Piñata Books, Arte Público Press, 2005.
René Colato Laínez, illustrated by Fabiola Graullera Ramírez
I am René, the Boy / Soy René, el Niño
What’s in a name? That’s what René sets out to discover when his identity is threatened on the day a new girl arrives in his class – and her name is René too. How can his name be a girl’s name?!?. He is proud of his name: it is tied up with his roots in El Salvador, not only because his father and grandfather are both René too but also because that is where he first learned to write it. Things are not so bad though. It turns out that René the girl actually spells her name differently: Renee. She has five letters in her name, not four and she doesn’t have that so important accent, which makes his name ‘strong and powerful’. Meanwhile, René’s curiosity has been roused and he researches his name for a school library competition: its meaning and its cultural implications; and what his name says about his own identity. He is ‘this René’.
The story is based on the author’s own experience as a child and he conveys very convincingly the process René goes through: his name is innately important to him; that conviction is shaken; through acquired knowledge, order is restored and René is happy once more. The book is the deserving winner of the 2006 International Latino Book Award for Best Children’s Bilingual Picture Book: the text in each language, English and Spanish, would lose much without the other; and the illustrations add to the atmosphere with their sometimes solid, sometimes quirky perspective; their bright colors and happy faces. Perception of personal identity is such a fundamental issue and this is a great story for helping young children not only to explore their own names and their meanings, but also to look outside themselves and recognise that each person’s name is special to them.