Juana & Lucas. Written and illustrated by Juana Medina. Candlewick, 2016. 88 pages. ISBN 978-07636-7208-9
Here in the United States, books about children living in Latin America are few and far between. That's just one of the reasons I was so delighted to find Juana Medina's new book for newly independent readers.
Juana is a funny, amiable girl who lives in modern day Bogotá, Colombia. Lucas is her dog and her constant companion. Aside from Lucas, she loves drawing, Astroman, repollitas (brussels sprouts), Bogotá, her mami, and her best friend Juli. She'd rather play fútbol than go to school -- she detests her school uniform which is hot and itchy. She's also not too wild about her math class, and really dislikes her new English class. In fact, much of the book is devoted to adult friends and relatives trying to convince her that English is worth learning.
Spanish words appear frequently and naturally in the text. They are almost always cognates so they are easy for non-Spanish speakers to translate. And there is enough context to help readers understand the Spanish.
The book is generously illustrated on every page, making this a good choice for children who are just getting into chapter books. But there is a sophistication to the artwork, as well, which includes diagrams of significant people, pointing out the most important things about them.
And Juana's voice is sharp and distinctive. She walks the fine line between being Everychild and being singular. In literature she is most akin to Atinuke's Anna Hibiscus, but she is part Ramona, too. Young readers will find her very appealing and we can hope that this will be the first volume of many about Juana and Lucas.