Latin Grammy award winner Lucky Diaz’s Paletero Man has boogied from a finger-snapping song into a delectable picture book with a dramatic twist. Just as in the musical version, the book follows one (unnamed) boy’s search for his friend Paletero José, who vends icy paleta sweets in luscious flavors on a hot day. However, a book needs a more solid story arc, which Señor Diaz graciously supplies.
As he searches for the vendor, the boy warmly greets Tio Ernesto at his tamale cart, Ms. Lee selling Korean BBQ, and Frank at the bike shop, to the repeating distant refrain “Ring! Ring! Ring! / Can you hear his call? / Paletas for one! / Paletas for all!“
Blending English and Spanish, the verse lists flavors the boy imagines he wants –
Will he have all the flavors,
the colors I love?
The kind I dream of.
Sandía, o fresa,
Arroz con leche,
Miel, a cereza?Lucky Diaz, Paletero Man
When the boy finally reaches the paletero man and requests piña, the pineapple flavor he craves, he makes a shocking discovery. There is only lint in his pockets. ¡Esta perdido! His money is gone! Perceptive kids must have noticed when his cash fell to the sidewalk, but others will immediately flip pages back to see what happened. This plot twist and its resolution gives the story its needed arc. Tio Ernesto, Ms. Lee, and Frank appear with the money the boy had dropped, and Paletero José rewards everyone with free paletas. Kindness and honesty win in this satisfying story written with bilingual children in mind.
The lively illustrations, created by Micah Player in Adobe PhotoShop, are bright, colorful cityscapes of Los Angeles, with scenes that include Griffith Observatory and Echo Park with its swan boats and fountain. The dust jacket shows the boy enwreathed in paletas of many flavors and colors with the city in the background, yet the trade cover has no text other than on the spine. Instead, it shows a constellation of paletas of many flavors and two faces: one a cat and the other a blue bear. The second is a reference to one of Mr. Diaz’s songs, The Blue Bear. Perhaps a teaser for a sequel? If so, maybe the cat is also.
Many indications in the artwork demonstrate that it is a sweltering day. The sun-filled colors and the shadows, the headline of the Daily Dreamer newspaper screaming Heat Wave! and the boy sweating all reinforce the reason he so desperately needs a paleta. The pictures are lively with good scale changes and a broad spectrum of ethnicities, preferences, and ages of people actively enjoying the day while trying to stay cool. The book was beautifully printed in Italy.
In an Author’s Note, Lucky Diaz explains that Eighth Street in L.A., with its “immigrant street food vending culture” and colorful murals, is his neighborhood and the inspiration for the song and the book. As a Mexican American and Chicanx parent, he proudly shares this story.
Mr. Diaz and Alisha Gaddis are a married couple who perform kid rock music in The Lucky Band (originally Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band). They have traveled the globe performing for kids everywhere and have earned significant awards for their work. Their album ¡Fantastico! Won a Latin Grammy Award in 2013 for Best Latin Children’s Album, making them the first Americans to win a Latin Grammy. Then in 2019, their album Buenos Diaz won them a second Latin Grammy Award. The Parent’s Choice Foundation awarded a Parent’s Choice Gold Award for excellence in children’s entertainment for their album Oh Lucky Day. For more about their successes with kindie music, visit Lucky Diaz’s website.
With Paletero Man, Lucky Diaz shares the rhythm of his snappy lyrics and expands their meaning into a complete and satisfying book.
Coming next month: An interview with the ebullient Lucky Diaz on Friday, July 2.
Learn more about Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band on their website.
Listen to Paletero Man and two other songs here.