Friday, July 24, 2015

Review: Letters from Heaven/Cartas del cielo

Title: Letters From Heaven/Cartas del cielo
Author: Lydia Gil
Illustrator: Leonardo Mora
Publisher: Piñata Books/Arte Publico Press
Pages: 116
Availability: On shelves now
Review Copy: Final copy via publisher

Summary: Celeste is heartbroken when her grandmother dies. But everything changes when a letter mysteriously comes in the mail—from Grandma! “I know you miss me as much as I miss you. Don’t be sad. Where there is love, there is no sadness.” As letters continue to arrive from the beyond, each with a recipe of a favorite food her grandmother used to prepare, Celeste consoles herself by learning how to cook the dishes. Meanwhile, without Grandma’s social security check, Mami needs to get a second job to make ends meet. Celeste has to quit dance lessons, and a bully at school gloats that she will replace Celeste as the star in the upcoming recital. To top things off, her friends think that she’s gone crazy; dead people can’t send letters! When a final letter arrives, Celeste realizes that all the recipes combined make an entire meal: café con leche, guava and cheese croissants, congrí, plantain chips, ropa vieja and flan. Can she really make a Cuban feast to celebrate her cherished grandmother’s life?

A tender story of family and friendship, Letters from Heaven / Cartas del cielo celebrates Latino traditions, especially those of the Spanish Caribbean. This entertaining novel is written in ten brief chapters for children ages 8-12 and includes six traditional Cuban recipes with easy-to-follow instructions.

Review: I am a complete sucker for books that include recipes and this one has me itching to get in the kitchen. There are six recipes that together create a complete meal if one is brave enough. The description above says they are easy-to-follow, but the flan looks a bit tough to do. I will probably give it a try though.

The story itself has a little bit of everything. Celeste is grieving after the death of her grandmother, but she also has a good adult support system. There is also a friendship and bullying component. And of course, food plays a very important role. Lydia Gil provides characters and situations that are believable and interesting too. Overall, it's a story of family love and how that can be expressed and celebrated in and around food.

Early readers of chapter books will find this story to be both quick and engaging. They will likely want to try some of the recipes too. All of the recipes involve cooking so adult supervision will be necessary. Some of the recipes, like the flan, may seem a bit intimidating, but they all look like they lead to deliciousness.

As the title implies, this book has text in both Spanish and English. It's a flip book so the texts are kept separate though there are a few italicized Spanish words in the English portion. For readers who don't know Spanish, the words are almost always easily understood through context, but even if they aren't, major plot comprehension issues won't be likely.

This is a great early chapter book for any young readers. I definitely recommend it especially for libraries looking to include books from a variety of cultures.

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