Libros Latin@s: Enrique’s Journey

By Lila Quintero Weaver

Enrique's JourneyPUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION: Based on the Los Angeles Times newspaper series that won two Pulitzer Prizes, this astonishing story puts a human face on the ongoing debate about immigration reform in the United States. Now a beloved classic, this page-turner about the power of family is a popular text in classrooms and a touchstone for communities across the country to engage in meaningful discussions about this essential American subject.

Enrique’s Journey recounts the unforgettable quest of a Honduran boy looking for his mother, eleven years after she is forced to leave her starving family to find work in the United States. Braving unimaginable peril, often clinging to the sides and tops of freight trains, Enrique travels through hostile worlds full of thugs, bandits, and corrupt cops. But he pushes forward, relying on his wit, courage, hope, and the kindness of strangers.

MY TWO CENTS: The best creative non-fiction takes you straight down into the messy, contradictory, gut-wrenching heart of a subject, and awakens your appreciation for its complexity. By every measure, Enrique’s Journey is such a book. It’s the riveting epic of a Honduran teenager driven to escape intolerable conditions and fueled by the hope of crossing the border into the United States. The original version was published in 2007 as adult nonfiction. This edition, adapted for readers as young as the seventh grade, was released in 2013. It also updates the story. (Young-reader adaptations are a growing trend in nonfiction publishing.)

As Enrique launches his eighth attempt to reach the United States by means of train hopping, the risks are clearer than ever to him: death, dismemberment, robbery, extortion, and sexual victimization. But the way he sees it, staying in Honduras presents its own bleak and terrifying future. Gangs and violence are rampant, poverty is entrenched, and opportunities for work and self-betterment are virtually nonexistent. Worst of all, Enrique’s mother, Lourdes, has been absent from his life for an achingly long time. A single mother with no dependable means of support, she left for the United States when Enrique was five, entrusting her two children into the care of relatives. Enrique’s sister has weathered the eleven-year separation reasonably well, but it takes a heavy toll on the young boy. During his teen years in Honduras, he spirals down into serious drug use and antisocial behavior. As his life grows ever more troubled, Enrique imagines that reuniting with his mother will repair the hole in his heart.

In this vivid and comprehensive account, Sonia Nazario retraces Enrique’s eighth attempt, following his 1,800-mile route through the heart of Mexico, an odyssey lasting 47 days. She expands the picture to cover conditions facing others on a similar migratory path. The chapters are embedded with fascinating micro stories of places and people who assist, deter, or exploit the thousands of Central Americans flowing northward through Mexico on train roofs and other modes of transportation. The narrative captures the flavor of distinct geographic zones. The most notorious stretch is Chiapas, in extreme southern Mexico. Chiapas is dense with gangs, bandits, immigration patrols, and unsympathetic residents who look down on the migrants as the “stinking undocumented.” In this region, migrants are easy targets of crime, since as a rule, they’re too fearful to report it, and in many cases, the police collude with the criminals. At one point, gang members chase Enrique along the top of a moving train. After they catch and beat him, he jumps off the train and sustains a serious injury.

Migrants like Enrique also encounter good-hearted people, who are typically quite poor themselves. Some of them make it a regular practice to toss food and water to migrants clinging to the roofs of passing trains. Some even open their homes to strangers with nowhere to shelter between train departures. There are agencies and churches that offer assistance, including a few that give the severely injured a place to heal. These accounts of compassion touched me to the core. I was also moved by the camaraderie that develops among train riders, who often sacrificially share with strangers whatever small comfort they can—blankets, food, water. Although they pool resources, exchange information, and organize lookout duty so others can sleep, individual migrants often find themselves in terrifying circumstances beyond the reach of kind, but equally vulnerable, strangers.

When Enrique arrives at the border with Texas, he’s finally able to call his mother, yet his ordeal is far from over. After many complications and long delays, Enrique makes a perilous crossing. There is no fairy-tale reunion. His anger over the heartbreaking separation spills out in words and self-destructive actions. Gradually, things get better as Enrique matures, finds work, and begins to seek legal status.

For kids who like dystopian stories, here’s a true-to-life dystopia to check against those from fantasy. This book is not light reading, nor is it meant to be. Most young readers will endure the gritty parts if only to find out what happens to Enrique, who, like teens everywhere, holds a mix of dreams and demons. Some readers may have a hard time getting past the controversies that swirl around undocumented immigrants, but the slant of this book is not toward proposing policy or resolving debates. By concentrating on the story of one boy from a broken society—a boy whose resilience and courage seem at times superhuman in the face of nearly insurmountable odds—Sonia Nazario brings deep human dimension to a thorny issue of our times.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: In the official website for Enrique’s Journey, under the tab Educator Resources, teachers can locate extensive lesson plans and activities across the disciplines, along with a list of recommended movies and documentaries. The publisher has also released a Spanish edition, La Travesía de Enrique, and the site includes lessons geared toward students of Spanish.

Sonia Nazario has been a frequent guest on television and radio shows, including On Point, with Tom Ashbrook. Her views were featured in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.

Enrique’s Journey is being used as a text across America. This report focuses on the book’s impact in college classrooms.

Which Way Home is one of the movies on the publisher’s recommended list. Here is a radio piece about it.

In 2014 the number of unaccompanied children and youth attempting to cross our southern border reached crisis proportions, demonstrating the need to understand what drives Enrique and thousands more like him to make the journey.

Sonia NazarioSONIA NAZARIO is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years in the industry. Enrique’s Journey is her first book-length project. Her official bio can be read here.


Robert Trujillo’s Successful Kickstarter Campaign for Furqan’s First Flat Top

By Robert Trujillo

Spot paintingPeace Latin@s in Kid Lit readers! My name is Robert Trujillo and I’m an illustrator/author from Oakland, California. I am a part of a growing movement of independent children’s book creators here in the Bay Area, and it is an honor to be a contributor to this blog (I am a reader as well!). In this post, I am going to talk about my experience crowd funding my first children’s book and why creating the story is so important to me.

I’m a dad. My kid is 10 years old this year! When my son was first born, I decided that I wanted to read to him a lot and that I would look for cool books for and about him. As I got reacquainted with children’s literature, I found a few great stories that I enjoyed. I’ve always wanted to use my art to communicate a positive or progressive message, and while reading, I became inspired to tell my own stories–about children who are mixed racially, teen parents, kids who are raised bilingual or trilingual, alternative parenting, hip hop culture, social justice, freedom fighters, and more. But to be honest with you, when I sought out books in big stores like this, there weren’t any that reflected my son or these thoughts. In fact, I felt like these stories were almost invisible. So I decided I would make them. I did not know how to do it, so I decided to study. I’m still learning and will be a lifelong student of the craft.

After a three-year break, I decided to go back to college, finish my degree, and study storytelling in various ways. I immersed myself in comics, graphic novels, young adult novels, anime, film, and children’s books. I met a lot of very talented people who were also interested in telling their stories. I started to go to bookstores, blogs, events, etc. to learn. I sent out tons of art samples and contacted tons of editors, art directors, and publishers. I knew that it would be hard work and that it was normal to get a small response when you are just starting out, but I didn’t know until much later just how unrepresented stories that I want to tell were in the mainstream industry.

I reached out to other artists and writers in the field, who were gracious and generous–mostly. I understood that no one–NO ONE–was going to tell my story. Not only that, I could not wait any longer for people in power through the typical “submission” process to see it, understand it, or give me permission to tell it. I would have to do it on my own and take no shit from anyone. So I practiced, failed, tried out many styles, cultivated relationships, asked dumb questions, failed some more, shared my work all the time with family and friends, and slowly began to feel and be seen as a storyteller! I began to develop stories that spoke to me, without worrying if they were sellable to companies or gatekeepers in the industry. And one of those stories was Furqan’s First Flat Top.

It is partly based on my experience as I got my first flat top around the age of Furqan Moreno, the main character in the book. And it is partly a mixture of various influences, all thrown in the pot to make something that tastes right when I tell people about it, or draw. And that is why it is so important to me. But, how did I go from having an idea to getting it successfully funded? Well, here are some pointers.

Short story 21

Campaign Strategy

So for me doing a Kickstarter about my story was about figuring out the best way to approach it and building a team of trusted riders (friends) to roll with me. I could not have done this book without my family, friends, colleagues, and fellow book creators. When I started, I knew that I wanted to hit the people I know with an image that they could relate to and share easily. I knew that I wanted to connect the many circles I subscribe to or participate in. And I knew that I should do it when it felt right.

Authentic connections

What this means basically is to do what you love and seek out others who have very similar feelings at heart. People of all races, religions, political views, and beliefs can spot a phony a mile away. I am learning to take the time to not only create my story, but to invest in the children’s book community in some shape or form. For me, it means doing my homework, studying the art, etc. And when I do this, I often meet like-minded folks doing the same thing. After seven plus years, I’ve built some small connections with people. I’m still studying it, and I have a long way to go to be able to tell stories that touch people.

RTrujillo_FridaSkate copyAn art to it/outlet

Art has so many different connotations. I love to do many different types of art. I have a hard time sticking to one particular message or style because I like to explore. Exploring to me, means learning and growing. If I just paint a picture the same way over and over again because it works, it will be a style that is recognizable. But I want to transcend style. I want to just keep trying new things. So when I began working on a series of short stories using illustration and creative writing, it was a creative outlet. It was uninhibited and fun, and I think different folks connected with the stories for that reason. So, I would say “have fun” with your chosen medium first.

Social Media

This is a tough one for some folks. On the one hand, I try to detach sometimes. Not so much when I first started to explore with sites like Myspace, but now, I have more than 10 different platforms where I not only engage with people who have similar interests, but I share content. The majority of the time I’m sharing things that I have created, but very often I share things that others have written, drawn, or said because it inspires me. Social media to me isn’t so much about talking and having everyone listen to you. It is about having an ongoing conversation about what drives you. When you do that, you naturally connect with people from Ireland to Idaho and everywhere in between. And of course you want to check in with your friends and family, because they are the folks that will give you your first shot. Then they share it with other people, who in turn may also listen.

Characters collageCommunication

While the campaign was going, before, and even now as I type this, I try to be open to receive and give. Open communication is key. Of course, I have my privacy, but I do like to see what my favorite musician, journalist, or sculptor is doing lately. And so I share my work and talk about it. Sometimes it feels like no one is listening, and then there are these amazing bursts of conversation where I connect with people one on one about storytelling; and I had no idea they were even into it. It helps to be accessible. You can turn it on or off when necessary but get out there and talk to folks, online or in person.


Right now I’m looking at my storyboards, sketches, and manuscript for the book. It is very challenging to create a picture book, but this one is fun because it’s a chance to just do my thing. No art directors, no editors (even though they are definitely helpful at times), nada. It’s just me and a team of folks I rely on to say “yeah” or “nope” when the time is right and I can’t decide. Before the campaign, I planned to create a short story, develop it, test it, get feedback, and expand it. I planned to talk to blogs, and various activists in the field of diversity, and I came across a bunch of obstacles that I was not expecting.

Follow through and Community

As I mentioned, I get help from people. Seek out people, build a phone tree, an email group, a regular group. Whatever, just build a community of people who can support you and whom you can support. And set small goals and knock them out. Start small so you can follow through and finish them. This way, you build momentum and feel like you are achieving something, moving forward, or progressing.

Good luck to all of you creators out there!

photo1Born and raised in the Bay Area, Robert Trujillo is a visual artist and father who employs the use of illustration, storytelling, and public art to tell tales. These tales manifest in a variety of forms and they reflect the artist’s cultural background, dreams, and political / personal beliefs. He can be found online and on Twitter at @RobertTres.



Libros Latin@s: The Summer Prince

By Eileen Fontenot

13453104DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: The lush city of Palmares Três shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.

Together, they will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Três will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.

Pulsing with the beat of futuristic Brazil, burning with passions of its characters, and overflowing with ideas, this fiery novel with leave you eager for more from Alaya Dawn Johnson.

MY TWO CENTS: As readers, we experience the yearlong events of The Summer Prince through the eyes of the protagonist, June Costa, a waka (under 30) artist who is growing up in a lush oasis in a post-apocalyptic Brazil. She and her closest friend, Gil, become enamored with the new Summer King, Enki, who is from the verde, the poverty-stricken part of the city. What begins as a rebellious lark – being a grafiteiro, making public art in support of Enki (who is a figurehead for the Aunties who really run the city and is destined to give his life in choosing a new Queen) – leads to a game of higher stakes for June. She grapples with many adult issues – being in a love triangle, struggling with self identity and parents’ expectations, grappling with unjust grandes (the society’s elders) and their traditions, and ultimately being a force that will decide the direction Palmares Três will take in the future. Will the youth rise up and overthrow the corrupt elders and begin a new era that balances humanity with technology?

This is not a pat, easy coming-of-age novel. June is not altogether sympathetic, but most of her actions are understandable. She is portrayed, especially early on in the book, as a somewhat self-centered youth, bent on fame and the coveted Queen’s Award, which is awarded to the best young artist in the city. She must decide just what is she willing to sacrifice to become famous, to create, to win. As she gets involved deeper and deeper with Enki, she must choose to be cowed by the Aunties’ pressure to conform or to help facilitate real change within the city.

Although the book discusses the effects of extreme technology and bio-modifications on humans’ bodies, it does so in a somewhat oblique way. Johnson chooses to focus more on June’s personal struggle with her mother and step-mother and the death of her father, the sacrifices she makes for her art and the love she has for both Enki as a lover and Gil as a friend, while accepting that both Enki and Gil also love each other. June comes to realize that even though you may lose the ones you love the most, they can still be with you in spirit – through what they have left behind in your beloved city, with its music, knowledge and history.

We’d also like to note that while Johnson’s novel received lots of praise when it released in 2013, it was also criticized by some for its portrayal of Brazil and its culture. For that view, please see this post by Ana Grilo, a Brazilian living in the UK and half of The Book Smugglers team.

TEACHING TIPS: This book would be wonderful for an older teen book talk, especially for those who create art or are interested in it. (I suggest older teens because there are some sex scenes, and the book’s themes are for more mature minds.) Wakas of Palmares Três love body art, so talk leaders could pair the book discussion with a make your own temporary tattoo craft. A type of LED sign features very prominently in the climax, so if you’re feeling particularly adventurous or techy, have the teens collaborate on their own sign, which then could be hung in your teen space.

Facilitators could take a few other tacks with their talk, one of which would be discussing the types of love that can be experienced – platonic, familial, romantic, even the respect you come to have for a frenemy – who is embodied in Bebel, June’s talented rival for the Queen’s Award. Teens may want to share their thoughts on romance – the types of conflict they’ve experienced or what things they have done in pursuit of love. If the members of your group want to share mistakes they’ve made, that may help their peers understand they are not alone. Teens who have lost a parent may also benefit from joining in a book talk of The Summer Prince. June loses her beloved father before most of the events of the novel, and it is a recurring theme throughout the book – her difficult acceptance of his death and her mother’s resulting remarriage to an Auntie. Teens in “step” households can share their struggles and successes with living in blended families.

If these ideas don’t grab you, facilitators may choose to ask the teens to discuss their thoughts on the future of technology and how or if they would choose to strike a harmonious balance between the two. Who in the group identifies as more “techy” and who identifies as more of an “analog” type person? Where do they foresee technology going in the future, when they are adults? What sort of restraints should be put on tech, if any? What sort of bio-mods would they want implanted in their bodies? What would they want these mods to do? Communicate with computers directly without a visible interface? Change their appearance? Give them an unusually long life?

AUTHOR (from her website): Alaya (rhymes with “papaya”) lives, writes, cooks, and (perhaps most importantly) eats in Mexico City. Her literary loves are all forms of speculative fiction, historical fiction, and the occasional highbrow novel. She plays the guitar badly and eats very well, particularly during canning season. She has published five novels for adults and young adults, including The Summer Prince, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in 2013.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT The Summer Prince, visit your local library or bookstore. You can also check out,, or


fontenot headshotEileen 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.

Libros Latin@s: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces

By Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez


July 24

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

MY TWO CENTS: Isabel Quintero’s 378 page debut YA novel, Gabi: A Girl in Pieces, is witty, exciting, and heart-felt. Through a diary entry narrative, the novel follows Gabi Hernandez through her senior year in high school. Gabi is a self-identified light-skinned, fat Mexican with an insatiable appetite for hot wings, tacos, sopes, and poetry. The novel opens with a fantastic obsession for hot wings and with Sebastian, Gabi’s best friend, coming out to her. In a small piece of paper Sebastian writes, “I’m gay,” which does not surprise Gabi. Instead, she is more concerned about his parents’ reaction. Cindy, Gabi’s other best friend, also confesses to Gabi that she had sex with German and might be pregnant. Gabi, who is still a virgin, is taken aback but comforts Cindy in her time of need and together they discover that Cindy is in fact pregnant. By the end of the novel, Gabi has had her first kiss, broken up with her first boyfriend, and has sex with her second boyfriend. To top it all off, the Hernandez family must also contend with the father’s meth addiction which ultimately kills him. Poetry and letter writing give Gabi an opportunity to process all of the difficulties that she and her friends endure throughout the year.

Gabi: A Girl in Pieces covers an array of themes, like sexuality, body image, addiction, coming out, writing, healing, and teen pregnancy, among others, that attempt to speak to the experiences of Latino youth in the United States. The opening lines of the novel reveal that Gabi’s mom had her out of wedlock and has since been shunned by the grandmother. The dichotomy of the “good girl/bad girl” is a burden that follows Gabi throughout the novel. Her naiveté about sex and relationships makes her susceptible to her mother’s and Tia Bertha’s religious banter about womanhood—good girls keep their legs closed and go to heaven. Gabi, however, is quick to question her mother’s indoctrination and to point out the contradictions in their own behavior and in what they expect from her brother. Gabi’s mother’s constant insistence to be a “good girl” is also tied to a rejection of American identity. In other words, Gabi’s mother suggests that having sex or going away to college, things “bad girls” do, is part of American culture and Gabi’s desire to participate in such behavior further distances her from their Mexican identity. The juxtaposition of how Latina women should behave in accordance to their culture and religion to how American women behave has been signaled as the key reason for why Latina teens are at a higher risk of attempting and committing suicide in the United States (see Luis Zayas). Research, national reports, and media coverage on the topic argue that there exists a generational tension between mothers and daughters of Latino descent in the US. This tension is said to lead to higher risk of depression, low self-esteem, and potential self-harm. While Gabi’s character does not follow that pattern, it is clear that the tension with her mother impacts the ways she sees herself.

There are many qualities that make Gabi stand out within the genre of Latina/o Children’s and Young Adult Literature. What I find specifically unique about this novel is the thorough engagement with drug addiction. Gabi’s entries capture the barrage of feelings of living with someone who is dependent on a drug. She explains that there are days, weeks, and even months, when they might not hear from her father because he’s on a high binge. They might also see him in the park getting high with the other drug addicts. As children, their dad took them along to pick up his meth. At the end, Gabi finds him overdosed and dead with a pipe on hand in the garage. The novel attempts to highlight how an entire family can be harmed by addiction. While the father’s backstory is never fully developed (because, obviously, he is not the focus of the story), the story suggests that drug addiction is a disease affecting many Latino communities and deserves further attention. That Quintero brings it up in her book provides an opportunity to discuss how children are impacted by a parents’ drug addiction.

Overall, Gabi: A Girl in Pieces is an extraordinary read with the potential to create various dialogues in and outside the classroom. Gabi struggles with body image because of her body type and light skin color, Cindy eventually reveals that she was raped by German, and Sebastian gets kicked out of his house for coming out. Gabi’s body image issues allow us to examine representations of Latino bodies in popular culture, cultural expectations on the body, and the centering of light skin bodies over darker skin ones in Latino culture. By the end of the novel, it is suggested that Cindy might seek counseling for what happened to her, but there is definite tension about whether her rape is an individual problem or one that should be addressed by a community. Without having anywhere else to go, Sebastian is forced to stay with his aunt, who believes religion will cure him of his queerness. And while Sebastian eventually joins the LGBTQ club in his school, there seems to be little support coming from his Latino community. Gabi is clever and sarcastic and extremely funny. It’s a book that details the inner thoughts and struggles of a young Latina on a journey to self-empowerment or a book about a young Latina’s long journey to Pepe’s House of Wings.

Reanna Marchman Photography

Isabel Quintero; Reanna Marchman Photography

TEACHING TIPS: The use of a diary style in Gabi presents a great opportunity to ask students to keep their own diary or journal while they read the novel. One way to approach this type of assignment would be to ask students to respond to each of Gabi’s entries. However, because so much of Gabi’s experience is concerned with sex education and sex, it’ll be important to establish conversation guidelines with the class. The opening diary entry reveals how sex ed. and sex is gendered. Gabi’s grandmother beats her daughter for getting pregnant, and, as a result, Gabi’s mom tries to impose those conservative and traditional views on Gabi. Students can respond to the opening entry by writing about the values that their families, communities, or the media have tried to impart on them regarding sex. When teaching Gabi, it is also important to be aware that many experiences with sex are closely tied to some sort of violence or trauma, as is the case with Cindy. When discussing and writing about Cindy’s rape, it’ll be extremely significant to steer away from conversations that blame the victim. A more productive approach would be to talk about ways to make communities accountable to issues of sexual assault and street harassment. A diary entry assignment will help students closely engage with the themes of the novel by allowing them to practice character analysis and by giving them a space to connect their personal experiences to what they read.

Another way to approach teaching a novel like Gabi is to talk about diary keeping as a genre. The use of the diary to tell a story has a very long literary tradition, so it will be important to talk with students about why this might be the case. In other words, consider why diaries have existed this long, what their purposes may have been (or if the purpose has changed), and why Quintero chose to write Gabi in this form. Discussing Facebook, Twitter, and other relevant social media might also create a fruitful discussion on diary keeping in the 21stcentury. An interesting digital media project might be to ask students what Gabi might be tweeting, posting, liking, etc., given what they know from her diary. A more literary approach would be to discuss other Latina/o children’s and young adult texts in this genre like Amada Irma Perez’s My Diary from Here to There. While My Diary is a children’s illustrated text, it nonetheless makes use of the diary form to capture a story of pain, struggle, and love.

Gabi also opens up a dialogue about addiction that can lead to many powerful discussions about substance abuse in communities of color. A few other Latina/o young adult texts that deal with issues of addiction include Benjamin Alire Saenz’s Last Night I Sang to the Monster, E.E. Charlon-Trujillo’s Fat Angie, and Gloria Velazquez’s Tyrone’s Betrayal. The young protagonists of these novels have some sort of relationship to addiction that influences their own understanding of drugs and alcohol and how they deal with pain and trauma. Conversations about addiction can be very difficult to have, so it will be important to discuss triggers and trigger warnings when broaching the subject. If students are not comfortable discussing the topic, then returning to the use of the diary form can provide a safe space for students to still engage the conversation. Students do not always have to provide a personal response but can instead think about Gabi’s actions and reactions to her father’s addiction. Gabi often expresses frustration at her mother for enabling or putting up with her husband’s addiction. Gabi’s younger brother feels unloved and eventually rebels because of the situation at home. Asking students what the family members’ different experiences reveal about addiction complicates popular understandings of what addiction looks like and how it can be cured.

AUTHOR (from the author’s website): Born and raised in Southern California to Mexican parents, Isabel Quintero always took home too many books from the library as a a child. Later, she married her husband Fernando in a library. In addition to writing young adult literature, poetry, and fiction,  she teaches English at a couple community colleges, freelance writes for the Arts Council of San Bernardino County, is a member of PoetrIE (a literary arts organization who’s working to bring literary arts to the communities of the IE), and an avid pizza and taco eater. You can read about why she writes in her first blog post, titled, “Why I Write.” Gabi: A Girl in Pieces has received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out,, and


headshotSonia Alejandra Rodríguez has been an avid reader since childhood. Her literary world was first transformed when she read Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless me, Última as a high school student and then again as a college freshman when she was given a copy of Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. Sonia’s academic life and activism are committed to making diverse literature available to children and youth of color. Sonia received her B.A. in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of California, Riverside, where she focuses her dissertation on healing processes in Latina/o Children’s and Young Adult Literature.

Scholastic Asks Three Questions to Three Latina Illustrators

By Concetta Gleason
Editorial Manager of Club Leo en Español

To mark the end of Hispanic Heritage Month this week, Club Leo en Español is proud to share exclusive art and interviews with three fantastic and dynamic Latina illustrators: Yuyi Morales (author/illustrator of Niño Wrestles the World), Angela Dominguez (author/illustrator of Maria Had a Little Llama /María tenía una llamita), and Alejandra Oviedo (illustrator of Animaletras).

We asked each artist to answer three questions in words and art:

1. What inspires your work?
2. If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
3. What are your words to live by?

Each woman provided wildly imaginative, unique, and different examples of her artistic persona and motivations. Let’s explore!

Yuyi Morales won the 2014 Pura Belpré Illustration Award for Niño Wrestles the World. Not to brag but Yuyi briefly made us Internet-famous (by association) when she shared a sneak peek of her exclusive art on her resplendent Instagram account.

Yuyi answered the questions in a comic-book style and as a new person: she awoke one morning—transformed and “more beautiful than ever”—as “Tzitzimitl,” an ancient Aztec deity who shares a deep connection with the stars and astrology. Ha! Eat dust, Kafka.

For the record, Tzitzimitl > cockroach. Any day of the week. Thanks, Yuyi!


Alejandra Oviedo, the illustrator of Animaletras, sent us sweet and imaginative illustrations that capture the beauty and freedom of childhood. Her illustrations are made from intricate and delicate paper cuts, and she is inspired by looking at the world through the eyes of a child.

1. What inspired your work for Animaletras?

My inspiration for the illustrations came from kids’ drawings. I find them beautiful, and they portray the most important elements of each animal. I also paid attention to animal pictures, and I visited the zoo many times to capture not only the animals’ shapes but also their attitudes and personalities.

2. If you had a superpower, what would it be?

I would love to fly like a bird.

3. Words to live by?

Always put love in what you do; believe in your dreams and do not leave them behind.

What inspiring answers! Thanks, Alejandra!


Angela Dominguez, author and illustrator of the Pura Belpré Illustration Honor book Maria Had a Little Llama /Maria tenía una llamita, sent us fun and playful photographs of Peruvian children and llamas that she used to as models and inspiration for her book.

1. What inspired your work for Maria Had a Little Llama/María tenía una llamita?

The inspiration for the project came from an illustrator’s assignment at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference. I was given the task of doing my own version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” I was excited about the assignment, but I found it really difficult at first to find inspiration to reinterpret the classic story. My first doodles felt a little quiet, soft, and too familiar. I wanted my Mary to have personality with rich colors!

Whenever I’m stuck, I go to the library. There, I began researching sheep and farm life. It was in a book that I discovered a picture of a little girl with a llama. The idea of including llamas with the sheep led me to set the story in Peru. Finally I knew how I could personalize Mary, and that’s when Mary turned into Maria. The more I looked at books, the more I was inspired by the beautiful faces of the Peruvian children, the rich textiles, and the lush landscapes. I’ve never been to Peru, and I think my desire to visit the country pushed me to create landscapes of this idealized world I have in my head.

2. If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

I would teleport. I love traveling, but I don’t particularly enjoy flying or how long it takes to get somewhere. Plus I would love to be able to give a family member or a friend a hug really quickly and then get back to work.

3. Do you have a life motto or favorite phrase? 

I have a few. First, I’m not sure where I read it, but “persistence plus passion equals success” is my favorite motto. I also love so many quotes from Winston Churchill and Henry Ford. This one quote, in particular, from Henry Ford is just so motivating. He said, “Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes shine to the stars. Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eyes, the swing in your gait. The grip of your hand, the irresistible surge of will and energy to execute your ideas.” It’s just so beautiful.

Thanks, Angela! We’d be happy to travel to Peru with you!

It’s wonderful to see Latina illustrators have prominence in children’s literature, and that as visual storytellers they have broken new ground—from Mexican myths to remaking classic fairy tales.

We thank and celebrate Yuyi Morales, Alejandra Oviedo, and Angela Dominguez for opening the worldview of children everywhere.

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: Violet

By Sujei Lugo

VioletDESCRIPTION: “Violet is a bright and colorful story set in the Galápagos Islands. Told entirely from the point of view of the animals that live there, this is the tale of a unique baby bird named Violet. Violet’s mother is a Red-Footed Booby, and Violet’s father is a Blue-Footed Booby. Their baby, Violet, is the first one of her kind, a Purple-Footed Booby, and she displays characteristics of both species. Violet’s red footed and blue footed relatives, however, don’t notice her similarities at first, just her differences, and they don’t see how she will ever fit in. Through the kindly intervention of a wise old Galápagos Tortoise, the birds all learn an important lesson about acceptance, and Violet shows off a new dance that is the best of all of them”

MY TWO CENTS: Through the voices of talking animals, Alidis Vicente brings us a rhyming children’s book about prejudice and acceptance. Nancy Cote’s illustrations, founded on acrylic paintings and a pastel colors palette, supports the sympathetic approach of the story. This is the second collaboration between Vicente and Cote, and is one of those children’s books that uses animals to provide a voice of justice and a moral tale at the end.

The story is set in the Galápagos Islands and is told from the perspective of those who have heard the tale about this place “where nature is untouched” and where two group of birds were “forced to pick a side.” Readers are immediately introduced to the biodiversity of the Galápagos Islands and how animals “ruled the land.” Violet was like no other animal that lived on those islands. She was a purple-footed booby, the offspring a blue-footed booby (father) and red-footed booby (mother), who grew up mingling with their own. Her parents defied their social roles and barriers and decided to start a family, thus a baby seabird named Violet was born. The new family returned to their hometown, where the news of a “mixed seabird” was taken as “horrific,” a disgrace, and a baby whose feet “shouldn’t be on land.” In the midst of this outrage, an old, wise tortoise interferes to bring sense to chaos and acknowledge that Violet is different, a descendant of a red-footed and blue-footed booby. Violet proceeds to show her skills, changing the mood and reception of fellow animals, providing actions for the tortoise’s final statement: “THIS makes the Galápagos complete.”

Alidis Vicente uses the opportunity to talk about prejudice and differences and successfully moves beyond the tired “we are all the same” trope. Through a simple story, she challenges colorblindness and provides the characters of this narrative (and readers) the lens to acknowledge differences among their habitats (communities). It is then that communities should work to challenge, minimize and, finally, eradicate prejudice and oppression due to our differences. Although books with talking animals may hinder children in the understanding of social issues, adults can play a role in guiding children to situate what was discussed to their own lives and their surroundings.

TEACHING TIPS: Violet is a great picture book for K-3 grade students and it successfully intersects Language Arts, Science, and Art. Language Arts teachers can incorporate this book in their classrooms and provide students the opportunity to learn new words, while enriching their vocabulary regarding fauna terms, verbs, and adjectives. The book includes a glossary with definitions and pronunciations of some words used in the story. Teachers can also give meaning to those new words and the story’s plot by encouraging a discussion around prejudice and differences.

Science teachers can use the book to teach students about different species, habitats, and biodiversity. The book incorporates several illustrations of different animals with their specific physical attributes. In collaboration with Art class, students can draw and paint images of sea lions, iguanas, seabirds, and whales, while learning about their distinctive features, habitats, and endangered species.

AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR: Alidis Vicente is a stay-at-home mom from New Jersey who began writing children’s books once her son was born. She graduated from Rutgers University and worked for New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services before focusing on her career as a writer. Vicente is the author of The Coquí and the Iguana (2011), The Missing Chancleta and Other Top Secret Cases (2013). The Missing Chancleta won first place in the Best Youth Chapter Fiction Book (Spanish/Bilingual Category) in the 2014 International Latino Book Awards. You can also read her guest post on Latin@s in Kid Lit.

Nancy Cote is a children’s books author and illustrator from Massachusetts who earned her B.F.A. in Painting from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. Her books have won several awards including the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award, 1996 Notable Children’s Trade Book from The Children’s Book Council and the National Council for Social Studies, Florida Reading Association Children’s Book Award, SSLI 1999 Honor Book,  She has illustrated various picture books, such as Flip-Flops (1998), I Like Your Buttons! (1999), Hamster Camp: How Harry Got Fit (2004),  Mrs. Fickle’s Pickles (2006), Ella and the All-Stars (2013) and Watch the Cookie! (2014).

For more information about Violet, visit your local library or bookstore. It’s also available in


Alidis Vicente

Nancy Cote