Pub Date: 2011
Level: Picture book/ages 5-up
About a year ago, having been newly appointed to ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project, I was on the lookout for picture books with feminist themes. For ABP, it was relatively easier to find YA books that highlighted feminism. But finding picture books with significant feminist content presented a slight challenge. Picture books have the ability to convey a sophisticated message through simple text and evocative artwork. According to selected criteria, ABP nominated books should show some awareness of gender inequities (Is the main character overcoming stereotypes/oppression?), reflect empowerment, but also be age-appropriate. Basically, there has to be a balance between the content and appeal to readers. A heavy handed message about feminism could go over readers’ heads by coming off as too pedantic. On the other hand, if the message is too light, it’s practically non-existent.
So, you can imagine how happy I was to read Meg Medina’s Tia Isa Wants A Car, which was personally recommended to me by Raquel Matos, Marketing Services Supervisor at Candlewick Press.
Tia Isa Wants A Car is about a woman and her niece who defeat incredible odds to reach their ultimate goal. With beautiful simplicity, Meg Medina shares a profound message that resonates with many folks, particularly those of us who are immigrants: We all possess the ability to perservere and achieve our dreams. On the surface, Medina’s story is about a little girl and her aunt saving assiduously to buy a car that will take them far out of the city, to beaches that remind them of the native home and family they dearly miss.
Tia Isa Wants A Car was inspired by the memory of Medina’s beloved aunt, Ysaira, who had a “light-blue Wildcat that stalled everywhere and was awful to park on crowded streets…but that car could take us anywhere we wanted in this new country; it was freedom.”(rear bookjacket) Medina sprinkles her book with expressive Spanish phrases, and rich descriptions of Latino culture. She also shows us what it’s like to truly struggle for something…sometimes a novel concept in picture books. We see Tia Isa saving to send remittances to family in an unnamed Latin country. When she and her niece try to buy a car, they are derided by Isa’s brother who proclaims their idea to be “Rrrridiculo.” At the car lot, the dismissive salesman tells them that they don’t have enough money. And here’s where the story really begins to tug at your heart.
Tia Isa’s enterprising niece begins approaching members of her community, offering services for fees that include helping out at the grocery store, feeding kitties, and teaching a librarian Spanish. Before long, she has saved up enough money to supplement her aunt’s savings, and they have enough for a car! Tia Isa and her niece exerted their independence (very feminist!), ignored naysayers (who all happened to be dudes), and purchased a car (a metaphor for freedom). When Tia Isa and her niece tape a picture of the family they hope to see very soon, we realize that the car is simply a promise of better things to come. Beautifully brought to life by Medina’s lively prose and illustrator Claudio Muñoz’s lush watercolor artwork, Tia Isa Wants A Car stayed with me long after the last page had been turned.
Review copy kindly provided by Candlewick Press.