by Monica Sanchez
Family Pictures, Cuadros de Familia (1990) by Carmen Lomas Garza, depicts scenes from Carmen’s childhood in Kingsville, Texas. For someone who also grew up in South Texas, the book brings back memories of similar experiences–for example, killing a chicken for that day’s dinner, going across into Mexico to shop at the mercado, making tamales as a family, or being attended by a curandera (healer) when sick.
Cuadros de Familia, written both in English and Spanish, is intended to be used with elementary school children. The book has something that all children can relate to. Children growing up in the Latino culture will find many scenes where the family is involved in an activity–for example, picking oranges at the grandparents’ house, going to a fiesta or church carnival, or eating watermelon on a summer night. For children not too familiar with the Latino culture, the book provides ample opportunities for discussion of culture-specific events, such as celebrating Christmas through posadas or preparing a meal out of nopales (cactus).
An interesting twist to Cuadros de Familia is that the book is a compilation of Carmen Lomas Garza’s paintings, so in a sense the book was illustrated first and then stories written on each of the paintings, based on oral interviews with the artist. The drawback to this is that the artist’s own words do not appear in the text. Thus the authentic speech of the Southwest is not reflected in the book (for example, recoger is used instead of piscar naranjas – to pick oranges; sopa de pollo is used instead of caldo de pollo – chicken soup).
Carmen Lomas Garza serves as an inspiration to young and old. She wanted to be an artist since she was 13 years old. In her book she credits her family, particularly her mother, for inspiring her and encouraging her to fulfill her dream. Her paintings, done in oils, acrylics, and gouache on arches paper, are colorful and vividly portrayed. Some of the images are made out of papel picado (paper cut-out) which children generally enjoy doing. Garza, one of the country’s foremost Chicana artists, has exhibited her work in California, Texas, Arizona, New York, Illinois, and Washington.
To order Family Pictures, Cuadros de Familia, send $12.95 plus $2.50 postage to Children’s Book Press, 1339 61st Street, Emeryville, CA 94608.
Monica Sanchez is an elementary school teacher in Southern California.