a gift from abuela

Monday, July 27, 2020 |
I’ve spent the last few weeks in upstate New York, and it’s been a gift to be able to see my grandmother (now 101 years old!). For many months she couldn’t have visitors because of COVID-19, and we’re all very aware that that could happen again—so any time together is precious beyond measure. Thinking of how much I value my grandmother’s presence and appreciate her support as an adult made Cecilia Ruiz’s picture book A Gift from Abuela feel even more poignant.

a gift from abuela by cecilia ruiz cover
The first time Abuela holds Nina, her heart overflows with tenderness. And as Nina grows up, she and Abuela spend plenty of time together. Abuela can’t help thinking how much she’d like to give Nina a very special treat, so she saves a little bit of her money every week — a few pesos here, a few pesos there. When the world turns upside down, Abuela’s dream of a surprise for Nina seems impossible. Luckily, time spent together — and the love Abuela and Nina have for each other — could turn out to be the very best gift of all. With a soft and subtle hand, author-illustrator Cecilia Ruiz draws from her own history to share a deeply personal tale about remembering what’s most important when life starts to get in the way.

In this Mexico City-set picture book, a child and grandmother are fast friends. However, as the child grows up, life gets in the way of visiting, and slowly they grow apart. One day, the child learns that their grandmother was saving money for a special gift, but because of political/economic upheaval, those savings became worthless. Together, grandmother and grandchild decide to make banners out of the old paper currency, and bond anew.

A Gift from Abuela is a heartfelt and bittersweet story notable for its unique setting and its celebration of the small habits and special moments spent together that make relationships memorable. Children who have seen the film Coco will find much to identify with in this story, as the same threads of family, remembrance, and art are woven through out. The narrative itself is simple and universal, and while it could be set anywhere in the world, the Mexico City setting is uniquely lovely. The papel picado (cut paper art used in celebratory banners in Mexico) border design on the cover, textures used throughout the book, and varying colors all add to that sense of setting and place.

The highlight, as it often (always?) is with picture books, is the art. Ruiz’s designs are symmetrical and almost architectural—and the page spreads often rely on these idealistic outlines of the grandmother’s kitchen/building/city for structure. In addition, Ruiz uses lots of patterns in primary colors, with a screen-printed effect. The art will appeal to adults just as much as the children.

This book would make a wonderful gift for a grandparent to share with their grandchild (no guarantees that the grandparent won’t cry, though!). It’s also a good candidate for cultural learning units that include Day of the Dead traditions (without a specific reference to that holiday). It’s a must for libraries that are looking to add to or feature diverse voices and experiences in their collections.

In all, A Gift from Abuela is a meticulously-illustrated and poignant look at the relationships between grandparents and grandchildren.

Recommended for: fans of culturally diverse picture books, parents, grandparents, and libraries looking for stories featuring Latinx characters, and anyone who enjoyed Dreamers, Juana & Lucas, and Duncan Tonatiuh’s picture books.

1 comment:

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

I got emotional just reading your post about this book! It sounds wonderful, and the style of illustrations just based on looking at the cover seems wonderful.

And I'm so so glad you got to see your grandmother!

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