- Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
The aroma of steamy corn deliciousness wraps Abuela’s home in incredible warmth and anticipation.
Alongside mounds of masa, earthy roasted chiles, and seasoned meat, the entire family forms an assembly line of cooperation and laughter. Family stories are shared and passed down to the kids, along with Abuela’s own unique way of creating her tamales. Each step carries a special message of encouragement: “may you always be flexible”; “may you always stand tall and proud”; “may you have lots and lots of hugs.” The tamales are wrapped in their pliable husks stuffed with dreams, hope, and love—and meat and chiles. As they steam, the family waits with paciencia—patience. Music, singing, and storytelling reverberate within the walls of Abuela’s home. Finally, the tamales are done. The savory Christmas Eve gifts are unwrapped one by one, and Abuela proclaims as the tamales disappear, “May your life be delicious!” Genhart’s loving tribute to the women of his Mexican American family is heartfelt and sincere. His mother is revealed in the author’s note to be the nieta (granddaughter) of the story, and she continues the family legacy at the book’s end with a new tamalada: “You start with una hoja….” The semibilingual text carries Lora’s illustrations, as they convey organized chaos while flickering between the vibrant colors of Christmas present and gray-toned memories of the past.The warmth of family love and support wafts enticingly through this homage to tradition. (illustrator’s note) (Picture book. 5-10)
- Booklist (Starred Review)
Drawing upon their own Latinx family experiences, Genhart and Lora cook up a beautiful story of food and cultural identity, rooted in family recipes, storytelling, and togetherness. The book begins as a family arrives at Abuela Pina’s house for their Christmas Eve tradition of making tamales together. The large, happy group gathers in the kitchen, with everyone at a prep station, chopping garlic and onions, cleaning corn husks, roasting chilies, making corn masa (dough), and cooking the seasoned meat filling. When it’s time to build the tamales, Abuela explains each step while also sharing its symbolism. Thus, the softened corn husk carries a reminder to be flexible, the masa, to “stand tall and proud,” and so on. Each piece of advice evokes a memory in Abuela that is rendered primarily in grays, distinctly contrasting with the vivid colors used throughout the rest of the book. In both cases, Lora’s collage-style illustrations are exceptional and incorporate bold patterns and details of Mexican decor, such as potted cacti, a molcajete (mortar and pestle), and a family altar. The text seamlessly incorporates Spanish words and their meanings into the story, further peppering it with authentic flavor. Concluding notes and photos from the author and illustrator explain the inspiration for the book. A lovely tribute to family, food, and tradition.— Rosie Camargo
PreS-Gr 3—In a gathering for Christmas, the narrator reveals the tamale-making that fits hand in glove with life lessons uttered by his abuela. The mostly English narration is full of in-context Spanish words, but when Abuela utters words such as “protection and security,” the Spanish equivalents appear in large calligraphy as part of the art. Vibrant scenes show a Mexican family pitching in to tell stories, soak the husks, remove silks, add filling, and then fold and place the tamales in the pot to cook. The scent in the air is overwhelming, and anticipation grows, but the slow cooking teaches “patience,” and soon the family is feasting on the fruits of their labor. Colors, flowers, rooms filled with laughing people, and a flowing well-paced text combine in a mantra-like telling, as rewarding as the tamales themselves. VERDICT A bilingual beauty that celebrates family across generations, and traditions that can be shared beyond the communal table.—Kimberly Olson Fakih, School Library Journal