Saturday, November 11, 2006

Review of A Gift From Papá Diego/Un regalo de Papá Diego by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

A Gift From Papá Diego/Un regalo de Papá Diego by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Illustrated by Geronimo Garcia

I’ve been a big fan of Benjamin Alire Sáenz for a long time. I love all his work with my favorite being In Perfect Light. When I found out about this book, I wondered what his writing for children would be like. I was completely entranced with the very first page. This is a lovely story, touchingly told.

A Gift From Papá Diego is the story of young Diego who loves his grandfather Diego who lives far away in Chihuahua, Mexico so much that he thinks of him all the time. Like most boys, he loves his comic books and superheroes. Little Diego misses his abuelito so much that he fantasizes about flying to Chihuahua in his Superman suit and being able to get home in time for dinner. He loves the story of how Papá Diego showed up the day Little Diego was born. The love the boy has for his grandfather just fills the pages with warmth and alma. It made me cry.

The story is very real, very much of true familia. Diego’s sister Gabriela loves to tease her brother but you can see the love she has for him too. The morning of Diego’s birthday, he wakes to find Gabriela and his mother singing Las Mañanitas while his father plays guitar. That is such a beautiful little detail. The love we Mexicanos have for each other, our traditions and love for music. It made me remember my birthday mornings growing up. Those cold December mornings lying tucked in under a mountain of blankets, opening my eyes to see my Tia smiling at me, smelling the favorite lengua de gato cookies I loved with champurrado in the kitchen, hearing my abuela come into my room and singing Las Mañanitas while my Papa rubbed my feet with his sobador’s hands. Ay! This story of Diegito got me remembering all those good times. I loved the part where his mama is in the cocina making chile rellenos. This is such a beautiful little cuentito!

The illustrations were great as well. Not your typical illustrations, these are done in clay and acrylic paint. They add depth to the story and a 3-d feel that makes the characters pop out and seem almost alive. Strangely enough, they don’t detract from the story, they add to it and give it a touch of whimsy. The artist, Geronimo Garcia hopes that the children who read this book will want to work with clay and paint to make their own art. I think that his work in this book will encourage them to create and more importantly, to dream. I think he will inspire many, many children and it is my hope that he will continue to illustrate many stories for them in the years to come.

As George Bush plans to build a 700-mile wall across the Mexican border, I leave you with the most powerful quote of the book, the one from Papá Diego that made my breath catch and my eyes tear up. “Mijito,” he said quietly, “tonight Chihuahua is not so far, and I do not feel so old, and it was very easy to cross the border. A border is nothing for people who love.”
Hasta la proxima,
Gina MarySol Ruiz

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