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.

We Read Banned Books: Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

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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 JULIET TAKES A BREATH written by Gabby Rivera.

ABOUT THE BOOK: Juliet Milagros Palante is a self-proclaimed closeted Puerto Rican baby dyke from the Bronx. Only, she’s not so closeted anymore. Not after coming out to her family the night before flying to Portland, Oregon, to intern with her favorite feminist writer–what’s sure to be a life-changing experience. And when Juliet’s coming out crashes and burns, she’s not sure her mom will ever speak to her again.

But Juliet has a plan–sort of. Her internship with legendary author Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff, is sure to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. Except Harlowe’s white. And not from the Bronx. And she definitely doesn’t have all the answers . . .

In a summer bursting with queer brown dance parties, a sexy fling with a motorcycling librarian, and intense explorations of race and identity, Juliet learns what it means to come out–to the world, to her family, to herself.

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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: The Year We Learned to Fly, written by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López

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DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael López’s highly anticipated companion to their #1 New York Times bestseller The Day You Begin illuminates the power in each of us to face challenges with confidence.

On a dreary, stuck-inside kind of day, a brother and sister heed their grandmother’s advice: “Use those beautiful and brilliant minds of yours. Lift your arms, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and believe in a thing. Somebody somewhere at some point was just as bored you are now.” And before they know it, their imaginations lift them up and out of their boredom. Then, on a day full of quarrels, it’s time for a trip outside their minds again, and they are able to leave their anger behind. This precious skill, their grandmother tells them, harkens back to the days long before they were born, when their ancestors showed the world the strength and resilience of their beautiful and brilliant minds. Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael Lopez’s dazzling art celebrate the extraordinary ability to lift ourselves up and imagine a better world.

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MY TWO CENTS:  As one of the people who experienced public education in the 1960s and 70s as a place that dimmed my imagination, I am grateful to Jacqueline Woodson for lifting up imagination as a source of empowerment. Her newest children’s book has many layers worth exploring. At face value its audience is children, yet in reading it as an adult, I learned a great deal about black folklore. 

On the last page of the book, the author writes about her inspiration for the story: The People Could Fly:  American Black Folktales by Virginia Hamilton. In order to do my book review justice and to honor the author’s inspiration, I secured two copies of The People Could Fly, the original collection of twenty-four stories published in 1985 and the picture book published in 2004 as a tribute to Virginia Hamilton who passed away in 2002. By reading this folktale and locating it in the context of American slavery, I was able to appreciate the rich legacy that Jacqueline Woodson’s book continues. It’s certainly not necessary to read The People Could Fly before reading Woodson’s story about a brother and sister who use their imagination to lift them out of boredom, conflict, and adversity, but it’s certainly well worth it. In Woodson’s tale, I enjoyed both the relatability of the sibling’s quandaries and message about the power of the mind to “free” us.

There is also a strong message about the role that grandparents and ancestors play in sharing folk wisdom.

The illustrations by Rafael López are spectacular. I am glad I have read this book and would recommend it to others.

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TEACHING TIPS: The Year We Learned to Fly would be a good entry to discussing American History, specifically the institution of slavery, to elementary aged students. In contrast, the picture book The People Could Fly (referenced above) seems more suited to middle school aged children or older.

I also see an opportunity to use the book to discuss strategies for dealing with conflict, boredom, and adversity by having students describe what they typically do in each situation and then imagining what they might do differently. 

In a lesson about family trees or ancestors, students can discuss what they’ve learned from the elders in their lives and talk about what valuable lessons they would want to pass on to future generations when they become ancestors/elders. It could be a good time to introduce the word “folklore” and/or “folktale” and discuss the role it plays in families and in preserving cultural traditions and identity.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): Jacqueline Woodson is an American writer of books for adults, children, and adolescents. She is best known for her National Book Award-Winning memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, and her Newbery Honor-winning titles After Tupac and D FosterFeathers, and Show Way. Her picture books The Day You Begin and The Year We Learned to Fly were NY Times Bestsellers. After serving as the Young People’s Poet Laureate from 2015 to 2017, she was named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress for 2018–19. She was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 2020. Later that same year, she was named a MacArthur Fellow.

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ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR (from his website): Rafael López is an internationally recognized illustrator and artist. His illustrations bring diverse characters to children’s books and he is driven to produce and promote books that reflect and honor the lives of all young people. Born and raised in Mexico City to architect parents, López was immersed in the rich visual heritage, music and surrealism of his native culture.

Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You written by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor focuses on differently abled kids working together to create a garden and became a #1 New York Times Children’s Picture Books Bestseller in 2019. It was honored with the 2020 Schneider Family Book Award from the American Library Association. The Year We Learned to Fly written by Jacqueline Woodson was a 2022 New York Times Bestseller. He also collaborated with Woodson on The Day You Begin which became a New York Times #1 Children’s Picture Books Bestseller and received the 2019 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award and National Cartoonist Society Book Illustration Award. His illustrations for Dancing Hands, How Teresa Carreño played the piano for President Lincoln written by Margarita Engle received the American Library Association, 2020 Pura Belpré medal. He also secured the 2016 Pura Belpré medal for illustration for Drum Dream Girl and the 2010 Pura Belpré medal for Book Fiesta. In 2017 he was awarded the Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators, New York Original Art show for his work on Bravo! Poems about Amazing Hispanics. In 2019 he created the American Library Association Latino Heritage Festival poster and in 2012 was selected by the Library of Congress to illustrate the National Book Festival poster. He is the recipient of the 2017 Tomás Rivera Children’s Book Award, multiple Pura Belpré honors and two Américas Book Awards.

His clients include Amnesty International, Apple, Atheneum Books, Charlesbridge Publishing, Chicago Tribune, HarperCollins, Henry Holt & Company, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,  IBM, Intel, Lee & Low books, Library of Congress, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Penguin Books, Scholastic Books, Simon & Schuster, the Grammy Awards, United States Forest Service, United States Postal Service, The Washington Post and the World Wildlife Fund. His work has been selected into multiple juried shows with illustrations featured in publications like Communication Arts, the American Illustration Annual, Graphic Design USA and the Huffington Post.

He is a founder of the Urban Art Trail movement in San Diego’s East Village creating a series of large-scale murals that brought the community together. His murals can be found in urban areas, at children’s hospitals, public schools, under freeways and at farmer’s markets around the country. López’s community work with murals is the subject of the children’s book Maybe Something Beautiful, How Art Transformed a Neighborhood.

López was commissioned to create twelve United States Postal Stamps  including a series of five Mariachi  stamps featuring musicians dressed in the traje de charro, playing guitar, guitarrón, vihuela, violin and trumpet. He also created the  Latin Music Legend Series, Merengue stamp and a stamp celebrating an important legal case in equality of education, Mendez v. Westminster. His stamps have been featured on the cover of the commemorative stamp yearbook and exhibited at the Smithsonian. In 2008 and 2012 he was asked to create official posters for the Obama campaign to win the pivotal Latino vote. The illustrator lives and works in an industrial loft in downtown San Diego and at his home/studio in the colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

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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