cover image Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa

Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa

Veronica Chambers. Dial Books, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-2970-4

Chambers's (Marisol and Magdalena) poetic, at times theatrical, portrait of the famous salsa singer begins with Cruz's childhood in Havana. Neighbors gathered outside the open windows of her family home when she sang lullabies to her younger siblings (""Her voice, it was said, sent you not only to sleep, but to a nighttime land of angel dreams""). In high school, Cruz began singing at local clubs, concentrating on music that ""blended traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms with the flavor and folklore of the tropics."" Newcomer Maren paints a sinuous full-bleed portrait of Cruz's first big break in 1950, when she was hired as lead singer for a popular band; collage images of music notes bubble up from the brass section as the band, dressed in bolero jackets with yellow shirts, stand out against a teal background. Ten years later she left for Los Angeles and a permanent contract at the Hollywood Palladium; she became an American citizen and an internationally renowned salsa singer-but she could never return to Cuba (""It was a heartache she carried her whole life through""). Chambers's lyrical narrative intermittently sounds such melodramatic notes, as when Cruz meets Pedro Knight (""Celia knew... she had met an angel who would be her companion and protector in this land so far from home""). But perhaps that is fitting for the salsa queen. Maren's stylized acrylic and collage art amplifies the text's abundant rhythm. An affectionate tribute to a talented musician who made significant sacrifices to live her dream. Ages 7-up.