My favorite reading challenge in 2014 is Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. Visit Alyson’s blog to find out what others are reading and sharing this week.
This week, I am also linking to Aarti’s #Diversiverse Challenge. If you read and review diverse books between September 14-27, consider adding your review to Aarti’s link-up. And even if you don’t link up, this challenge is a wonderful resource for discovering new books to read. As Aarti brilliantly points out, to read diversely, you don’t need to change your book reading habits and preferences, though you may have to change your book finding habits.
My Name Is Gabriela is another stunning bilingual picture book biography written by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra. Brown uses a simple first-person narrative to tell the story of Chilean educator and poet Gabriela Mistral, who was the first Latin American writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Gabriela was clearly a writer from a very early age. One of my favorite spreads shows her imagining “what could be beyond” the Andes mountains she sees from her window:
Zebras with polka dots? Rainbow-colored flowers? Angels reading books?
She senses the poetry in language from a very early age. Another beautiful spread shares her wonder at the way the words “butterfly fluttering” naturally sound “like a poem.” (In English and in Spanish–“posa mariposa”.)
Gabriela loved stories and rhymes and taught herself to read. She also loved to play school as a child, especially when she could be the teacher and teach her friends their ABCs.
When she grew up, she became a teacher, writer, and activist who wrote about women’s issues, children’s rights, and the plight of indigenous peoples.
Monica Brown presents Gabriela as a real person that children could relate to and tells her story in simple, elegant language that even small children will appreciate. This book is a celebration not only of Mistral herself and her contribution to literature and learning but also a celebration of the imagination, books, writing, and teaching.
There is minimal back matter–only a brief biography of Mistral, but I appreciated that the fuller biography, too, was written in clear, concise language that could be shared with children and that it explains a bit more about Mistral’s contribution to literature. The book did leave me with many questions about her poetry and work. Brown frequently tells us what Mistral’s poetry is about but never quotes any of it, so Mistral didn’t fully come to life as a writer for me. If I were sharing this book with children, I would supplement with a few of Mistral’s poems about children and animals.
I did do a little additional research online and found a terrific (and very long) biographical and critical article about her life and work at The Poetry Foundation that includes some excerpts from her poetry.
John Parra’s art work adds huge appeal to this story. I admired his work in Pat Mora’s Gracias/Thanks and find his paintings in My Name Is Gabriela even more beautiful and compelling. I’m going to be on a quest this week to find his other books and read them.