Besos For Baby – guest book review by Elise Varella

For today’s post, I have a special guest – Elise Varella. She is a third culture kid who grew up in Mexico. Her mom, Vicki, was a former college roommate and friend of mine. Vicki and her husband, Art, who is Hispanic American dated at the same time as my husband, Tim and I, and we both married the same summer. Vicki and Art minister in Mexico and have three children, Elise, Nathaniel and Matthew.

I am thrilled to have Elise share this post with you. I love her insight and cultural perspective, both as a third culture kid and mom. I hope we will see many more posts from Elise in the future.

Thank you, Elise!

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When I was expecting my first baby, my mother brought two books for my little one. Because I grew up in Mexico and was bi-cultural, my mom knew how important it was to me that my little girl learn Spanish and even more importantly, learn to love her heritage. With my husband being half-Mexican as well, I like to joke that we have a house full of Half-Mexicans!

Besos for Baby: A Little Book of Kisses by Jen Arena, illustrated by Blanca Gomez

One of those books, a board book, has already become a favorite. Besos for Baby: A Little Book of Kisses written by Jen Arena and illustrated by Blanca Gomez is an adorable book for babies and pre-schoolers who are learning Spanish. Each page has colorful drawings of a little girl who goes around,  giving everyone besos, kisses. No one is left out as she gives kisses to her mother, father, dog, cat, sun, and even the world. As one reads through her loving adventure, the reader learns the Spanish words for each recipient of the besos. At the end of the book, all the words are reviewed with a chart of all the pictures featured in the book. It’s a great way to review the words as you learn the names for everything in this little girl’s world. It’s a perfect book for little ones as there are a limited number of words and those featured are in English and Spanish.

From a multicultural perspective, there’s not much that makes this book culturally Hispanic. The author Jen Arena is a former editorial director who has a wide array of other works, none of which are particularly cultural in nature. Besides the words for each picture being featured in both English and Spanish, there is nothing that reflects Hispanic culture. The little girl has darker hair as does her father, while the mother is a redhead. In a way, this could be a thoughtful representation of the multicultural nature of America and the world at large. Yet, the artist’s style is mid-century in tone and is not particularly Hispanic -despite the fact that the author is from Spain. In this book, culture is decidedly absent.

The second book, Round Is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes, is for an older audience (early elementary). This book, written by Roseanne Thong and John Parra, is one of two books created by the pair. This delightful book focuses on searching for shapes while using traditional Hispanic elements to represent them. Each page is covered with beautiful aspects of Hispanic culture, revolving around community, food, and family. This book is a great read for the older generation to be able to share features of the culture which are no longer predominant. For example, metates for cooking may not be part of the reader’s world nor used in their home. A detailed glossary is provided at the end, should the reader and their parents be unfamiliar with terms sprinkled throughout the pages. The book reads cheerfully as the words are written in rhyme. A closer look at the illustrations also reveals Hispanic customs, dress, art, and architecture.

The author, Roseanne Greenfield Thong is an American married to a Malaysian and lives in Hong Kong. Her life experiences teaching English in Asia and South America led her to write this and other books which use numbers, shapes, and colors to teach about culture and language. John Parra, the illustrator is a Latino artist whose colorful, textured images draw on traditional folk art to provide warmth and originality to this book as well as to its companion, Green is a Chile Pepper.

Both of these books have been a great addition to our library, and I love sharing my second language and culture with my little one. Part of raising children is passing on what you value, and along with my faith, who I am as a Mexican-American has greatly shaped who I am today. I look forward to seeing how my daughter develops her own cultural identity over the next few years and how she will share this with her own family someday. 

Elise Reyes Varela is a bi-cultural missionary kid who grew up in Baja California Sur, Mexico. She and her husband, who is also half-Mexican live in California with their 18 month old daughter. Elise enjoys seeing how culture affects every aspect of our lives, particularly how it affects our choices and opinions. She also loves eating “real” Mexican food and of course, homemade tortillas!

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2 thoughts on “Besos For Baby – guest book review by Elise Varella

  1. Wonderful reviews! I like how Elise pointed out that just adding Spanish vocabulary to a book doesn’t make it culturally “Hispanic.” Ideally, vocabulary and culture should be taught together. Looking forward to more book reviews from Elise!

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  2. I agree – adding non-English words does not make a book culturally authentic. Glad you enjoyed her review – and yes, I would love to have her do more reviews – great perspective and talented writer. Thanks, Elise!

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