Book Review: Federico and the Wolf by Rebecca J. Gomez, Illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

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Reviewed by Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez, PhD & Ingrid Campos 

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: With his red hoodie on and his bicycle basket full of food, Federico is ready to visit Abuelo. But on the way, he meets a hungry wolf. And now his grandfather bears a striking resemblance to el lobo. Fortunately, Federico is quick and clever—and just happens to be carrying a spicy surprise! Federico drives the wolf away, and he and Abuelo celebrate with a special salsa. Recipe included.

OUR TWO CENTS: Rebecca J. Gomez’s Federico and the Wolf  is an illustrated book about a young boy named Federico who is sent to the market to pick up ingredients to make pico de gallo with his abuelo. As he travels through a forest-like park, he meets a hungry lobo who wants his food. When Federico says no the lobo comes up with a plan and meets Federico at his abuelo’s shop. The lobo dresses up as Federico’s abuelo and tries to eat him. Using chiles and peppers. Federico is able to ward off the lobo. 

With Federico and the Wolf  Gomez and Chavarri present a retelling of the classic tale, The Little Red Riding Hood. The differences from the classic tale and Gomez’s is that the protagonist is a Mexican-American boy in a modern setting. In this version, Federico is sent to the marketplace to find ingredients such as jalapeños, onions, garlic, limes, and fresh herbs with which to make Pico de Gallo. Instead of the classic red cape, Federico wears a sleeveless red hoodie and his basket is attached to the front of  his bike, which he uses to get to the market and to Abuelo’s shop through a park with a forest feel. Instead of chopping down the wolf with an axe, Federico uses his peppers and chiles to lure the lobo away and rescue his abuelo. There are a few Spanish words sprinkled throughout the story that are simple enough to translate with context clues from the narrative and from the illustrations. However, the book does include a glossary of Spanish words and as an added bonus, a recipe for Pico de Gallo. The differences in this retelling make Federico and the Wolf  a classic in and of itself. 

 Elisa Chavarri’s illustrations include colorful and bold images. One of the most vibrant scenes is the marketplace. There are many details any observant reader can point out, such as guitars, flores, the jars of red and green goods, and other people walking around with their bags. Federico’s bag has a luchador face on it. The market has fruit stands and a churro vendor. What makes the scene more colorful is the papel picado hanging above the market. The illustrations of the lobo are excellently done and are humorous, such as when he dresses up as abuelo and eats the chiles. Chavarri’s detail for facial expressions on the main characters adds another layer of complexity to the story.  From the cover, the wolf looks mischievous and cunning. Federico, on the other hand, has a sly smile that makes him look confident and like he can certainly outwit the lobo. When brave Federico shoves an habanero in the wolf’s mouth, Federico’s hand looks tiny in comparison to the conniving wolf’s enormous teeth. And in the next scene, Federico stands with hands on hips, like a superhero, while the wolf’s wild eyes are red and full of tears, tongue sticking out showing readers just how spicy a habanero can be. Chavarri’s illustrations complement the story perfectly. 

Additionally, Gomez’s use of rhyme makes the story even more entertaining for young readers. Gomez follows an ABCB rhythm which gives the story the classic fairy tale, sing song, feel. The rhyme scheme creates an additional layer of fun for readers. For example, the story opens with:

  Once upon a modern time

a boy named Federico

left to buy ingredients 

to make the perfect pico. 

In this quatrain, or set of four lines, the last word of the second line rhymes with the last word of the fourth line. It might be fun to let younger readers find the rhyme words as they read. For the most part, the entire story is told in the ABCB rhyme pattern, which readers will definitely catch as they follow Federico through the story. 

We find Gomez and Chavarri’s Federico and the Wolf  significantly powerful because it represents a young, brown, Mexican-American boy standing up to the “big, bad wolf” threatening his existence. Just like in the story about Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf in this version can be read as a representation of many social threats in the child’s life. Federico is not afraid, although he is surprised to see the wolf in his abuelo’s clothes, because unknowingly his journey prepared him for this moment of confrontation. Federico uses the ingredients for Pico de Gallo to attack and disempower the wolf. By using these ingredients, Federico depends on his family knowledge and on his heritage to survive and thrive. Readers, young and old, will find themselves cheering for Federico.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rebecca J. Gomez has been writing stories and poems for kids since she was five years old. She also loves to hike, draw, and play games with her husband and their three children. She has co-authored four picture books with Corey Rosen Schwartz. Federico and the Wolf is her first solo picture book.

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ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Elisa Chavarri is a freelance illustrator originally from Lima, Peru. She did much of her growing up in Northern Michigan where she now resides with her husband, 6yr old Lucia, and 3yr old Marcel. Elisa graduated with honors from The Savannah College of Art and Design, where she majored in Classical Animation and minored in Comics.  

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ABOUT THE REVIEWERSSonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Ingrid Campos is a 19-year-old college student interested in Latinx Literature. After graduating from LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) this year with an associates in Writing and Literature, she will continue her studies at Queens College to earn her Bachelors in English Education 7-12 . Ingrid was born and raised in Queens, New York. As a Mexican-American living in Queens and graduating from the public school system, Ingrid is inspired to become a high school teacher. One of her main goals is to center academic curriculums around more diversity and inclusivity towards Black and Brown students.

Cover reveal for Sing With Me: The Story of Selena Quintanilla/Canta conmigo: La historia de Selena Quintanilla by Diana López, illus by Teresa Martinez

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We are delighted to host the cover reveal for Diana López’s picture book Sing With Me: The Story of Selena Quintanilla, which will be published simultaneously in Spanish: Canta conmigo: La historia de Selena Quintanilla. The Spanish version was translated by Carmen Tafolla. Both are illustrated by Teresa Martinez and will be published by Dial Books on April 6, 2021!

From a very early age, young Selena knew how to connect with people and bring them together with music. Sing with Me follows Selena’s rise to stardom, from front-lining her family’s band at rodeos and quinceañeras to performing in front of tens of thousands at the Houston Astrodome. Young readers will be empowered by Selena’s dedication–learning Spanish as a teenager, designing her own clothes, and traveling around the country with her family–sharing her pride in her Mexican-American roots and her love of music and fashion with the world.

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First, here is some information about the creators:

About the author: Diana López is the author of several middle grade novels including CONFETTI GIRL, ASK MY MOOD RING HOW I FEEL, and LUCKY LUNA. She was born and raised in Corpus Christi, Texas, Selena’s hometown. SING WITH ME, THE STORY OF SELENA QUINTANILLA is her debut picture book.

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About the illustrator: Teresa Martínez is the illustrator of numerous books for children, including The Halloween Tree and It’s Not a Bed, It’s a Time Machine. She lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, but was born and raised in Monterrey, where Selena frequently visited, becoming part of its culture and its heart. Martínez remains a huge fan of Selena’s music.

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Now, some insight about the book from the creators:

From the author, Diana López: I’m so excited to share the cover of my upcoming picture book biography, SING WITH ME, THE STORY OF SELENA QUINTANILLA. I live in Corpus Christi, Selena’s hometown, so I often see illustrations or photographs of her at restaurants or on T-shirts. There’s a Selena mural in her old neighborhood and a memorial, the Mirador de la Flor, which features a statue of Selena gazing at the sea. It also has a giant, white rose, Selena’s favorite flower. I love that illustrator, Teresa Martínez, chose Selena’s most famous concert for the cover of our picture book, but a special treat are the roses lovingly tossed to Selena in gratitude for her music.

Here’s what Teresa Martínez said when asked about her inspiration for the cover: “When I think about Selena, I go back immediately to my Quinceañera party and see my friends singing out loud on the mic Selena’s songs. That passion and energy in her songs. Without a doubt, I had a lot of inspiration with her music, wardrobe, and the feeling of happiness that youth brings. For her book, I opted for a vibrant color palette that was so in use those days, and of course, I couldn’t leave behind the purple color associated with the fantastic outfit Selena wore at the Astrodome, so purple takes an important part in the cover. For this project overall, I wanted the reader to feel involved in her presence through the colors and little details throughout the book.”

As someone who primarily writes middle grade novels, I’m used to “painting” people and places with words. That’s why early drafts of this picture book were a bit wordy. I had to keep reminding myself that a picture book is a collaboration between a writer and an illustrator, and I couldn’t have asked for a better co-creator. When Nancy Mercado, our editor at Dial Books for Young Readers, first shared Teresa Martínez’s portfolio, I could not stop smiling. Her art has color, movement, and whimsy, and I’m so pleased to see these traits on every page in our book, but most especially on the cover, which does a wonderful job of capturing Selena’s beautiful spirit. I can’t wait to share SING WITH ME, THE STORY OF SELENA QUINTANILLA—its art, its story, its joy.

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Finally, here is the cover of Sing with Me: The Story of Selena Quintanilla/ Canta conmigo: La historia de Selena Quintanilla:

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Ta-da!

Sing with Me: The Story of Selena Quintanilla is available now for pre-order!

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#LatinxPitch Second Chance Showcase

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AGENTS AND EDITORS: We know that some tweets can get “lost” during Twitter pitch events, so, working with the amazing people at #LatinxPitch, we are presenting some of the pitches that may have been overlooked and were not “liked.” If you want a creator to submit to you, please leave a comment for them, or you can contact them through Twitter (their Twitter handles are included). They are listed in no particular order. GOOD LUCK, LATINX CREATORS!

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Annabelle Estrada @AnnabelleMyBell

ENGLISH ANNA, SPANISH ANNA: Since Anna was born, she’s lived her life in English & Spanish, & wouldn’t want it any other way. Through verse, we follow Anna’s journey from before birth, to growing up, demonstrating that being bilingual is double the fun. #PB #Own

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Annabelle Estrada @AnnabelleMyBell

There are ZERO traditionally published board books about a COLLECTION of Latino leaders. Together, we can change that, along w/ Lin-Manuel, AOC, Santana, JLo, America Ferrera, Joan Baez, the Castro twins & more. A IS FOR AWESOME x DREAM BIG, LITTLE ONE. #PB #NF #Own

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Carisa Pineda @CarisaCPineda

Knuffle Bunny x Blueberries for Sal. 3 year old Cari is inspired to go to school by Sesame Street. The only problem? Papi, Mama, and Tia thought she was pretending. Cari learns about safety and the grownups learn to listen (hopefully) #PB

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Brittany Pomales @BrittanyPomales

When a shadow causes midnight mischief, Peyton becomes a flashlight-slinging, tip-toe creeping… SHADOW HUNTER! Peyton’s confidence fades when her shadow-busting flashlight fails. But there is more than 1 way to see in…PEYTON, THE SHADOW HUNTER. #PB #Bilingual

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Gabriella Aldeman @write_between

There’s nothing to do! Daddy is reading the paper and mommy, a book. Bored and restless, Gaby stares at the ceiling fan and let’s her thoughts wander… soon she sees an owl, a pirate llama, and, look—there’s her best friend Annie and her flamingo from Miami. #PB

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Selene Lacayo @LacayoSelene

Convincing in the most charming way, Nadia wants her abuela to know she’s proud of her mix-and-match outfit as much as of her mix-and-match American, Lebanese & Mexican cultures. Discover how a child can teach us about identity in this #Own #PB

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EmmePBooks @Emme18207098

Venezuelan grandparents super heroes, special powers include: flying with cars (above expectations), service, cooking and finding your own answers. 799 words. Inspire others to learn from grandparents no matter how far they are. #PB

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Lucho Silva @luchosilva

HELGA. NO ONE can leave the valley. Men receive swords to fight and women receive brooms to clean up the mess left by men’s battles. A 13-year-old girl uses in secret a magic broom to flight. So, a broom, a tool of oppression, becomes a tool for freedom #MG #GN

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Silvia Rodriguez @SilviaSePuede

Kati The Brave Butterfly and her family migrate north. As they arrive, evil birds and their leader Arpajaro detain her family. She must overcome her fears to fight for her family’s freedom by calling for support from all sky, land, and sea creatures #PB #NF #Bio

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Brenda Dominguez-Panella

Josie is an outspoken teen fed up with her cousins. But when her soul is zapped into a magical book, she discovers a fairy tale world where the Three Little Pigs are evil sisters that love to take what they want and eat people.THE THREE LITTLE PIGS meets GREMLINS #GN

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Mariana Llanos López de Castilla @marianallanos

#PB #agented in verse GRANDMA’S KITCHEN + DRUM DREAM GIRL

Making tamales with Abuela

Like my Great-great grandma

Who was a pregonera

In the streets of distant Lima.

It’s my turn to help Abuela

Show-off her tamalitos,

I sing “Tamales, casera!”

Like my tatarabuela.

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Aixa Perez-Prado @ProfessorAixa

STEPMUMMY is a silly/spooky twist on stepmother stereotypes told through the voice of a brujita stepdaughter. Creepy humor and genuine affection lead to love in this sweet multi-monster family. #agented #author/illustrator.

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Aixa Perez-Prado @ProfessorAixa

Long ago on the banks of the Parana, a Guarani princess loved the Sun god. In this retold folktale of revenge and transformation, the SUNFLOWER is born. #PB #agented #author/illustrator

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Nydia Armendia @Nydia_A_Sanchez

Paco’s found ‘el taco 🌮 perfecto! Now he’s on a quest to keep it safe from:🔸 himself 🔸 his Mom 🔸 a dog 🔸 a guinea pig. He may lose more than a meal if he fails to protect his tasty 🌮 sidekick! #PB #POC

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Nydia Armendia @Nydia_A_Sanchez

“Like Papá,

inmigrantes

have so much to offer

They are makers & cultivators

of change & inspiration

They have gifts & talents too

And so do you”

A mother’s storytelling moment w/her kids about Papá’s border crossing & finding strength from within. #OWN #PB

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Rachel S. Hobbs Gunn @RachelHobbsGunn

Elena and Mama enjoy ice cream together through tears or smiles throughout the year, until one day Mama can’t afford it. Elena decides to put her hard-earned coins to good use, only to discover that their bond is what gets them through the rocky road of life. #PB

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Rachel S. Hobbs Gunn @RachelHobbsGunn

When a crack of Nothing appears on the wall, George slips—swish!—into an invisible world where he bumps into Jorge and learns that making a friend may mean sliding out of your comfort zone to land on common ground. #PB #Fantasy

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Rachel S. Hobbs Gunn @RachelHobbsGunn

Darla loves fixing bad dreams, but when she jumps into Sassy Ana’s nightmare, she must overcome her own fears in order to work together and let her rival be a hero, too. #PB #Fantasy

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Rachel S. Hobbs Gunn @RachelHobbsGunn

Ronaldo wants a big, bushy beard like the other kids on the island, but Picture Day is here, and he can’t find his fake beard! He tries to solve his hairless dilemma before his turn in the spotlight but instead finds an unexpected “truth” that makes him shine. #PB #HA

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Alex Perez @ItzalNenetl

Gael Guitarita y Mariachi A lonely guitar named Gael yearns to be accepted by his fellow instruments. Bilingual #PB

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Alex Perez @ItzalNenetl

Anahit’s crystal ball breaks down and she summons her friends to help her. Bilingual #PB

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Ledys Villasmil Chemin @LChem1

Lullaby: Brahms’ Lullaby—Lullaby, and goodnight—had its start as a love song! Johannes Brahms was a man of few words. Instead, he let his music speak for him. Generations later, we continue to carry the melody of his love lost. #PB #Bio #NarrativeNF

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Something Serious @seriouslywrite

Struggling to care of her baby brother, 17yo Rheya accepts an impossible job for a needed price: kill a witch. But she gets cursed. She becomes a Ghoul. Seeking revenge, she must kill the 6 witches left for magic to end and save her humanity. #YA #Fantasy

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Laura Aguilar @VRUKALST

When Jasper attends a new school, all he cares about is fitting in. But the students can’t get over him being a zombie. Everyone thinks he’s weird, but when one of his classmates is in trouble, Jasper has to figure out a way to use his “weirdness” to save him or risk alienation. #PB

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Claudia Zenteno Walbom @WalbomZ

A host of women warriors. An artifact that links two realms. Dragons. Spells. Qi Magic. A fated friendship. And 11yo Matt didn’t want to move there? He can’t want what he didn’t know—now that he knows, can he ensure his friend’s safety & survive? #MG #fantasy

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Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez @RodriguezSoniaA

VALENTINA UNAFRAID Valentina (13) 8th grade class president explores crush for new girl while also figuring out what redadas are. Parents try to hide their statuses as undocumented due to rise of raids in the area bc of Obama’s Secure Communities program in 2012. #undocuqueer

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Robert Negron @talent212

When a boy makes contact with the spirit of a little girl, they hit it off without a hitch, but when Mom and Dad disapprove of his new playmate, it’s up to him to convince them not to take steps to remove the little girl from the home. #PB

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Robert Negron @talent212

When Julio invited Jean to his house for a playdate, he didn’t mean to leave his scrapbook out for Jean to find, but find it he did, and now Julio’s in a pickle because he can’t see a way out of telling Jean the story behind the creepy photos #PB

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Nelly @Lidolsmile

Ella can’t seem to get any relief. Until she is left in awe after her Abuelita’s chant: Sana, sana, colita de rana… entices all her senses and relieves her of her pain. #PB

Book Review: Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

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Review by Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez, PhD & Ingrid Campos

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Efrén Nava’s Amá is his Superwoman—or Soperwoman, named after the delicious Mexican sopes his mother often prepares. Both Amá and Apá work hard all day to provide for the family, making sure Efrén and his younger siblings Max and Mía feel safe and loved.

But Efrén worries about his parents; although he’s American-born, his parents are undocumented. His worst nightmare comes true one day when Amá doesn’t return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, México.

Now more than ever, Efrén must channel his inner Soperboy to help take care of and try to reunite his family.

A glossary of Spanish words is included in the back of the book. 

OUR TWO CENTS: Ernesto Cisneros’ Efrén Divided (2020) centers Efrén Nava, a young Mexican-American boy who lives with his parents and two siblings in Highland, California. In the novel, Amá works as well as takes care of household responsibilities and Apá goes off to work. Efrén refers to Amá as Soperwoman, after her Mexican sopes, for being able to whip up culinary miracles from the very little they have. While Efrén is a U.S Citizen, his parents are undocumented and the possibility of them being deported hangs over Efrén each night his Amá out late working–afraid she might not return. When Amá goes out to interview for a different job she is caught by ICE and is immediately deported to Tijuana, Mexico. Amá’s absence disrupts the family’s routine and Efrén finds himself responsible for his two younger siblings while Apá works countless, sleepless nights to send Amá money for her return. One day on their way to school, Efrén’s best friend, David, decides he wants to run for school president. After Amá gets deported, Efrén is unable to concentrate and unable to meet  his school responsibilities. Efrén embarks on a journey into Mexico where he meets a friendly taxi man, Lalo, who helps him find his way to his mother. While Amá’s return is uncertain, Efrén decides if running for class president against his best friend is the best thing for him. 

With Efrén Divided, Cisneros shines a spotlight on the emotional toll of having a  mixed-status family when the U.S. government is bent on separating families. Efrén hears about families getting separated at the U.S./Mexico border from the news, from his friends, and from people around his neighborhood. ICE has become an ominous presence in his personal life but also in his community: “He’d heard about ICE setting up checkpoints and literally taking people off the street. He’d heard about ICE helicopters scaring people out of their homes and hauling them away. He’d even heard of ICE making stops at Mexican-geared supermarkets and handcuffing anyone who couldn’t prove they belonged. Whether the rumors were true or not, they sounded real enough to worry him” (Cisneros 49). Constantly hearing about ICE coming and taking family members is psychologically taxing, and for children, this type of violence disrupts any sense of safety children may be trying  to create for themselves. Efrén doesn’t know if ICE is, in fact, arresting people, but he knows enough about ICE to be worried anyway. At 12 years old, he knows enough about systemic power and the ways it’s abused to know that he doesn’t need to see ICE separating families to believe it’s happening and to fear it could happen to his family. He is also aware that the issue with citizenship is one of belonging in some sort of American imaginary where only certain people belong. After his mother is deported, Efrén learns more about ICE, raids, and crossing the border from doing online research and from gossip at his local laundromat. There’s a sense that being more informed is empowering to Efrén, but there are moments when all of the information is debilitating because he feels helpless–not just to help his mother but powerless to tackle an entire system.   

After Amá is deported, Efrén undergoes an adultification process–readers will see him take on more adult responsibilities like taking care of his younger siblings, maintaining the household, and becoming his father’s confidant. It’s clear these responsibilities fall on him because he’s the oldest child. Through this process, Efrén has to learn to do everything Amá did for them and he develops greater  empathy  for all of this labor. One of the ways this adultification is evident is in Efrén’s concern over money for food. Apá gives him the little money he can, but when it’s not enough, Apá suggests he use Amá’s stash of quarters for laundry. As a way to stretch out the money as much as he can, he decides to also take food from school: “He leaned up against the closest trash bin and grabbed some of the unopened bags of celery and crackers students had thoughtlessly tossed away” (Cisneros 91). Efrén recognizes the act of taking the food as stealing and as a necessary risk to help his family. This moment is particularly interesting because he’s put in a position that forces him to question what he’s learned about “right and wrong.” It’s wrong to steal, but it would also be wrong to let his younger siblings go hungry. He resolves that “taking the food from the trash bin wasn’t really stealing” (93). He learns more about these adult “gray areas” throughout the novel including when he learns that what Amá plans to do to get back to her family is considered a crime and later when he witnesses families holding one another through a man-made border wall. 

Apá’s decision to let Efrén cross into Tijuana by himself is another example in the novel of  the ways that the current immigration system in the U.S. forces children to grow up. Efrén and his dad need to get Amá the money to live in TIjuana and eventually make her way back to the U.S. Apá is ready to take the risk of crossing the border to deliver the money, knowing full well that, if he gets caught, he will also be separated from his children. Efrén convinces him that another separation will not help, so Efrén is then tasked with taking a large amount of money over the border to give to his mother. The entire section that takes place in Tijuana is both nerve-wracking and tender. Cisneros does an excellent job at building tension and at rewarding the reader with a heartfelt mother/son reunion. But again, Tijuana is a reminder of how Efrén has been forced to act as an adult because the system is set up against his family. What he witnesses in Tijuana also allows for a moment of introspection on what it means to be a U.S. citizen. Readers also see the ways that Efrén’s parents have been disempowered because of the lack of citizenship; even though Efrén sees his parents as superheroes, there’s a system in place created to dehumanize them, and people like them.

Parallel to the storyline of Amá getting deported is also the storyline of the 7th grade class elections. Efrén volunteers as campaign manager for David, who is running against  their classmate, Jennifer. David is white and from a broken family, and he thinks winning the election will give him enough clout to change how his peers view him. On the other hand, Jennifer is running to help children and parents who are undocumented like her. After confiding in one another that they both have mixed-status families Jennifer says, “‘Nos quisieron enterrar, pero no sabían que éramos semillas […] My mom likes to remind me of this every day. She’s right though. That’s why I’m running. Figured I could make a difference, even if just at school” Cisneros 31). The Mexican saying indeed plants itself in Efrén’s mind and grows as the novel progresses, later informing his decision to also run against his best friend for president and to help keep his community informed on immigration issues and their rights. For both Jennifer and Efrén, the school elections become a way to effect changes where they can. The elections and Efrén’s participation show readers that even the smallest form of governing, like class elections, can serve as forms of empowerment for students and for the community at large. Additionally, school elections are an excellent way to discuss power and governing bodies with young people. Jennifer and Efrén demonstrate that power can be used for good rather than using it to exploit those without it. 

We recommend everyone read Efrén Divided. With Efrén, Cisneros has created a sensitive and caring young boy—of which we need more and more representations. Efrén is an intelligent 12-year-old, but what helps him understand his family’s circumstances and the political climate around him is his kindness. While the story focuses on immigration, it’s also about finding self-empowerment while living in a system determined to disenfranchise people. We also particularly liked the focus on the emotional toll that children with citizenship in mixed-status families experience. Cisneros makes clear that the emotional burden is due to a broken immigration system and not, in this case, because of any decisions made by the parents. Throughout the novel, it’s also evident that ICE is terrorizing  communities and, ultimately, traumatizing people. And one of the ways this happens is by not allowing parents to parent their children by forcefully removing the parent from the picture because of citizenship status. With everything impacting his mental health, Efrén still lets hope guide him to fight for a more just system for all. Efrén Divided is a powerful and heartwarming read about a young boy’s desire to bring his family together after being separated by ICE and learning that he has more power than he realized. Cisneros reminds readers that at the end “somos semillitas.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ernesto Cisneros was born and raised in Santa Ana, California, where he still teaches. Efrén Divided is his first book. He holds an English degree from the University of California, Irvine; a teaching credential from California State University, Long Beach; as well as a master of fine arts in creative writing from National University. As an author, he believes in providing today’s youth with an honest depiction of characters with whom they can identify. The real world is filled with amazing people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. His work strives to reflect that. You can visit him online at www.ernestocisneros.com.

Click here for a Q&A we did with Ernesto Cisneros.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWERSSonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Ingrid Campos is a 19-year-old college student interested in Latinx Literature. After graduating from LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) this year with an associates in Writing and Literature, she will continue her studies at Queens College to earn her Bachelors in English Education 7-12 . Ingrid was born and raised in Queens, New York. As a Mexican-American living in Queens and graduating from the public school system, Ingrid is inspired to become a high school teacher. One of her main goals is to center academic curriculums around more diversity and inclusivity towards Black and Brown students.

Book Review: Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry

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Review by Cris Rhodes

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: The Torres sisters dream of escape. Escape from their needy and despotic widowed father, and from their San Antonio neighborhood, full of old San Antonio families and all the traditions and expectations that go along with them. In the summer after her senior year of high school, Ana, the oldest sister, falls to her death from her bedroom window. A year later, her three younger sisters, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa, are still consumed by grief and haunted by their sister’s memory. Their dream of leaving Southtown now seems out of reach. But then strange things start happening around the house: mysterious laughter, mysterious shadows, mysterious writing on the walls. The sisters begin to wonder if Ana really is haunting them, trying to send them a message—and what exactly she’s trying to say.

In a stunning follow-up to her National Book Award–longlisted novel All the Wind in the World, Samantha Mabry weaves an aching, magical novel that is one part family drama, one part ghost story, and one part love story.

MY TWO CENTS: In Tigers, Not Daughters, Samantha Mabry impossibly weaves the story of the Torres sisters, who are marred by grief and plagued by trauma. The novel opens with the Torres sisters, Jessica, Iridian, Rosa, and Ana, trying to make their escape from their negligent father. Their attempt is foiled, however, by a group of unwitting boys who often spy on Ana. Caught by their father, the sisters are returned home. Soon after, Ana attempts a solo escape, but this time she falls from her window. With Ana gone, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa are left bereft. Unable to cope, the sisters’ lives fall into disrepair.

Picking up a year after Ana’s untimely death, each sister narrates her own chapters in this book, with the boys who witnessed their initial escape acting as a sort of Greek chorus, alerting the reader to the Torres sister’s plight before Ana’s death. With Ana gone, Jessica tries to provide for the family, Iridian is lost in her writing, and Rosa has been attempting to learn to talk to animals. Their grief is palpable, and through Mabry’s delicate prose, their sorrow leaps off the page. But, as the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that the girls aren’t just plagued by the loss of Ana, but by her continued presence. 

Ana’s ghost makes itself known to all of the sisters, as well as the boys next door, in various forms. From spectral figures to animal encounters, the Torres sisters must contend with Ana’s spirit’s force upon their lives. As the tension rises, so too does the sense that not all is as it seems in the Torres’s world. The reader is left with a sense of urgency as well as a mounting fear that more tragedy is at the girls’ doorstep. 

Tigers, Not Daughters is simultaneously a story of one family’s very real grief and the very fantastic circumstances following Ana’s death. The combination is a heady one. Reading Tigers, Not Daughters, for me, was difficult. The book is at once un-put-down-able and one that you must take in small doses. Iridian’s chapters, in particular, felt like a knife to the heart. Her love for Ana is palpable and her guilt over Ana’s death is just as strong. I needed to know what happened next, but I often found myself reading as if I were peeping between my fingers, wanting to cover my eyes. And, what’s more, I didn’t want the book to end. I wanted to live with the Torres sisters for a little while longer. 

It’s difficult to explain the impact of Tigers, Not Daughters. Perhaps it’s because this book was so unlike any I’ve ever read before. It has hints of magical realism and horror, but it is certainly a creature of its own. While parts are somewhat muddled, they felt realistic to the inner turmoil experienced by Mabry’s multiple narrators. This may prove difficult for some readers, however. What’s more, some elements of Tigers, Not Daughters might prove alienating to readers who want a straightforward narrative (there’s an escaped hyena, just so you know), though these do ultimately get resolved and make sense to the overarching plot.

Mabry’s work has always captivated me (I’m a big fan of A Fierce and Subtle Poison). And that is no different in Tigers, Not Daughters. This book, released just as the pandemic was dawning, is certainly an antidote to the loneliness and listlessness we might all be feeling right now. Yes, the Torres sisters’ story is sad–but it’s also a story of love and triumph and family. It is the story of how three young women make sense of tragedy and rise above.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): Samantha was born four days before the death of John Lennon. She grew up in Dallas, playing bass guitar along to vinyl records in her bedroom after school, writing fan letters to rock stars, doodling song lyrics into notebooks, and reading big, big books.

In college at Southern Methodist University, she majored in English literature, minored in Spanish, and studied Latin and classics. After that, she went on to receive a master’s degree in English from Boston College.

These days, she teaches at a community college and spends as much time as possible in the west Texas desert.

A FIERCE AND SUBTLE POISON (Algonquin Young Readers, spring 2016) was her first novel. ALL THE WIND IN THE WORLD, a Western, was published in the fall of 2017 and was nominated for the National Book Award for Young Peoples’ Literature. TIGERS, NOT DAUGHTERS released in the spring of 2020 and received six starred trade reviews.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Cris Rhodes is an assistant professor of English at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. She teaches courses of writing, culturally diverse literature, and ethnic literatures. In addition to teaching, Cris’s scholarship focuses on Latinx youth and their literature or related media. She also has a particular scholarly interest in activism and the ways that young Latinxs advocate for themselves and their communities

Book Review: Todos Iguales: Un Corrido de Lemon Grove/ All Equal: A Ballad of Lemon Grove by Christy Hale

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Reviewed by Sanjuana Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Roberto Àlvarez loved school. Along with other Mexican American children, he attended the Lemon Grove School, where all students—Mexican American and Anglo—studied together as  equals.

In the summer of 1930, the Mexican families learned of a plan to segregate their children in a small, inferior school. Refusing to let this happen, the parents organized. They filed a lawsuit against the school board, with twelve-year-old Roberto as the plaintiff. On March 12, 1931, the judge announced his ruling, supporting the children’s right to equal education. The Mexican American students were immediately reinstated in the Lemon Grove School to learn as equals once again.

With captivating illustrations inspired by vintage citrus crate labels, Christy Hale brings to life the little-known story of the first successful school desegregation case in the United States. It stands as an empowering case in the United States. It stands as an empowering testament to an immigrant community and its tenacity in the fight for educational equity.

MY TWO CENTS: I first learned about this case when I was a PhD student at Georgia State University in a sociology of education course. I remember feeling cheated when I realized that I had not learned about this important piece of American history. This book details the story of the first school desegregation case in the U.S. and does so in a way that children can understand the injustice that the families faced and the courage that it took to challenge school segregation.

The book begins by telling the reader about Roberto Álvarez, a Mexican American 12 year old who attends school in Lemon Grove. Roberto and all the other Mexican children attended the same school as the White children. During the summer of 1930, the families learned that a new school was being built for the Mexican students. When the students returned to school in January of 1931, the principal did not allow the students to enter the school and told them “move aside and let the Anglo students go to class… You do not belong here” (n.p.).

The parents organized. They met with the Mexican consul who believed that “the new school was just a pretext to segregate all the Mexican American children and give them an inferior education” (n.p). The parents filed a lawsuit against the school board and began to raise money for the legal expenses. Roberto Álvarez was named as the plaintiff in the case of Roberto Álvarez v. the Boards of Trustees of Lemon Grove School District. Roberto testified in court and the judge ruled that the school district could not separate all the Mexican American students. All of the students returned to their school the following Monday.

The illustrations in this book are colorful, bold, and bright. One of the features that I noticed in the illustrations was the beautiful way in which the author/illustrator included details such as women’s trenzas, mandiles (aprons), and features of the community in which the children lived. Hale was also able to capture the different emotions that the children experienced. She captured the joy of playing outside and also how scared the children felt as they were being taken to a new school. An author’s note also explains how the illustrations are based on vintage California citrus labels.

One of the obvious characteristics of this book is how it privileges the Spanish translation of the texts. Very few books place the Spanish translation first on the page. The back matter provides extensive detail about the case including what occurred before, during the case, and after. It includes the names of all the children who were included in the court case and gives detailed information about Roberto Ricardo Álvarez, the main character in the story.

This books begins by honoring the “corrido” on which this book is based on: “Un Corrido de Lemon Grove.” A “corrido” is a traditional Mexican story song. This particular corrido details the story of the community in Lemon Grove (details about corridos are included in the back matter). The two pages that feature the corrido grant permission for photocopying. This book could be used a mentor text for students who want to write their own corrido. This is a book that should also be a part of any text set that includes civil rights topics. The case set the stage for Brown v Board and it should be a topic that is introduced to students.

TEACHER RESOURCES: A video titled The Lemon Grove Incident tells about the court case. This was produced by PBS.

Zinn Education Project: Lemon Grove Incident- This page includes a description of the incident as well as a list of teaching resources.

Lee and Low provides a teacher guide for this book.

Lee and Low Blog Post- “How One Teacher Used Todos Iguales to Inspire Social Justice”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR (from her website): When I was little, I knew I shouldn’t make marks in books, so instead, I drew on tiny pieces of paper and tucked my “illustrations” alongside the words. At age ten, I decided to become a writer and illustrator. Back then, my best friend and I acted out the books we loved. Our favorite was Harriet the Spy. Dressed in disguises, we roamed the neighborhood investigating and jotting down our observations in our secret notebooks, just like Harriet. Back at spy headquarters we shared our discoveries with each other. Soon we began writing and illustrating our own stories every day after school.

I have created books as long as I can remember. I studied calligraphy, bookbinding, letterpress and all other means of printing, typography, design, and illustration.

After earning a B.A. in Fine Arts and a Masters in Teaching at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, I worked as an art educator for several years. Then I decided to pursue my childhood dream by relocating to Brooklyn, New York to study design and illustration at Pratt Institute.

I taught at the New York Center for Book Arts and as an adjunct professor in the Communication Design department at Pratt Institute while working in children’s book publishing as a designer and art director. During this period, I also began illustrating and have since worked on over 30 books—writing some of those too.

After many years in New York, I moved to Northern California where I continue to work as a writer, illustrator, designer, art director, and as an educator—offering programs at museums, schools, and libraries. I teach an online course in Writing for Picture Books through the illustration department at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Sanjuana C. Rodriguez is an Assistant Professor of Literacy and Reading Education in the Elementary and Early Childhood Department at Kennesaw State University. Her research interests include the early literacy development of culturally and linguistically diverse students, early writing development, literacy development of students who are emergent bilinguals, and Latinx children’s literature. She has published in journals such as Journal of Language and Literacy Education, Language Arts, and Language Arts Journal of Michigan.