Book Review: Alma and How She Got Her Name


As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:

This was a great idea for a book; even though most children don’t have names this long, every child’s name comes from somewhere.  

The chalk drawings in a limited color palette were lovely, and though it was nice to see such father-daughter bonding over family history, I wondered where Alma’s mother was, because surely, she had a contribution in naming her child.  I also found it interesting that none of Alma’s relatives were alive–at least any that she was named for.  

Showing how each of Alma’s ancestors not only had a story but how their stories tied in to who she was (like an commercial) kept Alma as the central character.  However, not every ancestor was given equal time–Pura was given a paragraph and Candela, a sentence. A goodreads reviewer pointed out that it wasn’t shown what Alma’s grandmother was protesting; the protest signs just said “Listen,” “Think,” and “Complain,” which was deliberately vague, I believe, in an effort to not offend.  When Alma’s father says Candela always stood up for what was right, I think that should’ve been amended to “what she believes in.” After all, how do we know if what Candela was fighting for was right?  

The vagueness of this book throughout (e.g. Sofia enjoying generic poetry, the unnamed city in which Esperanza lived, et cetera) made it less interesting than it could’ve been.  Specificity is what makes stories and characters come alive. I also think consistency in how the story was told (i.e. keeping it in scrapbook form) would’ve made it better. (Sofia and Esperanza are depicted in photographs, but Pura and Candela are not.)

But the perfect ending came when her father explained where Alma’s name came from–that she isn’t just a collage of the past but a blank canvas for the future which she will fill with her experiences–that someday, one of her descendants with her namesake will be telling her story.

This is one of the few kids’ books that could use a sequel, showing Alma growing up, “trying on” each of her names, and discovering that even though she is a little of Sofia, a little of Jose, et cetera, she is ultimately more herself than anyone else.  

Suggested activity:  As my daughter’s first and middle names were chosen simply because my husband and I liked them (and not based on any family history), we go through old scrapbooks and share memories–whether they are stories that have been passed down or memories that I remember. (And for heaven’s sakes, write them down!)

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