Saturday, June 18, 2011

Looking Around YOUR Neighborhood

Welcome to My Neighborhood: A Barrio ABC. Quiara Alegría Hudes. Illus. by Shino Arihara. New York: Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010. Unpaged. $16.99 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-0-545-09424-5. Grades 1 – 3. English with some Spanish.

Take a look around your neighborhood. What do you see? Trees, playgrounds, cars? Look closer and I'm sure you can find litter, broken glass, graffiti, and unsightly buildings. Now, think about how you'd describe your neighborhood to a friend or a child. Are you going to focus on the trees and playgrounds or the graffiti and unsightly buildings? Will you share a little of both in your neighborhood's descriptions? While I personally don't advocate for wearing the metaphorical "rose-colored" glasses, I'm going to lean towards the positive aspects of my community. For instance, I won't describe all the buildings that were ripped away by our bout of tornadoes on April 27th or the piles of rubble lying on the streets or even the uprooted trees. No, I'm going to focus on the more positive aspects such as the chirping birds, cloudless sky, flowing river, and laughing people. Why? Because I want people to think positive things about my neighborhood. Wouldn't you want the same? This is certainly NOT what you find in Welcome to My Neighborhood: A Barrio ABC.

Instead, readers will find a mixed bag of surprises as they follow two children exploring their predominantly Puerto Rican barrio from A to Z. Positive aspects of the community are noted such as muralists, urban gardens, wise elders, and street games. However less appealing elements of urban life, such as abandoned cars, broken bottles, and burnt buildings, are also highlighted. While the book attempts to show that all neighborhoods have both good and bad characteristics and even introduces a melding of cultures with the Chino-Latino bodega, the overall impression of a barrio is far less positive. Picture books about other cultures don't highlight the gangs on the corner, the baggies of white powder, or the polluted water running in the streets. Why would you want to do this the books about the Latino culture?

Aside from the descriptions of good and bad traits of the neighborhood, the book also has several other problems. Some of the alphabet representations are forced, such as “X is for XXL, my favorite T-shirt size.” A pronunciation guide for Spanish words is also absent.

Not Recommended.