Review: The Adventures of Chupacabra Charlie by Frederick Luis Aldama, illus. by Chris Escobar

Reviewed by Elena Foulis

SUMMARY FROM OHIO STATE PRESS: In their debut picture book, Frederick Luis Aldama and Chris Escobar invite young readers along on the adventures of Chupacabra Charlie, a polite, handsome, and unusually tall ten-year-old chupacabra yearning for adventure beyond the edge of los Estados Unidos. Little does Charlie know when he befriends a young human, Lupe, that together, with only some leftover bacon quesadillas and a few cans of Jumex, they might just encounter more adventure than they can handle. Along the way, they meet strange people and terrifying danger, and their bravery will be put to the test. Thankfully, Charlie is a reassuring and winsome companion who never doubts that he and Lupe will return safely home.

With magical realism, allegory, and gentle humor, Aldama and Escobar have created a story that will resonate with young and old readers alike as it incorporates folklore into its subtle take on the current humanitarian crisis at the border.

MY TWO CENTS: Based on real and imagined tales, The Adventures of Chupacabra Charlie, tells the story of a young Chupacabra whose life at the border is full of adventure, if you dare to follow. Charlie lives in the attic of a Bordertown in Mexico. He tells the reader about how, although considered a monster and sometimes feared, he is a kid who is looking for adventures. He tells us about his family life, and we see and read about the importance of family, education, and creativity. For example, the author and illustrator provide a wonderful scene of Charlie’s family dinner, the long tradition of family storytelling and the importance of listening to and learning from these stories. The story provides a great, balanced view of the value of learning in formal and informal settings and of using our imaginations to solve problems. The storyline always warns us about forgetting those family values and how that sometimes leads into negative stereotypes that can affect an entire community. While this is a children’s story, the writing and illustrations help young readers see how the poor choices of a few bad apples can impact the welfare of others.

Despite some of the obstacles and negative perceptions that Charlie faces, this story is about a voyage of bravery, and the meaning of friendship, even with people who do not look like you. We can choose to share life together. Charlie’s new friend, Lupe, becomes Charlie’s partner in an adventure that provides more than a thrill for them; indeed, their mission becomes to free children al otro lado of The Wall, who have been kept in cages. This young readers’ book is refreshing in the way it incorporates life at the border, through bilingualism and storytelling rooted in Latin American traditions such as Realismo Mágico.

One thing that catches our attention is the use of Spanish. While it only incorporates a few words and phrases, it only writes them in italics once, and if the word or phrase is used again, it uses the same font as the rest of the story. This is significant, in my view, because it allows the reader—who may or may not be bilingual—to pause, but then it expects them to learn and normalize bilingualism. Indeed, much of what this book presents are topics that are often complex or controversial and frequently void of the human perspective. More specifically, in the thinking about The Wall that separates the U.S. and Mexico, accepting people’s use of Spanish as part of who they are, and the reality of family separation at the border, which includes putting young kids in detention centers that are cage-like, often times, we forget to broadly think about how real people are deeply affected by all of this. The book tackles those topics in a way that is natural and promotes acceptance and heroism, as we dare to imagine that we can all do something to make someone else’s life a little or a lot easier.

Lastly, the illustrations are detailed and complement the storyline beautifully. I like how the images pay attention to details of city and rural life, highlighting cultural and geographical markers with care, such as el paletero, los nopales, the Wall, and even the flying car and the jar of pickles.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Frederick Luis Aldama is Irish-Guatemalan and Mexican Latinx. His mamá was a bilingual elementary school teacher in California. As a kid, he couldn’t get enough of his abuelita’s stories of El Chupacabra, La Llorona, and El Cucuy. Today he is a Distinguished University Professor at The Ohio State University. He is the author, coauthor, editor, and coeditor of 36 books.

 

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Chris Escobar is a printmaker and cartoonist currently living in Savannah, Georgia. He has an MFA in Sequential Art from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Chris has created illustrations for the comic anthology Floating Head and editorial illustrations for Dirt Rag magazine, among other publications.

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Elena Foulis has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies from the University of Arkansas. Her research and teaching interests include U.S. Latina/o literature, and Digital Oral History. Dr. Foulis is currently working on a digital oral history project about Latin@s in Ohio, which is being archived at the Center for Folklore Studies’ internet collection. Some of these narratives can be found in her iBook titled, Latin@ Stories Across Ohio. She is also producer and host of Ohio Habla.

 

Our Stories Are the Remedios We Need Right Now

by Tracey T. Flores

I think about my city and all the changes that it’s been through. And all the changes that will come. But I know that here in our little house, there are things that will always be the same.  ~from My Papi has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero

My Papi Has a Motorcycle, written by Isabel Quintero and illustrated by Zeke Peña, tells the story of young Daisy Ramona, a girl who eagerly awaits her Papi’s return home after a long day at work. When he arrives, Daisy Ramona and her Papi will take a ride through their city on the back of his motorcycle. Their ride takes us on a journey through their changing neighborhood, where we get a glimpse into the places and people that make her community so special. On their ride, Daisy and her Papi pass the local panadería where they buy conchas on Sunday mornings, the post office, and their abuelito’s yellow house (where the food always tastes better). They greet each person they meet with a nod of the head or a wave, letting readers see the closeness of this comunidad. Daisy’s ride with her Papi reminds us that although the world outside their home is changing, the love inside will always stay the same.

I love this cuento. I have shared it with my 4-year old daughter, Milagros, my graduate students in our family-and-community literacies course, and the mamas that I work alongside and learn from at our partner school. Recently, I revisited this cuento and found healing and comfort in it, like a warm bowl of sopa de fideo.

Currently, when I watch the news, it is easy to feel scared and helpless. The impact of this moment on our familias and comunidades is real and heartbreaking. At times, I have found it difficult to imagine our world after this moment. Will my parents be okay? How will my daughter remember this time? What will our comunidades look like after this moment?

In these questioning moments, these moments of uncertainty, I am finding healing, comfort and strength in the lessons and wisdom of our collective Latinx stories.

In our stories, I feel the deep, unconditional love that is the foundation of our familias.

In our stories, I remember every day moments with my loved ones.

In our stories, I bear witness to the fight of our Nanas and Tatas and the obstacles they have overcome in their lives so that we can thrive.

In our stories, I am gifted our history and the wisdom and lessons of our ancestors we carry with us as tools of resistance, hope and survival.

It is in the telling and retelling of our stories that I remember good times, where I am reminded that although the world outside our homes is changing, there are things like our familial love, the strength of our comunidades, and the fight of our gente that will always stay the same.

I offer more cuentos for you to turn to in this moment. From these cuentos, our cuentos, I hope you find peace, comfort and healing. In addition, I invite you to reflect on and remember the cuentos from your own life, those gifted to you by your elders, and those you share with the younger generations—write them down, record them, create art around them—and never forget them, for they are your strengths.

Abuelita Full of Life/Llena de vida

Written by Amy Costales & Illustrated by Martha Aviles

When José goes to the park with Abuelita, they have a walk. At first he misses his bike. But, he likes when Abuelita holds his hand and he can feel the strength that flows beneath her wrinkly skin. She teaches him the names of the trees and the flowers they see on the way. José is amazed by how much he used to miss by rushing by on his bike.

These words capture the loving relationship that José develops with his abuelita when she comes to live with the family. Abuelita brings life, love and pride into their home. In her company, he learns healing remedies, the beauty of English and Spanish, and the deep love of his abuelita. This book reminds me of the wisdom and love that is deeply rooted and embodied in the stories, histories and ways of knowing and being of our Nanas, Tatas, and Abuelitos, and the healing that comes from their presence in our lives.

 

Tía Isa Wants a Car

Written by Meg Medina & Illustrated By Claudio Muñoz

But Tía Isa is already touching the front seat, big enough for three. She nods when I show her there’s room in the back for more of us, who’ll come soon.

“You’re right mi hija,” she says. “This one will take us all where we want to go.”

 Tía Isa shares with the family that she wants to buy a car. Her declaration is met with resistance and ridicule from everyone except her young niece, who imagines all the places this car will take them. Together, Tía Isa and her niece save money to buy a car, one big enough for the entire family to travel to the sea. This cuento truly touches my heart, as I see the faces of all the women in my familia represented in Tía Isa. In this cuento, I remember the strength, determination and creativity of my own mama, nana and tias, and I think about the ways they always speak and manifest their dreams and goals into reality for our entire family. It also reminds me of the strong bond of our familias and the importance of always sticking together.

In My Family/En mi familia

Written & Illustrated By Carmen Lomas Garza

My grandmother is holding a baby. She was holding the babies. And, feeding them, and putting them to sleep.

Through detailed illustrations and short vignettes, artist Carmen Lomas Garza captures the essence of the love for her familia and comunidad that are central to her childhood memories of growing up in Kingsville, Texas. Each illustration features special moments spent with her familia as they gathered for birthday parties, to cook tamales, to make cascarons and dance en el jardín. This book reminds me of the beauty and remedios of our family memories and the joy that is present in our daily lives.

The Christmas Gift/El regalo de la navidad

Written by Francisco Jiménez and Illustrated by Claire B. Cotts

Most of us have a favorite Christmas story to tell…Like all of my short stories, it is based on an experience I had as a child…It took place in a farm labor tent camp in Corcoran, California.

Author and storyteller Francisco Jiménez (Panchito) shares a Christmas story from his childhood. A few days before Christmas, the family had just moved again to a new camp to find work, money and food was scarce. For Christmas, Panchito was hoping to receive a red ball. When he awoke on Christmas day to find that he did not receive a ball, but a bag of candy, he was disappointed, until he saw the thoughtful gift that his father gave to his mother. I love all books written by Francisco Jiménez, and this book is one of my favorite stories to share with others. In his story, I am reminded of my own family, especially my mother and father, and all the sacrifices they have made and continue to make for our family. It makes me remember the important things in life – our health, our bond as a family and the gift of being together.

Imagine

Written By Juan Felipe Herrera & Illustrated by Lauren Castillo

If I jumped up high into my papi’s army truck and left our village of farmworkers and waved adios to my amiguitos. Imagine.

 Poet Juan Felipe Herrera journeys us through his life recounting moments of both triumph and struggle as he continued imagining the future. His words take us from the village where he lived as a small child, to his first day of school in a new country, all the way to the steps of the Library of Congress where he reads his poetry and signs his books with “Poet Laureate of the United States.” The poetry of his experiences that he shares can teach us to always imagine endless possibilities for our lives and our worlds. In his words, I am reminded to always have hope and to never stop being a learner.

 

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré

Written by Anika Aldamuy Denise & Illustrated by Paola Escobar

Now a published author, puppeteer, and storyteller, Pura travels from branch to branch, classroom to classroom, to churches and community centers…planting her story seeds in the hearts and minds of children new to this island who wish to remember la lengua y los colores of home.

 This book stories the life of librarian, author, puppeteer, and storyteller Pura Belpré. As the first children’s librarian from Puerto Rico, Pura Belpré planted seeds of cuentos from her homeland, retelling traditional stories, in English and Spanish, to bilingual children and families in New York. Noticing a lack of Spanish books in the library, Pura Belpré wrote and published the traditional stories she orally shared and opened space in the library for the Spanish-speaking comunidad to feel included and at home. This book reminds me of the power of our stories and the necessity of sharing them with others. Also, the importance of writing and recording them for future generations.

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation

Written and Illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

The Mendez family did not give up. Time and time again, Sylvia hear her father talk with coworkers, friends, and other parents. “It’s not fair that our kids have to go to an inferior school,” he said. “It’s not only the building that’s a problem—the teachers at school don’t care about our children’s education. They expect them to drop out by the eighth grade. How will our children succeed and become doctors, lawyers and teachers?”

 This book tells the true story of Sylvia Mendez and her parents’ fight to end school segregation in California in the historic Mendez v. Westminster decision. The Mendez decision was reached seven years prior to the Brown V. Board of Education case which dismantled the “separate but equal” doctrine in public education. From this story, we learn about the key role that our familias and comunidades had in the desegregation of our schools, which is often absent from the history we learn in school. In this book, I witness the courage and advocacy of the Mendez family and I am reminded of our proud history and our collective power when we come together.

Tracey T. Flores is an assistant professor of language and literacy in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a former English Language Development (ELD) and English language arts teacher, working for eight years in K-8 schools throughout Glendale and Phoenix, Arizona. Tracey is the founder of Somos Escritoras/We Are Writers (www.somosescritoras.com), a creative space for Latina girls (grades 6-8) that invites them to write, share and perform stories from their lived experiences using art, theater and writing as a tool for reflection and examination of the worlds. She can be contacted at: tflores@austin.utexas.edu and on Twitter @traceyhabla.

Don’t miss Tracey’s write-up for Latinxs in Kid Lit about her work with Somos Escritoras! 

 

 

Book Review: Señorita Mariposa by Ben Gundersheimer (Mister G), illus. by Marcos Almada Rivero

 

Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Rhyming text and lively illustrations showcase the epic trip taken by the monarch butterflies. At the end of each summer, these international travelers leave Canada to fly south to Mexico for the winter–and now readers can come along for the ride! Over mountains capped with snow, to the deserts down below. Children will be delighted to share in the fascinating journey of the monarchs and be introduced to the people and places they pass before they finally arrive in the forests that their ancestors called home.

MY TWO CENTS: Señorita Mariposa is a tribute to the monarch butterfly and its annual journey to and from their ancestral home. Mister G’s lyrical text in both English and Spanish not only demonstrate a fondness of the monarch, but also its journey to Mexico.

The bilingual lyrical text is playful, yet informative. Both languages are side by side, and if the reader looks closely, sometimes the languages alternate on the text. For example, on one page, the English lyrical text is first, and on the following page, the Spanish text is first. It is a great fit for bilingual readers who may read and sing in both languages.

The vibrant, bold illustrations immediately catch the reader’s eye. The illustrator, Marcos Almada Rivero, did astonishing work with the play of colors and tones, as well as detail to the entire scenery that includes different scenes along the monarch’s journey. It warmed my heart that the illustrator used inclusive images, representing children with disabilities, as well as different cultures and religions. Overall, the reader is astounded by the lively images and use of various strokes and textured details. These capture the reader while singing and reading along.

For a look at some of the internal images, CLICK HERE to go to a page on the illustrator’s website.

The author includes a note that includes a website for readers to join in conserving the monarch butterfly (www.mistergsongs.com/mariposa). A fun, engaging bilingual addition to literacy units that focus on animals, migration, and conservation!

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

  • Writing Mentor Text
    • Students can create their own lyrical text about another animal that migrates while using this text as a writing mentor text.
    • Readers and writers can identify words that describe the butterfly and/or its journey. They can find synonyms for the word and/or use it in their own writing.
  • Rhyming words
    • Readers can identify words that rhyme in either language.
  • Supporting fluency development
    • Readers can reread the text to develop phrasing and automaticity skills
    • Readers can sing along with text in order to build fluency in both languages.
  • Researching beyond the text
    • Students can engage in research on the conservation of the monarch butterfly

Read (and sing) along with Mister G as he reads this book about the amazing monarch butterfly in both English and Spanish!

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from the book): Ben Gundersheimer is a Latin GRAMMY Award-winning artist, author, activist, and educator. Hailed as a “bilingual rock star” by the Washington Post, he was originally dubbed ‘Mister G’ by his young students while pursuing a master of education degree. His dynamic bilingual performances aim to dissolve borders and foster cross-cultural connections. Señorita Mariposa, based on his original song of the same title, is his first picture book. He lives in the woods of Western Massachusetts with his wife, Katherine, a rescue mutt, Josie, and cat Chloe Bird.

Learn more about the Mariposa Project and Mister G here!

 

Image result for Marcos Almada RiveroABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Marcos Almada Rivero has written and illustrated several picture books, including the Oscar the Opossum series, and created the artwork for Ben Gundersheimer’s albums. He has degrees in communication and children’s literature and works on animation projects as a writer, illustrator, art director, and animator. He lives in Mexico, where he leads workshops on books and animation at book fairs, at movie festivals, and for children in underserved communities.

Learn more about Marcos and his artwork here!

 

 

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: One is a Piñata: A Book on Numbers by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illus. by John Parra

 

The following book is a concept book around numbers in the Latinx culture. Readers who loved reading Green is a Chile Pepper and Round is a Tortilla will need to add this book to their collection!

Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK:

One is a rainbow.

One is a cake.

One is a piñata that’s ready to break!

In this lively book, children discover a fiesta of numbers in the world around them, all the way from from one to ten: Two are maracas and cold ice creams, six are salsa and flavored aguas. With boisterous illustrations, a fun-to-read rhyming text, and an informative glossary, this vibrant book enumerates the joys of counting and the wonders all around!

MY TWO CENTS: This book takes you on a reminiscing journey of Latinx celebrations throughout the year. The cover reflects a diversity in ages, backgrounds, and interests that is clearly evident in all its illustrations and the use of English and Spanish words.

While the text is structured with rhyming phrases, the illustrations also open up opportunities for discussion and more counting of items that are culturally authentic to the Latinx culture. Spanish words are in bold, purposefully, so that readers can learn new words, engage with matching it to its bold illustrations, and count all at the same time! At the end of the picture book, a glossary includes the definitions of the included vocabulary in Spanish.

I absolutely love this entire collection and what it represents in the early childhood world, especially the Latinx diversity reflected in the text and John Parra’s illustrations. I also appreciated the representation of the fruit truck and aguas frescas, because it is something I remember (and still love) fondly from my childhood.

Overall, a diverse addition to add to your primary concept library! I highly recommend this book as a read aloud at school and home and as an interactive text to use for students who are learning to count, especially for all students who need to see themselves and others represented in a beautiful way!

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

  • Math mentor text for counting & identifying numbers in English and Spanish
    • Text introduces numbers
    • Illustrations leave ample room for readers to engage in finding and counting items
  • Lesson on phonemic awareness such as focusing on rhyming words
  • Focus on cultural celebrations and items that represent their own culture or are similar to their culture

Image result for Roseanne Greenfield Thong"ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Roseanne Greenfield Thong was born in Southern California where she currently teaches high school. She lived in Guatemala and Mexico where she studied Spanish and attended many fiestas with pinatas, aguas, and chocolate. She is the author of more than a dozen award-winning children’s books, including Round is a Tortilla, Wish, ‘Twas Nochebuena, Dia de Los Muertos, and Green is a Chile Pepper– a Pura Belpré Honor Book. Check out her website here!

 

JP PortraitABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: John Parra is an award-winning illustrator, designer, teacher, and fine art painter whose work is avidly collected. John’s books have received starred reviews and have appeared on the Texas Library Association’s 2×2 Reading List. He has received the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Illustration, the International Latino Book Award for Best Children’s Book Illustrations, and a Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor for Gracias/Thanks, written by Pat Mora. Find out more about him on his website here!

 

 

 

 

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: My Shoes and I: Crossing Three Borders by René Colato Laínez, illus by Fabricio Vanden Broeck

 

Review by Sanjuana Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Young René’s mother has sent him a new pair of shoes from the United States. He loves his new shoes. “They walk everywhere I walk. They jump every time I jump. They run as fast as me. We always cross the finish line at the same time.”

René—with his new shoes—and his father set off on the long journey to meet his mother in the United States. He says goodbye to his friends in El Salvador, and “Uno, dos, tres, my shoes and I are ready to go.” The trip is difficult. They take buses and walk across El Salvador, into Guatemala and then into Mexico. His brand-new shoes lose their shine, turning dirty and gray. They become elephants, pushing against the wind; race cars, fleeing hungry dogs; swim shoes, escaping floods; and submarines, navigating through sticky mud. When holes appear on the soles of his shoes, his father won’t let him give up. “René, my strong boy, we want to be with Mamá.”

Sharing his own experiences, René Colato Laínez’s moving bilingual picture book brings to life the experiences of many young children who make the arduous journey from Central America to the United States in search of a better life.

MY TWO CENTS: This picture book was inspired by the author’s own journey as a child. This book is very similar to his book My Shoes and I (2010), but different in that it is a bilingual book and is the author’s journey as he crossed borders as a child. The English text in this book has been modified, and the Spanish version has been added. The text is simpler and intended for young readers. The book begins when, for Christmas, René receives a pair of shoes from his mother, who lives in the U.S. The book details the journey that René and his father take by focusing on what the shoes go through in traveling across three countries.

The book does not overtly describe the dangers in crossing borders, but there are some instances where hardships are described. One example of this is when René describes having to live in a dark trailer because his father loses his wallet in Mexico City. Another example is when they are crossing the Mexico/U.S. border and René states that the water comes up to this stomach and then to his shoulders. René and his father travel through El Salvador, Mexico, and finally cross the border into the U.S. where his mother is waiting.

The focus on the shoes throughout the book allows the author to tell about the journey, but not go into the arduous, dangerous details. The resiliency of the young boy is shown throughout the book as he continues his journey to be with his mother. In one case, Papá encourages him, “René, my strong boy, we want to be with Mamá. We won’t give up” (n.p.).

This book would be a great addition to a classroom unit about immigration. It specifically focuses on the border crossings and the long journey that families embark on to search for a new life. The book also addresses the desire that families have to be together and the dangers that families endure in search of a better life. The reprint of this book is timely as immigration, border crossings, and the journeys that children embark on continue to be scarce in children’s literature.

The author’s note at the end of the book tells the reader that this story is actually based on his life. René Colato Laínez shares some of the details that inspired him to write the book, such as the fact that this mother sent him a pair of shoes for his journey. The author also shares that, along with his father, they had to leave El Salvador due to the civil war in that country. At the end, René shares that he wrote this book to “tell readers about the hard journey that immigrant children and families face. They are escaping from violence and crime. Their journey is not a choice but a necessity to look for a better place, where they can accomplish their dreams”

INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR: I reached out to the author via social media to see if he would answer some questions about the book. Here are René’s responses to my questions:

This book is very similar to your wonderful book My Shoes and I. How is this one different?

René: My Shoes and I: Crossing Three Borders/ Mis zapatos y yo: Cruzando tres fronteras is a new edition of My Shoes and I. For this edition, the English text has been modified to have a bilingual version. The original text was longer, and, in order to have the English and the Spanish text on the same page, I did some edits. In My Shoes and I, the name of the boy is Mario. In this bilingual edition, I could use my name. The name of the protagonist is René.

Why is it important for you to tell your story?

René: Many children cross borders around the world everyday. They are escaping war, crime, or violence. It is hard to leave a country and your loved ones. As an author who had to cross borders, I want to give voice to the voiceless. I also want to tell readers that their journey is not a choice, but a necessity.

Many teachers shy away from having discussions focused on what are perceived as “difficult” topics. Why is it important for teachers to discuss issues such as immigration in the classroom?

René: In the news, children watch about numbers and politics, but they also need to know about real experiences. I think that children’s books are great for children to see what is beyond their windows and horizons. By telling children about immigration and other hard topics, we can build empathy in our children.

Please share anything else that you would like others to know about your new book?

René: I am so happy that this book is back in print and now it is bilingual. I hope that this book can touch the hearts of many readers.

RESOURCES: 

Teachers can visit the website below for information about the book

https://myshoesandi.weebly.com

PictureABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his website): I am René Colato Laínez, the Salvadoran award winning author of many bilingual/ multicultural children’s books. I have  a master’s degree from  Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for  Children & Young  Adults.

My goal as a writer is to produce good multicultural children’s literature; stories where minority children are portrayed in a positive way, where they can see themselves as heroes, and where they can dream and have hopes for the future. I want to write authentic stories of Latin American children living in the United States. Do you want to know more about me? Please read my long biography.

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Sanjuana C. Rodriguez is an Assistant Professor of Literacy and Reading Education in the Elementary and Early Childhood Department at Kennesaw State University. Her research interests include the early literacy development of culturally and linguistically diverse students, early writing development, literacy development of students who are emergent bilinguals, and Latinx children’s literature. She has published in journals such as Journal of Language and Literacy Education, Language Arts, and Language Arts Journal of Michigan.

Latinxs in Kid Lit at the Library: Interview with Librarian Yesenia Villar-Villalobos

 

By Sujei Lugo

The Latinxs in Kid Lit at the Library series is an occasional feature of this blog, featuring interviews with children’s library workers. In these interviews, we highlight the work librarians do for Latinx children’s literature, especially in libraries that serve Latinx communities. In case you’d like to catch up on previous posts, you can find links to them below this article. 

In this new entry, we talk with Yesenia Villar-Villalobos, a Mexican-American children’s librarian in Los Angeles, California.

Sujei: Tell us a bit about your background and identity.

Yesenia: I’m a first-generation Mexican-American, born and raised in East Los Angeles, California. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, and raised seven children on menial salaries. While I grew up in poverty, I was nearly an adult before I began to realize the true disparity of resources and opportunities that existed among my high school peers. However, what my parents couldn’t provide for me materially was far less significant than the perseverance and resilience they modeled while struggling to cover the family’s most basic of necessities. In fact, on my path to higher education I lacked an academic role model. Yet, my parents instilled in me what I truly needed: a willingness to endure hardship and uncertainty in order to achieve a goal.

Growing up in East Los Angeles, I never placed much emphasis on my ethnic identity.  Everyone around me was Latinx, mostly Mexican, so it wasn’t something I felt the need to address. However, now that I have entered the library world and function as a minority among my colleagues, I recognize the significance of my identity. I encompass a degree of cultural competency and lived experience that many of my colleagues do not. Because of this, I strive diligently to model cultural competency and advocate for more equitable services to Latinxs.

Sujei: What’s your current position, which type of library do you work in, and what is the demographic of the community?

Yesenia: I’m currently the children’s librarian for the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) at the Robert Louis Stevenson Branch Library in Boyle Heights. According to 2010 U.S. Census data, our community is 97.7% Hispanic or Latino, 86.5% of which are Mexican. Of the adults ages 25 and over, 38.6% have less than a 9th-grade education. It’s a highly dense working-class community with 71.1% of renter-occupied housing and also of large family sizes, with 14.8% of homes occupied by seven or more residents. The median income is $37,472, and the median income for families is $38,632, an alarmingly low figure considering how large families are.

Sujei: The librarians we’ve interviewed for this series often highlight their childhood reading experiences, including the impact of public libraries. What were your experiences like? 

Yesenia: Books were not something we had in our home. From a young age I developed a love of reading, but I never had the resources to explore books at home. Repeatedly, I would find myself reading cereal boxes, shampoo bottles, and the weekly church flyer. Once, in first grade, I sneaked a textbook out of class and read it cover-to-cover at home before discreetly returning it to the classroom. 

I wasn’t introduced to public libraries until sixth grade when a homework assignment required me to venture to my local public library. Neither my dad nor I had any knowledge about how a public library functioned or what resources were available there. At that time, the library-card application required a social security number. As an undocumented person who had been deported on multiple occasions in his early years in the U.S., my dad initially refused to fill out the application. But I begged and pleaded with him to get me a library card, and he finally gave in. 

That public library card remained unused until eighth grade, when I was sent to the counselor’s office for turning in a book report on a preschool-level book. Back then, the only book I had access to was Captain Kitty by Godfrey Lynn and Elizabeth Webbe, which I had bought at a yard sale for 10 cents. The counselor decided that since I frequently completed in-class assignments early, I would be allowed to visit the school library during class time. I had attended this school for nearly four years, and this was the first time I’d realized we had a library. That’s where I picked up a copy of Blubber by Judy Blume, because that was what a classmate was reading.

I never looked back. I read every book by Judy Blume in our school library. Then I started sneaking out of the house to visit the public library. I would take my backpack, check out as many Judy Blume books as I could fit in it, and then sneak back into my house. I devoured book after book in secret. I went to a third library in search of more Judy Blume books, but then realized I had read them all. I was devastated. At that time, I didn’t know librarians existed. I didn’t know I could ask questions or seek suggestions. I simply roamed the library aimlessly. Fortunately, I continued to find books to enjoy and became a lifelong reader.

Sujei: How can public libraries be more welcoming and engaging for Latinx immigrant families?

Yesenia: Cultural competency is severely lacking in library services. This is not something that can be taught in a single class or workshop, or through training. It takes ongoing effort to learn the customs of a community and find effective ways to communicate with them. This goes beyond speaking the same language. It requires attention to the dialect they use, the interests they share, and their spoken and unspoken needs. For example, when librarians translate materials at our branch, we involve the entire staff to ensure that the translations reflect the languages our patrons use. Spanish translations are plentiful—and there are so many ways to say the same phrase—but is that the phrase our patrons use?

Being relatable is key to extending a welcoming environment. When a branch is located in a community predominated by immigrants, we have to adopt the framework that public libraries may be a foreign concept for some patrons. As librarians, we are fully aware of the power a library offers toward improving the living standards of a community. But if the community is unaware, or worse, fearful of stepping inside the confines of a government building, what good does it serve? 

This is why I practice a type of guerrilla outreach, placing myself in situations outside the library where Latinxs congregate. I provide information in a visually appealing, linguistically relevant, and non-threatening format. I approach people face-to-face and leave myself open to questions. I don’t over-hype our services, since I’m fully aware of our limitations, but I do offer information in a way that entices the community to at least walk into the building. Additionally, I sometimes conduct programming outdoors, as an outreach tool to emphasize that the library is here to serve everybody, and that everybody is welcome. 

The programs I conduct are meant to involve the entire family. Because of large family sizes and limited access to childcare, I envision the entire family working as a unit to create, assemble, and invent. For example, a program I created three years ago using do-it-yourself slime continues to be my most popular family program. It regularly attracts from 100-200 participants. By using inexpensive household items, we allow kids, teens, parents, and even grandparents to engage in hands-on science and create their own toys in an incredibly fun manner.

Sujei: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a Latinx woman pursuing a career in children’s librarianship?

Yesenia: Some common themes that my Latina colleagues and I encounter are a lack of resources, limited cultural expectations, and the lack of representation. 

Let’s start with education. Even though I performed well during my entire K-12 schooling, I never considered college as an option, since I never imagined it financially possible. I began working at the age of 15, and by the time I was 18, I held the position of assistant manager at a retail store. I was earning a salary comparable to that of my parents, but was bored. I went to my local community college and inquired about taking classes. At the time, I had no intention of pursuing a degree, but simply wanted to continue learning. One day when I asked my mom for a ride to school, she asked, “ What are you going to school for? You’re pretty enough to get married.” This was the first time I realized the cultural expectations that my family had for me. Despite my intelligence, I was merely a woman.

After taking the assessment test at the East Los Angeles Community College (ELAC) I got placed in honors classes. While others doubted my capabilities, I began to believe in them. Then, when a financial-aid representative spoke to my honors class about financial aid, higher education started to feel like a more realistic opportunity. While I still hadn’t envisioned a degree as the end goal, I loved to learn and continued to attend school off-and-on while employed full-time. After three years, my counselor notified me that I had enough credits to transfer to a 4-year university for my bachelor’s degree. I had no idea what he was talking about; I had never heard of a bachelor’s degree. But I went home, looked it up in my dictionary and decided I would pursue it. 

Having never considered a profession, I was torn about what to pursue. Teacher? Social worker? Then one morning I woke up and the word “librarian” literally flew out of my mouth! It was so clear, I could see it right in front of my eyes. The library had made such a profound difference in my life. It had opened my eyes to new experiences and opportunities. No doubt my avid reading had improved the writing skills that placed me in the honors class that made going to college a real possibility. As I researched librarianship as a profession, I quickly discovered that it required a master’s degree. It was at that moment that I began to take my academic ambitions seriously. I enrolled in the California State University of Los Angeles (CSULA) with a major in Liberal Studies and a minor in Women’s Studies. I focused my education on the history of minorities in the U.S.— specifically, on the political and socio-economic conditions that hinder minorities from pursuing a higher education. I educated myself about the experiences faced by people like my parents, who are undocumented, under-educated, monolingual, and economically disadvantaged.

When I began library school at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) I was astonished by the lack of diversity. For the first time, my status as a Latina became center stage. Unknowingly, I was one of the few students interested in the information needs of Latinxs. I didn’t apply to UCLA with the intention of becoming an advocate for Latinxs and Spanish-speakers, but this is what developed through my experiences and research interests. Since then, I have encountered mentors that have helped me navigate through the library world and enhance my skills and abilities. While the number of Latinas in librarianship may still be low, I have encountered women who empower and elevate one another other to strive for success.

Sujei: Where does your library acquire Latinx children’s books, bilingual books and Spanish- language books? Which places to get books do you recommend?

Yesenia: Obtaining relevant Spanish literature is a challenge. Spanish publications by Latinx authors often print on such a short run that unless you learn about them immediately, you may lose the opportunity to purchase them for your collection. Additionally, the Latinx community is vast and the vernacular varies from country to country and region to region. In our library system there is a department dedicated to creating the list of Spanish materials available for purchase. We order materials from that list, and never get the opportunity to examine them first. More often than not, we’re unable to read reviews before purchasing. 

I prefer to purchase my Spanish materials in person. In Los Angeles there is a children’s bookstore that sells only materials in Spanish, and which come from countries all over Latin America. It’s called La Librería and it displays books from each country individually. As a librarian, I’m able to select materials in the dialect that best suits my community. In my opinion, this is the greatest children’s bookstore for Spanish materials in Los Angeles, and possibly, California. Although small in size, the selection is so great that I wonder why anyone would buy Spanish books elsewhere. Also, the staff is kind, passionate, and knowledgeable.

Sujei: Your favorite Latinx children’s books? 

Yesenia: I relate to books that reflect my Mexican-American culture. I speak Spanglish, so I prefer to read books that incorporate both English and Spanish. At my bilingual storytimes, in addition to alternating between books written in English and in Spanish, I also read books written in Spanglish. Some of my favorites include Señor Pancho Had a Rancho, written by René Colato Laínez and illustrated by Elwood Smith, and La Princesa and the Pea, written by Susan Middleton Elya and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal.

Explore our other interviews in this series, linked below. AND, if you’re a library worker serving a Latinx community and would like to share your experiences through an interview, we invite you to contact us! 

María F. Estrella, Cleveland Public Library

Angie Manfredi, Los Alamos County Public Library

Crystal Brunelle, Northern Hills Elementary School, Onalaska, Wisconsin 

Patricia Toney, San Francisco Public Library

About the interviewer: Sujei Lugo was born in New Jersey and raised in her parents’ rural hometown in Puerto Rico. She earned her Master’s in Library and Information Science degree from the Graduate School of Information Sciences and Technologies at the University of Puerto Rico and is a doctoral candidate in Library and Information Science at Simmons College, focusing her research on anti-racist children’s librarianship. She has worked as a librarian at the Puerto Rican Collection at the University of Puerto Rico, the Nilita Vientós Gastón House-Library in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the University of Puerto Rico Elementary School Library. Sujei currently works as a children’s librarian at the Boston Public Library. She is a member of REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking), American Library Association, and Association of Library Service to Children. Sujei can also be found on TwitterLetterboxd and Goodreads.