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Alma and How She Got Her Name
Cover of the book in Spanish
Author Juana Martinez-Neal
Country United States
Publisher Candlewick Press
Publication date
April 10, 2018
Pages 32
Awards Caldecott Honor Ezra Jack Keats Book Award
ISBN 978-0-7636-9355-8

Alma and How She Got Her Name is a 2018 picture book by Juana Martinez-Neal. Alma, whose full name is Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela, thinks she has too many names and so she asks her dad about them. He explains the various people she was named to honor. The book was spurred by Martinez-Neal's Peruvian immigrant experience and the birth of her children. The book was well reviewed and a recipient of a 2019 Caldecott Honor for its illustrations. The graphite and colored pencil illustrations feature only a few colors, including blue and pink. Martinez-Neal hoped to evoke the feel of a photo album, in keeping with the book's theme of family.

Background and publication

Juana Martinez-Neal moved to the United States in her 20s. As an immigrant, she grappled with her identity, before deciding that "my culture was part of my whole personal identity, and I wanted to pass my culture on to my children." As part of this desire, it was around this time that she began to author and illustrate children's books. She based Alma on her own experiences growing up and hearing the stories of her relatives. Her agent, Stefanie Von Borstel, pitched the book, with sample illustrations, to a variety of publishers, with seven being selected for an auction. Candlewick Press was eventually selected as the publisher.

The book was published in English and Spanish on April 10, 2018. This simultaneous publication was important to Martinez-Neal, and was part of the book's auction process.


When the book opens Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela feels that her name is too long. Her father, upon hearing Alma's complaint, offers to tell her the story of her name. For each name her father tells her about the relative she was named for and Alma is able to make a connection between herself and the relative. After hearing about her five other names Alma asks about her first name. Her father explains that there is no other Alma, just her. At the end of the book Alma feels her name fits and that she has "a story to tell."

Writing and illustrations

The book was illustrated using graphite and colored pencils. They created, in the words of The Horn Book Magazine reviewer Megan Dowd Lambert, "a soft texture". It was Martinez-Neal's hope to create "the feel of an old family photo album." It also, in the words of Horn Book's Emily Prabhaker, "underscores Alma’s agency throughout the book. We see her as a writer through her own handwriting and as an artist in the depictions of her own graphite drawings." Through her use of blues and pinks she hoped to help differentiate what was happening the present from the past. Alma herself is illustrated as the same cream color as the background.

Family plays an important role in the story. Each family member's name was signed uniquely, reflecting Martinez-Neal's interest in typography and her hope that this signature would help to express the family member's personality. She also embedded references to Alma's Peruvian lineage through the illustrations. Through her father's stories Alma connects who she is to her namesake family members. This includes Alma making eye contact with her ancestors as she imagines the stories her father is telling her. However, the closing line also suggests the way that Alma's story will be unique as her father advises her, "You will make your own story", a question Martinez-Neal echoes in the author's note.

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