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Sofi and the Magic, Musical Mural / Sofi y el magico mural musical (English and Spanish Edition) Hardcover – May 31, 2015
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From School Library Journal
Gr 1–3—This bilingual foray into magical realism revolves around a Puerto Rican folkloric symbol, the vejigante. With its horned mask and black "jumpsuit," the devil/trickster figure traditional to the carnavales of Puerto Rico is scary to young Sofi. Her mother sends her to the bodega at the end of the block of their South Bronx neighborhood for some milk. On her way back, she decides to take a closer look at the mural she always sees from her apartment. She crosses the street (by herself, after her mother admonishes her to not talk to "ANYONE!" and to "Go straight to the store and back."). Stepping into illustrator Dominguez's mural, "El Pueblo Cantor," à la Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, she joins the dancers and musicians depicted. In the middle of her dancing, Sofi is caught by surprise when the vejigante appears. He takes the frightened child's hand and spins her until she finds herself transformed into the trickster—costume and all. Sofi is suddenly airborne and flying over the Puerto Rican rain forest El Yunque, until her mother calls her back to her neighborhood. The story is somewhat confusing because the initial setting is vague. The fact that Sofi lives in South Bronx and not in Puerto Rico is not revealed until the glossary, where the location of the mural is given. VERDICT Readers looking for more insight into the Puerto Rican culture may be disappointed because the information provided is insufficient to encourage further exploration of the island culture.—Mary Margaret Mercado, Pima County Public Library, Tucson, AZ
"Young Sofia walks to the bodega near her apartment to buy milk for her mom. From the sidewalk, she becomes entranced by a vibrant public mural that celebrates Puerto Rican culture. The dancers in the mural pull Sofia in, and she finds herself transported to Puerto Rico, listening to the islands music, singing traditional songs, and dancing with new friends." --Kirkus Reviews
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Our young protagonist Sofía is lying on her bed feeling pretty bored. Her mom asks her to go to the bodega at the end of the block to get some milk and to remember that she should “not talk to ANYONE!” Sofía gets her scarf and coat, nods to her mom, and embarks on her journey to get the half-gallon of milk. Strolling along the sidewalk, she looks at the huge mural painted on a nearby building. She is stunned by its size and the colorful images of musicians, dancers, amapola flowers, and her least favorite, a vejigante. While returning from the bodega, Sofia can’t help admiring the mural once again. This is when she notices that one of the musicians, a plenero, is extending his hand to her to dance, breaking the wall between reality, art, and imagination. In a heartbeat, Sofía finds herself inside the mural, starting a whimsical experience that will bring her close to her Puerto Rican heritage.
Reading and seeing images of things that I grew up with put a smile on my face. From the plena song “Porque la plena viene de Ponce, viene de barrio de San Antón” to the carnival song “¡Toco-toco, toco-toco! ¡Vejigante come coco!”, I couldn’t help singing along with all the plenas and remembering the presence of plena songs in family gatherings, “navidad” parties, cultural “festivales”, carnivals, and even street protests. No wonder it is known as the “periódico cantado” (sung newspapers), telling everyday stories all year long.
We also meet the famous vejigante, wearing its colorful outfit and a scary mask made from coconut shell (although some are made from papier-mâché). The vejigante is a mischievous folkloric character that resembles a buffoon or the devil, and which became a symbol of Puerto Rican cultural identity. In the story, Sofi plays and dances with the vejigante that she once saw as scary. She ends up wearing his outfit and flies around the Puerto Rican landscape going through El Yunque rainforest, and landing at the church plaza in Old San Juan. Here the author metaphorically portrays how through art, music, and traditions we can “fly” to the island of Puerto Rico, and demonstrates the deep connections that exist between the Puerto Rican diaspora and the island.
In terms of layout and illustrations, the bilingual text is located on the left side of the book with small illustrations dividing the English and Spanish texts and whole-page illustrations accompanying the text on the right side. The illustrator based her design and images on the original mural and conversations with the students that drew the images for mural. From soft colors for the city and bright and vivid colors for the mural, Dominguez’s paintings transport us from a wintry day in New York City to a sunny day in Puerto Rico.
Using The Pueblo Sings/El Pueblo Cantor mural as an inspiration for this picture book communicates the power of art, music, literature, and images to represent a community and tell its stories of resistance. The 7th- and 8th-grade students that designed the mural embraced the process of community building, public art, and history. It was created with and for the Puerto Rican community that has lived in New York City for decades. The mural’s statement is about the existence of the people and is a representation of their stories. It brings identification to the neighborhood and informs visitors about the living, breathing community located there. It is exciting to see the author centering the narrative on a young Puerto Rican girl who experiences this connection with her culture, traditions, and family, and then back to herself. In so doing, this book gives a powerful testament to how children can experience these connections and embrace them as their own.
The book includes author and illustrator biographical notes, a glossary, and information about the mural.
This bilingual fantastical tale is a light foray into Puerto Rican culture and symbolism, allowing readers to “taste” parts of the Island and learn more about this Caribbean treasure.
Recommended for ages 6-9.