Tito Puente: Mambo King/Rey del mambo

illus. by Rafael López. HarperCollins/Rayo. Mar. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-006-12-2783-7.
PreS-Gr 2—Brown has written a series of picture-book biographies of Latino poets and musicians that have set the standard for what a biography for young readers should be. She has taken the lives of Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Gabriel García Marquez, and Celia Cruz and created a special type of poetry of her own, with lyrical texts that capture the essence of who these artists were. This newest title is no different. Puente's first band was called Los Happy Boys, and, like his music, reading this book aloud can't fail to put a smile on one's face. It's particularly exciting that Rafael López, the illustrator of Brown's biography of Celia Cruz, has returned for this portrait of another Latin musician. From the cover that shows a grinning Puente gleefully beating on drums with what look like four arms, the joy that he took in music-making can hardly be contained on the page.Activity Ideas: Of course the only thing lacking is the music itself, so I suggest using Tito Puente as the basis for a Latin-music-themed storytime. Since the book is bilingual, it lends itself to the technique of using two readers—one to read in English, and the other in Spanish. Then play some Mambo music, preferably by Puente himself, and let everyone dance. If you know the mambo, the rumba, or the cha-cha, you could even teach some basic steps. (A basic rumba rhythm is included on the back page of the book.) Brown mentions that Puente was making music before he could walk, banging on spoons and forks, and pots and pans. Bring some utensils and see how your storytime crowd can make music. Since Puente notably recorded with Celia Cruz, you could pair this with Brown's My Name Is Celia (Luna Rising, 2004 )for a celebration of Latin rhythms. If you use an iPod for your storytime music, there is an "iTunes Essentials" playlist of Puente's music that you could purchase that includes a track with Cruz singing a number entitled "Celia y Tito."
A joyful biography that brings an influential musician to life. The rhythm of Monica Brown’s text—“The claves smacked clackity clackity clack clack, and everyone’s feet went tappity tap.”/“Las claves se golpeaban cláquiti, cláquiti, clac, clac y todos los pies hacían tápiti, tap.”—is as infectious as the Godfather of Salsa’s melodies. Young readers may be inspired by the fact that music was a part of Tito Puente’s life from a young age. As a child, he “banged spoons and forks on pots and pans,” took music lessons, and won his church’s “Stars of the Future contest” four times. Rafael López’s lively, exuberant artwork is true to the spirit of Puente’s music.
A bilingual picture book charts the life of the Mambo King himself, Tito Puente, with all the exuberance of the drummer and bandleader's irresistible music. Beginning with the opening endpapers, where two children peek through a flame-red theater curtain, Brown and López set the stage for a series of tableaux illuminating highlights in the Puerto Rican musician's life. The scenes themselves are simple enough -- Tito takes music lessons, Tito joins the Navy, Tito goes to Juilliard, Tito wins a Grammy -- and are told in straightforward English and Spanish language that lends itself to easy recitation and translation. The vibrant imagery hums right off the page, full of high-contrast color and energetic composition, and decorated with swirling, starry embellishments. The treatment is not especially deep and is decidedly positive: Tito's life reads like a sequence of successes, each met with acclaim from smiling audiences and enthusiastic animals on every page. While a brief biography as an endnote offers a bit more information, this brash, joyous outing lives to express not the facts of Tito Puente's life but the spirit of his music. A final rumba beat, in musical notation, captures the story's irregular refrain: "¡Tum Tica! ¡Tac Tic! ¡Tum Tic! ¡Tom Tom!" thom barthelmess

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