Reviews of the 2020 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award winners


Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln
by Margarita Engle; illus. by Rafael López
Primary    Atheneum    40 pp.
8/19    978-1-4814-8740-5    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4814-8741-2    $10.99 

Engle and López (Drum Dream Girl, rev. 5/15) bring us another engaging story about a young, successful, female musician of Latinx descent. Teresa Carreño (1853–1917) learned to play piano early in life in Venezuela, her “happy hands danc[ing] / across all the beautiful / dark and light keys.” When the young musician was eight, her family members had to flee their war-torn country and move to New York. In this foreign city she became a well-known child prodigy. Her skill and status provided her with traveling opportunities and an extraordinary chance: to play at the White House for President Lincoln, who was still grieving the death of his young son. There she plays joyfully and with improvisation, knowing that “her music / had brought comfort to a grieving family, / at least for one brief, wonderful evening / of dancing hands.” Engle’s writing shines through powerful descriptions and connections between music and feelings. López’s vivid illustrations expertly alternate between lush, vibrant hues, and gray, muted depictions of darker times; they evoke characters and historical settings with absorbing detail. A brief historical note with more facts about Carreño’s life is appended. ALICIA K. LONG

From the September/October 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

Across the Bay
by Carlos Aponte; illus. by the author
Primary    Penguin Workshop    32 pp.    g
9/19    978-1-5247-8662-5    $17.99 

Aponte explores a young child’s physical and emotional journey coping with his father’s absence from his life and learning to love all that is around him. Carlitos lives with his mother, grandmother, and cat in Cataño, a town just across the bay from Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Now and then, in the streets or at the barbershop, Carlitos notices that there’s something “different” about his family. From his mother, the young boy learns that his father lives “across the bay.” (“Sometimes things don’t work out.”) Carlitos decides to hop onto the ferry and travel to Old San Juan with a photo of his dad and the hope of finding  him. Through strikingly colorful and vibrant illustrations, Aponte captures the essence of Old San Juan: while Carlitos asks around for his father, readers can see such typical local images as a shaved-ice vendor, a group of cats, old men playing dominoes, the traditional San Sebastián street festival, and people flying kites at El Morro fort. This tale, in which a young boy walks around by himself without anyone knowing, asking, or wondering where his supervising adults are, is based on Aponte’s childhood memories of a particular time and place. A lively and honest story about filling voids and exploring what defines a family — as well as a love letter to a childhood home. SUJEI LUGO

From the January/February 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


My Papi Has a Motorcycle
by Isabel Quintero; illus. by Zeke Peña
Primary    Kokila/Penguin    40 pp.    g
5/19    978-0-525-55341-0    $17.99
Spanish ed.  978-0-525-55494-3    $17.99

Quintero’s picture-book text acts as an evocative love letter to her apá and to the interconnected web of Mexican immigrant working-class people who built her hometown of Corona, California. When Papi gets home from work, young Daisy jumps into his arms for a hug (the warmth of his body language expressing “all the love he has trouble saying”), then grabs their helmets, eager to zoom through their neighborhood on Papi’s speedy blue motorcycle before the sun goes down. Peña’s joyous digital and hand-painted watercolor illustrations capture the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and “redbluegreenorangepink” colors of the town. They observe the community’s many people and institutions that contribute to the well-being and harmony of “everyone and everything [Daisy and Papi] pass” on their motorcycle ride. There’s Abuelito and Abuelita’s yellow house with the lemon tree and the nopales; murals “that tell our history”; there’s Mr. García, the librarian in the Dodgers cap, with whom they exchange nods (“this is how we always greet each other”); and the raspados man. All of this — plus the text’s nuanced alliteration, its use of Spanglish, and the realistic linguistic mix in the illustrations (even the cat says both meow and miau) — marks the quotidian specificity shaping Daisy’s memory-making as well as her loving reflections on Corona’s unfolding changes, its history and future. An appended author’s note tells more about Quintero’s inspiration. Concurrently published in Spanish as Mi papi tiene una moto. LETTYCIA TERRONES

From the May/June 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Read more by and about Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña.


¡Vamos!: Let’s Go to the Market
by Raúl the Third; color by Elaine Bay
Primary    Versify/Houghton    40 pp.    g
4/19    978-1-328-55726-1    $14.99
e-book ed.  978-0-358-06340-7    $9.99

Waking up when the rooster crows is not hard to do if the day ahead includes a trip to the mercado. Rooster Kooky Dooky’s cries (“¡Vamos!”) wake up Little Lobo and his dog Bernabé. They eat breakfast (huevos rancheros con tortillas de maíz) and get ready to deliver goods to their friends in the local marketplace. As they go about their errands, Little Lobo and Bernabé cross paths with a lively array of neighbors starting their workdays. Side by side the two travel, immersed in the sights, sounds, and smells of the town’s streets and its plaza bursting with colors and activity. A few clues along the way hint at the surprise they will find when they complete their deliveries. The comics-style illustrations of anthropomorphic creatures, objects, and places are full of detail and very enjoyable to explore. The colors are largely muted so they do not compete with the many items on the riotously bustling and crowded pages; a double-page sepia spread partway through identifies Mexico City’s historic Mercado de Cuauhtémoc as the location. Since most objects are labeled in Spanish, like a visual dictionary, and cultural references (a cinema called Buñuel, Cantinflas and Frida Kahlo puppets, Chapulín Colorado dolls) are interspersed throughout the book, this simple morning walk turns into a scavenger hunt of Spanish words and Mexican cultural elements. A glossary is appended. ALICIA K. LONG

From the March/April 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Read more by and about Raúl the Third.


For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2020.


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