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Grandma's Gift Library Binding – October 12, 2010
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From School Library Journal
K-Gr 3–This companion to Grandma's Records (Walker, 2001) is another memoir of Velasquez's boyhood visits with his grandmother in Spanish Harlem. This time it is Christmas. After helping to shop for ingredients and make her famous pasteles, Eric and his grandmother venture from El Barrio to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The boy has a school assignment to complete and together they discover the work of Diego Velázquez, including the famous portrait of Juan de Pareja. The woman nurtures the boy's fascination with painting by giving him art supplies for Christmas. This beautifully illustrated slice-of-life is sprinkled with Spanish phrases (all translated into English) and rich details about Puerto Rican traditions and culture. Velasquez's full-bleed paintings transport readers to another time and place and expertly capture the characters' personalities and emotions. A gift, indeed.Virginia Walter, UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies
© Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
In this prequel to Grandma’s Records (2001), Eric spends his winter break with his Puerto Rican grandmother in her apartment in New York City’s El Barrio. Together, they shop, cook traditional dishes such as pasteles, and complete Eric’s homework assignment: to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art and view Diego Velázquez’s masterpiece Juan de Pareja. The pleasing, realistic oil paintings include a well-done replica of the famous painting. Those who appreciated the personal connections between grandmother and grandson in the earlier book will again be satisfied with this story, which incorporates Spanish phrases in the long, descriptive text. Grades 1-3. --Andrew Medlar --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
In a category where such books are woefully rare, both of Velasquez’s Grandma stories represent positive images of Afro-Latinx children and their families.
Although the story in Grandma’s Gift takes place within a few square miles of contemporary New York City, it also casts a spotlight on a long-ago historical figure. Juan de Pareja was an enslaved man of African descent who worked in the studio of 17th-century Spanish master Diego Velázquez and who became a painter in his own right. When Eric was a boy, Velázquez’s luminous portrait of de Pareja was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a price exceeding $5 million.
Grandma’s Gift contains two additional distinguishing aspects: elements of Puerto Rican culture preserved and passed down by the boy’s grandmother, and contrasting views between two physically proximate but culturally distant worlds, represented by El Barrio and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
At the story’s beginning, Eric is leaving school for Christmas break, in the company of his grandmother. His school assignment, to be completed during the holidays, is a visit to the Velázquez exhibit. But first, grandmother and grandson go shopping at La Marqueta, once a central feature of El Barrio, composed of bustling shops tucked under a railroad trestle. At La Marqueta, it’s evident that Eric’s grandmother is a respected and beloved member of the community. Not only do butchers and greengrocers call her by title and name—Doña Carmen—they are also familiar with the high standards she expects from every cut of meat and vegetable she purchases. When the shopping is done, Eric and his grandmother return to her apartment, where she launches an elaborate preparation of traditional Puerto Rican holiday dishes. Here, she is clearly in her element, deftly handling each step of the cooking, filling, and rolling of the pasteles, much to the admiration of young Eric.
Nearly all of Doña Carmen’s dialogue is parenthetically translated into English, immediately behind her Spanish words. While this solution is not particularly elegant, it reflects the challenge that authors and publishers face in including authentic representations of a Spanish-speaking environment within an English text. The story translates greetings in Spanish by shopkeepers, words of wisdom spoken by the grandmother, and details relevant to the story, such as the names of the root vegetables used in making pasteles: calabaz, yautía, plátanos verdes, guineos verdes, papas.
El Barrio is a place that Eric’s grandmother comfortably navigates day after day. Here, her native tongue predominates, and everyone is a shade of brown. But when she and Eric head for the museum, a short bus ride away, they leave behind that familiar environment and land before the facade of the Metropolitan, cloaked in cultural status and imposing architecture. As Eric notes, there’s no one “from Puerto Rico on the streets and no one was speaking in Spanish.” At this point, Eric becomes her guide in this English-speaking world, translating the signs and captions that they encounter, stepping into a role that second- or third-generation immigrant children often play in their elders’ lives.
The highlight of the story arrives when Eric comes face to face with the portrait of Juan de Pareja, hanging in its gilded frame in one of the august exhibition halls of the museum. As a young person of color in the 1970s, he has never seen a member of his own people elevated to such a status: “He seemed so real—much like someone we might see walking around El Barrio. I couldn’t believe that this was a painting in a museum.” Eric is amazed and proud to learn that Juan de Pareja eventually achieved freedom and became a painter in his own right. For Eric, this discovery is a revelation that sparks artistic fire. On Christmas Eve, after everyone enjoys a traditional holiday dinner, Eric sits under the Christmas tree and opens his grandmother’s gift. It’s a sketchbook and a set of colored pencils. He immediately begins to draw a self-portrait. Through this gift, Eric’s grandmother expresses a clear vote of confidence in her grandson’s dreams, underscoring that he, too—a child of El Barrio, an Afro Latino—can follow in the footsteps of Juan de Pareja.
This touching, autobiographical story is richly illustrated in Velasquez’s photorealistic style, which authentically depicts settings and brings dimension to each character. Eric imbues his subjects with individually distinct physical characteristics, lending to each an air of nobility. He lovingly paints his grandmother as a lady of dignified bearing and warmth, usually dressed in subdued colors. But he often lavishes this humanizing treatment even on background characters, such as fellow passengers on the train and a nameless guard at the museum. In most of the illustrations, Eric employs a wide and vivid range of hues, but like Diego Velázquez, he sometimes falls back on a deliberately limited palette. When the boy and his grandmother stand before the portrait of Juan de Pareja, the rich browns of the ancient oil painting harmoniously come together with the rich browns of the grandmother’s clothing, as well as the skin tones of all three figures. He puts this deft touch with a monochromatic palette to great effect in the story’s electric moment of revelation, as the child Eric looks on the portrait of Juan de Pareja and grasps a new possibility for his future.
Eric spends every Christmas Vacation with his grandmother El Barrio. This year he has an assignment to complete while on vacation, but first he must help his grandmother prepare her famous pasteles. If she gets all the shopping and cooking done, she will then take him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is not easy for her because she does not speak English and she usually does not travel outside of her neighborhood. She knows this assignment is important so she agrees to take him before Christmas. Once they are at the museum, Grandma feels nervous because she does not recognize anyone until they reach the piece of art Eric is supposed to write a report about. Grandma immediately recognizes the person in the painting and starts to feel better. She later explained that she learned about this person when she was growing up in Puerto Rico.