Book Review: Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan

 

Review by Cris Rhodes

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Maximiliano Córdoba loves stories, especially the legend Buelo tells him about a mythical gatekeeper who can guide brave travelers on a journey into tomorrow.

If Max could see tomorrow, he would know if he’d make Santa Maria’s celebrated fútbol team and whether he’d ever meet his mother, who disappeared when he was a baby. He longs to know more about her, but Papá won’t talk. So when Max uncovers a buried family secret–involving an underground network of guardians who lead people fleeing a neighboring country to safety–he decides to seek answers on his own.

With a treasured compass, a mysterious stone rubbing, and Buelo’s legend as his only guides, he sets out on a perilous quest to discover if he is true of heart and what the future holds.

MY TWO CENTS: Pam Muñoz Ryan is known for her immersive, fictional worlds and her sympathetic storylines. Mañanaland is no different, throwing its reader into Santa Maria and its mysterious history without preamble. Initially, I thought that this might be a fairytale land, populated with knights and princesses in castles, but Muñoz Ryan quickly smooths over that assumption by having Max, our earnest protagonist, be a soccer (fútbol) loving young man. Other indicators, such as the presence of cars, lend to the understanding that this is at least a quasi-modern world. Nevertheless, the bubble of fantasy remains throughout the reading, owing to Max’s belief in the everyday magic of his world.

Max grew up on the tales of La Reina Gigante, the looming and off-limits tower in his hometown. Local folklore tells of its haunting by the “hidden ones,” refugees escaping the neighboring country of Abismo. Fueled by his grandfather’s, Buelo’s, tales of his journeys and encounters with other mystical beings, Max entertains the idea that hidden worlds exist–perhaps even hidden worlds that contain his missing mother. 

The truth, however, blends the fantastic with the mundane. I’m hesitant to give anything away here, as I urge everyone to read Mañanaland for themselves. The reveal of Max’s true past, his mother’s fate, and his family’s secret is worth the wait. And, if I could register one complaint with the book, it would be that: waiting. The pacing of the text is quite slow in the beginning, leaving the reader wondering alongside Max if he’ll ever be trusted to learn or do anything. However, once Max understands his place in the world, the text whirls by–a journey of heart and valor.

Paralleling Mañanaland’s plot, which Muñoz Ryan admits takes place “[s]omewhere in the Américas,” is the real-world plight of our own hidden ones, the refugees entering the United States in search of something better. Santa Maria’s legend holds the hidden ones as either victims or criminals. With anti-immigrant sentiment in our own country perpetuating the myth of immigrants fleeing their own Abismos as a threat, reading a book like Mañanaland unsettles that ideology, cracks it open to show its flaws. I find myself saying this in almost all of my reviews, but this book folds its sociopolitically exigency seamlessly into its pages. With so many young readers experiencing these dark messages either about themselves, their families, or people they know–a book like Mañanaland can help them understand and feel seen, but also look for ways they can help, just like Max.

All-in-all, I found Mañanaland to be a quick, immersive, and necessary read. For young readers graduating from shorter chaptered books, this would be a great introductory text to longer novels. Like Muñoz Ryan’s other middle-grade works, however, Mañanaland appeals not just to a tweenage readership, but to many. It would be a great read aloud for younger readers and it would be something I’d put in the hands of my college seniors. With its emphasis on hope, growth, and change, Mañanaland will easily join the esteemed ranks of Muñoz Ryan’s other works.

Mañanaland releases March 3, 2020.

 

Pam Munoz RyanABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pam Muñoz Ryan is an American author and the 2018 U.S. nominee for the international Hans Christian Andersen Award. She is the author of ECHO, a Newbery Honor book and the recipient of the Kirkus Prize. She has written over forty books, including the novels ESPERANZA RISING, BECOMING NAOMI LEÓN, RIDING FREEDOM, PAINT THE WIND,  THE DREAMER, and ECHO. She is the author recipient of the National Education Association’s Civil and Human Rights Award, the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award for Multicultural Literature, and is twice the recipient of the Pura Belpré Medal and the Willa Cather Award.

Her novel, ESPERANZA RISING, was commissioned as a play by the Minneapolis Children’s Theatre and has been performed in many venues around the U.S. including The Goodman in Chicago, and the Majestic Cutler Theater, in Boston.

Other selected honors include the PEN USA Award, the Américas Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor, and the Orbis Pictus Award. She was born and raised in Bakersfield, California, (formerly Pam Bell) holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from San Diego State University and lives near San Diego with her family.  Many of her stories reflect her half-Mexican heritage.

 

 

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

Book Review: A New Home/ Un Nuevo Hogar by Tania de Regil

 

Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: As a girl in Mexico City and a boy in New York City ponder moving to each other’s locale, it becomes clear that the two cities — and the two children — are more alike than they might think.

But I’m not sure I want to leave my home.
I’m going to miss so much.

Moving to a new city can be exciting. But what if your new home isn’t anything like your old home? Will you make friends? What will you eat? Where will you play? In a cleverly combined voice — accompanied by wonderfully detailed illustrations depicting parallel urban scenes — a young boy conveys his fears about moving from New York City to Mexico City while, at the same time, a young girl expresses trepidation about leaving Mexico City to move to New York City. Tania de Regil offers a heartwarming story that reminds us that home may be found wherever life leads. Fascinating details about each city are featured at the end.

MY TWO CENTS: A New Home/ Un Nuevo Hogar is a friendly comparison of what home means for two, young characters. More importantly, it showcases the intricacies of each character’s home and the memories that make each city special. Each page has bold visuals that highlight each piece of home and what makes it unique to each child. One child lives with his family in New York City, while another child lives with her family in Mexico City. Now, the twist comes in when both of these children will be moving to a new home, which happens to be the location where the other child is currently living. So, think of it as a home location swap! While the text is simple, the reader deeply connects to each child’s life in the city, like their versions of food, concerts, museums, and sports events. The illustrations also hold details that are representative of landmarks from each city. More importantly, each set of pages illustrate what the child will miss the most from their home. The text is available in English and Spanish.

Overall, an addition that represents diverse cities and what makes each one a home. I highly recommend it as a read aloud, or as a part of a community and/or identity unit. At the end of the picture book, the author has also included information on each city’s landmark that is represented in the story. Great for more in-depth research and learning about what makes each major city memorable! Students can also create their own text while using this text as a writing mentor text. In the end, the reader embraces that our homes go beyond the physical location of where we live. Home is the history, the music, the people; in other words, it is everything around us.

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

  • Researching beyond the text
    • Illustrations leave ample room for readers to engage in looking for cultural artifacts, like landmarks, clothing, and traditions from each major city
      • Students can research these landmarks and why it is so important to the city and culture.
  • Comparing and Contrasting focus
    • Compare and contrast major cities like New York City and Mexico City
    • Students can research more about each major city and compare it to their current location.
    • Students can compare major cities or locations, especially if they have experienced a move
    • Creating their own book, report, piece of art
  • Students can create their own book or report on what they love about their home, city, region, and/or country. Students can then present or create written or artistic pieces that showcases all of our homes, and what we will miss if you were to move.

 

CHECK OUT THE BOOK TRAILERS:

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR: Tania de Regil studied fashion design at Parsons School of Design in New York City before moving back to her native Mexico City, where she finished her degree. A New Home is her U.S. publishing debut. She lives in Mexico City with her filmmaker husband and travels to the United States frequently.

Her art encompasses a diverse set of media like watercolor, gouache, color pencils, wax pastels, and ink. Both of her debut picture books are published by Candlewick Press. Check out her author page here!

For more information about Tania de Regil, click HERE for a short Q&A that is a part of our Spotlight on Latina Illustrators series.

 

 

img_0160ABOUT 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: Rotten! Vultures, Beetles, Slime, and Nature’s Other Decomposers by Anita Sanchez, illus by Gilbert Ford

 

Review by Emily Aguiló-Pérez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: What’s that terrible smell? Plug your nose! Run! Something smells…rotten! But rotten isn’t always bad. If nothing ever rotted, nothing could live. Decomposition seems like the last stop on the food chain, but it’s just the beginning. When dead things rot, they give life to a host of other creatures. So who are these decomposers? Sharks and vultures feast on animal carcasses. Worms, maggots, and dung beetles devour decaying plant and animal matter. Decomposition is happening everywhere: oceans, forests, in your backyard—even between your teeth! It’s nature’s way of creating energy for all living things. So unplug your nose! Open this book to uncover the dirty rotten truth about one of nature’s most fascinating processes.

MY TWO CENTS: Who knew learning about dung beetles, worms, vultures, mummies, and numerous other “rotten” things could be so much fun?! In this informative book, Anita Sanchez provides so many facts about decomposition. I learned, for instance, about the different kinds of dung beetles and how they create their homes out of dung. It’s fascinating! I also learned about the decomposition process of a tree log and why it doesn’t smell terrible (even though one would think anything rotten would smell badly). The book also touches on items that do not decompose and the dangers they pose for nature. Speaking about plastic, it explains that “landfills are overflowing with plastic that’s sitting there, not decomposing. But even worse is the plastic that doesn’t make it into a landfill” (65).

Eighty-three pages of information can seem like a lot for a young reader, but Sanchez’s writing paired with the engaging and colorful illustrations by Gilbert Ford truly provide a fun learning experience. The book is divided into eight chapters, each one focusing on a different decomposer. Each chapter has a variety of sections that provide focused information on the specific topic, using stories, humorous snapshots, and creative illustrations. Some of my favorite recurring sections were “Decomposer Selfie,” which provides short bits of information about an animal or organism, and “Rot It Yourself,” which offers brief experiment directions. There is much to enjoy in this book! It would make a great addition to any library.

TEACHING TIPS: The book naturally lends itself to a science classroom (especially upper elementary and middle grades). There are experiments students can perform and which do not require too many materials. In addition, students can use the bibliography that is included at the end of the book to perform further research on a specific topic, animal, organism, etc. presented in the book.

In addition, this book is a wonderful model for various approaches to informational or non-fiction writing. Because it uses narratives, short blurbs, longer texts, descriptions, comparisons, process analysis, and images, among others, students can learn about and develop their own skills for writing non-fiction.

 

Anita Sanchez--author photoABOUT THE AUTHOR: (from the dust jacket) Anita Sanchez loves to explore nature, even the stinky, slimy parts of it. She dug into the world of rot by creating a compost pile, viewing vultures, watching worms, and even swimming with (very small) sharks. Check out her blog about unloved plants and animals at anitasanchez.com.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: (from the dust jacket) Gilbert Ford feels spoiled rotten for getting to spend all his time drawing. He is the author and illustrator of The Marvelous Thing That Came from a Spring and How the Cookie Crumbled. He has also illustrated the award-winning Mr. Ferris and His Wheel, Soldier Song, Itch!, and many middle grade novels. He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Learn more about his work at gilbertford.com.

 

 

 

 

headshotABOUT THE REVIEWER: Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez is an Assistant Professor of English (Children’s Literature) at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.  Her teaching and research are in the areas of children’s literature (particularly Latinx literature), girlhood studies, and children’s cultures. Her published work has focused on girlhood as represented in literature and Puerto Rican girls’ identity formation with Barbie dolls. She has presented research on Latinx children’s books at various conferences and has served on children’s book award committees such as the 2017 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the 2018 Pura Belpré Award. Currently, she is part of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s “A Baker’s Dozen” committee.

Celebrating the Release of the Final Book in the Love, Sugar, Magic Series by Anna Meriano + A GIVEAWAY!

 

Today is the book birthday for the final installment of the Love, Sugar, Magic series by Anna Meriano.

To celebrate, our own Cecilia Cackley has created two pieces of artwork to go along with two of the recipes from the series.

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First, here’s information about the newest book in the series: LOVE, SUGAR, MAGIC: A Mixture of Mischief

LoveSugar3_snap

It’s spring break in Rose Hill, Texas, but Leo Logroño has a lot of work to do if she’s going to become a full-fledged bruja like the rest of her family.

She still hasn’t discovered the true nature of her magical abilities, and that isn’t the only bit of trouble in her life: Her family’s baking heirlooms have begun to go missing, and a new bakery called Honeybees has opened across town, threatening to run Amor y Azúcar right out of business.

What’s more, everyone around her seems to have secrets, and none of them want to tell Leo what’s going on.

But the biggest secret of all comes when Leo is paid a very surprising visit—by her long-lost Abuelo Logroño. Abuelo promises answers to her most pressing questions and tells Leo he can teach her about her power, about what it takes to survive in a world where threats lurk in the shadows. But can she trust him?

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Next, we have links to cool stuff:

If you CLICK HERE, you will see our post celebrating the release of Book #2, complete with a Q&A with the author and original character collages.

If you CLICK HERE, you will see our review of the first book.

And if you click on the blue link, you will access the educators’ guide for all three books, thanks to the publisher. LOVE SUGAR MAGIC TEACHERS GUIDE

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Now, we have information on the author, Anna Meriano 

MerianoAnna ap1 cAnna Meriano is the author of the books in the Love Sugar Magic series, A Dash of TroubleA Sprinkle of Spirits and A Mixture of Mischief. She grew up in Houston, Texas, and earned her MFA in creative writing with an emphasis in writing for children from the New School in New York. She has taught creative writing and high school English, and she works as a writing tutor. Anna likes reading, knitting, playing full-contact quidditch, and singing along to songs in English, Spanish, and ASL. Her favorite baked goods are the kind that open hearts. You can visit her online at www.annameriano.com.

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Now, get ready to be amazed by the talents of Cecilia Cackley, and get ready to bake because these are real recipes!

 

Recipe1

Recipe2

AND THANKS TO WALDEN POND PRESS, WE HAVE ONE COPY OF BOOK 3 TO GIVE AWAY. ENTER TO WIN HERE:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/e39d5a2720/?

 

 

cecilia-02-originalCecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc

 

September & October Latinx Book Deals

 

Compiled by Cecilia Cackley

This is a bi-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! And if I left anyone out here, please let me know! Here’s to many more wonderful books in the years to com

 

October 31

Nancy Mercado at Dial has bought world rights to Flora la Fresca, first in a young middle grade series by Veronica Chambers, illustrated by Sujean Rim, in a two-book deal. When fearless and fun-loving Flora Bayano’s best friend Clara breaks the news that she’s moving, the girls set out to find Flora a new BFF, only to discover that replacing one friend with another is more complicated than it seems. Publication is planned for 2021. Author agent: Kimberly Witherspoon at InkWell Management.

 

Liz Szabla at Feiwel and Friends has bought world rights to Watch Me by parenting influencer Doyin Richards, illustrated by Pura Belpré Honor recipient Joe Cepeda, a picture book about the challenges of immigrating to America and the many contributions that immigrants make. Publication is slated for spring 2021. Illustrator agent: Jennifer Rofé at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

 

October 29

Nancy Mercado at Dial has acquired world rights to Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb by Veronica Chambers, illustrated by Rachelle Baker. This picture book biography celebrates the contributions of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman in Congress who eventually sought the Democratic U.S. presidential nomination, and highlights the many verbs Shirley embodied throughout her life. Publication is set for summer 2020. Author agent: Kimberly Witherspoon at InkWell Management.

 

October 24

Andrea Colvin at Little, Brown has acquired Deya Muniz‘s debut middle-grade graphic novel, The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich, and a second book, in which Lady Camembert, a denizen of the Kingdom of Fromage, must disguise herself as a man to inherit her father’s estate, but her secret becomes difficult to keep once she falls in love with the royal Princess Brie. Publication will begin in spring 2021.

 

Jess Harold at Scholastic has bought, at auction, world rights to Bisa’s Carnaval by Joana Pastro, illustrated by Carolina Coroa, a picture book told through the eyes of a girl eager to celebrate Carnaval with her bisa (great-grandmother), complete with bright costumes, flowers, feathers, and plenty of glitter. Publication is scheduled for spring 2021. Author agent: Natascha Morris at BookEnds Literary. Illustrator agent: Amanda Hendon at Advocate Art.

 

October 22

Nancy Mercado at Dial has acquired world rights to ¡Canta Conmigo! The Story of Selena Quintanilla, a debut picture book by author and Corpus Christi native Diana López, illustrated by Teresa Martinez. Known as the Queen of Tejano Music, Selena never forgot her roots in Corpus Christi and continues to inspire others to follow their dreams. Publication is set for April 2021, to coincide with what would have been Selena’s 50th birthday. Author agent: Stefanie Sanchez Von Borstel at Full Circle Literary. Illustrator agent: Emily Coggins at Astound.

 

Kate DePalma at Barefoot Books has bought world rights to Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes by Lisa Rosinsky, writing as Skye Silver, illustrated by Mariana Ruiz Johnson (While You Are Sleeping). This sing-along book features a modern family enjoying a day of healthy habits, set to the familiar children’s tune. Publication is scheduled for autumn 2020.

 

October 17

None.

 

October 10

Stacy Whitman at Tu Books has acquired Echoes of Grace by Pura Belpré Award-winning author Guadalupe García McCall. In this YA gothic mystery set on the border, Grace’s relationship with her younger sister, Mercy, is fractured when Mercy’s two-year-old son is accidentally killed, bringing to the surface old traumas and literal ghosts as the family flounders to heal. Publication is planned for spring 2021. Author agent: Andrea Cascardi at Transatlantic Agency.

 

Ashley Hearn at Page Street has bought Amparo Ortiz‘s YA debut, Blazewrath, a contemporary fantasy pitched as How to Train Your Dragon meets Quidditch Through the Ages, about 17-year-old Lana Torres, who after rescuing a prized dragon from an attacker is awarded a spot on her native Puerto Rico’s Blazewrath World Cup team. But the return of the Sire, an ancient dragon who’s cursed to remain in human form, threatens to compromise this year’s tournament. Publication is set for fall 2020. Author agent: Linda Camacho at Gallt & Zacker.

 

October 8

Margaret Raymo at HMH/Versify has acquired Lola StVil‘s The Summer I Flew Away, in her debut middle grade work written as Marie Arnold, which follows 10-year-old Fabiola on her journey from her native Haiti to America as she reexamines the concepts of family and home and embraces a power all her own. Publication is planned for fall 2020. Author agent: Adrienne Rosado at Stonesong.

 

Alvina Ling at Little, Brown has acquired world rights to The Sock Thief: A Soccer Story author Ana Crespo‘s Hello, Tree, a story about the friendship between a girl and a tree, and the fire that threatens it, told through the perspective of the tree and inspired by the 2013 Black Forest Fire in Colorado. Dow Phumiruk (Counting on Katherine), winner of the 2019 Cook Prize, will illustrate. Publication is scheduled for spring 2021. Author agent: Deborah Warren at East West Literary Agency.

 

October 3

Kait Feldmann at Scholastic/Orchard has bought Finding Home, the U.S. picture book debut of author-illustrator Estelí Meza. Conejo turns to his friends when his house is blown away in a storm; while they cannot find his house, they help him find his way. The book will be published in a simultaneous Spanish-language edition, Buscando un hogar, in spring 2021. Author agent: Stefanie Sanchez Von Borstel at Full Circle Literary.

 

September 19

Kristen Pettit at HarperTeen has acquired Monica Gomez-Hira‘s Once Upon a Quinceañera in a six-figure, two-book auction. Pitched as Jane the Virgin meets Jenny Han, the YA debut follows a Miami party princess/performer-for-hire forced to work her loathsome, wealthy cousin’s quinceañera alongside her even more loathsome ex-boyfriend. Publication is scheduled for spring 2021. Author agent: Jim McCarthy at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret.

 

Mallory Kass at Scholastic has acquired Zoraida Córdova‘s middle grade debut, The Way to Rio Luna. Eleven-year-old Danny Monteverde discovers a magical book at the library that holds a map to an enchanted fairyland, and the key to reuniting with his missing sister. Along with unlikely friends—a runaway jackalope prince and a bookworm named Glory—Danny’s adventure takes him from New York to Ecuador to Brazil, racing against time and the greatest threat the magical realm has ever known. Publication is set for summer 2020. Author agent: Adrienne Rosado at Stonesong.

 

September 17

Liza Kaplan at Philomel has bought world rights to former Knopf Books for Young Readers senior editor Allison Wortche‘s picture book, Oliver’s Lollipop, about a boy who just wants a sweet treat and almost misses out on a fun day at the zoo—and the beauty of the world around him—until a pesky giraffe and his little brother help remind him what’s really important. Andrés Landazabal will illustrate; publication is planned for summer 2021. Illustrator agent: Alex Gehringer at the Bright Agency.

 

September 12

Trisha de Guzman at Farrar, Straus and Giroux has bought world rights to debut author Tootie Nienow‘s nonfiction picture book There Goes Patti McGee!, illustrated by Erika Medina. The book follows Patti McGee, the first-ever female professional skateboarder, and how she became the 1964 Woman’s National Skateboard Champion. Publication is slated for winter 2021.

 

Kelsey Skea at Amazon/Two Lions has acquired Jackie Azúa Kramer‘s We Are One, which celebrates friendship between children from different backgrounds. The book will be jointly illustrated by Raissa Figueroa (center) and Nina Mata; publication is planned for spring 2021. Illustrator agent: Natascha Morris at BookEnds Literary Agency.

 

September 10

Namrata Tripathi at Kokila has acquired, on exclusive submission, Sanctuary by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, author of the forthcoming Undocumented America. The YA novel follows Marcela, a 16-year-old New Yorker and budding journalist whose world comes crashing down when she finds out her father is scheduled for immediate deportation. When he seeks sanctuary at a local church, Marcela finds herself fighting for her father’s rights and fending off exploitative media outlets she once hoped to join. Publication is set for fall 2021. Author agent:  Peter Steinberg at Foundry Literary + Media.

 

September 5

Katie Cunningham at Candlewick has acquired world rights to ‘Twas the Night Before Pride, a picture book by debut author Joanna McClintick, illustrated by Pura Belpré Award winner Juana Medina. On the eve of the LGBTQ+ community’s biggest holiday, a queer family prepares for the next day’s festivities, remembering the revelry of years past, revisiting the history behind the first Pride march, and reaffirming what it means to have pride. Publication is set for spring 2022. Illustrator agent: Gillian MacKenzie at MacKenzie Wolf.

 

Kate DePalma at Barefoot Books has signed Dance Like a Leaf by debut author AJ Irving, illustrated by Claudia Navarro (La Frontera). The bittersweet story follows a girl coping with the decline and death of her grandmother and finding comfort in the autumn leaves they used to enjoy together. Publication is slated for fall 2020.

 

 

cecilia-02-originalCecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc

Book Review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

 

Review by Cris Rhodes

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg, France.  Women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia Blau and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves. 

Five centuries late:  A pair of red shoes seals to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.

MY TWO CENTS: As with any Anna-Marie McLemore book, Dark and Deepest Red is like watching a particularly colorful sunrise breach over a murky, ominous landscape. It’s illuminating, warming, but also bears with it a hint of darkness that makes the sunlight that much sweeter. Their distinctive prose, full of lush and elegant language, is immediately recognizable as is their attention to telling the stories of people history would try to forget. Dark and Deepest Red takes that task to a new level, pairing the historical narrative of Lala and Alifair in Strasbourg in 1518 with that of Rosella and Emil in a contemporary world. Their stories parallel, sharing common themes and motifs.

The Strasbourg narrative retells the dancing plague, in which roughly 400 people were struck by a shared affliction: dancing incessantly, sometimes to death. McLemore frames this historical moment as not just a time to examine socio-religious and early medicinal practices, but as a backdrop for xenophobic concerns about the Romani peoples. Lala, also called Lavinia to avoid being coded as Romani, flees her homeland to avoid persecution, but anti-Romani laws follow her. With the onset of the dancing plague also comes speculation that Lala or her aunt are the culprits. Her assumed involvement is further compounded by her relationship with the transgender Alifair. Lala is the focus character for the chapters recounting Strasbourg in 1518, making her a key character alongside Rosella and Emil.

Meanwhile, Rosella and Emil alternate chapters. Rosella’s told in the first person and Emil’s in the third. That we only get into Rosella’s mind is important, as she is afflicted with a similar plague: when she resews a pair of shoes originally made by her treasured grandparents and tries them on, she quickly learns that she cannot remove the shoes, and, to make matters worse, the shoes force Rosella to dance and, indeed, act independently of her body, often putting her in danger. The shoes also lead Rosella into Emil’s arms. Emil, who has rejected his own Romani heritage, must tap into his roots to help save Rosella.

The alternating chapters are a dance in and of themselves, leaping from Rosella to Strasbourg to Emil back to Strasbourg and resuming the sequence. This alternation, however, does possibly overemphasize the Strasbourg chapters, potentially at the risk of subordinating Rosella and Emil’s stories. When reading, I did find myself more invested in Lala and Alifair, rather than Rosella and Emil. (And, to be fair, this may just be a personal preference, but I do wonder if this is tied to the narrative structure, or my own personal interest in dance and the dancing plague…) While each story is deeply intertwined and McLemore does an artful job of drawing them together, the dual narratives may appear too divergent, at least initially. To be clear, they do come together. And they do so in the intricate, special, and supernatural ways typical of McLemore’s work.

Importantly, as well, for an audience invested in Latinx children’s literature, this text does not centralize Latinidad or problematize it. It’s incidental but nevertheless present. I find this so significant. Rosella’s ethnicity and racialized body are certainly something that inform the plot, but she is not the one who largely experiences xenophobia, Lala does. Regardless, Latinx readers will find mirrors in Lala’s experiences. That McLemore poses this shift in representation offers a wider appeal to this text. Rather than being seen as a “Latinx text,” or a “Romani text,” or a “queer text,” it’s all three. At these intersections we find a lovely, challenging, and poignant read.

TEACHING TIPS: The historical narrative of this text would lend it well to a paired text with a lesson on history. It may also be an interesting discussion tool to aid in explorations of the treatment of queer peoples in history. 

It would also pair well with discussions of Andersen’s “The Red Shoes,” as McLemore notes thus tale as a major influence on their writing of the novel. Students may read both and write about the similar themes. Students may also consider other Andersenesque stories and write their own retelling wise diverse casts. 

 

Anna-Marie McLemoreABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anna-Marie McLemore (they/them) is the queer, Latinx, non-binary author of THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist; 2017 Stonewall Honor Book WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature; WILD BEAUTY, a Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist Best Book of 2017; BLANCA & ROJA, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice; DARK AND DEEPEST RED, a Winter 2020 Indie Next List title; and THE MIRROR SEASON, forthcoming in 2021. 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWERCris 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.