Monday, July 07, 2008

Two new picture books from Arte Público Press’s children’s imprint, Piñata Books

Book Reviews

By Daniel A. Olivas

Butterflies on Carmen Street / Mariposas en la calle Carmen (Piñata Books) by Monica Brown. Illustrated by April Ward.

The Woodcutter's Gift / El regalo del leñador (Piñata Books) by Lupe Ruiz-Flores. Illustrated by Elaine Jerome.

Two new picture books from Arte Público Press’s children’s imprint, Piñata Books, present different ways that beauty comes into a child’s life: one from nature, the other from the hands of an artist.

In Butterflies on Carmen Street / Mariposas en la calle Carmen, Monica Brown tells the story of a little girl, Julianita, who exclaims to her abuelito (grandfather) that at school, “Today is Butterfly Day!” As Julianita walks with abuelito, she explains that her class is going to learn about monarch butterflies. This delights abuelito: “Every winter in Agangueo, the town where I’m from, in the beautiful mountains of Michoacán, Mexico, the butterflies come and make our little town a magical place, landing on trees and the roof of my little blue house.” Julianita’s excitement is compounded by the fact that each student is to receive their very own caterpillar to raise. In vibrant illustrations by April Ward, we follow Julianita as she learns about the life cycle of monarch butterflies and eventually watches as her caterpillar makes its miraculous transformation. These very same monarch butterflies migrate every winter from Canada and the United States to warm parts of Mexico. The generations are linked by the beauty of nature which knows no borders.

Lupe Ruiz-Flores’s The Woodcutter's Gift / El regalo del leñador shows us a slightly different way beauty may enter children’s lives. Her book begins with a storm that “knocked down the giant mesquite tree that stood in the town square.” The townspeople view the tree as nothing more than a rough and ugly dead thing, something to discard. But the woodcutter disagrees. He sees possibilities. Slowly, he has the tree cut into smaller pieces and hauled to his workshop. The town’s children are curious. What is the woodcutter planning to do? As the days pass, the townspeople also grow curious. Eventually, the woodcutter clangs a big bell to invite everyone into his woodshed to see what he did with the mesquite tree. To everyone’s astonishment, he has carved life size images of zoo animals: a zebra, tiger, lion, giraffe and turtle! After the townspeople and children help the woodcutter paint the animals, they realize that it takes just a little imagination to turn a “dead tree” into something beautiful. Elaine Jerome’s delightful illustrations help bring this menagerie to life.

[These reviews first appeared in the MultiCultural Review.]

◙ WERE WE EVER THAT YOUNG? Gregg Barrios offers this wonderful piece from the San Antonio Express-News about Patti Smith’s one and only concert in San Antonio in 1978. Here’s an excerpt (in italics):

My first encounter with Patti Smith was in the pages of Creem magazine in 1971. Her poem “Oath” opened with the still astonishing lyric: “Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine.”

In late 1975, her first album, “Horses,” set the same lyric to music, with the same shock of recognition.

Smith went from rock journalist to performance artist to the radical punk poet who teamed up with Lenny Kaye, also a rock critic, to create a new music that spoke in tongues to a new generation.

* * *

The San Antonio concert at Randy's Rodeo drew 1,000 fans. The English new wave group Squeeze opened with an adventuresome but uneven set.

Smith's entrance caught everyone off guard: With a copy of “Babel” in hand like a fire and brimstone revival preacher, she read chapter and verse of her incendiary “Babelogue” then segued into a powerhouse version of another track from “Easter,” in which she embraces the “n-word” to identify herself as a rock 'n' roll outsider.

And yes, that’s Gregg Barrios with Patti Smith from 30 years ago (photo by Todd Smith).

◙ All done...a short one because of the holiday. So, until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres y comadres at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro!

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