Get the party started with the hilarious Mice and Beans by Pam Muñoz Ryan. A harried grandmother is preparing a birthday party for her young granddaughter, Catalina. So much to do! Several times Abuela misplaces items or forgets details and each time, she muses, “No importa!” Fortunately, she has a little help from an unlikely source — mice, those pesks she has always shooed out of her kitchen whenever she’s spotted them.
The plot’s sly humor and lively details, including the children’s beloved pinata, are captured with Joe Cepeda’s bright, energetic oil paintings. Read this with gusto; Mice and Beans includes a glossary and pronunciation guide to help with the Spanish words and phrases woven into the charming story.
Keep the laughs coming with The Cat Who Came for Tacos, by Diana Star Helmer, another picture book with simple Spanish words and phrases, as well as a lively plot. “Mi casa es su casa,” a man and woman tell a stray cat that comes to their home and stays to share their tacos. Oh, what manners that cat has! Children love hearing how the adults patiently teach the impulsive cat how to eat like a human. Adults will appreciate the subtle message of how we should respect others.
For those looking for a more contemplative tone, consider Martín de Porres: The Rose in the Desert by Gary D. Schmidt and illustrated with characteristic verve by David Diaz. Winner of the 2013 Pura Belpre Illustrator Award, this picture-book biography introduces children to the Catholic church’s first black saint in the Americas.
Martin was the humble child of a Spanish conqueror and an African slave. Growing up in the Lima barrios, he had a tender, spiritual nature. Yet, when he wanted to enter the Monastery of the Holy Rosary, the prior insisted Martín could never become a priest because he was “not of pure blood.” So Martín instead worked as a servant, mopping floors, cutting the monks’ hair, sweeping the chapel, all the while submitting to the brothers’ heartless prejudice against him.
Martín began to heal others — wounded dogs, desperate villagers, and eventually, the brothers in the monastery and even the Spanish royals, whom Martín tended after he had helped the poorest in the barrios. After 13 years of such service, Martín’s wish to join to the monastery as a brother came true.
Strange and wondrous stories followed Martín throughout his life. Some said he walked with angels or could appear in two places at once. Others said his lemon and orange trees produced fruit all year long. When he brought bread to the hungry in the barrios, the food seemed to multiply so that he always had enough.
The story of this “rose in the desert,” as his mother called him, is an uplifting tale of compassion and triumph. The author’s note supplies additional background information on Martín de Porres, born in 1579 and canonized in 1962. He is the patron saint of universal brotherhood, interracial relations, social justice, public education, and animal shelters.
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