The Bookshelf: Family Pictures / Cuadros de Familia December 19 2011

The themes in the stories we read are children are often universal, so even if it's about a little bunny wanting to run away from his doting mother, we can still see a little bit of ourselves in the characters. But once in a while you'll come across a book that is more than just something we can connect with. It's a direct reflection of your life, or your family's life. My mom gave me a copy of a children's book by Chicana artist Carmen Lomas Garza this weekend, Family Pictures, or Cuadros de Familia, and I was just so happy to see a book that captured life in South Texas --mostly as my mother knew it, and a bit of how I knew it, too. Garza, who is Mexican-American, says on the first page of the book that the "pictures in this book are all painted from my memories of growing up in Kingsville, Texas, near the border with Mexico." She says she grew up dreaming of becoming an artist, and with the inspiration and encouragement of her family she finally realized that dream. The book is of family pictures, and each painting tells a little story, in English and in Spanish, about life in South Texas.

My family lives less than an hour away from where Garza grew up -- and they've lived in this area since the 1800s. Looking at the paintings is like seeing home in a nostalgia-filled dream. I can see my own abuelos in these paintings. I see the big orange tree they used to have in their backyard; the ferias (or the jamaicas at the church) we used to go to; the cakes my grandma used to bake to donate to the cake walk (to do her part as a member of the Ladies Auxiliary, Catholic Daughter or as a Guadalupana); the piƱata rush at birthday parties; my grandfather bringing into the kitchen a freshly skinned rabbit for my grandmother to fry up (our version of chicken nuggets); my grandmother's little kitchen table full of hojas, carne and masa, ready for the assembly-line work of a tamalada; eating watermelon on the porch to cool down on hot summer nights; and the healing powers of curanderas.

The book, published by Children's Book Press, was originally printed in 1990, but it has a beautiful, timeless appeal and is a great reference that I can use to share with my daughter about where her mother grew up, and about our wonderful culture. This captures it perfectly, in story and illustration.