by Magdalena Zenaida
4 Stars . . .. . . . Short Review (click here)
Back Cover: An Honest Boy, Un hombre sincero conveys the messages of Cuban national hero and prominent figure in Latin American literature, José Martí. The story tells of the events that shaped his life as a writer, teacher, journalist, and revolutionary while illustrating them through his Versos Sencillos. Marti’s ideas about freedom, democracy and independence come together in a poetic way that ultimately becomes a call to Cuban freedom and universal friendship that echoes long into the future as part of one of Cuba’s most famous songs, Guantanamera.
Opening: Sometime not so long ago, donde crece la palma, where palm trees grow, an honest boy, un hombre sincere, was born. José Martí lived when Cuba was ruled by Spain.
About the Story: An Honest Boy, Un hombre sincero is about famous Cuban poet José Martí, a man who longed for Cuba’s sovereignty from Spain. He believed all men should be free to live where they choose and that all are part of every country. The author writes that José liked to write and spread his words from his soul, so at age 16, José became a journalist for his own newspaper called, La Patria Libre. His writings upset Spain, which exiled José from Cuba. José traveled around Latin America—except Cuba—teaching the arts.
While living in New York City, José loved his freedom of speech without repercussions. While there, he wrote about laws, progress, and man. His writings were accessible to everyone. He tried not to exclude anyone from his writings. José also wrote for an audience he thought most important: children. He wrote about his life before settling in America and about the history of America.
José Martí died soon after he re-dedicated his life to uniting Cuba for a revolution. He wrote a play about ancient Greek heroes, wanting his stories carried on and shared for a long time. Fernando Díaz wrote Guantanamera, a romantic song inspired by José’s Versos Sencillos. The song is considered the unofficial national anthem in Cuba. What I Thought: An Honest Boy, Un hombre sincero is the first children’s book about the Cuban poet José Martí, the man who sparked many to action in the war against Spain for Cuba’s sovereignty. It is an interesting picture book, but a bit confusing, especially as a bilingual book. At the back of the book is an essay simply called José Martí, that is a good history of the man’s life and work. The picture book would have been better if written closer to that piece, than as what looks like an attempt at poetry.
The biggest problem is the Spanish phrases interjected into the English sentences. Unlike most bilingual books for children, which place one language at the top, then re-write the passage at the bottom in the other language, An Honest Boy, Un hombre sincero interjects a Spanish phrases into an English sentence. Those passages are not translated anywhere in the book, which makes me think I am supposed to understand the Spanish by content.
He was a teacher of the arts, arte soy entre las artes, I am art among the arts, but also of the land, en los monte soy, with the mountains I am one, because he believed in the future of the Americas was in knowing both.
Many pages have no Spanish. Calling this bilingual, though two languages are used, is absurd. Spanish is not consistently used, nor is it translated, but rather expects kids to figure it out what is said and then why the repetition. Used in a Spanish language class, An Honest Boy, Un hombre sincero is a good fit for kids. As a picture book story, I think it does not work.
There is a spread of José dreaming, with the illustration reaching the entire spread. The words on both pages would also be part of his dream—and I thought they were—but the right side is not, rather this is his next move in his life. Only upon reading the essay, after the picture book, can one understand this is not a part of his dream. I found trying to understand the story frustrating much of the time and I think any child that does not understand Spanish will have the same experience. This picture book is one kids will avoided after read one time.
The illustrations are gorgeous. I just wish the author had used her words from her essay on José Martí as her text. That section was clear, easy to understand, and does not skip ahead. Place the text of English at the top of the page, repeat it in Spanish at the bottom, and An Honest Boy, Un hombre sincero would have been a fantastic bilingual picture book on the life of Cuban poet José Martí kids would have enjoyed, learning some Spanish as they read.
by Magdalena Zenaida website
Laredo Publishing website
Released August 15, 2013
© 2013 by Magdalena Zenaida, used with permission
Text: Copyright © 2013 by Magdalena Zenaida
Illustrations: Copyright © 2013 by Gastón Hauviller