We Read Banned Books: Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed: 15 Voices from the Latinx Diaspora, edited by Saraciea J. Fennell

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Welcome to another Book Talk, which can be found on our YouTube channel!

Here, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Dora M. Guzmán talk about WILD TONGUES CAN’T BE TAMED: 15 Views from the Latinx Diaspora, a young adult anthology edited by Saraciea J. Fennell.

ABOUT THE BOOK: Edited by The Bronx Is Reading founder Saraciea J. Fennell and featuring an all-star cast of Latinx contributors, Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed is a ground-breaking anthology that will spark dialogue and inspire hope

In Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed, bestselling and award-winning authors as well as up-and-coming voices interrogate the different myths and stereotypes about the Latinx diaspora. These fifteen original pieces delve into everything from ghost stories and superheroes, to memories in the kitchen and travels around the world, to addiction and grief, to identity and anti-Blackness, to finding love and speaking your truth. Full of both sorrow and joy, Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed is an essential celebration of this rich and diverse community.

The bestselling and award-winning contributors include Elizabeth Acevedo, Cristina Arreola, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Naima Coster, Natasha Diaz, Saraciea J. Fennell, Kahlil Haywood, Zakiya Jamal, Janel Martinez, Jasminne Mendez, Meg Medina, Mark Oshiro, Julian Randall, Lilliam Rivera, and Ibi Zoboi.

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Click on the link below to watch the book talk and then add your comments below to join the conversation. ENJOY!

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Sonia 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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Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches college courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is currently a doctoral student with a major in Reading, Language, and Literacy. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never-ending “to read” pile!

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Book Review: Tía Fortuna’s New Home: A Jewish Cuban Journey written by Ruth Behar, illustrated by Devon Holzwarth

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Reviewed by Maria Ramos-Chertok

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: A poignant multicultural ode to family and what it means to create a home as one girl helps her Tía move away from her beloved Miami apartment.

When Estrella’s Tía Fortuna has to say goodbye to her longtime Miami apartment building, The Seaway, to move to an assisted living community, Estrella spends the day with her. Tía explains the significance of her most important possessions from both her Cuban and Jewish culture, as they learn to say goodbye together and explore a new beginning for Tía.

A lyrical book about tradition, culture, and togetherness, Tía Fortuna’s New Home explores Tía and Estrella’s Sephardic Jewish and Cuban heritage. Through Tía’s journey, Estrella will learn that as long as you have your family, home is truly where the heart is.

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MY TWO CENTS: I am a big fan of Ruth Behar’s and have enjoyed her adult books as much as her middle grade books Lucky Broken Girl (2017) and Letters from Cuba (2019). Tía Fortuna’s New Home is her first picture book aimed at younger audiences.

The book’s landscape is the relationship between an aunt and her niece. The story follows little Estrellita as she tracks the process of her aunt moving out of her beloved home into a facility for the elderly. This move is the second big move in Tia’s life, the first being when she immigrated to the United States from Havana, Cuba. While both of these moves are objectively hard ones, Tia manages to enjoy the present and keep an optimistic attitude which positively influences Estrellita’s experience. 

I liked that the story focused on the opportunities inherent in changing one’s circumstances and presented an uplifting paradigm. Having Sephardic characters and bilingual text enhances the story by providing a personal and unique slice of life. I wish this book had been available to me when I was young.

The illustrations by Devon Holzwarth are amazing, and I found myself being drawn into the story more and more through the vivid and colorful artwork.

TEACHING TIPS: I could see using this book to discuss life transitions generally and the attitude one brings to change. Students can discuss the contrast between focusing on the negative versus the positive aspects of a pending life transition. For students who have a grandparent moving into assisted living, this book would be a great orientation to one way that move can happen.

The book can also be used as part of a module on cultural diversity, as it covers Cuban-Jewish characters.  In a Jewish Day School, the book would be ideal in exposing students to the multiculturalism of the Jewish people.

In teaching about family trees, the book references how family recipes are passed down from generation to generation. In this vein, it would be interesting to have children interview their parents or grandparents to find out what recipes they make that were passed down to them and from whom. 

The Author’s Note at the end of the book is a story unto itself and where I’d recommend teachers begin in order to gain context before sharing the book with students. There is also a fabulous glossary of words that could be a fun addition for students to learn new words.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): As a storyteller, traveler, memoirist, poet, teacher, and public speaker, Ruth Behar is acclaimed for the compassion she brings to her quest to understand the depth of the human experience. Born in Havana, Cuba, she grew up in New York, and has also lived in Spain and Mexico. Her recent memoirs for adults, An Island Called Home and Traveling Heavy, explore her return journeys to Cuba and her search for home as an immigrant and a traveler. Her books for young readers are Lucky Broken Girl and Letters from Cuba. She was the first Latina to win a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, and her honors also include a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a Distinguished Alumna Award from Wesleyan University, and an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from the Hebrew Union College. She is an anthropology professor at the University of Michigan and lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR (from her website): Devon Holzwarth is a picture book illustrator, author, and painter. Born in Washington D.C., Devon grew up in Panama surrounded by nature and her dad’s art supplies, and has lived in many other places over the years. She currently lives in Germany with her family including her husband, two kids, a galgo dog from Spain and a little dachshund from Romania.

Devon earned her BFA in 2000 from the Rhode Island School of Design focusing on screen printing and painting. She has written & illustrated two picture books: FOUND YOU and SOPHIE’S STORIES, with Alison Green Books/Scholastic UK. She has a number of picture books publishing in 2022, including “Tia Fortuna’s New Home” (Knopf Books, English & Spanish language versions), “Listen” (Dial Books and Penguin UK), and “Everywhere With You” (Walker Books US and Walker Books UK).

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Maria is the author of The Butterfly Series: Fifty-two Weeks of Inquiries for Transformation. The book was a finalist for the 2019 International Book Awards (Women’s Issues category), won Honorable Mention in the 2019 Reviewers Choice Award (Body/Mind/Spirit category), and won Honorable Mention in the 2020 Writer’s Digest 28th Annual Self-Published Book Awards (Inspirational category).

To sign up for her monthly blog post visit her contact page at www.mariaramoschertok.com

We Read Banned Books: Lobizona by Romina Garber

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Welcome to another Book Talk, which can be found on our YouTube channel!

Here, Dora M. Guzmán and Alexandra Someillan talk about LOBIZONA by Romina Garber.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

Some people ARE illegal.

Lobizonas do NOT exist.

Both of these statements are false.

Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who’s on the run from her father’s Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida.

Until Manu’s protective bubble is shattered.

Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past—a mysterious “Z” emblem—which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobizón, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong.

As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it’s not just her U.S. residency that’s illegal. . . .it’s her entire existence.

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Click on the link below to watch the book talk and then add your comments below to join the conversation. ENJOY!

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Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches college courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is currently a doctoral student with a major in Reading, Language, and Literacy. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never-ending “to read” pile!

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Alexandra Someillan is a freelance book reviewer and teacher who lives in Miami, FL. She has written for Frolic Media, where she has raved about her favorite Latinx romances. Currently, she has been accepted in the Las Musas mentorship and is working on her Latinx contemporary novel with Nina Moreno. Usually, you can find Alexandra obsessing over nineties pop culture and eating too many pastelitos.

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Book Review: No Filter and Other Lies by Crystal Maldonado

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Reviewed by Alexandra Someillan

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHERS: You should know, right now, that I’m a liar.

They’re usually little lies. Tiny lies. Baby lies. Not so much lies as lie adjacent.

But they’re still lies.

Twenty one-year-old Max Monroe has it all: beauty, friends, and a glittering life filled with adventure. With tons of followers on Instagram, her picture-perfect existence seems eminently enviable.             

Except it’s all fake.         

Max is actually 17-year-old Kat Sanchez, a quiet and sarcastic teenager living in drab Bakersfield, California. Nothing glamorous in her existence—just sprawl, bad house parties, a crap school year, and the awkwardness of dealing with her best friend Hari’s unrequited love.

 But while Kat’s life is far from perfect, she thrives as Max: doling out advice, sharing beautiful photos, networking with famous influencers, even making a real friend in a follower named Elena. The closer Elena and “Max” get—texting, Snapping, and even calling—the more Kat feels she has to keep up the façade.   

But when one of Max’s posts goes ultra-viral and gets back to the very person she’s been stealing photos from, her entire world – real and fake — comes crashing down around her. She has to figure out a way to get herself out of the huge web of lies she’s created without hurting the people she loves.  

But it might already be too late.

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MY TWO CENTS: After reading her second book, No Filter and Other Lies, Crystal Maldonado has become one of my official auto-buy authors. There is something about Crystal Maldonado’s writing that always brings me to tears and makes me feel all the feelings for the characters she creates!

One of my first impressions of the main character Kat Sanchez is that I loved how secure she was in her body and never felt a need to hide her beautiful, fat, brown body. We need many stories about fat and queer characters who accept their bodies, especially since women constantly get bombarded with unrealistic beauty standards in social media.

Despite Kat being secure with herself, she is flawed and not inherently likable. She does some awful things in the novel that does severe damage. However, there was still a vulnerability that showed the dichotomy of the character. Even though she did terrible things, I still cared for her and wanted to be that big sister to shake some sense into her.

The feeling that Kat had of not being seen or validated is something that many people can relate to, especially regarding the harmful effects of social media and the inherent racism behind it. However, sometimes it can be uncomfortable to admit it. Still, we are all guilty of playing the comparison game and fooling ourselves into thinking someone’s life in social media is perfect when in reality, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Even though Kat did terrible things throughout the book that made me want to scream at her repeatedly, this book did tug at my heartstrings. One of the things I loved was a bond she developed with a dog that made me cry tears of joy. In addition, the family dynamics were well-written, and the close bond she has with her Abuelos and how they support her, even when she did unforgivable things, warmed my heart because of how loving and kind they were. Kat also has a great support system of friends who are there for Kat through her worst moments, and I loved reading how they interacted and learned from one another through their hardships.

No Filter and Other Lies perfectly articulates the pressures of social media and the need to construct the perfect version of yourself and how,little by little, that veneer of perfection cracks over time. If you’re looking for a fat, brown, messy bi-sexual character who struggles through the pressures of social media, this is the book for you!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): Crystal Maldonado is a young adult author with a lot of feelings. Her debut novel, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega, is a 2021 New England Book Award winner, a Cosmopolitan Best New Book, and a POPSUGAR Best New YA Novel. Her next novel, No Filter and Other Lies, explores teenage life in the social media age—and the lies we tell to ourselves and others.

By day, Crystal works in higher ed marketing, and by night, she’s a writer who loves Beyoncé, glitter, shopping, and spending too much time on her phone. Her work has been published in Latina, BuzzFeed, and the Hartford Courant.

She lives in western Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and dog. Find her everywhere @crystalwrote or crystalwrote.com.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Alexandra Someillan is a freelance book reviewer and teacher who lives in Miami, FL. She has written for Frolic Media, where she has raved about her favorite Latinx romances. Currently, she has been accepted in the Las Musas mentorship and is working on her Latinx contemporary novel with Nina Moreno. Usually, you can find Alexandra obsessing over nineties pop culture and eating too many pastelitos.

We Read Banned Books: My Papi Has a Motorcycle written by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña

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Welcome to another Book Talk, which can be found on our YouTube channel!

Here, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Cris Rhodes talk about MY PAPI HAS A MOTORCYCLE written by Isabel Quintero and illustrated by Zeke Peña.

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ABOUT THE BOOK: A celebration of the love between a father and daughter, and of a vibrant immigrant neighborhood, by an award-winning author and illustrator duo.

When Daisy Ramona zooms around her neighborhood with her papi on his motorcycle, she sees the people and places she’s always known. She also sees a community that is rapidly changing around her.

But as the sun sets purple-blue-gold behind Daisy Ramona and her papi, she knows that the love she feels will always be there.

With vivid illustrations and text bursting with heart, My Papi Has a Motorcycle is a young girl’s love letter to her hardworking dad and to memories of home that we hold close in the midst of change.

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Click on the link below to watch the book talk and then add your comments below to join the conversation. ENJOY!

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Sonia 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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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.

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Book Review: Merci Suárez Can’t Dance by Meg Medina

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Reviewed by Cris Rhodes

BOOK DESCRIPTION: Seventh grade is going to be a real trial for Merci Suárez. For science she’s got no-nonsense Mr. Ellis, who expects her to be as smart as her brother, Roli. She’s been assigned to co-manage the tiny school store with Wilson Bellevue, a boy she barely knows, but whom she might actually like. And she’s tangling again with classmate Edna Santos, who is bossier and more obnoxious than ever now that she is in charge of the annual Heart Ball.

One thing is for sure, though: Merci Suárez can’t dance—not at the Heart Ball or anywhere else. Dancing makes her almost as queasy as love does, especially now that Tía Inés, her merengue-teaching aunt, has a new man in her life. Unfortunately, Merci can’t seem to avoid love or dance for very long. She used to talk about everything with her grandfather, Lolo, but with his Alzheimer’s getting worse each day, whom can she trust to help her make sense of all the new things happening in her life? The Suárez family is back in a touching, funny story about growing up and discovering love’s many forms, including how we learn to love and believe in ourselves.

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MY TWO CENTS: In this follow-up to her Newbery Award-winning Merci Suárez Changes Gears, Meg Medina once more dives back into Merci’s world, this time exploring her confusion and awkwardness of a first crush. Whereas the first book follows Merci as she learns that her beloved grandfather, Lolo, has Alzheimer’s, this book has a far lighter primary plot. Certainly Lolo’s diagnosis still impacts Merci, especially because Lolo’s capabilities have dwindled and Merci now must fulfill a caretaking role for him; yet, the book doesn’t dwell so much on Lolo as it does Merci herself. This shift is important. In the first book, Merci feels betrayal that the adults in her life withheld information from her. In Merci Suárez Can’t Dance, Merci is suddenly the one who must decide how much to tell others or what to protect them from. 

Now in the 7th grade, Merci is on the cusp of teenagerhood and all of the mixed-up feelings that go with it. While Merci’s group of friends are all seemingly growing up around her, Merci still enjoys the things of her childhood—riding her bike, playing soccer with her dad and his workmates, and visiting with her grandparents. Even when she is given the responsibility of running her school’s mini-store alongside her new friend Wilson, she clings to her stable childhood pleasures. Nevertheless, Merci has to grow up. Throughout the book, Merci is confronted with a number of events that require her to adopt a more mature mentality and leave her childhood thinking behind. While I won’t go into detail about these events, lest I give any spoilers, the new realities that Merci must navigate feel real and relatable, if maybe a little jumbled because of the amount of subplots. Having read the book over the course of several days, I did find myself losing track sometimes, but earlier subplots that seem unrelated at the time do factor into the ultimate climax of the book.

Fans of Merci Suárez Changes Gears will enjoy the continuation of her story in Merci Suárez Can’t Dance. Merci remains the compelling, loveable, and flawed character from the first book and the realism with which Medina brings Merci to life is astounding. Like all children, Merci makes mistakes and has to account for them. But she also triumphs, and we celebrate her victories.

Like Medina’s other books, Merci Suárez Can’t Dance is an engaging read. I will say, I did enjoy the first book better—possibly because Merci was still new to me and her struggle to accept her grandfather’s diagnosis was a more heart-tugging story. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy this book—I certainly did! —it just did not match the emotional appeal of the first in the series. However, I don’t necessarily think that’s something that should keep readers away from continuing on Merci’s journey. This book felt like a transition, a shift for Merci and for us as readers—especially so, given that this is the second book in a trilogy. Merci Suárez Plays It Cool, the final book in the series, is slated for release in September 2022. 

All in all, Merci’s growth, as explored in Merci Suárez Can’t Dance, is impactful and, for readers equally going through the transition from childhood to adolescence (or any change in life), will resonate. Meg Medina has a particular talent for rendering real life emotions and experiences in fiction and I will always pick up any new book of hers. Merci’s voice is one that is much needed for young readers, especially those experiencing tumultuous times.

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by Sonya Sones

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): Meg Medina is a Newbery award-winning and New York Times best-selling author who writes picture books, as well as middle grade and young adult fiction. Her works have been called “heartbreaking,” “lyrical” and “must haves for every collection.” Her titles include:

  • She Persisted: Sonia Sotomayor, with Chelsea Clinton;
  • Merci Suárez Can’t Dance, one of the 50 most anticipated novels of 2021, according to Kirkus;
  • Evelyn del Rey is Moving Away / Evelyn del Rey se muda, 2020 Jumpstart’s Read for the Record Selection, winner of the Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children’s Literature, and 2021 Crystal Kite Award;
  • Merci Suárez Changes Gears,  2019 John Newbery Medal winner, and 2019 Charlotte Huck Honor Book;
  • Burn Baby Burn, long-listed for the 2016 National Book Award,  short-listed for the Kirkus Prize, and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize;
  • Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, winner of the 2014 Pura Belpré Author Award;
  • The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind, a 2012 Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year;
  • Mango, Abuela, and Me, a 2016 Pura Belpré Author Honor Book; and
  • Tía Isa Wants a Car, winner of the 2012 Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award.

When she’s not writing, Meg serves on the Advisory Committee for We Need Diverse Books, the grassroots organization working to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people. She also works on community projects that support girls, Latinx youth, and/or literacy. She is a board member of the Library of Congress Literacy Awards, a faculty member of Hamline University’s Masters of Fine Arts in Children’s Literature. Meg lives with her family in Richmond, Virginia.

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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.