Picture Book Review: Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! How did such a small person wind up with such a large name? Alma turns to Daddy for an answer and learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; and other namesakes, too. As she hears the story of her name, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell. In her author-illustrator debut, Juana Martinez-Neal opens a treasure box of discovery for children who may be curious about their own origin stories or names.
Juana Martinez-Neal makes her debut as both author and illustrator with the critically-lauded Alma and How She Got Her Name. Gorgeously illustrated, poignant, and starring an endearing protagonist, Martinez-Neal’s notable picture book is not to be missed.
When readers meet Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela, she is writing her name and requires two pieces of paper- taped together- to get her full name down! We learn that she considers her name to be “too long, if you asked her”. She approaches her dad and reiterates her stance that her name is just too long and that “it never fits”. Her dad responds by taking a photo album off of a shelf: “…Let me tell you the story of your name. Then you decide if it fits”. Beginning with the name Sofia, and ending with the name Alma, Alma and her dad take a look at a photograph of each namesake and speak in a brief and thoughtful fashion about each respective relative- whether personal notes about their interests, their beliefs, their crafts, etc. At each name, Alma thinks about how remarkable it is that some parts of her relatives’ personalities and passions are somehow reflected in her or even an intrinsic part of her own person! As one can imagine, the more Alma hears from her father about her family’s history, the more her consideration and awe about her namesakes blossoms, as does her own sense of self and the uniqueness of her story.
A picture book that packs meaning, nostalgia, and general loveliness within its pages, Juana Martinez-Neal’s Alma and How She Got Her Name is an all-around wonderful read- beautifully told, beautifully illustrated (I am just in love with the art)- that also offers inspiration for readers. I have been reading this book with my three year old and she not only enjoys hearing about Alma’s name, but also hearing the stories behind her own full name which has quite a bit of family history nestled within it! Due to its more concise text length, I could see Alma and How She Got Her Name being used with a smaller Kindergarten and up group (or really, with any group of children perhaps working on family trees, or studying their own family!). Be sure to read “A Note from Juana” at the end of the book; Martinez-Neal talks about her own name’s history, as well as offering some related prompts for writing or discussion!
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.