Book Review: Quizás algo hermoso by F. Isabel Campoy, Theresa Howell, illus. by Rafael López

 

Review by Maria Ramos-Chertok

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Una edición en español lírica del aclamado e inspirador libro de cuentos ilustrados Quizás algo hermoso, ilustrado por el ganador de la medalla Pura Belpré, Rafael López.

Ganador del Premio Tomás Rivera

¿Qué pueden conseguir unas gotas de color en una comunidad gris? Viendo lo que Mira y sus vecinos descubren, ¡más de lo que nunca pudo imaginarse! Basado en una historia real, Quizás algo hermoso nos revela cómo el arte puede inspirar la transformación – y cómo incluso la más pequeña artista puede llegar a conseguir algo grande. ¡Toma un pincel y únete a la celebración!

A lyrical Spanish language edition of the acclaimed and inspiring picture book Maybe Something Beautiful, illustrated by Pura Belpré Medal winner Rafael López.

MY TWO CENTS: Quizás algo hermoso is hopeful and inspiring, not only because of its message, but because it is based on a true story.  In the book, we meet Mira, a young artist who uses colorful drawings to enliven her world and connect with people in her neighborhood.  When she meets a muralist in her community, her love of art takes on another dimension, and together they work to transform their surroundings by engaging in a collective art project.  Their desire to be inclusive shows their neighbors that artistic expression is accessible to anyone willing to pick up a paint brush. By doing so, they debunk the idea that the label “artist” should be reserved solely for those who pursue formal artistic training.   The permission to create, to unite for a common purpose, and to use beauty as a tool in community empowerment provide valuable motivation for readers imagining how to replicate this magical experience.

Aside from the message, readers will be delighted to know that the illustrator, Rafael López, is the muralist upon whom the story is based. López and his wife Candice, a graphic designer and community organizer, are the ones who envisioned this project in the East Village of San Diego, California. The illustrations are vivid, engaging, and inspiring. The art depicts a multiracial cast of characters, something I personally look for and value in picture books.

I’ve read both the English (2016) and Spanish (2018) versions of the book and thoroughly enjoyed both. I am thrilled that such a relevant and instructional book has been translated into Spanish because it allows the message to reach a wider audience.

TEACHING TIPS: At the most basic level, Quizás algo hermoso can be used to encourage children to engage in art by showing them that one does not have to be a self-identified artist to enjoy and benefit from an art project. Beyond that, the book can be used to introduce community-based art. Whenever possible, I would recommend bringing students on a field trip to view local murals. Part of that lesson might include a discussion about the value and purpose of engaging a neighborhood in such a project.

Aside from the uplifting aspects of the book, there is also a deeper layer to explore related to depressed communities – communities that are dilapidated and somber, like the one in which Mira lived. For students living in such an area, this could be a difficult conversation, but one that might give voice to some important discussions related to class, race, and community resources. There might also be an inquiry as to why pejorative words are sometimes used to describe communities (e.g., slums, ghettos) and how those words make people feel. I’d recommend this conversation for older students.

Teachers can also discuss the benefits of what happens when people come together to work on a common goal: meeting new people, talking to people you might not have otherwise spoken to, and seeing change happen. This could be an opportunity to have your class choose a group project and then have them journal throughout the process about what they are learning about themselves and others.

While the primary audience for this book is younger children, I see a benefit of using it with older children (through fifth grade), especially in bi-lingual classrooms and/or Spanish language classrooms.

 

isabel-campoyABOUT THE AUTHORS (from the book)Isabel Campoy is an author, anthologist, translator, and bilingual educator who has won many awards for her professional contributions. Her many accolades include ALA Notables, the San Francisco Library Award, the Reading the World Award from the University of San Francisco, the NABE Ramón Santiago Award, the International Latino Children’s Book Award, and nine Junior Library Guild selections. She is a member of the North American Academy of Spanish Language. She lives in Northern California.

 

THERESA HOWELLTheresa Howell is a children’s book author and editor with many bilingual books to her credit. Mutually inspired by Rafael Lopez’s efforts to transform communities through art, they combined their talents in the lyrical text of Maybe Something Beautiful. She lives in Colorado.

 

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Rafael López is both the illustrator of this book and the inspiration for the character of the muralist. He was born and raised in Mexico, a place that has always influenced the vivid colors and shapes in his artwork. He now creates community-based mural projects around the world and illustrates award-winning children’s books. Rafael López divides his time between Mexico and San Diego, California.

 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Maria Ramos-Chertok is a writer, workshop leader and coach who facilitates The Butterfly Series, a writing and creative arts workshop for women who want to explore what’s next in their life journey. In December 2016, she won 1st place in the 2016 Intergenerational Story Contest for her piece, Family Recipes Should Never be Lost. Her work has appeared in the Apogee Journal, Entropy Magazine, and A Quiet Courage. Her piece Meet me by the River will be published in Deborah Santana’s forthcoming anthology All the Women in my Family Sing (Jan 2018) http://nothingbutthetruth.com/all-the-women-in-my-family-sing/. She is a trainer with Rockwood Leadership Institute www.rockwoodleadership.organd a member of the Bay Area chapter of Write on Mamas. For more information, visit her website at www.mariaramoschertok.com

Maybe Something Beautiful: Día Art Bilingual Story Time

 

By Sujei Lugo

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros, a celebration of children, books, cultures, languages, and community. Throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, various public libraries, school libraries, academic libraries, schools, universities, and community centers planned and held different programs to share the celebration and “bookjoy” with children, families, and community members. Once again, I decided to join the “Día Turns 20” party and held three programs at my public library: a frame art workshop using as inspiration Frida Kahlo’s “El Marco” (1938) self-portrait, a “Rhythms Heard Around the World” drumming and storytelling program, and an art bilingual story time.

Mini-murals, markers, story time props, and Día bookmarks.

Mini-murals, markers, story time props, and Día bookmarks

I want to focus this post on the art bilingual story time, as a way to bring attention to how to incorporate your community and neighborhood into your program while bringing a picture book to life. Last year I did a musical bilingual story time where I read Tito Puente, Mambo King/Tito Puente, Rey del Mambo written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Rafael López, used guajiras, rumbas, and mambos songs, and each child made and decorated small timbales made out of tuna cans. So which Latinx picture book published in the last 12 months would inspire me to offer a great bilingual story time, along with activities and a craft inspired by it t? At the American Library Association Midwinter Conference held at the beginning of the year, I saw and read a display copy of the picture book Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed A Neighborhood written by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, and illustrated by Rafael López, and, right there and then, I knew I had found the perfect match.  

Through an inspiring tale and vibrant illustrations, Maybe Something Beautiful introduces readers to Mira, a girl who lives “in the heart of a gray city” and who enjoys doodling, drawing, coloring, and painting. She considered herself an artist and liked to gift her illustrations to people from her neighborhood. She even taped and “gifted” one of her paints to a dark wall around her block. One day she meets a muralist, and learns the magic of painting murals, and the power of bringing together the whole community to create something beautiful. The book is based on a true story about an initiative by Rafael López, the illustrator of the book, and his wife Candice López, a graphic designer and community leader, as a way to bring people together and transform their neighborhood into a vibrant one.

Photos of the murals found around my neighborhood

Photos of the murals located near my library and neighborhood.

After reading the book, I immediately thought of the different murals around my neighborhood and how they are reflective of its people: different generations of Latinx communities, artists and activists, local businesses, streets, and heterogeneity. But also a community facing gentrification, fighting for housing, economic, and racial justice. A neighborhood with a sense of community, like the one I saw in Maybe Something Beautiful and one I wanted to show to my toddlers at story time. 

I started the Día Art Bilingual Story Time by welcoming everyone, giving Día stickers to each child, and explaining how this was a special bilingual story time because we were celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Día. I explained what Día was, how it started, and how we were joining a nationwide celebration. I introduced my special guest, a local artist and art teacher, who was going to read with me and who was going to serve as the art facilitator. As a warm-up I sang a couple of songs: Buenos Días, ¿Cómo Estás?; Wake Up [different body parts]; and If You Are Wearing [insert color] Today, Say Hooray! Then we started with Book Fiesta! Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day; Celebremos El Día De Los Niños/Día de Los Libros written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Rafael López, where I read the Spanish text and the special guest the English one. I followed with more songs: Everyone Can March; Colors, Colors Everywhere; and Where is [insert color name in Spanish]? Once we finished singing and everyone got back to their spot, I read Maybe Something Beautiful while the art facilitator was setting up the tables for the craft.

After reading the book, I talked a little bit about our neighborhood and murals and did a guessing game with them. I printed out pictures I took of the different murals around our neighborhood and children and adults (adults were really into this) started guessing where the murals were located. Some of them were tricky, but with others, children were excited to shout where they were. I always like to leave the craft as a sort of final surprise and ask them what they think we are going to do. The craft was a mini-mural made out of 4” x 8” cardboard with a brick or wood wall pattern to simulate a real wall they will paint on. At first, I thought of giving them watercolors or tempera, but finally opted for markers because they are less messy for the 0-4 crowd. Children had fun painting their mini-murals and proudly showed their creation to everyone in the room.IMG_7856

We ended the program sharing mini cupcakes, brownies, and coconut macaroons (with vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free options) and all of them had mini flags with the “Día Turns 20” Logo. They all gathered together to enjoy the special treats, to chat with one another, and show each other their mini-murals. Some parents and caregivers reached out to me and expressed how much fun they and their child had. Others used the opportunity to tell me how their child likes to draw on their wall at home, and others told me how now they were worried their child would get inspired to draw and paint on their walls. Rest assured, the kids and adults got together to recognize the power of community and how paintings on the walls do bind us together in a communal experience of recognition. In that sense, any drawing on the house wall is a potential future of community building. Be it a mess or something more detailed, the drawings on the wall are definitely something beautiful.

Día Turns 20!

Día Turns 20!

 

 

SujeiLugoSujei Lugo was born in New Jersey and raised in her parents’ rural hometown in Puerto Rico. She earned her Master’s in Library and Information Science degree from the Graduate School of Information Sciences and Technologies at the University of Puerto Rico and is a doctoral candidate in Library and Information Science at Simmons College, focusing her research on Latino librarianship and identity. She has worked as a librarian at the Puerto Rican Collection at the University of Puerto Rico, the Nilita Vientós Gastón House-Library in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the University of Puerto Rico Elementary School Library. Sujei currently works as a children’s librarian at the Boston Public Library. She is a member ofREFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking), American Library Association, and Association of Library Service to Children. She is the editor of Litwin Books/Library Juice Press series on Critical Race Studies and Multiculturalism in LIS. Sujei can also be found on Twitter, Letterboxd and Goodreads.

Book Review: Sofi and the Magic, Musical Mural/Sofi y el Mágico Mural Musical

 

Reviewed by Sujei Lugo

Sofi-and-the-Magic-Musical-MuralDESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: When Sofi walks through her barrio to the local store, she always passes a huge mural with images from Puerto Rico: musicians, dancers, tropical flowers and—her least favorite—a vejigante, a character from carnival that wears a scary mask. One day on her way home from the bodega, she stops in front of the mural. Is one of the dancers inviting her to be his partner? “Okay, let’s dance,” Sofi giggles, and suddenly she’s in Old San Juan, surrounded by dancers and musicians playing bongos, tambourines and güiros. She begins to dance and sing with her new friends, but her pleasure turns to fear when the vejigante—wearing a black jumper with yellow fringe and a red, three-horned mask—spins her around and around! What does he want from her? How can she get away?

MY TWO CENTS: In this debut bilingual picture book, author Raquel M. Ortiz and illustrator Maria Dominguez capture the story of an imaginative girl and her magical and musical encounter with a neighborhood mural. Inspired by a mural located in South Bronx, New York, Ortiz and Dominguez give us a story that celebrates Puerto Rican traditions, community-based art, and city life.

Our young protagonist Sofía is lying on her bed feeling pretty bored. Her mom asks her to go to the bodega at the end of the block to get some milk and to remember that she should “not talk to ANYONE!” Sofía gets her scarf and coat, nods to her mom, and embarks on her journey to get the half-gallon of milk. Strolling along the sidewalk, she looks at the huge mural painted on a nearby building. She is stunned by its size and the colorful images of musicians, dancers, amapola flowers, and her least favorite, a vejigante. While returning from the bodega, Sofia can’t help admiring the mural once again. This is when she notices that one of the musicians, a plenero, is extending his hand to her to dance, breaking the wall between reality, art, and imagination. In a heartbeat, Sofía finds herself inside the mural, starting a whimsical experience that will bring her close to her Puerto Rican heritage.

Reading and seeing images of things that I grew up with put a smile on my face. From the plena song “Porque la plena viene de Ponce, viene de barrio de San Antón” to the carnival song “¡Toco-toco, toco-toco! ¡Vejigante come coco!”, I couldn’t help singing along with all the plenas and remembering the presence of plena songs in family gatherings, “navidad” parties, cultural “festivales”, carnivals, and even street protests. No wonder it is known as the  “periódico cantado” (sung newspapers), telling everyday stories all year long.

We also meet the famous vejigante, wearing its colorful outfit and a scary mask made from coconut shell (although some are made from papier-mâché). The vejigante is a mischievous folkloric character that resembles a buffoon or the devil, and which became a symbol of Puerto Rican cultural identity. In the story, Sofi plays and dances with the vejigante that she once saw as scary. She ends up wearing his outfit and flies around the Puerto Rican landscape going through El Yunque rainforest, and landing at the church plaza in Old San Juan. Here the author metaphorically portrays how through art, music, and traditions we can “fly” to the island of Puerto Rico, and demonstrates the deep connections that exist between the Puerto Rican diaspora and the island.

In terms of layout and illustrations, the bilingual text is located on the left side of the book with small illustrations dividing the English and Spanish texts and whole-page illustrations accompanying the text on the right side. The illustrator based her design and images on the original mural and conversations with the students that drew the images for mural. From soft colors for the city and bright and vivid colors for the mural, Dominguez’s paintings transport us from a wintry day in New York City to a sunny day in Puerto Rico.

Using The Pueblo Sings/El Pueblo Cantor mural as an inspiration for this picture book communicates the power of art, music, literature, and images to represent a community and tell its stories of resistance. The 7th- and 8th-grade students that designed the mural embraced the process of community building, public art, and history. It was created with and for the Puerto Rican community that has lived in New York City for decades. The mural’s statement is about the existence of the people and is a representation of their stories. It brings identification to the neighborhood and informs visitors about the living, breathing community located there. It is exciting to see the author centering the narrative on a young Puerto Rican girl who experiences this connection with her culture, traditions, and family, and then back to herself. In so doing, this book gives a powerful testament to how children can experience these connections and embrace them as their own.    

The book includes author and illustrator biographical notes, a glossary, and information about the mural.

TEACHING TIPS: The bilingual picture book is recommended for children ages 4 to 8. It works as a read aloud and for early independent readers. At home or at the library, librarians, parents, grandparents or other caregivers can read the story aloud in English, Spanish, or both, while teaching new words, concepts and discussing the different images. Teachers can include the discussion of Puerto Rican history, traditions, and music in their curriculum. 

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Vejigantes puppets I created for a library program. I explained to the children the meaning of vejigantes and how I grew up seeing them almost everywhere back in Puerto Rico.

 

Since the main focus of the story and its inspiration is a mural, children can create their own small-scale cardboard murals. Adults should encourage children to use elements from their community or their personal or family stories as inspiration. Moving activities to the street, adults can stroll down the neighborhood with children to view community murals, posing such questions as: Who created this mural? Who is it about? What does it represent? Does it represent the community where it is located? What type of murals should our neighborhood have? This will create a conversation about public art, public space, and community.

AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR: Raquel M. Ortiz was born and raised in Lorain, Ohio, and has been making art and telling stories since she was little. She holds a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from the University of Salamanca and has worked at The Brooklyn Museum, the Allen Memorial Art Museum and El Museo del Barrio. Raquel is the author of El Arte de la Identidad, the documentary Memories of the Wall: Education and Enrichment through Community Murals and textbooks and educational materials for children in Puerto Rico and the United States. She lives in New York City with her family and is a professor at Boricua College.

Maria Dominguez moved from Cataño, Puerto Rico to New York City when she was five year old. She began her artistic career as a muralist with Cityarts in 1982. Over the past twenty-five years, Dominguez has created over twenty public art murals and worked with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York City, Artmaker, Inc. and Brooklyn Connect. The recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts, she has also headed El Museo del Barrio’s Education Department. She currently teaches art in New York City’s Public School System.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Sofi and the Magic, Musical Mural/Sofi y el Mágico Mural Musical, check your local public library, your local bookstore or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

SujeiLugoSujei Lugo was born in New Jersey and raised in her parents’ rural hometown in Puerto Rico. She earned her Master’s in Library and Information Science degree from the Graduate School of Information Sciences and Technologies at the University of Puerto Rico and is a doctoral candidate in Library and Information Science at Simmons College, focusing her research on Latino librarianship and identity. She has worked as a librarian at the Puerto Rican Collection at the University of Puerto Rico, the Nilita Vientós Gastón House-Library in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the University of Puerto Rico Elementary School Library. Sujei currently works as a children’s librarian at the Boston Public Library. She is a member of REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking), American Library Association, and Association of Library Service to Children. She is the editor of Litwin Books/Library Juice Press series on Critical Race Studies and Multiculturalism in LIS. Sujei can also be found on Twitter, Letterboxd and Goodreads.