ReadMe: I Know the River Loves Me

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This giveaway is now closed. Thanks to all who entered and for all the wonderful comments. CONGRATULATION TO OUR WINNER: KALEN!

I can’t deny it. I was super excited when I got the package from Children’s Book Press (CPB) containing the book they had sent me to review for our second installment of our new monthly literacy series: ReadMe. I had already had the pleasure of enjoying several of their books from our local library and I couldn’t wait to see what Maya Christina Gonzalez‘ latest bilingual book, I Know the River Loves Me/Yo sé que el río me ama, was all about–especially because she is the writer and the illustrator!

As I wrote in this post, I really love the idea behind CBP: “a nonprofit publishing house founded in 1975 to promote cooperation and understanding through multicultural and bilingual literature, offering children a sense of their culture, history and, importance.”

Let me start by saying: Wow! ¡Excelente! I was immediately taken by the originality of its illustrations–before I even got to read the beautiful story the author composed. I wouldn’t use the word colorful to describe the illustrations since Gonzalez only uses a handful of hues: purple, black, green, blue, pink, but I would use the word vibrant. Maybe this is the reason why they are so captivating.

An award-winning artist and author, Maya Christina Gonzalez, has been hailed for her vibrant imagery and intense colors. She has illustrated more than 20 children’s books. My Colors, My World/Mis colores, mi mundo–the first booked she both penned and illustrated–was awarded the 2008 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Award.

I Know the River Loves Me is a children’s love story. It’s about friendship, belonging, transformation, reflection, care,” the author said in an email. “Through the story and the art, the river and I tried to convey how important we are to each other and how important it is to nurture friendships like this as children.”

I can’t relate to Gonzalez’ relationship with rivers–although I must say I love the music they make as they stream along and I’m getting to know them a lot better, together with my daughter who seems to love them, now that we live in Colorado. However, what I can relate to is the importance of developing a relationship with nature, especially as a child. I’ve felt the same way about the ocean, the Pacific Ocean to be exact, since I can remember. And, it’s one of the reason’s why I know that, even though I love Colorado for its amazing beauty, I can’t settle down in this state. The majesty and immensity of the ocean clamors for me. It’s a complex relationship not easily described the one between humans and nature; yet, the author of I Know the River Loves Me has managed fluently.

Listening to her explain how the story came alive, it’s easy to see why.

Maya Christina Gonzalez

“I love rivers. I have sat with rivers from India to Puerto Rico to Mexico and Brazil and all over America. I love their flow and the way they change sometimes with each day. But one of my good friends is the Yuba River in California. I have been visiting her for many years,” Gonzalez explained. “I was sitting by her side a year ago when I could swear she was telling me a story. I laughed and listened. By the time I left to go home to the city I had a pretty good idea of a tale, but had no plans for a book at that time. of course, within a short time I was asked to write a book for Children’s Book Press. I laughed even harder now because it felt like the river knew. So I had to tell her tale.”

It’s not the first time Gonzalez works with Children’s Book Press. In fact, their relationship goes back many years and the author is quick to express her appreciation for the fact that most of their books are bilingual, as she tells the common tale shared by so many second and third generation Latinos in this country.

“I imagine that I am illustrating my books for my father. When he was five he was put in an all English speaking school when he and his family only spoke Spanish. i think this was a great stress,” she expressed in via email. “It was also an era of assimilation. So when he had a child i imagine that he wanted the best for me and so did not pass Spanish on to me. I am still learning Spanish and it’s a complicated negotiation for me. I feel that Spanish is very much a part of me and yet it also feels somewhat removed. So I guess my books are for both us.”

Although she wasn’t raised bilingual–her mother is white and English was predominant in the house–she understands the importance of being bilingual and is working toward making sure her daughter speaks both languages.

“In America and over much of the world, English’s importance and unifying use is evident in education, business, social situations, etc…but embedded in English is also the dominance of the western culture over much of the world. It’s influence is astounding at times,” she explained. “Spanish literally offers us another way to think, to express, to know the world and ourselves. And that is always vital. There is not one way to know or express, but many. We don’t just open up to another language when we are bilingual, we open up to another way of thinking, expressing and possibly even being.

How cool is that? Check out the rest of the interview:

SB: How would you say parents raising bilingual children can “use” your book in their journey?
“There are numerous ways to use this book. First of all there is English and Spanish. The words are simple and you can literally see them close to one another to see how the languages are similar and different in their sounds and structures. Also, the art and the relationship with nature is very key. They provide the container. The backdrop to support explore confidence and belonging on levels that lie below language, addressing all aspects of being and expression.”

SB: When you were growing up how important was reading in your family?
I love books. I remember how much I loved going to the library as a child. I don’t specifically remember my parents encouraging reading, but they both read. My father was the type that always carried a book with him to work.”

SB: You’ve illustrated more books than the ones you’ve written. How and why did you become a children’s book writer?
“Children’s Book Press came to me in a pinch. They needed to fill a slot that someone had bogged on. I suggested that they let me write and illustrate a book. I actually went to university to be a writer not an artist. And it was a great success. Now I’m spoiled and only illustrate books I’ve written.”

And, why shouldn’t she, ¿no creen?

I Know the River Loves Me is supposed to be for children ages 4 to 8, but I was so excited about it, that I immediately shared it with my 3-year-old daughter, Vanessa. Le encantó. So much so, that in the days following, she actually asked me: “Mamá, léeme el de la niña y el río.” Without hesitation, I obliged.

The Giveaway:

In case you don’t remember, part of ReadMe includes the opportunity to win a copy of the book being reviewed. I promise this is one extraordinary book you’ll want to own–especially because you’re getting a sneak peak since the book is not available until September! To win, all you have to do is share with us what you do to help your niños understand the importance of having a relationship with nature. It’s that easy!

Giveaway rules.

This giveaway ends at midnight EST on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2009. Entries/Comments that do not follow the submission guidelines will be invalid and automatically deleted.  Sorry, just need to keep  it fair. Good luck to all!

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