July 03, 2008


Sweet Dreams/Dulces Sueños. By Pat Mora. Illustrated by Maribel Suárez. Rayo/HarperCollins. $12.99.

¿El Canguro Tiene Mamá? By Eric Carle. Traducción de Teresa Mlawer. Rayo/HarperCollins. $6.99.

Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope. By Jenna Bush. HarperTeen. $9.99.

La Historia de Ana: Un Camino Lleno de Esperanza. By Jenna Bush. Translated by Bertha Ruiz de la Concha. HarperTeen. $9.99.

      The United States is already a de facto bilingual English-Spanish country in certain places, such as South Florida, southern California and parts of Texas. Major cities, such as New York, contain important Spanish-speaking areas as well. Although the question of whether bilingualism should be universally accepted, affecting everything from schooling to street signage, is a legitimate one, there is no doubt that it helps native English speakers in many parts of the U.S. if they can speak at least a little Spanish – and books that can help native Spanish speakers learn English serve a real need. The My Family/Mi Familia series is intended to bridge the language gap easily and pleasantly, in both directions, by making simple stories for ages 3-6 available in both languages – an English sentence immediately followed by the same one in Spanish. Sweet Dreams/Dulces Sueños is the second of this planned four-book series, and it works just as well as the first book by the same author and illustrator, Let’s Eat! ¡A Comer! The new book is a going-to-bed story in which Grandma/Abuelita puts three children to bed by giving them kisses and telling them about all the animals going to sleep, such as “Shh, shh, the squirrels are sleeping – Shh, shh…las ardillas están durmiendo.” This is a simple and unchallenging tale, simply told, with pleasant illustrations that can help young children drift off to dreamland in either of two languages, or both.

      Some Spanish-speaking families, or English speakers preferring a simple Spanish-only book, will enjoy Teresa Mlawer’s translation of Eric Carle’s Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too? Published in English in 2000, the book asks simple questions about animal babies and mothers, answering yes – or, in this version, ¡Sí! – to each inquiry about whether this animal or that has a mother. Carle’s always-attractive illustrations are reproduced intact, and the Spanish translation follows the original English closely, all the way to the answer to Carle’s final question about whether all the mothers love their children: Todas las mamas quieren a sus hijitos – a reassuring sentiment in any language.

      There is not much that is reassuring in Jenna Bush’s Ana’s Story, which is now available in paperback and has been issued in both an English edition and a Spanish one. Here the Spanish version is especially welcome, since this is a story from Latin America and may speak especially strongly to Spanish speakers. By now, the tale is well known: Ana is a 17-year-old single mother who is HIV-positive after inheriting the deadly virus from her mother, who died when Ana was very young. Ana’s determination to live with HIV rather than die from it, and to give her daughter a better life than she herself has had, is the sort of heart-tugging true story that easily crosses language (and class) barriers. It was of course the author’s celebrity that first brought her book wide attention, and many of the questions thrown at her during her publicity tours had nothing to do with Ana’s Story. Stripped of its celebrity connection, the book remains a harrowing piece of nonfiction that, unfortunately, adds very little to the debate about HIV, poverty, and the scarcity of health resources in the poorer countries of the world. The book is short, with 290 wide-margin pages, many of them half-blank or filled with well-shot but often irrelevant photos by Mia Baxter. Bush presents an affecting narrative: the bickering relatives, uncaring judicial system and strong determination of Ana as a single mother add up to a story of woe and power. Unfortunately, it is more than a twice-told tale. Entrenched ruling elites, official corruption, indifference to the plight of the poor, lack of interest in or understanding of serious diseases, and diversion of resources (including foreign aid) to line the pockets of thuggish leaders are facts of life and death in countries throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia. The personal details of Ana’s life are well communicated, and the book’s simplistic style should help it reach out even to young readers, in both English and Spanish. But there is no tidy ending here, as Bush herself points out; and there are no suggestions that are likely to prevent other stories like Ana’s from being written again and again by other well-meaning celebrity and non-celebrity authors, year after year after year. Hope alone is not enough to relieve the systemic problems that create so many stories of so many people like Ana. Those problems are more than a pity – they are a disgrace.

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