Literary Guide for Arthur Dorros’ “Abuela”
by Arthur Dorros
Set in urban Manhattan, Arthur Dorros’ story Abuela combines magic, memories, and bilingual text to tell a beautiful and imaginative story about childhood, family, immigration, and Hispanic culture. Paired with beautiful images created by illustrator Elisa Kleven, Abuela is an excellent example of a bilingual and multicultural children’s book.
In the story, young Rosalba and her abuela (grandmother) are returning by bus from a trip to feed the birds. During the ride – perhaps inspired by recent interactions with feathered friends – Rosalba wonders what it would be like to fly, and to see the city from the sky. She and her grandmother go on a wonderful imaginary adventure, exploring some of Manhattan’s greatest sights from a new angle. They examine the shapes of clouds, pay a visit to the Statue of Liberty, and greet the rooftops from above. Alongside the events of Rosalba’s imaginary journey are stories that her grandmother tells of her life before she immigrated to New York. Inspired by Rosalba’s ideas, the stories teach Rosalba (and readers of the story) about her abuela’s cultural roots and what her life was like before she immigrated to New York City.
Abuela is a fantastic story to pair with studies of Hispanic culture, and presents families with an opportunity to learn some basic Spanish phrases together. Additionally, children can learn from the story by comparing Rosalba’s (and Abuela’s) life to their own – what similarities and differences can you identify? Discussing the reasons for the similarities and differences that you uncover can provide space for some meaningful and thoughtful reflection. Children may begin to consider not only location-dependent differences (like New York’s skyscapers and city blocks versus their familiar sidewalk-free rural community), but cultural differences, too.
In addition to providing an opportunity to learn about Hispanic language and culture, the story can inspire creativity, too! An activity outlined in the accompanying literature guide calls for children to look for shapes in the clouds, create art pieces based on those shapes, and learn the name for each shape in Spanish – allowing lots of room for imagination, while also encouraging bilingual language development! Additionally, the suggested critical thinking questions to use while reading the story inspire children to think about the difference between imagination and reality – providing young readers with an opportunity to share their opinion about a subject that’s likely often on their minds, and providing parents a chance to think about their child’s conceptual development based on the answer that they give.
Finally, a reading of Abuela isn’t complete without focusing on the theme of flight, and families can explore the idea of flight in many different ways. Guiding children through an imaginary journey in their mind can generate some unique and fascinating ideas on their part – have children share the things that they think they might see if they were able to fly over their neighborhood, and perhaps create some art together inspired by your imagined flights. Older children may benefit from a discussion of the idea of flight as a representation of the idea of a journey. As Rosalba flies in the story, her grandmother goes on a mind-based journey of her own, connecting her past to Rosalba’s present – an idea that older children may be eager to discuss. Try to identify why it is that Rosalba’s ideas evoke the memories that they do, and see if your own imaginations can work in the same way – evoking strong memories and emotions from your past.