Celebrating Pura Belpré Winners: Spotlight on Rafael López


PuraBelpreAwardThe Pura Belpré Awards turns 20 this year! The milestone will be marked on Sunday, June 26, from 1:00-3:00 p.m. during the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. According to the award’s site, the celebration will feature speeches by the 2016 Pura Belpré award-winning authors and illustrators, book signings, light snacks, and entertainment. The event will also feature a silent auction of original artwork by Belpré award-winning illustrators, sales of the new commemorative book The Pura Belpré Award: Twenty Years of Outstanding Latino Children’s Literature, and a presentation by keynote speaker Carmen Agra Deedy.

hires-cover-fiesta  Drum Dream GirlLeading up to the event, we will be highlighting the winners of the narrative and illustration awards. Today’s spotlight is on Rafael López, the winner of the 2010 Pura Belpré Illustration Award for Book Fiesta! Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day, Celebremos El dia de lo niños/El día de los libros, written by Pat Mora, and the 2016 Pura Belpré Illustration Award for Drum Dream Girl, written by Margarita Engle. We featured Drum Dream Girl in a book talk and in a special report about a library event.

Tito book  Cazuela  Celia

Rafael also received a Pura Belpré Illustration Honor three times: In 2014, for Tito Puente: Mambo King/Rey de Mambo, written by Monica Brown; in 2012, for The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred, written by Samantha R. Vamos; in 2006, for My Name is Celia/Me Llamo Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/ La Vida de Celia Cruz, written by Monica Brown.

Book Fiesta!

Illustration Review by Lila Quintero Weaver

Book Fiesta! Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day/ Celebremos El día de los niños/El Día de los libros, written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Rafael López, is a gem of a picture book that offers its wonders in two languages, English and Spanish.

Book Fiesta! exuberantly proclaims the joys of reading and introduces the concept of Día, an annual celebration of literature for children, founded by Pat Mora in 1996, and observed through special events by many libraries nationwide.

What Mexican painter, muralist, and illustrator Rafael López brings to a picture book must be seen and not just read about. His mastery as an illustrator extends to every aspect of the art: a strong concept, dynamic design, brilliant execution, and irresistible charm. It’s no wonder that the Pura Belpré committee recognized his work. Let’s take a closer look.


Used by permission from HarperCollins Children’s Books.

You don’t have to be an artist to appreciate López’s expert techniques, including his winning combination of hard-edged shapes and saturated colors, delivered through heavily textured paint and splashy accents, and supported by a golden undertone that unifies all of the spreads. In the pages above, a huge, friendly sun smiles down on the children, accompanied by a trotting elephant. Such charm!


Used by permission from HarperCollins Children’s Books.

López champions diversity in his illustrations. Here, a parade of children follows a Chinese dragon whose tail doubles as a banner, announcing Día to one and all. Note the diversity represented in the races of the children. One child pulls a wagon full of books bearing titles in English and Spanish.


Used by permission from HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Outside the library, even the stone lion looks pleased to take part in Día. The children relaxing on the marble beast are immersed in their books. In the background, a boy in a wheelchair eagerly makes his way to the library—another evidence of the illustrator’s awareness of diverse representation.


Used by permission from HarperCollins Children’s Books.

López amplifies Pat Mora’s words through many inventive means. Here, in a depiction of the glorious adventures made possible by reading, a hot-air balloon floats over a mountainous backdrop, complete with a smoking volcano. The pilot is a giraffe in old-fashioned aviator goggles. Elsewhere, books transport children by other means: on an airplane, a train, an automobile, a rowboat, on the back of an elephant, and even in a submarine. Simply put, stories hold the power to magically ferry readers to far-away places and imaginary lands. López brings this virtual travel to life through an enthralling variety of presentations and an engaging level of detail.


Used by permission from HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Reading in bed—what better way is there to top off a busy day? In a color-drenched scene, López presents two children indulging in this lovely pastime. One child, floating on a bed of clouds, has already fallen asleep, while the other is midway through a yawn. Her bed is supported by the curve of a crescent moon. López’s trademark brushwork fills the sky with vivid sunset hues that transition to the deep violet of late evening. It’s all grounded by rolling hills, painted in shades of teal, a color appropriate to the dying light. In the distance, the windows of buildings twinkle with warmly lit interiors, while cutout stars punctuate the heavens. Dreamy.

The richness of each spread in Book Fiesta! invites long looks and repeated views that reward readers with the new discoveries. Every page turn reveals a refreshing surprise, backgrounded by a palette that spans the rainbow. Thanks to Pat Mora’s wonderful vision and Rafael López’s dynamic illustrations, this picture book offers a perennial delight to readers of all ages.

Book Fiesta! Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day; Celebremos el día de los niños/el día de lo libros. Text copyright ©2009 Pat Mora. Illustration copyright ©2009 Rafael López. Images used by permission of HarperCollins Children’s Books.

RafaelAbout the illustrator:

Raised in Mexico City, Rafael López makes his home part of the year in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, as well as in San Diego, California. He credits Mexican surrealism as a major artistic influence. Besides his Pura Belpré medals and honors, Rafael is also a double recipient of the Américas Award. For more about his work, including poster illustrations and a mural project in San Diego that is the subject of a new picture book, Maybe Something Beautiful, visit his official website.


  • Lead children in an imagination exercise based on the reading spots depicted in Book Fiesta. What are some places that you can take a book to? What are some places that a book takes you to? Ask students to include real-life and imaginary destinations.
  •  Devise a book parade, featuring wagons loaded with books, masks or disguises based on favorite characters, and banners heralding Día, or another book-related holiday or theme.
  • Invite children to create illustrations based on López’s style. This can include painted backdrops and cutout figures, with an emphasis on strong shapes and bright colors.

Watch Rafael López’s thank you video for his most recent Pura Belpré medal, for Drum Dream Girl:


Author David Bowles on his Garza Twins Series and the Pura Belpré Honor


By David Bowles

When my three kids were younger, we had a tradition of reading YA fantasy and sci-fi series together. Harry Potter was a big deal for many years, followed by His Dark Materials, Percy Jackson, Hunger Games, and so on. I even read the Twilight series with my oldest daughter, if you can believe it.

This shared reading was fantastic. We shed tears, laughed aloud, and had many deep conversations. One thing we kept coming back to—as Mexican-American fans of speculative fiction—was the lack of people of color in most of the books we read (beyond secondary, less important roles). Typically these series boasted a team of what amounted to Anglo young people facing off against European or Western legendary beings, gods, or dilemmas.

“Wouldn’t it be nice,” we often mused, “to open one of these books and find a Chicana facing off against Aztec deities or Mexican monsters?”

Venting this frustration to writer friends of mine, I was answered by an idea that should have been obvious from the beginning:

“You’re a writer, David. This matters to you. Why not develop such a series yourself?”

It was a no-brainer, clearly. Tan obvio. The trick now was to hit on the right story. I was hasta el cuello en research into Aztec and Maya literature at the time, and it occurred to me that a journey through the nine levels of Mictlan/Xibalba (the Mesoamerican Underworld) would make for a great hero quest. I cast about for the right characters for a while, until I started paying close attention to the fantastic friendship between my youngest son and middle daughter. With a few tweaks to age and interests, they became templates for the Garza twins.

But who were the Garza twins? What was special about them? Why would they travel through the Underworld? The answers became clear to me one morning when I stepped outside to find a dead jackrabbit in my backyard. An image suddenly overlaid the scene in my head: my daughter, asleep in the grass, the jackrabbit between her hands. I knew in that instant that the twins were naguales, shapeshifters, and the rest fell into place.

Once the book was written, it was rejected by many agents and publishers before finding a nice home with the Australian press IFWG Publishing, who treated the project with a good deal of love, even agreeing to allow one of my very talented daughters to design the cover. Reviewers and young readers alike responded positively to The Smoking Mirror, and I was delighted to have added to the body of diverse YA literature.

When the request came for us to submit copies to the Pura Belpré Award, I was floored, truly overwhelmed at the idea that these incredible advocates for Latino books would be reading my novel. Then, months later, I got the call from the committee—they’d selected The Smoking Mirror as one of two Pura Belpré Author Honor Books.

Very seldom am I at a loss for words—ni en inglés ni en español—but I found it hard to catch my breath and thank them profusely. It’s a humbling yet fulfilling sensation, seeing a project you believe so strongly in get this level of recognition, and I am eternally indebted to all the people who believed in Garza Twins at every stage of its development.

28484604Of course, this is only the beginning for me and the twins. Book two, A Kingdom Beneath the Waves, will be out in late April. This time, Johnny and Carol Garza find themselves plunging deeply into the Pacific Ocean to stop a renegade prince of the merfolk and his allies—among them the water elementals the Aztecs called tlaloqueh—from recovering the Shadow Stone, a device that can flood the planet.

Garza Twins will last for five volumes, and Kingdom ratchets up the tension and stakes, introducing cool new characters and laying the foundation for future conflicts. As with The Smoking Mirror, the normal life of the Garza family is explored; the twins grapple with problems facing many modern Latino teens, and the courage and compassion with which they resolve those issues bleed into their supernatural encounters as well. But, as with me in my writing endeavors, they can’t triumph alone. Family and friends are vital to the success of their mission.

You see, I think the biggest myth in our culture, and perhaps the most dangerous, is that of the lone hero. Each of us is part of a greater community, a web of support and lore without which we could not survive. If there is a message at the heart of Garza Twins, I think that’s it.

Unidos podemos. Together, we can.


me 6-3-14A product of an ethnically diverse family with Latino roots, David Bowles has lived most of his life in the Río Grande Valley of south Texas. Recipient of awards from the American Library Association, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the Texas Associated Press, he has written several books, most notably the Pura Belpré Honoree The Smoking Mirror. His work has also been published in venues such as BorderSenses, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Stupefying Stories, Asymptote, Translation Review, Huizache, Metamorphoses and Rattle.

¡Felicidades! to the ALA Youth Media Award Winners and Honor Books

WOW! What a great year for Latin@-themed books and books written/illustrated by Latin@s! I’m sure many of us reacted this way as the results of the ALA Youth Media Awards came in Monday. Matt de la Peña and Christopher Robinson’s Last Stop on Market Street took home the Newbery Medal and was named an Honor book for the Caldecott and Coretta Scott King awards.


A HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to all of the winners and honor books.

Here are the winners and honor books by/for/about Latin@s. Click on the covers for more information:

John Newbery Medal for most outstanding contribution to children’s literature:


Newbery Honor Books:

22504701  22749539

Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults. The Honor Books included:


Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children. The Caldecott Honor Books included:


Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Honor Books included:


Pura Belpré Award (Illustrator) honoring a Latino writer and illustrator whose children’s books best portray, affirm, and celebrate the Latino cultural experience.



Honor Books:

23129855  24727082  24795948

Pura Belpré Award (Author) honoring Latino authors whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience:



Honor books:

24527773  24727082

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children.



Finalist for the William C. Morris Award for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens:


Finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults:


Odyssey Award for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States. The Odyssey Honor Recording was:


Alex Awards for the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences. The list included:


Take Two!: SLJ’s Shelley Diaz Predicts 2016 Pura Belpré Award Winners


By Shelley M. Diaz 

While I didn’t correctly predict the top winners in last year’s Pura Belpré Awards, many of the titles mentioned received recognition at the American Library Association’s 2015 Youth Media Awards. I wonder how close I will get this year! We’ll see on January 11 as the children’s literary world waits with baited breath for the announcements of the recipients of the top kid lit awards presented by librarians in the United States.

Results of Mock Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, Coretta Scott King, and Geisel lists have been tallied on the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) blog. An Oregon chapter of REFORMA (National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking) even posted their own Mock Pura Belpré. And the “Latinas 4 Latino Lit” blog posted their top picks in late November.

Before I get to my predictions, let’s recap the criteria for the Pura Belpré Medals:

First, here’s a short overview of the criteria that librarians on the committee (members of REFORMA and ALSC) will consider when naming the recipients of the 2015 awards (found in the Pura Belpré Award Manual).

  1. Two medals shall be awarded annually at the Annual Conference of the American Library Association, one to a Latino author of an outstanding children’s book and one to a Latino illustrator for creating an outstanding children’s picture book. Each of these must be an original work that portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience.
  2. The award-winning books must be published in the United States or Puerto Rico during the preceding year.
  3. Recipients of the Pura Belpré medal must be residents or citizens of the United States or Puerto Rico.
  4. Fiction and nonfiction books for children published in Spanish, English, or bilingual formats are eligible.

More specifics:

  1. A “children’s book” shall be a book for which children are a potential audience. The book must display respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.
  2. Particular attention will be paid to cultural authenticity.
  3. “Resident” specifies that author has established and maintained residence in the United States, or Puerto Rico, as distinct from being a casual or occasional visitor.

So without further ado, here are my picks for this year’s winners. If you click on the cover images or the title links, you will be taken to IndieBound for more information:


Pura Belpré 2016 Author Award

23309551Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle. illus. by Edel Rodriguez. S. & S./Atheneum.

Reasons why I think it will win: Already a YALSA Nonfiction Finalist, an SLJ Top Latino Book, and the recipient of multiple starred reviews, the latest work by the first Latina to receive a Newbery Honor is truly a tour de force. A memoir in verse detailing her struggles as young person caught between two worlds—Cuba and the U.S.—this title is as compelling and well-written as Engle’s previous Pura Belpré recognized titles. Plus, the Oregon Mock Pura chose this as its winner—and I’m in full agreement.


22295304Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks

Probably one of the most celebrated YA titles this year, this urban fantasy with an unapologetic but totally real Afro-Latina is a joy to read and heeds the call for diversity within the sci-fi/fantasy genres. Plus, the celebration of Latino culture is strong in this title, offering an often ignored aspect of our culture—anti-Blackness.

SLJ Q&A: Urban Fantasy Counter-Narrative: Daniel José Older on “Shadowshaper”


24612544Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx by Sonia Manzano. Scholastic.

Manzano is no stranger to the Pura Belpré Awards. Her Revolution of Evelyn Serrano took an Honor in 2013. And it’s no secret how much I enjoyed this memoir about her path to Sesame Street, where she played the iconic “Maria.” The lyrical text evokes both the childhood trauma and resilience that made her the role model and award-winning writer and actress she is today. Just try to keep a dry eye. Manzano’s holiday-themed picture book Miracle on 133rd Street could also take a medal this year. The Oregon Mock certainly thinks so.

SLJ Video: Daniel José Older Talks to Sonia Manzano, Sesame Street’s ‘Maria,’ About Her Memoir


24795948Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh. illus. by author. Abrams.

I don’t think it’s possible to have a year in which Tonatiuh doesn’t win a Pura recognition. It’s written in the bylaws, I think. (Just kidding. Sort of.)



Other possible contenders:

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Scholastic. Though only one section of past Author Medalist’s ambitious novel directly celebrates Latino culture, this book has lots of fans in the library world. It might get a nod on January 11.

Mango, Abuela and Me. Candlewick by past Author winner Meg Medina. There’s a parrot and an adorable abuela bridging cultural and linguistic divides. Sounds like a recipe for a winner to me.

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle. illus. by Rafael López. HMH. Wouldn’t it be amazing if Engle takes both the Award and an Honor? This picture book inspired by an Afro-Chinese-Cuban female musician who broke gender barriers is a true gem.

Salsa: Un Poema Para Cocinar/A Cooking Poem. by Jorge Argueta. Illus. by Duncan Tonatiuh. Groundwood. This bilingual text, part of the “Cooking Poem” series is as delectable as the previous entries. Definitely a contender!

Since the committees tend to stay away from upper-end YA, I don’t know if Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not (SohoTeen) or Ashley Hope Pérez’s Out of Darkness (Lerner) will be recognized, but wouldn’t that be nice?



Pura Belpré 2016 Illustrator Award

22749711Winner: Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle. illus. by Rafael López. HMH.

Reasons why I think it will win: Have you seen this book? It just screams “Caress Me!” The illustrations are majestic and vibrant and López isn’t a stranger to the Pura Belpré either. Once again, no surprise on how much I love it here. But, I’m not the only one! Already on several Best lists, it’s also been garnering some possible Caldecott buzz. The art elevates the already excellent text by incorporating the protagonists’ multicultural background, showcasing the diversity within the Latino people.




24795948Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh. illus. by author. Abrams. A New York Times Best Illustrated book of 2015, this informational book about the artist whose calaveras have become synonymous with Día de los muertos is as gorgeous as it is informative. Tonatiuh doesn’t disappoint—and I’m sure he won’t be disappointed on January 11.



23282198The Great and Mighty Nikko by Xavier Garza, Cinco Puntos. While Garza was honored in 2012 for narrative, he might just garner some recognition this time around for his fabulous art in this concept book. Riffing off a similar Lucha Libre theme as his past books, this counting tale is just so eye-catching that it might surprise us.


Other contenders:

Little Chanclas by José Lozano. illus. by author. Cinco Puntos. The stylized illustrations reminiscent of street art and the infectious and expressive heroine and her penchant for sandals just might charm the committee enough to win some praise.

Mango, Abuela and Me by Meg Medina. Illus. by Angela Dominguez. Candlewick. Dominguez received a nod for her irresistible art in 2014 Maria Had a Little Llama / María Tenía una Llamita and she’s certainly been busy this year with her contribution to the “Lola Levine” chapter books and her own Knight Together. This could certainly be her year!


So, those are my picks! What say you? Did I leave anything out?

The 2015 International Latino Book Awards Winners!

Below are the first place winners of the 17th Annual International Latino Book Awards in the children’s, youth, and young adult categories. If you click on the images, you will be taken to Indiebound, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble for more information. The Awards are produced by Latino Literacy Now, an organization co-founded by Edward James Olmos and Kirk Whisler, and co-presented by Las Comadres para las Americas and Reforma, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos. The Awards were announced this past weekend, in San Francisco as part of the ALA Conference. For the complete list, which includes adult fiction, nonfiction, and second place and honorable mention winners, click hereCONGRATULATIONS TO ALL OF THE WINNERS!!

Best Latino Focused Children’s Picture Book: English


Best Latino Focused Children’s Picture Book: Spanish or Bilingual


Best Children’s Fiction Picture Book: English

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Best Children’s Fiction Picture Book: Bilingual


Best Children’s Fiction Picture Book: Spanish


Best Children’s Nonfiction Picture Book: English


Best Children’s Nonfiction Picture Book: Spanish or Bilingual

Best Educational Children’s Picture Book: English


Best Educational Children’s Picture Book: Bilingual


Best Educational Children’s Picture Book: Spanish

Most Inspirational Children’s Picture Book: English


Most inspirational Children’s Picture Book: Spanish or Bilingual


Best Youth Latino Focused Chapter Book


Best Youth Chapter Fiction Book


Best Educational Youth Chapter Book

Most Inspirational Youth Chapter Book


Best Young Adult Latino Focused Book: English


Best Young Adult Latino Focused Book: Spanish or Bilingual

 Micaela, Adalucía, Cholita Prints and Publishing Company

Best Young Adult Fiction Book: English


Best Young Adult Fiction Book: Spanish or Bilingual

 Micaela, Adalucía, Cholita Prints and Publishing Company

Best Young Adult Nonfiction Book

Best Educational Young Adult Book

 Micaela, Adalucía, Cholita Prints and Publishing Company

Most Inspirational Young Adult Book

The Sparrow and The Frog

Best Book Written by a Youth

Best Children’s Picture Book Translation: Spanish to English

Best Children’s Picture Book Translation: English to Spanish

Best First Book: Children’s and Youth: English


Best First Book: Children’s and Youth: Spanish or Bilingual

A Frank Remembrance of My ALA Midwinter Experience

 By Sujei Lugo

SEPARATE IS NEVER EQUAL by Duncan Tonatiuh, Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book & Sibert Informational Honor Book

SEPARATE IS NEVER EQUAL by Duncan Tonatiuh, Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book & Sibert Informational Honor Book

Several days ago, I had the opportunity to attend the 2015 American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits Conference (#alamw15), held in Chicago. My main reasons for attending the conference were to meet with my dissertation committee, attend REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking) meetings and discuss and collaborate with fellow Reformistas about ongoing projects and events. My presence in Chicago and #alamw15 also drove me to participate in and attend events and engage in conversations with fellow bloggers, librarians, educators, authors, publishers, and supporters of children’s and young-adult literature.

In this post I want to share with you about the sessions and events that I took part in and some reflections on my overall experience at the conference.

On Friday, January 30, 2015, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), along with the Children’s Book Council (CBC) hosted Day of Diversity: Dialogue and Action in Children’s Literature and Library Programming. I was not able to attend because this was an invitation-only event, but I followed the conversation through tweets, then afterward in blog posts reflecting on that day. The purpose of the event was to “discuss strategies for ensuring that all children have access to diverse literature and library programming.” Although great remarks were given by the keynote speaker, former ALA and REFORMA president Dr. Camila Alire; Día founder, author, and storyteller Pat Mora; former ALA Offices for Literacy & Outreach Services Director Satia Orange; and Native authors and authors of color, the overall impression was that it felt like a Diversity 101 event. Based on social media commentaries and subsequent talks, the event lacked real discussions about systemic problems, White privilege and anti-racist approaches to children’s literature. These conversations are long overdue in children’s librarianship and the publishing industry, and it is a pity that events where these conversations should happen do not embrace that challenge. Great recaps and reflections were posted by Debbie Reese, Edith Campbell, Zetta Elliott, Sarah Park, Don Tate, Maya Christina Gonzalez and Jason Low.

The REFORMA meetings and events were a great experience to get to know fellow Latino/a and Chicano/a librarians, educators and authors, immerse myself in committee work and projects, and finally meet people whose work I have admired for years. These gatherings were among the most welcoming spaces I’ve attended in my professional career in the United States. They also are dealing with serious issues regarding not only Latino populations in the United States, but Latin American immigrants as well.

Maya Christina Gonzalez reading MY COLORS, MY WORLD/MIS COLORES, MI MUNDO during Noche de Cuentos

Maya Christina Gonzalez reading MY COLORS, MY WORLD/MIS COLORES, MI MUNDO during Noche de Cuentos

A great example of this is the Children in Crisis Project. With this project, REFORMA delivers blankets, books, and backpacks to children held in detention centers near the border. The children, many as young as two years old, are unaccompanied refugee minors crossing the border, mainly from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Their journey crossing the border, many to reunite with family in the U.S. and to escape state and local violence, must be seen as a humanitarian crisis, and care needs to be given to focus on the social, emotional, informational, and legal needs of these children. As the co-chair of REFORMA’s Children in Crisis Task Force, Oralia Garza de Cortés said, “this project is like an underground railroad of books to our most vulnerable children.” REFORMA is currently partnering with nonprofits to continue to enhance efforts to help and support our children. (Here is a link that informs about ways to help, collaborate with, and donate to the Children in Crisis Project.)

On Saturday night, REFORMA celebrated its traditional Noche de Cuentos, an evening filled with stories, people, and warmth. The night was enlivened by author, storyteller, and librarian Lucía González, and Latino children’s literature and literacy consultant Oralia Garza de Cortés. Both women have been great supporters of Latino children’s literature for decades and contributed immensely to diversity in children’s librarianship. Lucía is also the author of the bilingual picture book The Storyteller’s Candle, about the life and impact of Pura Belpré’s work in New York, its Puerto Rican community in 1920’s-30s, and bilingual children’s librarianship. Oralia is the co-founder of the Pura Belpré Award, named after the Puerto Rican author, folklorist, and first Latina librarian of the New York Public Library. In “Noche de Cuentos” they both showcased their talent for sincere and engrossing storytelling. It was proof of how important preserving and telling our stories are. “That’s how stories get around, you tell them,” said Lucía, after finishing the tale of Blanquita and Her Wild Ducks, giving us a powerful reminder of how the voices that are constantly silenced, marginalized, and misrepresented will always find ways to amplify and give strength to their communities through storytelling. This was affirmed many times during the night: Pat Mora read poems and brought us charm and joy, and Maya Christina González read her picture books and told us that “kids need to know we are part of nature, and we belong here.” More emphasis on the power of our stories came when Jasmin Cardenas, a local storyteller, told us that “if we tell stories, this would be a better place.” Claudia Guadalupe Martinez shared the importance of community building, as portrayed in her YA novel, Pig Park. With its focus on stories, people, marginalized voices, powerful voices, and community support for each other, Noche de Cuentos was a much-needed intergenerational event.

While #alamw15 focused more on meetings, the exhibit hall, and the Youth Media Awards, several additional sessions were offered. I attended the Ignite Session on Saturday and was looking forward to seeing the presentations of two fellow librarians, tweeps, and overall great supporters of diversity in children’s literature–Angie Manfredi and Edith Campbell. In her presentation, “20 Kids/Teens Titles to Diversify Your Collection Today,” Angie gave fast book talks about diverse children’s and young-adult books that librarians can add to their collection. From the Latino holiday picture book T’was Nochebuena to the middle grade all-black cast book The Zero Degree Zombie Zone, she gave her audience a glimpse of diverse titles that reflect an intersection of different identities and backgrounds. Her energy and enthusiasm encouraged people to not only state that “We Need Diverse Books,” but that we need to buy them and promote them in our libraries and bookstores. (You can see the slides to her presentation here.)

Slide of Edith Campbell's The Kids Are Not All White presentation

Slide of Edith Campbell’s The Kids Are Not All White presentation

The closing presentation of the Ignite Session was Edith’s “The Kids Are Not All White.” She started out by giving numbers and percentages demonstrating how children’s literature is not representative of our children’s population. She leaned toward a reflection and call to action to truly make efforts to be inclusive in our libraries. She challenged the view that diverse books are only for kids of color, and the status quo in books that shows us “who we were, but not who we can be.” Edith addressed language diversity, too, calling on us to include titles written in other languages in our collections, and titles that intersect income, gender, and race. She also emphasized the need to rethink views about self-publishing and technology, and how they are fertile spaces for those who are traditionally marginalized. Both presentations fit well within the different conversations about diversity and children’s literature that were happening at #alamw15. Because it was an Ignite session with a broad audience, they were “preaching” outside the usual crowd, to an audience that included academic and adult services librarians that may not have otherwise been aware of the attention being given to White privilege and diversity in publishing around the #kidlit world.

As we all know, the most talked about event of #alamw15 was the Youth Media Awards. This was my first time attending the awards, which I usually watch on my computer through a livestream. Early that morning, attendees, overwhelmingly White, started gathering and lining up to enter the room. Although I was, like them, excited to see who the winners and honorees of such a widely followed event in the world of U.S. children’s literature would be, I used the opportunity to engage in conversations, view people’s reactions, and note the racial/ethnic background of those deciding the award-worthy books of the year. As awards were presented to books by/about people of color and people with disabilities, the crowd kept clapping joyfully as a sign of approval that diverse titles were being recognized. (For a full list of winners visit: ALA Youth Media Award Winners and for a list of Latino/a authors and illustrators winners and honorees, here is our recap.)

As people were applauding and celebrating the diversity of winning titles, I was thinking how great it was to see those book covers on that big screen, and how those that had overlooked them during the year were now finally going to at least read about them and maybe even bring them to their libraries and classrooms. You see, the fact is that we’ve always been publishing great award-worthy titles, but they are continually neglected by the children’s literature world. While people were applauding, I was thinking about recent comments I’d heard that Brown Girl Dreaming shouldn’t win the Newbery, since she had already won the National Book Award. I wondered if similar things were said when a White author’s book had won the National Book Award. This, along with other observations and conversations, led me to question the celebratory spirit around me. Was the applause like that scene from The Boondocks’ “Garden Party” episode, where everything Huey says White people around him seem obligated to applaud and praise?

Silvia Cisneros, REFORMA president, presenting the Pura Belpré Award in English and Spanish

Silvia Cisneros, REFORMA president, presenting the Pura Belpré Award in English and Spanish

As I sat in the room, I heard some audience members complaining about the use of Spanish during the Pura Belpré Awards, an award that celebrates Latino children’s literature and is co-sponsored by REFORMA. As the morning unfolded, I watched the almost all-White committee members stand up, some wearing “Trust the Process” t-shirts. Toward the end of the awards, someone said that apparently there were finally good diverse titles this year, since they won awards. The implication was that the lack of award-winning diverse titles in years past was an indication that Latinos, Asians, Native, and Black people had never published GREAT books throughout those years.

When I finally exited the room, I approached Pat Mora (walking away by herself) to congratulate her for her work and her Mary Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award. While talking to her, I was surprised and angry that no other person approached her to congratulate her. This woman has been an influential force in children’s literature, and she had just won an award recognizing her marvelous work. That work includes being the founder of Día, an official annual celebration that has been sponsored and championed by ALA. I realized that most people there had no idea who she was. The same people that were applauding inside the room as her picture was displayed on the big screen, as soon as her award was announced? The same people that sometimes state their “concern” of how we need to bring more authors, illustrators, and librarians of color to these events and into our field?

I introduced myself to her (in Spanish), and as we started talking, the first thing she said to me was: “Nada ha cambiado” (Nothing has changed). Words that stayed in my mind as I reflected upon my experience walking through the exhibit halls.

Nada ha cambiado.

The exhibit hall is a place where publishers, authors, and library businesses display new products, highlight new titles, and give away promotional materials and advanced reader’s copies (ARCs). The layout of the exhibit hall speaks volumes about the power centers: the amount of floor space that the big publishing houses occupy tells us how much of the exhibit floor they own. This is obvious. Fees paid for space in the exhibit hall in any convention generate revenue for the organization that sets up the event. Simply put, the big publishers with their marketing budgets, will obviously have a higher visibility than small publishers, but it still feels uncomfortable that smaller publishers are marginalized on the floor of an event organized by/for librarians that work in libraries that serve a diverse society. As I walked through the exhibit hall, my approach was to find Latino children’s and young-adult books and children’s books in Spanish. Among the sea of book covers with bears, puppies, and White girls at the Scholastic booth, I saw, in the far back, one of my most anticipated YA books of 2015, Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older. I asked the publisher’s rep if she had a copy of it to give away. In the booth were stacks and stacks of other titles, prominently placed, evident that they were being heavily promoted by the publisher. As I strolled down those aisles I was surprised to see a large stack of ARCs of Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Echo. They were going fast as librarians took copies. Minutes later, I approached a big publisher’s representative and asked her what Latino children’s books they had. She replied that they only carry “good” books. The look on my face and the two Latino books I had in my hands, no doubt, pushed her to follow her response with: “You already have those. Those are the good ones.”

DRUM DREAM GIRL: HOW ONE GIRL'S COURAGE CHANGED MUSIC, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López

DRUM DREAM GIRL: HOW ONE GIRL’S COURAGE CHANGED MUSIC, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López

Despite that conversation (and it was only one of many), I can say that I found several Latino children’s books, but in a low percentage compared to books by White people, about White people, and bears. Was I able to find a couple of Latino/a books, because I was looking for them? Because I recognize and know the titles, covers, authors and illustrators? Could people who had no idea Latino/a writers and illustrators exist, see their books? Were they displayed in a way such that people who don’t know about them could see, browse, and then buy them?

Another thing that caught my attention was that indie presses that publish stories by Native authors and authors of color were not packed with people. At their book signings, there were no lines of people waiting to meet the authors. This called to mind René Saldaña’s post: Forgive Me My Bluntness: I’m a Writer of Color and I’m Right Here In Front of You: I’m the One Sitting Alone at the Table. I was honored to meet Erika T. Wurth, author of Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend (Debbie Reese’s review); Isabel Quintero, author of Gabi, a Girl in Pieces (our review by Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez); J.L. Powers, author of Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza; and Lee Byrd, co-founder of Cinco Puntos Press.

Wurth, Quintero, Powers, and Byrd are among the many people with whom I had great conversations. I am among a growing number of people who support their work. In my many interactions and conversations, we laid out common ground and talked about how White privilege and institutionalized racism in children’s literature and publishing have always been a systemic issue. Privilege and power go across the publishing industry, book reviewing, librarianship, education, and media. We need more than diverse books. We need opportunities at places like library conferences to create awareness about privilege and power. In our work as bloggers, we must review and promote books by writers who are of marginalized populations. We must point to their accurate reflections of those populations. But we must also call out stereotypical and racist content in children’s books overall, and we must name White privilege when we see it. Yep, there’s a hell of a lot to do.

Pan Dulce: Lee Byrd from Cinco Puntos Press interviews Claudia Guadalupe Martinez (author of PIG PARK) and Pat Mora (author of CANTA, CHICO BRAVO, CANTA) talking about their books, growing up in El Paso, Texas. Full interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-yf9v_WTME&feature=youtu.be

Pan Dulce: Lee Byrd from Cinco Puntos Press interviews Claudia Guadalupe Martinez (author of PIG PARK) and Pat Mora (author of CANTA, CHICO BRAVO, CANTA) talking about their books, growing up in El Paso, Texas.

Full interview: Pan Dulce #4


The upcoming major event for REFORMA and Latino children’s literature is the Pura Belpré Award 20th Anniversary Celebración that’s going to be held in Orlando, Florida at the 2016 ALA Annual Conference. I attended the Task Force meeting; there are great plans ahead to celebrate past award winners and honorees, and a wide selection of Latino children’s books as well. More information to come! Check out how you can help and support this gran celebración.

With Isabel Quintero, author of GABI, A GIRL IN PIECES, winner of the William C. Morris Award (Young Adult Debut Award)

With Isabel Quintero, author of GABI, A GIRL IN PIECES, winner of the William C. Morris Award (Young Adult Debut Award)

With Pat Mora. Such an honor to finally meet her.

With Pat Mora. Such an honor to finally meet her.