MTYT: Alma and How She Got Her Name

By Dorea Kleker, University of Arizona and Maria Acevedo-Aquino, Texas A&M University-San Antonio.

This month we discuss four picturebooks by authors and illustrators who will join us at the Tucson Festival of Books in March. We chose to focus on these authors’ and illustrators’ most recent picturebooks, all of which were published between 2016-2018.

Written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, Alma and How She Got Her Name follows Alma as she learns the meaning of her very long name that respects her ancestors and heritage. As Alma’s dad tells her ancestors’ stories, she finds inspiration and learns they had similar interests. With a newfound appreciation for her name, Alma begins her own life story.

Alma and How She Got Her Name

MARIA: The minute I read Alma and How She Got Her Name, I thought about the Family Story Backpacks project led by CREATE. As a curricular experience, it uses stories and artifacts centered on particular themes to encourage the sharing of family stories both at home and in classrooms. As with any text with a particular theme of names or backpacks, Alma and How She Got Her Name would be such an exciting addition to a a CREATE backpack. The main character, Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela learns about the story behind her six names through her father’s storytelling. I can see the cultural practice of numerous names is familiar to some children, while unfamiliar to others. Indeed, this book is an opportunity for exciting conversations.

DOREA: Maria, through our work with the Family Story Backpacks, we often talk about the many roles that stories play: to inform, transform, connect, and make meaning. In this particular book, I am struck by the power of stories to transform Alma’s negative view of her name that never “fits” on the page. Her name initially seems too long, but it becomes one she is proud to carry as her own. With his invitation, “Come here… Let me tell you the story of your name. Then you decide if it fits,” Alma’s father gives Alma both the power of knowing the stories behind her name and also the agency to choose whether or not she wants to claim them as powerful parts of her identity. From her book-loving grandmother, Sofia, to Jose, her artistic grandfather, each story her father tells allows Alma to recognize the important parts of herself that she shares with those who came before her. Maria, were there any of Alma’s father’s stories that particularly resonated with you?

MARIA: I’m most intrigued by the story behind her sixth name, Candela. Candela was Alma’s maternal grandmother and the only relative throughout the book to wear the same striped pants as Alma. Knowing that Peruvian author and illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal wrote this story based on her childhood experiences, I wonder about the special connection between Alma and her maternal grandmother (especially since her mother is never mentioned in the story). Candela is also described as an advocate and activist who marched along individuals carrying signs that read, “Escucha, Piensa, ¡Denuncia!/ Listen, Think, Speak Up.” I can’t stop thinking about the English meaning of Candela of luminous intensity and its connection to activism.

DOREA: Just as you find yourself wondering about the stripes and signs, I find Juana’s detailed illustrations beckoning me to lean closer to the page and to comb the drawings for clues that take me beyond the words of Father’s stories to imagine more. The more I look, the more I find. Each subsequent reading illuminates new discoveries–titles of books, a beloved plant, a feathered friend, a red string. Upon closer look, these visual treasures appear across multiple pages, highlighting the many ways in which Alma’s stories- and our own- always connect to one other.

Title: Alma and How She Got Her Name
Author and Illustrator: Juana Martinez-Neal
ISBN: 9780763693558
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: April 10, 2018

This is the first installment of February’s issue of My Take/Your Take. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!

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