Smitten with ALMA and Her Magical Name

I love lists. They make me feel more organized than I actually am. So I’m going to dive right in with eight things I love about Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal:

  1. Alma! Just look at her—that sweet face, those adorable pants.

  1. The book’s premise, which (as you may have guessed) centers on Alma’s name—something so personal and powerful that all kids (and grown-ups) can relate to it. We’re presented with her problem on the first page (click to enlarge images):

Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela had a long name—too long, if you asked her.

  1. The loving family relationships, beginning with Alma’s father, who tells her about each of the ancestors represented in her musical name, starting with her grandmother Sofia.

  1. Alma’s response each time she learns about the source of the name. We see her make the connection between herself and the ancestor, recognizing that this person is a part of her story even though they’ve never met.

  1. The art. I love the “photograph” of Sofia, the trees growing out of those tiny pots, and the piles of books emphasizing the connection between Alma and her literature-loving grandmother. The pages include many little details—the small bird, toys, animals, a map (see below)—that kids will love studying.
  1. The construction and pacing of the story. With the introduction of each additional ancestor—Esperanza, José (I love that she gets her grandfather’s name too), Pura and Candela—we learn more about her family and the magical power of her name.

  1. The ending. After all her father’s stories, there’s still one name she hasn’t heard about—Alma. When she asks, her father says:

“I picked the name Alma just for you.

You are the first and the only Alma.

You will make your own story.”

Powerful, right? Then there’s the final spread:

8.  Juana’s author’s note, which explains the origin of her own name. You’ll have to read it (hint: like Alma, she didn’t love it as a child).

The book is a warm-hearted tribute to the power of names and family stories, and I imagine it will spark lots of great conversations in homes and classrooms. It definitely made we wish we’d given our son about six more names.

Alma has been getting lots of accolades, deservedly so, including several starred reviews. You’ll find reviews, videos, plus fun name tags and activity kits (in English and Spanish) at Juana’s website. And don’t miss Julie Danielson’s wonderful interview with Juana, featuring lots of her art, over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Thanks for reading!


P.S. I’ll be on blog hiatus for the next few months, but am happy to report that former PBB regular Barb Rosenstock has some excellent posts planned in my place for June and July, including one about her brand new book Otis and Will Discover the Deep, which looks fabulous. Stay tuned—and see you in August!


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Linda Ashman

Linda Ashman is the author of more than 45 picture books, as well as The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, a how-to guide for picture book writers. Her books have been included on the ‘best of the year’ lists of The New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, the American Library Association, the Children’s Book Council, and The New York Public Library, among others, and have been translated into many languages.


  1. This looks so sweet, and I am a sucker for family stories. Can hardly wait to read it!

  2. The limited palette and soft touch make the illustrations quite compelling. This is definitely one I’ll be adding to my collection

  3. Great review of Juana’s book!

  4. This looks wonderful and I love the soft palette with the pop of red. Enjoy your hiatus, Linda.

  5. Angie Quantrell

    Lovely! What a fun way to discuss names and how we get them. Everyone loves to hear why they were named the way they were. Thanks for sharing Alma!

  6. I love the whole premise of this story. The illustrations are wonderful, too. Definitely want to read this one!

  7. Kevan Atteberry

    This is gorgeous. The story and the art. Gorgeous, I tell ya!!

  8. Sweet story and love the illustrations. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Thanks for this intro to what looks to be a classic.

  10. This is one of my new favorites and must have PBs! Beautiful words and illustration.

  11. What a beautiful book!

  12. Wonderful premise, so relateable. I love the artwork. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Just read & loved it–such a sweet story :).

  14. Ahhhh. I can relate to having an unusual name. I love this book already.

  15. I so {heart} Juana’s lovely book! Your review is spot-on. Enjoy your hiatus 🙂

  16. Thank you for sharing this, Linda! It looks like a stunning book, and I can’t wait to read it. Wishing you all the best on your sabbatical.

  17. Patricia Nozell

    Look forward to reading this one – love the family connections through the multiple names.

  18. This book has one of those “ahhh” endings! I think I’m in love with little Alma.

  19. I have this book from the library. It’s super special and so clever and warm.

  20. Thank you for this fabulous post!! I had already read ALMA and love it for all of the things you mentioned! I got it form the library and after I read it, I knew it had to be one a permanent part of my picture book library. I love that Alma means “soil” in Spanish—it added another layer for me. Enjoy your hiatus, Linda!

  21. That’s what I get for responding on my phone. Three typos, with the most egregious being that “alma” means “soul” not “soil!” Sheesh. Apologies!

    • Denise, your comments made me laugh out loud. When I read “soil” I thought oh, it’s an earthy sort of name, which has its own sort of appeal. But “soul” is much *more* appealing. Miss you!

  22. Loved this book, and your eight reasons hit all the highlights!

  23. LeeAnn Rizzuti

    I’ve had this one on my to-read list but now I have eight more reasons to hurry up and read it. Thanks for sharing, Linda, and enjoy your blog break.

  24. Alma is adorable. I love this story all the way through, but that ending! “You will make your own story.” is just so perfect.

  25. Aww, this sounds so heartwarming! Can’t wait to get my hands on it.

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