La Casa Azul: El Barrio’s Independent Bookstore

By: Zoraida Córdova


La Casa Azul 4

Entrance. Photo by Z.C.



La Casa Azul Vega

Manny Vega’s mural. Photo Z.C.

El Barrio, or East Harlem, is home to La Casa Azul, named after Frida Khalo’s home-turned-museum. Raising “40k in 40 days” through a crowd-funded campaign, Aurora Anaya-Cerda was able to open the doors to the store in June of 2012. It’s encouraging to see that the public is willing to contribute to bring these projects to life. I remember keeping up with the bookstore’s progress on Lucha Libros. From painting to building shelves, it was exciting to know that this kind of indie was coming to a neighborhood that otherwise doesn’t have access to a wide range of Libros Latinos. In a city that is 28.6% Latino, there is a huge need for access to these books.

La Casa Azul 1

All things Frida Khalo. Photo Z.C.

So, how do you visit? To get to La Casa Azul, take the 6 train to 103rd street in Manhattan. This lets you off onto an area lined with bars, restaurants, bodegas, a botanica, and schoolyards. The neighborhood is also home to El Museo Del Barrio, if you’re in the mood for more art. But first, go to La Casa Azul. Make a left on Lex and a right at a bright blue awning. Down the steps you’re greeted by a gorgeous art installation by Manny Vega. You can see the process of his work here.

Once inside, the bookstore is warm and inviting. Aurora Anaya-Cerda is there with another employee stacking books. Named and inspired by Frida Khalo’s home, La Casa Azul has many references to her that range from paintings, to art books, to art installations. LCA even has its own exhibit/gallery. Their current showcase is called “A Ribbon Around a Bomb,” by Suhaly Bautista, The Earth Warrior. I’m excited to see what the next art display will be.

La Casa Azul 2

Shelves. Photo Z.C.

The great thing that you can see about La Casa Azul, is that it’s not just about the book events, but about community. Take a look at the events calendar for a wide selection of family-friendly music events, book readings and signings, literary conferences, volunteer outreach, and even BYOB paint parties.  They recently held a book drive for young immigrant children in New York. In addition to these events, La Casa Azul is available for space rental. Because of all of these things, La Casa Azul is important. I’d like to think that the independent bookstore is making a comeback, despite the threat of the digital age. Sure, you can get a book on your smart device or tablet, but there’s something special about being able to congregate in a safe space that embraces Latino culture.

The next time you’re uptown, stop by and pick up a couple of books.


Kid Lit section. Photo by L.L.

Pig Park and the Cosmic Race: Diversity and Identity in My New YA Novel

By Claudia Guadalupe Martinez

As a kid, I assumed everyone around me was Mexican. I lived less than a mile from the Texas-Mexico border, so we pretty much were Mexican. This neighborhood inspired my first novel, The Smell of Old Lady Perfume–a world vastly different from the one that surrounds my protagonist, Masi Burciaga, in my new novel Pig Park. Masi’s cast of neighbors runs the gamut from the Nowaks to the Wongs.

2236319Nevertheless, Mexican identity is something I thought very much about as I wrote. Two-thirds of the Latino population in the U.S. was of Mexican descent in the last Census, and I can’t help asking myself what it means to be Mexican these days. I didn’t grow up purposefully Mexi-centric. I was a product of my environment. I’d never had the opportunity to truly interact with non-Mexicans, non-Mexican Latinos, or Mexicans with experiences significantly different from mine until I moved to California for college.

Even then, the diversity I experienced was a somewhat artificial one created by a college admissions team. California was still the Southwest, and my new community and I still shared many experiences. But seriously, since I barely knew how to drive, I can hardly say I experienced L.A.

Chicago would be different. One day, I cashed in my airline miles and set off to visit a friend there. I walked into a coffee shop and stumbled onto a flier for an apartment rental. So began my long-term relationship with the city and neighborhood that would inspire Pig Park.

My new Chicago landlady occasionally referred to my neighborhood as Mexican, but my neighbors included Mexicans, African Americans, Filipinos, Puerto Ricans, and miscellaneous white folks. Everyone just mixed it up.

18528311Mexicans have formed communities in Chicago since the 1850’s. And, while a 2012 Census study from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research named Chicago the most segregated city in America, Chicagoland’s Mexican population is massive enough at 1.4 million that some neighborhood overflow is to be expected. This is how diversity develops naturally. Scholar José Vasconcelos talked about Mexicans as “the cosmic race;” behind it was the idea that we actually have a little bit of everything in us, that we like to mix it up, eventually transcending racial and ethnic categories.

Life happened, as it is wont to do. I eventually got married, moved into a house in a new neighborhood, and became a mom. My husband is of the sort who wouldn’t be caught dead putting ketchup on a hot dog and gladly plays tour guide to visiting family and friends, introducing them to the many surprises of our city. He is a Chicagoan through and through. He is also of Guatemalan and Salvadoran descent. As such, I don’t know if my two-year daughter and my son (who will be born this October) will consider themselves Mexican or not. After all, identity is a fluid thing, partially assumed and partially assigned. My husband and I hope they consider themselves whatever they want, and are never made to feel that they can’t.

I wrote Pig Park recognizing that the world my children will be a part of isn’t exactly one thing, and that this is the type of world many kids are increasingly growing up in.

CGMTZ_photoby neus raffols_color_CROPPEDClaudia Guadalupe Martinez is the author of The Smell of Old Lady Perfume (Cinco Puntos, 2008) and Pig Park (Cinco Puntos, 2014). She grew up in sunny El Paso, Texas, where she learned that letters form words from reading the subtitles of old westerns with her father. She now lives and writes in Chicago.

2014 Reading Challenge: July & August Update

If you want to diversify your TBR pile, this is the perfect month to do it since it is National Hispanic Heritage Month. Our challenge is heading into its final months, but it’s never too late to join us. Here are the guidelines: read one book a month that is written by a Latin@ author (any subject) or a book written by anyone that has Latin@ characters, themes, settings, etc. You’re not required to review–only read and enjoy and let us know what you have read! If you do post a review somewhere, we will link it to the book covers below. If you choose not to review, we will link the covers to Goodreads. Explore our book lists or past book talks (Libros Latin@s) for suggestions.

Also, since this is National Banned Books Week, you can choose from the Latin@ titles that have been challenged, according to this list kept by the National Council of Teachers of English. Here they are:

Always Running Before We Were Free  Bless Me, Ultima  95127  9328  7133770  94064

And here are some of the titles read by our Reading Challenge participants:

106281  17928557  18405521  18651917  18166935  17643  1369609  17870787  288563  15893258  18654377  1274318  20702546  12000020  13436375  1258175  Moony Luna/Luna, lunita lunera  16670129  15791044  6098251  378653  2376261


Enhancing Children’s ABCs and Vocabulary Through 9 Alphabet Books

By Sujei Lugo

ABC… We must not forget how important the introduction of the alphabet is to children, from the shape and name of each letter, to their different sounds and functions in the construction of words. The alphabet is one of the first things you see on a classroom wall during thoY para Yacs (ABC de Puerto Rico)se early years of our school life, usually above the chalkboard. The alphabet comes in different sizes, is printed on flash cards, banners, pop-up books, felt books, board books, and even as plastic toys.

The alphabet is so basic that we might think any book can help us teach it to our young ones, but there are some qualities we should be looking for when choosing a good alphabet book. It should present an easily recognizable version of each letter; it should use illustrations and images to increase the understanding of the alphabet; words chosen to represent each letter should enhance children’s vocabulary and literacy skills; and the presentation of the alphabet in the context of a story or theme should contribute to critical thinking and story comprehension. Other issues to keep in mind: If there is a story, is it inclusive and diverse? Is the story easy to comprehend? Is the material suitable for read-alouds or early readers? Are alliteration and rhymes used effectively or are they distracting?

I want to recommend some diverse and useful alphabet books that fulfill the basic needs of this kind of text and give us the opportunity to teach something else. They carry good links between letters and sounds and depict a strong connection between words and images of everyday life and multicultural communities. This list looks at titles that represent Latino or Latin American communities, portray themes relevant to these communities and are written or illustrated by Latinos/as. They are mostly bilingual books (Spanish/English), but I also included English titles that incorporate words in Spanish, and books completely written in Spanish. These books can serve to transmit and recognize our culture, language, and history, as well as our struggles and similarities to other communities. Different communities should see that no matter our differences, the alphabet is something we hold in common. It gives us the power to construct words and to use language as a tool to name, describe, connect, and challenge, and it forms the building blocks of communication.

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

A is for Activist

“A is for Activist” to “Z is for Zapatista of course”

This is a vibrant and powerful boardbook that introduces kids to social justice issues. The book includes alliteration, rhymes, and words such as ally, grassroots, indigenous, organize, and youth. Adults should read this book along with children, and provide assistance and context for words that are unfamiliar to them. A highlight in A is for Activist is its imagery of kids from different ethnic and racial backgrounds being active and advocating for their rights and their communities. The book is in English and includes some words in Spanish, but a Spanish edition comes out in October 2014.

ABC de Puerto Rico by Rubén del Rosario, Isabel Freire de Matos and Antonio Martorell

ABC de Puerto Rico

“Agua, acerola, alcapurria, alelaila, ardilla, atrecho” to “zapatero, zafacón, zigzag, zumbador”

The first published Puerto Rican alphabet book, ABC de Puerto Rico includes Spanish language words and Anglicisms characteristic of Puerto Rican vocabulary and poems celebrating our heritage and culture. Each page is covered with wonderful woodcut illustrations. Children are introduced to words such as alcapurria, boricua, mofongo, ñoco, and vegigante, words that are not traditionally found in alphabet books. This book was banned by the Puerto Rican government in 1968, due to its “anti-American” and “subversive” content and the use of images like the machete and the color red.

ABeCedarios: Mexican Folk Art ABCs in English and Spanish by Cynthia Weill, K. B. Basseches and Moisés and Armando Jiménez


“the Armadillo/el Armadillo” to “the Zedonk/el Zedonk”

This bilingual alphabet book focuses on animal names. Through its minimalistic design, each page includes an animal name that starts with one of the letters of the alphabet. Photographs of colorful wood sculptures accompany each name. The images will inspire children to create their own version of the folk art pieces. The book includes the letters Ch, Ll and Rr, and explains that although they are no longer letters in the Spanish language alphabet, the sounds are still in use.

Calavera Abecedario: A Day of the Dead Alphabet Book by Jeanette Winter

Calavera Abecedario

“A – Ángel” to “Z – Zapatero”

It starts off like a regular picture book, with a story (in English) about a Mexican family and how they are preparing to celebrate Día de los Muertos. Then the book shifts to a traditional alphabet book format, which illustrates each letter with a Spanish language word and an image of a skeleton. Each skeleton resembles a character such as a bruja or unicornio, or occupations such as doctor, ilustradora, químico, and xilofonista. The illustrations are wonderful and vibrant in color, resulting in pages that resemble trading cards or lotería cards.

Gathering the Sun: An Alphabet in Spanish and English by Alma Flor Ada and Simón Silva (English translation by Rosa Zubizarreta)

Gathering the Sun

“Árboles” to “Zanahoria”

A 1998 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor book, Gathering the Sun is an alphabet book that tells a story–the story of migrant workers. While introducing children to the letters of the alphabet, the book talks about ancestors and the pride and honor of cultural heritage. Each word includes a poem in Spanish and an English translation, although the first letter of the translation is not the same as the original Spanish language version. The earthy and rich illustrations are a great complement to the short, rhyming poetry.

Idalia’s Project ABC: An Urban Alphabet Book in English and Spanish by Idalia Rosario

Idalia's Project ABC

“Aa is for asking. Asking Papo’s mother if he could come out to play” to “Zz is for zoo. Now I’d like to read about the zoo. Me too!”

This bilingual book centers around two friends who uses the alphabet to introduce us to their neighborhood and life in the city. Here is another example of an alphabet book in a context of a story that situates children in active roles in their community. The translation is not literal, and the author uses the opportunity to incorporate colloquial Spanish and anglicisms to reflect the vocabulary used by the characters, as well as issues that affect urban neighborhoods.

¡Marimba! Animales from A to Z by Pat Mora and Doug Cushman


“A Then the ting-tong of the marimba wakes all animales on cue” to “Z zigzagging through zebras and zebúes, zany keepers call, “Yoo-hoooooooo”

This is a playful and colorful alphabet book that sets its story around one night at a zoo. The story is in English and incorporates animal names in Spanish. Through movement and rhythm, the story mentions words related to instruments (marimba), dances (samba, salsa) and food (flan, enchiladas) of Latin American and Afro-Caribbean origin. It includes an author’s note and a translation and pronunciation guide at the end of the book.

P is for Piñata: A Mexico Alphabet by Tony Johnston and John Parra

P is for Piñata

“A is for Adobe” to “Z is for zero”

With the support of John Parra’s wonderful and characteristic illustrations, P is for Piñata is an A to Z journey through Mexico’s history. The book introduces the alphabet via short and rich poems with a historical and socio-cultural context. Extra information about the background of the word chosen to represent letters enriches  their meaning. The layout and colorful images bring this alphabet book to life.

Welcome to My Neighborhood! A Barrio ABC by Quiara Alegría Hudes and Shino Arihara

Welcome to my Neighborhood

“A is for abuela. And abandoned car” to “Z street’s loud with zooming cars.”

This one feels like an updated version of Idalia’s Project ABC alphabet book (it was published in 1981), since we have two friends who are also introducing us to the alphabet while walking around their neighborhood. Children will not only learn new words, but also more about life in a big city, including the sense of community. The book is written in English and incorporates some words in Spanish such as abuela, jíbaros and muralistas. One of the sentences that caught my attention was: “S for all the Spanish words I somehow still forget!”, an issue that some second and third generation Latino/as and Chicano/as will relate to.


Just as I was finishing this list a new and notable alphabet book was announced. I didn’t include it officially on the list because I haven’t had the opportunity to read it. The book comes out in April 2015. It’s called Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl, and it focuses on important women across U.S. America who have contributed to politics, science, activism and popular culture. Preview: D is for Dolores Huerta. Really looking forward to this children’s book!


Scholastic Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month With Some Favorite Books

By Roany Molina

Hispanic Heritage Month officially kicked off Monday – September 15th – and lasts until October 15th. To celebrate, we compiled some of our favorite characters and stories from all over Latin America in a Colección Herencia Hispana / Hispanic Heritage Collection. Each book is rich with beautiful language, stories, myths, art, and foods.


Award winning author and illustrator Yuyi Morales does it again with her captivating children’s book, Niño Wrestles the World. Niño, the unstoppable masked child wrestler, contends against a series of abnormal opponents. Niño defeats them all with ease, but it isn’t until the clock chimes that he is faced with his most difficult challenge, Las Hermanitas (the little sisters). Morales is able to incorporate traditional Mexican beliefs and relate them to the country’s famous form of wrestling, commonly known as Lucha Libre, which requires wrestlers to mask their face to protect their identity. Her vibrant illustrations keep true to the classic pop-art style associated with Lucha Libre on posters and trading cards.  Mixed with the engrossing text, the combination of both storyline and artwork engages any reader. The tale is exciting and uses basic vocabulary for its young readers to follow along. From the uncommon opponents to the energetic fearlessness of Niño, Niño Wrestles the World depicts the story of an intelligent entertaining little boy who is able to teach its readers common Spanish words and phrases. Winning the Pura Belpré Award (2014), Yuyi Morales taps into both her creative power as an author and illustrator to create this delightful story.


Sabores De América is a new way to learn and look at the foods we eat. Written by Ana María Pavez and Constanza Recart, Sabores , originally published in Chile, has been distributed all over the world and is the winner of the Skipping Stone Award and the White Ravens Award (2010). The text is appealing to reader’s grades 4 and up but the book is an amazingly useful as a reference for readers of all ages. The book’s sophisticated water color art work, designed by Isabel Hojas, makes it friendly and relatable to a younger audience. This non-fiction book can also be used as an excellent classroom resource for any teacher looking to inspire cultural curiosity in the classroom. Students will learn about Latin America’s contribution to the world through the use of intriguing historical facts and recipes. A glossary about Mesoamerican culture and a map of the region are included.


The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred makes vocabulary building fun with its tribute to the nursery rhyme, “The House That Jack Built.” Written by Samantha R. Vamos and illustrated by Rafael López, each page engages the audience into wanting to help the farm maiden stir the cazuela (stewpot). Once she begins the task, all the farm animals desire to contribute in some way. Whether, it’s the cow that produces the milk or the donkey that give the duck a ride to the market to buy sugar, each animal participates in creating the final tasty dish. The cooking process becomes a festive event when everyone begins to sing and dance. Distracted by the joy of the party, the animals and the farm maiden forget to keep an eye on the cazuela and it begins to bubble over. Who will be the one to notice? Vamos and López’s combined efforts creates a delicious educational cultural celebration. An added bonus is the Arroz Con Leche recipe, better known as Rice Pudding, towards the final pages of the book. The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred, is an enjoyable read that can get any tummy rumbling.


La difunta familia Diaz by P.J. Bracegirdle and illustrated by Polly Bernatene is a playful and humorous tale that explores the two side of Día de los Muertos – the living and the dead. The story revolves around Angelito, a sweet little boy – a dead little boy— living happily with his dead family. They have a well-kept home strewn with family portraits, a skeleton dog, and their whole neighborhood is “dead” – the birds, butterflies, the flowers on the dining room table, and the moon in the sky. In short, the afterlife is good. However, Angelito is anxious about Día de los Muertos and all the horrors of the living! However, an unexpected friendship will soon alter his point of view.  La difunta familia Diaz’s is a fantastic book that lightheartedly introduce children to this famous holiday.


In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, finish the following sentence and you could win a FREE Hispanic Heritage Poster and 25 Spanish and bilingual books.  “In Latin America, I would like to travel to ____ and taste ____.”  Click HERE and then post your answer in the comments. You have until Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 11:59pm EST to post your answer. Remember, your answer must include the answer to the question “In Latin America, I would like to travel to ____ and taste ____.”  For the official rules, click here.

Stay tuned for more exciting Hispanic Heritage Special Features from Club Leo en Español throughout the next 30 days!

Club Leo en Español supports your classroom with fun and affordable books that connect children’s home language and learning. Our books include amazing series, original titles, and winners of the Pura Belpré Award, which celebrates the remarkable contributions of artists who give voice to the Latino community through children’s literature.

Club Leo en Español apoya tu salón de clases con libros divertidos y asequibles que conectan la lengua materna y el aprendizaje de los niños. Nuestra colección incluye increíbles series, títulos originales y ganadores del Premio Pura Belpré, que celebra los extraordinarios aportes de artistas que dan voz a la comunidad latina a través de la literatura infantil.

Libros Latin@s: Lowriders in Space

Lowriders in Space_FC_HiResBy Lila Quintero Weaver

This book talk is based on an advance review copy. Quotes and details may vary in the final version.

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack and Elirio Malaria love working with cars. You name it, they can fix it. But the team’s favorite cars of all are lowriders—cars that hip and hop, dip and drop, go low and slow, bajito y suavecito. The stars align when a contest for the best car around offers a prize of a trunkful of cash for the best car around—just what the team needs to open their own shop! ¡Ay chihuahua! What will it take to transform a junker into the best car in the universe? Striking, unparalleled art from debut illustrator Raúl the Third recalls ballpoint-pen-and-Sharpie desk-drawn doodles, while the story is sketched with Spanish, inked with science facts, and colored with true friendship. With a glossary at the back to provides definitions for Spanish and science terms, this delightful book will educate and entertain in equal measure.

MY TWO CENTS: Look in the children’s section for graphic novels from the Latino perspective and you’ll find precious few choices. Look there for books about lowriders and your choices will be still slimmer. Here is Lowriders in Space, ready to fill both spots with a joyous, celebratory tale. You don’t need deep knowledge of the lowrider culture to appreciate this middle-grade graphic novel, brought to you by the author-illustrator team of Cathy Camper and Raúl the Third.

Lowriders In Space_Int_3In the opening pages, we meet three animal characters with Spanish names, all of whom work for a car-repair shop. The shop is called Cartinflas, and this is just one of many playful allusions and verbal jokes in this book. (Cartinflas plays on the name of the famous Mexican comic actor, Cantinflas.) Lupe Impala, (a wolf) busts gender stereotypes as a female lead who knows her way around car engines. Her sidekicks, the octopus El Chavo Flapjack and the mosquito Elirio Malaria, each specialize in key aspects of automobile revamping in the lowrider style. Elirio’s fine-tip proboscis doubles as a paintbrush that turns out the sweetest racing stripes and airbrushed scenes you could imagine. El Chavo’s eight tentacles go to work washing, polishing and buffing cars to a high sheen.

The trio dream of going into business for themselves, but where will they find start-up money? A car competition with a hefty cash prize gives them hope, but there are tough challenges to meet. First, they must find a car to work their magic on. They settle for a rusty heap sitting on cinder blocks. Now for car parts. At an abandoned airplane factory, they pick up mini air compressors and a box of rocket equipment. After attaching the parts, they’re in for a surprise when Lupe cranks the engine and it launches the car into the stratosphere. High above the earth, the car gears down into bajito-y-suavecito mode, low and slow: this is the cruising speed that lets low riders see and be seen. While the transformed auto travels outer space, it takes on loads of flash and bling borrowed from stars, asteroids and others elements of the galactic realm.

There’s much to love in this kid-friendly graphic novel. The story arc follows a familiar trajectory: the protagonists meet every challenge successfully and win the sought-after prize. Kid readers will be cheering. But my hat’s off to Cathy Camper for elevating the storyline above the predictable. She does this through original settings and characters, including the lowrider car itself, and with the inventive twists of space travel and comical astronomy. Her text engages the ear with musical language that includes alliteration, onomatopoeia, and bursts of G-rated street slang in English, Spanish, and Spanglish.

Kids will eat up the comics-style art. Every page offers levels of visual puns and charming details that invite readers to study panels closely. The color scheme and the drawings give off a retro historieta vibe, fitting for a story about lowrider culture, which was born in the 1950s and is rooted in the Mexican American community. I’m not familiar with the ballpoint-pen doodle style that Raúl the Third credits as his inspiration, but I dig it!

TEACHING TIPS: The back of the book contains a glossary of Spanish phrases, factual information on the tongue-in-cheek astronomy that appears in the story, and a thumbnail summary of lowrider history.

One bonus of graphic novels is their appeal to devoted bookworms and reluctant readers. Kids seem to instinctively grasp the multiple levels of interaction offered through their blend of text and images. Teachers may want to approach Lowriders in Space—and any graphic novel—in two steps. Read through it once purely for the story. Revisit it at a slower pace to more fully absorb the images. Raúl the Third’s art is rich with details, charming secondary characters, and visual puns that sharp-eyed kids will relish hunting down. These may not be central to the story, but they sure contribute to the fun. For example, it’s one thing to read that there’s a fast-food joint called Sapo Bell in the background of one scene—it’s another to spy the goofy sapo sitting out front. Middle-grade readers are sure to love such hidden gems.

Lowriders in Space encourages kids to celebrate a fun aspect of Mexican American culture that should be respected, not ridiculed or stigmatized. Too often when lowriders appear in popular culture, they’re thrown in for kitsch points. This usually results in stereotyping and negative connotations. Teachers can use this text to combat the lazy disregard involved in stereotypical usage and replace it with the dignity that comes with cross-cultural appreciation.

If you’d like to learn more about lowrider history culture, here are some suggested resources:

“Lowriding: This Culture is About More Than Cars.”

“Low and Slow: The History of Lowriders.” 

Be sure to read Cathy’s guest post on Latin@s in Kid Lit!

Cathy Camper_headshot_photo (c) Jayson Colomby_smCathy Camper is a librarian focusing on outreach to schools and children in grades K-12. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Raúl the Third teaches classes on  drawing and comics for kids at the Museum of Fine Arts and the Institute of Contemporary Art. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.          

   Raul the Third (credit Elaine Bay)








And now for a big treat, the official book trailer for Lowriders in Space!