Review of A Gift from Abuela

A Gift from Abuela
by Cecilia Ruiz; illus. by the author
Primary    Candlewick    32 pp.    g
8/18    978-0-7636-9267-4    $15.99

Ruiz elevates a standard tale about the loving bond between a grandmother and granddaughter with historically significant and culturally relevant detail (the book is set in 1980s Mexico City). The beauty of Abuela and Niña’s quotidian life comes alive as they spend time together creating papel picado, “making up silly songs,” and eating pan dulce while people-watching at the park. Spacious symmetrical lines lend harmony to their daily activities. Ruiz’s mixed-media illustrations deftly incorporate culturally specific details — the iconic Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl volcanos, green commuter vans (a.k.a. combis), piquant storefront signs distinctly characteristic of Mexican humor — to capture the vibrancy of the city’s aesthetic. Ruiz uses the devaluation of the peso to shift the mood and situate Abuela and Niña’s relationship alongside socioeconomic realities. Lively storefronts close, pan dulce jumps from ten to one hundred pesos. Other things change as well. Niña plays with her friends rather than Abuela; Abuela works double to make ends meet, and cobwebs and unwashed dishes crowd her once-tidy home. When new currency is introduced, Abuela’s savings, faithfully tucked away over time, are now worthless. But Niña and Abuela restore their “value” by creating colorful papel picado from the old bills. Against fickle materialism and wealth, Ruiz demonstrates how family bonds and love remain steady and unbreakable, and are indeed our greatest gift.

From the September/October 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Lettycia Terrones

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