cover image My Little Car

My Little Car

Gary Soto, , illus. by Pam Paparone. . Putnam, $15.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-399-23220-6

This vivacious introduction to ranfla (lowrider) culture takes readers on a ride to the barrio. Teresa, who is old enough to be "embarrassed by her trike," gets a fabulous birthday present from her beloved Abuelito Benny: a bright green, flame-detailed, pedal-powered lowrider. She quickly masters the ways of lowrider hotshots, making her car "dance" (bounce up and down), and when her neighbor Jóse Luis, the owner of a full-size, flaming pink ranfla , expresses admiration for her carrito , she coolly responds, "I like your bomb también !" Soto's (Chato's Kitchen ) pithy text uses a mix of Spanish and English to great effect, and a short introductory glossary helps translate terms. Drawing on the visual elements and glowing palettes of Latin-American muralists, Paparone (I Like Cats ) creates a series of vignettes that pulse with energy and exude the comforting security of a tightly knit community. As for Teresa herself, she's a spunky heroine who zooms through the streets with a cool confidence that is at once comic and admirable. The book isn't quite as surefooted, however, when it comes to the larger message: Teresa fails to take proper care of her ranfla and it deteriorates until "her grandfather didn't even recognize the beautiful car he had given her." But Abuelito Benny helps Teresa restore the carrito and ultimately, the book has so much verve that readers will likely overlook this small quibble. Ages 4-up. (Apr.)