Book Review: Indivisible by Daniel Aleman

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

Reviewed by María Dolores Águila

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Mateo Garcia and his younger sister, Sophie, have been taught to fear one word for as long as they can remember: deportation. Over the past few years, however, the fear that their undocumented immigrant parents could be sent back to Mexico started to fade. Ma and Pa have been in the United States for so long, they have American-born children, and they’re hard workers and good neighbors. When Mateo returns from school one day to find that his parents have been taken by ICE, he realizes that his family’s worst nightmare has become a reality. With his parents’ fate and his own future hanging in the balance, Mateo must figure out who he is and what he is capable of, even as he’s forced to question what it means to be an American.

Daniel Aleman’s Indivisible is a remarkable story — both powerful in its explorations of immigration in America and deeply intimate in its portrait of a teen boy driven by his fierce, protective love for his parents and his sister.

MY TWO CENTS:  I read this book in one sitting. I couldn’t put it down because I had to find out what was going to happen to Mateo and Sophie. Daniel Aleman does an amazing job of pulling the reader deeper and deeper into Mateo’s world with every turn of the page.

“Ma is always telling me how I feel too much.” 

This is the opening line of the novel, and it does an excellent job of encapsulating who Mateo is and helps the reader understand Mateo’s point of view. When things are heavy, they drag him down. When things are good, he’s floating on air. 

Within the first ten pages, the stakes of the story become apparent. Mateo’s working at his parent’s bodega, Adela’s Corner Store, stacking tortillas, when an ICE Agent comes and asks about his father. As the cashier informs the ICE Agent that Mateo’s father is not there, Mateo watches in horror, cycling through emotions – shock, fear, and ultimately numbness.

For a few days, the Garcia family is in limbo, constantly looking over their shoulder, while they wait to see what’s going to happen. When will they come back? And why is ICE looking for Mateo’s father anyway? Enough time passes and the family writes the incident off as a fluke, and Mateo goes back to focusing on his SAT and GPA so he can go to NYU and pursue his Broadway dreams. 

The next day, he’s hit with the worst news possible: his parents were arrested by ICE while he was at school. 

Mateo’s world is flipped upside down, and as a reader, I was devastated when he had to tell Sophie the news. Mateo finds himself as the head of household, having to take care of his parent’s bodega, their apartment, and his little sister. He turns inward, and keeps what happened to himself, not even telling his best friends Adam and Kimmie what has transpired.

It’s heart wrenching to read about the impacts on a family ripped apart by ICE, and readers will empathize with Mateo’s struggle to keep his emotions contained and act like nothing happened. When things can’t get any worse, we learn that CPS is looking for Mateo and Sophie. In a desperate bid to keep his sister with him, Mateo contacts his Uncle Jorge, who’s really a family friend, and asks to stay with him until his parents have their court hearing. 

While Uncle Jorge is happy to have Mateo and Sophie stay at his apartment, his wife Amy, who just had a baby, is not thrilled. Pressure builds as they struggle to cohabitate and learn that his parents’ court hearing did not go in their favor. They have been deported and find themselves back in Mexico after building a life in the United States for the last twenty years. 

It’s another blow. Mateo had been hoping against hope that things would go back to normal, but it’s clear now that things will never be the same. Sophie takes the news worse than Mateo does. She is crushed by the turn of events and falls into a deep depression.

Meanwhile, Mateo’s parents struggle to find jobs, housing, and a way to support themselves. They want the kids to stay in the United States and finish their schooling, but Sophie is desperate to be reunited with their parents. Mateo doesn’t know how he is supposed to continue to take care of the bodega, their apartment, and Sophie while pursuing his dreams now that he knows his parents are not coming back anytime soon.

This further complicates the situation with Uncle Jorge, where a temporary stay has turned indefinite, escalating the tension in the household and things begin to unravel. 

Daniel slowly realizes that he cannot do it by himself, and he reluctantly opens up to his friends about what’s happened. To his surprise, they rally around him, supporting him in ways he never expected.

Mateo’s story ends on an unexpected, yet bittersweet note, tinged with sadness, but still full of hope. 

“And no matter how hard they tried to separate us, how much the distance hurt, or how it nearly broke us, we are really, truly indivisible.”

Daniel Aleman’s Indivisible masterfully weaves a raw and heartfelt story that dares the reader to look away from the aftermath of what happens when ICE tears apart a family. Aleman challenges readers to examine their own biases when it comes to immigration and the myth of the “good immigrant”. At the core of this story, we discover how love allows perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and propels us through it. In between these moments of deep despair, there is also levity, in the form of a sweet queer romance with someone who Mateo never expected and other tiny bits of joy with his best friends, that give the reader reprieve. The themes of this text — immigration, mixed status families, citizenship, family, love, hope, and friends — easily lead to complex discussions for book clubs and classrooms. Fans of We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sánchez, I’m Not You’re Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sánchez, and Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez will enjoy reading this book.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his website): Daniel Aleman was born and raised in Mexico City. A graduate of McGill University, he is passionate about books, coffee, and dogs. After spending time in Montreal and the New York City area, he now lives in Toronto, where he is on a never-ending search for the best tacos in the city. He is the debut author of Indivisible, a young adult novel available now from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: María Dolores Águila is a Chicana writer based in San Diego, California. She writes picture books, middle grade and young adult novels celebrating and exploring the nuances of Chicanx culture and identity. She’s also a moderator of Kidlit Latinx, a writing group dedicated to supporting and amplifying Latinx voices in Children’s Literature. She has a forthcoming picture book coming in 2023. She is represented by Lindsay Auld of Writers House Literary Agency. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter

Cover Reveal: Three Pockets Full: A story of love, family, and tradition by Cindy L. Rodriguez, illustrated by Begoña Fernández Corbalán

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Today, we’re excited to host the cover reveal for Cindy L. Rodriguez’s debut picture book, Three Pockets Full: A story of love, family, and tradition, which will be published by Cardinal Rule press on July 1, 2022.

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First, here’s a description of the book:

Beto won’t wear a guayabera to the wedding. Nope! Nunca! Not going to happen! Beto tries his best to rid himself of the traditional Mexican wedding shirt his Mami gave him. He even gets help from his dog Lupe, but the shirt ends up back on his bed each time with notes from Mami, who becomes increasingly frustrated with Beto. Mami insists that Beto attend the wedding, and wear the shirt, because—after all—it’s her wedding! Beto has to accept the fact that Mami is getting remarried and that she wants him to wear the shirt, which is part of his heritage.

Three Pockets Full by Cindy L. Rodriguez carries key concepts of family, love, and tradition and explores change and new experiences. This book comes with a Reader’s Guide for children, a free download from the publisher website. Lesson plans, activities, and discussion questions allow parents, teachers, and caregivers to explore the topics further and deepen comprehension.

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Now, here is some information about the creators:

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Cindy L. Rodriguez is the author of the YA novel When Reason Breaks and has contributed to the anthology Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Personal Struggles. She has also written the text for three Jake Maddox books: Volleyball Ace, Drill Team Determination, and Gymnastics Payback. Upcoming titles include Three Pockets Full: A story of love, family, and tradition and The Doomed Search for the Lost City of Z. Before becoming a teacher in 2000, she was an award-winning reporter for The Hartford Courant and a researcher for The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team. She is a founder of Latinxs in Kid Lit, a blog that celebrates children’s literature by/for/about Latinxs. Cindy is currently a middle school reading specialist in Connecticut, where she lives with her family.

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Begoña Fernández Corbalán was born and raised in a small town in Spain. As a child she loved to draw, so when she grew up she knew that she wanted to get a degree in Fine Arts. After finishing her degree, she specialized in illustration, and since then has dedicated herself to it. In her free time she likes to sit in the sun in the garden and observe how the light changes at different times of the day, something that she tries to reflect in her work. She has worked with techniques such as watercolor, gouache and colored pencil, but she sticks to digital illustration because of the great advantages it offers when working.

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And, here are some comments from the author about the seeing the artwork:

I’m in love with the cover that Begoña created! I especially love that the reader can see a wedding ring in each of the pockets and the picture in the third. These important items play a role in the story, so–here goes my teacher brain kicking in–educators and parents can ask young readers to look at these details on the cover and make predictions about what the story will be about. I also love the dog, Lupe, who takes part in the action of story. Quite honestly, Lupe kind of steals the show in Begoña’s interior illustrations, and, as a dog lover, I am entirely fine with that!

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Finally, here is the cover of Three Pockets Full: A story of love, family, and tradition:

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ISN’T IT GORGEOUS?!

Three Pockets Full: A story of love, family, and tradition is now available for pre-order. Click on any of the title links in this post to go to Indiebound.org.

A Conversation with the Creators of Alejandria Fights Back! / ¡La Lucha de Alejandria!

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Today, we have the creators of Alejandria Fights Back! / ¡La Lucha de Alejandria!, a picture book released earlier this year as part of the Rise-Home Stories Project by The Feminist Press. The Rise-Home Stories Project is an innovative collaboration between multimedia storytellers and social justice advocates from several grassroots organizations who work at the nexus of housing, land, and racial justice in the US. The creators, in conversation through the link below, are Leticia Hernández-Linares and Robert LiuTrujillo.

Interview with author and editor Leticia Hernández-Linares

LETICIA HERNÁNDEZ-LINARES is a bilingual, interdisciplinary writer, artist, and racial justice educator. The first-generation US-born daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, she is the author of Mucha Muchacha, Too Much Girl (Tía Chucha Press).

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ROBERT LIU-TRUJILLO is a life long Bay Area resident. Born in Oakland California, he’s the child of student activists who watched lots of science fiction and took him to many demonstrations. Always drawing, Rob grew up to be an artist falling in love with graffiti, fine art, illustration, murals, and children’s books. In that order, sort of. Through storytelling he’s been able to scratch the surface of so many untold stories. Rob is the author and illustrator of Furqan’s First Flat Top. He’s a dad of a teenage boy and a brand new baby girl. He loves ice cream and his wife who laughs big and corrects his grammar every chance she gets. Down with the system and soggy french fries!

Rob is a co-founder of The Trust Your Struggle Collective, a contributor to The Social Justice Childrens Bk Holiday Fair, The Bull Horn BlogRad Dad,  Muphoric Sounds, and the founder of Come Bien Books.

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Before we get to the conversation between the creators, here is the book’s description:

For nine-year-old Alejandria, home isn’t just the apartment she shares with Mami and her abuela, Tita, but rather the whole neighborhood. Home is the bakery where Ms. Beatrice makes yummy picos; the sidewalk where Ms. Alicia sells flowers with her little dog, Duende; and the corner store with friendly Mr. Amir. But lately the city has been changing, and rent prices are going up. Many people in el barrio are leaving because they can no longer afford their homes, and For Sale signs are popping up everywhere. Then the worst thing happens: Mami receives a letter saying they’ll have to move out too. Alejandria knows it isn’t fair, but she’s not about to give up and leave. Join Alejandria as she brings her community together to fight and save their neighborhood from gentrification!

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Now, check out the the book trailer:

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Finally, click on the play button below to listen to the creators discuss their book, Latinx representation in children’s literature, bilingual books, and youth activism.

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Alejandria Fights Back! / ¡La Lucha de Alejandria! is available wherever books are sold. Check it out at The Feminist Press and Indiebound.

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Celebrating 25 Years of the Pura Belpré Award: A Conversation with Yuyi Morales and Donna Barba Higuera

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

The Pura Belpré Award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latinx writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

We have been marking the award’s 25th anniversary in different ways on the blog. Today, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Cecilia Cackley talk with Yuyi Morales and Donna Barba Higuera.

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 and the 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). Yuyi has also won multiple Pura Belpré Author and Illustrator awards and honors:

  • Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book (2004 illustrator award)
  • Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez (2004 illustrator honor)
  • Los Gatos Black on Halloween (2008 illustrator award)
  • Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book (2009 author honor)
  • Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book (2009 illustrator award)
  • My Abuelita (2010 illustrator honor)
  • Niño Wrestles the World (2014 illustrator award)
  • Viva Frida (2015 illustrator award)
  • Dreamers (2019 illustrator award)

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DONNA BARBA HIGUERA grew up in central California surrounded by agricultural and oil fields. As a child, rather than dealing with the regular dust devils, she preferred spending recess squirreled away in the janitor’s closet with a good book. Her favorite hobbies were calling dial-a-story over and over again, and sneaking into a restricted cemetery to weave her own spooky tales using the crumbling headstones as inspiration. ​

Donna’s Middle Grade and Picture Books are about kids who find themselves in odd or scary situations.​ From language to cultural differences in being biracial, life can become…complicated. So. like Donna, characters tackle more than just the bizarre things that happen to them in their lives.

Donna likes to write about all things funny, but also sad, and creepy, and magical. If you like those things, she hopes you will read her books!

Donna lives in Washington State with her family, three dogs, and two frogs.

Donna’s novel, Lupe Wong Won’t Dance, won a 2021 Pura Belpré Honor Award.

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

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Cecilia 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

October 2021 Latinx Book Releases!

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

In addition to listing 2021 titles by/for/about Latinx on our master list, we will remind readers of what’s releasing each month. CONGRATULATIONS to these Latinx creators. Let’s celebrate these October book babies! Please let us know in the comments if we are missing any.

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Cover for Everything Within and In Between

EVERYTHING WITHIN AND IN BETWEEN by Nikki Barthelmess (Harper, October 5, 2021). Young Adult.

For Ri Fernández’s entire life, she’s been told, “We live in America and we speak English.” Raised by her strict Mexican grandma, Ri has never been allowed to learn Spanish.

What’s more, her grandma has pulled Ri away from the community where they once belonged. In its place, Ri has grown up trying to fit in among her best friend’s world of mansions and country clubs in an attempt try to live out her grandmother’s version of the “American Dream.”

In her heart, Ri has always believed that her mother, who disappeared when Ri was young, would accept her exactly how she is and not try to turn her into someone she’s never wanted to be. So when Ri finds a long-hidden letter from her mom begging for a visit, she decides to reclaim what Grandma kept from her: her heritage and her mom.

But nothing goes as planned. Her mom isn’t who Ri imagined she would be and finding her doesn’t make Ri’s struggle to navigate the interweaving threads of her mixed heritage any less complicated. Nobody has any idea of who Ri really is—not even Ri herself.

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Cover for Punching Bag

PUNCHING BAG by Rex Ogle. (Norton Young Readers, October 5, 2021). Young Adult. Punching Bag is the compelling true story of a high school career defined by poverty and punctuated by outbreaks of domestic abuse. Rex Ogle, who brilliantly mapped his experience of hunger in Free Lunch, here describes his struggle to survive; reflects on his complex, often paradoxical relationship with his passionate, fierce mother; and charts the trajectory of his stepdad’s anger. Hovering over Rex’s story is the talismanic presence of his unborn baby sister.

Through it all, Rex threads moments of grace and humor that act as beacons of light in the darkness. Compulsively readable, beautifully crafted, and authentically told, Punching Bag is a remarkable memoir about one teenager’s cycle of violence, blame, and attempts to forgive his parents—and himself.

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Cover for Dinner on Domingos

DINNER ON DOMINGOS by Alexandra Katona, illustrated by Claudia Navarro (Barefoot Books, October 11, 2021). Picture Book. “This magical home turns a normal Sunday into domingo: the best day of the week.” Warm memories wash over a first-generation Latinx American girl as she experiences a typical Sunday night dinner at her Abuelita’s house. Readers are immersed in the rich ways love is expressed within this home: the delicious smells of Ecuadorian home cooking, dancing, hugging and playing games with aunts, uncles and cousins. As Alejandra thinks about all the good times her family has had there, she decides that she wants to be brave and try speaking Spanish with Abuelita so that they can deepen their bond. Based on the author’s own life, this timely tale reflects the experience of many families.

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¡VAMOS! Let’s Cross The Bridge by Raúl The Third (Versify, October 12, 2021). Picture Book. Little Lobo and Bernabe are back in this joyful story about coming together and celebrating community. People are always crossing the bridge for work, to visit family, or for play. Some going this way; others going that way. Back and forth they go. With friends on foot and in bicycles, in cars and trucks, the bridge is an incredibly busy place with many different types of vehicles.
 
Little Lobo and his dog Bernabé have a new truck and they are using it to carry party supplies over the bridge with their pals El Toro and La Oink Oink. The line is long and everyone on the bridge is stuck. How will they pass the time?   Eventually everyone comes together for an epic party on the bridge between two different countries. Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go gets  Mexican American makeover in this joyful story about coming together.

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ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DIVE INTO THE WATERS OF THE WORLD by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, October 12, 2021). Young Adult. In Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, two boys in a border town fell in love. Now, they must discover what it means to stay in love and build a relationship in a world that seems to challenge their very existence.

Ari has spent all of high school burying who he really is, staying silent and invisible. He expected his senior year to be the same. But something in him cracked open when he fell in love with Dante, and he can’t go back. Suddenly he finds himself reaching out to new friends, standing up to bullies of all kinds, and making his voice heard. And, always, there is Dante, dreamy, witty Dante, who can get on Ari’s nerves and fill him with desire all at once.

The boys are determined to forge a path for themselves in a world that doesn’t understand them. But when Ari is faced with a shocking loss, he’ll have to fight like never before to create a life that is truthfully, joyfully his own.

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THIRTY TALKS WEIRD LOVE by Alessandra Narváez Varela (Cinco Puntos Press, October 12, 2021). Young Adult. Out of nowhere, a lady comes up to Anamaria and says she’s her, from the future. But Anamaria’s thirteen, she knows better than to talk to some weirdo stranger. Girls need to be careful, especially in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico–it’s the 90’s and fear is overtaking her beloved city as cases of kidnapped girls and women become alarmingly common. This thirty-year-old “future” lady doesn’t seem to be dangerous, but she won’t stop bothering her, switching between cheesy Hallmark advice about being kind to yourself, and some mysterious talk about saving a girl.

Anamaria definitely doesn’t need any saving, she’s doing just fine. She works hard at her strict, grade-obsessed middle school–so hard that she hardly gets any sleep; so hard that the stress makes her snap not just at mean girls but even her own (few) friends; so hard that when she does sleep she dreams about dying–but she just wants to do the best she can so she can grow up to be successful. Maybe Thirty’s right. Maybe she’s not supposed to be so exhausted with her life, but how can she ask for help when her city is mourning the much bigger tragedy of its stolen girls?

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Cover for Concealed

CONCEALED by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (Scholastic Press, October 19, 2021). Middle Grade. Katrina believes that she and her parents are part of the Witness Protection Program. That’s why they keep switching towns, and names, and identities… right?

But when her father disappears, Katrina learns that she’s the reason they’ve been hiding all these years. And it’s not just her identity that is called into question-but her very humanity.

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SCI-FU: IT TAKES 2 written and illustrated by Yehudi Mercado (Oni Press, October 19, 2021). Graphic Novel. Wax, aspiring DJ and sci-fu master-in-training, made it back safely from the alien robot planet of Discopia, where he defeated the Five Deadly Dangers and became the rightful king of Discopia. He doesn’t want the crown, though. He just wants things to go back to normal. Wax and his crew thought the robot trouble was behind them, but strange creatures have been showing up in Brooklyn, and Wax is determined to take care of them once and for all. Little does he know, there’s a new villain in Discopia, and she’ll do anything to take the crown from Wax. Wax starts to worry he doesn’t have what it takes to protect his family, friends, and all of Brooklyn from the new threats. Wax will need to kick his hip-hop and sci-fu training into high gear—and learn to rely on his family and friends for help—if he’s going to have a shot at saving his neighborhood.

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Cover for The Witch Owl Parliament

THE WITCH OWL PARLIAMENT by David Bowles and Raúl the Third. (Tu Books, October 19, 2021). Graphic Novel. Discover a graphic novel unlike any other–a brilliant steampunk reimagining of Frankenstein set in colonial Mexico.

In the Republic of Santander, non-Christian magic is frowned upon, if not outright prohibited. But when Cristina Franco, an apprentice shaman, is killed by witch owls, her brother Enrique cannot let her go. With forbidden alchemy and engineering, Enrique brings her back to life: part human, part machine. Though her very existence is an abomination to Santander’s citizens, Cristina vows to use her new abilities to protect her country from attack.

With help from a handsome skinwalker named Mateo, Cristina and Enrique track down the witch owl coven and uncover a sinister plot to bring Santander under the rule of the Witch Owl Parliament, whose legendary cruelty would dismantle the country’s hard-won freedoms. At the same time, Indigenous folks and immigrants are disappearing from Santander–including Enrique’s beloved, Gaspar. Could the attacks and the disappearances be related? As the witch owls attack more trains and more refugees go missing, the trio must uncover the witch owls’ origins to understand their weakness.

Energetic illustrations by Pura Belpr Award winner Ra l the Third bring to life the words of award-winning author and poet David Bowles. Don’t miss this amazing first volume of the Clockwork Curandera trilogy.

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Cover for I'll Hold Your Hand

I’LL HOLD YOUR HAND by Maggie C. Rudd, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR, October 26, 2021). Picture BookI’ll Hold Your Hand celebrates the unbreakable bond of family, and all the ways our actions can say “I love you” louder than words.

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Cover for Miosotis Flores Never Forgets

MIOSOTIS FLORES NEVER FORGETS by Hilda Eunice Burgos (Tu Books, October 26, 2021). Middle Grade. Miosotis Flores is excited about three things: fostering rescue dogs, goofy horror movies, and her sister Amarilis’s upcoming wedding. School? Not on that list. But her papi cares about school more than anything else, so they strike a deal: If Miosotis improves her grades in two classes, she can adopt a dog of her own in the summer.

Miosotis dives into her schoolwork, and into nurturing a fearful little pup called Freckles. Could he become her forever dog? At the same time, she notices Amarilis behaving strangely–wearing thick clothes in springtime, dropping her friends in favor of her fianc , even avoiding Miosotis and the rest of their family.

When she finally discovers her sister’s secret, Miosotis faces some difficult choices. What do you do if someone is in danger, but doesn’t want your help? When should you ask for support, and when should you try to handle things on your own? And what ultimately matters most–what Miosotis wants, or what’s right for the ones she loves?

Cover for Broken Butterfly Wings / Alas de Mariposa Rotas

BROKEN BUTTERFLY WINGS / Alas De Mariposa Rotas by Raquel M. Ortiz, illustrated by Carrie Salazar (Piñata Books, October 31, 2021). Picture Book. Gabriela is super excited when her gift from Titi Sylvia finally arrives. She loves the colorful, glittery butterfly wings! She stands in the middle of her room and flaps and flaps her new wings, but nothing happens. She jumps off her bed, vigorously moving the wings up and down, but again, nada. She hops down the hallway and the stairs, but she still can’t fly!

Disappointed, Gabriela goes to the garage, digs into her father’s toolbox and sets about trying to fix the broken butterfly wings. Maybe she can add a battery or an engine. Her father has a better idea, though, and encourages her to close her eyes and think about where she would like to fly. Soon she is envisioning El Yunque, a rainforest on the island of Puerto Rico that is full of tall green trees, humming waterfalls and chattering birds. She can even hear the coquí, a tiny tree frog that lives only on the island, singing its special song: coquí-coquí.

Demonstrating the joy found in using one’s imagination, this bilingual picture book depicts a young girl drawing on her senses—smell, hearing, sight—to return to a beloved place. Kids will appreciate the beauty of the rainforest’s birds, frogs and other natural wonders while admiring a strong girl willing to create solutions to problems.

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Cover for Josefina's Habichuelas / Las Habichuelas de Josefina

JOSEFINA’S HABICHUELAS / Las Habichuelas De Josefina by Jasminne Mendez, illustrated by Flor de Vita, translated by Adnaloy Espinosa (Piñata Books, October 31, 2021). Picture Book. Like all kids, Josefina loves to eat sweets. She loves warm chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven, cupcakes and candy! One night, while eating a piece of flan, Mami asks her to consider giving up sweets for Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter. “That’s impossible!” Josefina says. When Mami promises to teach her how to make her favorite dessert, habichuelas con dulce, she agrees to give it a try.

Josefina can’t wait to end her fast and eat the delicious sweet cream beans, her family’s traditional Easter dessert. While she and her mom, tías and abuela prepare the dish, they dance to merengue music and tell stories about life back in the Dominican Republic. The kitchen fills with the aromatic smells of cinnamon and sugar, but it’s the feelings of love and happiness Josefina will never forget. On Easter Sunday, when the family eats the special dessert she prepared, the girl’s grandmother proclaims, “It’s the best pot of habichuelas con dulce I’ve tasted in my life!”

This heart-warming, bilingual picture book for children shares a universal story all kids can relate to—learning about one’s culture through food, music and family stories—while focusing on a cultural tradition specific to the Dominican Republic. As a bonus, the book includes the recipe for this special dessert—in both English and Spanish!

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Cover for La Llorona Can't Scare Me / La Llorona No Me Asusta

LA LLORONA CAN’T SCARE ME / La Llorona no me asusta by Xavier Garza (Piñata Books, October 31, 2021). Picture Book. Little Damian is getting ready for bed, and the spooky monster called La Llorona is hollering up a storm outside his bedroom window. But he’s not afraid. “You can’t scare me, silly Llorona,” says Damian, “and neither can your monster friends!”

When evil-looking witch owls fly around his room and little green duendes, or goblins, make creepy noises under his bed, he’s still not frightened. Not even a little bit. The Donkey Lady, a chupacabras and even some little devils parade through his room, but Damian still isn’t afraid. A witch casting spells, a ghost rattling its chains, a cucuy with a burlap bag to catch him … nada. None of them can terrify brave little Damian. How can a little boy like him be so fearless?!?

No one knows it, but Damian has a secret weapon: a night light shaped like a mighty wrestler wearing a silver mask. When he plugs it in, its bright light terrifies all the monsters and sends them running for a place to hide! Touching on issues such as bedtime rituals and nighttime terrors, children ages 4-8 will enjoy this entertaining story that features creepy creatures familiar to many Hispanic kids.

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VINCENT VENTURA AND THE CURSE OF THE WEEPING WOMAN / VINCENT VENTURA Y LA MALDICIÓN DE LA LLORONA by Xavier Garza ((Piñata Books, October 31, 2021). Middle Grade. Vincent Ventura, monster fighter extraordinaire, can’t believe the house at 666 Duende Street has attracted yet another creepy creature! In fact, this time there are several unusual beings, including two boys who disappear and reappear—are they ghosts?!? And the lady in white with fiery glowing eyes who calls out for them? Is she … La Llorona?!? And who is the other young woman?

The next day at school, Vincent and his cousins Bobby and Michelle meet a new substitute teacher, Ms. Malin Che, who just moved into the haunted house. What is her connection to La Llorona and the unusual children? At least this time, the kids have new friends to help solve the mystery: Sayer, who they helped in a previous battle with trolls, or duendes, and Zulema, a witch owl who was the target of evil witches.

As the relationship between Vincent and Zulema evolves, becoming more complex and exciting, so too does the current case! Two new beings turn up: a hideous figure dressed as a Mexican cowboy whose face is devoid of flesh and a second spooky woman! Ms. Che, a Latin American folklore expert, tells them about el Charro Negro and the weeping women collectively called Cihuateteos. This bilingual book for intermediate readers, the fourth installment in Garza’s Monster Fighter Mystery series, follows the nail-biting battle for the souls of two boys! Will Vincent and his friends be able to save them from the monsters’ clutches?!?

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CHRONICLES OF A LUCHADOR by Ray Villareal (Piñata Books, October 31, 2021). Young Adult. Jesse Baron, the son of the American Championship Wrestling star known as the Angel of Death, is about to graduate from high school. His parents expect him to attend the University of Texas and study mechanical engineering, something he’s not interested in.

The young man knows he would be a natural at professional wrestling, and with his father’s help he might even reach the same level of fame and success. But the Angel of Death, retired from the ACW and running a wrestling promotion and school, refuses to train his son for fear he will choose sports entertainment over a college degree. Jesse decides that once he gets settled at UT, he’s going to look for another place to wrestle. To keep his father from finding out, he’ll promote himself as a masked luchador from Oaxaca, Mexico, named Máscara de la Muerte. When no one will hire him, Jesse reluctantly considers joining a lucha libre organization, even though he doesn’t speak Spanish. Will the fans and his fellow wrestlers see him as a luchador—or just a gringo with a mask?

In this stand-alone sequel to his acclaimed novels, My Father, the Angel of Death and Body Slammed!, Ray Villareal continues his exploration of a teenager growing into manhood against the backdrop of the wrestling world.

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CHANCES IN DISGUISE by Diana J. Noble (Piñata Books, October 31, 2021). Young Adult. In this sequel to Evangelina Takes Flight, the young girl who left her home during the Mexican Revolution to start over in a small Texas border town is now seventeen. She has had several years of medical training with her mentor, Doc Taylor, but when a doctor from a neighboring town finds her helping an Anglo woman in labor, he is enraged. He calls her a dirty Mexican and kicks her out. The next day, Evangelina is arrested for murder.

The racist sheriff and many of the townspeople believe Mexicans are inferior and that Evangelina must be guilty of using witchcraft to kill the pregnant woman. But she isn’t all alone. Doc Taylor believes in her innocence, as does Cora Cavanaugh, the spirited daughter of a wealthy businessman. And there’s Selim Njaim, a young Muslim with whom she has a forbidden relationship. Soon La Liga Protectora Mexicana assigns someone to represent her, but will Joaquín Castañeda be able to convince the jury that Evangelina is not a murderer?

Set in Texas in 1915, this eye-opening historical novel for young adults reveals the racial inequity in the justice system, the discrimination experienced by Mexicans and other non-whites and the limitations placed on women. Teens will relate to the theme of finding confidence and bravery in times of uncertainty, while learning about the harassment, torture and killing of innocent Mexicans and Tejanos in the early part of the twentieth century.

Celebrating 25 Years of the Pura Belpré Award: A Conversation with Guadalupe García McCall and Yamile Saied Méndez

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The Pura Belpré Award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latinx writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

We have been marking the award’s 25th anniversary in different ways on the blog. Today, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Cecilia Cackley talk with Guadalupe García McCall and Yamile Saied Méndez.

Photo by Michael Mercado Smith

Guadalupe García McCall is a young adult novelist, educator, poet, and speaker. Born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, she immigrated with her close-knit family to Eagle Pass, Texas (the setting for most of her poems and some of her novels) when she was six years old.

Guadalupe is the author of Under the Mesquite (MG, Lee & Low Books, 2011), an autobiographical novel in verse based on her family’s difficult times, struggling with loss and grief during her teenage years. Her second novel, Summer of the Mariposas (MG, Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, 2012), is a magical retelling of the Odyssey starring five Mexican-American sisters and featuring monsters and legendary characters from Mexican mythology.

Guadalupe’s third novel, Shame the Stars (YA, Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, 2016), is a historical reimagining of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set during the tumultuous times at the turn of the century known as La Matanza (the slaughter/genocide). Her latest book, All the Stars Denied (YA, Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, 2018) is a companion novel to Shame the Stars and illustrates the struggles of the del Toro family 16 years later, during the 1930’s repatriation of more than a million Mexican and Mexican-Americans, 600,000 of which were US citizens.

Guadalupe’s fifth novel, The Keeper, a MG Horror/Mystery about a boy who receives increasingly threatening letters from a stranger who calls himself “the Keeper” will be available from Harper Collins on January 25, 2022, and her sixth novel, Echoes of Grace, a YA gothic set on the US/Mexico borderlands which explores the nature of sisterhood, family secrets, sexual crimes against women, and femicide is forthcoming from Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, in the Fall of 2022.

Guadalupe travels all over the country speaking to students and adults on topics of importance to the Latine community. She is an advocate for literacy and diverse books. In her travels, she is always looking for a good taco place and she never met a chocolate mole sauce she didn’t love! She loves to garden, cook, read, write, walk, and take pictures of nature. Though she keeps a home in Texas, she is currently an Assistant Professor of English at George Fox University and lives with her husband in the Pacific Northwest most of the year.

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YAMILE SAIED MÉNDEZ is a fútbol-obsessed Argentine-American Pura Belpré gold medal winning author. She lives in Utah with her Puerto Rican husband and their five kids, two adorable dogs, and one majestic cat. An inaugural Walter Dean Myers Grant recipient, she’s also a graduate of Voices of Our Nations (VONA) and the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Writing for Children’s and Young Adult program. She writes picture books, middle grade, young adult and adult romance fiction. Yamile is a founding member of Las Musas, the first collective of women and nonbinary Latinx MG and YA authors. She’s represented by Linda Camacho at Gallt & Zacker Literary.

Her novel Furia won the 2021 Pura Belpré Award.

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

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Cecilia 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