Born in Lima, Perú, Juana Martinez-Neal incorporates her Latinx culture into her debut author/ illustrator book, Alma and How She Got Her Name, published in both Spanish and English! This is a pleasant read because it is fresh and lighthearted but still packed with important messages. It focuses on a young girl and her curiosity over her very long name.
The main character Alma is concerned about her name, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela, “not fitting” on a piece of paper. She approaches her dad about her concern, and in response he ensures her that her name does fit. He goes on to explain each part of her name and their connections to her family members and history. After each name is explained, Alma identifies with a part of it. In the end, she questions her own first name, “Alma”. Her dad explains to her that “Alma” is her own and belongs to only her.
The illustrations on each page are beautifully soft. The neutral toned backgrounds and touches of color are drawn with intention. The hues of blue represent the past, and the pink colors represent the present. Every detail has meaning, some relating directly to Latinx language and culture. One family member “stands up for what is right” and is pictured in a rally surrounded by people with signs that have Spanish on them. The family members on each page are drawn differently in every way. They are tall and short, and each is dressed differently with different hair. Martinez-Neal even shades some characters with darker skin tones. These illustrations really reflect the significance of knowing your ancestry and knowing the different people who have helped define who you are.
Martinez-Neal expresses that knowing one’s family history contributes to one’s identity. The feeling of connection and belonging, which is a universal human need, is strong within the book. The relationship between Alma and her father exhibits closeness and care. One’s own name belongs to them, and identity can start with a name. The father explicitly conveys the importance of having autonomy and becoming yourself. The entire book, in simple terms, illustrates the importance of names. On the other hand, Martinez-Neal appeals directly to a Latinx audience because it is a tradition that is still carried out today for children to receive many names.
This meaningful book reminded me of where I got my own middle name and the history that brought me here. I was named after my grandmother, a strong Chicana who loves to sew and who believes in spirits. My own first name, belongs to me and only me, the first in my family.