by Julia Alvarez
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
Personal Evaluation: I am a big fan of Julia Alvarez’s work, for both adults and children, and this story was no exception. All the characters are so well-written and real, even if Juanita seems a bit innocent and Tia Lola seems a bit too cheerful. Things have a way of working out neatly for this family, and I enjoyed the way Alvarez translated the Spanish words and phrases – it wasn’t stilted the way they sometimes are, but it flows and a non-Spanish-speaking reader can pick them up by context, as he or she would with an English word they don’t know. Alvarez’s website lists this book as the second of four (so far) in the Tia Lola series, but I would add to that Return to Sender, which I have previously read Return to Sender which takes place in the same town and has some of the same characters. So even though I was a bit lost because I hadn’t read the first Tia Lola book, it was still a familiar setting and enough of it was explained to get the idea.
What might interest children: Tia Lola is a magical kind of adult who really understands kids. She is a natural teacher and such a bright, cheerful presence. All of the characters are multidimensional but especially siblings Miguel and Juanita and I think they would be really easy for kids to relate to. This is especially true of kids who have divorced parents – we get enough of a peek into Miguel and Juanita’s parents’ lives to understand one of the reasons why people get divorced, and why they may choose to remarry and all the complicated feelings that go along with that, which may help some kids. Any kid who’s ever felt left out for being “brown” or knowing another language will feel accepted in this tiny Vermont town; any kid with Spanish-speaking classmates will learn compassion (and a little Spanish) with this story.