Carmela Full of Wishes

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Carmela Full of Wishes Book Poster Image
Sweet, poignant story of young girl from immigrant family.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Some signs in Spanish: Panaderia: Las Delicias Bakery, Rosas Flores. Visual introduction to Mexican papel picado decorations. Shops that might be in a community: locksmith, vegetable stand, bodega, pharmacy, flea market. Human labor required for farming. Farms use manure as fertilizer. Making wishes on dandelions. Doing laundry at Laundromat.

Positive Messages

Family members love and care for one another even when they have serious stresses. Siblings can squabble but still love each other. Big siblings can have empathy for and help younger ones. Children can help their families by pitching in and doing chores. The human spirit is resilient, and life provides small pleasures even in troubled times.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Carmela has a buoyant spirit, appreciates life's small pleasures -- e.g., being old enough to accompany her brother to the Laundromat. The family, community members are pictured as friendly, tight-knit, smiling. Carmela stands up for herself when her brother teases her. Though his little sister annoys him, big brother loves Carmela, ultimately helps her, bringing her to the sea where she can make her wish.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Carmela Full of Wishes is by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson, the same author-illustrator duo who teamed up for Last Stop on Market Street, which won both the Newbery Medal and a Caldecott Honor. This story is set in an immigrant community where workers labor in fields, and Carmela's dad's not living at home with the family because he needs "his papers fixed." Though her family's circumstances are hardscrabble, Carmela enjoys her daily pleasures: the jingle of her birthday bracelets, and the opportunity to go with her brother to the Laundromat. This sweet and spunky young girl is immensely likable, and readers will root for her wishes to come true.

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What's the story?

In CARMELA FULL OF WISHES, Carmela excitedly scooters home on her birthday, past men working in fields. The wish she made came true! She's finally big enough to go with her big brother to the Laundromat. Outside the Laundromat, she picks a fuzzy dandelion, and, as their clothes spin, she thinks of other things she might wish for: A candy machine. Her mom getting to stay in the fancy hotel where she works as a housekeeper. Or, even more poignant, "her dad getting his papers fixed so he could finally be home." Carmela's brother is not happy having his sister tag along, and spats with her. But on the way home, when she trips on her scooter and crushes her dandelion, her brother leads her to a spot overlooking the sea where hundreds of dandelion spores float in the breeze and she can make her wish.

Is it any good?

This delicate, finely wrought story about a young Latina girl lays out the difficult circumstances of her immigrant family while celebrating her as a kid like any other. De la Peña seeds Carmela Full of Wishes with telling details. Her mom works as a housekeeper in a hotel, and her dad used to stand outside the home improvement store, hoping to be hired as a day laborer. Some of Carmela's wishes are simple (going to the Laundromat with her big brother) and some are not so simple (fixing her dad's immigration status so he can return to the family). And yet, Carmela's a kid, recognizable and relatable. She squabbles with her older brother, feistily stands up for herself, wishes for a candy machine, and jingles her bracelets, both to please herself and to needle her brother. And, as any kid might, she cries when she takes a tumble and crushes her dandelion.

Illustrator Christian Robinson's acrylic and collage illustrations work hand in hand with the text. The brown-skinned siblings and community members are appealingly expressive. Carmela's wishes are enshrined as papel picado, traditional Mexican decorations made of tissue paper with cutout shapes. Her most poignant wish, that her dad returns and embraces her, feels perfectly framed. And the human labor required for farming is underscored in the endpapers, which show scores of workers toiling in the fields.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the family in Carmela Full of Wishes. What do we know about the mom from the story? About the dad? Why do you think the dad's not living with them anymore?

  • Were you surprised when Carmela and her brother went to the Laundromat by themselves? Do you have any chores you're responsible for in your household?

  • What do you think of Carmela's relationship with her big brother? Does it seem real to you? When does he get irritated at her? How does Carmela stand up for herself? How does her brother show he loves her?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love picture books and immigrant tales

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