my papi coverMy Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero

Illustrated by Zeke Peña

Kokila, 2019.

Hardcover Picture book, 40 pages.


After a long day of carpentry, work he’s pursued since arriving in the US, Papi still finds time and energy for his hija. Our narrator introduces us to her family and her home before she even expands upon it from the back of her papi’s motorcycle.

my papi interior 1
interior pages from My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero & Zeke Peña

She’ll note all the things that make her community home, the words she learns/knows (“I’ve learned words like carburetor and cariño, drill and dedication”), the places (Abuelito’s house), things (the gummy bears at the market), the relationships (greeting the librarian). Quintero and Peña move us through time, not only the present and past (race cars and immigrant worked lemon groves), but we glimpse the future—change in motion in the closing of a shop to the building of a new housing development (over the lemon groves). We glean both a sadness and an excitement that both read equally as “this is life”: things change.

my papi interior 4
interior pages from My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero & Zeke Peña

In the end, however, there is another constant: that “home is the feeling you take with you” (see back cover). Home is a place you leave and return to and also carry about in memory, in relationships, on the back of motorcycles…

my papi interior 3
interior pages from My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero & Zeke Peña

Zeke Peña employs warm hues, and illustrates a story alive with movement. The array of color from the sunset captured in a puddle they ride through spread out around them. I love the text bubbles calling out greeting both of name, and bilingual tongue. The format is playful and incorporates the imagination into the portraiture of a life and relationship. One of my favorite pages demonstrates how beautifully writer and illustrator work together to translate a scene animated by text and image: “When he lifts me onto the smooth black seat his hands don’t feel rough, they don’t feel tired—they feel like all the love he has trouble saying.” Papi is kneeling, his big hands buckling her helmet; in a panel, he is lifting her “lista?” “si.” The strength and gentleness and care so nicely translated.

my papi interior 2
interior pages from My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero & Zeke Peña

The specificity in the descriptions and places and relationships read like a deeply personal memory of the creator’s, and it inspires a return or reaching out for our own stories as deeply moving and rooted.

I love the sense of adventure, joy, and the deep rootedness of family and community found in Quintero’s words and Peña’s pictures. My Papi Has a Motorcycle is a beautiful picture book; an absolute must.


Of note: I love the narrator in her pink shirt and unicorn embellished helmet speaking words like carburetor and drill and seen elbows deep in a tool box.


Isabel Quintero was born and raised by Mexican immigrant parents in Southern California’s Inland Empire. She earned her BA in English and her MA in English Composition at California State University, San Bernardino. Her debut YA novel, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, won the 2015 Morris Award for Debut YA Fiction and the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award.

Zeke Peña is a cartoonist and illustrator from El Paso, Texas. He studied Art History at the University of Texas at Austin and is self-taught in illustration and painting. He has published work with VICE.com, Latino USA, The Believer Magazine, The Nib, Penguin Random House, Holt/Macmillan and Cinco Puntos Press. In 2018 he received the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for a graphic biography he illustrated titled Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide.


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