Johnston, Tony. My Abuelita. Illustrated by Yuyi Morales. Photographed by Tim O’Meara. Boston: Harcourt Children’s Books, 2009.
Plot: Abuelita is old, round, wrinkly, and forgets to put clothes on in the morning! She yodels and booms and says that “words should be as round as dimes and as wild as blossoms blooming” as she gets ready for work each morning. What type of work could she possibly do?!
Setting: Modern United States
Point of View: 1st person (Abuelita’s grandson)
Theme: grandmothers, family, morning routines, singing, storytelling, imagination, nontraditional families, Mexican-Americans
Literary Quality: In this story, Johnston plays with words and sounds as much as Abuelita does. Both the text and illustrations infuse My Abuelita with a lively energy that will delight and captivate young readers and listeners. Each character — the grandson narrator, Abuelita, and the cat, Frida Kahlo — has a strong and distinct presence in the story with unique characteristics that bounce this picture book into life with humor and lightheartedness. Morales’ colorful mixed-media illustrations made from clay, wire, felting wool, paints, fabric, wood, metals, and Mexican crafts are the perfect complement to this quirky, fun celebration of family, breakfast, and storytelling.
Cultural Authenticity: Tony Johnston lived in Mexico for 15 years and has devoted many of her books to Mexican subject matter. Johnston is also a storyteller in her own right and a prolific writer. Yuyi Morales was born and raised in Mexico, moving to the United States as a young mother without a work permit or any English-speaking ability. She has testified to the assistance (and inspiration) of the picture books at her local library in overcoming these challenges. Both the author’s and illustrator’s life experiences contribute to the authenticity of this story. Other details such as the nontraditional family (grandson living with grandmother) further enhance a sense of authenticity.
Audience: Ages 3-7. This story has broad appeal and makes for a fabulous read-aloud.
Personal reaction: I originally happened upon this book because as a fan of Yuyi Morales’ work, and these illustrations are very different than other books of hers that I was more familiar with (such as Little Night and Los Gatos Black on Halloween). I found the combination of illustrations and text in this story to be just outstanding. I loved that while the story has universal themes (morning routines, storytelling, grandmothers), it easily incorporates Mexican-American ideas and characters, as well as a nontraditional family structure. The visuals and sounds make for a wonderfully spirited story.