Title: Tito Puente, Mambo King/Tito Puente, Rey del Mambo
Author: Monica Brown
Illustrator: Rafael López
Publ. date: March 3, 2013
Publisher: Rayo/Harper Collins
Tito Puente, the Mambo King, was born in New York City to Puerto Rican parents and went on to become one of the most important musicians and composers in Latino musical history. Tito Puente, Mambo King/Tito Puente, Rey del Mambo tells the story of Puente's life in a straight-forward tale from the time when he was a small child banging out catchy rhythms on pots and pans through his time in the Navy, at Julliard, all the way to the end of his career when he was recognized with 5 Grammys.
The text, which itself seems to sway to the beat of a mambo is in both English and Spanish, a tribute to Puente's heritage, but there is no sprinkling of Spanish words amongst the English text as one sometimes finds in bilingual books. Brown focuses primarily on general facts about Puente without getting into a lot specifics, but they are the types of events that young kids will enjoy hearing about: his love of dancing, his wish to be a bandleader, the sounds of the instruments. My sons loved the repeated rhythmic phrases like "¡Tum Tica! ¡Tac Tic! ¡Tum Tica! ¡Tom Tom!" at the beginning and end of the story.
López has created vibrant illustrations which fly across each full two page spread. A fun note in the copyright section indicates he used "acrylic paint that comes in recycled salsa jars from Mexico." Those swirling, spicy orange, red and brown colors of the salsa that used to inhabit those jars bring Puente's musical salsa to life. The city is ever present; skyscrapers and apartment buildings are colorful browns, purples and yellow, with windows always lit up as if constantly full of life.
This is a short biography. Older children who want to know more detail about Puente's life can read a biographical note in the back. I think the book is best used as a springboard to introduce kids to Latin Jazz. I would encourage you to listen to some of Puente's music (or watch a video like the one below) after reading the book.
I've read a lot of jazz-themed books but this is one of the few that is specific to Latin jazz. I encourage you to read it with your music-loving kids.
The same team wrote and illustrated the bilingual My Name is Celia/Me llamo Celia : The Life of Celia Cruz/la vida de Celia Cruz.
Visit Monica Brown's website.
Visit Rafael Lopez' website.
Watch this video of Puente from 1965:
Big Kid says: He sounds like a great musician.
Litte Kid says: Can you still see his sticks?
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