[tasty review] ABC El Salvador by Holly Ayala and Elizabeth Gómez

#59 in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the alphabet

Hola, ¿cómo estás?

At this very moment I’m enjoying a piece of Quesadilla Salvadoreña along with a nice warm cup of atol de elote. Want some? 🙂

Now we’re all set to travel around San Salvador and the town of Witzapan with young Xiomara (pronounced see-oh-MAR-ah). Friendly and oh so proud of her home country, Xiomara introduces us to her family, shows us places she likes to visit, and shares interesting tidbits of history, geography and culture in both Spanish and English.

Young readers will enjoy ABC El Salvador whether they are familiar with El Salvador or not. Since kids’ books on the subject are few and far between, Salvadoran children all over the world will be happy to see themselves represented in this book. 

Those unfamiliar with this unique place — the smallest country in continental America — will have fun learning the Spanish alphabet through Xiomara’s personal perspective.

She’s a girl after my own heart, since she begins with Atol, a sweet corn beverage she likes nice and warm (bien calientito!).

After this delicious start, she goes on to include six other foods in her abecedario: Dulces (candy), Loroco (fragrant plant used in Salvadoran dishes), maraÑón (cashew beverage), Pupusas (cornmeal flatbread stuffed with cheese, beans, pork), Quesadilla (sweet cheese bread), and Zapote (tropical fruit used to make popsicles and other treats). To top it all off, her dog’s name is Chocolate. See why I like her? 🙂

Of course she shares many other interesting delights. For the letter B (barro), we learn her “grandmother makes pots and pans of clay,” and we also meet her brother Kevin, who loves to play soccer:

I share her enthusiasm for “the cutest little sea turtles” who live on the coast of Usulután and the pretty torogoz, the national bird of El Salvador, but I’d rather not encounter the garrobo, a big lizard who visits her backyard and “spends the whole day sunbathing.” 😫

Al patio de mi casa llega un gran garrobo que todo el día se pasa asoleando.

All 27 featured letters (26 + “ñ”) and 2 digraphs (double-letter sounds “ch,” “ll”) are beautifully illustrated by award winning artist Elizabeth Gómez, who used a sanding technique to give her gouache paintings an earthy, rustic feel. 

Vibrant jewel tone colors and charming, folkloric details make each spread a feast for the eyes. From the warm and emotive browns and oranges of Xiomara’s chucho, to the stunning aquas and greens of lake, river, and trees; to the happy reds, yellows, and golds of doll dresses, lanterns, candies, fruits and flowers, we get a sense of El Salvador’s natural beauty as well as the vitality and diversity of its people, who are largely a mix of indigenous, European, and Afro descent.

The cover of the book is special too, with its smooth and shiny embossed “ABC”, just right for little ones to touch — and they were inspired by Fernando Llort’s painted wood block letters El Salvador is famous for.

When it comes to ABC El Salvador, there is more than meets the eye, because each letter and word aroused my curiosity and made me want to learn more. After a little extra reading, I’m happy to know pupusas are the national dish of El Salvador; their origin can be traced back 2,000 years to the indigenous Pipil tribes. As for those quesadillas? Salvadoran quesadillas are actually a sweet cheese pound cake or quick bread, quite different from Mexican quesadillas.

In the same way, this book offers wonderful jumping off points for further study in the classroom. I can see kids getting excited about researching El Salvador’s 20+ volcanoes, its fish and wildlife, or its fascinating cultural offerings, like the giant dolls of Jocoro in Morazán. They may also want to know what the indigenous language Náhuat looks and sounds like.

ABC El Salvador is Holly Ayala’s debut children’s book, a work written from her heart with many personal connections. Her mother was born and grew up in San Salvador and could see the San Salvador volcano from her house, just like Xiomara. When Holly was little, her father’s friend Doña Aída always made quesadillas for her (the letter Q shows Xiomara at her bakery in the city).

Holly has visited the town of Witzapan (indigenous name for Santo Domingo de Guzman) many times for children’s poetry festivals. She chose to spotlight Witzapan in the book along with El Salvador’s largest city and capital, San Salvador, to illustrate how many Salvadorans relocate to the big city for job and educational opportunities, leaving their families behind in rural villages. Xiomara’s grandparents live in Witzapan.

Whenever Holly visits El Salvador, she uses a large bowl (H = huacales) for bathing, and guess what her favorite drink is? Atol de elote! Yum. 🙂

You may know Holly is also owner of Luna’s Press Books in San Francisco, a small press that publishes and promotes books about Salvadoran history and culture. She often hosts readings and other special events at her bookstore in the Mission District, a happy gathering place where customers can explore a carefully curated selection of fabulous Spanish and bilingual titles.

She and her husband Jorge Argueta, whose award winning books I’ve featured here many times, work tirelessly to promote literacy and help children in immigrant communities develop a positive self image and a strong sense of self worth. 

An excellent choice for Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month, ABC El Salvador is a charming bilingual gem, a fun read aloud, a mini Spanish/English lesson, and a much needed, versatile resource. Youngest readers can learn ABC basics in two languages while poring over the gorgeous pictures, and older readers will be able to relate to likeable Xiomara and even get good ideas for class projects. ABC El Salvador recently received an International Latino Book Awards Honorable Mention for Best Children’s Nonfiction Picture Book. Hurra!

Now, who wants some pupusas?


written by Holly Ayala
illustrated by Elizabeth Gómez
published by Luna’s Press Books, August 2021
Alphabet Picture Book for ages 3-8, 32 pp.
*Includes bilingual glossary

**Teacher’s Guide coming soon!


Certified authentic alphabetica. Made by hand with love and plenty pupusas.

*Interior spreads posted by permission, Spanish and English text copyright © 2021 Holly Ayala, illustrations © 2021 Elizabeth Gómez, published by Luna’s Press Books. All rights reserved.

**Copyright © 2021 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

11 thoughts on “[tasty review] ABC El Salvador by Holly Ayala and Elizabeth Gómez

  1. Yes! I want some of each dish, each page. What a beautiful book. I live in a community strong with El Salvadoran food and culture. This post makes me so happy. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so charming and fun. Love the artwork too — Elizabeth also illustrated A Movie in My Pillow by Jorge Argueta, which I also love. 🙂


  2. I used to teach K–3 in downtown Los Angeles and I had quite a few students from El Salvador. They would have liked this book! I can’t remember where I got pupusas, maybe from my students’ moms, but I remember eating them a few times. They were more yellowish in color for some reason. They were very good!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Every part looks great, Jama. I love reading about El Salvador’s quesadillas being a sweet. This book would be such fun in a classroom, learning new words and eating new foods together, at least new for some! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s perfect for the classroom. It’s so important for Salvadoran children to see themselves reflected in a book, and it’s a good introduction for other children. I was happy to learn about a different kind of quesadillas. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this so much! My children were born in China, and I remember seeking out books that reflected their heritage and how my daughter almost had a look of pride on her face when she held each one. It’s so important for children to see themselves reflected in media and also important for children to see different cultures reflected in media and learn to respect each one.

    These food photos made me hungry and that sweet corn beverage sounds wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.