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Each Tiny Spark

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Each Tiny Spark Book Poster Image
Cuban American tween busts stereotypes in appealing tale.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

The narrative and dialogue mix English, Spanish, and Spanglish with gusto and usually leave it to the reader to figure out what's going on, so readers are sure to pick up new vocabulary and concepts along the way. There's also a lot of history about the Atlanta Olympics, the waves of immigrants who came to build its infrastructure, and the aftermath as they surprised many locals by staying. There's also interesting detail about welding skills and equipment, other skills related to restoring classic cars, and the discovery that libraries are a great place to find out more when you want to know something.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of family, friendship, empathy, standing up for yourself while respecting others' right to do the same, helping each other, not being afraid to change your mind or behave differently as you learn more.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Emilia is highly relatable as she grapples with her ADHD, the disruption of having her mom away on a business trip, her dad returning from deployment, and her lifelong best friend Clarissa seeming to turn into someone else. She's strong-minded, smart, and determined (just like her mom) and loves welding (just like her dad). Her parents and grandmother are strong and loving, as are the parents of her good friend Gustavo. While some local adults and kids think less of other characters because of the language they speak or the culture they come from, many are more welcoming of different cultures and ways of looking at the world.

Violence

There's no physical violence in the story, but Emilia's dad has just returned from a deployment with the Marines and is suffering from stress with the adjustment, which is in turn hard on Emilia. A dad and his son in an unfamiliar neighborhood get stopped by immigration authorities, and the threat of an uncertain future hangs over other characters because of their immigration status.

Sex

Parents are shown as loving and affectionate with each other, not in ways that would embarrass a kid. There's a budding romance between two senior citizens.

Language

Mention that in the past, a mean classmate called Emilia a "dummy" because of her ADHD.

Consumerism

Occasional mention of real brands, especially of cars, as much of the action takes place in and around the family-owned auto repair shop. The Princess Bride comes up. Emilia donates the Legos she's outgrown to the church.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Each Tiny Spark, by award-winning author Pablo Cartaya (Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish), tells the story of a 12-year-old Cuban American girl growing up in a small and rapidly changing town in Georgia. Like the author's own daughter, narrator Emilia is dealing with ADHD. As the story opens, her computer-genius mom is heading off on a business trip, her Marine dad is returning from deployment carrying a lot of stress, and her grandmother, whose auto-repair shop is the family's main support, is always bugging her about being a proper mujercita (little lady). There's a lot to like about this lively, loving family as they come to terms with the world and each other. As the story unfolds in English, Spanish, and Spanglish (often with no translation, and readers are expected to figure it out for themselves), Emilia delves into the history of the Atlanta Olympics, the immigrants who flocked there to build the infrastructure, became part of the community, and stayed -- and how, years later, that's shaped the way things are now. There are strong messages of stereotype-busting (Emilia loves circuit boards and welding and hates frilly dresses), friendship, respect, seeing other people's point of view and being able to understand where they're coming from even when you don't agree.

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What's the story?

As EACH TINY SPARK opens, smart, math-and-tech-minded 12-year-old Emilia Torres is living with her Cuban American family in small town Georgia. She sometimes has trouble following along at school due to her ADHD, but gets a lot of support, especially from her computer-genius mom, her strong-willed abuela (grandmother), and her friend Gustavo. Things are about to change, though, as her mom leaves for an extended business trip to the West Coast just as her Marine dad is returning from his most recent deployment, and seems pretty stressed. He hasn't even acknowledged the videos she made for him while he was gone, and now, rather than hang out with her, he spends all his time in the welding bay restoring a muscle car from the ground up. But as Emilia, who'd much rather build circuit boards with her mom than go dress shopping with her grandma, takes to welding, the two start to rebuild their bond and he dubs her "Chispita," "little spark." Meanwhile, change is coming to the town and not everyone's happy about it.

Is it any good?

In mashed-up English and Spanish, this tween hero's tale will have readers cheering her on as she digs for the truth, stands up for herself and her friends, and gets handy with a welding gun. There's lots to love in the characters, the discoveries they make and the ways they develop along the way. A lot of heavy issues are part of the story fabric: culture clash, PTSD, discrimination, immigration, injustice, and sometimes just plain nastiness and ignorance. But with Each Tiny Spark, the love of family and friends is stronger.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Cuban American culture as shown in Every Tiny Spark. Do you know any people whose family members came from Cuba? Have you heard their stories about why they came to the United States, and what their experiences were? 

  • Do you pretty much like things the way they are, or are there things you want to change? How might you go about it?

  • Do you like the fact that Each Little Spark is narrated in two languages and pretty much leaves it to the reader to understand what's going on? Would you rather have had footnotes or a dictionary?

Book details

Themes & Topics

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