ReadMe: Mimí’s Parranda

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Although my husband doesn’t get to read to our daughter as much as they’d both like to, a few nights ago he was home before her bedtime and she begged him to read her the new book we had just received to review for this month’s ReadMe: Mimí’s Parranda.

It was a great pairing because the book is about a parranda – an awesome, fun and musical tradition that takes place during Christmas in Puerto Rico, my husband’s homeland. So he immediately got into it and even interrupted his reading to tell Vanessa his own stories of parrandas. Needless to say, she was in heaven!

Gil tells the story of Mimí, a girl for whom Christmas is synonymous with traveling to Puerto Rico to go to the beach, eat pasteles and get a parranda. But this particular year, things are a bit different. Mimí has a baby sister and her mom informs her they can’t travel because she’s too little. Oh, the disappointment! By the end of the story, though, Mimí’s school friends, who originally made fun of her explanation of a parranda, actually bring one to her as a surprise when they find out she’s not going to Puerto Rico.

I had initially found Lydia Gil’s beautiful bilingual book, “Mimí’s Parranda/La parranda de Mimí,” at our local library at the beginning of the year. I remember being immediately drawn to it because we had just come back from Puerto Rico where we had the opportunity to experience a parranda. Several months later, as I was trying to figure out what book to review for December’s ReadMe, I came across the book again at the library and I had my answer.

I like the book for a lot of reasons but mostly because it deals with cultural differences – a topic much too important for all of us raising bilingual kids. And one Gil obviously understands.

“While pregnant, I began to think of the traditions my child would grow up with here in the US.  As a child of immigrants myself–my family left Cuba for Puerto Rico shortly before I was born—I grew up with two sets of traditions: the Cuban inside the home and the Puerto Rican outside.  The “parranda”, however, was one of the few instances in which both worlds mingled,” Gil explained in an interview via email. “I wanted to recreate that feeling of joyful cultural coexistence for my child and share the wonderful memories I had of parrandas while growing up Puerto Rico.”

One of the things that makes this bilingual book different than the others we’ve presented through ReadMe so far is that it was not translated from English to Spanish. Gil, who was raised speaking Spanish only, wrote it in both languages at the same time. I can’t even begin to fathom the complexity of this undertaking. Talk about the definition of being bilingual…

“It’s an interesting process because sometimes the English informed the Spanish and vice-versa.  This is usually how I write creative prose.  It poses some challenges, of course, because sometimes an expression that flows very well in one language has no equivalent in the other, so I have to rephrase in order for the translation to remain accurate,” Gil said about the process. “While literary translators can make aesthetic choices when books are published in translation, bilingual children’s books, in my opinion, need to be fastidiously accurate for the sake of reference, basically, so one who is not fluent in one language can find a working equivalent in the other as easily as possible.

It’s difficult to find somebody who has the talent to do that. While reading the book the first time, I immediately noticed it didn’t really sound like a translation. In fact, I usually ask the authors featured in ReadMe to explain why the book was translated to Spanish. In Gil’s case, I actually asked if she’d written it in both. As a writer myself, I truly admire Gil’s ability to do this without compromising the story she is telling.

Read the rest of the interview and maybe you too will hope she writes another children’s book soon.

How would you say parents raising their kids bilingual can “use” your book to do so?

“I would recommend reading it all the way through in one language and then in the other, not alternating paragraph by paragraph.  Kids don’t need to understand every word to get the gist of a story, so it’s important to maintain the flow of language.  I also did an audio version of Mimí’s Parranda with a company that specializes in Spanish and bilingual audiobooks for children, Lorito Books.  Audiobooks are a wonderful way for parents to reinforce the language that is not their dominant.  However, they should be a companion to reading with their children, not a substitute.”

As a writer, can you talk about the importance of literacy among the Latino community?

“Literacy is essential to the success of any community!  Among the Latino communities, bilingual literacy should be a priority. I often see students of Latino heritage who can converse quite well in Spanish, but who lack the reading and writing skills necessary to function professionally as bilingual.  I think that all communicative skills should be emphasized from childhood.  This would help children become proficient in both languages and also facilitate the acquisition of other languages later on.”

What do you think about the concept of raising kids bilingual/bi-cultural?

“I think that if parents have the ability to raise their kids bilingual and bicultural they must do it. Before our daughter was born, we decided she would be raised bilingual. I spoke Spanish to her from the moment I held her and my husband spoke English, his native language.  This became the norm for her: Spanish with mom and English with dad. It’s great to hear her teach dad how to say things in Spanish and to see her in the playground switching between languages to whatever language feels natural with her friends.”

How and why did you become a writer?

“I grew up surrounded by books.  My parents always said that while we didn’t have much money for leisurely things, there was always enough for books.  Plus we borrowed and traded and, as kids, we wrote stories to embellish the ones we were reading… So I guess writing came as a natural extension of reading.”

Describe your experience working with Arte Público/Piñata Books?

“The Piñata Books imprint is a gem for parents, teachers and, of course, children!  Their editorial vision is to create bilingual books for children that reflect an authentic Latino cultural experience.  It differs from most other publishers that cater to Latino children in their insistence on cultural authenticity, bilingual accuracy, and accessibility. I felt honored that my book was published by Arte Público, and my experience with them could not have been more positive.”

Lydia Gil

Lydia Gil

LYDIA GIL: (Cuba/Puerto Rico) writer, teacher and journalist. She teaches Spanish language and Latin American literature at the University of Denver, and reports on cultural and literary news for the Hispanic News Services of EFE, Spain’s News Agency. Since 1998, she writes the weekly book-review column “Libros.”  She is the author of “Mimí’s Parranda/La parranda de Mimí”, a bilingual children’s book.

The Giveaway:

As you probably know by now, part of ReadMe includes the opportunity to win a copy of the book being reviewed. This is another one you’ll definitely want to add to your kids’ library. To win, share with us what holiday tradition you have passed (or plan to pass) on to your children and why.

Giveaway rules.

This giveaway ends at midnight EST on Sunday, Dec. 13, 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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