Mora, Pat, ed. 2001. Love to Mamá. Illus. by Paula S. Barragán M. New York: Lee & Low.
This is a very high-quality book, containing poems by Liz Ann Báez Aguilar, Francisco X. Alarcón, Rane Arroyo, Mimi Chapra, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Rigoberto González, Carmen D. Lucca, Tony Medina, PatMora, Cristina Muñiz Mutchler, Daniel A. Olivas, Virgil Suárez, and Jennifer L. Trujillo. Some of these, such as Francisco Alarcón, Judith Ortiz Cofer, and, of course, Pat Mora were already familiar names to me. Still others, such as Rane Arroyo, Rigoberto González, and Tony Medina have published books of poetry that I had never encountered before. Others had published other genres before, and one poet included could not be called anything but new, as she is only 15 years old (Cristina Muñiz Mutchler).
In her introduction, Pat Mora describes her relationship with the maternal figures in her life and says these poems are intended to “share [the poets’] love for their mothers and grandmothers” and that all of them are “proud to be Latino writers.” These two messages are certainly clear and all of the included poems reinforce that purpose, whether they are simply nostalgic, overwhelmingly proud, or simply full of admiration.
The layout of the book, especially the illustrations, very much enhances the poetry contained in it. The pencil/cut paper/gouache illustrations by artist Paula S. Barragán M. are works of art in themselves, but the poetry and the illustrations really do compliment each other. For example, the poem “Palomita,” by Judith Ortiz Cofer reads as follows:
Wearing a sky-blue skirt
embroidered by an old woman
named Consuelo from a story
she told Mamia long time ago
on her island, a cuento
in gold, brown, and silver threads,
a shower of sunlight
falling like drops of gold on
a little golden girl
who turns into a silver dove
and flies around and around a blue sky
my mami is walking with me in the park.
Palomita, palomita, is the name
she calls me, her little dove
happy to be going anywhere with her,
flying like a bird around and around
my mami in her sky-blue skirt
made from an island story
The accompanying illustration is on a dark green background with cut-paper images of bright green leaves, evoking the park or the native island mentioned in the poem. Set on this background is a woman in a long skirt. Her head is small and seems far away, but her body gets larger and larger the further down the page it goes, which seems to me partly the way a little girl would see her mom, skirt up close, head far away, and partly a way to emphasize the significance of the skirt in the poem. The skirt has on it a sun, drops of gold, a dove, and clouds, as one might imagine Mami’s skirt to have from reading the poem. The colors aren’t exactly as described, but the artist has still captured the essence of the poem beautifully.
The poems all appear in a united font on either all-white pages or all-white sections of the pages, so as not to compete with Barragán’s vibrant images. This makes it easy for the eye to find and read the poems and makes for a very appealing visual design as well. I regret that Mora did not add to the other outstanding aspects of the layout of this book by including a table of contents, index, or other aids to finding poems. It does have a glossary, which is not only a nice addition but might be considered necessary because of the many Spanish words used in the poems.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable book that I would love to share with my students, albeit many of the poems are more suitable for the older children in my school, which serves PreK-5th grade. The following poem is my favorite, probably because my own daughter is being raised bilingual, and it also happens to span the greatest age range among my students:
“My Tongue is Like a Map”
Mami said yes, Abuelita sang sí.
They said, Two languages make you a rich man,
But words never paid for my penny candy.
Agua, water. Arroz, rice. Niño, me!
Arroz con leche, sang Abuelita
As my mami said, A is for Apple.
My ears were like a radio, so many stations.
Sometimes I would dream in English and Spanish.
I was a millionaire each time I said yes and sí.
- Rane Arroyo