Based in real-life happenings, Argueta has created a poignant story about a family’s struggle to build a new life and roots in a new country. Xochitl (SOH-cheel) and her family attempt to make a new home for themselves in the United States after moving from El Salvador. In El Salvador, Xochitl’s family had a small flower business and garden that they had to leave behind. In the U.S., Xochitl helps her mother make money by selling flowers in the neighborhood. Selling flowers provides the Flor family with the opportunity to meet and make friends with local storeowners and neighbors.
Mourning the garden they left behind, the Flor family are inspired to develop a garden in an empty lot by their apartment. Initially excited by the opportunity to open a neighborhood nursery, the family encounters opposition from the owner of the lot; however, neighbors come together in an effort to save the family’s garden. From this experience they come to value new friendships and community in their adopted country.
The illustrations in Xochitl work as a counterpart to the text in the telling of the story. The illustrations are acrylic paintings that make use of bold colors, especially pinks and yellows. A distinctive feature is the use of several billboard-type pictures throughout the story that highlight Xochiltl’s state of mind at that moment.
If interested in addressing the garden aspect of the book, Xochitl and the Flowers could be paired with Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea (Alice Waters, 2008), which is about integrating academics with growing, cooking, and sharing wholesome foods. If pairing for the movement aspect of the story, books such as Arto’s Big Move (Monica Arnaldo, 2014), My Diary from Here to There: Mi diario de aqui hasta alla (Amada Pérez, 2013), and From There to Here (Laurel Croza, 2014) could be used. In My Diary from Here to There, Amada overhears her parents talk of moving from Mexico to Los Angeles and records her fears, hopes, and dreams for their lives in the United States in her diary.
Argueta is an author of children’s books, a poet, and a teacher. Born in El Salvador, he came to San Francisco in 1980, and published his first book in 1983. He is well known in San Francisco for his community work and takes part in the cultural life of the city teaching poetry in local schools and running a bookstore on Mission Street. Argueta has not forgotten his roots and works with humanitarian organizations to assist families and children in El Salvador. In 2010, Argueta became the director of “Talleres de Poesia” a literary organization that introduced the First Annual Children’s Poetry Festival in El Salvador. Argueta’s children’s books are multicultural, several are bilingual and a number of them are written about foods from his home country and include recipes.
Argueta has received awards such as: Poet Laureate, San Francisco Public Library; Americás Award commended designation, 2003, for Xochitl and the Flowers, selected as one of the best children’s bilingual books; winner of the Americás Award for Latin American literature and the independent publisher’s book award for multicultural fiction for juveniles.
Carl Angel, who illustrated Xochitl and the Flowers, was born in Maryland, grew up on the island of Honolulu, and currently lives in Northern California. He is a visual artist experienced in narrative illustration, children’s books, book design and graphic design. When illustrating for a book, he chooses to work closely with the author and editor in order to get the pictures just right for each story. Getting the pictures just right is important to Angel as he has stated that he has made a practice of working “primarily with multicultural publishers in bringing the stories of underrepresented communities to life.” Representing these narratives authentically is of importance to Angel.
Megan McCaffrey, Governors State University