Friday, June 29, 2012
CHATO'S KITCHEN by Gary Soto
This creative tale spun by famous author Gary Soto is a warm, inviting picture book about unlikely friends. Chato is a low-riding cat in “East Los” (East LA) who loves to eat birds. While he is sneaking up on a sparrow, he spots a family of mice moving in next door. He invites them over for dinner, planning to eat them. After much discussion, the mice decide to join Chato for dinner. Much to Chato’s surprise, the family of mice brings a dog with them. Chato is scared of the dog at first, but Mami mouse convinces him that their canine companion is friendly. In the end, the cats, mice, and dog enjoy a delicious meal together.
Chato’s Kitchen is a fictional picture book. It is written in English, but has many Spanish words sprinkled throughout. These italicized words bring the reader’s attention to colloquial Spanish phrases, terminology, and traditional food. They bring a distinctly Latin flavor to the book which allows the reader to enter into Chato’s urban East Los Angeles world. The Spanish words are written in the same font and size as the English words, and they appear in italics in the text. The font size is clear, visible, and legible on every page. The English words are written in academic language, but the Spanish words are Mexican slang intended to draw readers into the main character’s experience as an East Los Angeles cat. The words are inoffensive, and teachers could still use the book for a lesson. If a bilingual teacher felt that any one word would offend a certain population, it would not be difficult for that teacher to simply translate the word to a less offensive English word.
This book has wonderful illustrations. It allows the reader to comprehend the way the barrio looks and helps aid in story comprehension. Drawings are more literal than abstract, and therefore language learners would be able to follow the plot of the story by looking at the pictures. The book does not rhyme, and there is little repetition, but it would be a good study in descriptive language and adjectives. The rich descriptions and adjectives pull the reader into the world that the author intended to expose. The first page of the book contains not only a glossary but also an explanation of the traditional Mexican food that Chato makes for the mice.
The writing is of a thoughtfully calculated and extremely high quality, and the characters are carefully selected to depict interactions between different types of people as represented through cats, dogs, and mice. The plot is one that young readers can understand, and older students can discuss the interactions between different types of people in Los Angeles. Overall, this is a high-quality piece of literature that can introduce students of any ethnic background to a vibrant community much like their own. Social studies themes abound in this book. Teachers could do a lesson on ethnic foods served in the students’ families or a study on different ethnic groups in Los Angeles.
Gary Soto is a well-known author of books and poems for children and adults. He has won many awards for his various literary works, including being a finalist for the National Book Award, the Bess Hokin Prize and the Levinson Award. In 1999, he received the Literature Award from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, the Author-Illustrator Civil Rights Award from the National Education Association, and the PEN Center West Book Award for Petty Crimes (www.garysoto.com). This book is part of a series of picture books featuring Chato. The other books are titled Chato and the Party Animals and Chato Goes Cruisin’ (which was voted one of the "Ten best illustrated books” by the New York Times in 2005).
Reviewed by Rachel McLemore
This review is part of the Special Section: Books in Spanish, featuring a collaboration with Policy and Language Studies students at San Diego State University. Read more about it here.