CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 3. . . .September 22, 2017
My Fantástica Family. (Sophia Martinez).
Jacqueline Jules. Illustrated by Kim Smith.
North Mankato, MN: Picture Window Books/Capstone Press (Distributed in Canada by Magenta Entertainment Ltd.), 2017.
96 pp., hardcover, $15.95.
Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-8.
Review by Harriet Minuk.
The Kids and parents counted paper money. They rolled dice. They moved pieces around game boards. They drew cards.
Everyone was having a great time. They were laughing and yelling and smiling.
Author Jacqueline Jules most recent installment of three stories following the adventures of young Sophia Martinez begins with a humorous look at the realistic challenges facing a large extended family with limited space as they prepare for a holiday at the beach. “The Beach Trip” commences with central character Sophia intent on packing all her games while neglecting the clothes she needs for the beach trip. Sophia convinces her siblings to take her essential clothing items so she can pack her suitcase with games because that is “what she really needs”. After a frenzied effort to pack the car and a less than enjoyable car ride, the family arrives at their destination. The next day, Sophia’s foresight is quickly realized when the weather turns to rain and 16 people are left inside the beach house. Sophia brings out her games which keep everyone busy until the sun comes out after lunch.
“Abuela’s Special Letters” finds Sophia soliciting her cousins to fill out a question sheet. She asks, “What do you want to be when you grow up”, and “Describe yourself in one word”. Sophia collects the answers and puts them in a tin to make a family “time capsule”. With the assistance of Sophia’s Mamá, Papá, sisters, and cousins, additional items are placed in the tin (which has now switched to a pretzel jar), things such as seashells, sticks to remember trips to the beach, recipes, music, marigolds, and special letters from Abuela, Sophia’s grandmother. The jar is decorated with ribbons, paint, and glitter, then sealed and marked with “top secret”.
Even though Sophia’s Papá has placed the jar on the top shelf of a closet in the basement, Sophia cannot help but wonder what her grandmother had written as “my Abuela knows everything”, including what the future holds. When Sophia sneaks downstairs one evening to retrieve the jar, boxes topple over waking Mamá and Papá. Sophia's curiosity had gotten the better of her, and she couldn’t “wait for the future”!
In the final story, “Shopping Trip Trouble”, Sophia and her entire family go school shopping. There is much deliberation as to the backpacks they should choose, and Sophie selects one with a peacock feather design. After more discussion, Sophia is permitted to pick three notebooks in rainbow, silver, and green. Suddenly the family realizes Manuel is missing - they become panic-stricken, rushing around bumping into each other and knocking things off shelves. A store employee tries to page Manuel over the loud speaker. Hearing the announcement, a kindly gentleman informs the family that Manuel is in the backpack aisle where they eventually find him fast asleep under a heap of backpacks. After lots of hugs, the family returns home only to discover they had left everything in the shopping cart at the store!
The illustrations in My Fantástica Family are bright and colorful against the stark white pages, and Smith shows great attention to detail. By way of example, the reader can see the suitcases stacked in the cars en route to the beach as well as the decorations and contents of the “top secret jar”. Both the settings and expressions of the characters within highlight the atmosphere – the pleasure of playing ball or building sandcastles with the family at the beach contrasted with the frustration and dismay depicted in Sophia’s eye gestures as she rides in the car with her misbehaving young cousins.
Of note is that the stories are sprinkled with Spanish words that are highlighted in red, and a glossary is included at the back of the book so readers can familiarize themselves with some important basic terms. An entertaining way to be introduced to and learn some fundamentals in Spanish such as, I’m sorry, please and thank you, in addition to important family terms for mom, dad, and grandmother.
At the core of each of the stories are themes of family togetherness, caring, respect, co-operation and watching out for one another. The games Sophia chooses are not only fun but promote valuable thought and discussion. The questionnaire entails asking the children what dreams they have for a vocation, and they are revealed to their family without judgement. Importantly, Sophia has great admiration and esteem for her grandmother’s knowledge and ability to reveal the future as reflected in her desire to read the letters in the “top secret Jar”.
Jules’ use of realistic fiction in each of the stories is highly relatable. Readers might have experienced plans going astray, such as rain on a holiday, dealing with cranky siblings, and innocent curiosity leading to accidents. Even the frightening circumstance of a young child being temporarily lost in a department store strikes home. Jules uses these situations to present problem solving techniques and alternatives, such as playing games and using imagination on bad weather days, or more seriously, making announcements on a loud speaker when searching for a missing family member.
Whether the characters are interacting at the beach house, frolicking at the beach, or shopping for school supplies, Jacqueline Jules and illustrator Kim Smith have created realistic stories of family bonding and togetherness in My Fantástica Family.
Harriet Minuk is a librarian at Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.
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