Zaira and the Dolphins, by Mar Pavón, Ill. by Cha Coco

July 9, 2012

Zaira y los delfinesThe Book

This 32-page picture book, originally written in Spanish, is intended for children ages 5 and up, according to Amazon.

It was written by award-winning author, Mar Pavón, and illustrated by Cha Coco. Publisher Cuento de Luz has made this picture book adaptation available in English (in Spanish it’s titled Zaira y los delfines).

The Story

Zaira’s imagination has her seeing dolphins playing in a fountain, spending time with a cadre of imaginary friends, and taking joy in everything around her. But the town’s children keep making fun of her when she describes how the dolphins jump and play in the fountain. When Zaira’s world suddenly changes because she no longer sees water or dolphins in the fountain, the other children’s mockery truly begins to sting.  None of her imaginary friends are near and she is all alone…until a fairy appears. Will the fairy help bring back the dolphins?

The Good

This book can be appealing for kids who enjoy fairy tales. The writing is clear and kid-friendly. The descriptions of Zaira and her world encourage the reader to see the world from her point of view, despite the comments from the other children. The plot can help encourage conversations concerning friendship, bullying, and self-confidence.

The “hmm…”

I thoroughly enjoyed this book until the fairy made an appearance. What first gave me pause was her name: “Takethat”. I chuckled to myself thinking, it’s the revenge fairy. Then she used magic to wipe the smiles of the children who were laughing, followed by a proud “take that!” I wasn’t chuckling any more. I was puzzled.

I won’t give away the rest of the story, but the bullying was never addressed in a constructive way (actually, we never see the kids again). It was simply magicked away in an act of revenge. The story then continues Zaira’s journey to find her dolphins again, which involves paying attention and being a good girl.

Again, I am puzzled. Zaira had not misbehaved at any time in the story, but the fairy insisted that she observe and behave.

Perhaps this is part of the “whimsical” in this story. Then again, “whimsical” does not mean that issues like bullying should be downplayed. I can’t help but think that the story lost its way as soon as the bullying was simply shrugged off with magic.

The Art

This was my first time seeing Cha Coco’s work and I am now a fan. I must admit, the drawings are what first drew me to this book and I was never disappointed. She created a bright, whimsical, and colorful world for Zaira and her imaginary friends. Sometimes they were larger than life and helped illustrate Zaira’s fantastic view of the world.

Have you read this book?

If you have read this book (in either language), I’d love to know what you think.

Would  you recommend this book to parents and their children? Why?

Do you have reservations when it comes to this book?

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Witches Handbook, by Mónica Carretero

May 31, 2012

Witches Handbook

I’ve been putting off writing about this particular book. After reading it, I wanted to take a step back, think about it, and avoid writing something that was more knee-jerk reaction than a thoughtful review.

But most of my original knee-jerk reaction still prevails, so I really can’t put this off any longer.

The Book

This picture book, originally written in Spanish, is intended for children ages 5 and up, according to Amazon. It’s rather heavy on the narrative, and some of the vocabulary makes me wonder about claiming a Kindergarten audience, but kids would enjoy sharing this with their parents for a read-aloud. It was written and illustrated by award-winning author and illustrator, Mónica Carretero. Publisher Cuento de Luz has made this picture book adaptation available in English (in Spanish it’s titled Manual de Brujas).

The Story

Siblings receive a letter from estranged Aunt Amarga, enticing them to visit her to find out if witches really do exist. You see, Aunt Amarga’s life is coming to an end and she doesn’t want “the secret” to be lost forever. When the children visit her, she tells them all about witches and even warlocks. This includes information on how to recognize a witch, famous witches and warlocks (including well-known characters such as the witches from Snow White and Sleeping Beauty), the broom as a mode of transportation, and others. By the end of the story, the kids are in for a surprise and learn something that even Aunt Amarga did not know.

The Good

This book is appealing for kids who enjoy fairy tales, stories about witches, and not-so-scary stories. It is well-written and there are several instances where the narrative directly addresses the reader, inviting them to engage in several ways with the story. At the end of the manual, kids will enjoy a word puzzle, riddles, and even learn how to cook spell-removing pancakes. There are many whimsical aspects to the story and parts that will have children chuckling.

The Not So Good

I will admit, I am a fan of a good, scary story. I am also inclined to the magical and the funny. I don’t mind the not-so-scary, such as this book, but I do not appreciate the one-sided witches story that presents only a negative message. The author tells us that witches are bad. They are bad because they are lonely. If only someone had given them one kiss; it would have done them “so much good”. Recognizing witches is easy. Simply look for someone who dresses outlandishly and don’t be fooled by an innocent appearance. To make sure you have found a witch, try to approach her affectionately. A witch will reveal herself (become ugly with a bigger nose, apparently), and turn away.

All of that by page 8 (out of 32).

There is simply too much in this book that serves to perpetuate various negative stereotypes. For example, that ugly people are bad, that people who dress “differently” are weird, that there is something wrong if a woman remains single, that there is something wrong with people who don’t like or cannot receive affection as easily as others, etc. The messages clash with the whimsical writing, the bright and colorful illustrations, and the seemingly positive relationship between Aunt Amarga and her niece and nephew.

The Art (the best part!)

I am not a fan of watercolor art. However, Mónica Carretero expertly uses this medium to create bright and colorful characters that come to life on paper. She has my deepest respect as an illustrator and the illustrations in this book make me want to see more of her work. Each character is carefully planned and full of detail that manages to be captivating but not overwhelming.

Have you read this book?

If you have read this book (in either language), I’d love to know what you think.

Would  you recommend this book to parents and their children? Why?

Do you have reservations when it comes to this book?

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