About the Holiday
Today I’m happy to be joining the blog tour for Isabel and Her Colores Go to School, a beautiful picture book about starting a new school year, making friends, and finding a way to share what’s in your heart – even when it’s difficult. I also had a chance to talk briefly with Alexandra and Courtney!
Thanks to Sleeping Bear Press for sharing a digital copy of Isabel and Her Colores Go to School with me for this review. All opinions on the book are my own.
Isabel and Her Colores Go to School
Written by Alexandra Alessandri | Illustrated by Courtney Dawson
It’s the night before Isabel’s first day of school, and she’s sitting “cross-legged on her bed, coloreando with her favorite crayons: rojo, verde, azul, rosado, morado, violeta.” Isabel was ready for the next day, but there was something that worried her. She “didn’t speak much inglés. English sounded wrong, like stormy blues and blizzard whites. Isabel preferred the pinks and yellows and purples of español.”
In the morning, Isabel didn’t want to go to school, but Mami drove her there anyway. At the door, she kissed Isabel on the head and reminded her: “‘Al mal tiempo, buena cara. To bad times, a good face.’” But Isabel’s face showed sadness and worry. As class started, Isabel followed along, unsure of what it all meant. During stretching time, the kids counted “‘One, two, three.’” Instinctively, Isabel repeated “‘Uno, dos, tres.’” The colors of their voices “[crashed] against each other.” All the kids stared at Isabel, and she could feel her face getting hot.
When it was story time, all the kids took their regular spots on the rug, which left no room for Isabel. Then a girl told her she could sit “‘here’” next to her. Isabel understood the word “here” and sat down. “‘I’m Sarah,’” the girl said. “‘Me llamo Isabel,’” Isabel told her. Then Sarah asked Isabel if she’d like to be friends. The harsh words filled her brain and she shook her head to clear them. She blushed again. “‘No entiendo,’” she said. Misunderstanding herself, Sarah looked as if she might cry. Isabel felt that way too.
When lunchtime came, Isabel sat alone and tried to make herself feel better by coloring on her napkin, but tears came anyway. Back in the classroom, Isabel’s teacher announced that it was “coloring time.” Isabel looked up. “Coloring sounded very much like colorear.” When she got a blank sheet of paper and crayons, “Isabel knew she had understood.” As she worked on her picture, she used all of her favorite colors and she remembered Mami’s advice.
When she was finished, she showed Sarah. She had drawn herself and Sarah holding hands and surrounded by hearts and stars. “‘Amigas,’” Isabel said, pointing from girl to girl. Sarah understood. “‘Friends,’” she said. When their teacher showed Isabel’s picture to the other kids, all of her classmates were impressed. Their smiles and compliments softened the stormy colors of English “to a brilliant aguamarina—just like home,” and Isabel thought school might be okay after all.
Simultaneous translations of the English story are presented in colorful boxes on each page. A Spanish-to-English translation glossary of words typeset in bold throughout the book is found at the end of the story.
Alexandra Alessandri’s emotionally resonant story shines with her unique invitation to readers to understand how language barriers feel from the perspective of a native Spanish-speaking child as well as her English-speaking classmate who wants to be friends. Children’s fondness for drawing and favorite colors gives Alessandri the perfect palette to present initial feelings of worry, disappointment, and frustration as well as a meaningful way for children to bridge differences and discover hope, encouragement, and common ground. Alessandri’s dialogue and interactions between Isabel and Mami as well as between Isabel and Sarah ring true with honesty and the types of small moments that can lead to unintentional misunderstandings and others that unite. Isabel’s love for and descriptions of the rhythms and beauty of her native language are a highlight and can give teachers, parents, and other adults an excellent way to talk to their children about languages, diversity, and communication.
Courtney Dawson’s vibrant illustrations enliven the pages as swoops of color swirl around Isabel and through the classroom, depicting her feelings from moment to moment as well as how English sounds to her and how English and Spanish together clash in her ears. Readers will recognize the colorful elements of a classroom and the routines of a day. Dawson clearly depicts the characters’ emotions as well as how excitement and confidence can change to embarrassment and uncertainty with a word or in a moment—and, happily, vice versa.
Lovely, poignant, and with a unique perspective on themes of language, fitting in, and friendship that will resonate with all kids, Isabel and Her Colores Go to School is a must for home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.
Ages 5 – 8
Sleeping Bear Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534110632
A Chat with Alexandra and Courtney
Hi Alexandra and Courtney! I’m thrilled to be part of your blog tour for your gorgeous book! Thanks so much for stopping by for a quick chat!
Alexandra Peñaloza Alessandri is a Colombian American poet, children’s author, and Associate Professor of English at Broward College. She received her BA and MA degrees in English from Florida International University, as well as a Certificate of Fiction from UCLA Extension. Her poetry has appeared in The Acentos Review, Rio Grande Review, YARN, and Atlanta Review, where her poem “Inheritance” was a Finalist in the 2017 International Poetry Competition. She is the author of Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!(Albert Whitman, Oct. 2020) and Isabel and Her Colores Go to School(Sleeping Bear Press, 2021).
What is a favorite summer memory from your childhood?
My favorite summer memories are from the years I went to Colombia in the summer. We didn’t go every year because we couldn’t afford it, but the years we did go were always spent seeing family and cousins across several cities—Medellín, Manizales, Cali, Bogotá—and farms. Several family members had farms in different towns. Of those, one of my favorite memories is from the year my parents sent me to Colombia on my own to stay with family and close friends. I was nine.
There were many adventures that summer, but my favorite consisted of riding in the back of a jeep to my tío’s farm near Manizales, playing with cousins, riding horses to the edge of a forest, hiking down to a creek, and following that to a wonderful lagoon and waterfall. It was such a wonderful time!
If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to have and why?
If I wasn’t a writer (or a teacher!), I would be a librarian. I still remember playing librarian as a kid with my dad’s old pencil mic. I would take my library books and “scan” the barcode with the mic, stacking them up and handing them off to my invisible guests. Libraries held a special place in my heart, as I spent many days there with my mom, looking through books, finding nooks in which to read, and participating in library events. Now, I love connecting readers with books and helping them find the right book to foster that same excitement I remember feeling as a child. Being a librarian would be a natural extension of this!
Courtney Dawson is an illustrator with a great love for drawing, reading, and most kinds of ice cream. She lives with her family in Ventura, California. Picture books she has recently illustrated include Help Wanted, Must Love Books (Capstone, 2020), A Vote is a Powerful Thing (Albert Whitman & Company, 2020), and The Stars Beckoned: Edward White’s Amazing Walk in Space (Philomel Books, 2021).
What’s your favorite non-book summer activity?
Spending time with my two kids and my partner is my favorite summertime thing to do! We love riding bikes and having picnics at the park. My favorite alone time activity during the summer though, is drawing outdoors and listening to music.
Thanks, Alexandra and Courtney! I hope you both have a wonderful summer and I wish you all the best with Isabel and Her Colores Go to School!
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