Libros Latin@s: Growing Up Pedro

Growing Up Pedro


Reviewed by Lila Quintero Weaver


Before Pedro Martinez pitched the Red Sox to a World Series championship, before he was named to the All-Star team eight times, before he won the Cy Young Award three times, he was a kid from a place called Manoguayabo in the Dominican Republic. Pedro loved baseball more than anything, and his brother Ramón was the best pitcher he’d ever seen. He dreamed of the day he and his brother could play together in the major leagues. This is the story of how that dream came true. Matt Tavares has crafted a fitting homage to a modern-day baseball star that examines both his improbable rise to the top of his game and the power that comes from the bond between brothers.


The author-illustrator Matt Tavares makes beautiful picture books, many of which explore stories from baseball. His sports biographies for young readers include Henry Aaron’s Dream, There Goes Ted Williams, and Becoming Babe Ruth. In Growing Up Pedro, Dominican major league pitcher Pedro Martinez takes a turn in the spotlight. At the peak of Martinez’s brilliant career, he pitched for the Boston Red Sox. In 2004, his performance in Game 3 helped the team capture a long-sought World Series championship. Martinez’s story abounds with tall achievements, but there are other, smaller points of inspiration in his journey, and this combination makes him an ideal hero for kid readers.

Just as the title implies, Growing Up Pedro traces Martinez’s rise to baseball glory back to childhood years. As the story begins, young Martinez sits on the sidelines, riveted by his older brother Ramón’s ability to fire fastballs. Ramón is good—really good—but even as he pursues his own baseball dreams, Ramón takes the time to teach Pedro everything he knows about pitching. Sometimes they practice their aim on mangos, still clinging to the branches. When Ramón is drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pedro continues honing his skills on his own and ultimately captures the attention of U.S. talent scouts. After he joins his brother in Los Angeles, Pedro faces new challenges. He must work hard to prove himself to critics who consider him too small-framed to succeed as a major-leaguer. Before it’s all over, Martinez perfects a 97-mph fastball, wins the prestigious Cy Young Award multiple times, captures a World Series title, and lands a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Matt Tavares shares about Growing Up Pedro during a library visit. Photo credit: Sujei Lugo

Growing Up Pedro succeeds on multiple levels. First, it’s a story of dreaming big and achieving bigger. The narrative emphasizes that talent plus hard work make it possible for this young boy to rise out of obscurity and poverty. In one illustration, Pedro is shown alone, practicing outdoors at sunset. With Ramón already in the United States, Pedro’s internal drive to excel is what keeps him going, throwing pitch after pitch in the dying light.

As already noted, this picture book offers a warm portrayal of the family bonds that carry both brothers into the ranks of professional sports. One vignette shows them dreaming aloud: “At night, they lie awake, two to a mattress, and talk about what they will do when they are millionaires.”

Growing Up Pedro also gives satisfying glimpses of rural Caribbean life, and it drives home the importance of baseball in the Dominican culture. At Campo Las Palmas, a Dodgers’ facility in the Dominican Republic, dozens of boys go through the thirty-day tryout alongside Pedro.

Matt Tavares’s illustrations command attention. The soft colors of his landscapes suggest sunshine diffused by tropical humidity. Mountains draped in lush vegetation fill the backdrops of the Dominican scenes. In the second part of the story, Pedro’s world switches to baseball stadiums packed with cheering fans, dressed in Red Sox team colors. One powerful illustration zooms in on Martinez’s face as he stands at the pitcher’s mound. His eyes contain supreme focus and reflect years of devotion to his sport. The accompanying text reads: “…when it is his turn to pitch, Pedro is very serious. All day, he is quiet and focused. When he takes the mound, he imagines he is a lion fighting for his food.” (This image is available for viewing on the author’s website, linked below in his bio.)

Kids respond to Matt's art with baseball illustrations of their own, Photo credit: Sujei Lugo

Kids respond to Matt’s art with baseball illustrations of their own. Photo credit: Sujei Lugo

Toward the end of the book, the narrative circles back around to the Dominican Republic. When an injured Pedro nevertheless pitches and sends the Red Sox into the American League Championship Series, Tavares’s paintbrush fills in scenes of celebration on the home front, where fans gather in front of television sets to watch Pedro. Following his success, “people dance in the streets. Kids tie scraps of metal to their bikes and ride through the darkness. Sparks light up the night like fireworks.” This is a transcendent moment that extends the hero’s journey into something bigger than himself, into a victory for all his people and for other dreamers, near and far.

Matt Tavares is a prolific writer and illustrator of children’s books. His work has received starred reviews and high honors, including three Parents’ Choice Gold Awards, six Oppenheim Gold Seal Awards, and an International Reading Association Children’s Book Award. Matt’s original artwork has been exhibited at major museums. He’s a popular speaker and presenter to adult and child audiences alike. Visit his official website to learn more.


Visit Pedro Martinez’s page on the National Baseball Hall of Fame site.

The Dominican Republic boasts a jaw-dropping number of players in the ranks of professional baseball. This website provides an informative chart.

Watch a highlights video of Martinez pitching a 17-strikeout game in 1999.

Love Letter to a Classic: Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

imageThe award-winning classic Esperanza Rising turns 15 this year! Here’s how one reader traces the book’s emotional and historical connections to her family’s story.

By Monica Ayhens

I could have used Esperanza in the third grade. Seven years old, parents divorced, missing my dad the long weeks and months in between visits, sharing the back room with my little sister in our Nana and Grandpa’s house. Before the divorce, my Nana used it for storage. After we moved in, my sister and I were another thing kept safe, nestled between a dresser that held baubles and trinkets little girls couldn’t help but covet and the floor to ceiling bookshelves crammed with Westerns and mysteries my Nana loved. We were (and still are) the bibliophiles of my family, and between tantalizing peeks at Audrey Rose and the teetering stacks I lugged home from the school library, books became my refuge and escape.

But the characters in the stories never looked much like me, or my family. The immigrant story that captured my attention was one of Swedish-American farmers in Minnesota and the Great Plains. I knew my Nana’s parents had come from Mexico, but I had no idea how or when. It was easier for me to recount Laura Ingalls Wilder’s tales of sugar snow than my great-grandparents’ journeys from Chihuahua to Southern California in the first decades of the twentieth century.


Mexican migrant workers in California, 1935, Photo by Dorothea Lange, Library of Congress

It wasn’t until my early thirties that I was tired of the vague narrative of my family’s origins, and I began asking my Nana, in earnest, about her parents. About growing up in California’s orchards and fields, picking fruit with her parents and siblings in the long summers. About hating prune plums because she picked them so much.  About the teachers who were astonished at my Nana’s intelligence and eagerness to learn, because she was the daughter of a Mexican foreman, after all.

EsperanzaJacket72 copy 2It was in the midst of this long journey of rediscovery that Esperanza fell into my life, a welcome break from studying for Ph.D exams. I nestled on the couch with the slender volume, and in those comfortable hours, Esperanza’s story wove into my own. When Esperanza and her mother crocheted, I felt the warmth of the handmade blankets my Nana made for each of her grandchildren. When Esperanza railed against the injustices against brilliant girls with the wrong color of skin, I felt a surge of anger toward the teacher who sold my Nana and her classmates short. I wondered if my great-grandparents, who were devoutly patriotic but never naturalized, ever felt the fear of deportation as the Depression made their lives, and Esperanza’s, more precarious.

Esperanza Rising was my Nana’s story, her sisters’ and mother’s story. Perhaps if more people knew it, especially those who aren’t Esperanza’s granddaughters and grandsons, they would realize this story is an American one. And perhaps then they would look on the Esperanzas fleeing the violence of our own time with compassion. For a well-told and much needed story helps us all rise above ignorance and fear.

Monica Ayhens is a Ph.D candidate in British naval history at the University of Alabama. She’s an avid knitter and enthusiastic traveler.


Esperanza Ortega possesses all the treasures a girl could want: dresses; a home filled with servants in Mexico; and the promise of one day presiding over El Rancho de las Rosas. But a tragedy shatters that dream, forcing Esperanza and her mother to flee to Arvin, California and settle in a farm camp. There, they confront the challenges of work, acceptance, and economic difficulties brought on by the Great Depression.

–From the author’s website


Edsitement provides a comprehensive curriculum guide for teaching Esperanza Rising to 6-8th graders.

Using photographs from the era taken by the celebrated photographer Dorothea Lange, here is a series of classroom exercises geared toward exploring living conditions and cultural life in the migrant camps, as depicted in Esperanza Rising.  

Reading Rockets hosted an informative video interview with Pam Muñoz Ryan that includes commentary on Esperanza Rising and how Pam began her writing career.

The cover of Esperanza Rising bears a gorgeous illustration by artist Joe Cepeda. In an interview on this blog, Joe discussed his involvement in the project and what it has meant to be associated with such an iconic character.

 Explore what the Goodreads community says about Esperanza Rising.

Libros Latin@s: The Head of the Saint by Socorro Acioli


By Cecilia Cackley

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK (from Goodreads): After walking for days across the harsh Brazilian landscape only to be rejected by his last living relative, Samuel finds his options for survival are dwindling fast – until he comes to the hollow head of a statue, perfect for a boy to crawl into and hide…

Whilst sheltering, Samuel realizes that he can hear the villagers’ whispered prayers to Saint Anthony – confessing lost loves, hopes and fears – and he begins to wonder if he ought to help them out a little. When Samuel’s advice hits the mark, he becomes famous, and people flock to the town to hear about their future loves. But with all the fame comes some problems, and soon Samuel has more than just the lovelorn to deal with.

MY TWO CENTS: This was a great read with a little bit of everything—mystery, romance, long-lost relatives, miracles, good guys, and villains. Although it is a relatively short book, it packs a lot into the 179 pages. The village of Candeia has a presence that almost makes it another character, and certainly it goes through as many changes over the course of the story as anyone else. Readers will root for Samuel as he struggles first to simply survive, and then to understand and control his visions and power. With themes of faith, power, and destiny, this is a book to read, share and discuss for both teens and adults.

TEACHING TIPS: Acioli began this book as part of a workshop with the great South American writer Gabriel García Márquez, and it would be an interesting exercise for students to compare Candeia and its residents with other insular towns in Latin American fiction. The multiple points of view in the novel are a good discussion starter and give teachers the opportunity to have students write from the point of view of different characters. The development of Candeia and the fate of the statue are a good jumping off point for discussing the changing landscape of Brazil, especially as developers and the government pour money into high profile projects and events like the World Cup and the Olympics.

Socorro Acioli ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Socorro Acioli was born in Fortaleza, Ceará in 1975. She is a journalist, has a master’s degree in Brazilian literature and is currently studying for a PhD in Literary Studies at the Universidade Federal Fluminense, Rio de Janeiro. She started her writing career in 2001 and since then has published books of various genres, such as children’s short stories and YA novels. In 2006, she was selected to take part in a workshop called ‘How to tell a tale’, conducted by the Nobel Prize Winner Gabriel García Márquez at the San Antonio de Los Banõs International Film and Television School, Cuba. The author was selected by García Márquez himself based on the synopsis for The Head of the Saint. In 2007, she was a visiting researcher at the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany, and she has also lectured in several other countries such as Portugal, Bolivia and Cape Verde. Socorro is also a translator, essayist and literary theory teacher, and you can follow her at or on Twitter: @AcioliSocorro


FOR MORE INFORMATION about The Head of the Saint, check your local public library, your local bookstore or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.


Cackley_headshotCecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington DC where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at

Guest Post: Amber J. Keyser on Heritage and Healing


WayBackFromBrokenToday, we’re thrilled to have a guest post by Amber J. Keyser, author of The Way Back From Broken (Carolrhoda Lab, 2015). Amber’s debut novel earned a starred review from Booklist, which described it as “an exquisite and enthralling exploration of loss, love, and healing” and concluded that “this vivid, moving exploration of grief and recovery hits all the right notes.” Here’s the publisher’s description of The Way Back from Broken:

Rakmen Cannon’s life is turning out to be one sucker punch after another. His baby sister died in his arms, his parents are on the verge of divorce, and he’s flunking out of high school. The only place he fits in is with the other art therapy kids stuck in the basement of Promise House, otherwise known as support group central. Not that he wants to be there. Talking doesn’t bring back the dead.

When he’s shipped off to the Canadian wilderness with ten-year-old Jacey, another member of the support group, and her mom, his summer goes from bad to worse. He can’t imagine how eight weeks of canoeing and camping could be anything but awful.

Yet despite his expectations, the vast and unforgiving backcountry just might give Rakmen a chance to find the way back from broken . . . if he’s brave enough to grab it.

And now, here’s Amber.

My debut novel, The Way Back From Broken, is about two young people thrown together by shared tragedy who find healing in the Canadian wilderness. When I set about writing it, I knew I wanted to explore the different ways people navigate the difficult terrain of loss. How do we grieve? What helps us heal? Where are the pitfalls that can trap us? I wanted to write about how loss reverberates through families and threatens to tear them apart.

There are two families at the center of The Way Back From Broken—the Cannons and the Tatlases. Their lives intersect at Promise House in a support group for families who have lost children. Loss is their common ground. It links these families across differences of race and religion.

Fifteen-year-old Rakmen Cannon is biracial. His father, Michael, is black, and his mother, Mercedes, is a Catholic from Mexico. Ten-year-old Jacey Tatlas’s family is white. Her mother, Leah, is an agnostic who would rather be hiking than in church and has little use for organized religion of any kind.

The story that I’ve written belongs to Rakmen and Jacey. The Way Back From Broken explores what happens to them, but in this post, I wanted to write about the relationship between their mothers. Although it is touched upon very lightly in the final version of the book, it is still foundational to the story.

When Rakmen and Jacey’s mothers first meet, Mercedes (Rakmen’s mother) has been coming to the support group for nearly ten months after the death of her infant daughter. She is a woman of faith who does not shy away from the hard work of grief. She goes to group and therapy; she also finds comfort in prayer. She embraces Leah, whose loss is much fresher.

Leah has never been a religious person. She is a biology teacher who likes to hike and canoe. For her, comfort and solace are found in nature. But the loss of her stillborn son has shaken her to the core. She feels as if her own body has betrayed her.

As she and Mercedes become friends, Leah sees the comfort that Mercedes finds in her faith and wishes that she were able to access the spiritual sustenance that Mercedes does. Desperate to find a way to make some sense of her loss, Leah decides to return to the cabin where she spent many happy summers as a child.

This decision—and the trust these two women share—sets many things in motion during the course of The Way Back From Broken. One of the powerful things to come from the crucible of their loss is the way their families become connected, which sets much of the rest of the story in motion. Mercedes chooses to send Rakmen along with Leah and Jacey to Canada, where the stories of their families become even more intertwined. The differences that too often hold people apart make all of them stronger, especially their children. And in the end, they forge a new kind of family.


AmberKeyserAbout the author: Amber J. Keyser is an evolutionary biologist-turned-writer, who loves stories about heroes, scientists, and adventurers. She grew up in Oregon backpacking, fishing, and white-water rafting. Now she lives on the dry side of the mountains with her husband, two kids, and dog named Gilda. Every summer she returns to a cabin in Canada that was built by her grandmother, Algonquin Park’s first licensed, female canoe guide. If she had a choice, she would travel everywhere by canoe or on horseback.

Some of Amber’s forthcoming and recent books include The V-Word (Beyond Words, 2016), an anthology of personal essays by women about first time sexual experiences, and Sneaker Century: A History of Athletic Shoes (Twenty-First Century Books, 2015). She is the co-author with Kiersi Burkhart of the middle grade series Quartz Creek Ranch (Darby Creek, 2017). She can be reached by email at Information about upcoming appearances can be found on her website at

Libros Latin@s: The Great and Mighty Nikko! / ¡El gran y poderoso Nikko! by Xavier Garza


By Marianne Snow

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Nikko loves bedtime. That’s because his bed turns into a magical wrestling ring for the masked luchadores that he loves. They bounce up and down like crazy. His mom, of course, doesn’t believe Nikko. She accuses him of jumping on his bed. But that’s just not true at all. She just can’t see what Nikko sees. And to prove his point—zoosh! Here comes luchador numero UNO with a golden mask and a silver cape. Oh, wow. Number TWO wears an orange mask with yellow flames. Another looks like a jaguar and he growls! A rooster! A bull with horns! And a dragon that breathes fire! And so it goes until TEN luchadores are jumping on Nikko’s bed. That’s when the Great and Mighty Nikko puts on his mask, taking on all ten wrestlers at once and defeating them soundly. Ahh, a fresh victory under his belt, now it’s time for Mighty Nikko to catch some zzzzzs!

MY TWO CENTS: As an early childhood teacher and aunt to several little ones, I’m always on the lookout for exciting new picture books that will capture young readers’ attention and, ideally, trick them into learning. Happily, Xavier Garza’s new dual language concept book – The Great and Mighty Nikko! / ¡El gran y poderoso Nikko! – fits the bill, bringing together the exhilaration of lucha libre and the practical skill of counting. Young readers will love how the tension mounts as, one by one, rudos (rascally wrestling opponents) join forces on Nikko’s bed / wrestling ring to challenge him in the ultimate pre-bedtime match. They won’t even notice that they’re learning as they anxiously turn the pages to count the ever-growing group of opponents. Meanwhile, Garza’s bold use of color, fluid brush strokes, comic-style layout and variety of luchador masks in his illustrations add to the drama. What an entertaining read – I’ll definitely be adding this lively tale to my educational library!

TEACHING TIPSThe Great and Mighty Nikko! / ¡El gran y poderoso Nikko! is the perfect addition to a preschool learning unit about sports, or teachers and students can simply enjoy it as a fun read-aloud. In addition to counting the luchadores on each page, children can practice their analytic skills by making predictions about what will happen when Nikko finally faces off against his opponents. Moreover, inviting children to join in on each page’s refrain – “Now there are ___ luchadores wrestling on my bed! / ¡Ahora hay ___ luchadores luchando en mi cama!” – will help them develop their bilingual pre-reading skills. Since the comic-style layout might be unfamiliar to young readers who are used to “traditional” written narratives, teachers can point out specific textual elements like speech bubbles and sound effects text. Comics and graphic novels are extremely popular with kids, so learning these features can benefit them in the future. With so many interesting facets, this book has something to teach every child.

Xavier GarzaABOUT THE AUTHOR: Xavier Garza is a prolific author, artist, and storyteller whose work is a lively documentation of the dreams, superstitions, and heroes in the bigger-than-life world of South Texas. Garza is celebrated for his lucha libre picture books and chapter books.  Maximilian and the Mystery of the Guardian Angel was a Pura Belpré Honor Book and an ALA Notable Book in 2012.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about The Great and Mighty Nikko! / ¡El gran y poderoso Nikko!, check your local public library, your local bookstore or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.