Concept picture books: a much-needed multicultural spin


Round is a Tortilla has a refreshing take on the common concept picture book about shapes. Usually these kind of books target very young readers, and hence there isn’t a narrative; there are typically words with accompanying pictures. What I really loved about this book was how Roseanne Greenfield Thong‘s charming text and John Parra‘s gorgeous illustrations transport you into a distinctly Hispanic cultural space with a wonderful Latino flavor to it. Even though at its core it is still a ‘list’ book (where there isn’t really a plot), both the written and visual narrative elevate it to something more meaningful and creative than your standard concept book.

Text © 2013 by Roseanne Greenfield Thong Illustrations © 2013 by John Parra

Text © 2013 by Roseanne Greenfield Thong
Illustrations © 2013 by John Parra


Spanish words pepper the rhyming English narration, and make for a great read-aloud experience. I’m not usually a big fan of rhyming text, but it’s quite effective in this book and I think it works well. It doesn’t succumb to the usual ‘cute-sy’ and slightly annoying rhyming patterns you find in so many other books of this genre. Maybe the Spanish words that are interspersed help offset that effect. There is a glossary at the end that explains the meanings of the words, but the real success of the writing in this book lies in the fact that there is enough context for the child to figure out the meanings. The interweaving of the Spanish words blends cohesively and feels completely organic.

It’s beautiful how a narrative of shapes is brought alive by John Parra’s art work.  His illustrations make the world of the book so much more tangible and rich. You feel immersed in the culture, the people and the space. His illustration style of using acrylics on wood/illustration board gives his images a lovely earthy texture that makes you feel like each page has been baked in the warmth of the sun; I absolutely love it.  If you haven’t got enough of seeing his work, you’re in luck. A recent interview with him over at my favourite picture book related blog features a fabulous collection of art work from many of his books and projects, along with a lovely chat about his background, creative process and the best breakfast he ever had :)


Text © 2013 by Roseanne Greenfield Thong Illustrations © 2013 by John Parra

Text © 2013 by Roseanne Greenfield Thong
Illustrations © 2013 by John Parra


Of course concept books always have a ripe opportunity to make a series, and these talented creators will be teaming up again for  a new book, this time about colours. Green is a Chile Pepper  will be coming out in early 2014 from their publisher — the always awesome Chronicle Books. If you liked the look of this, I can bet you’ll like that too. I can’t wait.



  1. Mark MacKay

    What a great post. The illustrations are amazing and I love the multicultural context. While working on a series of Spanish Language textbooks for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a number of years ago, the entire creative team – nearly 100 staff – were invited to take Spanish language lessons during the day. We met for one-hour, three days a week and had homework too. We were taught by native Spanish speaking editors. It helped the non-Spanish speaking members of the team develop an understanding for the content and an appreciation for the cultural we included in the books. I always appreciate multicultural content done well and this book looks like a success.

    • Gayathri

      Thank you, Mark! I am completely in love with John Parra’s illustrations too. It really helped give it a strong and unique visual identity.

      I think it’s wonderful that as a team you were encouraged to take Spanish lessons to help get better context for the books you were working on. I think that kind of involvement definitely reflects in the quality and integrity of the work.

      Yes, this book is wonderful. I thought it was done very, very well. And I can’t wait for the next one!

      • Thank you Gayathri for such a wonderful review of Round is a Tortilla and for enjoying my art. Wishing you all the best. You have a terrific blog.

  2. Gayathri

    What a wonderful surprise to see you visit my site, John! It is an honour indeed :) Thank you so much for your kind comments, and I can’t wait to see more work from you!

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