Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson earned (respectively) a Newbery Medal and a Caldecott Honor for Last Stop on Market Street, and now they’re at it again with another potential award winner, Carmela Full of Wishes. On the surface, their latest collaboration is a simple story about a spunky Mexican-American girl and her older brother, but like its predecessor, it packs a powerful literary, visual and social punch without ever once being preachy.
It’s Carmela’s birthday, which means she’s finally old enough to accompany her brother to the laundromat, much to his ongoing chagrin. Carmela excitedly tags along down Freedom Boulevard, past the bus stop, a repair shop and a store where her father used to linger, hoping for work. When Carmela picks a dandelion growing in a sidewalk crack, she contemplates a variety of wishes, imagining her mother sleeping in one of the fancy hotel rooms that she cleans, or her father “getting his papers fixed so he could finally be home.”
The story’s finest points are sublimely subtle with layers of meaning, as when Carmela’s brother asks her why she’s so annoying, and she shoots back, “It’s a free country.” Illustrator Robinson marvelously envisions Carmela’s many wishes as papel picado (Mexican folk art), and his vibrant acrylic and collage illustrations pay homage to Ezra Jack Keats.
Carmela Full of Wishes is a big-hearted story about the hope, joy and love that hold struggling families together amid weighty, adult-size obstacles.