I have been longing to post on this book for months now and here I am finally getting around to it. It officially hit the shelves in August, but I have been eagerly anticipating its arrival since April when Betsy Bird posted about it. I knew immediately this one would get me. A bilingual adaptation of the familiar nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” that is unique, culturally informative, and just plain stunning. Here is Maria Had a Little Llama/María Tenía Una Llamita by Angela Dominguez, 2013.
Allow me to start off correctly by admitting a few things. First, I am not bilingual. Not even close. Despite several highschool classes, a tutor, a mission trip to Mexico, and a few months living in Southern Spain during college – my Spanish is absolutely pitiful. I have always been quite sad and discouraged at my inability to grasp another language but am always thankful that I can at least typically pronounce Spanish words properly whether or not I understand them.
Secondly, I love llamas. I think I could easily become obsessed with them, most especially illustrated versions; but even the two that live directly behind my home capture my heart daily. So it is no wonder that I took immediate fondness to the sweet white llama being smothered by the red hatted Maria on the cover.
Thirdly (and finally), I have never been very fond of the oft-favorited nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Perhaps it is the constant repeat of it everywhere in picture books and toddlerdom, but I’ve always preferred to just ignore its existence. Thanks to Ms. Dominguez, I will now have a deep fondness for the rhyme, though I like it much more in her Peruvian version and most especially with the red hatted Maria which very much reminds me of a certain red hooded character that I’m obsessed with.
Now, there are a lot of things that I love about this book. The illustrations are at the very top of the list (of course) but let me also point out a few other things. Betsy detailed the difficulty of finding Latino characters in good picture books and although I wouldn’t have pegged that as a reason to love the book, it does make it even more special to me. I want to be culturally aware. I desire a broadened worldview, for me and especially for my children. I love the tone and perspective of this book. Choosing a well-known nursery rhyme was an excellent idea as my brain moves past the familiar and focuses on the new via the slight word changes, the surroundings, the wardrobe… I feel like I subconsciously learn just a little bit about Peru through this gorgeous book.
I also like books that I can choose to sing. Granted, it will feel odd to replace the words with the Maria version, but it works just fine. It’s always nice to mix up a storytime with a song-reading.
And although I probably won’t be reading the Spanish text aloud often, I love that it is there and it is meant to be there. I sincerely hope that my children gain a better grasp and education in language than I was able to and this is the kind of book that I want to have ready for them. It is true that bilingual picture books often feel forced or over-educational, but this book is a rare exception. Since Ms. Dominguez is the author and illustrator, she was quite capable of making the words of both languages be incorporated into the illustrations beautifully. Neither feels like an afterthought and they work well together.
There is very little that I feel necessary to say about Angela Dominguez’s art. I believe it is mostly watercolor and her skill with a typically muted medium is masterful. I am enamored with the intense color, its palette and the vibrancy. I am so grateful that the publisher went with uncoated paper for the page stock. If you’ve read here much, you have heard my passion for uncoated paper. In this instance it allows for great depth and a lasting effect that is not diminished by being glossy or slick. Uncoated stock has a specific feel and would not work for every book, but here it is the perfect canvas for a simple, yet incredibly elaborate piece. This is a book with pages that really sing in storytelling. Be sure to take lots of time to study the details. This is a truly rich and rewarding book. And oh that adorable llama!