Friday, June 22, 2012

THE UPSIDE DOWN BOY by Juan Felipe Herrera

Herrera, Juan Felipe. The Upside Down Boy/El Niño de Cabeza. Illus. Elizabeth Gomez. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press, 2000. 0-89239-162-6. 

This book is non-fiction and bilingual in English and Spanish. A slight heavier weight seems to be given to English; in most of the book English text is at the top of the page and Spanish text is a at the bottom. The book has accurate translation by the same author, who is a native Spanish speaker and bilingual and biliterate in both languages. The author writes some words in English on the Spanish text and vice versa, which is interesting because it resembles his initial language experiences and how it feels to learn another language. There is no rhyme, rhythm, alliteration or repetition in the text, nor is a glossary provided.

The book is beautifully illustrated and the paintings enrich it. The topics discussed include immigration, food, music and painting. The book illustrates childhood experiences when moving from a rural to an urban area. The featured character is a child who is supported by his family and his new classmates as he integrates into a new society. The positive interactions can inspire kids to understand a different society even when challenged by alienation.

The Upside Down Boy/El Niño de Cabeza is about courage and the importance of family and community. At the beginning of the book, Juanito is exited about moving with his family from a rural area to an urban community in San Diego. At the turning point of the story, he is nervous, intimidated, and confused due to the school environment that is all new to him. Eventually, he becomes confident, included, and successful thanks to his teacher, peers, and parents, who guide him toward personal growth by emphasizing his courage and talents. The story focuses on the support children need to achieve their goals.

I recommend this book because it gives a great opportunity to native Spanish speakers and newcomers to relate to the main character and overcome difficulties. Also, due to the elaborate and rich text in both languages, the book delivers an opportunity to develop biliterate language skills. Interesting and uncommon vocabulary in both languages is included, which facilitates a connection to the book. A good audience for this book would be second and third graders, or students at an intermediate language development level.

Ariel Castillo Garrido

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.

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