Children's Literature Bookshelf

“Alma and How She Got Her Name,” by Juana Martinez-Neal. Candlewick Press, Somerville, Mass., 2018, 32 pages, Grades K-3.

“Alma and How She Got Her Name,” by Juana Martinez-Neal.
Candlewick Press, Somerville, Mass., 2018, 32 pages, Grades K-3.

Names have special meanings in most languages. The Latin-based languages in particular associate names with saints and religion. A very common name for girls in Mexico is Guadalupe after the Lady of Guadalupe.

In the English world, Mary has been one of the most enduring names in history. Of course, who wouldn’t want to be named after the Blessed Mother? The names of the 12 apostles and different angels are commonly used as well.

In recent years the significance of names have been in decline as trendy names have tended to dominate. However, Juana Martinez-Neal draws on the Spanish American tradition in this charming book about how a young Latin-American child discovers the meaning of her name. The title of this lovely book is “Alma and How She Got Her Name.”

When Alma tries to write her name she becomes confused. Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela is a long name for a little girl. She asks her father why she has so many names. All these names just jumble up in her mind and fingers in school. Seeing his daughter’s puzzlement, Señor Candela asks the child to sit down on the sofa while he explains. Taking a family album off of a shelf, he begins opening the world of the family’s history to Alma. Nothing has happened by chance in her naming. Her names have nothing to do with cute fads of the day.

Opening the book, he shows the girl Sofia. This elegant woman was her grandmother. A poet, writer and flower arranger, Sofia loved the beauty in the world and she especially loved her son, Señor Candela.  Alma looks at this interesting, sophisticated lady and is impressed. This is a good person to be named after. She says: “I am Sofia.”

Turning to the next page, the child’s father tells her that picture is her great-grandmother Esperanza. Señora Esperanza never left the city of her birth but traveled over the entire world in her son’s travels and maps. Alma gazes at the maps in the family album and imagines all the places there are in the world. After seeing it, she is convinced that some day she will also travel over the world and see these great sights. She says: “I am Esperanza.”

Her father keeps turning the family album and new names and stories begin flowing forth. Alma is fascinated and begins to understand the meaning of her name. How does this happen?

What does Alma learn about the remainder of her name? How does her father’s gentle care and instruction lead the child to a positive love of her name? Why does Alma not think that her name is too large by the end of the book? Do you like your name? Have you ever wanted to change your name? Why do names usually wind up being the right name for a person? Why is Alma content at the end of the story? To find out the answers to these and other questions, go to the library and check out this endearing book, “Alma and How She Got Her Name” by Juana Martinez-Neal.

This is a particularly warm book to read to a child in the primary grades. Alma means “soul” in Spanish which adds depth to this story. The illustrations are comforting and easy to follow while blending easily into the text. I think you and your family will be very fond of this book. The loving relationship between the father and the daughter is especially noteworthy. I hope you get a chance to read this delightful book. I liked the story and think you and your family will as well. Enjoy!

Terrence Nollen




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