Juana & Lucas

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Juana & Lucas Book Poster Image
Colombian girl learns English in fun early chapter book.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Great introduction to Spanish language and some vocabulary, all of which is fully understandable through context. Some details of middle-class life in Bogotá, Colombia. Some information about English language and ways it's difficult for a foreign speaker.

Positive Messages

Learning a foreign language is valuable. Kids can turn to trusted adults for guidance. Sometimes things that we start out dreading turn out to be not so bad, even fun. People in other countries have lives that are full and rich in human connection. Kids of different races can be best friends.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Juana has a love of life and of her city and family. She reads all the time, even when she's supposed to go to sleep. Though initially hesitant to learn English, she changes her attitude and applies herself. She has good relationships with many adults in her community. She helps the grocers by translating their signs into English. Two girls of different races are best friends.

Violence & Scariness

"When I was a tiny baby, my father died in a fire. It was an awful accident."

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Juana Medina's award-winning Juana & Lucas is the first book in a new chapter-book series set in Bogotá, Colombia, that seamlessly incorporates Spanish vocabulary. Illustrated with lots of full-color art and told in 11 short and breezy chapters, it's perfect for kids making the transition from beginning-to-read books to chapter books. The sprinkle of Spanish adds flavor to the story and is a snap to understand. Many words are close cousins with English; for instance, Juana visits neighbors in their apartamento and describes something as fantástico. But Medina always keeps it simple and clear from context: "I already know plenty of songs to cantar in Spanish." With an opinionated, funny narrator; her cute dog, Lucas; brimming bookshelves in every home; and a best friend who's a different race, Juana & Lucas introduces readers to a character who feels like a fun new friend.

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What's the story?

In JUANA & LUCAS, Juana describes her life in Bogotá, Colombia, where "the air feels clean and delicious, and smells like fresh fruit and bread." Juana has a happy, cosmopolitan life with friends and family, though at school she struggles with math and fears the parent-teacher conference. Things take a turn for the worse when a teacher introduces English class. Juana asks a series of adults why she should have to learn English, and they all present different reasons. But when her abuelo promises her a trip to Spaceland in Orlando, Florida, she gets the motivation she needs. By the end, she's jabbering in English with anyone who'll listen: "Because I can speak English so well, I've been able to have fun with a lot of people and make a lot of good friends. And who wouldn't like for that to happen all around the world?" Exactly!

Is it any good?

For readers who are graduating to chapter books but still like their art full-color, this book, which seamlessly incorporates easy Spanish vocabulary, is muy fun. Juana & Lucas by author-illustrator Juana Medina is narrated by a schoolgirl from Bogotá, Colombia, a likable, relatable character who's strong-willed and funny. Juana's life in Bogotá isn't so different from middle-class life in the U.S., and the story's full of cozy foreign detail. For instance, though Bogotá's temperate by day, it's colder at night, "so everyone always keeps a pair of slippers by their bed."

Medina displays a lyrical touch when conveying her love of the city. Looking out at the lights at night "looks as if the city is wrapped in a blanket of stars." She's also funny, pulling some information directly from the narrative to illustrate Juana's strong opinions about topics that range from why she hates her uniform to why she loves her dog, Lucas, and her enviably big web of friends and family. Much of the humor stems from her trying to learn a foreign language. When her teacher tells the class they're going to learn "the English," Juana gets a paper cut and cries out, "Ayayay!," but the teacher corrects her: " ... in English it's Ouch!" This inviting book gives readers a very happy glimpse of a young girl's life in a cosmopolitan Latin American city.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Spanish words in Juana & Lucas. Can you figure out what they mean, even if you don't speak Spanish? Which ones look most like words you already know in English?

  • How is Juana's life in Bogotá, Columbia, like your life in your city or town? How is it different?

  • Do you think it's a good idea to learn a foreign language? Which one would you like to learn, and why?

Book details

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For kids who love Latino stories and early reader series

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