By María V. Acevedo-Aquino and Myriam Jimena Guerra, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, San Antonio, TX
This week, Myriam Jimena and María continue to analyze books authored and/or illustrated by Lupe Ruiz-Flores and Carolyn Dee Flores. A Surprise for Teresita/Una sorpresa para Teresita, is the only book this month written by a third author, Virginia Sanchez-Korrol, so they paid close attention to Carolyn Dee Flores’ luminous artwork.
MARÍA: This story is about Teresita’s 7th birthday. As she eats her breakfast she wonders about the birthday surprise that Tío Ramón has for her. After helping her mother with different chores, Teresita went downstairs to play with her neighbors, as she waited for her uncle and his snow cone cart. Suddenly, she saw the green and white umbrella of Tío Ramón’s cart. Once close enough, Teresita carefully looked around the cart, but she only saw the big cube of ice and the bottles of syrup from many flavors that his tío uses to make the piraguas. She didn’t see any surprises. But suddenly Tío Ramón opened a small door on the side of the wagon and there it was! Her surprise, her special box, her new black kitten, which she named Piragua.
Carolyn Dee Flores’ watercolor illustrations depict a Puerto Rican neighborhood in New York. Right from the cover, readers can see bright contrasting colors and shapes, and clever use of white on Teresita’s face to highlight her laughter and excitement.
MRYIAM: I would like to mention that different countries have their own version of piraguas which are sweet fruity-colored shaved ice treats. In Mexico they are called raspas, in Colombia, Panama and Venezuela are called raspados, or minutas, in Salvador. This story reminds me of when I was a little child and we went around the corner with my siblings and older cousin to buy snow cones during warm summer days and we spent our time playing outside.
I noticed on the cover that the colorful palette of the illustrations mirrors the piraguas’ vibrant colors. Children’s and adults’ joyous faces and moving bodies are captured in the illustrations while they water the plants, run towards Tío Ramón’s cart, eat a multicolored snow cone, piragua or discover a little surprise inside a box. The bursting neighborhood, full of children running, playing games, and jumping ropes, is reflected with astonishing photo- realistic illustrations. The bold colors are exuberant and vividly reflect this Nuyorican community.
MARÍA: Looking at this book, reminded me about the layers of complexity of what it means to be Puerto Rican. As Puerto Rican, I was born and raised on the island. However, many Puerto Ricans are born on the mainland (U.S.). Cultural identity and how being Puerto Rican is expressed can vary across individuals, households, and communities. In other words, there is no one-way of being (talking, thinking, or looking) Puerto Rican. I can connect to the experience of eating piraguas in Puerto Rico, but I can’t really comment on the authenticity or accuracy of this vibrant neighborhood in New York. So for me, Carolyn Dee Flores’ watercolor illustrations provide detailed descriptions to help me enter Teresita’s household and community. By looking carefully, I can see that Teresita likes her cereal with milk. The tank tops, short pants, and flip flops help me understand how summer must feel in New York City. And the tall buildings with fire exit stairs and no apparent balcony show the importance of the street as a place for social and cultural convergence. It also makes me wonder about how children like Teresita might have felt during the hard COVID-19 quarantine that New York experienced a few months ago.
MYRIAM: María, you refer to your own identity as Puerto Rican, I see Teresita’s identity as shaped by her own life experience of growing up in a big city. The illustrations suggest that she enjoys her urban life, as reflected on her active participation around her home and community activities. Teresita helps her mother to water the plants, plays along with her friends, rides her bike, and assists with the grocery shopping at the local store La Bodega. Teresita’s mother, friends and her uncle, Tío Ramón, play an important role in this young girl, who understands her neighborhood is a safe place. Teresita’s community becomes her own family. This reminds me of the sense of security that having an extended family can bring into a child’s life. For example, in the story, Tío Ramón is the one in charge of doing special things for his niece in a very unique and endearing way. This novel paradigm of family-community-neighborhood is culturally relevant because it expands on the notion of family, including extended family, which are present in many children’s lives. Using the diminutive ‘ita’ in ‘Teresita’ is another example of how the family-community-neighborhood shows affection to Teresita!
Title: A Surprise for Teresita/Una sorpresa para Teresita
Author: Virginia Sánchez-Korrol
Illustrator: Carolyn Dee Flores
Publisher: Piñata Books
PubDate: November 30, 2016
Throughout September 2020, Myriam Jimena and María explore the contributions of two authors of children’s literature living in San Antonio, TX: Lupe Ruiz-Flores and Carolyn Dee Flores (mother and daughter). Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!