Book Review: ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat by Raúl the Third with color by Elaine Bay

Review by Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez, PhD and Ingrid Campos

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: In this new Vamos! title, Let’s Go Eat, Little Lobo is excited to take in a show with wrestling star El Toro in his bustling border town. After getting lunch orders from The Bull and his friends to help prepare for the event, Little Lobo takes readers on a tour of food trucks that sell his favorite foods, like quesadillas with red peppers and Mexican-Korean tacos. Peppered with easy-to-remember Latin-American Spanish vocabulary, this glorious celebration of food is sure to leave every reader hungry for lunch!

OUR TWO CENTS: ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat by Raúl the Third with color by Elaine Bay centers Little Lobo, his dog Bernabé, and his rooster friend, Kooky Dooky. Little Lobo takes his delivery services to El Coliseo to meet Luchador star, El Toro, who asks Little Lobo to get lunch orders for him and all of his famished wrestling friends before the big show that night. Little Lobo, Bernabé, and Kooky Dooky visit different food trucks and food stands in the area to find some of their favorite Mexican dishes such as tacos, tamales, churros, aguas frescas, and many more delicious treats. 

¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat is crowded with fun, humorous characters from cover to cover: from a snake with a sombrero slithering up a utility pole, to a tortoise driving a “Tortas Tortuga” truck with “despacito” blazoned across the side, to “Armor Dillo,” a luchador armadillo covered in armor, and so much more. The illustrations are also action-packed, mimicking the high energy of any good lucha match. The cars speed by leaving zig-zag “vroom” behind. The floor retumba like waves at the rumble of the luchadors’ hungry tummies. Puffs of smoke or exhaust rise as Little Lobo dashes from one place to the next. Elaine’s color choices bring the book to life–resembling Little Lobo’s lively neighborhood. Additionally, readers will find many words for different types of foods, animals, and actions as part of the illustrations. On one spread, when Little Lobo first meets all the luchadores, their names are drawn to match their styles, like the “L” in “Lizarda” is as long as their tongue. On another page, when Little Lobo goes to pick up dessert, there are so many options that the words fill up half the page: “Flan,” “arroz con leche,” “churros,” and more. Raúl and Elaine give every inch of the pages something new for readers to find with every read.

¡Vamos! is also an extraordinary book for showcasing bilingualism in Spanish and English. Some of the speech bubbles offer immediate translation of the Spanish words and phrases: “Un poquito de esto. Un poquito de lo otro. A little of this. A little of that.” Other speech bubbles or words in the illustrations don’t offer direct translations; instead, the illustrations serve as context for translation. An example of this is when Little Lobo sits to watch the lucha, and the vendor shouts, “¡Cacahuates! ¡Palomitas! ¡Soda!” There’s no direct translation on the page but instead the reader can see the vendor toss a bag of peanuts at Little Lobo. On other pages, the English and Spanish serve as a call and response. When Little Lobo and Bernabé make it to El Coliseo for the first time, Little Lobo asks, “¡¿Qué es eso?!” and one of the luchadores responds with, “That’s our bellies. We are very hungry.” Additionally, there’s a food glossary at the end of the book, which readers can refer to if they are unfamiliar with the words. The author also encourages readers to use a Spanish-English dictionary to look up words not found in the glossary, which is a significant way to encourage proactiveness and agency in young readers. 

The heart of this story is not only Mexican food but also love and respect for street food vendors. Raúl does an excellent job at representing the diversity of street food, the types of kitchens where the food is made, and kinds of characters who make the food. After getting the long list of food orders from the luchadores, Little Lobo, Bernabé, and Kooky Dooky head outside to shop from the different food vendors. The narration reads, “A food truck is a kitchen on wheels. Food of all kinds can be prepared there. Some food sellers used modified bikes or wagons.” There are also food sellers selling out of a cooler and from a box around their neck. Additionally, in ¡Vamos!, Raúl shows that street food vendors are an important staple of any community and demonstrates how street food vendors support one another. For example, at one point in the story, Little Lobo notices: “At the elotero, the corn boils in the giant tub right on the cart. Macho gives all his husks to Tammy. She uses them to wrap her tamales.” Here, the vendors support one another by sharing supplies to create food that’ll feed a community, but the example also demonstrates how conservation is an innate part of many Latinx cultures; nothing goes to waste. 

By capturing the diversity and beauty of Mexican food and street food vendors, Raúl challenges negative stereotypes that currently may exist around both of these cultures. At a time when street vendors are under constant policing and harassment, a book like ¡Vamos! is essential reading to expand young peoples’ understanding of culinary practices and respect for those who make the food and for those who deliver it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR: (From his website) Raúl The Third is an award-winning illustrator, author, and artist living in Boston. His work centers around the contemporary Mexican-American experience and his memories of growing up in El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Lowriders in Space was nominated for a Texas BlueBonnet award in 2016-2017 and Raúl was awarded the prestigious Pura Belpré Award for Illustration by the American Library Association for Lowriders to the Center of the Earth. He was also a contributor to the SpongeBob Comics series.

¡Vamos! Let’s Go to The Market! is Raúl’s first authorial project, which he wrote and illustrated, and is colored by Elaine Bay.

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

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

Book Review: Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle, illus. by Rafeal López

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Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: As a little girl, Teresa Carreño loved to let her hands dance across the beautiful keys of the piano. If she felt sad, music cheered her, and when she was happy, the piano helped her share that joy. Soon she was writing her own songs and performing in grand cathedrals.

Then a revolution in Venezuela drove her family to flee to the United States. Teresa felt lonely in this unfamiliar place, where few of the people she met spoke Spanish. Worst of all, there was fighting in her new home, too- a Civil War.

Still, Teresa kept playing, and soon she grew famous as the talented Piano Girl who could play anything from a folk song to a sonata. So famous, in fact, that President Abraham Lincoln wanted her to play at the White House! Yet with the country torn apart by war, could Teresa’s music bring comfort to those who needed it the most?

MY TWO CENTS: Dancing Hands is a biographical picture book about María Teresa Carreño Garcia de Sena that embraces creativity, family, and music during turmoil in Venezuela and the United States. Teresa, also known as Piano Girl, learns early on that music is an art for others to enjoy in the moment and in their hearts. Despite inevitable conflict in both her home country, Venezuela, and her new home, the United States, music becomes her refuge. Playing the piano calms the storms, brings together her family, and inspires other artists, and even the president in office, Abraham Lincoln.

While the text is in English only, the language used to describe Teresa’s talent is filled with poetic and descriptive language. It moves the reader through a narrative timeline of events and emotions. The illustrations are phenomenal and invoke more emotions as the reader learns about Teresa’s life changes. The use of acrylic paint and its textured shades contrast against the sharp lines and fierce colors that spread across each page. Each page has strategically placed colors and imagery placement to convey the story’s mood. Still, Teresa’s life experiences and talents remain front and center, with her connection to her music and cultures highlighted. My favorite moment in her story is when, as a young child, Teresa inspired other musicians to come and create music. It shows how far and wide her inspiration reached even at a young age!

TEACHING TIPS: Many of these teaching moments can be implemented in a K-5 setting, with a focus on the grades 3 and up.

  • Writing Mentor Text
    • Descriptive language: The author provides a plethora of metaphors and descriptive language that can serve as models for student writing when used to describe objects, moments, and feelings.
    • Mini lesson on adjectives and verbs
  • Addition to a biography unit or music unit
    • The historical note at the end of the book can serve as a catalyst for further research into the life of María Teresa Carreño Garcia de Sena. Student researchers can also find out more about her music and how it added to the arts during and after her time.
    • In music class, students can learn more about her compositions, as well as listen to her music compositions to add to their study.
  • Author and illustrator study
    • Pair this text with other picture books written by Margarita Engle and compare her writing style as well as the characters.
    • Pair this text with other picture books illustrated by Rafael López and compare his artistic style.

Listen to María Teresa Carreño Garcia de Sena’s composition called La Falsa Nota played by another pianist.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of many acclaimed books, including two other collaborations with Rafael López, Bravo! and Drum Dream Girl, as well as The Flying Girl; All the Way to Havana; Miguel’s Brave Knight; The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor book; Jazz Owls; The Poet Slave of Cuba; and her memoirs Enchanted Air and Soaring Earth. She lives in central California. Visit her at margaritaengle.com Follow her on Twitter: @margaritapoet

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ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Rafael López 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 acclaimed children’s books, including The Day You Begin, Bravo!, Drum Dream Girl, We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands, and Book Fiesta! Rafael divides his time between Mexico and California. Visit him at  https://rafaellopez.com/

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is also a current doctoral student in NLU’s  EdD Teaching and Learning Program with an emphasis on 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!

Book Review: Dear Abuelo by Grecia Huesca Dominguez, illus. by Teresa Martinez

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Review by Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD & Ingrid Campos 

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: There is much Juana is going to miss as she moves from Mexico to New York, but nothing more than her abuelo. Through letters to her grandfather, Juana details her flight, he new apartment, and her first days of school, where everyone speaks a language she barely understands. When Juana makes her first friend, though, things begin to change.

OUR TWO CENTS: In Grecia Huesca Dominguez’s Dear Abuelo (2019) Juana and her mother immigrate from Mexico to New York. Through letters written to Abuelo, who is back in Mexico, she details her feelings about  new and anxious experiences, like traveling on a plane for the first time, settling in her new apartment, and her first day of school. On the bus ride, Juana notices everyone speaking in English, she has trouble understanding and speaking despite having practiced. In school, Juana’s teacher does not pronounce her name correctly; this incident makes her feel discouraged. In the following letters, Juana tells Abuelo that she’s  met a new friend, Elizabeth, who is also from Mexico. Elizabeth speaks both English and Spanish and explains to the teacher how to say Juana’s name correctly. Juana finds the library and meets the librarian. The librarian shows Juana books written in Spanish, and this inspires Juana to write stories in English and Spanish. 

Teresa Martinez’s illustrations center a young, brown girl with bright rosy cheeks and short curly  hair. Martinez’s vibrant illustrations of  Juana’s experiences align brilliantly with her feelings, such as  depicting the feeling of anxiety or nervousness with her use of  grey and darker backgrounds and using splashes of bright greens, oranges, and yellows to capture Juana’s  feelings of zen and excitement. Mexico is represented with the use of bright flower garlands across the pages and those flowers are lost when Juana lands in New York in the middle of winter. At first, there aren’t any flowers at school because Juana has a difficult time fitting in. Once she meets Elizabeth, after the teacher pronounces her name correctly, and after finding books in Spanish, the flower garlands around the frame of the pages return. Not only are the flowers a connection to Mexico, but they also represent growth and opportunity. 

A significant aspect in Dear Abuelo is the use of the letter format to tell the story. The story ends with Juana maybe one day writing her own stories, but the entire book is an example of just that. The letters are a powerful device that allows Juana to process her emotions that come with leaving one’s homeland behind and needing to start anew. The letters are also a wonderful way to strengthen long distance family relationships, which helps Juana feel less lonely.  The letters also suggest that Juana is taking control of her own narrative; she is in control of the story she tells. 

Another significant aspect of Dear Abuelo is the importance of  embracing the uniqueness in names and the importance of connecting with family history through naming. The mispronunciation of (im)migrant student names in the American classroom is a far too common experience. Continual mispronunciation or mockery of a student’s name because they don’t sound or look “American” is an imperialist and white supremacist practice to try to other, marginalize, and erase people’s history, culture, and future. We appreciate that it was Elizabeth, also a child, who had the courage to disrupt assumed power relations and correct, and teach, the teacher how to say Juana’s names. It is also important that the teacher was open to learning something new. 

Dear Abuelo focuses on the Mexican immigrant experience that many children coming to the U.S at a young age might relate to. This picture book illustrates common hardships, including having a language barrier, the trouble of meeting new people, or finding interest in activities like the ones Juana participates in the book, such as playing in gym class or riding the bus. Other picture books that center a similar experience and conversation include Juan Felipe Herrera’s The Upside Down Boy  (2006) and Amada Irma Perez’s My Diary From Here to There (2009). 

Grecia Huesca Dominguez and Teresa Martinez do an excellent job at balancing the struggles young immigrants experience with the joys of still being a child. We wholeheartedly recommend this book to children and parents to read together and discuss the similarities and differences between Juana’s experiences and those of the readers. 

TEACHING TIPS:

  • Ask students to write letters to one another, to the teacher, to someone in their family.
  • Encourage students to also include an illustration or a flower garland border (or a different symbol that represents something about themselves).
  • Ask students to write about the origin and/or history of their names, about being the “new kid” at school, or about making friends.
  • More advanced students can probably write about the more difficult themes around immigration and belonging.

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Photo: Tracy Lane/Benchmark Education Company

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Grecia Huesca Dominguez moved from Veracruz, Mexico, to New York when she was ten years old. She started writing poetry while pursuing her BA in English and Creative Writing at CUNY Lehman College. She initially used poetry as a coping mechanism and soon began to use it as a way to chronicle her life as a single mother and undocumented immigrant, and her Latinx identity. Her first poem, “Marilín,” was published in 2015. Since then, she has published more poems and written three books.

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ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Teresa Martinez grew up in Mexico loving to draw and decided to study graphic design. She spent many afternoons reading books on art in the university’s library. She also took many painting courses and even went to Italy for a short course at the Leonardo da Vinci School (Florence). Eventually she started working as a children’s book illustrator and has been doing that ever since. Now Teresa lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

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

Q&A with Writer Cynthia Harmony about her WNDB Mentorship

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Cynthia Harmony is one of ten creators awarded a year-long mentorship through We Need Diverse Books. Here’s some information about the program from their website:

“The We Need Diverse Books Mentorship Program has now awarded over 50 mentorships, producing a total of 88 industry professionals and upcoming voices who have participated in one-on-one relationships since the first round of applications were received in 2015. Some of the program’s former mentees have gone on to sign with prominent industry agents, publish multiple works, or secure a debut book contract.”

Here, Cynthia is interviewed by Romy Natalia Goldberg about her experience so far:

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Q: First of all, congratulations on having been selected for the 2020 We Need Diverse Books mentorship program. Do you mind sharing where you were in your publishing journey when you applied for the WNDB mentorship?

A: Thank you Romy! I signed with my agent the summer of 2019 and I was on sub with my first story that Fall. I had applied the year before and didn’t get it. A bit before the deadline, I reread their reply. It said I had been chosen as a finalist, and they encouraged me to try again. So, I asked Natascha, my agent, and she was encouraging as well. Teresa Robeson, who is also represented by my agent, was a mentee a few years before and sold her MS. It made perfect sense.

Q: What drew you to the WNDB mentorship? 

A: I had been following WNDB since Miranda Paul shared their goals on a webinar a few years ago. A mentorship that considered my perspective as #ownvoices was crucial to me. It was my ultimate goal because it’s a unique, tailored opportunity to grow as a writer. And this is one of the few year-long opportunities out there.

Q: Your mentorship is with picture book author Rob Sanders, who is known for being an excellent writing instructor. What is it like to learn from him? 

A: Yes! I’m very lucky because he is not only a great writer, but also a great teacher. He’s said he’s not interested in editing people’s work, but in teaching them how to be better writers. He has kindly and respectfully considered my strengths and style. Then offered guidance from broad research to specific suggestions, to reimagine my stories and take them to the next level. 

Q: Any big a-ha moments or was it more of a slow and steady learning process?

A: A bit of both. Exploring different POV-narrators with specific mentor texts that I may have not considered on my own, was an a-ha moment that opened up that possibility. Tackling a parallel structure was more of a slow process. I also tend to be vague and poetic, so he has helped me tighten structure and language for younger readers.

Q: Any tips you’d like to share with fellow writers on how to make the most of mentorship opportunities?

A: At the beginning, Rob asked me many questions about my expectations and preferences for communication. I think that helped both of us picture how we would work together. I would suggest having that conversation and asking questions early on. I know he’s extremely busy with multiple book releases, writing classes and being a teacher, but I reach out, sending him revisions for whenever there’s a window. He has been great at getting back to me, and I think we’ve have covered a lot so far.  

Q: How has your mentorship changed the way you view yourself as a writer and your place in the industry?

A: It has given me the confidence to try new things and I know I’m bringing these experiences with me when I revise new stories, a sharper eye or ear (rhythm) for what works. I don’t think it has changed my place in the industry; I just know I’m extremely fortunate for this experience and hope to pay it forward one day.

Q: Please tell us more about your writing! What themes do you like to explore and what types of books are you working on?

A: My books are mostly lyrical with lots of heart. I love stories that pull your heartstrings, but also offer hope. I always bring in my culture with themes I deeply care about. But I also want to explore my range and work on a character driven story before this year ends. Humor is a bit of challenge, so I know I’ll need some help.

Q: And of course, when will we be able to see your books on the shelves? Anything you’re allowed to share with us yet?

A: My early readers and chapter books for the educational market come out next year. For picture books, I’m not allowed to say yet, but I’ll be able to share good news soon!

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Cynthia Harmony is an educational psychologist originally from Mexico City. She has lived in Playa del Carmen, Madrid, Salamanca Spain, and now calls the desert of Arizona home. She’s created exhibits and bilingual learning materials for children and science museums. She has published textbooks and writes picture books, chapter books, and early readers. She’s a translator member of The American Literary Translators Association and was awarded the 2020 We Need Diverse Books PB Mentorship. When not writing, Cynthia can be found in a museum with her kids, dancing to a Latin beat, daydreaming of tacos, or planning her next family trip.

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ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER: Romy Natalia Goldberg is a Paraguayan-American travel and kid lit author with a love for stories about culture and communication. Her guidebook to Paraguay, Other Places Travel Guide to Paraguay, was published in 2012 and 2017 and led to work with “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” and The Guardian. She is an active SCBWI member and co-runs Kidlit Latinx, a Facebook support group for Latinx children’s book authors and illustrators. Learn more at romynatalia.com

Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors: Chantel Acevedo

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By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This is an occasional series about middle grade Latinx authors. We decided to shine a spotlight on middle grade writers and their novels because, often, they are “stuck in the middle”–sandwiched between and overlooked for picture books and young adult novels. The middle grades are a crucial time in child development socially, emotionally, and academically. The books that speak to these young readers tend to have lots of heart and great voices that capture all that is awkward and brilliant about that time.

Today, we highlight Chantel Acevedo.

Chantel Acevedo was born in Miami to Cuban parents. She is the acclaimed author of adult novels, including The Distant Marvels, which was a finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and she is also a professor of English at the University of Miami, where she directs the MFA program. Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse is her debut middle grade novel. Chantel lives with her personal Muse Squad, aka her family, in Florida. You can visit her online at http://www.chantelacevedo.com.

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Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse just released last week, on July 7, 2020!

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Here is the publisher’s description:

Callie Martinez-Silva didn’t mean to turn her best friend into a pop star. But when a simple pep talk leads to miraculous results, Callie learns she’s the newest muse of epic poetry, one of the nine Muses of Greek mythology tasked with protecting humanity’s fate in secret.

Whisked away to Muse Headquarters, she joins three recruits her age, who call themselves the Muse Squad. Together, the junior muses are tasked with using their magic to inspire and empower—not an easy feat when you’re eleven and still figuring out the goddess within.

When their first assignment turns out to be Callie’s exceptionally nerdy classmate, Maya Rivero, the squad comes to Miami to stay with Callie and her Cuban family. There, they discover that Maya doesn’t just need inspiration, she needs saving from vicious Sirens out to unleash a curse that will corrupt her destiny.

As chaos erupts, will the Muse Squad be able to master their newfound powers in time to thwart the Cassandra Curse . . . or will it undo them all?

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Chantel Acevedo

Q. Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

My earliest writing memories are from elementary school. I wasn’t popular, or an athlete, or outgoing. But I could write, and I enjoyed crafting these little stories about my friends, slotting them into superhero roles, or imagining their happy futures. My friends loved seeing themselves on the page, and I loved that they enjoyed it so much. But I didn’t think of writing as a career for a long time. I earned an MFA, published my first book, and even then, didn’t think of myself as a “real” writer, whatever that meant. It took me years to shake that off!

Q: Why do you choose to write middle grade novels?

I’ve written four novels for adults before turning to middle grade. Partly, I’d been waiting patiently for the muses to send me a good kid-book idea, but also, I have two daughters who straddle the middle grade age bracket, and so their voices, and that of their friends, were swirling around in my head when I finally dreamed up MUSE SQUAD. I love this age, and these voices so much!

Q: What are some of your favorite middle grade novels?

There are too many! Anything by Kate DiCamillo. Anna Meriano’s Love, Sugar, Magic series is such a delight, and I recommend it all the time to parents. I just finished and loved Adam Gidwitz’s medieval story, The Inquisitor’s Tale. And one I’m really looking forward to is Adrianna Cuevas’ The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez!

Q: If you could give your middle-grade self some advice, what would it be?

First, I’d give myself the biggest hug. Then, I’d say, “Be yourself. I know it takes courage, but you’ve got that in spades. Dale, que tu puedes.” I think I hid a lot of myself from others in middle school, thinking the things I liked were too uncool, or “little kid stuff.” I wish I’d embraced what made me different a bit more.

Q: Please finish this sentence: Middle grade novels are important because…

Because middle grade is when that tiny, buzzing, critical voice starts to worm its way into our brains. Middle grade novels can help young readers see that they aren’t alone in their worries, their fears, or their joy. Also, when main characters make mistakes and then problem-solve, readers do so along with them, and hopefully, the memory of these stories will be available to them when facing their own challenges.

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photo by Saryna A. Jones

Cindy L. Rodriguez was a newspaper reporter for The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe before becoming a public school teacher. She is now a reading specialist at a Connecticut middle school. Cindy is a U.S.-born Latina of Puerto Rican and Brazilian descent. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU. Her debut contemporary YA novel is When Reason Breaks (Bloomsbury 2015). She also has an essay in Life Inside My Mind (Simon Pulse 2018) and wrote the text for Volleyball Ace, a Jake Maddox book (Capstone 2020). She can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors: Reina Luz Alegre

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By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This is an occasional series about middle grade Latinx authors. We decided to shine a spotlight on middle grade writers and their novels because, often, they are “stuck in the middle”–sandwiched between and overlooked for picture books and young adult novels. The middle grades are a crucial time in child development socially, emotionally, and academically. The books that speak to these young readers tend to have lots of heart and great voices that capture all that is awkward and brilliant about that time.

Today, we highlight Reina Luz Alegre.

Reina Luz Alegre lives in the Miami area with her family. She’s dreamed of becoming an author since the second grade, and grew up to work on various other professional dreams—including as a freelance journalist and lawyer—before debuting her first novel, The Dream Weaver. When she’s not writing, Reina loves to read, sing, and salivate over baking shows.

The Dream Weaver just released last week, on June 23, 2020!

 

Dream Weaver Final CoverHere is the publisher’s description:

Zoey comes from a family of dreamers. From start-up companies to selling motorcycles, her dad is constantly chasing jobs that never seem to work out. As for Zoey, she’s willing to go along with whatever grand plans her dad dreams up—even if it means never staying in one place long enough to make real friends. Her family being together is all that matters to her.

So Zoey’s world is turned upside down when Dad announces that he’s heading to a new job in New York City without her. Instead, Zoey and her older brother, José, will stay with their Poppy at the Jersey Shore. At first, Zoey feels as lost and alone as she did after her mami died. But soon she’s distracted by an even bigger problem: the bowling alley that Poppy has owned for decades is in danger of closing!

After befriending a group of kids practicing for a summer bowling tournament, Zoey hatches a grand plan of her own to save the bowling alley. It seems like she’s found the perfect way to weave everyone’s dreams together…until unexpected events turn Zoey’s plan into one giant nightmare. Now, with her new friends counting on her and her family’s happiness hanging in the balance, Zoey will have to decide what her dream is—and how hard she’s willing to fight for it.

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Reina Luz Alegre

Current Author Photo Reina Luz AlegreQ. Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

I’ve wanted to become a writer since second grade. I remember we’d be assigned to make up a story, and it felt like the classroom around me just disappeared. I’d become totally absorbed by the page in front of me, on which I wrote whatever scenes started streaming through my head like a TV show. And I’ve just never stopped wanting to escape into writing a story.

Q: Why do you choose to write middle grade novels?

I really love the sweet hopefulness in middle grade. I’m a huge fan of happy (or at least not unhappy) endings.

Q: What are some of your favorite middle grade novels?

I have so many favorites! IVY ABERDEEN’S LETTER TO THE WORLD by Ashley Herring Blake, FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON by Janae Marks, LOVE SUGAR MAGIC: A MIXTURE OF MISCHIEF by Anna Meriano, just to name a few, plus I’m so excited to read my fellow Musas’ books on LasMusasBooks.com.

Q: If you could give your middle-grade self some advice, what would it be?

I think I’d do almost everything differently if I could go back to middle school! First, I’d tell myself to relax because I took everything—and especially myself—way, waaay too seriously. I’d tell myself to have a bit more fun and not worry so much about what other people thought. I sometimes counted myself out before anyone else could. I more or less assumed popular kids could never become close friends because they were too cool.  I was just so extremely self-conscious and insecure about all the social stuff.

Q: Please finish this sentence: Middle grade novels are important because…

Middle grade novels are important because they help middle grade readers feel less alone as they navigate all those big changes and feelings that are part of adolescence. I also think middle grade novels are awesome for teens and adults because (at least all the ones I’ve read so far) always leave you feeling fairly uplifted and hopeful.

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photo by Saryna A. JonesCindy L. Rodriguez was a newspaper reporter for The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe before becoming a public school teacher. She is now a reading specialist at a Connecticut middle school. Cindy is a U.S.-born Latina of Puerto Rican and Brazilian descent. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU. Her debut contemporary YA novel is When Reason Breaks (Bloomsbury 2015). She also has an essay in Life Inside My Mind (Simon Pulse 2018) and wrote the text for Volleyball Ace, a Jake Maddox book (Capstone 2020). She can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.