Written and Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
Candlewick Press, 2018
Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela had a long name – too long, if you asked her.
The plot in a nutshell: A girl learns the origin of her name.
Alma tells her father that her name is too long and he gets a family photo album and sits down with her to tell her the story of her name. The first picture is of her grandmother, Sofia, who loved books and flowers and taught him how to read. Alma points out that she loves the same things and realizes that she is Sofia, too. Then he shows her Esperanza, her great-grandmother, who wanted to travel but never did. Alma tells her father that she hopes to see the world with him someday and sees that she’s Esperanza. Next, he comes to his father, José, who was an artist. Alma also loves drawing and recognizes being part of José, too. He shows her Pura, her great aunt, who had a strong belief in spirits. Alma says hello to the spirit of Pura. Finally, he reaches the picture of Candela, her other grandmother, who was an activist who fought for what she believed was right. Alma is happy to learn about her name and asks where ‘Alma’ came from. He tells her that she is the first Alma in their family, so she gets to determine her own legacy.
Author/illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal makes an impressive debut with this wonderful book that is about honoring your family legacy and recognizing their different impacts on who you are. There are many reasons to love this book, so you can take your pick when determining your personal favorite. I love that it’s a father and daughter story that shows a real closeness between the two characters. I love that it’s filled with images that show the family’s heritage (which appears to be from Peru, like the author). I love that Alma embraces the elements of her relatives that she sees in herself. My interpretation of her interaction with Pura is that she doesn’t see much in common with her, but she honors her memory all the same. It’s a beautiful message that you can love your family even when they may be different from you.
The illustrations were done in graphite, colored pencils and print transfers and it was no surprise to learn that some of the pictures of Alma’s relatives were based on pictures of Ms. Martinez-Neal’s own relatives. Alma is expressive and joyful in all that she learns about her namesakes and you can see that it also makes her feel closer to her father. In a note in the back of the book, the author explains the origin of her own name (which she also felt was too long when she was young) and encourages the reader to learn the story of their own name and think about the story that they would like to tell. I look forward to seeing more from this author in the future, because this one was a real winner!
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that your family and ancestors helped make you who you are, but it’s up to you to determine who you will be.