Book Reviews: Juana & Lucas, Rudas: Niños Horrendous Hermanitas, and Un Elefante: Numbers/Numeros

 

Reviewed by Becky Villareal

JUANA & LUCAS: Winner of the 2017 Pura Belpré Narrative Award

Juana and Lucas CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Juana loves many things — drawing, eating Brussels sprouts, living in Bogotá, Colombia, and especially her dog, Lucas, the best amigo ever. She does not love wearing her itchy school uniform, solving math problems, or going to dance class. And she especially does not love learning the English. Why is it so important to learn a language that makes so little sense? But when Juana’s abuelos tell her about a special trip they are planning—one that Juana will need to speak English to go on—Juana begins to wonder whether learning the English might be a good use of her time after all. Hilarious, energetic, and utterly relatable, Juana will win over los corazones — the hearts — of readers everywhere in her first adventure, presented by namesake Juana Medina.

MY TWO CENTSJuana & Lucas by Juana Medina is a colorful adventure through the life of young Juana as she learns to speak and read “The English.” Juana Medina sprinkles cognates throughout the book using them to their full potential. Since they are placed strategically, it does help with the understanding of most of the passages. Also, the manner in which she uses the position of the words to express emotion is engaging and reminiscent of comics.

Illustration is Ms. Medina’s strength. The pictures are drawn beautifully and meticulously detailed. Her use of brainstorming to list the characteristics is familiar to school age students and helps carry the story along.

As Juana learns more English and she is able to help others with her new linguistic skills, she gains an understanding of the importance of being multi-lingual.

As a teacher, I would recommend this book as a read aloud for a class of students who are working on second language acquisition.

For a look inside author-illustrator Juana Medina’s studio, check out this post.

img_4567ABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR (from her website): Juana was born in Bogotá, Colombia, where she grew up; getting in a lot of trouble for drawing cartoons of her teachers. Eventually, all that drawing (and trouble) paid off. Juana studied at the Rhode Island School of Design – RISD (where she has also taught). And she has done illustration & animation work for clients in the U.S., Latin America and Europe. She now lives in Washington, D.C., where she teaches at George Washington University.

 

 

 

RUDAS: NIÑO’S HORRENDOUS HERMANITAS

Rudas CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Señoras y señores, niños y niñas, the time has come to welcome the spectacular, two-of-a-kind . . . LAS HERMANITAS! No opponent is too big a challenge for the cunning skills of Las Hermanitas, Lucha Queens! Their Poopy Bomb Blowout will knock em’ down! Their Tag-Team Teething will gnaw opponents down to a pulp! Their Pampered Plunder Diversion will fell even the most determined competitor! But what happens when Niño comes after them with a move of his own? Watch the tables turn in this wild, exciting wrestling adventure from Caldecott Honor author Yuyi Morales.

MY TWO CENTS: Rudas: Niños Horrendous Hermanitas by Yuyi Morales is a wonderful addition to the world of Niño, the older brother of two twin sisters.

In this energetic children’s book, Niño has to deal with the misadventures of his sisters beginning with stinky diapers to horrendous crying fits.  All of which he does with as much patience as possible by enlisting the help of his imaginary wrestling adversaries.

Written with a commentary of a wrestling match, it may be a bit hard for someone to follow who is not familiar with this particular genre.  However, I found the book itself to be very entertaining as well as humorous as Niño has to deal with the repercussions of being an older brother.

This would be an excellent read for second language acquisition students.  For children who are learning the language, the author has included English definitions and illustrations in the book itself.  The illustrations are colorful and carry the reader along in this very busy day.

I would highly recommend this book for an early childhood classroom library.

For more about Yuyi Morales’s previous books abour Niño, check these out:

Guest Post: ¡Qué Vivan los Niños Luchadores!

Book Review: Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Yuyi Morales is a Mexican author, illustrator, artist, and puppet maker. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Physical Education from the University of Xalapa, México and used to host her own Spanish-language radio program for children in San Francisco, California.She has won numerous awards for her children’s books, including the Caldecott Honor for Viva Frida, Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award for Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book (2004) and Los Gatos Black on Halloween (2008), the Pura Belpré Author Honor for Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book (2009), the Pura Belpré Illustrator Award for Viva Frida (2015), Niño Wrestles the World (2014) Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book (2004), Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book (2009) and Los Gatos Black on Halloween (2008), and Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor for My Abuelita (2010) and Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez (2004). Morales divides her time between the San Francisco area and Veracruz, Mexico. Her next picture book, Thunder Boy Jr. (written by Sherman Alexie), will be published in May 2016.

 

UN ELEFANTE: NUMBERS / NUMEROS

Reviewed by Ruby Jones

31686520DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Inspired by one of the most beloved nursery rhymes in Latin America, “Un Elefante se Balanceaba,” this book will introduce little ones to numbers and their first English and Spanish words.

MY TWO CENTS: I grew up with my mother reciting the “Un Elefante se Balanceaba” nursery rhyme to me and my siblings so this simple bilingual counting board book is a fun and bright new way to teach counting to my little one.

Each page, as we progress in counting from 1 to 10 elefantes, brings a new, beautifully-illustrated, circus-talented elephant onto the spider web. The numbers are big and vibrant on each page with the number of elephants written beneath in both English and Spanish.

One thing to keep in mind is that this book is inspired by the nursery rhyme so there is no real story line except at the end where the spider web gives way. The book did make me wish that the whole rhyme was written out somewhere in the book, maybe on a final page, for those who may not be familiar with the nursery rhyme. That being said, the artwork is such that there is plenty to talk and engage with little ones about.

TEACHING TIPS: Other than the obvious bilingual number counting, educators can cover action words, discussing what each elephant is doing. Additionally, colors and simple shapes can be reviewed. Maybe even a fun balancing game can be played!

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Patty Rodriguez: Unable to find bilingual first concept books she could enjoy reading to her baby, Patty came up with the idea behind Lil’ Libros. Patty and her work have been featured in the LA Times, Rolling Stone, CNN Latino, Latina Magazine, Cosmopolitan, People En Espanol, Cosmo Latina, and American Latino TV, to name a few! Patty is currently Sr. Producer for On Air With Ryan Seacrest|iHeartMedia, jewelry designer for MALA by Patty Rodriguez, and creator of Manolos And Tacos.

 

 

Ariana Stein: Ariana Stein, a graduate from California State University, Dominguez Hills, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. Ariana spent the first 8 years of her professional career in the corporate world. Her life changed with the birth of her baby boy. She immediately realized that bilingualism played a very important role in his future, as well as the future of other children.

The publishers of Un Elefante, Lil’ Libros, have a series of other books that are also based off of Latinx cultural themes. See a short video here:

 

 
ABOUT THE REVIEWERS:
Displaying Headshot.jpgBecky Villareal, a retired teacher, loves working on family history and spending time with her grandchildren.  She has published three children’s books, Gianna the Great, Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues, and Snake Holes.  Her fourth book, The Broken Branches, will makes its debut in 2018.
 
 
 
 

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 Ruby Jones has been working in public libraries since 2007 in various capacities, including Adult & Teen Services technician and webmaster at her current library.  She currently lives in Maine with her husband and precocious 2 year old. She continually strives to impart a passion and a sense of fearlessness toward technology, reading and learning for all ages.

Book Review: The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz

Reviewed by Cris Rhodes

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly he knows: Miguel, his cousin and best friend, is dead.

Everyone in Jaime’s small town in Guatemala knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a powerful gang that’s known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is hurt or killed—like Miguel. With Miguel gone, Jaime fears that he is next. There’s only one choice: Accompanied by his cousin Ángela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother in the United States.

Inspired by true incidents, The Only Road tells an individual story of a boy who feels that leaving his home and risking everything is his only chance for a better life. It is a story of fear and bravery, love and loss, strangers becoming family, and one boy’s treacherous and life-changing journey.

MY TWO CENTS: A recipient of a Pura Belpré honor, Alexandra Diaz’s The Only Road is chilling and heart-wrenching in the best possible way. From the moment that Jaime’s beloved cousin Miguel is killed by a local gang, the Alphas, it is evident that this book is going to take its reader on a perilous journey, tagging along with Jaime as he flees his small town in Guatemala for the United States.

As the novel opens, gang members—angered by Miguel and Jaime’s refusal to submit to the capricious whims of the Alphas—brutally beat Miguel to death in a park that the boys had once considered safe. Jaime, spared a similar fate because he’d stayed home sick that day, soon discovers that Miguel’s murder is just the beginning of the Alphas’ reign of terror. Not only do they intend to force Ángela, Miguel’s sister, to be the ‘girlfriend’ of one of the gang members, but they also plan to make Jaime one of their thugs. The nightmare of such a desolate future under the rule of the Alphas spurs Jaime and Ángela to travel north—and as is true for many undocumented children, the promise of a better future on the other side of the border far outweighs the terrible risks of the journey.

Marketed as a middle-grade novel, this story may lead some to question whether Diaz went too far in portraying the dangers of undocumented immigration and whether such knowledge is appropriate for pre-teen readers. To those concerned, I argue that Diaz’s book is a must-read because of its grittiness. Considering how divided our country is over issues of immigration, seeing undocumented immigrants as humans and understanding the horrible realities that they are escaping seems vital for readers of all ages. As undocumented minors, Ángela and Jaime face unique trials and tribulations along their journey, and Diaz strives to make their story as realistic as possible. She explains in her Author’s Note that though “Jaime and Ángela are fictitious characters, their story is similar to millions of real immigrants,” since “in recent years there has been a huge wave of children traveling alone from Central America” (280). In support of this, Diaz includes a bibliography of the sources that informed her book. This bibliography includes multiple articles about the rise of undocumented and unaccompanied minors crossing the border.

Jamie and Ángela’s experiences may be unapologetically realistic, but they also demonstrate the resiliency of the human spirit. Ultimately, these cousins and the other adolescent border-crossers they meet along the way “‘want the freedom to make [their] own choices and to be in control of [their] future’” (92). As informed readers, we recognize that that future is tenuous; even if these characters successfully enter the U.S., there is no guarantee that they will elude detection and manage to thrive in such a new and foreign environment.

Though much of this story may be new terrain for its readers, Diaz tempers this foreignness with familiar stylistic choices and tropes of children’s and middle-grade texts. From its large print and short chapters, to the straightforward, albeit lyrical language, this text remains easily accessible to young readers. Moreover, Diaz plays upon the trope of an animal helper/guide by including a dog, Vida, who accompanies Jaime and Ángela on their journey. After rescuing her from a fighting ring, Jaime and Ángela nurse the aptly named Vida back to health, and Vida repays their devotion by saving them on multiple occasions. After they get separated from their group of traveling companions, it’s Vida who finds them. Later, she alerts them to the presence of la migra, and even distracts an ICE helicopter while Jaime and Ángela attempt the dangerous swim across the Rio Bravo. The inclusion of Vida often serves as a relief to Jaime and Ángela’s tragic circumstances. The vivaciousness and tenacity that this dog demonstrates act as a beacon of hope for Jaime and Ángela, who emulate her will to survive.

After Jaime and Ángela cross the Rio Bravo, Diaz leaves her ending relatively ambiguous, which left me conflicted. I wanted to know what happens to Jaime and Ángela after their journey, yet felt overall pleased with the open-endedness of this narrative and the hope that it represents. I recognized that we do not need all of the answers—and Diaz’s narrative is better because she does not artificially create some great happily-ever-after for Jaime and Ángela.

Regardless, perhaps the most captivating motif of The Only Road was Jaime’s artistic abilities. Initially, Jaime regards his craft and beloved sketchbook as a connection to home, but as the novel unfolds, they become so much more. Containing images of Miguel, his parents and abuela, and other scenes from Guatemala, the sketchbook acts as Jaime’s catharsis and savior. During a confrontation with la migra, the sketchbook is seized by an intimidating officer. Jaime fears that his art will identify him as an undesirable Guatemalan immigrant, but the officer is too preoccupied with the wonder of Jaime’s skill to question his nation of origin, and merely rips out a sketch of a lizard before walking away. In moments like these, the sketchbook becomes Jaime’s social currency; and when he and Ángela need more money to pay a coyote to get them across the Rio Bravo and into Texas, Jaime sells sketches to white tourists. Art is such a strong analogy for freedom and self-representation; but, most importantly, art becomes integral to Jaime’s very existence. When he almost loses his sketchbook during the crossing of the Rio Bravo, Ángela scolds him; but he explains, “‘It’s not just a book. It’s my life’” (259). In writing the experiences of these children, Diaz explores ways in which art becomes integral to defining the worth of one’s life, and by elevating the journey of these characters, Diaz makes clear that their lives–and the lives of those like them—truly matter.

To put it simply, The Only Road is a must-read. It is beautiful and heartbreaking and so timely. Diaz’s characters are tremendously dynamic and sympathetic; watching them grow as the story progresses made this book difficult to put down, and I found myself staying up way past my bedtime to finish it. Fair warning: if you are a crier, like me, you might want to keep tissues handy while reading! Though the story ends on a bright note, it bears the weight of so many undocumented immigrants whose journeys were less successful—a weight that will leave you breathless even long after the book is finished.

TEACHING TIPS: The Only Road contains multiple supplemental materials that could be used as teaching tools. Diaz includes a glossary of Spanish terms (along with definitions and connotations for “the language enthusiasts”); a list of “Further Reading for All Ages,” which includes children’s and young adult book recommendations about undocumented border crossings and the Latinx experience; as well as a bibliography of her resources, which she cautions some “may not be suitable for young readers” (283, 309). However, these materials could be useful to parents, teachers, and librarians in helping young readers understand the complex issues faced by undocumented immigrants—primarily, those coming from Central and South American countries. Incidentally, Diaz’s research model for this text may be a good way to introduce students to in-depth research for larger projects.

Cultural contexts portrayed in The Only Road could also prove useful toward enhancing appreciation for the ethnic richness that exists across Central America. As this novel shows, Central Americans are not monolithic, and The Only Road does a good job of illuminating distinctions between mestizo and indigenous Central Americans, as well as other variables that mark the countries of this region. For advanced Spanish classes, The Only Road could be used to illustrate variances in Spanish as it is spoken throughout Central and South America, particularly by paying close attention to colloquialisms. Teachers of Spanish may prefer the Spanish-language version, which is available under the title El Único Destino.

ABOUT THE AUTHORAlexandra Diaz is a Cuban American writer with half a dozen young adult novels to her credit, including the Pura Belpré Honor book reviewed here, as well as Good Girls Don’t Lie, the Roller Girl series, and When We Were. Alexandra has lived in England, New Mexico, and other parts of the U.S. Learn more about her work by visiting her official author site.

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Cris Rhodes is a doctoral student at Texas A&M University – Commerce. She received a M.A. in English with an emphasis in borderlands literature and culture from Texas A&M – Corpus Christi, and a B.A. in English with a minor in children’s literature from Longwood University in her home state of Virginia. Cris recently completed a Master’s thesis project on the construction of identity in Chicana young adult literature.

Book Reviews: Luis Paints the World, A Surprise for Teresita, and Maybe Something Beautiful

 

Reviews by Dora Guzman

The following books are a wonderful addition to any classroom library, as well as reading about how art inspires young artists and the beauty of waiting. One teaching tip is to use Luis Paints the World and A Surprise for Teresita to compare and contrast the main characters and their response to the act of waiting. Teachers can also use Maybe Something Beautiful and Luis Paints the World to compare and contrast how the main characters use art to express their current feelings to themselves and the community. Also, teachers can use all three books to compare and contrast characters and other story elements, but most of all for young readers to experience inspirational and impacting characters and stories.

 

MAYBE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL

Maybe Something Beautiful CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: What good can a splash of color do in a community of gray? As Mira and her neighbors discover, more than you might ever imagine! Based on the true story of the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, California, Maybe Something Beautiful reveals how art can inspire transformation—and how even the smallest artists can accomplish something big. Pick up a paintbrush and join the celebration!

MY TWO CENTS: A realistic fiction picture book in lyrical writing based on a true story, this book paints a picture of a diverse community coming together as artists to liven up the town, and their interpersonal relationships. Mira, a little girl, is an artist who decides to share her paintings with her neighbors. Soon after, the color fulfills the community’s craving for life. Neighbors begin to also contribute their ideas to the town through murals and other creative expressions like dancing, Suddenly, a gray old town turns into a warm, colorful community.

I absolutely loved this book, especially the main character, Mira. She is young, but she contributed a transformative gift to her town by sharing her paintings. Great contrast in the illustrations while Mira literally brings color and life to a gray world. This picture book depicts an essential component of a community, which is to share our joys and contributions to further enhance our lives and surroundings.

TEACHING TIPS: A great read aloud for all ages, especially those in elementary schools (K-5). When reading, teachers can:

  • focus on retelling
  • model similes and metaphors
  • use it as a writing mentor text for descriptive words and language
  • analyze the use of onomatopoeia
  • describe how the illustrations support the text

The possibilities are endless!

isabel-campoyABOUT THE AUTHORS (from the book)Isabel Campoy is an author, anthologist, translator, and bilingual educator who has won many awards for her professional contributions. Her many accolades include ALA Notables, the San Francisco Library Award, the Reading the World Award from the University of San Francisco, the NABE Ramón Santiago Award, the International Latino Children’s Book Award, and nine Junior Library Guild selections. She is a member of the North American Academy of Spanish Language. She lives in Northern California.

 

THERESA HOWELLTheresa Howell is a children’s book author and editor with many bilingual books to her credit. Mutually inspired by Rafael Lopez’s efforts to transform communities through art, they combined their talents in the lyrical text of Maybe Something Beautiful. She lives in Colorado.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Rafael López is both the illustrator of this book and the inspiration for the character of the muralist. He was born and raised in Mexico, a place that has always influenced the vivid colors and shapes in his artwork. He now creates community-based mural projects around the world and illustrates award-winning children’s books. Rafael López divides his time between Mexico and San Diego, California.

 

 

 

A SURPRISE FOR TERESITA / UNA SORPRESA PARA TERESITA

A Surprise for Teresita CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: In this bilingual picture book for young children, seven-year-old Teresita anxiously awaits her Tio Ramon, who has promised her a special surprise for her birthday.

MY TWO CENTS: This realistic fiction picture book in a bilingual English/Spanish text format is about a girl, Teresita, anticipating her uncle, Tio Ramon, and her birthday gift. As Teresita goes about her day, she meets other neighbors who are also anticipating her uncle’s famous snow cones. Soon after, her Tio Ramon arrives and not only shares his refreshing snow cones, but did not forget about Teresita’s unique birthday gift!

The main character, Teresita, is every child on their birthday, experiencing the anticipation of a birthday gift, but more importantly anticipating the visit of a loved one. The book also focuses on the joy that her uncle brings to the community, so the anticipation is shared between Teresita and the community. It reminds me of numerous memories of waiting for the raspados, paletas, and elotes. The moment when Tio Ramon arrives is an endearing moment for the reader and Teresita. Great character description throughout the story!

TEACHING TIPS: A great book to use for a read aloud at any age, especially elementary aged students. Reading and writing focuses can also include retelling, predicting, analyzing character feelings and/or traits, modeling narrative structure and writing.

Virginia Sánchez KorrolABOUT THE AUTHOR: Virginia Sánchez-Korrol is a Professor Emerita at Brooklyn College, CUNY. She is co-editor of the three volume Latinas in the United States and when she is not working on history brooks, she writes a blog for the Huffington Post.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Carolyn Dee Flores is a computer analyst turned rock musician turned children’s illustrator who loves experimenting with unconventional art equipment and art mediums. She has won numerous awards. She is currently serving as the Illustrator Coordinator for the Southwest Texas Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and mentor for the We Need Diverse Books movement.

For more information about Carolyn, check out this post, one in a series that highlights Latina illustrators.

 

LUIS PAINTS THE WORLD

Luis Paints the World CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Luis wishes Nico wasn’t leaving for the Army. To show Nico he doesn’t need to go, Luis begins a mural on the alleyway wall. Their house, the river, the Parque de las Ardillas—it’s the world, all right there. Won’t Nico miss Mami’s sweet flan? What about their baseball games in the street? But as Luis awaits his brother’s return from duty, his own world expands as well, through swooping paint and the help of their bustling Dominican neighborhood.

MY TWO CENTS: A sweet story between Luis and his brother, Nico, who is deploying to another country through the Army. The reader can sense the sadness and helplessness in Luis convincing his older brother, Nico, to stay home. Luis is then inspired to paint a mural in order to show the world to his brother. While Nico’s departure is inevitable, Luis continues to paint and add to the mural, which then also inspires his mom and neighbors to add to the mural. The descriptive language changes throughout the seasons and is reminiscent of the unknown arrival of a loved one in the armed forces. Loved the story format and the thinking process behind Luis’s mural additions. Art truly was Luis’s form of therapy and measure of time of when his brother will come back home.

TEACHING TIPS: A great book to read aloud to any aged students, especially in the elementary grades. Readers can also focus on certain reading skills like retelling, questioning, and predicting throughout the story. Writers can focus on writing skills like narrative writing and adding descriptive language and adding dialogue.

Image result for terry farishABOUT THE AUTHOR: Terry Farish’s picture books, novels, and nonfiction works often focus on immigrant and refugee populations, informed by her early work for the Red Cross in Vietnam and continual research. Terry presents literacy programs for the New Hampshire Humanities Council, and she received the New England Reading Association 2016 Special Recognition Award for Outstanding Contributions to Literacy. She lives in Kittery, Maine.

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Oliver Rodriguez was born and raised in Miami, where his family settled after leaving Columbia. As a child, Oliver loved the way illustrations could bring a story to life. He received his BFA in Illustration from the Ringling College of Art and Design in 2008 and has illustrated multiple picture books. He lives in Florida with his wife, two dogs, and a collection of unique hats.

 

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-3 and also teaches an undergraduate college course in Children’s Literature. 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!

February 2017 Latinx Book Deals

Compiled by Cecilia Cackley

This is a monthly series keeping track of the book deals announced by Latinx writers and illustrators. The purpose of this series is to celebrate book deals by authors and illustrators in our community and to advocate for more of them. If you are an agent and you have a Latinx client who just announced a deal, you can let me know on Twitter, @citymousedc. If you are a Latinx author or illustrator writing for children or young adults, and you just got a book deal, send me a message and we will celebrate with you! Here’s to many more wonderful books in the years to come.

February 28

None.

February 24

Kathy Landwehr at Peachtree has acquired 2982 Days, a free-verse middle grade book by rocket engineer Suzanne Slade, about the Apollo missions and the daring astronauts who paved the way for the first moon landing. Thomas Gonzalez will illustrate; publication is planned for fall 2018.

February 16

Michael Strother at HarlequinTeen has acquired Toil & Trouble, an anthology of feminist stories of witchcraft, co-edited by Tess Sharpe (l.) and Jessica Spotswood and featuring contributions from Brandy Colbert, Zoraida Cordova, Andrea Cremer, Kate Hart, Emery Lord, Elizabeth May, Anna-Marie McLemore, Tehlor Kay Mejia, Karuna Riazi, Lindsay Smith, Nova Ren Suma, Robin Talley, Shveta Thakrar, Tristina Wright, and Brenna Yovanoff. The book will be published in fall 2018.

February 14

Emma Ledbetter at Atheneum has acquired Keith Calabrese’s debut picture book, Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous: A Kindergarten Dilemma, to be illustrated by 2017 Pura Belpré Award winner Juana Medina, about a girl who projects first-day-of-school jitters onto her shoes, and, with help from her other clothes, calms their nerves and gets them out the door. Publication is planned for fall 2018.

February 9

Brittany Rubiano at Disney Press has signed Diana López to write a middle grade novel inspired by Disney-Pixar’s forthcoming film, Coco, featuring original content. Publication is set for October 2017.

February 7

None.

February 2

Jennifer Ung at Simon Pulse has bought Juleah del Rosario‘s debut YA novel-in-verse, 500 Words or Less. The story follows a high school senior who attempts to salvage her reputation by writing her Ivy League-obsessed classmates’ college admissions essays, while she struggles with a moral compass that no longer points north. Publication is slated for fall 2018.

Stacy Whitman of Tu Books has acquired world rights for Clockwork Curandera, a YA steampunk graphic novel reimagining of Frankenstein set in an alternate colonial Mexico, by Pura Belpré Honor recipient David Bowles and illustrated by Pura Belpré winner Raúl the Third. Publication is set for fall 2019.

Book Review: The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

Reviewed by Elena Foulis

26594801DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK:

Things/People Margot Hates:
Mami, for destroying her social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
The supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts. With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal. Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

MY TWO CENTS: It is no surprise that life, for a teenage girl, is complicated: trying to fit in, finding purpose, inspiration, friends, and dealing with family dynamics. Add to all of this, growing up bicultural! We meet Margot Sanchez, our Puerto Rican protagonist, spending the summer working at her father’s bodega in the Bronx, as punishment for using her father’s credit card without his permission. We quickly find out about Margot’s family dynamics; her family sent her to a prep school to give her a better education and a brighter future—for herself and the family. Her brother, Junior, is a college drop-out who now works in Papi’s bodega and is expected to take over the business in the future. Both Papi and Mami want the best for their children and operate under traditional Latinx gender values that allow Junior to easily occupy the public space, drink, smoke, and be sexually active, while Margot cannot.

Margot’s understanding of her own place in society is complicated by her parents’ decision to send her to a prep school. She quickly begins to change her look, part of her identity, and adopt those of Camille and Serena—white, rich classmates who often treat Margot as a project by giving her fashion tips, relationship advice, and suggesting that it was perfectly fine to “borrow” her father’s credit card to shop for clothes that were clearly beyond her family’s budget.

In The Education of Margot Sanchez, Rivera tackles issues of peer pressure, family expectations, gender bias, and community. While Margot has several people in her life who are constantly suggesting what she should look like, how she should act, and what she should do, Moises, a local community activist, and Elizabeth, her childhood friend, are the people that make her face her own insecurities, question her sense of belonging, and deal with her constant desire to fit in with her prep school values. Rivera walks us through Margot’s summer of “real” life education, full of lies, sex, and betrayal.

Although the novel hints at a romance between Moises and Margot, their interaction is one that helps her grow, accept herself, and understand how her community is being negatively impacted by gentrification and big corporations moving in; in fact, even her own family business is feeling the change. Throughout the story, Margot learns about her family’s shortcomings and how unhealthy family traditions and cultural norms can push each of them to make wrong choices.

As I was reading this book, I could almost hear my teenage daughters say, “Get over it, Margot! Quit listening to Camille and Serena!” Because Margot, quite frankly, is annoyingly desperate for their approval. Yet, we also see that Margot is trying not to be an outcast at her new school and does anything to be accepted by the popular girls, including stealing. Rivera helps us see that teenagers, although subject to peer pressure, also have the capacity to change, re-invent themselves, ask for forgiveness and restore relationships.

TEACHING TIPS: The Education of Margot Sanchez can be used to teach about public vs private education, formal education vs life/street education, and, although minimal, the values of different Latinx families.  It is also an opportunity to talk about family relationships, love, friendship, and gentrification—this last topic is a current trend, happening in many mid-size to large cities across the United States. Who experiences gentrification? Are “clean up” the neighborhood projects always negative or positive? How can people who face gentrification organize? What communities typically experience gentrification? What minority groups? Only minority groups? Research on these topics can add value to class discussion and can help further understand this present day issue affecting our communities.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about The Education of Margot Sanchez, check your local public library, your local bookstore or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Hi-res image. Photo by Julian Sambrano Jr. 

Photo by Julian Sambrano Jr.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): Lilliam Rivera is an award-winning writer and author of The Education of Margot Sanchez, a contemporary young adult novel forthcoming from Simon & Schuster on February 21, 2017. She is a 2016 Pushcart Prize winner and a 2015 Clarion alumni with a Leonard Pung Memorial Scholarship. She has been awarded fellowships from PEN Center USA, A Room Of Her Own Foundation, and received a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. Her short story “Death Defiant Bomba” received honorable mention in Bellevue Literary Review’s 2014 Goldenberg Prize for Fiction, selected by author Nathan Englander. Lilliam was also a finalist for AWP’s 2014 WC&C Scholarship Competition.

 

headshot2016ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Elena Foulis has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies from the University of Arkansas. Her research and teaching interests include U.S. Latina/o literature, and Digital Oral History. She is currently working on a digital oral history collection about Latin@s in Ohio, which has been published as an eBook titled, Latin@ Stories Across Ohio.

 

Latinxs and the MFA: A Chat with Emerging Writer Yamile Saied Méndez

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Writer Yamile Saied Méndez, surrounded by her family

Many aspiring writers look to MFA programs as the surest path to refining their writing skills. Yamile Saied Méndez, a native of Argentina who resides in Utah, is a recent graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing program (VCFA). We were delighted to chat with her about her experiences.

LKL: Let’s get some background. When and how did you catch the writing bug?

Yamile: I’ve always loved stories and books. It wasn’t until my grandfather died, when I was six years old, that I wanted to tell my own stories. True to my writing process (which I recognized much later in life), the story simmered in my mind for a couple of years. I finally put my experiences and feelings on paper when the story had taken total possession of me, and I couldn’t go one more day without telling it.

So I wrote about a princess named Joanna who went out to find a cure for her grandfather’s cancer.

From my beginnings, my writing has been a tool to explore what’s happening in my life and the world around me, although my stories aren’t technically autobiographical. I write about third-culture children, sports, my beloved city of Rosario, life in small-town Utah, spirituality, etc.

Writing has always been a part of my life, but I never thought I could one day be a writer. I left Argentina at age nineteen to attend Brigham Young University, where I majored in International Economy. But during those years, I learned Portuguese and eventually became a translator. I devoured books from the library. When my children were born, I savored the books I didn’t have in my childhood (like Where the Wild Things Are, Ferdinand, and Good Night Moon, among others).

When my own stories started taking full possession of me, and I couldn’t go another day without telling them, I started writing. After the birth of my fourth child, I decided that I wanted to share my writing with the world. I rolled up my literal sleeves and started my writing apprenticeship.

LKL: Before VCFA, what types of self-directed activities or writing classes did you utilize to develop your craft?

Yamile: NaNoWriMo was the catalyst that sent the proverbial writing stone rolling for me. I was very active in the blogging community, and on November 6th, 2007, I read a casual comment about a novel-writing challenge. I headed over to the NaNoWriMo website, signed up, and started writing a story that had been germinating in my mind for a while and I hadn’t even noticed. The euphoria of typing The End is addictive, and after the first time, I couldn’t stop.

I wrote every day and learned there was much more to writing than pouring words on the page. I found books on self-editing, story structure, character development, and eventually, the publishing industry. With the help of my critique group (the Sharks and Pebbles, whose name originated from this spoof), finished a manuscript and queried it without apparent success. Some agents who rejected my piece were very encouraging, and that was all I needed to stay motivated.

I attended my first writers conference, LDS Storymakers, which is the largest writing conference in Utah, and entered the first-chapter contest. My entry won the first place in the Young Adult category, which told me I was on the right track.

I also attended the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference and workshop, organized and directed by VCFA alumna and award-winning author Carol Lynch Williams, and my life changed forever. At WIFYR I workshopped with Ann Dee Ellis, Martine Leavitt, and Cynthia Leitich-Smith. After savoring this yearly feast on craft and art, I wanted more. I knew Martine and Cynthia taught at VCFA, and when my fifth child was one-year-old (and in my mind, capable of surviving without me during the ten-day residency periods), I applied to the program.

LKL: Please share about your experiences with your MFA, starting with the decision to apply. How did you choose VCFA? What are some of the factors you would recommend for other writers to consider?

Yamile: I had looked into VCFA for years, but my four children were very young, my husband had (and still has) a very demanding job, and I didn’t think I had the skills required for such an intensive program. I perused the website nightly, and when I turned to the Acknowledgements page of a favorite book and read the author’s dedication and/or gratitude to VCFA, and its faculty and student body, my desire to apply intensified.

One day I realized that time kept going, and that my children were growing up quickly. If I wanted to pursue advanced education, now was the time. Fortunately, my husband was very encouraging. After all, I had supported him when he pursued his MBA degree and as he advanced in his career. Armed with my family’s support, I applied. When the acceptance letter arrived, I was thrilled.

LKL: Take us into the world of an MFA student. What were some of the turning points or eureka moments for you as a writer?

Yamile: In my first semester, I learned to be a flexible writer. I’d already written two MG novels before VCFA, and I was determined to write YA during my two years as a student. With my first advisor, I wrote YA, but I also wrote poetry, picture books, early readers, and my favorite surprise: short stories. Exploring with the format allowed me to study plot and story structure. It taught me to make my words count. Two of my YA projects were born of short stories. The experience was illuminating in regards to my own writing process. Another thing I valued from the beginning was being open to critique, but also trusting my writerly instincts. In our graduation ceremony, VCFA Thomas Christopher Greene told us graduates that we had earned a Master’s degree over our own writing. To trust this authority. I remind myself of this lesson daily.

yamile-daughterLKL: During your enrollment, you were also busy with family life. Could you share some tips for getting the most from classwork while also meeting everyday demands?

Yamile: As I flew back home from my first residency, I considered the work load for each of the five packets ahead of me that semester (40 pages of creative writing, 2 critical essays, an annotated bibliography of ten to fifteen books, and a detailed letter to my advisor), and I was overwhelmed.

How in the world was I ever going to do it all?

I learned to prioritize. I put myself on a schedule that started much earlier than my children’s so I could have uninterrupted writing time. With my kids in school, I had almost three hours of sacred morning writing time (I still do most of my writing during the morning when the kids are at school). Still, my obligations didn’t fit into 24 hours.

I learned to say no. I didn’t volunteer at the kids’ schools as much (or at all during my third semester). I gave up TV.

I also had obligations to my agent, my freelance writing job, and my church. I reached a point in which I put my writing, my family, my obligations ahead of my health. I started learning (I’m still learning this) to maximize my time so I could sleep a full night. I learned simple recipes, and my children helped with household chores. When they saw my dedication to my school work, my family teamed up to help me meet my deadlines. We read my “homework” before bedtime. We listened to audiobooks in the car. The kids brought me books from their school libraries to help with essays or research. Again, I also learned how to be a flexible writer. I wrote or read during halftime at soccer matches or long dance competitions. I did “character studies” during carpool (15 year-old boys will say the funniest things when they believe the driver can’t hear them). I learned to let go of things I couldn’t control, like the sea of Legos in the playroom. These habits prepared me for the writing life after the MFA. Nowadays, although I don’t have an advisor waiting for my packet, I have an agent waiting for my revision. A VCFA friend and I became accountability partners. It helps to have someone cheering for me and celebrating accomplishments at the end of a busy week.

The MFA was a family affair, and I couldn’t have done it without the support of so many friends and family.

LKL: A few years ago, Junot Díaz wrote a stinging essay about the experiences of people of color at various MFA programs. On its website, VCFA makes a strong commitment to diversity. In your view, how well do they honor this promise?

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Yamile with fellow Latinas at VCFA

Yamile: I’m embarrassed to confess I didn’t know Junot Díaz until my first semester advisor assigned me one of his short stories. The beauty, honesty, and clarity of Junot’s words stunned me. My perception of my world, my writing, my country, and myself changed dramatically. I measured all I learned against my new perception of what it means to be a POC in a graduate program.

At VCFA, the student body is still not diverse enough. The staggering price of tuition and room/board is a deterrent to many POC applicants. VCFA is trying to mitigate the financial burden by granting scholarships (The Angela Johnson Scholarship for New Students of Color or Ethnic Minority established by literary agent Barry Goldblatt).

As far as the faculty goes, VCFA boasts an incredible roll of award-winning stars with ties to diverse communities: Cynthia Leitich-Smith, Uma Krishnaswami, An Na, Will Alexander, Daniel José Older, Kekla Magoon, and Shelley Tanaka, among others.

The rest of the faculty is invested in diversity and the promotion of writers from marginalized communities. Workshops and lectures are sensitive to the importance of inclusion and supporting marginalized voices. Alumni POC are wonderful role models and mentors. In the admissions department, prospective, current, and past students have a super champion in Ann Cardinal, a self-declared Gringa-Rican.

To summarize my answer, yes, VCFA honors their commitment to diversity, and they continue to strive to better serve the interests of all students, especially writers of color.

LKL: What advice would you give to aspiring Latinx writers about considering a creative writing program or preparing to enroll in one?

Yamile: I’m a strong advocate for education. However, I’d advise people to consider the motivations for pursuing a MFA.

Is it to take a shortcut on publication or success?

Keep in mind that there aren’t any promises for either publication or success even for VCFA MFA holders.

Is it to teach?

An MFA will provide the writer with better opportunities to teach at a university level, since it’s a terminal degree.

Is it to improve their craft?

You could also acquire these tools on your own, or by attending conferences and workshops. But during a structured program, you will be committed to do your work every day, no matter what.

Is it for the community?

At VCFA, I made personal connections with fellow students, faculty, and alumni, some of whom graduated years before I even started. The VCFA family is a tight-knit group, and I’m honored to be part of it.

Also, consider your financial situation.

Lastly, look into your heart. I always wanted to be a writer, but I felt I needed to study something practical, and that’s how I ended up studying economics. My love for writing and reading never waned though, so when I had the chance, I chose VCFA. I wonder how my story would have been different if I’d gone with my heart years ago.

If a writing program is what you want to do, then go for it.

LKL: Now that you’re an MFA grad, what’s next? What are you working on?

Yamile: I finished VCFA with a portfolio of exciting material. I’m revising an MG story about a girl, the star of an all-boy fútbol team. When she gets her period and gets kicked off the team, she goes on to earn a spot in a girls’ team, and to fight for the National Championship. For my critical thesis, I wrote on the importance of portraying girls’ puberty in middle grade, and following on the heels of that, this story has been fun and empowering to write. Eleven-year-old me would have loved it.

I’m also working on a story I call it my gender-bender Hamilton meets Joan D’Arc–my love letter to refugees and immigrants everywhere.

Next spring, I’m teaching a diversity class at Storymakers, and I applied to Junot Díaz’s VONA workshop, because education never ends.

LKL: Finally, permit us to show off a little on your behalf. You had an amazing 2015: You were named a finalist in Lee and Low’s New Voices Award. You secured a literary agent. You enrolled at VCFA. At some point, We Need Diverse Books named you a recipient of its inaugural Walter Deans Myers Grant. Wow! What has the Walter Dean Myers grant meant to your writing career? Tell us how 2015 fits into the story of where you’ve come from—and where you see yourself going—as a writer.

Yamile: The validation I felt after winning the New Voices Honor, and being chosen as an inaugural Walter Dean Myers Grant recipient was the fuel I needed to keep me motivated and engaged in learning as much as I could at VCFA. To think that I taught myself how to read and write English with a bilingual dictionary! I’m inspired to keep working towards publication, to tell the stories that I wanted to read as a child and that also reflect the reality of a large portion of the population of our country. My dream is to visit schools to tell children like my own that their voices matter. I’m excited for the future generation and the stories they’ll produce.

Keep up with Yamile on her website, where she blogs about the writing life, or on Twitter: @yamilesmendez.