It’s Hispanic American Heritage Month, and in recognition I’m reviewing the bilingual picture book My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/Mi Llamo Celia Cruz: La Vida de Celia Cruz.
Celia Cruz was a salsa music legend, known as the Queen of Salsa, and rightly so. Had she not brought her beautiful music to the United States, salsa music would not be what it is today in the U.S. Celia was born in Cuba, and she grew up around beautiful music and colorful clothing, both of which influenced her singing. She came from humble beginnings; her father was a railroad worker- but their lives were filled with music that brought them much joy, despite being poor.
Celia was gifted at a young age and would sing songs with both African and Cuban rhythms to her family as well as neighbors. She did well in school and was encouraged by her teacher to “go into the world and sing.” Celia began singing in competitions with her cousin, but some would not let her sing because of her dark skin – but that didn’t discourage her! She left Cuba during the revolution, and moved to the U.S., where she became a U.S. citizen. Celia brought salsa music to America that blended rock, rumba, mambo and jazz music. Celia Cruz was so successful as a singer in America that she was honored by presidents, and became known as the Queen of Salsa.
My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/Mi Llamo Celia Cruz: La Vida de Celia Cruz is a wonderful children’s book, not only because it teaches us about a celebrated singer of Hispanic origin, but also because of it is a story of triumph, that educates children about a woman who crossed borders and broke boundaries to pursue a talent that enriched and changed the world. The book’s beautiful illustrations do a beautiful job of representing the energy that Celia brought to her music, and the descriptions of the sounds of nature and food she cooked with her family encourages children to pay attention to their surroundings to find inspiration to be creative. Most of all, it is a book that teaches children that you can overcome obstacles if you don’t give up, and that is a lesson any child of color should be taught at a young age, if they are to survive and be successful in life.