The Book So Good He Stole It: Our Intern on “Family Pictures”

summer 2017 internSantiago Montoya is LEE & LOW’s summer intern and a recipient of the We Need Diverse Books Internship Program grant. A rising junior at Brandeis University, Santiago is majoring in Hispanic Studies and Sociology with minors in Comparative Literature & Culture and Legal Studies. He is originally from Medellín, Colombia, but moved to the US permanently to complete his education. He occasionally goes back to Colombia to reconnect with his roots and his loved ones. LEE & LOW’s title Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia was the inspiration for this blog post because it reminded him of an important quality of being Latino, which is family and togetherness.

I was eight at the time when my 3rd grade teacher recommended Carmen Lomas Garza’s Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia to me. I had just arrived to the US and I spoke little to no English. I assumed she thought this book would help me learn something, anything really. I did know how to read in Spanish, so she must have thought I was going to compare languages and pick up on it.

I remember reading it and being dazzled by the colorful and detailed illustrations. Every picture tells more than one story, and it took me a while to appreciate it all and invent my own background stories about the characters in the pictures. Despite not sharing the same Mexican roots as Carmen Lomas Garza, I still found plenty of connections between her Chicano experience and my Colombian experience, and I remember, at the age of eight, acknowledging that I had never come across a book like this before. For example, I knew what tamales were (we have a version of those, just like a lot of other Latin countries), but I was startled by the idea that tamales could even be mentioned in a book. And then, because I was so taken with the whole book in general, I committed a crime: I furtively took the book away from the classroom.

family pictures tamales

My mother and I only stayed 2 months in the US. We had planned to stay permanently, but we were too homesick. Having come in 2004, it was just a trial—to see how things worked out—but they didn’t. It was difficult for us to adjust, so we both flew back to Colombia. When it came to packing, I realized that I would not be able to find Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia in Colombia, so I decided to take the book with me. To this day, I still have the book, and it reminds me of how I grew up and the appreciation I feel for my family and roots. It is as if Lomas Garza went inside my brain, looked at my memories, picked the best, and made them into art.

Ever since 2004, the book has always been in the back of my mind. In high school, back in the US, one of my class assignments was to research Lomas Garza’s work. I did not remember her name at the time, but when I Googled her work, my mind went back to 2004 and her striking book. When I first realized that Lee & Low had acquired Children’s Book Press (CBP), I could not believe it. Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia had appeared yet again, this time during my internship.

This time around, I made a lot of connections with the distinct pictures. In one of the illustrations, titled “Oranges,” it shows how the grandchildren are helping their grandma pick up oranges. That immediately took me back to the time I used to assist my grandmother with whatever she needed help with. She could be baking a cake or running errands and I would be next to her, giving her a hand. Another picture that brought back memories of my grandmother was the picture “For Dinner.” Maybe my grandma did not raise chickens or have them in her backyard, but she did cook them in soup (also on Sunday) for the whole family to eat. Those were the best days and it just goes to show that chicken soup can not only cure a bad cold, but it can also get a family together under one roof.

family pictures oranges

Someone told me that stealing a book could be one of the best compliments for an author. While I agree with the statement, I also think it is not good for business; however, this book was worth the crime. I realize that Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia was the first diverse book I ever held. Looking back, I never saw myself in a cartoon or a book before, and I was subconsciously aware of it. Now as an intern at Lee & Low, I have tangible proof that diverse books like Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia exist in the first place.