving the diorama’s rough wooden edges in full view and by dressing some of the wedding guests in homespun fabrics, the book hints at the deeper, economic realities of life in a working-class Mexican community. Yet, the momentous social importance of weddings often leads families to go all out for the occasion, evidenced here by the elaborate costumes of the mariachi band and the satin-and-lace gowns of the bridal party.
In nearly every spread, Garcia employs a clever frame-within-a-frame concept that plays with the passage of time. In these instances, select characters appear inside a gilt-edged frame, like mannequins propped in a store window, even as the activity of the moment continues to swirl around them. This approach suggests a future glimpse of the photos being taken. Appropriately, the photographer himself appears in one of the dioramas, snapping his shutter just as the bride and groom are about to kiss.
Garcia’s attention to individual characters complements Soto’s depictions. In one of my favorite vignettes, little Maya and another young lady try their best to snare the bouquet as the bride tosses it. But the bouquet is “caught by the tallest woman there, my cousin Virginia, a college basketball player, with a three-foot vertical leap.” Garcia gives Virginia a mint-green bridesmaid’s dress, with low-heel pumps dyed to match, and a long reach that ensures her effortless catch. We can easily imagine Virginia in a basketball uniform, putting her vertical leap to good use in a different context.
With such singular moments, Soto and Garcia illuminate a range of experiences not often captured in portrayals of Mexican culture. Through its engaging text and rich dioramas, this picture book offers charming views of an important social occasion as seen through the delighted eyes of a little girl who feels at home within this community. And this wedding is an occasion she’ll remember for years to come through its album of snapshots.
Note: We were not able to secure permission from the publisher to share images from the book’s interior pages. Please locate a copy and see them for yourself!
ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Stephanie Garcia is an illustrator, graphic designer, art director, and design consultant, with a wealth of experience in the corporate world and the classroom, where she shares her knowledge with others. Learn more about her in this publisher profile.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gary Soto is the author of multiple picture books, including the Chato series, which won the Pura Belpré illustrator award for Susan Guevara. He also published many novels for youth, as well as books of short stories for young readers, and collections of essays and poems. His awards include the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, the Andrew Carnegie Medal, and the National Book Award. Learn more at his official website. See some of our coverage of Soto’s work in this review and in a post about his decision to stop publishing children’s literature.
Lila Quintero Weaver is the author-illustrator of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Darkroom recounts her family’s immigrant experience in small-town Alabama during the tumultuous 1960s. It is her first major publication. Her next book is a middle-grade novel scheduled for release in 2018 (Candlewick). Lila is a graduate of the University of Alabama. She and her husband, Paul, are the parents of three grown children. She can also be found on her own website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.