Libros Latin@s: Extraction

By: Zoraida Córdova


“Welcome to Extraction testing.”

Clementine has spent her whole life preparing for her sixteenth birthday, when she’ll be tested for Extraction in the hopes of being sent from the planet Kiel’s toxic Surface to the much safer Core, where people live without fear or starvation. When she proves promising enough to be “Extracted,” she must leave without Logan, the boy she loves. Torn apart from her only sense of family, Clem promises to come back and save him from brutal Surface life.

What she finds initially in the Core is a utopia compared to the Surface—it’s free of hard labor, gun-wielding officials, and the moon’s lethal acid. But life is anything but safe, and Clementine learns that the planet’s leaders are planning to exterminate Surface dwellers—and that means Logan, too.

Trapped by the steel walls of the underground and the lies that keep her safe, Clementine must find a way to escape and rescue Logan and the rest of the planet. But the planet leaders don’t want her running—they want her subdued.

With intense action scenes and a cast of unforgettable characters,Extraction is a page-turning, gripping read, sure to entertain lovers of Hunger Games and Ender’s Game and leave them breathless for more.

MY TWO CENTS: The world in Extraction is exactly what we (I) fear: pollution has rendered life on the surface practically inhabitable. Here, a shield keeps the lethal acid from the moon from penetrating the surface of the planet Kiel. (The acid is called Moonshine, which really tickled me, btw.) The layers of civilization are Surface, Crust, Mantel, Layer, and Core. While the poor and young live on the Surface and other layers, working till they’re dead or Extracted from this life, the rich have found a way to live in the Core of the earth. Extraction weeds out the intelligent and obedient (key word) hopefuls that could be of better use to Core society. I was instantly drawn into the idea of fearing the sky. Imagine living every day fearing that the heavens are going to rip open and the Moonshine is going to come pouring down on you? Add that with extreme levels of hunger, poverty, and strenuous physical labor, and you’ve got the same problems as Clementine, our narrator.

As Clementine faces Extraction, she also faces the difficult choice that comes with leaving the person you care about. Here, Diaz creates not just a romance, but a love that is rooted in hardship and loneliness. Logan isn’t the typical YA paramour. He’s not just there to rescue her. She does everything she can to save him, which is refreshing. While Clementine wants to stay on the surface with Logan, her options are limited. She could stay and be worked until she dies at 20 because of population control. She could become a breeder, which is part of the initiative to replenish the surface workers. There are so many ways that Clementine could die, but being Extracted means the chance to live.

18625184One of the most poignant passages was when Clementine was waiting to see if her name was selected. It had the feel of the reaping in Hunger Games, but while in the HG the selection is random, in the Extraction, each person is selected by this benevolent Core commander. I loved that Clementine did feel torn in a very human way. Going into the unknown, even if the unknown promises a better life, is extremely terrifying. There’s Logan, and then there’s a better life. There’s Logan, and then there’s the feeling that you don’t want to die. And as Clementine kept saying that she didn’t want to die, I appreciated that she allowed herself to be just a little bit selfish. It’s self-preservation.

And in a world where the odds are against you, you have to have a lot of that.

But, the Core utopia isn’t what it seems. Even though the novel is often pitched as dystopian, it should be recommended as straight up science fiction. Stephanie Diaz has woven a world that is nothing like ours. There are humans, and a deeply corrupt government, but they’re in space. There are lasers. There are ships. There is evolved medicine. There is cool slang. As in, Clementine is a vruxing cool heroine. As I watched her journey start from wanting to escape a terrible life, to wanting to do anything to get top marks in all her trials, to her realization that there is something galactically wrong going on in the Core, I found myself rooting for her despite all the obstacles stacked against her. I will add a trigger warning for the threat of sexual assault from a villain in the book. The girls in the Surface had to endure terrible threats, and in the Core, just because it’s clean and supposedly civilized, doesn’t mean that it’s actually safe. However, Clementine is never a victim. She makes it clear to her biggest foe that she is smarter and better. It’s that defiance that prevents someone like Clementine from bowing down blindly to Core society.

Utopia comes at the loss of individual freedom. At least it does in Kiel. In Extraction, Diaz creates a dynamic heroine, a fast-paced plot, and secrets that unravel with every page. Rebellion is out in store now, so you don’t have to wait to continue Clementine’s adventure as a rebel.

Stephanie Diaz author photoABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephanie first knew she wanted to be an author when she was in second grade, sitting in a book club drinking tea and reading books like The Egypt Game. She dreamed someday people might drink tea while devouring books she had written. She wrote her first book soon after, a 30-page fantasy story–complete with a hand-drawn map–stapled together and presented to her younger sister for a birthday present.Now twenty-two years old, she lives in San Diego with her family. She graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in film production and a publishing deal for a young adult sci-fi trilogy. She is the author of Extraction, Rebellion, and the forthcoming Evolution.

When she isn’t lost in other worlds, she can be found singing, marveling at the night sky, or fangirling over TV shows.Visit her at and follow her on twitter.

How and Why I Wrote My Graphic Memoir

by Lila Quintero Weaver

Final CoverreducedLast September at the Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference in Brooklyn, NY, I listened as Daisy Hernandez stated her belief that memoir writing arises from the unanswered questions a writer has about her own life. For me, by contrast, starting a memoir is what led me to realize I had questions.

Before beginning my writing journey, it had never occurred to me that there was anything remotely fascinating about my life. I’d grown up as an immigrant child from Argentina in Marion, a tiny dot of a town in the Black Belt region of Alabama, where for most of our 12 years in residence we were the only Latin@s. But then I realized that our isolation at this time and in this place was a story.Demographic pie

How big of a role did this cultural setting, with its legacy of racism, play in making me who I am? That was one of my biggest questions, and eventually, my outsider status and my awakening to racial inequity formed the narrative core of my graphic memoir, Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White (The University of Alabama Press, 2012).

[Note: All the art in this post is from Darkroom. Click on images to enlarge the view.]

My family’s arrival in Alabama synched up perfectly with several hallmark events in the Civil Rights Movement. We first briefly lived in Birmingham, where within six weeks of our arrival, the Freedom Riders rolled up to the bus depot and into the hands of a vicious mob. Then we moved to Marion, where racial segregation ruled every conceivable setting. Most white people seemed perfectly at home with this arrangement, but it made me deeply uneasy, even at age six.

Whites only

In 1965, African Americans across the Black Belt region were attempting to register as voters, but local officials obstinately barred the way. That February 18th, in Marion’s city square, a white mob clashed with a group of mostly local black protesters, while police stood idly by or participated in the beatings. My father witnessed some of these horrors and so did a host of other citizens, yet none of my teachers ever addressed these events. February 18th and everything surrounding it was quickly swept aside as if it had never happened.

Literacy TestI’d always known that a young black activist had been shot by a state trooper that night, but I’d never actually heard his name—Jimmie Lee Jackson. I did not know that his death—eight days later at Good Samaritan Hospital, in nearby Selma—had triggered Bloody Sunday, which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

My father died in 1995 before I ever thought to press him for details of what he saw during the violent clash. Among other things, I would have asked how witnessing such brutality at close hand affected his view of America. For decades, the only reason his account of that night didn’t fade from memory completely was because of some home movies he’d taken around the same time. They showed peaceful protest marches in the days leading up to February 18th.

After the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, civil rights activists set their sights on desegregating public schools. This time, I was the eyewitness to history—not that any child understands federal court orders, states’ rights battles, or the long, embittered tug-of-war to sort them out. Those questions would come later.

In 2004, I went back to college to complete my degree. That’s when I started to make up lost ground on the history of my region. The last thing on the checklist before graduating was a senior project.  The graphic memoir Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, gave me the idea to combine a written account with images, as an artistic exploration of my family’s immigration journey and the racially troubled times we encountered in our new homeland.

One of my goals was to find out exactly what happened that February night. I also wanted to pay homage to my father’s sideline work as a photographer and the crucial contribution that other photographers, as journalists, made to the Civil Rights Movement.

Darkroom joined spread

Grabbing the motif of photography helped me unify a complex story through metaphor and add a visual nod to the documenting power of the camera. So this is how my senior project looked: forty pages of drawings and captions, assembled in a photograph album. My drawings stood in for the photos. IMG_0031

At this stage, editors from The University of Alabama Press saw my work and offered me a contract for an expanded version. I said yes before I knew what I was getting into–a project that would consume the next three and a half years of my life.

To prepare, I dug down into family memorabilia and photos. I researched the current events of my childhood and gained a degree of perspective that wasn’t possible while the news reports were still fresh.

Darkroom process

One daunting aspect of putting the book together was teaching myself the bare necessities of digital graphics programs. First, I created my drawings traditionally, on paper—more than 500 in all. Then I experimented with different ways of digitally layering the scanned drawings and combining them with text. The effect I was going for was a scrapbook of photos and ephemera.


When the book launched in 2012, people in far-flung places showed interest in my story, including a publisher in France and college instructors from around the country who placed my memoir on their reading lists. Although I didn’t write the book with young readers in mind, it has also received a welcome in some middle school and high school classrooms.

Throughout this decade, the nation has been celebrating the 50th anniversaries of civil rights milestones. The Selma march has come to life in a major motion picture, and in a graphic novel series co-authored by U.S. Congressman John Lewis. Many eyewitnesses have published their stories, forming a rich tapestry of personal accounts. Teaching Tolerance, a division of the Southern Poverty Law Center, recently produced an instructional film for classrooms about the campaign for voting rights. It’s entitled Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot. It features visual documentation from previously untapped primary sources, including footage from the home movies that my father shot.

Bloody Sunday lies half a century behind us, yet racial tension and violence continue. I sometimes ask myself: what has actually changed? I remember the days of Jim Crow, which are, thankfully, well behind us. Yet, it seems like the passage of fifty years would’ve brought us deeper, more enduring changes.

Marching feet for Chpt 8

You may be left wondering: where’s the Latino component to my memoir? It’s there, in my initial struggle with learning English—a struggle that soon turned into a childish rejection of Spanish. It’s there, in my family’s generational divide on American culture and how fervently to embrace it.

School bus page

It’s there, in the troublesome fact that my family was spared overt bigotry because in Alabama in the middle of the 20th century, Latin@s were an almost invisible minority that posed little threat. I see this now, through the lens of history. If our immigration journey had taken us to a different region of the U.S., one where Latin@s were openly reviled and denied equality, I would’ve experienced things from a starkly different perspective. I can’t begin to guess what my life’s questions would’ve been then. For that, I turn to the stories of others.

Lila Quintero Weaver is the author-illustrator of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White. She’s working on a second book, a middle-grade novel. If Lila’s name looks vaguely familiar, it may be because she’s a regular co-blogger on Latin@s in Kid Lit. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and at her official author site.

Libros Latin@s: Hostage (The Change #2)


23899848By Eileen Fontenot

DESCRIPTION FROM GOODREADS: Welcome back to Las Anclas, a frontier town in the post-apocalyptic Wild West. In Las Anclas, the skull-faced sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can speed up time, and the squirrels can teleport sandwiches out of your hands.

In book one, Stranger, teenage prospector Ross Juarez stumbled into town half-dead, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble — including an invasion by Voske, the king of Gold Point. The town defeated Voske’s army, with the deciding blow struck by Ross, but at a great cost.

In Hostage, a team sent by King Voske captures Ross and takes him to Gold Point. There he meets Kerry, Voske’s teenage daughter, who has been trained to be as ruthless as her father. While his friends in Las Anclas desperately try to rescue him, Ross is forced to engage in a battle of wills with the king himself.

MY TWO CENTS: Even more gripping than the first of this series, Hostage takes us right back to the aftermath of Voske’s attack on our intrepid band of superhuman teens, which caused the death of a much-respected adult leader. We are introduced to a new player in this book, the daughter of Voske, the series’ main antagonist. The authors do a tremendous job of telling us about Kerry, who is smart, capable and raised to assess challengers and exploit their weaknesses.

Just as I began to dislike this new character, the authors begin chapters from her point of view. We see her life under her parents’ restrictive rule, and her love for her boyfriend, Santiago, softens her image. I came to root for Kerry, for her to find her own way in life and to make positive choices in her life, rather than negative ones. We also get to see how things are run in Gold Point, part of Voske’s kingdom. And it’s not pretty.

One of the main themes of this book was trust. Characters were thrust into various life-or-death situations, with only another to depend upon. And sometimes this other person wasn’t exactly the most trustworthy individual. Tracing the elaborate, yet tenuous, agreements made between unlikely partners became a bit of a challenge. I also liked the message that it’s OK to follow your own path, especially when you disagree with the way your family is behaving.

And because there are still several mysteries to be solved in the last couple of books, and a character I hope makes a big resurgence, I look forward to future volumes. The authors plan to release two more books in this series, and I can’t wait to see how these characters grow and change with each other. I read this on my Kindle, but Manija Brown says a paper copy of Hostage will be released in March, according to GoodReads.

RECOMMENDATIONS: As a young adult librarian, I would suggest this series to teens who love post-apocalyptic fantasy worlds who also want to see themselves reflected in the characters. The series is incredibly diverse; the main characters are all people of color and LGBT characters are also well represented. The authors are wonderful showing readers the depth of their familial connections through details dropped in throughout the action, which is plentiful.

For a book club pick, I would ask participants to discuss the role trust played in these characters’ choices. Teens could also talk about who they trust in their own lives and why. What would they share with their closest friends and family? What would make them lose trust in their loved ones?


Paraphrased From Goodreads: Rachel Manija Brown is the author of all sorts of stories in all sorts of genres. She has produced a memoir, All the Fishes Come Home to Roost: An American Misfit in India, and she has also written television, plays, video games, and a comic strip meant to be silk-screened on to a scarf. In her other identity, she is a trauma/PTSD therapist. She writes urban fantasy for adults under the name of Lia Silver.

From Sherwood Smith began her publishing career in 1986, writing mostly for young adults and children. Smith studied in Austria for a year, earning a master’s in history. She worked many jobs, from bartender to the film industry, then turned to teaching for twenty years, working with children from second grade to high school. To date she’s published over forty books, nominated for several awards, including the Nebula, the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and an Anne Lindbergh Honor Book.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Hostage (The Change #2) visit your local public library, your local bookstore,, or

Eileenfontenot headshot Fontenot is a recent graduate of Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston. She works at a public library and is interested in community service and working toward social justice. A sci-fi/fantasy fan, Eileen was formerly a newspaper writer and editor.

Guest Post: A Sock Thief in the Making



By Ana Crespo

Sometimes I wonder what the reaction of my younger self would be if I could tell her that, at almost 40, I am investing in a career as a children’s book writer… in English.

“Awesome!” my enthusiastic five-year-old self would probably scream. Pequena1

“But you don’t speak English,” the realistic 10-year-old me would point out.

“Ha! You don’t even like to read,” the sarcastic teenager would mention. (It’s true. I didn’t. Learn about how I became a reader here.)

“You’re studying to be a journalist. Your job is to expose the facts and allow your readers to form their own opinions, not to create stories,” the determined 20-year-old me would explain.

Certainly, I never thought I would one day publish any book, let alone a children’s book, in English. Yet THE SOCK THIEF has been in the making since I was that enthusiastic five-year old in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It started when my father tucked me into bed each night and shared stories of his childhood.

PapaiAlthough my paternal grandmother came from a wealthy family, my grandfather didn’t, and their five kids lived a frugal life. This included not owning a soccer ball, a very expensive item in the 1960s, in Rio. My father and his older brother had to be creative. They would sneak into my grandmother’s bedroom, take a pair of women’s hose, stuff it with newspaper, and make a soccer ball.

Don’t ask me why, but that story stuck in the back of that enthusiastic five-year old’s mind and resurfaced in the wanna-be children’s writer I eventually became. I had wanted to write a story with a Brazilian character since I started writing for kids in 2012. During a local SCBWI conference, a speaker mentioned something that brought back the long-forgotten memory. It wasn’t a story yet, just a memory with potential.

Then, I remembered something else from long ago. One day, watching a famous Brazilian TV show called Fantástico, I learned about a kid who had to walk a huge number of miles to reach school every day. I was a middle-class kid, riding on a comfortable school bus over paved roads, completely sheltered. That different reality, unthinkable to me up until then, left a strong impression. Maybe it sat in the back of my mind, by my father’s childhood story. Together, they started to form a plot.

Although I felt there was still something missing in the plot, I wrote THE SOCK THIEF (or MONDAY IS SOCK DAY, its first title) and submitted it to two different agents. And received two rejections. It wasn’t until I found that missing something that the manuscript received some attention.

One of the things that surprised me when I first moved to the United States was the way animal sounds are represented in written English. While in English a dog says “woof, woof,” in Portuguese, it says “au, au, au.” I imagined the difference would be a surprise to others as well, and decided to add it to THE SOCK THIEF. In my opinion, it gave the story a unique flavor.

A year after the idea first sprouted, I met my future editor at the same local SCBWI conference. I had paid for a manuscript critique, which included a 10-minute, face-to-face, in-depth analysis of THE SOCK THIEF. My editor thought the story was interesting. However, it was only after she learned that making soccer balls out of socks was a real practice in Brazil that her interest really sparked.

After the conference came the cutting, and cutting, and cutting of words. In the original text, I carefully described the process of making a soccer ball out of newspaper-stuffed socks. It was a tedious and confusing text, better shown through illustrations. I fixed some weird sentences. I added an author’s note. And I submitted my revised manuscript.

I crossed my fingers, lit some candles, held on to my figa, and tied some Nosso Senhor do Bonfim bracelets around my wrists. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. The point is that, although I really wanted a positive response, I had received so many rejections in the past, for this and other manuscripts, that I wasn’t keeping my hopes up too much.

In fact, I had set up a mental deadline. If I didn’t receive a positive reaction to my work, I was going to give up. The submission process is very stressful and the fact that it usually comes with rejections doesn’t really help. I never expected that the positive reaction I was hoping for would come in the form of a publishing offer, but it did.

From that point on, everything was new and exciting–the illustrator choice (Nana Gonzalez’s grandpa used to make soccer balls out of socks in Argentina!), the first drafts, the adjustments to the text, the illustrations in color, the adjustments to the text, the front cover reveal, the adjustments to the text, the first book review (a bit nerve-wrecking!), the scheduling of school visits, the book promotion… And, during it all, I sold four more books to Albert Whitman & Company–even more excitement.

While this journey would be exhilarating no matter what, to me it’s particularly rewarding because writing in English doesn’t come easily. No matter how long I’ve lived in the US, or how many college degrees I hold, or how much work experience I have, sometimes, I still sound foreign. I’m not talking (or writing, I should say) about my accent. It’s the word choices, the sentence structure, the weird use of prepositions. I’ve been through many funny and embarrassing moments thanks to the complexity of the English language…but that’s a whole different story.



To celebrate the upcoming release of THE SOCK THIEF, we’re launching an amazing giveaway.  Sign up for a chance to win a copy of the book, plus a total of six copies to be donated to two elementary schools of your choice (three copies to each school). This giveaway was made possible thanks to a donation from Albert Whitman & Company.  To sign up for a chance to win and to check out the terms and conditions of the giveaway, visit the giveaway page on Ana Crespo’s website.


AnaCrespo_PURPLEAna Crespo is the author of THE SOCK THIEF (Albert Whitmam & Company, March 2015), JP AND THE GIANT OCTOPUS and JP AND THE POLKA-DOTTED ALIENS (Albert Whitman and Company, September 2015). Before investing in a career as a writer, Ana worked as an academic advisor and a translator. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a Master of Education in Career and Technology Education. To find out more about Ana, visit her website. You may also find her tweeting away at Twitter , or sharing news on Facebook.





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Libros Latin@s: The Sofia Martinez series by Jacqueline Jules

By Ashley Hope Pérez

This review is based on an advance reader’s copy of My Family Adventure, which is a multi-story volume with “Picture Perfect,” “Abuela’s Birthday,” and “The Missing Mouse.” These texts are also sold as separate early chapter books.

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION: Growing up in a big family, 7-year-old Sofia Martinez is used to fighting for attention. Her outgoing personality mixed with her confidence and fiery passion for everything she does gets her that attention — even if it’s sometimes mixed with trouble. Sofia is a little stubborn and a lot mischievous, so you can imagine the fun she creates in this early chapter book series. A few Spanish words and phrases are intermixed throughout the story, bringing the importance of Sofia’s culture to life. Discussion questions, writing prompts, and a glossary complete each book.

MY TWO CENTS: The Sofia Martinez series is a lovely addition to the world of early chapter books. All newly published in 2015, each of the books can stand alone, and they needn’t be read in any particular order. Lively main character Sofia keeps herself in the middle of the action in her loving, playful extended family, and her adventures are light and joyful with a touch of mischief. The charming illustrations by Kim Smith will bring giggles to young readers.


Suited well to the needs, interests, and sense of humor of early readers, the books will have broad appeal for the K-2 crowd. Although the prominence of pink in the book design may attract more girls and turn off some boys, my son enjoyed reading the stories. He especially like what he called Sofia’s “tricks.”

In “Picture Perfect,” Sofia decides to switch her school photo with one of her sister’s, and she’s disappointed when no one notices the swap. The same evening, a baby cousin gets tons of attention because of the enormous pink bow she’s wearing in her hair. When picture days rolls back around, Sofia is determined that this time she’ll stand out. Any guesses as to what Sofia borrows to put in her hair on picture day?SofiaM_bow

“Abuela’s Birthday” centers on Sofia’s (very messy) plan to make a piñata for her grandmother’s birthday. Once the mess is cleaned up, she persuades Tía Carmen for one more chance, and with the help of her cousins and siblings, Sofia makes a great piñata. Even the surprise inside of the piñata—playing cards instead of candy—shows Sofia’s creativity.

In “The Missing Mouse,” Sofia gets advice from Abuela and help from her cousin and sisters to recapture a runaway classroom pet without disturbing her mother while she gives a piano lesson. The solution involves a good deal of creativity and improvisation. A bucket, some blocks, peanut butter, and a few shrieks from her sisters are also involved.

Kim Smith’s illustrations bring the accessible language of the stories to life. Sofia is at the center of most of the drawings—and her freckles and expressive face had me enchanted from the start. But my favorite illustration of all might be this one from “Abuela’s Birthday”:

SofiaM_Please?It’d be hard to deny those four a chance to try again with the piñata endeavor.

The production of these books is especially thoughtful. The use of pink for words in Spanish produces an effect much like what Sofia achieves by wearing an enormous bow for her school picture. It marks Spanish as special–and very much part of Sofia’s world.


In general I’m not much of a fan of glossaries, but here, I think it works well as a support for teachers and students not familiar with the Spanish, and a glossary is definitely preferable to embedded translations.

When readers graduate from the world of Sofia Martinez, they can dip right into Jacqueline Jules’s Freddie Ramos/Zapato Power series for slightly more independent readers (grades 1-3).

TEACHING TIPS: The Sofia Martinez series is a great match for students in K-2 (possibly stretching upward a bit for students who have literacy skills in Spanish but are transitioning to reading in English). Think of readers who are beginning to read on their own and for whom the idea of a chapter book has appeal. The advance reader’s copy did not have the discussion questions or writing prompts mentioned in the publisher’s description, so I can’t comment on those.

Instead, I’d like to talk a bit about the linguistic opportunities offered by the series. The change in color for Spanish words inScreen Shot 2015-01-31 at 10.32.36 PMphrases in the Sofia Martinez books will help young bilingual readers recognize when they should apply what they know about Spanish decoding and pronunciation and when they should follow the norms of English. I can imagine this as a confidence builder for Spanish-speaking students learning English in bilingual, ESL, or English-only settings (“Look! You already know these words in Spanish!”). Teachers in English-only classrooms might consider making their Spanish-speaking students “experts” on the Spanish words and phrases when sharing the stories in small or large group. Non-Spanish speakers may take pride in knowing the “secret” words in the story and, with a little coaching, will be able to handle the small amount of Spanish even when reading aloud.

Teachers might pause students on pages where we see Sofia’s “I’m getting an idea” facial expression. What do they think will happen next? When she gets into a pickle, as in “Abuela’s Birthday” and “The Missing Mouse,” ask students to suggest, draw, or journal about the solutions they would try to solve the problem. In Spanish-English bilingual classrooms, students might also experiment with using Spanish their own stories. Using the color switch technique from Sofia Martinez can strengthen students’ sense of pride in their Spanish abilities while also signaling to monolingual guests or administrators that the movement between English and Spanish is intentional and linguistically appropriate. More importantly, this narrative tactic is culturally relevant to the young people sharing their stories.

Above all, have fun with Sofia!


Jacqueline Jules is the award-winning author of more than twenty children’s books, many of which were inspired by her work as a teacher and librarian. She is also an accomplished poet. When not reading, writing, or teaching, Jacqueline enjoys taking long walks, attending the theater, and spending time with her family. She lives in Northern Virginia.



Kim Smith has worked in magazines, advertising, animation, and children’s gaming. She studied illustration at the Alberta College of Art and Design and is the illustrator of several children’s books and the designer for the cover of the middle-grade novel How to Make a Million. She lives in Calgary, Alberta.

Guest Post: The Universality of Being an Outsider


by Jacqueline Jules


Jacqueline Jules’ family in 1956

In my small Virginia town, like many places in the 1960s south, the first question people asked upon meeting was “What church do you go to?”

As a child, I remember fielding that question from parents of new friends and hearing my mother answer it in grocery stores.

“We’re Jewish,” I would explain politely. “We go to a synagogue.”

The response was generally a startled one. People would stare like I was a new species at the zoo.

“Oh my! I don’t think I’ve ever met a Jewish person before!”

From there, I’d often have to answer a series of questions about my “Jewish Church.”

I had been taught from a young age that I represented my religion. If I was impolite, all Jews would be considered rude. I had to be on my best behavior at all times so that others would not have a reason to dislike Jewish people. On many occasions, I also had to explain why Jews didn’t believe in Jesus and why I wasn’t terrified of going to hell. And the questions were just as likely to come from adults as other children.

Growing up, Christmas and Easter were never seasons of joy for me. They were times when the questions intensified. Why didn’t I celebrate Christmas? Didn’t the Jews kill Jesus? I learned early on that the Christmas spirit did not extend to Jewish children.

To add to my stranger status, my parents were not Southern born. Mom was a Northerner from Rochester, New York. Dad was from Switzerland and spoke with a thick German accent. He came to the US after World War II and was not a citizen when I was born. His name was Otto. In small-town Southern culture, having foreign roots set my family apart even in our tiny Jewish community.

So feelings of being “different” are quite familiar to me. I know what it is like to be the child of an immigrant. To be embarrassed in public when people ask your father to repeat something three times because they can’t understand what he is saying. To hear a parent talk of a homeland missed deeply. To long for relatives abroad who were only a part of our lives through letters and very occasional visits. To feel alone, apart from others who are comfortable in their skin and their surroundings.

Years later, when I took a position as a librarian in an elementary school with a large immigrant population, I identified with my students immediately. I had watched my own father struggle with the English language, which he learned in adulthood, at age 32. To his credit, he became quite fluent, but he still made some mistakes with grammar and pronunciation. Misunderstandings occurred in family conversations when my father did not understand a nuance or a cultural reference. Or we didn’t understand the perspective he was coming from. He didn’t approve of everything American. I recall what fun he made of sliced white bread which he compared to eating a sponge, and how excited he was when we found bakeries that sold French bread. And I remember how much my father hated turkey. He thought it tasted dry and he insisted my mother serve lamb or duck on Thanksgiving. I also remember that he didn’t care for pumpkin pie. In his mind, pies should be filled with fruit, gooseberries in particular.

The first Thanksgiving I taught at Timber Lane Elementary, a Title I school in Fairfax County, Virginia, I noticed right away that my immigrant students were not interested in my Thanksgiving lessons. Up until then, my story times had been received warmly. Seeing that my English-language learners enjoyed repetitive songs and choruses, I had quickly adopted them into my curriculum. My students had enjoyed songs about animals, the seasons, the five senses, etc. Why did they hate my turkey songs?

DuckforTurkeyDaybyJJulesA student gently explained: “We don’t have that kind of Thanksgiving dinner in my house.” Suddenly, I stopped being a teacher and returned to my own childhood, where I had been informed that turkey and pumpkin pie were the correct meal choices. These memories led to my first book with Albert Whitman Publishers, Duck for Turkey Day, about young Tuyet, who is worried that her Vietnamese-American family is breaking the rules for Thanksgiving. While the emotions of this book belong to my own childhood, they were deeply shared by the kids I taught. Making my characters Vietnamese-American gave me the opportunity to show how much I identified with my students, along with the universality of the problem. It also made my story current. My experiences as a Jewish child of a German-Swiss in the 1960s south are historical now. While I have shared my Jewish heritage in many of my books, I don’t want everything I write to be limited to my own particular, and not necessarily, universal experiences. Growing up as an outsider myself has naturally made me empathetic to other minorities in America. And it has made me downright indignant that so few children’s books reflect the lives of children who are not white, Christian, and middle-class.

All too often, books with non-majority characters portray their lives as a situation requiring great explanation. As a young Jewish mother in the 1980s, I was annoyed that most Jewish holiday books described traditions in such detail, they read like nonfiction. Not every Christmas story describes the Nativity. Most Easter stories are about bunnies, not the Resurrection. Why can’t Jewish children have light-hearted picture books that celebrate the joy of their culture, too?

ZapatowithStickerAnd why can’t children of color have books, particularly easy readers, where they see themselves enjoying life? Why is minority status always the problem in a story rather than just one facet of a particular person’s existence? In my Zapato Power books, a chapter book series about a boy with super-powered purple sneakers, the main character, Freddie Ramos, is Latino. He lives an urban apartment life in a close-knit immigrant community, just like most of the students I taught. But that is not the plot of his stories. Freddie is mostly concerned with how he will solve mysteries and be a hero with his super speed. And in my new series, Sofia Martinez, my main character is a spirited Latina who wants more attention from her large, loving family. I taught many Sofias. Her family eats tamales at Christmas. She uses Spanish phrases in her conversations. And she deserves to learn to read with books that show her family life as fun and normal, not a particular ethnic challenge to be overcome.SofiaMartinezFamilyAdventure

Many authors say they write the books they would have liked to see as a child. I do that. But I also write stories I wish I had been able to give my students when I taught—books that show it is okay to be who you are.








Jacqueline Jules is the award-winning author of 30 books, including No English, Duck for Turkey Day, Zapato Power, Never Say a Mean Word Again, and the recently released Sofia Martinez series. After  many years as a librarian and teacher, she now works full-time as an author and poet at her home in Northern Virginia. Find her on Facebook and at her official author site.