When my family met in Costa Rica in November, I bought a charming picture book there by a well-known local author. It is inspiring to be alert to beautiful books for children published around this small planet of ours.
Llegó mi hermanita – My Little Sister Arrived – by Lara Ríos is the story of young Santiago’s evolving response to the new baby. The theme of the story is universal to families, and significant elements of the plot are foreshadowed on the cover.
At first, Santiago happily looks forward to playing with his sibling… imagining tickling her and lending his toys–though not his train, or ball, or rollerblades. He imagines the fun of racing, zooming around, with her in the stroller.
But the reality is boring. Santiago confides to his grandmother that his mom is always tending to the baby’s needs. It is constantly time to feed her, change her diaper, or hold her so she won’t cry. Mom does not have any time to play with Santiago.
Grandmother explains that his sister is so young that she needs Mom for now. Santiago is already a big boy. He continues that when Dad comes home, he does not want to play ball with Santigo but instead goes to check on the baby. As soon as she is asleep, Dad puts on his slippers, goes to the bathroom, then has dinner with Mom.
When Mom asks Santiago to help by rocking the baby in her cradle, he is grossed out by the smell (sounds like time for another diaper change). Once he tried to have fun with her, but she began to suck on his thumb, leaving it slathered in drool.
As Christmas approaches, Santiago devises a perfect solution. He writes a letter to Saint Nicholas. Although Santiago shares this with his grandmother, she should not tell anyone. He has asked for a dinosaur. “A dinosaur to eat my little sister,” he shouts. Uh-oh.
Grandmother clearly understands the situation.
After that, Mom and Dad are generously loving to Santiago and spend ample time playing with him.
On Christmas day there is a gift for Santiago from his little sister. You can imagine what it is.
Using a beautiful color palette and the white of the page, Álvaro Borrasé created engaging, lively illustrations. Emotion is conveyed through Santiago’s expressive eyes and the family’s facial cues, along with hand-lettered sound effects. Through details in the simple pictures, the reader sees that Santiago has a pet turtle and a batman costume. Christmas decorations include a creche, an angel, and it appears to be snowing outside. The love flourishing within this family is emphasized by little red hearts afloat nearby. These atmospheric clues suggest that Santiago has a home that is right for him.
Interestingly the skin tones are inclusive of various tints. The position Santiago normally holds in this family is indicated by the visual metaphor of a crown he wears. No wonder he is upset when his role shifts suddenly so that sharing of parental attention is required. Colorful borders on each page organize the layouts, although they are occasionally violated, which adds to the overall dynamism.
It appears that the art may have been created in vector format using Illustrator, although there is no indication of that on the copyright page. The scale changes and simple geometric forms add to the child-friendly feel of the art. This book is part of a “Buenas Noches / Good Night” series, and the back cover lists dozens of other titles in the collection.
Lara Ríos has written an empathetic story for the very young about jealousy and forgiveness. The attractive illustrations by Álvaro Borrasé dramatize Santiago’s plight and his path to accepting his new little sister.
Author: Lara Ríos
Illustrator: Álvaro Borrasé
Paperback, © Copyright 2017, 40 pages. ISBN 978-958-00-0321-2
Photography for this review: Egils Zarins