Just a Minute
Tres, dos, uno… Happy New Year! That and being able to read the menu at a Mexican restaurant is the extent of my Spanish. New Year’s Resolution #68: learn to count to 10 in Spanish so that this time next year, I can do the full countdown. Luckily for me, children’s books are great for learning a new language. I’ve long felt that illustrations communicate as much or more than words do, and can really help readers to understand a story, despite language barriers. This is a perfect excuse to visit my local library and buy more books (New Year’s Resolution #11 and 12, check). Keep reading…
Just a Minute, written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales, is a perfect introduction to counting both in English and Spanish. This original spiritual folktale is a tale about family and celebration of life. Grandma Beetle is getting ready for her birthday when an unexpected guest arrives: Senor Calavera, a skeleton resembling the iconic figure seen during the Mexico’s Day of the Dead. Senor Calavera would like to cheat Grandma Beetle out of her birthday celebration and deliver her to the next world. Grandma Beetle may be getting older but she is still sharp as a tack; “Just a minute,” she says stalling for time, and promises Senor Calavera she would leave with him once she finishes her one chore. One chore leads into another until all the preparations for the party are done and with the help of her nine grandchildren and special guest number ten, Senor Calavera, they celebrate. As promised when the celebration ends, Grandma Beetle is ready leave with Senor Calavera only to find him gone and a note left behind: “I wouldn’t miss your next birthday party for anything in the world.”
Strongly influenced by Mexican culture, Morales’s illustrations are lively and rich. Using acrylic and mixed media on paper, Morales paints with warm colours, textures and vibrancy. Her art illustrates the traditions of Mexican celebrations, from the preparation of delicious dishes to the wearing of parts of the broken piñatas as party hats.
Using both Spanish and English words to tally the party preparations meant that by the end of the book, I could count to ten. I’m not sure about the pronunciation, though; one thing I wish the book included was a glossary with pronunciations and perhaps additional words in Spanish, like Grandma or celebration. I thought it was a clever idea to differentiate the Spanish words with a different typeface, making it easier for young readers to spot the difference. I like Grandma Beetle; although she is an old woman she is still sharp and full of energy, and an example for all of us that our elders still have lots of wisdom and stories to share.
Just a Minute, a children’s book review by Thao Lam
Author and Illustrator Yuyi Morales
Raised by her grandmothers, Yuyi Morales was born in Xalapa, Mexico in 1968. Her family delighted in telling stories, a wonderful way for them to bond and share traditions and culture. Inspired by the stories she was told, Morales drew pictures and told stories of her own. As she grew up, she showed promise in competitive swimming, and soon storytelling and picture-drawing was set aside for practices and swim meets. Eventually, she became a swimming coach after earning her bachelor’s degree in Physical Education and Psychology at the University Veracruzana.
In 1994, she immigrated to the United States to start a family. Adapting to a new country was difficult, because Morales spoke very little English. One day while exploring the neighborhood with her son, “I found a place where communication became universal: the children’s section of the public library. I had never seen such beautiful books.” Morales used the illustrations in books to help her understand the writing and read the books to her son, and together, in this way they learned English. All the stories she read reminded her of the ones she was raised on and her childhood love for drawing and telling stories was reborn. She began attending writers’ and illustrators’ conferences, meeting other children’s book writers and illustrators and learning the skills of the trade. Yuyi Morales went on to write many bilingual books, introducing readers to Spanish and Mexican culture.
I am always tickled pink when an author or an illustrator, takes time out of their busy schedule to reply to a fan mail.
Many people ask me how I came out with the idea for Just a Minute—the story of a grandmother who waked up one morning to find a skeleton waiting for her at her door. I am always happy to tell them that the book was born as a response to an assignment at an adult education class for learning how to illustrate picture books. At the class our instructor, illustrator Ashley Wolf, gave us our first assignment: to come up with either an alphabet or counting book to use as a framework for our illustrations. Because the class wasn’t focused in writing, she only gave us until the next week to come up with a story. “And bring some sketches too,” she said. I decided to make a counting book. But what to count? I always loved the folktales from my country–especially those where ordinary folks defeat great enemies. Taking inspiration from the Mexican tradition, I sat down to write.
Sometimes stories seem to come out of nowhere. In reality our stories come from very deep inside us. Grandma Beetle came alive as the embodiment of the women who took care of me when I was a child–hard-working woman like my grandma, my mother, my aunts, and my sisters. Always tending their chores, these women love their children more than anything in the world. In my mind Grandma was also the personification of a beetle from my homeland–round and brown, always flaying and moving.
The inspiration for Señor Calavera came from the candied skulls that people and children receive in Mexico during the celebration of the day of the Dead. To me Señor Calavera has always made out of sugar.
Latter, when I began submitting my first Señor Calavera story, I received many letters from editors telling me that they liked my work very much, but, did I have any other stories? Because, they said, they would never be able to sell a book like Just a Minute. They told me children might get scared. It took more than a year of submitting and a an extra-brave editor to bring Señor Calavera to life, and when the book finally came back, it received a more than a dozen awards, honors, and inclusions on best the year list.
– Yuyi Morales –
To find out more about Yuyi Morales, please visit her website: www.yuyimorales.com
Publisher Chronicle Books; Library Binding edition (September 1, 2003)