Gathering the Sun: An Alphabet in Spanish and English

Title: Gathering the Sun: An Alphabet in Spanish and English | Author: Alma Flor Ada | Illustrator: Simón Silva | Publisher: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books | Date of Publication: 1997 | ISBN: 978-0-68813-904-9 | Number of pages: 29  | Grade Level: Preschool – Grade 5 | Literary Trend: Spotlight on Diversity

Ada, A.F. (1997). Gathering the Sun: An Alphabet in Spanish and English. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

        Alma Flor Ada distinguishes herself from an excellent field of alphabet book authors in Gathering the Sun, a book that champions the spirit and dedication of the Mexican farmworker. The poetic passages for each letter are illuminated by the brilliant illustration work of Simón Silva in a transcendence that is equaled only by the great Mexican master painters like Rufino Tamayo and Jose Clemente Orozco. Each page jumps out at readers and offers beautiful poem after poem and stunning vistas of the farmworker experience. Young readers who encounter this book will learn new words and be introduced to the concept that some Spanish words and emotions are not translatable, but rather exist in a beauty that is just beyond the grasp of mono-lingual culture.

        Flor Ada rearranges the common format of bilingual alphabet book and often an english word like Tree is set amongst the page for Á, as in “Árboles compañeros de mi infancia…” Also gone are the transitional “is for” text, which serves to strongly reinforce the power of each passage. She also mashes up letters like E and F for ¿Estrellas o Flores? (Stars or Flowers?) and emphasizes how a letter fits into a larger word or meaning like niÑa or farmWorker to great effect.

        As powerful as Flor Ada’s text is, it impossible to separate the imagery from the true value of this book. Readers may wonder if the illustrations provided the inspiration for the text or vice versa and might be inspired to learn more about the collaborative process of picture books. Fittingly, Gathering the Sun represents the farm worker cultural emphasis on family collaboration and the spiritual process. R and S are illustrated by a father and son planting seeds in an infinite glowing field, T shows a family preparing dinner together Z is adorned by a father carrying his young, sleeping son in one arm and freshly picked basket of carrots in the other as the sun sets on another day of hard labor and family bonding.

        Booklist declares that Gathering the Sun is “brimming with respect and pride… (and) will add much to any unit on farming and Mexican American heritage.” School Library Journal expresses that it is perfectly suited to be read aloud to students regardless of their native language, yet touch on issues of authenticity in the English translations that do not “match the Spanish originals in rhythm, assonance, or meter.” Curiously, Flor Ada, renowned for her bilingual and English books, did not provide the translations herself and informed readers might wonder what the translation process involved, but this minor detail is not likely to detract from the power of this selection.

        Most importantly, Flor Ada reinforces her belief that putting poetry to song makes for stronger readers and Gathering the Sun is a perfect introduction the her highly praised works.

Suni Paz sings the letter N for Nopalera from Gathering the Sun.