It is the morning of Teresita’s seventh birthday. Although she is looking forward to now being a “big girl” as her mother says, Teresita is most excited about the special surprise she knows her Tío Ramón will have for her. What will it be? But it will be a while before she finds out, as Tío Ramon must make his rounds with his piragua cart before he arrives at her block.
So Teresita keeps busy: eating breakfast, skipping rope with her friends, and playing “Red Light, Green Light.” Waiting is hard, however. Just as Teresita is sitting on the front stoop of her building in disappointment, she hears Tío Ramón hawking his piraguas from up the street. Finally!
In the midst of the gaggle of children buying piraguas, Teresita wonders where her surprise is in the piragua cart. It just so happens that Tío Ramón has it cleverly hidden away in a side compartment. There! A brown shoe box with holes on the side. She opens the box, and there it is: the “softest, tiniest black kitten she had ever seen.” Teresita is beside herself with joy and gratitude. And what does she name the kitten? Piragua!
This book is a charming slice-of-life look at one young girl’s family and community. I particularly like the colorful neighborhood scenes from illustrator Carolyn Dee Flores. They have all sorts of great details, like the green plantains stacked outside the corner bodega, the building stoops, and the open fire hydrant where children are playing. These details, along with the brightly rendered piragua cart, draw the reader into a Puerto Rican enclave in New York.
Author Virginia Sanchez-Korrol‘s text is bilingual, in English at the top of the page and in Spanish at the bottom. The text in either language is better suited for school-age children. Children in younger grades can particularly identify with Teresita learning to wait for a good thing to happen, and anticipating it as well (but it’s important for all of us to learn how to be patient). I think the text is too wordy to read in both languages for a bilingual storytime; it is best that a librarian choose one or the other to read. Teachers using this book in the classroom and grownups at home can use the end of the book as starting point for a discussion on pet care. Now that Teresita has a kitten, what does she need to do to for it? What kinds of things do her and her mother, and Tío Ramón, need to get?
Adults not afraid to let kids get messy can get in the kitchen and make some piraguas. They’re delicious! In fact, I will unequivocally state that they are better than snow cones. A Surprise for Teresita uses the term in its English text, but a piragua and a snow cone are not the same thing. I remembered the first time I had a snow cone upon moving to the continental U.S., and thinking that it was tasteless and boring compared to the thick, slushy, handmade piraguas of the island. If I were to read this book aloud in English, I would even venture to use the word “piragua” throughout. Doing so would add an even more authentic touch to a very Puerto Rican story.
Written by Virginia Sánchez-Korrol; Illustrated by Carolyn Dee Flores
2016, Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Público Press
Page Count: 32
Klem-Marí Cajigas has been with Nashville Public Library since 2012, after more than a decade of academic training in Religious Studies and Ministry. As the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life!, Nashville Public Library’s award-winning early literacy outreach program, she delivers family literacy workshops to a diverse range of local communities. Born in Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí is bilingual, bicultural, and proudly Boricua.