Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Jairo Buitrago

Jimmy the Greatest is a simple and sweet story about small towns, poverty, and change. Based on the text and the illustrations, one learns that Jimmy is from a coastal town that is so small that it only has a church and a gym. One might guess that the story is about a Latin American town, when one learns that the author and illustrator of this imported picture book are both from Columbia. There is also the reference to an alligator being eaten for lunch, which should signal to most American children that they are reading about another culture. Otherwise, because the location is never named, the story remains universal.

The story is about a small poor town, the houses of which are spread far apart on the sandy coast. Its gym is a two-walled wooden structure with an adjacent boxing ring. Some of its citizens ride bicycles, many of them eat fish and fruit, and only a few of them have heard of Mohammed Ali. The gym figures largely in Jimmy’s life, who one days tells his mom he wants to become a boxer and that he’ll buy her a new icebox when he does. Boys especially will enjoy reading about Jimmy’s dream to become a boxer, even if he doesn’t have gloves and someone has stolen his shoes.

The story is also about change, which is captured in the detailed illustrations The first spread reveals villagers wearing Western clothes, one boy eating ice-cream, and men using nets to hunt fish. As Jimmy grows up and more villagers read, the number of boxing spectators grows in size and a library is built. By the final spread, some villagers have moved to big cities, the town has also grown and become more crowded, and utility poles dot the landscape. There still aren’t any elegant houses or fancy things, but villagers aren’t sitting around waiting to go somewhere else—and Jimmy plans to stay. What a wonderful message to instill in young people, that one’s home can be the greatest place on earth.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

Jimmy lives in a small town by the sea where there is just one gym. The owner of the gym suggests that Jimmy start training. To inspire him, he also gives Jimmy a cardboard box full of books along with newspaper clippings all about Muhammad Ali.

The above description comes from the inside flap of Jimmy the Greatest, a picture book import written by author Jairo Buitrago and illustrated by Rafael Yockteng. The Spanish edition, Jimmy, el mas grande! was recently nominated for Best Books of the Year by Venezuela’s Banco del Libro.


Author Jairo Buitrago is an award-winning children’s author who has collaborated with Rafael Yockteng on several picture books including Camino a case and Eloisa ya los bichos. The author-illustrator both live in Bogota, Columbia. You can follow Buitrago at his blog, which is written in Spanish but can be translated using Google Translate.


The text indicates Jimmy lives in a small town by the sea, one where there is only a church and (if you’re lucky) a gym. Far away from the town is the big city, where there are boxing matches and real jobs. The illustrations reveal that Jimmy lives in a sandy area near the water. One of the more controversial images is of a cut-up alligator, which the text indicates Jimmy wrestled to bring home for lunch. While alligators might be a food source in Latin America, most of my research talked only about the need to conserve alligators and crocodiles, and so is an odd reference. Reviewers place the story in a poor village somewhere in Latin America. Here is a sample page:



When it came to small coastal towns in Latin America, I could locate only examples from tourist sites and so I don’t know how accurate the illustrations are. As for blogs or websites on Latin America literature for young people, which might help me better evaluate the multicultural aspect of Jimmy the Greatest, the best one I found is an article about Hispanic Heritage Month by School Library Journal.

This article raised questions that you too might have: “What does it mean to be Hispanic? Is language a defining characteristic? If so, how is it that so many of the children I work with every day speak only English? Or are family roots in a Spanish-speaking country more essential? How recent should those roots be? … Whatever else might be involved, however, being Hispanic or being a Hispanic writer does not mean being limited to ethnic issues. Borges, one of the greatest 20th-century authors in any language, moves comfortably from Argentinian gauchos to speculative inquiries into the nature of the universe and being … Books by and about Hispanics continue to flourish, and readers of all cultures profit thereby.”

I also discovered an article which highlights the importance of Latino readers being able to identify with the characters they find in books. According to the New York Times, an image is missing in most literature for young people. With few notable exceptions, the main characters are white and from suburbia. Case in point, a couple of teachers reviewed 250 book series aimed at second to fourth graders and found just two that featured a Latino main character. The article also listed another startling statistic from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, which compiles statistics about the race of authors and characters in children’s books published each year. The Center reported that in 2011, just over 3 percent of the 3,400 books reviewed were written by or about Latinos, a proportion that apparently has not changed much in a decade.

Last, while researching Latin America, I also discovered two literary awards and added them to my resource list on the right side of my blog:

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