Uncle Rain Cloud
Tony Johnston, author
Tony Johnston grew up in San Marino, California. After graduating from Stanford University, where she earned a B.A. degree in history and an M.A. in education, she stayed in California to teach elementary school. After writing stories for her fourth-grade students, and following a fellow teacher's suggestion, she decided to try to have them published. So she set herself a course of intense self-education about children's books and what makes them work.
Read more about Tony.
Fabricio VandenBroeck, illustrator
Fabricio VandenBroeck has illustrated many books for children, for publishers in the United States and in Mexico. Among his works are Under the Mambo Moon, The Witch's Face by Eric Kimmel (Holiday House), Once When the World Was Green by Jan Wahl (Ten Speed Press), and Torch Fishing with the Sun by Laura E. Williams (Boyds Mills Press). He lives in Mexico City, Mexico.
Read more about Fabricio.
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Booklist, starred review
Speaking Spanish in the U.S. is both barrier and celebration in this funny, touching picture book. Carlos' parents work long hours, so his main caregiver is Uncle Tomas, who has been glowering and gloomy ever since the family moved to L.A. from Mexico. "Uncle Rain Cloud," as Carlos calls him, spits out the few English ("El-blah-blah") words he knows. The anger is always there when he fetches Carlos from school, shops with him at the supermarket, attends the teacher conference (when Carlos has to translate). Only at night does the fury abate, when Tio Tomas tells Carlos amazing stories of Mexico, including myths of the gods with their musical tongue-twister names. Vanden Broeck's bright, softly textured pictures in acrylic and colored pencil show the child's bond with the hurt, angry man, who is a stranger in the supermarket but brings the richness of the ancestors' stories into Carlos' home. When Tio Tomas finally admits he feels "like a broken-winged bird," and he lets his nephew teach him English (he'll keep Spanish for important things), Carlos knows they both will have twice as much as everyone else. Johnston's text is clear and poetic, "stretching the words out clear to Mexico," and she smoothly weaves in the Spanish in a way that's easy to understand. Many immigrant kids will recognize the role reversal: what it's like to act as teacher to the adults in the family.
School Library Journal
Carlos's personal name for his Tío Tomas is "Uncle Rain Cloud," because he so often seems grumpy and discontented. His uncle becomes especially angry at the supermarket and when he picks Carlos up from school--both places where Carlos must translate for him. However, at home in the evening, when Tío Tomas tells stories of the old Mexican gods, he is assured, fluent, and energetic. One evening after harsh words are exchanged, the man finally tells his nephew how ashamed he is of being afraid to speak "el Blah-Blah," his term for English. Suddenly, Carlos understands. He, too, felt self-conscious about his imperfect understanding of the language when he first came to the United States. In a satisfying resolution, Carlos teaches his uncle English and Tío Tomas teaches him the old stories in their native Spanish. This concise tale about bridging cultures, languages, and generations will strike a chord with many children who are both learning English and translating for their families. The sensitive telling may also help monolingual children understand their classmates who are in that situation. Brisk pacing, sympathetic characters, and clear prose that uses embedded Spanish words effectively make a winner. Vanden Broeck's acrylic and colored-pencil illustrations flesh out the narrative in soft, bright colors enhanced by dramatic shading. This could be used with Pat Mora's The Rainbow Tulip (Viking,1999) or Jane Medina's My Name Is Jorge (Boyds Mills,1999) to highlight the challenges faced by Hispanic students--and their various ways of triumphing.
Page count: 32