Throwback Thursday: Olinguito Speaks Up/Olinguito alzo la voz by Cecilia Velástegui

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Olinguito Speaks Up/Olinguito alzo la voz by Cecilia Velástegui
with illustrations by Jade Fang 
(Libros Publishing, 2013, $19.99, Recommended for ages 4 and up)

Olinguito-Speaks-Up-cvr.jpgThe recent discovery of the Olinguito, a new species of mammal resembling “…a cross between a cat and a furry teddy bear …” prompted Ecuadorian author Cecilia Velástegui to write a contemporary children’s fable about respect for others and for the world’s wildlife.

Shy Olinguito helps forgetful Tómas, an ancient Galapagos tortoise, recall how he ended up far from his native island and in Ecuador’s cloud forest. Due to Tómas’ memory loss and confusion, the other animals think his stories are “tall tales” and tease him. Olinguito finds the other animals treatment of Tómas disrespectful and sets out to help Tómas prove the truthfulness of his stories. With Olinguito’s support, Tómas reveals the twists and turns that took him from his island home to the cloud forest.

While the story focuses on its moral: “honor our elders and cherish our wildlife,” Velástegui uses the fable to gently point out the threats to the diverse wildlife referred to in her story. Through the long-lived and widely traveled Tómas, Velástegui hints at mankind’s devastating impact on the nature. In his narrative, Tómas refers to several “friends” who are now “gone” or “rarely seen” such as the Pinta Island (Galapagos) Tortoises, the Galapagos Petrel, and the cloud forest’s Harlequin Frogs.

Despite the dismay readers will experience over the loss of the many and striking species, the book ends on some positive notes: Olinguito shows young readers the importance of respect for others and the natural world and of standing up for friends who are being bullied or teased. Again, through Tómas, children will learn that some species, such as the Galapagos Pink Land Iguanas, are thriving and that other new species, such as the Galapagos deep sea catshark have been discovered.

Additional front and end material includes a brief note on the discovery of the olinguito, a “Facts/Datos” page, a colorful map of South America dotted with cheerful symbols marking significant cultural, historic, and wildlife locations, and photos of an olinguito and a giant tortoise.

As the book is bilingual, the layout consists mostly of two page spreads. On the left are the English and Spanish versions of the story. The right side features an accompanying illustration. Occasionally, illustrator Fang takes advantage of the expanse of the two page spread to create an illustration that floats across both pages. The illustrations contribute to the story, realistically capturing characteristics of the animals in the misty and diffused light of the cloud forest.

Primarily a fable, use this picture book with younger children as bibliotherapy for social and/or emotional issues around respect, aging, friendship, teasing and bullying. This book could be used with older children to introduce them to South American geography and ecosystems, threatened or extinct or new animal species, and the effects of exploration, colonialism, and development on the natural world and indigenous people. Needless to say it could also be used with children as a springboard for writing their own fables.

Visit the Olinguito Speaks Up website for more author info, facts, and a book trailer.

The author won First Place in Adventure Fiction at the International Latino Book Awards for her adult novel Missing in Machu Picchu.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Estas Manos: Manitas de mi familia / These Hands: My Family’s Hands by Samuel Caraballo

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A Celebration of Family!
 Estas Manos: Manitas de mi familia /
These Hands: My Family’s Hands

by Samuel Caraballo with illustrations by Shawn Costello
(Piñata Books, $17.95, Ages 5-9)


Love of family is celebrated in this heart warming and delightful bilingual picture book. Author Samuel Caraballo’s moving depiction of a young girl’s deep appreciation of her family truly touched my heart! Interwoven throughout the text are symbols of the indigenous people of Latin America with explanations of these symbols at the back of the book. Here is an opportunity for a child to learn about Latin American culture or perhaps these images are wonderfully sweet reminders to a child who is already familiar with them. For me it was a wonderful education! For example the young girl narrating the book says to her mother:

Your hands, the most tender!
When I am scared, they soothe me.
When I am hungry, they always feed me.
When I am thirsty, they give me the most refreshing water.
They give me warmth when I shiver with cold.
Mom, your hands are like rose petals!

I learned that rose petals represent tenderness in Latin America, which is so appropriate. The image of my own sweet mother immediately came to my mind as I remembered her loving care of me in exactly this way. The strong hands of the little girl’s dad who lifts her up every time she falls, the friendly hands of her siblings that encourage her with applause, the happy hands of her grandma who teaches her to lift her spirits by dancing, and the wise hands of her grandfather who teaches her to care for the earth are all described in delightful, vibrant language. In return for the care her family gives her the little girl promises that, when she is a woman, she will always be there for her family.


Interior spread from Estas Manos: Manitas de mi familia/These Hands: My Family’s Hands by Samuel Caraballo with illustrations by Shawn Costello, Piñata Books for Children © 2014.

Shawn Costello’s warm, joyous illustrations are paired so well with the endearing text. My favorite illustration is the one on the cover that depicts the strong bond of love between the little girl and her grandpa as they both try to reach for the brightest star in the night sky! It is truly magical!

Fans of Munch’s Love You Forever will find much to appreciate in this story of the closeness of family ties, and children will feel comforted knowing that the beautiful love of their family is always there for them. Estas Manos: Manitas de mi familia /These Hands: My Family’s Hands reassures them that they will always be surrounded with family who will provide a circle of protection, fun, and wisdom. This book is a wonderful addition to any library, encouraging young children to learn to appreciate the beauty of both Spanish and English. For me it brought back many happy memories of my own family in whose loving hands I was so well cared for!

– Reviewed by Hilary Taber


Señor Pancho Had a Rancho by René Colato Laínez

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Today We’ve Got a Throwback Thursday Picture Book! Señor Pancho Had a Rancho by René Colato Laínez and illustrated by Elwood Smith (Holiday House, 2013, $16.95) and highly recommended for children ages 3-7.

“Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O … Señor Pancho had a rancho, cha cha cha cha cha …”

Senor-Pancho-Had-Rancho-cvr.jpgNow if twelve children chanting “cha cha cha cha cha” to the tune of Old MacDonald Had a Farm doesn’t get your body wiggling and your toes tapping, then nothing will.

Old MacDonald and his neighbor, Señor Pancho, have the same animals on their farms who, while they look similar, speak different “languages.” While Old MacDonald’s dog barks “woof, woof,” Señor Pancho’s pero yaps “guau, guau” (wow, wow). A rooster on Old MacDonald’s farm crows “cock-a-doodle-doo,” while Señor Pancho’s gallo (GAH-yoh) squawks out “quiquiriquí” (kee-kee-ree-KEE), and so on. Finally, a cow and una (OON-ah) vaca (VAH-kah) are introduced. Both happily understand each other’s “moo” and “muu” (moo). Soon, ignoring the fence that divides the two properties, all the farm animals and the two farmers join the cow and the vaca for a rollicking dance.

Each double page spreads shows an illustration of Old MacDonald’s farm on one page with the English verse and Señor Pacho’s rancho on the opposite page with the same verse in a blend of Spanish and English.

Elwood Smith’s multimedia illustrations use subtle colors and small touches to distinguish the characters, but overall, each animal (and human) looks and behaves the same way. The illustrations are hilarious, lively and wonderfully convey the energy, joy, and silliness of the song.

Laínez notes “This book is a celebration of languages. In every celebration, we need music and dance (author’s note).” Lainez and Smith capture the idea that the joy we experience from music, dance, and companionship is universal.

This book was a 2014 International Latino Book Award finalist in the Best Children’s Fiction Picture Book – Bilingual category.

A helpful glossary of the Spanish words used in the book and how to pronounce them is included.

I shared this book with my K-1 classes and the timing was perfect as they were learning animal names in Spanish class. Reading (and singing) this book helped reinforce the children’s learning and introduced the Spanish words for the animal sounds. We had a ball.

Visit Salvadoran René Colato Laínez’s website for more information about the author, his books, awards, activities and more.

Learn more about illustrator Elwood Smith at his website and at Elwood’s World; the Art and Animations of Elwood H. Smith, a pdf of an engaging catalog prepared for a 2011 exhibition of his work at the Norman Rockwell Museum.

The publisher, Holiday House, has information on Common Core State Standards, reviews, and an activity sheet. Find those here.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro