My Name is María Isabel


Author: Alma Ada Flor

Illustrator: K. Dyble Thompson

Publisher/Year: Athenaeum Macmillan Publishing Company, 1993

Pages: 57

Genre: Realistic Fiction


María Isabel Salazar López, a third grader born in Puerto Rico, struggles to fit in at her new school in the United States, especially when her teacher insists on calling her “Mary Lopez” to avoid confusion with two other classmates named María. María Isabel wants to make her parents and ancestors proud, but feels incapable of doing so when she must “listen so carefully every time the teacher calls for ‘Mary Lopez’” (p. 27). However, after reading that María Isabel’s greatest wish is to be called by her given name, María’s teacher allows her to participate in the Winter Pageant—a valuable opportunity María was excluded from when she did not answer to “Mary Lopez.

This short chapter book can function as a mirror for all children, as Alma Ada Flor writes in her dedication, “who believed, at one time or another, that they should change their names” against their own will. Such children can personally identify with the frustration María Isabel felt using an Americanized name she did not choose. All new students, be they American or foreign-born, can relate to María’s emotional and mental adjustment after changing schools. My Name is María Isabel acts as a window for American students by illustrating how central a given name or surname is to one’s pride, heritage, and cultural identity. Alma Ada Flor’s book can also function as a door. María Isabel models how seemingly insurmountable problems can be solved through honesty. María Isabel used the opportunity presented by a writing assignment to express how culturally and personally significant her real name is, and her teacher listened and responded.

The illustrations and descriptions of María Isabel and her family accurately represent Latino culture in the United States. Alma Ada Flor exposes young readers to some basic and authentic Spanish words and nicknames, such as Maribel, cariño, Belita, Chabelita, Papá, and Papi. The book also explores other aspects of immigrant and ethnic culture, such as the importance of family pride, special gifts from ancestors in the home country, and the need for both parents to work to make ends meet.

The text communicates the importance of names and surnames, specifically what it means to be named after beloved ancestors and how names keep alive memories of the home country. María Isabel, her Puerto Rican family, and other minority characters do not look like white people and are drawn as individuals with distinctive features and tinted skin. Alma Ada Flor uses symbolism to illustrate how, at school, María Isabel feels trapped in a spider web that grows thicker every time she is called Mary Lopez; this web acts as a backdrop in two illustrations to show this dilemma. Illustrations are framed and drawn in grayscale to emphasize how María’s new name caused her to feel confined and troubled. The value of multiculturalism and cultural diversity is evident in My Name is María Isabel. María Isabel, though Hispanic and most likely Catholic, was thrilled to sing her favorite song about Hanukkah candles at the Winter Pageant. Although Alma Ada Flor’s book seeks to highlight how important names are to identity, it places characters in rather stereotypical roles: a white, female teacher who exercises her cultural ignorance over María Isabel, and a minority victim who passively resists this oppression by never directly confronting her teacher and only explaining her feelings in writing.