Review of Juana & Lucas

medina_juana-and-lucasstar2 Juana & Lucas
by Juana Medina; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Candlewick    90 pp.
9/16    978-0-7636-7208-9    $14.99

This brisk, episodic (in the best way) chapter book introduces Juana, a young girl living in Bogotá, Colombia, who loves many things: her city, her family, reading, Brussels sprouts, and her dog, Lucas. She does not like school, though, and especially not her English class — until her grandfather announces that they will be traveling to the United States to visit Spaceland. Juana’s determination to “work muy, muy hard to learn todo the English that I can possibly fit into the space between my pigtails” provides a loose framework for what follows. The first-person narration is distinctive, filled with understated humor (“[Lucas] eats math homework like a pro. The harder the homework, the faster he’ll eat it”) and frequently interspersed Spanish words which the reader is left to identify in context. Dynamic ink and watercolor illustrations bring Juana’s sometimes misdirected energy to life, playing it against the amused affection of those around her, while vivid prose (one teacher “has a voice that sounds like it travels from down in her high heels all the way up to her mouth”), spacious design, and varying typeface underscore Juana’s infectious enthusiasm for language and all its possibilities. Both comfortably familiar (this will be an easy sell for fans of Pennypacker’s Clementine, for instance) and keenly specific in its setting and characters, Juana & Lucas is much needed for the gap it fills in American children’s literature, but it will be much beloved for its warmly depicted family relationships, eminently read-aloud-able high jinks, and sunny protagonist.

From the November/December 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Claire Gross
Claire Gross
Claire Gross is the youth librarian at the Egleston branch of the Boston Public Library and a former associate editor of The Horn Book Magazine.

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