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Book Review: Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Alma and How She Got Her Name, by Juana Martinez-Neal. Published in 2018 by Candlewick Press. ISBN 978-0-7636-9355-8

Every name has a story and your kids have mostly asked to be told the story of their name. Many have asked to hear it again. And again. 

Some name stories are long, while others are simple. 

In Alma and How She Got Her Name, Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela complains that her name is too long.

I love how Alma had to add paper to make her name fit! Kids often think they have to start over when they don’t get something quite right and this is a wonderful example that mistakes can be fixed with some creativity.

After her father explains how each name came to be included in her own, Alma decides her name is just perfect. 

While many educators have started to use this book as part of their classroom community building, I think this book is also perfect for a parent/child read aloud. Not only does it help the child understand where his/her name comes from, but it also introduces the importance of family history. It helps us see how the personalities of our relatives may be passed down to us and how we can nurture shared interests as a bond. It can also be a window into hearing about life from previous generations or even just stories about how you and your partner settled on a name.

For those children that might just pick this book up on their own, the author’s note on the last few pages encourages the reader to think about the story of their name. I particularly like how she said, “What story would you like to tell?” It’s an invitation most children would not want to turn down.

Each relative of which Alma receives a name is featured separately.

One of my favorite things about this book is that Alma presents an opportunity for young children to meet a LatinX character, one who is loved by her father, who reads books, loves art, and is proud of her heritage. These characters are far too absent in the publishing world in the United States.

While this book is written for younger children, Alma has a universal appeal and would work well as an icebreaker for about any group, young or old!

Alma was a Caldecott Honor in 2018 and received starred reviews from Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal.

If your child is particularly drawn to the illustrations, you might also try her other illustrated works, in particular, Swashby By the Sea by Beth Ferry and Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard.

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