Holiday Titles Round-Up, Part One:
Holiday Cheer, Latino-Style

h1 December 1st, 2007 by jules

Well, it’s December 1, and remember my challenge to myself to round-up some reviews of new holiday titles? I’m not going to review only holiday titles all month. Oh lordamercy no. But what better day to throw a holiday review out than on the first day of the mostly-crazy-making but sometimes-lovely month of holidaying?

So, here we have Susan Middleton Elya’s and Merry Banks’ N Is for Navidad, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Chronicle Books; September 2007; review copy). This is both a celebration of Christmas, Latino-style, as well as an alphabet book in rhyme. Each letter of the alphabet introduces a new Spanish word in bold, brightly-colored fonts, even generously giving an entire page to “Ch” (“for chiles, to string, not to eat!”); to “Ll” (“for llegada,” or Arrival); three entries for “N” (“N is for the nacimiento we’ve made. Ñ is for niño. He’ll soon be displayed. At midnight we all head to church for la misa. At last! ¡Navidad! Each month, a sonrisa”); and two entries for “R” (“R is for risas. We laugh at the joke. Tio has tricked us again. We’re still broke! Rr is for arroz to go with the beans. Company’s coming. We know what that means”).

At the close of the book, the authors provide a note, which explains the meaning of the Spanish words and explanations of some of the customs. This makes this already-good book even better; it’s a small crime when picture book authors in such books fail to give us clueless readers some help (I know nothing about a Latino version of Christmas. Make that “knew,” ’cause now I’m a bit in-the-know, thanks to the informative Author’s Note). For instance, if you, like me, know little about how families of Latino heritage celebrate Christmas and you wondered what a “risa” is in the excerpt I included above, well, the Author’s Note explains that “risa” means “laughter” and that . . .

December 28 is el Día de los Inocentes — like April Fool’s Day. Pranks and jokes are played, like the one involving a $20 bill with a string attached to it. The kids reach for the bill, and Tio pulls the string and snatches back the money {This is pictured in Cepeda’s illustration on that spread}.

In fact, Elya and Banks begin the Author’s Note by making clear that the customs feautured in this book are primarily Mexican in origin. They further explain the days of preparation leading up to the beginning of Las Posadas, a nine-day celebration beginning December 16 and ending December 24, an annual tradition for many Christian Latinos symbolizing the difficulties which they believe Mary and Joseph endured before finding a place to stay and where Jesus could be born. They even include pronunciation guides for each word on their Author’s Note spread. Very nice. If this explanation in the back of the book had been skipped, I’d have been left frustrated and clueless (they include in the Author’s Note/glossary a definition of each Spanish word that appears, even if it wasn’t the featured word for a letter of the alphabet. Kickin’). Picture book authors, take note!

You know how the word “buoyant” is over-used in picture book reviewing? I think it is anyway. Well, I’m sorry, but there is no better fit for Joe Cepeda’s style. Buoyant, buoyant, buoyant. Bounce, bounce, bounce. The Horn Book review, which you can read in its entirety here, wrote: “Cepeda’s illustrations feature happy people with such gleaming smiles they could be advertising teeth whitener.” True. He’s like that. But he’s the best choice for what this book is at its heart: One family’s joyous celebration of Christmas in their special way, a way that honors their heritage. I saw on the back flap of N Is for Navidad an excerpt from a Booklist review of Searching for Oliver K. Woodman, written by Darcy Pattison (Harcourt; 2005), and they used the word “luscious” for Cepeda’s color choices. Well, he gets luscious-er in each title, no? His illustrations in this title sing with energy and joy, bleeding to the very edges of each spread and abundant with humor and detail and color. Oh, the bold colors. My oh my. Just look at the cover. There is a real texture to his work, too, that makes me want to reach out and touch the pages.

A seamless merging of a rhythmic, bouncy text and a bouncy, buoyant style of illustrating. Bounce, bounce again. And a good title for an introduction to Christmas, Latino-style. ¡Feliz Navidad!

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