Dear Primo – pen pals in Mexico and NYC

th-5Two far away pen pal cousins learn about each other and discover unexpected similarities.


Bibliographic Info:  Tonatiuh, Duncan  Dear Primo: A Letter to my Cousin  Abrams (2010) 32pp. Format:  Hardcover: ISBN 978-0-8109- 3872-4  $16.95  Reading Level / Grade Level Equivalent: 2.4  Interest Level: K-2  Genre: Realistic Fiction  Major Themes:  Families, Mexico, United States, New York City

Summary:  Carlitos and Charlie are cousins who have never met, but write letters to tell one another about their lives. Carlitos lives in rural Mexico and Charlie lives in New York City. The picture book is written in English, yet it teaches many words in Spanish through both the narrative and pictures with text.


p8_95Review:  Reading “Dear Primo: A Letter to my Cousin” is a Mexican cultural experience. Two boys separated by a great distance, cousins from Mexico and New York City, become pen pals and discover their similarities. This Pura Belpré Honor Book for Illustration works on multiple levels. Two distinct color palettes are used throughout the story to effectively portray the daily lives of the cousins (primos).  In addition to the narrative, illustrations with text are cleverly scattered throughout the book to introduce children to Spanish vocabulary.  Finally, the story shows its readers how Carlitos from Mexico and Charlie from New York City, two cousins from very different places, are similar to one another (and all children).  Goodreads reports, “the illustrations are inspired by the ancient art of the Mixtecs and other cultures of Mexico” and “Tonatiuh incorporates their stylized forms into his own artwork.” According to the inside cover, the book was “hand drawn, then colored and collaged digitally”. The artist employs simple geometric shapes that appeal to children. Dear Primo’s colorful hand-drawn two-dimensional pictures will inspire young artists to create their own illustrations.

Bibliotherapeutic Usefulness:  For any child, especially those with family members living in other countries, “Dear Primo” opens the door to a greater understanding of differences while allowing the reader to experience childhood’s commonalities and connect with a universal human brotherhood.

th-4Significance:  Tonatiuh’s picture books are told with a unique voice in both prose and illustration. His illustration style is inspired by Mexican art and culture. A strong humanitarian current runs beneath all his stories.

Storytime:  “Dear Primo” builds Spanish early literacy by providing librarians and teachers with a tool with which to teach vocabulary. The book also provides an opportunity to create a Mexican cultural experience during library storytime or in the classroom.


9781419705830Read-alikes:  For teachers, Tonatiuh’s award-winning books are excellent for kindergarten through 3rd grade lesson plans about Mexico.  The author’s titles include “Separate is Never Equal” (a 2015 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book and a 2015 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book), “Pancho Rabbit and Coyote” (Pura Belpré Author and Illustrator Honor book 2014), and “Diego Rivera: His World and Ours.”

Links:  Author’s Website   Scholastic   Teaching Ideas   Amazon

Awards:  2011 Pura Belpre’ Honor Book for Illustration, 2015 Monarch Award Nominee, 2011 Notable Children’s Book by the Association for Library Service to Children, named one of the best children’s books of 2010 by Kirkus Reviews, designated as a Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Book of 2011

Other Reviews Links:  Goodreads  Kirkus

I chose to review this book because of its effective juxtaposition of color templates.

3Make Reading More Fun


Written by Tom Schween, founder of storytimeWOW!