Beto's Burrito: A Conversation Between Father and Daughter
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Beto’s Burrito is much more than a simple, beautifully executed children’s story. It’s also the tale of a long-fractured relationship between father and daughter, suddenly rekindled by the mutual joy of creation. When illustrator Cassie McDaniel discovered that her once estranged father, Tom, had written a story about a young boy named Beto, she decided to illustrate a single page as a Christmas gift. From there, the project evolved into a full-blown story book. Now, Cassie aims to publish their collaborative effort because “I know it’s important to [Dad], so that makes it important to me.” Below, we have a special conversation between the author and illustrator, father and daughter, along with excerpts from the story. Check it out, and make sure to visit their successfully funded project for ongoing updates on the book’s progress.
“Beto! Beto! Wake yourself up! Do you want to be arrive to school?” From somewhere far away, Beto can hear his mother’s voice.
Cassie (daughter/illustrator): Can you remember your first burrito?
Tom (father/author): Yeah I think so. It was the year I attended school in Arizona. I was 12 I think. My aunt was teaching there and she has some friends, Mr. and Mrs. Schazo, and they gave us some homemade tortillas and made burritos out of those.
What makes a good burrito?
Practice! My cousin Ricky came to visit Texas from Massachusetts once and we had burritos for dinner. He said, “What’s a burrito?” He found out in short order. I’ve seen Mexican families that will roast a chicken and serve it without silverware. They pinch the meat right off the bones using tortillas.
Do you consider that a burrito?
Gettin’ awful close! You know the word itself, “burrito”? Down in central Mexico they still use burros, or donkeys, to carry things around, things like farm produce. The burros have big white bundles on their sides, but of course those bundles are a lot larger than what you put on your plate. So “burrito” is a “little burro” –- it comes from the appearance of the burros’ bundles. I never understood it ‘til I visited Mexico.
Why did you write Beto’s Burrito?
I think I was having a boring afternoon (laughs).
Can you remember anything about working on it?
I was looking after Jonathan, my youngest son, when I wrote it. He was one and a half years old and his teeth were coming in. He would chew his gums on the crib and it would go squeak squeak squeak! That doesn’t have anything to do with Beto’s story but it kept me in a good mood, kept me writing it.
You have three sons. Was Beto’s character inspired by any of them?
No. I’ve known lots of little boys like Beto, not just my sons. I’ve visited Mexican families through my work as a family counselor and many of them would prepare food for me, just as Beto’s mom did for him. There is nothing like a fresh tortilla!
“Beto! Ya!” From the same far away place, Beto hears his mother’s voice again. Then he hears his father’s voice, and the words in it are soft and fast. “Ya? Already what?” Beto wonders. Beto turns over on his back and puts his arm across his eyes. Light is coming through the window, and he doesn’t want to see anything yet.
My brothers inspired some of the illustrations, though. I put in elements that reminded me of them -– like the soccer ball and the skateboard. But what did inspire the story?
There is lots of love in Mexican families but it’s not all roses. I based Beto on the relationships that I saw in those families. When I was in the construction trade, the best tile setters, the best brick layers -– they were always Mexican. So that’s kind of what inspired the father. And the mothers seemed more often than not to stay home and cook and take care of the little ones.
Have you written other children’s stories before?
Yeah, and I used to tell Jonathan stories at bedtime. I made up one about a frog that gets all lonesome when his pond dries up and all the other frogs hop away. It finally rains and the other frogs come back.
Beto is awake. He hears his father’s voice again. He thinks about his father’s voice. At times it is magic. Sometimes it scares him. Today his father is quiet and in a hurry, but always there is something in his father’s voice that makes him feel warm, even when the voice is scary.
Can you explain what inspired the part of the story where Beto’s father’s voice scares him?
I observed in Mexican families I knew that the father seemed to be the policeman of the house, and it rarely took more than a tone of voice to discipline his children. I can imagine a child about Beto’s age being rather intimidated by his father’s voice.
Were you intimidated by your own father’s voice?
No. Not very often, but it’s probably fairly common at that age. But the point of that particular passage was that even behind the fear, the boy knows his father loves him.
What is your favorite part in Beto’s story?
I think the ending is just right. I also like the panel illustration and the passage where Beto wishes he were taller.
When Beto turns back around, he sees his mother standing still, smiling at him. She is looking at him. The look she is giving him makes him feel warm and good, so he walks to his mother and gives her a big hug around the waist. He wishes he were taller so she could know better how much he loves her.
What’s been the hardest thing about this project?
Getting you to do the illustrations! Nothing has been too hard about it on my end, really.
Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Sure. You spent a long time working on the illustrations. What gave you the idea for the dreamlike motif?
Well, the story begins with Beto’s dream.
Beto is asleep, yes.
A dream world is fun to illustrate. You can use metaphors in ways that have nothing to do with the text. It gave me more freedom. Like thinking of Beto’s parents’ voices as ribbons of color depending on the parent’s moods and how Beto thinks of them. I like the illustration of the building where Beto’s father holds a trowel in his hand and Beto is handing him the bricks. The building itself is so magical. That seems inspired to me.
“On Saturday you will come with me. We will make a beautiful wall together. You will hand me the prettiest bricks, and everything will be perfect!” Beto smiles at his father. His father pats him on the head and gets up to leave.
I remember when my brothers and I were little you took us to a couple houses you were doing construction on. So that feeling of going to work with Dad is a real memory of mine, and the magical part of it is inspired by the magic of memory. I wanted to get across that feeling.
What is your reaction to the support we’ve received on Kickstarter?
I’m pleased and surprised. It’s hard for me to imagine –- of course the illustrations are wonderful -– but it’s hard to understand people latching on with interest to such a simple children’s story.
What do you hope happens with Beto’s Burrito now?
Mainly I just hope lots of people read it. And I want them to feel a certain way. I want them to feel good, I want them to feel family. I want the parents to feel good and the kids to feel good. I want the kids to say, Will you read it again? Stuff like that. Things I used to do with the kids books that I liked. What do you hope to see happen with the book?
I want to see it published in a professional way that does justice to all of the support we’ve gotten so far. The amount of support has really humbled me. You never really know what’s going to happen with creative projects. Feels like we got lucky.
Kind of like fishing, isn’t it. Never know when you’re going to haul in a big one.
That isn’t the reason we’re doing it though.
No, this one’s from the heart. Although, if it is as popular as I think it could be, maybe we can do some more Beto stories.
“When I get big, I’m going to make burritos for breakfast every day,” he tells his mother. “Ah, how nice!” says his mother. “Can I come and eat with you then?”
Do you have other ideas for Beto? More adventures?
It’s not hard for me to come up with ideas –- what Beto does in the summertime, for instance. That comes to mind. And that funny little dog that came from nowhere!
That’s right. The dog isn’t mentioned in your story, but he’s in many of the illustrations. It just seemed like Beto needed a buddy. Do you think that dog has a name?
He should have a name! I don’t know yet. Maybe some of our readers could be kind enough to write in suggestions. His name might be Jalapeño.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Yes. I’m staggered by the support, and very grateful. May everyone who reads the story have the best burrito they’ve ever tasted in their lives.