WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures



My Abuelita
Written by Tony Johnston
Illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009
ISBN: 978-0152163303



My Abuelita is a touching story of a little boy who lives with his grandmother, whom he calls Abuelita. The strong relationship between the grandson and his Abuelita is evident from the beginning, “She is my Abuelita. I love her. And she loves me” (p. 2). Written from the perspective of the little boy, he vividly tells about his adventures with his Abuelita during their morning routine as he helps her get ready for her important job. His admiration of her comes through as the little boy eagerly helps his Abuelita. “Abuelita arranges her things. I help. She arranges herself. I help. Last of all, I crown her with a sweep of stars” (p. 23). This important job remains a secret until the last page. Readers are kept on the edge of their seats as they try to figure out Abuelita’s important job–a storyteller.

Tony Johnston lived in Mexico with her husband and children for fifteen years. Her experiences lead her to write many books which focus on the Mexican culture. She carefully weaves Spanish words throughout the book, sharing the definitions. The descriptive words show the fondness the little boy has for his Abuelita. The illustrator Yuyi Morales, who was born and raised in Mexico, uses several media to create her pictures. She used polymer clay to create the bodies of the main characters. The clothing and other details were created using wire, felting wool, fabric, wood, acrylic paints, metals, and Mexican crafts. The illustrator photographed the layouts and digitally manipulated the photographs. The illustrations are somewhat quirky but nonetheless detailed and poignant. Cultural Mexican elements can be found in the details of the illustrations. The illustrations should be looked at several times, as each time one can find something new. The facial expressions on each of the characters emphasize the love and strong bond Abuelita and her grandson feel for each other. My Abuelita has received many honors including a Pura Belpré Honor Book and an ALA Notable book.

My Abuelita can be used to explore intergenerational relationships, learning about the Mexican culture, and teaching similes and metaphors. This book would work well paired with other multicultural books that support the intergenerational relationships. Grandma’s Gift by Eric Velasquez (2010) shows a growing relationship between a Puerto Rican grandmother and her grandson as they spend his Christmas break together. Other books such as, Little Mama Forgets by Robin Cruise (2006) and My Dadima Wears a Sari  by Kashmira Sheth (2007), show strong intergenerational relationships. My Abuelita is mixed with many enjoyable similes. Some examples of similes that are found in the text are: “Her face is as crinkled as dried chile” (p. 2); “My Abuelita is round. Robust, she says, like a calabaza. A pumpkin” (p. 6); and “She says the words should be as round as dimes and as wild as blossoms blooming” (p. 16). This wonderful use of text by the author makes this book a great tool for teaching this aspect of writing but also to encourage visual cultural images of Abuelita.

Jill R. Duran, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK

2 thoughts on “WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures

  1. Hello,
    How I wish I had found this posting before I submitted my changes for the paperback version of Karma! As you can imagine it is not easy to write of Indian culture as a foreigner. All assurances to readers that I did enlist the help of three Indo-Canadian writers for assistance with the language (one writer of HIndu descent and two Sikh-Punjabi writers). Not only did they read for accuracy but also made many of the additions that you refer to as incorrect. Sigh. It is so difficult to get things right. Writing Karma was a very risky undertaking that I spent three years on. To explore both a culture and the dire political situation of 1984 as an outsider was fraught with peril but I was committed to telling this important story. My hope was to bring to light the relatively unknown massacre of the Sikhs to the general community as well as write about the difficulties of immigration, identity and adolescence. It was a work of passion that I am proud of. Many thanks for taking the time to read Karma and offer your thoughts. I learned much for your post. All my best, Cathy Ostlere

  2. Shri Ramakrishnan says:

    Hello Cathy,
    Thank you for your gracious response! I thoroughly enjoyed reading the novel and was stunned at the meticulous descriptions of daily life in India, especially considering that your first visit to India was not exactly very pleasurable. India is complex and it is very challenging to view it as a single entity or a single theoretical construct. I admire and applaud your resolve to write a novel about my homeland despite the challenges of being an outsider. And I also applaud your thematic choice for the main plot – the riots following Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination are some of the least known and least discussed topics of Indian politics. I hope you will be writing another such powerful story set in India pretty soon! Warmest regards, Shri Ramakrishnan

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