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What Can You Do with a Paleta?
Written by Carmen Tafolla and Illustrated by Magaly Morales
Tricycle Press, 2009
It's summer. I live in the Tucson desert. It's hot outside. I'm expecting my first baby in a few weeks. Did I mention it's hot outside?
So when I recently saw the picture book, What Can You Do with a Paleta?, on the shelf at the Himmel Park Library, I knew I had to read it. After all, the paleta is a refreshing, frozen dessert bar made from natural ingredients like nuts, fruit, and milk (did I mention that Tucson is hot?). In the back of What Can You Do with a Paleta?, the author provides this information for those unacquainted with the Mexican dessert: “Paletas come in lime, coconut, pecan, mango, banana, kiwi, strawberry, watermelon, guava, chocolate, horchata, jamaica, tamarind, pineapple, vanilla and more.” Are you hungry yet?
The book itself presents the delicious paleta (which is sold all over the United States in paleterias, kiosks, carts, and even at Walmart, with varying degrees of quality and authenticity, of course) through the story of one little girl's barrio. We get sensory, poetic lines about her neighborhood:
“. . . where the smell of crispy tacos or buttery tortillas or juicy fruta floats out of every window. . . that's my barrio!” And finally, we learn about our protagonist's favorite summer treat: “. . . I think the very best thing to do with a paleta is to. . . lick it and slurp it and sip it and munch it and gobble it all down!” I'll have two, thank you very much.
Accompanying the fun, playful story about barrios and tacos and paletas, are the fantastic illustrations. With their round, glowing faces, puckered eyelids, and pert mouths, the children enlivening the pages of What Can You Do with a Paleta? resemble miniature, less rotund figures from Botero paintings, and they are surrounded by the brilliant colors of the barrio: burnt orange, electric blue, rich brown, midnight black, verdant green, lilac purple, and creamy yellow. This book is not just about food; it's about how food makes us feel at home, and defines our culture and community.
As I push through these last few weeks of my pregnancy, I know exactly what I'm going to do every time I feel sweaty, overheated, or grumpy: locate a paleteria, buy a paleta (or maybe buy eight paletas?), kick up my feet, close my eyes, and “lick it and slurp it and sip it and munch it and gobble it all down!” Thanks to Carmen Tafolla's lively story, and Magaly Morales' brilliant illustrations, I have my first real pregnancy craving, and it probably won't go away even after baby arrives! To the paleta!
Kindall Gray is a teacher, writer, and soon-to-be Mom. She holds an MFA in Fiction from The University of Arizona. She lives in Tucson.