My Papi has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña
My Papi Has a Motorcycle
Review copy from Kokila
Yes! Yes! Yes! This is what I thought to myself as I turned the pages of My Papi Has a Motorcycle, also available in Spanish. I work hard to find books that allow my students - immigrants or the children of immigrants from Mexico - to see themselves on the pages of the books I bring into the library. It is getting easier to find books with Latinx characters created by Latinx authors and illustrators, (check out my post on new publisher Kokila, dedicated to "centering stories from the margins" by creating an inclusive, diverse community of authors, illustrators and gatekeepers - the people who publish the books) it is especially exciting to find a book that mirrors the cultural and geographic landscape that my students are growing up in here in Southern California. As Maria Russo points out in her superb review of this book in the New York Times, "Southern California is home to 24 million, yet few picture books show us life there or tell stories about its vibrant immigrant communities." Yes! Yes! Yes! Quintero grew up in Corona, CA, in the county just north of me, and, in her author's notes, she shares that Peña was able to, "take all the elements that live in my memory from childhood, even the places that have disappeared like the tortillería and raspado shop, and put them in the illustrations." Reading My Papi Has a Motorcycle, I fell into the story, the words shimmering and speeding around me, the illustrations glowing the way the sunlight turns the mountains and sky pink, purple and orange as the sun sets in inland Southern California.
I knew I was going to love My Papi Has a Motorcyle before I opened it, but seeing main character and narrator Daisy Ramona reading one of Cathy Camper and Raúl the Third's Lowrider graphic novels on the first page cemented it. Quintero and Peña have created an unforgettable love letter to fathers, to family, to home and to community. Daisy's tells readers that, even though her papi comes home from construction work building houses (where the last of the citrus groves once stood - another familiar Southern California experience) tired, he always has time for her. As her papi puts the helmet on Daisy's head, careful of her ponytail, and lifts her onto the motorcycle, "his hands don't feel rough, they don't feel tired - they feel like all the love he has trouble saying."
As the city is winding down for the night, Daisy and her papi take off, a "spectacular celestial thing soaring on asphalt." Daisy describes everything she sees, from the churches to the markets and the panedería to the people from her community, like Mr. Charlie, the postman, Mercedes López, the fastest runner in her class, and Mr. García, the librarian. Quintero has a fantastic tribute to librarians on her blog, which totally floated my boat, and I think her childhood experience (and appreciation) of walking a mile to the library with her mother and brother, finding just the right librarian to bring her questions to and the overflowing armload of books she had to carry home would make a marvelous picture book! Daisy's narration weaves in and out of the city, flowing between the observations of a child and what sometimes feel like the recollections of adult, leaving me feeling like I am in the past and the present simultaneously. Peña's comic book style illustrations capture the glow of the dry, dusty landscape at sunset and the kinetic path of the motorcycle while keeping Daisy and her papi at the center of the story. As Russo says, reading My Papi Has a Motorcycle feels like a revelation.
Also by Quintero & Peña,
a graphic novel biography: