Overflowing with Thanks, Bookwise

WNDB_ButtonThis is the week when we as bloggers pause to give thanks, starting with the fact that we have so many amazing readers–readers who care about Latin@ kid lit as much as we do! We appreciate each one of your clicks, comments, social-media shares, and other forms of participation. If you’ve been silent up to now, let us hear from you soon. We value your partnership.

Another thing we’re super grateful for this Thanksgiving is the emergence and explosive growth of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Ceilings are cracking under the pressure of this push and all of us stand to benefit, so thank you to the bright minds that dreamed it up.

Another reason to feel grateful in 2014 is that Latin@ kid lit is in much better shape than it was in years past. As we reflect back on our own or our children’s bookshelves, we’re delighted that kids today have a growing number of Latino options.

To demonstrate this point, check out a few of Cindy‘s beloved titles from her childhood, matched by current Latino options.

Cindy's Latino Option Collage

I, Lila, decided to frame this comparison through my oldest daughter’s experience. “J” was a 1980s baby who read late into the night by the light of her digital alarm clock, so you know she was crazy about books. Here are a couple of J’s favorites, matched with contemporary Latino options she would’ve loved.

What She Loved Collage

Now for expressions of thanks from two other members of the team.


2014 has been crazy for me. I work full time, launched the last book in my trilogy, wrote, sold and launched a New Adult romance. And I’m still not done yet. Despite a crazy work schedule, I am thankful that I do have a support system that allows me to find time to write. I have a wonderful network of friends and a boyfriend who knows me extremely well. I’m thankful that I get to be part of a wonderful group of writers here at Latin@s in Kid Lit, but most importantly that we’re getting the conversation rolling about issues dear to our hearts. I hope the next year brings even better things for us all.



Growing up in Puerto Rico, Thanksgiving in my family seemed like “Eating Turkey with Fried Plantains Day.” Considering that November is Native American Heritage Month, I find deeper reasons to feel thankful. In my late teens, I started questioning the impact of this “first meal,” and saw it more as the beginning of genocide, colonialism, and the suffering of our indigenous people and ancestors. I’m thankful for books that teach us the real story and those that talk about Native people in the present tense and show us that they live everyday lives. Books that highlight these realities disrupt the narrative of old-school texts, which often historicize and stereotype indigenous people.

Here are three of Sujei’s recommendations for children’s books that honor the experiences and history of Native Americans.

People Shall Continue When I was 8 JingleCover_hi-res

Our mission is to promote diversity in children’s books, specifically Latin@ books and creators. So when you’re thinking about ways to diversify your kid lit bookshelves, explore our archives for reviews and posts. We’re so thankful that you care about Latino representation in children’s and teen’s books, and we want to continue serving those interests.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Libros Latin@s: Stranger (The Change #1)

By Eileen Fontenot

16034526DESCRIPTION FROM GOODREADS: Many generations ago, a mysterious cataclysm struck the world. Governments collapsed and people scattered, to rebuild where they could. A mutation, “the Change,” arose, granting some people unique powers. Though the area once called Los Angeles retains its cultural diversity, its technological marvels have faded into legend. “Las Anclas” now resembles a Wild West frontier town… where the Sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can warp time to heal his patients, and the distant ruins of an ancient city bristle with deadly crystalline trees that take their jewel-like colors from the clothes of the people they killed.

Teenage prospector Ross Juarez’s best find ever – an ancient book he doesn’t know how to read – nearly costs him his life when a bounty hunter is set on him to kill him and steal the book. Ross barely makes it to Las Anclas, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble.

MY TWO CENTS: After finishing an ARC of this book, which was officially released 11/13/14, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that unlike many sci-fi/fantasy books I enjoy so much, this one left a very pleasant feeling and hope for the future and not a lurking doom cloud of worry about what humanity will be like once we destroy the environment/bomb ourselves silly/let computers take over. Yes, there are terrible creatures lurking in the desert, but Las Anclas has an abundance of people who are working together to protect each other from those dangers.

But yes, there is still bigotry among certain people in power against those with “the Change,” but all does not seem completely hopeless. There are some teenagers with their own Changes – along with respected adults – who are fighting for acceptance. As for non-traditional male/female relationships, the people of Las Anclas are quite easy going; being gay or considering polyamory is very normalized behavior. In addition to the variety of relationships and differences among the characters that contemporary readers would recognize, the racial diversity of the cast of characters is not tokenized and does not feel forced in any way.

Teens who may not see themselves represented very often in sci-fi/fantasy novels can surely find a character that speaks to them – whether they are in a non-traditional romantic relationship, physically disabled, or experiencing mental illness. Or just feeling out of place and out of step with the so-called “normals” favored in society.

TEACHING TIPS: Youth services/teen librarians and high school teachers and librarians can encourage readers to write their own short stories and experiment with different points of view, like this book does. Teens and their instructors can discuss what using this narrative technique does to a plot, setting, and character development.

For teachers with an artistic bent, get the teens to draw or write about the flora and fauna of the future. A good tie-in would be a conversation about the ecological implications of war and how that would change what animals and plants look like and how they would behave. The drawings and ideas can range from silly to serious.

And finally, it would be interesting to find out what teens felt about building a positive society in the face of such challenges – a kind of positive utopia that existed in this novel. What would they do to become effective leaders in a harsh world, with little resources? What compromises would they be willing to make?

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

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

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Stranger (The Change #1) visit your local public library, your local bookstore, barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, goodreads.com or indiebound.com.


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

Rachel Manija Brown & Sherwood Smith on Collaborating & Bucking the ‘Received Wisdom’ of Publishing Diversity

By Eileen Fontenot

16034526This post-apocalyptic, western-tinged adventure is more character-driven than you may expect. A diverse group of teenagers in Las Anclas narrate the story in third-person point of view–Ross, the stranger in town, who has a valuable item coveted by several factions and experiences PTSD episodes after escaping death from a bounty hunter; Mia, the town engineer who helps Ross in his new life; Jennie, a Ranger that is “Changed,” that is, has some sort of superhuman powers; Yuki, a former prince that struggles with settling down in LA and with his boyfriend, Paco; and Felicite, a scheming climber, lusting after power but also hiding a secret of her own.

This narration style does not detract from the action scenes, which find the characters battling deadly–and extremely crafty–desert animals and a neighboring army, which has a bloody history with the city of Las Anclas. Co-authors Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith, however, portray most of the characters as well intentioned; even the least sympathetic main character did merit some empathy by the end of the novel. Nearly all of LA’s citizens are trying to make their town a better place to live in the way they feel is best – even if they can’t agree on what course that will take. But one thing they are not prejudiced against is non-traditional relationships. Same-sex and polyamorous relationships are accepted; Change powers have become the new issue that divides the community. The book’s dearth of white main characters is noteworthy as well.

Smith, who has authored more than forty books and been nominated for several awards, including the Nebula and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and Manija Brown, TV, comic strip, urban fantasy and video game writer and PTSD/trauma therapist, were kind enough to answer a few questions about this and future writing they’ll share and getting diverse works published.

Eileen: I’ve really enjoyed reading Stranger, especially the five POV characters. Any particular reason why you decided to write the novel in this way? How do you feel this structure lends itself to this genre/setting, etc.?

Rachel: It has multiple points of view (POVs) because it’s about a community, not a lone individual. The post-apocalyptic town of Las Anclas is very community-oriented—for better and for worse—so we wanted the structure to reflect that.

We also thought it was fun, for both us and our readers. Different people notice different things, and speak in different voices. For instance, Yuki Nakamura, who loves animals, was born on a ship, and is very introverted, always notices the wildlife, thinks in nautical metaphors, and only focuses on the people he actually cares about. Felicite Wolfe is the mayor’s ambitious daughter, so she pays close attention to everyone around her in order to make a good impression on them, manipulate them, or gain some knowledge she might be able use later.

Sherwood: While Mia, the youngest town engineer in Las Anclas’s history, keeps getting locked inside her head, sometimes spinning around so much in questions that she doesn’t know how to act when it comes to socializing. Poor Mia! She was the most fun to write about.

Rachel: The POV characters rotate throughout the series. Ross, Mia, and Jennie have POVs in all four books, but the other POVs switch off, with old POV characters dropping out and new ones taking their place.

Eileen: You have a co-author, Sherwood Smith–how did you come to work with her? Did you experience any challenges/benefits working with a co-author? What was the process the two of you used to write the novel? Did you each take character(s) and only write their chapters?


Rachel Manija Brown (l) and Sherwood Smith (r)

Rachel: We both used to write TV, and we met to collaborate on a TV series. It didn’t sell, but we enjoyed working together so much that we kept on writing together.

Both of us write all the characters. We outline the story in advance, then literally sit next to each other at the computer, one typing (usually Sherwood; she’s much faster than me) while we alternately dictate the story. Any given sentence may have been written by both of us.

Sherwood: I have done several collaborations, and enjoyed them all, though each is very different. The fun part of writing with Rachel is that we never get writer’s block, because as soon as one of us runs out of ideas, whether on a single sentence or in a scene, the other either picks up with it and zooms ahead, or we can talk it out. Sometimes act it out!

Eileen: I see that you are a PTSD/trauma therapist, and one of the characters appears to be experiencing PTSD. What are your thoughts on including a character struggling with a mental condition? For you, is it similar and as important as including many characters of diversity?

Rachel: I definitely think that mental conditions are an aspect of diversity. But that’s not all there is to it. Ross’s experiences with PTSD are largely autobiographical. I don’t mean that they’re based on my clients, I mean that they’re based on what I went through as a teenager. I wanted to show that you can go through a lot of trauma and have it affect you–even affect you a lot– and not have it ruin your life, or mean that you can never be happy or never find love.

Sherwood: I agree with Rachel. There are aspects of Ross that also come out of my own childhood experiences. Rachel and I discovered that though our lives were very different, we shared certain emotional responses to situations that can cause symptoms of PTSD. This, in turn, made me very aware of similar emotional responses in students during the years that I taught, and though I am not trained as Rachel is, experience caused me to read up on the subject, and to seek ways to help kids feel a sense of safety, and agency.

Eileen: Stranger is incredibly multi-racial and diverse in many ways. What are your thoughts on getting your book published? I know from reading you and Sherwood’s PW blog post that you had at least one agent request that this diversity be toned down somewhat. Can you tell our readers a bit how you overcame this? Any advice for other authors who are marketing their diverse book or trying to get it seen by agents/publishers?

Rachel: Yes, an agent had trouble with Yuki being gay. In general, we had difficulty with the fact that gay and lesbian romances are just as important as straight romances. It’s also extremely unusual for a YA dystopia to have all the POV characters be people of color. We really had to persist to make the book available to readers.

Sherwood: I think it’s important to note that we do not believe that any of the agents or editors who asked, or hinted, or expressed doubts, about the diversity of our characters are bigots or anti-gay. It’s just that there has been such a strong “received wisdom” in marketing that protagonists must be straight and white or the book won’t sell. And publishers are primarily in the business of selling books. This received wisdom was probably true in 1950, but we don’t believe it is true today.

Rachel: Persistence is the key. If you want to go the traditional publishing route, be incredibly persistent. If you choose to self-publish, hire someone skilled to do the cover, and research how keywords and other important self-publishing techniques work. And know that there are readers out there who will really, really want to read your book. Luckily, nowadays it’s much easier to get it to them.

Eileen: I have read that Stranger is Book One in a series. What’s the status of the series and can you give us any juicy tidbits about what’s to come? Are you working on anything other than this series?

Rachel: Stranger stands on its own, but it’s also the first of a four-book series.

Book two is Hostage, in which we spend time in Gold Point, the city ruled with an iron fist by King Voske, the villain of Stranger, and meet a surprising new point of view character. Book three is Rebel, in which Ross’s past comes back to haunt him. The new point of view character in this book is someone we met back in book one, but maybe not someone expected to get a point of view. Book four is Traitor, in which all the plot threads and characters from the first three books come together in a battle for the future of Las Anclas. The new point of view character is someone whose perspective you may have been waiting for.

I’m currently working on the third Werewolf Marines book, Partner. That’s urban fantasy for adults under the pen name Lia Silver. It’s also diverse and also involves PTSD, but contains too much sex to be suitable for younger readers.

Sherwood: I’m working on the sequel to Lhind the Thief, which is YA fantasy with a character not quite human. It’s called Lhind the Spy, and it explores questions like belonging, what love is, the consequences of power—but these are also meant to be fun, so there will be chases, and magical razzle-dazzle, and an elaborate dinner party for powerful people that goes very, very wrong. That will be published through Book View Café, a consortium of writers who have been publishing work that is difficult for New York publishing to categorize. For DAW, I have been writing A Sword Named Truth, which is the first of a series about teenage allies, many of them in positions of power, who have to try to overcome personal and cultural conditioning to work together against a very, very powerful enemy.

Rachel and I also have other projects planned, which we will write together.

It’s Pitch Fiesta Time! 13 Writers Pitch Their Queries to 7 Agents, 1 Publisher

Welcome to our first Pitch Fiesta, an online event for manuscripts by or about Latin@s! We received 21 entries and narrowed those down to 15. Two writers have dropped out for the best reasons: one found an agent and the other had a novel acquired. Congratulations! The writers were matched with authors to polish their queries and first 10 pages. The four middle grade and nine young adult entries are below. We’ve included the query and an excerpt.

This is how it will work: the queries and excerpts will be posted today and tomorrow to give the agents and publisher enough time to check in and read them. Participating are: Adriana Dominguez, Sara Megibow, Adrienne Rosado, Laura Dail, Amy Boggs, Kathleen Ortiz, Ammi-Joan Paquette, and  Arte Público Press. The first ten pages will be sent to interested agents/editors, along with longer partials or full manuscripts. We will follow up Friday with news about requests and later, if there is any big news, like a new, beautiful agent-writer relationship!

GOOD LUCK to everyone! And thank you to everyone involved–the writers, mentors, agents/editors–for producing and supporting diverse children’s literature!!




THE WIND CALLED MY NAME by Mary Louise Sanchez

I’m excited that you are actively seeking Latino and Latina authors and our stories through the Latin@s in Kid Lit’s Pitch Fiesta. I am seeking representation for my 35,000 word middle grade historical fiction novel, THE WIND CALLED MY NAME. With your help, some readers will be able to see themselves through my novel and others will experience one Hispanic culture.

It’s 1936 and the strong dust storm winds of the Great Depression blow Margaríta and her family to join Papá and her older brother, who now have good railroad jobs, to a small Wyoming town. Ten-year-old Margaríta Sandoval has mixed feelings about leaving her ancestral New Mexico home because people in Wyoming might not accept Hispanics. But, the move will give her the opportunity to make a new friend who isn’t related to her.

The winds blow many problems Margaríta’s way, like her so-called new friend, Evangeline, who snubs her nose at Hispanic foods and steals Margaríta’s rights to an autographed Shirley Temple picture; a teacher who doesn’t know New Mexicans fought in the Civil War; and washing machines which are “For Greasers Only.”

When Margaríta learns Papá and her brother risk losing their jobs, she invokes the familiar saints and uses her English skills to ask a new Wyoming saint to intercede. She still wants Evangeline’s support and friendship, but now on Margaríta’s new terms.

I was an elementary school teacher/librarian and still read the best of children’s literature, so I can learn to be a better writer and work toward my goal of winning the Pura Belpré Award someday. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators recognized THE WIND CALLED MY NAME by awarding me one of three grants for their inaugural 2012 On-the-Verge Emerging Voices Awards, which was given to encourage writers of diverse cultures. I participate in an online children’s writing critique group and am a member of the SCBWI. I attend many conferences and workshops, which have included a national Hispanic Writer’s Conference in New Mexico; and the Highlights Foundation Writers’ Workshop as a scholarship recipient.


The church bells rang from Santa Gertrude’s in the village. I counted the peals. Uno, dos, tres. It reminded me that Beto was the third thing we lost this week. My older cousin and her husband signed the papers to buy our house this morning. And yesterday Alberto told us there was no parish church in Fort Steele, Wyoming. For many generations our family has always been connected to the church like beads on a rosary. In Wyoming, would we be connected to anyone else besides each other?


HAUTE MESS by Heather Harris-Brady

When thirteen-year-old NYC designer Valentina Villar unravels a small-town secret left by a Victorian suffragette, she finds a cult bent on turning back the clock. In HAUTE MESS (49K), a contemporary middle-grade mystery, she’s got to solve her first case or her next little black dress may be her last.

The daughter of a famous cover girl, Valentina is poised to take center stage at Fashion Week with her own line. But when her parents buy the rickety Fits mansion upstate, she drops from catwalk darling to suspected “illegal alien” in one weekend. Tiny White Birch Cove is postcard-pretty, yet behind the lace curtains the town is coming apart at the seams. Valentina will do anything to get her old life back, and a letter hinting at a hidden fortune becomes her hottest accessory.

Centuries collide as she stitches together a trail of Vuitton trunks, Worth gowns, and Tiffany silver left by the mansion’s last resident, May Fits. The small-minded society that May rejected 150 years ago hasn’t changed much—they’re still after the jewel of the lost Fits treasure: the Talisman du Lac, a rumored Arthurian source of power. Valentina now needs to get fearless off the runway or everything she wants—including her big break and her adorkable new partner/maybe-first-boyfriend—will vanish quicker than white shoes after Labor Day.

Freshly polished with Coleen Paratore through SCBWI’s Digital Mentor Program, this adventure unfolds through the alternating time periods/viewpoints of two fashionistas. A standalone book with diverse characters and series potential, HAUTE MESS will appeal to fans of The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Westing Game, and historically themed books like Capture the Flag. The first draft won the Pacific Northwest Literary Contest children’s category.

Courtesy of my career in journalism and marketing, I have a sample marketing plan for this book available upon request. It includes social media tie-ins with reader “shelfies,” augmented reality treasure hunts, red carpet book signings, and more.


You don’t know me.


But one day you’ll slide out of a limo, jewels sparkling and silk skirt swirling. The red carpet, first reserved only for gods and goddesses, is waiting. Plush and glam, it stretches away in front of you. Cameras start to flash even before you’re out of the car.

I’ll be there when you hit your turn-back or foot-pop, throwing the paparazzi into a frenzy. Over it all comes one question.

“Who are you wearing?”

“Valentina Villar,” you’ll say. If you’re feeling sassy, maybe you’ll only flash the double V sign: V for Valentina, V for victory as we land together on tomorrow’s best-dressed list.

It’s only a matter of time. There’s just a few XXL issues standing in our way: 1) I need to crush this fashion show and 2) I’ve got to find a way to stay in New York City. We both know being a nobody is not an option.


DROPPED by Chris Day

When thirteen-year-old Carson’s estranged father invites him on a road trip in search of the best waves in Mexico, he thinks he’s signing up for the most epic surf adventure ever. The eighth grader has always been too young, too scared, too whatever for his dad’s annual surf expedition down the Baja. But even if it means dropping into gnarlier waves than he’s ever imagined, there’s no way Carson is missing this trip.

On the thousand-mile trek to El Secreto, the skater from California gets the sneaking suspicion that his dad might be kidnapping him. And when his mom tries to convince him they might never be coming back from the country she grew up in, Carson gives his dad the benefit of the doubt because they’re connecting for the first time in forever.

While they’re shredding the secret surf break, the storm of the century slams straight into the beach. When his dad gets caught out in the double-overhead waves, Carson has to face his biggest fear and paddle out through a killer riptide.

DROPPED is complete at 51,000 words.


“Just promise we won’t get arrested or killed.” Carson looked down at the half-filled backpack by his feet. “Then I’ll decide.”

“That’s not really a promise I can make,” Link said. “But I can totally guarantee you’ve never been on a trip like this one.”

“I don’t know about this, Dad.” Carson glanced back toward his house. His mom would be home from her night shift at the hospital any minute. “I’m supposed to be at school in half an hour.”

“Come on. It’ll be a blast.” Link tossed a nylon strap across the stack of surfboards on the roof of his Jeep Cherokee and stretched it tight. “Live a little.”

The jeep didn’t look like it could make it the hundred miles to San Diego, never mind the thousand miles to his dad’s favorite surf break in Mexico, but Link always bragged about how everything still worked besides the odometer, which had been stuck on 199,999 since 1999.

“You barely packed any stuff for me,” Carson said.

“Don’t worry about it. You won’t need anything else.” Link jumped down from the fender and wiped his hands on his jeans. “Besides, when was the last time you got out of this town?”



Abby loves living on the prairie in her family’s country home surrounded by a vegetable garden and Texas bluebonnets. She wants to ride horseback through the tall grasses. But a voice inside her head, her mother’s voice, warns, “Life’s a basket of rotten apples. Be careful,” and that always stops her in her tracks.

When her Puerto Rican dad, who grew up in New York City, suddenly decides to trade their country home in Texas for a cold flat in Brooklyn, eleven-year-old Abby doesn’t understand why.

On the way to New York City, she faces a string of disasters, including a terrible car crash. Abby wonders if her mother is right. Maybe life is a basket of rotten apples. Feeling unsettled, she trudges cross country in a dilapidated Whistling Teakettle on Wheels. But when the barrage of rotten apples continues, Abby tries to control everyone around her. And when she loses everything, including the respect of her favorite cousin Louis, she slowly finds her way back to the girl with the pioneer spirit.

Don’t Walk Barefoot on the Sidewalk is a 30,000 word, realistic middle grade story about letting go and allowing life to happen, whatever it may choose to bring.

My published credits include articles in The Writer’s Journal, Hopscotch for Girls and Fun for Kidz children’s magazines. I attended Boise State University on a teaching scholarship. I am also an SCBWI member and have been participating in workshops and conferences for many years.


Abby’s favorite book Little Town on the Prairie sat on her lap waiting to be read again. She turned to the first page and saw her name, Abigail Rose Calantro, sprawled across the title page in purple ink. Owen, a boy from her class, teased Abby that her last name, Calantro, sounded a whole lot like cilantro. But she didn’t care because she liked cilantro. It was her favorite herb.

She liked her middle name too. Mom said after Abby was born, she was so tired that she took a nap. She woke and saw a red rose. Abby was thankful that when her mom opened her eyes she saw the rose, and not a bedpan, or a barf bag, or something even worse.



JEWEL’S WISH by Tiffany Soriano

Seventeen-year-old Jewel Sevante doesn’t plan on going to college because partying has become the most important thing in her life. Her only wish is to graduate high school since her father never did. She wants to make him proud and keeps him alive with childhood memories. Jewel’s father is more than a memory, though. His ghost watches over her.

Each time Jewel drinks and gets high, he tries to guide her toward a better future with his words. When Jewel lands in the hospital after a near fatal overdose, she realizes the ghost is her father warning her not to die the way he did. Jewel must decide whether to fight for recovery and graduate high school or become the next in her family to be destroyed by addiction.

JEWEL’S WISH, a young adult novel complete at  55,000 words, would appeal to readers of Jay Asher and Ellen Hopkins.

I am an accountant for one of the oldest financial firms on Wall Street. I have been sober for ten years and help other young people in New York City to stay sober. In 2014, I was one of six writers chosen by Rebecca Stead to join her YA Master Class Workshop. Excerpts from JEWEL’S WISH won the 2012 Literary Fiction Award of Bronx Recognizes Its Own. The annual grant is awarded to Bronx artists based solely on artistic excellence, selected by a panel of arts professionals. In 2011, I was one of six writers chosen for Sapphire’s Master Class Workshop.


My head is throbbing as I look over at Julio lying on a recliner across the room. It takes me a minute to put two and two together. I’m on someone else’s couch. Both of the vodka bottles from yesterday are empty. It looks like three packs of cigarette butts are smashed in the ash tray, mixed in with the guts of the blunt paper we used to smoke weed.

What the hell happened last night?

The last thing I remember was kissing Julio. How did we end up on opposite sides of the room? My skirt’s all twisted, but at least my clothes are on. That’s good. My panties are on the right way. Another good sign. We’re in the clear. Cross my fingers.

“Oh no!” I scream when I see the time on the cable box.

Julio jumps up out of his sleep. “What’s the matter?”

“I have to go.”

I look around to make sure I’m not forgetting anything. I reach for the little Puerto Rican flag clipped to my bracelet. Daddy gave it to me when I was eight years old, right before he died.  The bracelet it came with broke, but I never lost the charm. It’s probably not worth a lot of money, but it’s still the most valuable thing I have. The only thing, really.


DAYS WITHOUT RAIN by Richard Almaraz

Three months have passed since seventeen year old child soldier Drigo Martinez returned from the war that consumed a decade of his life. Unable to stomach living with a monster, his cousin Ofelia finally saves up enough money to escape her father’s stifling home.

Ofelia wants to go to space, but her father conspires to keep her cloistered. She hates the idea of staying home, and turns to theft to get the money she needs. When her father discovers her savings, he browbeats her into paying him instead.

In desperation, Ofelia turns to the Manifest Corporation for financial aid, but Drigo knows Manifest’s dark secret: they abduct and experiment on child soldiers like him. No matter how adamant he is, Ofelia refuses to heed the warnings of a murderer. Drigo must risk his life to find proof that she will believe: proof from Manifest’s records themselves.

DAYS WITHOUT RAIN is a YA near-future sci-fi novel at 77,000 words.


“One hundred and three days without rain,” Drigo murmured under his breath as he hopped barefoot from tie to tie on the abandoned railbed. One hundred and three days since he broke his vow and renounced John Amend-all for a life of comfort and safety.

Amend-all had raised him, had ensured he survived every day on the battlefield, and didn’t even try to convince him to stay. He had encouraged Drigo to go into the city to find a better life, and Drigo knew he was wrong to betray him. He could have done them both a far greater service by remaining, and it would still rain from time to time as well.

“God doesn’t smile on those who break vows,” Rafa said as he balanced on the rail to Drigo’s left. “He’s holding the rain as ransom.”

“He wants me to repent. To give Him blood to quench His eternal thirst,” Drigo said as he shook the water jug. Only a few sips remained. He offered Rafa the jug, but Rafa shook his head and turned it down. Drigo turned around to offer water to Neto and Albert behind him, but they had their own bottles.

Drigo popped the top off of the plastic jug and drank deep, draining the last of the water. He coughed as he slipped the cap back on. “Fuck ‘im. Let him scorch everything in his childish vengeance.”


TWICE AFFECTED by Clarissa Hadge

Rebellious, sixteen–year old Lottie would rather be listening to Sonic Youth and the Desechables than putting her telepathy and ability to see sound as color to good use. A mysterious group from a world called Karnock gave Lottie these powers. Frustrated from ten years of hiding her abilities but with few answers as to why she was granted these powers, Lottie wonders if she’ll ever discover anyone else like her.

That is, until she meets Charlie.

Lottie catches Charlie, a quirky bookseller, manipulating light into tangible matter. Then, she coerces him to admit that he, too, is aware of Karnock’s existence. For the first time, Lottie doesn’t feel so alone, and maybe Charlie is the key to helping her understand more about this other world.

With help from the inhabitants of Karnock, Lottie and Charlie journey there via the Lightway, an intergalactic path, to determine the reason behind their powers. There they discover a world ravaged by Earth’s climate change. The two worlds are bound together through ecological destruction, and what happens on Earth is paralleled on Karnock.

A megalomaniac Karnockian enchantress named Theodora wants to reverse the ecological destruction on her planet, and sever Karnock’s ties to obliterate Earth. Lottie and Charlie must flee from a determined Theodora who wants Lottie dead so she can’t use her abilities to interfere with the plans.

Lottie knows that with her abilities, a good dose of stubbornness, and maybe some help from Charlie, she might be able to defeat Theodora on Karnock before Earth is destroyed.

TWICE AFFECTED is an 80,000 word YA light science fiction novel with an environmental twist. The manuscript has elements of A WRINKLE IN TIME and ULTRAVIOLET, with a dash of AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH.

I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing for Children from Simmons College and I’m currently working as a bookseller at an independent bookstore in Boston.


It was the fight at school with Jennifer Wilcox that landed me here, though it probably would have been something eventually to trigger Evelyn’s decision to send me away. Evelyn was always full of idle threats, but I never thought my mother would actually follow through and dump me off at my great aunt Gertrude’s in Dorset.

Why Jennifer decided to call me a bitch, I don’t know. All I know is that when I slammed my fist into her jaw, the noise resulted not in me seeing red, as the saying goes, but a dancing pattern of teal and lavender.

The Homecoming Queen doesn’t look very pretty any more.



You can’t gun for the Ivy League when revenge is your biggest extra-curricular.

On the first day of senior year, seventeen-year-old Dominic Guerrera’s locked out of his house—again—until a girl with a strange accent breaks him back in. Shelley Summers is from Boston, and her fast car and bad manners are nothing compared to her penchant for urban exploration. Leader of the Ghosts, her band of misfit friends, Shelley explores abandoned buildings for kicks and teaches Dominic how to pick locks. Soon, Dominic’s life splits into halves: by day he’s the frontrunner for valedictorian and yearbook’s editor-in-chief, by night he tools around Baton Rouge with the Ghosts. And he may just be falling for the most fearless girl he’s ever met.

But when Shelley’s pushed off a bridge and the person responsible for her “accidental” death takes over the Ghosts, Dominic’s got to make a choice: run away again like he did when Shelley died, or turn the Ghosts in and risk destroying his future.

SLINGS AND ARROWS is a YA Southern Gothic retelling of Hamlet with a twist: the murdered King is a girl and she’s dating Hamlet. The manuscript is complete at 90k words and is told in two alternating timelines, one before and one after Shelley’s death.


He could spread his whole life out over this city like a second map, seventeen years of streets and landmarks that memory’s cut into him. He’s read when sailors get scurvy their old wounds re-open, that the human body catalogues its scars but never fully heals them.

His hand travels over his stomach and he lets it drop.

During the day, he fakes it, pretends that the local news reports—teen found dead, spine snapped, investigation ongoing—are all talking to someone else, some other version of himself. In that life, Dominic Guerrera is just another second-semester senior, remarkable only in that he’ll make honor roll, valedictorian, a star college if he dots all his i’s.

Shelley Summers was a city map he’d cut into himself, and if he ventures too far from shore the old lines slice open again.

Out here, there is no pretending. There’s just him and the space where Shelley used to be.

And it’s so cold.


ONE EMPTY GIRL by Alexandra Townsend

No one can know young, withdrawn Meredith without thinking of her as an eerie, empty child. She’s too quiet, too distant, and barely shows emotion thanks to the oppressive control her mother has over her life. Meredith tries to fit in, but she’s grown used to being the strangest person she knows. That perspective changes when a mysterious family moves to her simple town.

The Teufels are a family full of secrets. They can have visions of the future, manipulate minds, and curse their worst enemies. The children of the family are Enola and Feo, half-Mexican twins who have grown to dislike the world as much as it dislikes them. Enola scares others with her dark and deliberately mysterious nature. Feo revels in chaos and enjoys playing pranks, sometimes dangerous ones.

Circumstances push the three children together when they and other children of the town receive painful, even deadly curses. Meredith is completely cut off from her emotions. Feo can’t avoid blame for anything, whether he did it or not. Enola is doomed to be feared by everyone she meets. But the real danger comes from the kids who decide to use their curses for evil. Suddenly Enola, Meredith, and Feo find themselves with truly dangerous enemies. They must work together if they want to survive long enough to break the curse.

In One Empty Girl, a 115,000 word young adult fantasy, Feo, Enola, and Meredith wrestle with their own problems as well as the magical ones that bring them together. Feo feels frustrated about the suspicion everyone always has for him, even when he isn’t pulling pranks. Enola is caught between hating her boring classmates and feeling incredibly lonely. Meredith is desperate to please her overbearing mother, but has become so emotionally stunted that she can barely understand how friendship works. It’s an unusual friendship when the three come together, but they soon find that they all need one another to begin to heal and to grow.

I am a graduate of the University of Vermont and a life-long lover of young adult fantasy. I have published several book reviews for Edge magazine and short stories for the online magazines Plunge and Spellbound. My novel is a dark fantasy and will be enjoyed by fans of Coraline and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The full manuscript is available upon request. It can be a stand-alone book or the first of a series.


She ran the brush through the doll’s perfect hair for ten more strokes, stopping at a round one hundred. Hair was supposed to look much nicer after one hundred strokes, but the doll didn’t look any better to Meredith. It never did.

The truth was that this particular doll had been custom-made just for her. It had long, straight blond hair that stopped in a perfect line just below its shoulders. There were equally straight bangs that formed a line across its forehead just above a pair of tiny, round glasses. It was wearing a schoolgirl uniform, complete with a plaid skirt and a striped green and grey tie. The entire doll was very detailed, but it was still just a doll. It never smiled, whether it stood or sat it was always stiff, and its eyes always had an eerie lifelessness to them.

It looked exactly like Meredith in every way.



As one of the fourteen writers chosen from the Fiesta Pitch hosted by LatinosinKidLit.com, I want to take part in the shared investment of increasing diversity in the world of young adult literature. My aspiration is that this magical realism novel, THE BOND: GUARDIANS AWAKE will be a good fit for your list. The limited number of magical realism books have made it challenging to parallel my novel to others in this category. THE BOND brings diverse characters to this YA category.

Jessy Vazquez is an average girl growing up in her grandparent’s full house in the suburbs of East Los Angeles during a time of economic hardship and drought. On her quinceañera, she receives an heirloom medallion from her grandparents. Once the medallion touches Jessy’s skin, the medallion knows that it has found its guardian. The medallion takes a life of its own as it reawakens an unseen battle between good and evil during Jessy’s high school field trip to the temple ruins at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. To overcome evil, the medallion reveals to Jessy the unanimous language used at the beginning of time. Embedded in the language are a series of recipes for optimum health. Jessy and her family take advantage of the recipes using ingredients found in nature, to promote their intelligence, strength, and agility. In the midst of the metaphysical struggle, the medallion gives Jessy the power to control the weather and end the drought. Will Jessy be able to face her fears? Will she and her family be able to equip themselves to escape the assassin hunting the medallion’s power to control the Earth? With help from her family, Jessy learns that power and knowledge, come from a bonded family that battles for the good of the world.

I wrote this book to tell the story of how much I love my grandparents and my family and to provide a story that attracts Hispanic readers. There were many late nights invested in the writing of this book in order to tell this story. During the last 18 months, I have received support from local university professors and their writing group. They guided me to strengthen the story line for the process of revision. THE BOND: GUARDIANS AWAKE is complete at 70,000 words. It is the first book of a five book series.


With great anticipation, Jessy took the lid off, and saw it. The medallion. It was perfectly brilliant. The minerals in the stone looked like the ocean and earth whirled around inside of it. The very tiny glimmering speckled lines and dots twinkled as though they were saying hello. Gustav’s dormant skills enabled the stone and metal to reunite once again.

“I love it, Grandma!” said Jessy with the biggest grin. “Can you help me put it on?”

“Before I put it on, you need to read what it says on the back,” said Carmen as she flipped the medallion over. She adjusted her glasses and pointed, “Read it.”

It was inscribed, Our granddaughter, Jessica Maria Vazquez Rodriguez.

“Grandma, Grandpa, I really love it,” said Jessy with watery eyes. “It’s perfect.”

As soon as the medallion touched Jessy’s skin, it set off an invisible and metaphysical reaction. With all the excitement in the kitchen, no one noticed that the stone lit slightly or that an unusual gentle wind deliberately swirled outside of the kitchen window. Recycling bottles on the backyard porch tumbled over and rolled around. It blew by and frightened Mrs. Abbot’s annoying cat that always ended up in the Rodriguez’s yard. Yellow curtains that hung over the kitchen window swayed as it went through to touch Jessy’s skin, giving her a chill.



Finvarra’s Circus is coming to town, and seventeen-year-old Leanna is determined to see it. Everyone knows once the circus leaves, the fairest girl in town is found dead, deformed, and heartless. Rumors say it’s the handsome ringmaster, Finvarra, who steals their beauty and their hearts, but this means little to Leanna. Her heart is damaged and failing her. Surely he won’t want it. She sneaks into the circus, but caught by Finvarra, he gives her a choice: become their tightrope walker or die.

Leanna accepts, and now a part of their strange family, she learns that Finvarra never meant to harm her. He needs her to stay. An ancient curse binds the troupe to their circus. They must perform forever or perish. To break the curse, Finvarra must die, and only the famed muse, the Leanan Sidhe, can kill him.

Finvarra believes he’s found his muse in Leanna, and Leanna can’t deny the growing attraction between them. But not everyone wants freedom from the circus and they’ll kill any girl suspected of being Finvarra’s inspiration.

With her life and the circus’s on the line, will Leanna’s heart fail her when she needs it the most?

Complete at 99,000 words, FINVARRA’S CIRCUS is inspired by the Irish folktales of King Finvarra, Ethna the Bride, and the Leanan Sidhe. Fans of The Night Circus and Howl’s Moving Castle will enjoy this magical tale of one girl’s fight to decide her own fate when it feels as if it has already been written.

I am an active writer on Wattpad.com where my works reached over 4 million reads, alongside a growing fan base of over 19K. I am also a part of the Wattpad4, a group of authors that hosts weekly Twitter chats and vlogs.


That night, when only the low howls of the wind hushed through the trees, Leanna pushed away her blankets and climbed from her bed. Padding lightly to her wardrobe, she dressed quickly. Edith never bothered to check on her in the middle of the night, and so Leanna was confident, as she slipped on her black cloak, that her indiscretion would never be discovered.

Opening her door with a frightful ease, she peered out into the hall. Her father’s thunderous snoring resounded, but all else was quiet. She slipped out from her room, crept downstairs and into the kitchen. Lamp in hand, she pulled the door open. A frigid gust pushed her back as if to keep her from going, but clutching at her pendant, Leanna pulled the door closed behind her.

Darkness swallowed the forest, cut by streams of moonlight breaking through skeletal branches. Leanna looked to the blackness, gazed up to her window, and paused.

Fear, now a small voice in her mind, whispered that she should not go. What if she were to fall ill, alone, in the middle of the woods? What on earth would she do? It was foolish. Yet, steeling her spine, she hauled in a deep breath, adjusted her hood, and darted into the black. There was no way she would miss the circus, even if she lost her heart in the process— to the cold, or to Finvarra.


SOME KIND OF TROUBLE by Elizabeth Arroyo

Seventeen-year-old Ariana Lopez has been planning her future since her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Getting into college is a huge part of that future. Knowing little about her extended family, or the identity of her biological father, Ariana believes getting into college means having a future after her mom dies.

But her college plans are threatened by her inability to comprehend numbers. At the request of her mother, she accepts tutoring from Marcus Trent, who’s an A student, popular, and has “most likely to succeed” written all over his arrogant, brilliant smile.  Marcus gets on her nerves and not in an entirely bad way.

When he invites her to hang out with his friends, she decides to ignore common sense and agrees. The night ends with a car chase, leaving one of Marcus’s friends in the hospital with a gunshot wound and Ariana with a knot on her head. To make matters worse, she’s forced to call her ex-stepfather to pick her up since her mother is in the hospital again.

After her near death experience, her life plans get put on stasis due to her growing feelings for Marcus. But Ariana soon realizes that Marcus is carrying his own emotional baggage and is set on a path to self-destruction: he and his friends decide to find the shooter, no matter the consequences.

Set on stopping Marcus from making a dangerous mistake, Ariana decides to live somewhere between hope and fear, risking more than just her heart for a future she didn’t plan. And it may cost her everything.

SOME KIND OF TROUBLE is a YA Contemporary Romance novel, complete at 60,000 words. I am a hybrid author looking for an agent for my contemporary work.


Offering up my soul to whatever god could turn on my seventeen-year-old jalopy without me freezing my ass off was a fair trade.

I turned the ignition for the fifth time, and the engine caught with a grudging screech just as my cell phone rang. I pried it out of my bag with shivering, numb fingers. At least I’d keep my soul.

“Don’t leave me!” Miranda yelled into the phone even before I set it up against my ear.

I watched her through the side mirror, my lips curled into a smile. Miranda never seemed bothered by anything, not even running in a cold Chicago morning, wearing stilettos and dragging her backpack on the ground beside her. Her hair swirled in the wind, her hips moved side to side as if she were dancing merengue to the beat of her stilettos.

“Hurry up, can’t be late,” I quipped.

Miranda and I have been friends since the third grade, although we pissed each other off enough times to have perfected the eye roll. Despite her failed attempts at trying to save me from me, whatever that meant, she added a different kind of chaos in my life. The type of chaos I didn’t plan, and it allowed me to forget who I was. I lived for those moments.



I BURN BANNED BOOKS by Monica Zepeda

High school senior Keely McNeill never planned on being a book burner.

Keely’s only goal is to wait out the graduation clock and get the hell out her sucktastic Arizona town. But her journalism teacher, Mr. Stokes, calls her out on being chronically lazy. He challenges her to find something she cares about.

Then Mr. Stokes dies.

The death of Mr. Stokes prompts the school board to shutter the newspaper to save money. Keely hijacks the paper and writes an unauthorized editorial against the closure, but the principal destroys all the issues before it gets distributed. Keely’s attempt at organizing a grassroots protest ends in an epic fail, and even her boyfriend thinks she should give up the cause.

But when she gets unexpected support from the high school’s resident mean girl, Keely decides to protest the censorship of her article. She wants to do something headline worthy, and if burning one thousand books is the only way Keely can be heard, then burn, baby, burn.

I Burn Banned Books is a YA contemporary debut complete at 61,000 words.

In addition to being a member of SCBWI, I received a MFA in playwriting from Arizona State University. I am a former recipient of the Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship and an independent feature I wrote is in post-production. Currently, I am the Teen Services librarian at Beverly Hills Public Library.


As I watch the books burn, a spray of wayward ashes blows into my face. My eyes start to water. I am not crying. I have residue from The Chocolate War in my eye.

I wipe away a not-tear, hoping no one will see. But Carole Reese-Kennedy does. Even though she is way on the other side of the fire pit. She nudges her camera guy.

Ariel spots them, too. She’s been waiting all night to be interviewed. She even got highlights for the occasion.

“Don’t forget to mention me,” she whispers.

Carole and her camera guy push their way through the crowd as the light attached to the top of the camera flashes into my eyes. I feel like a stupid deer that doesn’t realize that its fate is an oncoming Chevy Suburban.


Latin@s in Kid Lit at the Library: Interviews with Fellow Librarians

By Sujei Lugo

Long overdue is the need of a myriad of children’s books that embody the diversity of our communities and society. Children and adults of all backgrounds should have the opportunity to be exposed to historically untold and misrepresented stories in children’s literature. For years, educators, authors, librarians, illustrators, scholars, parents, and other community members have challenged and critiqued the gaps and invisibility of diverse populations, as well as stereotypes and inaccuracies present in children’s books. Although there have been several efforts to expand the availability of diverse children’s literature (The We Need Diverse Books campaign comes to mind as a recent example), the percentage of diverse titles still doesn’t reflect the world around us in terms of numbers and cultural experiences. But despite these problems, flourishing from this serious gap (and misrepresentation) inside the children’s literature world, we have encountered great titles that portray the Latino experience and Latinos/as in the United States.

Organizations like REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking) and initiatives like Día de los Niños/Día de los Libros and the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference are constantly advocating and promoting the incorporation of Latino children’s literature in library collections and programming. Several awards such as the Pura Belpré Award, Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, International Latino Book Awards, and Américas Awards, also play a role in acknowledging Latino children’s literature. All these initiatives help in raising a much-needed awareness of the existence of Latino children’s books, but, in addition to celebrating and promoting them, an urgent need exists to incorporate and use  these books in our classrooms and libraries.

We need to keep in mind that two pivotal places where children constantly interact with books and stories are schools and libraries. How are librarians bringing Latino children’s books to children? How are they incorporating them into their collections, school curriculum, and programming? In a bid to try to answer these questions I decided to develop a series of interviews with children’s librarians, youth services librarians, and school librarians, where they can  share their experiences, knowledge, and challenges dealing with Latino children’s literature. Although there are great resources and literature that can serve as guides to Latino children’s librarianship (Celebrating cuentos: promoting Latino children’s literature and literacy in classrooms and libraries, 25 Latino craft projects, Programming with Latino children’s materials: a how-to-do-it manual for librarians, and Serving Latino communities: a how-to-do-it manual for librarians), the communities that libraries serve are different and constantly evolving. Librarians are met with the ongoing challenge to stay up-to-date and relevant to their needs.

In this first post of our Latin@s in Kid Lit at the Library series, I’m honored to interview Patricia Toney, a fellow librarian and REFORMA member and great advocate of diversity in children’s librarianship.

Pat Toney Librarian

Patricia Toney, Bilingual Children’s Services Librarian
San Francisco Public Library

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your identity, and your library.
As the offspring of parents who immigrated from Guyana and Costa Rica, I identify as Afribbean. I’m a native of Southern California who grew up in a working class Spanish speaking community, and who later moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to attend University of California, Berkeley. I have a master’s in Counseling Psychology and a second master’s in Library Science. I started my professional career in International Student Services, then I worked in Student Counseling, and now I’m in my third career as a librarian.

I’ve been working at San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) for three years; moving up from temporary, to part-time, and finally, to full-time a year ago. SFPL serves a linguistically diverse community. I work at the Main Library and I’m in charge of providing Spanish language children’s services to families in Tenderloin, San Francisco, an economically challenged and densely populated part of the city.

What process does your library take to select and acquire Latino children’s books for the collection? Do you have any input in this process?
We have a dedicated Spanish language collection development committee and individual selectors for specific genres. My position as a Bilingual Children’s Services Librarian holds a provisional seat on the Spanish language selection committee, so my input on children’s material selection is welcomed.  Committee members regularly attend book fairs such as FIL (Guadalajara International Book Fair) and I annually attend the Bibliotecas Para La Gente Book Fair.

What type of children and youth programming does your library offer using Latino children’s literature?
I conduct a weekly bilingual family storytime and system wide we host five Spanish and Bilingual (English-Spanish) storytimes a week. We also have a ¡Viva! Latino Heritage Month Celebration, which includes music, dance, crafts, food, and films. This year, I hosted a Zumba program at my location and a Día de los Muertos altar. Also, at the end of our summer reading program, I hosted an afternoon of Lotería.

In terms of promoting events and community outreach, what does your library do?
In addition to word of mouth, social media, and printed announcements, we have four bookmobiles which traverse the city. The library recently took part in Sunday Streets-San Francisco (open street event), the Friday Night Market and Litquake (San Francisco Literary Festival). The San Francisco Public Library, Mission Branch (located in a historically Spanish speaking neighborhood) hosted a memorial reading in honor of Gabriel García Márquez during Litquake.

What is the reaction of kids, teens and families regarding Latino children’s books and programming? And the reaction of the library staff?
Children spark up when they hear or see something that is familiar to them. Parents appreciate the opportunity to share their home language with others in the community.  Colleagues and library staff are generally supportive of diversity in action. One of the library’s strategic priorities is to have “collections, services and programs that reflect diversity and inclusion.

What would you like to do in terms of programming that you haven’t been able to?
I would ideally like to hold monthly evening programs for Spanish speaking families. Tenderloin, San Francisco is a socially-oriented rich community, so there’s a lot of competition for evening programming. So not a lot of families come to the San Francisco urban civic center area for evening programs.

Do you address issues of prejudice and oppression in your library through and in Latino children’s books?
As a member of the Association of Children’s Librarians of Northern California, these issues are always addressed. SFPL has a commitment to diversity and the book selection committee takes racism and oppression into consideration before buying a book. With the population I serve, I tend to address sexism and ableism more than racism. I am always open to discussing these issues when children ask and point out opposing viewpoints and when I hear biased language. I like to give patrons the option to think for themselves.

Any advice for other librarians who would like to use and incorporate Latino children’s literature into their programming?
Latino children’s literature isn’t just for Latinos. One can incorporate Latino children’s books into book displays, class visits, and recommended reading lists.

Which are the most popular Latino children’s books at your library?
I have to say that most of our popular titles are the Spanish language translations.

And finally, which Latino children’s books do you recommend?
Anything written by Monica Brown, Yuyi Morales, or Gary Soto; Anything illustrated by Rafael López or Jose Ramírez; Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan; The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano and I’m currently reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

Libros Latin@s: Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation

Reviewed by Lila Quintero Weaver

Separate is Never Equal 2

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: When her family moved to the town of Westminster, California, young Sylvia Mendez was excited about enrolling in her neighborhood school. But she and her brothers were turned away and told they had to attend the Mexican school instead. Sylvia could not understand why—she was an American citizen who spoke perfect English. Why were the children of Mexican families forced to attend a separate school? Unable to get a satisfactory answer from the school board, the Mendez family decided to take matters into their own hands and organize a lawsuit.

In the end, the Mendez family’s efforts helped bring an end to segregated schooling in California in 1947, seven years before the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education ended segregation in schools across America.

Using his signature illustration style and incorporating his interviews with Sylvia Mendez, as well as information from court files and news accounts, Duncan Tonatiuh tells the inspiring story of the Mendez family’s fight for justice and equality.

MY TWO CENTS: Kudos to Duncan Tonatiuh for shining a bright spotlight on a consequential, but often overlooked chapter of American civil rights, and bringing this true story of Latinos fighting for racial justice to young readers. The book features Tonatiuh’s trademark, award-winning illustration and his retelling of the facts.

In the mid-1940s, when the action takes place, Sylvia Mendez is nine years old. She’s the daughter of Gonzalo Mendez, a Mexican-born, naturalized citizen of the United States, and his wife, Felicitas, from Puerto Rico. When the Mendez family moves from Santa Ana, California, to a farming community in Orange County, Sylvia and her brothers are not permitted to enroll in the neighborhood school and are instead sent to a school designated for Mexicans, which is farther from home. Unlike the white children’s school, it’s dirty, crowded and lacks a playground. The students eat lunch outdoors next to a fly-infested cow pasture. To top it off, the teachers seem indifferent, as if Mexican children weren’t worth the bother.

The Mendez family launches a campaign to demand equal education for their children. Sylvia’s father first pursues answers from officials all the way up the line to the board of education, but no one offers a credible explanation. The common refrain is “that is how it is done.” Mr. Mendez organizes members of the Mexican community and hires a lawyer to challenge the discriminatory practices in court. Young Sylvia is in the courtroom during the proceedings, where she hears statements by a school official about the supposedly lice-ridden, inferior nature of Mexicans. It takes two court cases to settle the outcome. The judge’s final ruling states that “public education must be open to all children by unified school association regardless of lineage.”

After Sylvia’s parents successfully face down California’s version of Jim Crow laws, she enrolls in the neighborhood school, shattering longstanding color barriers. In the corresponding page spread, a white boy tells Sylvia, “You don’t belong here,” and Sylvia is shown with a bowed head and a tear sliding down her cheek. Reminded by her mother of the long fight they undertook to win her right to equal schooling, Sylvia perseveres, proving herself as steely as her parents. In the closing pages, she and other brown-skinned children are shown side-by-side with white classmates in the school playground.

Separate is Never Equal spread

Tonatiuh’s account highlights the exemplary character of Mr. and Mrs. Mendez. Every movement for justice has its heroes and pioneers, and the Mendez family richly deserves that level of recognition. Taking up the fight involved considerable personal risk. They used their life savings to kickstart the legal fund. Eventually, they received wider support. Leading the charge took Mr. Mendez away from the farm for long stretches, leaving Mrs. Mendez to perform farming tasks that her husband normally would have handled. As the story shows, many Mexican families in the community declined to join the lawsuit, for fear of economic retribution. “No queremos problemas,” they said.

The California campaign for educational equality, spearheaded by the Mendez case, ultimately led to the 1954 ruling on Brown v. Board of Education. The victory illuminated by Separate is Never Equal belongs in a clear line of prominent milestones of American civil rights. How fortunate that someone with Tonatiuh’s skill has brought it out of the shadows.

TEACHING RESOURCES: Beyond the importance of the story, Tonatiuh’s groundbreaking illustrations deserve readers’ attention. His drawings marry childlike innocence with characteristics of ancient Mixtec art. (See my review of Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale for a fuller discussion of his style.) In Separate is Never Equal, the illustrations take on the added dimension of historical details from the 20th century. Teachers may want to provide students with photographs from the era to demonstrate how carefully Tonatiuh researched and reproduced clothing, hairstyles, automobile models, and other authenticating markers of the 1940s.

As is generally the case with nonfiction picture books, younger readers will likely need adult guidance to understand sections of the story that deal with legal proceedings and other points of the Mendez’s battle.

This book presents powerful opportunities for teaching empathy and strengthening awareness of the pain that racism inflicts. One scene shows a public swimming pool with a sign stating, “No Dogs or Mexicans Allowed.” Mexican children look longingly through the fence at the white children frolicking in the pool. Teachers can pose discussion questions such as, “Imagine yourself on both sides of the fence. How would you feel in either situation?” Consider comparing Sylvia Mendez’s experiences with those of Ruby Bridges, the young African American girl who integrated New Orleans schools in 1960.

A section in the back of the book includes an author’s note, a glossary, a bibliography and explanatory details about methodology. Much of Tonatiuh’s research came from court documents and extensive interviews with Sylvia Mendez. Glossary entries include a handful of Spanish phrases used in the book and historical terms that round out the context. One example is the origin of “separate but equal,” a phrase plucked from the 1896 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Plessy v. Ferguson case, which laid the foundation for decades of Jim Crow laws.

In 2010, Sylvia Mendez received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She is interviewed on this video, which highlights points of the story told in the book and shows photographs of her as a child and of the schools in question.

Duncan Tonatiuh

Duncan Tonatiuh  was born and raised in Mexico. He studied art in the United States. His picture book Pancho Rabbit and The Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale won the 2014 Tomás Rivera Mexican American children’s book award, and two honors for text and illustration from the Pura Belpré Award. Read more about Duncan on his official website.