In the Neighborhood
Rocio Bonilla, author-illustrator
Rocio Bonilla holds a BFA and worked in advertising for many years before founding her own company, Erase una vez, through which she creates murals for children's rooms. She both wrote and illustrated What Color Is a Kiss? and Little Bro, Big Sis, and wrote and co-illustrated Max and the Superheroes.
Read more about Rocio.
- Coming soon!
School Library Journal, starred review
The latest offering from Spanish author-illustrator Bonilla is a heartwarming story about how a neighborhood becomes a community. Translated into English, the story of mismatched expectations is for readers of all ages—young and young-at-heart—who will delight in the funny and detailed illustrations. The book opens with Camila, a hen, whose 10 chicks make the house a very noisy one. Camila has a preconceived notion about her neighbors and herself; every subsequent character holds some of the same preconceived notions, making them skeptical that any of them would ever want to interact. When Mrs. Paquita’s internet connection stops working, a chain reaction opens the neighborhood’s doors to bring them all together. Each character has an internal motivation that no one else knows about until they get to know one another. For example, Pepe the ogre is an avid reader who wants to start a book club in the neighborhood, but no one will ever ring his doorbell. The characters are relatable, even though they are anthropomorphized creatures. Bonilla’s illustrations are the heart of the story, with neutral, muted colors, but maintaining a playful manner throughout. The renderings are extremely detailed and purposeful, from humorous facial expressions to the shingles on a roof. The illustrations and text could not work without one another; in themselves, they are a community.
VERDICT This could easily be a story hour favorite. Recommended purchase for any children’s collection.
The Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books, starred review
In a neighborhood of animals that don’t know one another, everyone makes assumptions. Camila, chicken mother of ten, has a loud home because of her brood, not because she’s hard-of-hearing, as believed by most of her neighbors. Camila assumes Mr. Martínez, the serious, straitlaced fox next door, hates kids, but he actually likes to juggle dressed as a clown. Mr. Martínez assumes the fearsome dragon in the next house over doesn’t want to be bothered, but the dragon is actually a mouse using some creative methods to deter the cat neighbor. Similarly, the mouse doesn’t guess their cat neighbor is vegan, and Matilda the scientist pig assumes the house next door is empty when Mrs. Paquita, an internet- and Solitaire-obsessed nocturnal owl, lives there. Calamity hits when Mrs. Paquita loses her internet connection, driving her to Matilda, who quickly fixes up the problem. This opens up the door for a domino effect of neighbors asking favors of each other and overcoming their fears of communicating until everyone is united, and the neighborhood can officially be considered a community. This charming Spanish import offers both heart and humor, with a surprising and comical twist on each assumption. Bonilla’s art in wavery pencil lines and watercolor provides as much amusement as the content itself, highlighting spreads of a very tired hen pouring overflowing coffee into a mug in her disastrous kitchen, a vegan cat proudly growing an entire farm of vegetables, and Mrs. Paquita eating take-out while still holding tightly to her computer mouse. Stronger readers will have the skills to navigate the text-heavy pages, but newer ones may need a helping hand. Beneath the silly shenanigans in this neighborhood, the message about building community and making connections is a resonant one.
What’s the difference between a neighborhood and a community?
“Once upon a time there was a neighborhood like so many others. It had houses, streetlights, trees, and neighbors who had never met one another.” Although the neighbors all have different reasons for keeping to themselves, those reasons stem from the same thing: assumptions. Because there’s so much noise coming from Camila the chicken’s house, everyone assumes she’s hard of hearing and has to turn up the TV, but the noise is actually 10 rambunctious children. Camila believes her neighbor Mr. Martínez, the fox, is too serious to enjoy spending time with her and her children. Mr. Martínez, a lawyer who loves to juggle while dressed as a clown, thinks that one of his neighbors, a dragon, is unfriendly. But the “dragon” is a mouse who has his own assumptions, and so on. Finally, a chance meeting of neighbors inspires everyone to reconsider their preconceived notions and gives each in turn the courage to step outside of their own suburban footprint to meet the people around them. When they do, the neighborhood finally becomes a community. The story, translated from Spanish, is fantastic, supported by expressive illustrations that blend fantastical elements into a traditional-looking suburban environment that will be recognized by many young readers. This is a story suited for young children everywhere—as well as a gentle reminder to many adults.
Poignant and sublime.
The Horn Book
The occupants of seven houses in the same neighborhood have never met when this story begins. Their false assumptions and fears about one another have kept them from interacting and becoming friends. For instance, fox Mr. Martínez—a lawyer by day—wishes he had an audience for his juggling but doesn’t think the huge dragon next door would appreciate it. The dragon, however, is really a mouse who wears a disguise to scare away his cat neighbor (who is actually a vegan). They do not become a community until owl Mrs. Paquita has to go outside to fix her internet (she usually stays up all night web surfing), and robot-inventor pig Matilda, surprised to see someone next door, offers help. One by one the residents venture out of their homes and comfort zones to approach others or lend a hand and end up all the happier for it. This quirky Spanish import reads like folklore (complete with a superhero-loving bookworm ogre and “Once upon a time”); the straightforward moral is understated and heartwarming. Bonilla’s playful story and pastel illustrations accentuate the characters’ personalities with small details readers will relish revisiting (such as bleary-eyed chicken Camila overpouring her coffee as her ten chicks cause chaos in the kitchen).
JThis beautifully illustrated book promotes community within a neighborhood of diversity. The story begins by describing a typical neighborhood with houses and trees. The neighbors don't really know each other and have many assumptions about each other. They go about their quiet lives, until Mrs. Paquita's internet stops working and she needs help. The cast of animal characters plus an ogre come together to give her the help she needs. The moral of the story is that a neighborhood becomes a community when neighbors work together to solve problems. Children can learn at a very young age to work together and not make negative assumptions about others. This is a gentle and loving book that helps to build the character traits of being kind and loving to one's neighbor even if they are different. A lovely book to share in a classroom setting or family reading time.
Page count: 32
9 x 11