Book Review: Alma and How She Got Her Name

In this marvelous new picture book, a little girl learns the origins of her very long and meaningful name.

In the marvelous new picture book Alma and How She Got Her Name, Peruvian born author and illustrator Juana Martinez-Leal introduces us to Alma, a little girl with a very long name. And just what is that name?

Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela.

Yes. That is a very long name. And Alma wants to know just how she got it.

What ensues is a lovely conversation between Alma and her father, who shares stories of all her namesakes: grandparents and great-grandparents who loved books, created art, and spoke out against injustice. Sharing family stories is a great way to share language and conversation, and also develops story telling skills. More importantly, however, it helps children develop a more robust sense of who they are.

I fell in love with this book the first time I read it. The interaction between Alma and her father is tender and humorous, and the background of each of her family namesakes is presented in but a few lines, perfect for reading aloud or for reading independently. Martinez-Leal illustrates her book in mainly monochromatic tones with soft pink and blue highlights, giving the book a gentle, almost old-fashioned feel. It has also been simultaneously published in a Spanish language translation!

Like Alma, I too have a long name. If I had a nickel for every time I have had to correct mispronunciations of my name, repeatedly spell my name out loud to customer service representatives while on the phone, fix misspellings of it, or gently but firmly dissuade people from shortening my name or giving me a nickname upon first meeting me, I would be a very rich woman.

Neverthless, I love my name. It carries within it both tradition and innovation. To name someone or something is a powerful thing. This is why I insist on proper pronounciations and spellings of my not-everyday name. Because it matters. To misname someone, is in fact, to render them invisible.

Children like Alma (and I) deserve to be seen. I am reminded of a poem by British-Somali poet Warsan Shire:

"give your daughters difficult names.

give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue.

my name makes you want to tell me the truth.

my name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.”

According to teacher and blogger Jennifer Suarez, however, "even the word ‘difficult’ is a pretty loaded word.” A name is only difficult because prevailing cultural norms deem it so. Some names, like Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela, do require more effort. But nothing of worth is ever easy.

 

 

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