Book Review: Somos Como Las Nubes / We Are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta

 

Reviewed by Sanjuana C. Rodriguez, PhD

28957208DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: An eloquent and moving account of the tragic migrations of thousands upon thousands of children who are leaving their homes in Central America, often alone, to seek refuge in the United States. Why are they going and how does it feel to be one of them? What is this terrible trip like? What do their hopes and dreams for safety, a new life and a loving reception mean to them?

A refugee from El Salvador’s war in the eighties, Jorge Argueta was born to explain the distressing choice confronting young Central Americans today who are saying goodbye to everything they know because they fear for their lives.

This book is beautifully illustrated by master artist Alfonso Ruano.

MY TWO CENTS: Somos Como Las Nubes/ We are Like the Clouds is a moving collection of bilingual free verse poems. This is one of the few books that I have encountered about the heartbreaking experiences of children who leave their homes to embark on their journey to the United States. This collection of poetry begins with poetry depicting the experiences and sights of the children’s home countries. The poetry then shifts to the journey that children take to get to the United States. The author includes poems that describe the fears of traveling on La Bestia (a fast moving moving train that many migrants use to travel), discuss being accompanied by “coyotes,” and describe children’s feelings as they cross the deserts.  I’ll share one of the most powerful poems about the journey titled “Las Chinamas”. The word Chinamas refers to the border between El Salvador and Guatemala.

When we crossed

the border at Las Chinamas

I saw the river Paz.

Its water runs smiling

between the rocks.

Here the cenzontles (mockingbirds)

never stop singing.

 

I remembered

our schoolyard,

the gualcalchillas, (small songbirds)

and my teacher

Miss Celia.

 

I remembered my mother,

my brothers,

my sisters.

Who knows

when I will see them again.

I look at the sky

and think,

we are like the clouds.

 

What I loved about this book is that there is message of hope in knowing that children are resilient, but the author does not hold back in depicting the heartbreak that goes along with leaving a home country. The book allows the reader to the experience the treacherous journey to the United States through the eyes and wonder of a child. The pictures in this book are also stunningly beautiful. The pictures depict the children’s home countries, families crossing borders, and children laying on the soft sand in the desert. The final poems in the book offer hope. In the poem “Fear,” a mother tells her child in his dream, “This is not a dream, you are in my arms.” The child has arrived to his destination in Los Angeles.

I shed tears when I read this book. It is heartbreaking and it is a poignant reminder that children are children and that there are difficult decisions that children should not have to make. In my opinion, what makes this book even more powerful is that it is written by Jorge Argueta. The author’s note at the beginning of the book shares Jorge’s own experience of fleeing El Salvador and coming to the United States. He shares his inspiration for writing the book by stating, “Like the clouds, our children come and go. Nothing and no one can stop them”.

TEACHING TIPS: This book is an invitation to learn about the harsh realities that children face when they leave their homes and embark on the difficult journey to the United States. It would be a great addition to any classroom library. It would be an excellent book to add to text sets about immigration or refugees. Teachers can also use this book to teach children about writing through difficult situations. It can also be used to show students how illustrations can enhance poetry as this book is beautifully illustrated.

To find Somos Como Los Nubes / We Are Like the Clouds, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Image result for jorge arguetaABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jorge Tetl Argueta is a celebrated Salvadoran poet and writer whose bi-lingual children’s books have received numerous awards. His poetry has appeared in anthologies and textbooks. He won the America’s Book Award, among other awards for his first collection of poems for children, A Movie in My Pillow. He was the Gold Medal Award winner in the 2005 National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) for Moony Luna/Luna, Lunita Lunera. His other works for children include Xochitl and the Flowers, 2003 America’s Award Commended Title, Trees are Hanging from the SkyZipitioTalking with Mother EarthThe Little Hen in the City and The Fiesta of the Tortillas.

 

Alfonso RuanoABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Alfonso Ruano was born in 1949 in Toledo, Spain. He studied painting at the School of Fine Arts in Madrid. He has published about 20 books for children and has received multiple awards for his work.

 

 

 

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.

Spotlight on Latina Illustrators Part 4: Carolyn Dee Flores, Christina Rodriguez, and Jacqueline Alcántara

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the fourth in a series of posts spotlighting Latina illustrators of picture books. Some of these artists have been creating children’s books for many years, while others will have their first book out this year. They come from many different cultural backgrounds, but all are passionate about connecting with readers through art and story. Please look for their books at bookstores and libraries!

Carolyn Dee Flores

Carolyn Dee Flores grew up around the world and now lives in San Antonio, Texas. She worked as a computer analyst, rock musician and composer prior to becoming an illustrator of children’s books. She illustrated Dale, dale, dale: una fiesta de números/Hit it, hit it, hit it: a fiesta of numbers and Canta, Rana, Canta/ Sing Froggie Sing, which were both named to the Tejas Star Reading list. Her illustrations for the book Daughter of Two Nations won a Skipping Stones Honor Award. Her most recent work can be seen in the book Una Sorpresa para Teresita/ A Surprise for Teresita, published in October 2016 by Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Publico Press.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A:   My Uncle Rey. He was a professional artist. He made me realize it was something you could do. Be an artist for a living.

When I was little, I used to go over to my grandmother’s house and see his drawings and paintings framed on the wall and I would think, “How on earth does someone get that good?” Later, I found out he had gone to art school and become an artist for the Air Force. When he passed away, my aunt gave me his art books. I read every page … over and over and over. That’s when I first learned about Goya and Rembrandt and Velázquez. It meant everything to me.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium. 

A: Oil. Oil. And then oil. I am very excited about a new technique I developed for painting with oil on cardboard. It completely saturates the board until it looks like brushed felt. It also enables me to control the bleed and dry quickly. This is the first time I have been able to get those intense colors that you get with oil paints – in an illustration. I use this process in my new book “A Surprise for Teresita” which comes out this month.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: They are a child’s very first glimpse into all the possibilities of being a human being. Whether it is stepping into the Wizard of Oz, or a Dr. Seuss landscape, or playing with the pigeon in Mo Willems’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus – or going to a playground down the block – the reality for a child is the same. The world is full of color, and rhythm and courageous deeds and breathtaking imagination. Picture books affirm a child’s vision … forever. Nothing could be more important than that!

Dale, Dale, Dale / Hit It, Hit It, Hit It Cover  Canta, Rana, Canta / Sing, Froggie, Sing Cover  

 

Christina Rodriguez

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Christina Rodriguez lives in Rhode Island and has illustrated more than twelve books for children. She is a three time nominee for the Tejas Star Book Award. Among the books she has illustrated are Un día con mis tias/ A Day with my Aunts, Mayte and the Bogeyman, We are Cousins/ Somos primos, The Wishing Tree and Adelita and the Veggie Cousins.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: I became a children’s book illustrator thanks to the adults who steered me in that direction as a child: from my dad who taught me how to draw horses as a child, to my teachers who encouraged my love of art and reading, and finally to my mother for supporting my decision to go to art school at RISD.  Without the continuous support of the role models in my life, I might not be where I am today.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I have two favorite mediums: digital and watercolors. Watercolor painting was one of the first techniques I learned, but I didn’t really get into it until college, when it became a safer alternative to oil paints (the fumes were giving me headaches). Most of my books are done in a mixture of watercolors, watercolor pencils, and gouache -an opaque type of watercolors – that gives me a lot of control in the details and the ability to add depth and texture. I also carry a travel-sized watercolor paint box with my sketchbook everywhere I go.

My other favorite medium is digital: I’ve illustrated a few books completely in Adobe Photoshop, from sketches to finished art. Many book illustrators incorporate digital programs into their workflows at some point, whether it’s resizing sketches, or cleaning up and enhancing finished paintings. I use a Microsoft Surface Pro which makes creating digital illustrations even easier.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: They introduce children to many rich and important concepts at a young age: a love of reading and art, active listening, and critical thinking of complex subjects while in a safe place. Picture books can provide the foundation upon which a rich education can be built.

  Mayte and the Bogeyman/Mayte y El Cuco Cover  We Are Cousins/Somos Primos Cover    Adelita and the Veggie Cousins/Adelita y Las Primas Verduritas Cover

 

Jacqueline Alcántara

photo credit @eyeshotchaJacqueline Alcántara is a freelance author and illustrator who previously taught high school art and photography. She won the inaugural We Need Diverse Books Illustrator Mentorship Award in 2016. Her first book is The Field which will be published in 2018 by NorthSouth Books.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: For as long as I can remember, I loved drawing, cutting, gluing, painting, inventing characters, and writing stories. As a kid, my mom would take me down to the Art Institute’s kids programs, and I still remember the texture of the paper they gave me, and how excited I felt about creating art inside the museum. When I was in high school, my dad took me to Honduras a few times, and each time, we visited with one his best friends who happened to be a fantastic painter and brilliant musician. His name was Carlos Brizzio, and he quickly became the coolest person in the world to me. By the time I finished high school, I knew I wanted to work within “the arts,” even if I hadn’t yet figured out what that meant.

After I graduated from college, I worked as an art teacher, and I decided that I wanted to combine my love of art  and kids, and pursue children’s illustration. Lots of artists have inspired me along the way, but my first loves, beyond Quentin Blake and Chris Van Allsburg, were Dalí, Picasso, and Redon. I still look at a lot of art and visit my favorite paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, but now I’m mostly inspired by silly things that happen throughout the day, serious things that are happening in the world, and all of the beauty that I find in between.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: At this point in time, I’m most in love with markers and gouache. I love gouache because of the opaque/flat feeling of the color. I like that it’s an old medium as well—that it has history and depth. I started using markers recently, when I became interested in fashion illustration. Markers allow you to work fast and consistently, and I love the way they layer on top of one another  to almost look and feel like watercolors, or digital painting. I use Photoshop for almost all of my illustrations to collage, experiment, and play with light, color and composition.

Mixed media is so much fun because you can have a plan for your piece, but so much is still left to chance and experimentation, which is exciting when you’re creating a piece, and so satisfying when it’s complete.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: Along with TV and movies, books are largely responsible for how we formulate our ideas about people, cultures, and especially, ourselves from an early age. The stories and characters we read in picture books represent some  of the first ways in which we begin to explore these things, and those impressions stick with us, whether consciously or subconsciously, for a very long time. Picture books ask questions about our world and ourselves and can provide us with comfort, curiosity, hope and empathy. But my favorite part is  the details, and the magical way in which the words and pictures can tell the same story while saying different things. I also love that children can “read” a picture book even before they are ready to read the text, and how repeated readings help them to discover the details, thought, humor and care that goes into the process of creating them. Picture books are important because they help us to visualize our pasts and futures, as they feed our imagination.

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Books to Look For:

Dale, dale, dale: una fiesta de números/Hit it, hit it, hit it: a fiesta of numbers by Carolyn Dee Flores

Canta, Rana, Canta/ Sing Froggie Sing by Carolyn Dee Flores

Una Sorpresa para Teresita/ A Surprise for Teresita by Carolyn Dee Flores

Un día con mis tias/ A Day with my Aunts illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Mayte and the Bogeyman illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

We are Cousins/ Somos primos illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Adelita and the Veggie Cousins illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Book Review: Furqan’s First Flat Top/El Primer Corte de Mesita de Furqan

 

By Sujei Lugo

furqanDescription from back cover: Furqan Moreno wakes up and decides that today he wants his hair cut for the first time. His dad has just the style: a flat top fade! He wants his new haircut to be cool but when they get to the barbershop, he’s a bit nervous about his decision. He begins to worry that his hair will look funny, imagining all the flat objects in his day to day life. Before he knows it, his haircut is done and he realizes that his dad was right–Furqan’s first flat top is the freshest!”

My two cents: Amidst the historical outcry for children’s books that accurately and authentically represent the racial, ethnic, political, and social composition of the youth population in the United States, there are always creators advocating and opening spaces for the publication of marginalized voices and stories. Looking into small or independent publishers and daring to navigate the self-publishing wave are ways to challenge the constraints encountered in traditional and mainstream publishing houses. Recently, “crowdfunding” platforms such as Kickstarter, GoFundMe and Indiegogo are gaining momentum for radical publishing, and this was the case with Furqan’s First Flat Top/El Primer Corte de Mesita de Furqan. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, author and illustrator Robert Liu-Trujillo was able to publish his first bilingual picture book.

In Furqan’s First Flat Top, readers meet Furqan Moreno, a 10-year-old black Latino boy who always had “real curly hair” and decides it is time for a new haircut. He approaches his dad and asks him if he remembers how Marcus cut his hair last year. His dad replies, “yeah,” and that the haircut is called a flat top. Furqan’s conversation with his dad takes place in the bathroom, an enclosed and private space that certainly conveys the trust between father and son and how important this decision is for Furqan’s growth. After agreeing to visit Mr. Wallace’s barbershop, they get on the number 14 bus, embarking on a journey of bonding, trusting, and embracing each other. Furqan will gain more than a new haircut.

At first we see Furqan is shy while entering the barbershop, and a bit skeptical about how his hair is going to turn out. He keeps questioning his dad as to whether his flat top is going to look good. We know parents sometimes say we look good, no matter what. The boy starts imagining: will his hair look flat as a drum, or flat like the pancakes he had with his dad, or flat like abuelita’s tortillas, or flat like that cake that father and son tried to bake together? Or even flat like cousin Mary’s skateboard, or flat like the records his dad plays on his turntable? After every concern expressed by Furqan, dad always replies “trust me,” and “it will look just fine.” The father draws a parallel between those things they enjoy doing together and the experience and outcome of getting a new haircut. Through each experience or “step,” the dad helps Furqan to trust not only him, but also himself and his choices–an essential part of growing up and attaining individuality.

In this bilingual picture book, English-language words are presented in dark brown font, while the Spanish-language words are given a light blue hue, which can be a bit distracting. Executed in earthy and pastel watercolor, with pen and ink, Liu-Trujillo’s two-page layout illustrations portray the warmth and sincerity of this father and son relationship and their shared emotions. From the illustrated endpapers to the interior of the barbershop, there is great attention to detail: haircuts are recognizable and so are the hairstyle instruments and products. If you look closely at Mr. Wallace’s table and drawers, you will spot electric razors, hair combs, powder, gel, mirrors, and even a picture frame with a photo of a little kid. 

At the end, Furqan looks in the mirror, smiles, and feels excited about his “fresh” look. The next day in school, some schoolmates and friends look at him funny, while others really like his new haircut and are vocal about it. This is a reflection that, no matter what, people will always react randomly to our choices. But Furqan loves his new hairstyle and takes pride in his black hair and identity, knowing that it doesn’t matter what others say: the important thing is his confidence in himself.

 

photo1Robert Liu-Trujillo is an author, illustrator, visual artist, father, and husband, born in Oakland, California, and raised across the Bay Area. Liu-Trujillo’s art and storytelling are inspired and motivated by his cultural background, ancestors, family, dreams, and political, social, and personal beliefs. He is the co-founder of The Trust Your Struggle Collective, a contributor to Rad Dad, a zine of radical parenting, and founder of Come Bien Books. He also has illustrated several picture books such as: ONE OF A KIND/ÚNICO COMO YO, written by Laurin Mayeno; A BEAN AND CHEESE TACO BIRTHDAY/UN CUMPLEAÑOS CON TACOS DE FRIJOLES Y QUESO, written by Diane Gonzales Bertrand; and I AM SAUSAL CREEK/SOY EL ARROYO SAUSAL, written by Melissa Reyes. Robert contributed a guest post for this blog, explaining his Kickstarter campaign for Furqan’s First Flat TopCheck out his website for more information about his work. 

Our 2016 Favorites List: Libros Latinxs

happy-reading-1Welcome to our favorites of 2016 list! This year’s releases offered picture books that we found irresistible, early reader/chapter books that charmed us to the core, and works of fiction and nonfiction sure to thrill middle-grade and YA readers. Librarians, parents, and teachers, please consider adding these selections to your bookshelves. They are listed alphabetically by title under each category. 

We’re also pleased to recommend two important resources that address aspects of Latinx children’s literature and highlight the Pura Belpré winners of the last twenty years.

Sadly, we could not read every Latinx title released in 2016; therefore, this list is not comprehensive and it pains us to leave out even one deserving book! We promise to review as many 2016 titles as possible in upcoming posts.

The most important thing to remember is that Latinx kids and teens need to see themselves in good books and those books do exist. Read on and you’ll see the evidence.

 

Picture Books

equivelEsquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist/¡Esquivel! Un artista del sonido de la era espacial, written by Susan Wood; illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. This fun biography introduces readers to a key figure of space-age lounge music. My son Liam Miguel loves everything illustrated by Duncan Tonituah, whose illustrations take on added movement and playfulness as they complement Susan Wood’s prose. Juan García Esquivel was a Mexican composer, bandleader, and pianist who pioneered stereo sound in the 50s and 60s and took an inventive view of musical possibility. Esquivel’s music capitalizes on unusual instrumentation and makes substantial use of unorthodox vocal textures and effects. The story highlights Esquivel’s accomplishments, providing another creative great to inspire young people of all backgrounds to see possibility all around them. —Ashley

 

furqans-flat-topFurqan’s First Flat Top/El primer corte de mesita de Furqan, written and illustrated by Robert Liu-Trujillo. As the first day of school approaches, 10-year-old Furqan Moreno gets ready for a haircut, but this time he is going to get his first flat top.  A bilingual picture book about the connections and trust built between an Afro Latino young boy and his dad, this is the work of  California-based Liu-Trujillo. You may remember him from two previous appearances on this blog: his account of the Kickstarter campaign that made publication of Furqan’s First Flat Top possible, and a super fun audio interview that he conducted for us with illustrator/painter Raúl the Third.  —Sujei

 

bongoLooking for Bongo, written and illustrated by Eric Velasquez, is yet another lovely representation of Afro-Latinos by this Pura Belpré winning illustrator. (See my review of Grandma’s Gift.) What I find so rewarding about this picture book is its warm and engaging portrayal of an underrepresented sector of U.S. population: a loving, middle-class Afro-Latino family. This family includes a musician dad, a fashion-designer mom, and a doting grandmother known to five-year-old Bongo as Wuela (short for Abuela). Velasquez is an expert painter. His page spreads pop with color and individual personality that young kids are sure to enjoy. —Lila

 

mama-the-alienMamá the Alien/Mamá la extraterrestre, written by René Colato Laínez; illustrated by Laura Lacámara. In this whimsical and relevant story, Sofía happens on her mother’s old resident alien card, arriving at some interesting conclusions about her origins. Laura Lacámara’s playful and bright illustrations suit this narrative well, inviting a gentle view of all the ways we come to call this country home. At a time when the term “alien” continues to circulate in the media and anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise in some quarters, this book offers a timely reminder that, as the author’s note indicates, we are all citizens of Planet Earth.–Ashley

 

martaMarta! Big and Small, written by Jen Arena; illustrated by Angela Dominguez. Want to introduce some basic Spanish vocabulary to your kid? Looking for a concept book suitable for a classroom discussion of opposites? Look no further than Angela Dominguez’s latest book. Marta! Big and Small is an entirely adorable picture book that explains how Marta compares to various animals, including giraffes, elephants and rabbits. A glossary at the end puts all the vocabulary in one place. This would be a great inspiration for students to make books of their own, comparing themselves to different animals and using adjectives in Spanish or any language. –Cecilia 

 

maybe-somethingMaybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood, written by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell; illustrated by Rafael López. Through its inspiring tale and vibrant illustrations, Maybe Something Beautiful introduces readers to Mira, a girl who lives “in the heart of a gray city” and who enjoys doodling, drawing, coloring, and painting. She considers herself an artist and likes to gift her illustrations to people in her neighborhood. She even tapes and “gifts” one of her paints to a dark wall around her block. One day she meets a muralist, and learns the magic of painting murals, and the power of bringing together the whole community to create something beautiful. The book is based on a true story about an initiative by Rafael López, the illustrator of the book, and his wife Candice López, a graphic designer and community leader, as a way to bring people together and transform their neighborhood into a vibrant one. Please check out my post about using Maybe Something Beautiful for a Día de los Libros program at a library. —Sujei

 

princess-and-warriorThe Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. I’m a longtime fan of Duncan Tonituah’s fine illustrations and storytelling, and this book is no exception. A colleague and I spent an entire plane ride reading and re-reading the text, which gracefully and vibrantly retells an Aztec myth that offers an origin tale for the formation of the volcanoes Popocatépetl (“Smoking Mountain”) and Iztaccíhuatl (“The Sleeping Woman”) near the valley of México. Duncan’s work brings this story to life by rendering the mythical characters vibrant and relatable through crystal-clear prose and memorable illustrations. –-Ashley

 

 radiant-childRadiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. This is a heartfelt and vibrant picture book biography about the childhood and life of Puerto Rican-Haitian American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. He was a boy who saw art everywhere, who learned that art goes beyond museum walls, galleries, and poetry books, who developed his own “messy” style that echoes powerful emotions, social issues, and politics. Information about the artist and the motifs and symbolism in his work along with a note from author and illustrator Javaka Steptoe are appended. —Sujei

 

rudasRudas: Niño’s Horrendous Hermanitas, written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. They’re back! The terrible twins are once again making trouble for Niño and none of his fantastic foes can defeat them. Morales captures the eye and the imagination with her bright colors, fun-sounding words, and thoroughly believable baby weapons (poopy pants included). The ending is sweet and will hopefully inspire many older siblings to read to their own brothers and sisters. This is a great family gift and a wonderful addition to the sibling story canon. —Cecilia

 

like-the-cloudsWe Are Like the Clouds/Somos como las nubes, is a collection of beautiful bilingual poems by Jorge Argueta with illustrations by Alfonso Ruano. The poems center around real lived experiences of unaccompanied minors migrating from El Salvador to the United States. The poems are laid out to represent a migration journey. The opening poem “Somos las nubes” represents the everyday beauty, like “pupusas/tamales, alboroto, dulde de algodon.” The poems that follow touch on the violence that forces so many people to leave their homes and then forces children to go look for their parents. The poems then signal the grueling difficulties of navigating multiple borders, la bestia, and crossing the desert. The closing poems speak to the new challenges and the newfound beauty of living in the U.S. Argueta’s poems are timely, enduring, and powerful. —Sonia

 

Chapter Books/Early Readers

juana-and-lucasJuana & Lucas, written and illustrated by Juana Medina. Journey to Bogotá, Colombia, with Juana, who is eager to tell you all about her life. She loves her city, her mom, her grandparents, and her friends, but especially her dog, Lucas. Unfortunately, Lucas can’t help her with her biggest challenge at the moment–learning “The English.” Juana struggles to make sense of the strange sounds and words, but when her family promises her a trip to the theme park Astroworld, she is determined to succeed. Bright, energetic illustrations provide support to young readers still transitioning from pictures to text. A delightful choice for either read-aloud or independent reading. Don’t miss my studio visit with the author-illustrator, Juana Medina.–Cecilia

 

lola-levine-balletLola Levine and the Ballet Scheme, written by Monica Brown; illustrated by Angela Dominguez. There’s a new girl in Lola’s class at school and at first Lola thinks that friendship is a possibility–but then she finds out that the new girl loves ballet, not soccer. Brown tackles the gender stereotypes that require girls to be sporty OR girly, and shows readers that it’s fine to love what you love, but that having different interests doesn’t mean you can’t still be friends. This latest addition to a fantastic series written partially in diary entries contains plenty of Spanish, as well as Lola’s trademark stubbornness. A must-read for 7-8 year olds. In a guest post, author Monica Brown wrote about bold girls like Lola. –-Cecilia

 

my-vida-locaSofía Martinez: My Vida Loca, written by Jacqueline Jules. The latest multi-story collection by Jacqueline Jules invites early chapter book readers on three new adventures with the charming Sofia Martinez: “The Singing Superstar,” “The Secret Recipe,” and “The Marigold Mess.” One of the things I loved about “The Secret Recipe” was the chance to share my own early baking mishaps with my son. As always, Sofia’s experiences will be relatable to all young readers, with Spanish text and Latinx cultural content woven in a way that stresses them as valued assets. Kids who connect well with Sofia Martinez will likely enjoy the lovely Lola Levine chapter books when they are ready for more text on each page. See my review of an earlier title in the Sofía Martinez series. —Ashley

 

Middle Grade

allieAllie, First at Last, by Angela Cervantes. Full disclosure: I got teary multiple times reading this book because while it is rare to find a middle-grade book featuring a Mexican-American family, it is even more rare to find one with a Mexican-American family who has been in the US for three generations, like mine. Allie is a classic middle child, looking for a place to shine. All her siblings excel at various activities and when her teacher announces a contest, Allie is determined to win a trophy of her own. One of the strongest parts of this book is the pride Allie takes in her family and their history as immigrants. Lessons about friendship, ambition and the danger of making assumptions about others are layered throughout the story in subtle ways, and readers will cheer for Allie as she learns more about just what it means to be the best. See our full review of Allie, First at Last, as well as a guest post by author Angela Cervantes. —Cecilia

 

lowriders-centerLowriders to the Center of the Earth, written by Cathy Camper; illustrated by Raúl the Third. Cathy Camper and Raúl the Third have followed their fantastic Lowriders in Space with a second volume that is equally interesting, playful, and visually absorbing. I tried to sneak this out of my son’s room when he finished it, but he caught me.

“What are you doing?” he asked. “I’m reading that.”

 “Didn’t you already finish it?”

         “Yes, but I’m reading it again.”

         It might seem like obstinacy (and maybe it was) but the detailed drawings are full of visual puns and playful possibilities, leaving plenty to discover on a second—or third—read. A favorite for kids and parents alike.–Ashley (Click on the links to access a guest post by the author, our review of Lowriders in Space, and an audio interview with the illustrator.)

 

nothing-up-my-sleeveNothing Up My Sleeve, by Diana Lopez. In our review of Nothing Up My Sleeve, Marianne Snow Campbell wrote, “There’s a reason that magic trick kits sell so well at toy stores. Lots of kids love the thrill of stage magic – practicing illusions until they’re just right, creating mystery with visual puzzles, and tricking others with sleights of hand. Performing magic can help build kids’ confidence and give them a sense of agency when they might otherwise feel powerless. That’s certainly the case for Dominic, Loop, and Z, three friends who venture into the world of illusion at Conjuring Cats, the new magic store in Victoria, Texas.” Catch the full review here, and don’t miss our Q&A with author Diana López.

 

Young Adult

bloodlineBloodlines, by Joe Jiménez, is a poetic vision of the complexities of (de)constructing Latino masculinities. Abraham is a seventeen-year-old figuring out what it means to be a man. He gets conflicting messages from the adults in his life. His grandmother wants him to be a good man so she solicits the help of her son Claudio, who Becky, grandma’s friend, doesn’t think is such a good man. Ophelia, Abraham’s love interest, wants Abraham to stop fighting but she also wonders what it feels like to fight. Abraham will follow the road that helps him learn whether he’s a good man or a bad one. —Sonia. Don’t miss these related posts: Joe Jiménez contributed a revealing guest post and Sonia wrote in depth about BloodlinesLatino masculinities.

 

burn-babyBurn Baby Burn, by Meg Medina, is set in Queens, New York, during the fateful year of 1978. While a serial killer prowls the city and arsonists torch random locations, Nora faces a disturbing issues at home. She has a sneaking suspicion that her brother is dabbling in dangerous activities, but their mom is too paralyzed to confront him head on. Nora’s story includes a supportive best friend, a cute guy who works at the same after-school job as Nora, and an apartment building full of complex and menacing characters. Also: disco dancing! Disco is a nice touch that, along with other historical elements, lends spark and crackle to an already intriguing story. We reviewed Burn Baby Burn earlier this year. —Lila

 

the-distance-between-usThe Distance Between Us: Young Readers Edition, by Reyna Grande, is a memoir of astonishing power and relevance. Set in Mexico and California, it captures a decade of the author’s eventful life, intertwining elements of poverty, immigration, abandonment, and family strife. More than anything, it’s an account of personal triumph against enormous odds. I highly recommend it. To learn more, please see my full review of The Distance Between Us and the author’s guest post. —Lila

 

head-of-saintThe Head of the Saint, by Socorro Acioli. Set Brazil and translated from Portuguese, this story is a dreamlike marvel. It follows a 14-year-old boy’s desperate journey toward reconnection and revenge. Destitute and rejected by his one living relative, he ends up living inside the hollow head of a broken statue of Saint Anthony. There, he magically hears the prayers of the village women, and to his consternation, gains celebrity status. One female voice sings her litany and captivates the boy’s heart, sight unseen. How can he find out who she is? The story is told in the language of fable and contains elements of magic realism. I found it irresistibly beautiful. Here’s our full review.–Lila

 

lion-islandLion Island: Cuba’s Warrior of Words, by Margarita Engle. Engle wraps up her series of books in verse that examine freedom and slavery in the Caribbean with this look at the Chinese community in 19th-century Cuba. Antonio is a Chinese-African boy, using his language skills to carry messages between Spanish and Chinese businessmen and diplomats. Through his job and his friendship with Chinese-American twins Wing and Fan, he learns about the persecution that forced the Chinese to flee California and the injustices they face as indentured laborers in Cuba. Meanwhile, rebels wage war against the Spanish, and as tensions grow, Antonio must decide how he is going to fight for freedom. An excellent choice for a classroom read-aloud or community book choice, especially now that Cuba is in the news again. —Cecilia

 

imageThe Memory of Light, by Francisco X. Stork. When Vicky Cruz wakes up in the hospital after a suicide attempt, she is sure that it’s only a matter of time before she will try again. But with the help of Dr. Desai and the other teens at the hospital, Vicky gains a better understanding of how to live with depression and how to take control of her future. That summary makes the book sound didactic, but it’s actually funny, thoughtful, and moving. This is the kind of book that you can open to any page and find wisdom and words to help you breathe and find strength. A hopeful, light-filled book that will help many readers–not just teens–face tomorrow with renewed courage. Check out our full review.–Cecilia

 

when-the-moonWhen the Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore. Miel and Sam have been friends ever since Miel emerged from the floodwaters of a toppled water tower. Each has secrets of their own, and now the Bonner sisters are determined to uncover them and steal the roses that grow out of Miel’s wrist. Gorgeous prose, and insights on love, family and gender identity make this a unique love story that is not to be missed. I’ve read this book about ten times now and each time I find new beauty that I missed before. A must-read for YA fans. —Cecilia

 

Labyrinth Lost CoverLabyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova. Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin. The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between. Alex’s journey through Los Lagos feels very classic. The different communities she encounters, each with its own history and strengths and weaknesses, may remind readers of classic adventures like The Odyssey, Dante’s Inferno, and Alice in Wonderland. Every new area of Los Lagos brings a ton of action. Not every writer can create battle scenes so the reader can clearly visualize them without having to re-read. Zoraida is GREAT at this. —Cecilia

 

New Adult

julietGaby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath is one of a kind. Rivera creates a beautiful, relatable, and necessary character in 19 year old Juliet Palante. Juliet comes out to her family the day she is set to travel to Oregon for an internship with a well renowned white feminist writer. Juliet is convinced that in order to be proudly lesbian she needs to leave her small and suffocating home in the Bronx. But this precious nena has so much to learn. Rivera takes Juliet on a journey of self-discovery that also allows the readers to learn about Latinx queer identity, history, and culture. After a few heartaches, let downs, and realizations, Juliet learns that the answers she seeks are where she least expects them. —Sonia

 

Resources for Educators, Librarians and Parents

multicultural-litMulticultural Literature for Latino Bilingual Children: Their Words, Their Worlds, edited by Ellen Riojas Clark, Belinda Bustos Flores, Howard L. Smith, & Daniel Aleandro Gonzalez. From Sujei’s review, published in School Library Journal:  “A comprehensive professional development resource that centers on Latino children’s literature and its inclusion and use in school settings. Divided into five parts and 16 chapters, the volume captures the significance of Latino children’s books, their impact on bicultural and bilingual children, and the approaches that educators must take to use these materials critically. Themes such as bilingual learners, selection criteria, transnationalism, counternarratives, and digital literacies are broadly presented, as well as the importance of challenging tokenism and stereotypes and incorporating Latino children’s books in language arts, social studies, science, and math curricula. Each chapter includes a theoretical framework, an application of theory section, and references, discussion questions, activities, and further professional reading. Introductory lists of Latino children’s books, titles in Spanish for children, and online resources are appended. This work positions this literature in a sociocultural, historical, and political context that successfully brings theories to praxis and always encourages educators to keep in mind the bicultural and bilingual young readers of these books.”–Sujei

 

belpre-20-yearsThe Pura Belpré Award 1996-2016: 20 Years of Outstanding Latino Children’s Literature, edited by Nathalie Beullens-Maoui & Teresa Mlawer. Published to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Pura Belpré Award, which celebrates the best of Latinx children’s literature, this book offers essays and stories by past and present winners of the award. It includes an introduction by Reformistas and co-founders of the Pura Belpré award, Oralia Garza de Cortés and Sandra Ríos Balderrama, as well as pictures and short biographies of past winners and the award-winning books they created. —Sujei

 

Notable Omissions

Yes, we missed out on some promising books this year. Here are a few that we’re catching up on: Shame the Stars, by Guadalupe García McCall, Even if the Sky Falls, by Mia García, and Dancing in the Rain, by Lynn Joseph. Expect to see them and others reviewed on this blog in coming months!

shame-the-stars-cover-small  even-if-the-sky-falls  dancing-in-the-rain

 

The Reviewers

Cecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington DC where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com. Follow her on Twitter: @citymousedc.

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 Latino librarianship and identity. 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. She is the editor of Litwin Books/Library Juice Press series on Critical Race Studies and Multiculturalism in LIS. Sujei can also be found on Twitter, Letterboxd and Goodreads.

Ashley Hope Pérez is a writer and teacher passionate about literature for readers of all ages—especially stories that speak to diverse Latino experiences. She is the author of three novels, What Can’t Wait (2011) and The Knife and the Butterfly (2012), and Out of Darkness (2015), which won a Printz Honor. A native of Texas, Ashley has since followed wherever writing and teaching lead her. She completed a PhD in comparative literature from Indiana University and enjoys teaching everything from Spanish language and Latin American literature to the occasional course on vampires in literature. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez’s research focuses on the various roles that healing plays in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. She currently teaches composition and literature at a community college in Chicago. She also teaches poetry to 6th graders and drama to 2nd graders as a teaching artist through a local arts organization. She is working on her middle grade book. Follow Sonia on Instagram @latinxkidlit, on Twitter @mariposachula8, and at her website.

Lila Quintero Weaver is the author-illustrator of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Darkroom recounts her family’s immigrant experience in small-town Alabama during the tumultuous 1960s. It is her first major publication. Her next book is a middle-grade novel scheduled for release in 2018 (Candlewick). Lila is a graduate of the University of Alabama. She and her husband, Paul, are the parents of three grown children. She can also be found on her own websiteFacebookTwitter and Goodreads.

 

bookshelf-wonders

culturechest2

Creating a Diverse Book Legacy: Interview with Culture Chest Founder

The climate in our country at present makes it increasingly urgent for us to bring diverse portrayals of diverse peoples to young readers. In addition to the resources we promote through schools, libraries, and other communities, there’s a new kid on the block, a subscription service called Culture Chest, which provides books that highlight diverse experiences geared toward readers aged 3-8. Several subscription options are available.

Here are some highlights of my chat with Rose Espiritu, founder of Culture Chest.

LKL: Tell us the mission behind Culture Chest. What does it bring to the work of diversifying children’s literature?

Rose: Two years before beginning Culture Chest, I was working on a documentary about parenting someone of a different race. I interviewed over one hundred interracial families as well as those brought together through transracial adoption. Many families explained the difficulties of finding books with characters that looked like their children. While filming, I interviewed a young Latina girl who was adopted by a Caucasian family when she was born. She told me about a book that described the adoption process and compared it to a “birthing video.”  It was the only explanation she had for how she came to be. Through her, I realized the importance of children’s literature.

culturechestboxRose: As a second generation immigrant of Nigerian and Filipino descent, I struggled with finding literature about my heritage when I was growing up. I created Culture Chest to help people learn about themselves and other cultures. I wanted to provide a resource for parents to teach their children about the world within the comfort of their own homes.

I think of Culture Chest as a social venture, and I want to support the diversification of children’s books. The goal is to show publishing companies that folks want diverse stories with cultural relevance which will hopefully prompt them to invest more resources towards supporting authors from diverse backgrounds.

LKL: How do you select the books?culturechest1

Rose: I consult with children’s book reviews and testimonials as well as books that I personally enjoy. I look for books written by diverse and emerging authors who have a personal connection to their work. At Culture Chest, we do not look for books where characters “happen” to be a person of color. We want stories with cultural relevance that encourage children to love other cultures.

LKL: What are some of your favorite books by or about Latinxs? 

In children’s books, one favorite is The Gullywasher by Joyce Rossi. The book is a
grandfather telling a tall tale about how he got older. I was super close to my lolo (grandfather) and it reminded me of that special bond.

 

Tito Puente, Mambo King by Monica Brown is a fun vibrant story of about Tito Puente banging on pots and pans as a child. I’ve seen many children light up after reading it to them! We featured this title in our September box.

garciagirlsFor older readers, I love How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Álvarez. I immediately related to this book and its themes of pressure to assimilate, racial identity, and the immigrant experience. I love the fact that it is told from the perspective of four girls. It felt like snapshots of the past. I was introduced to the time of Trujillo and the political unrest in the Dominican government that led to their family fleeing to America. This book had adventure, laughter, and stories everyone with strict Catholic roots can relate to.

LKL: What else should readers know about Culture Chest?

We are a humble startup with big dreams of promoting culture through books, toys, and other avenues. Traveling to other countries and reconnecting with my heritage as an adult has helped me become a much more self-assured, confident person. My parents immigrated to this country, so their goal was to be American. As an American, I feel I have to work twice as hard to hold onto my heritage. I know others share this desire. Our goal is to help make it easier for parents and children to engage with their culture.

LKL: How can folks learn more about what you do? 

Please join to our email list and connect with us on Twitter at @CultureChest. You can also find us on Facebook and at our website. Learn more and subscribe at culturechest.com, and use the promo code WELCOME to get 10% off as a new subscriber.

 

A Studio Visit with Author-Illustrator Juana Medina

img_4567by Cecilia Cackley

Juana Medina’s latest book is Juana and Lucas, published this September by Candlewick Books. An illustrated early chapter book, it is narrated by Juana, a little girl living with her dog Lucas in Bogotá, Colombia, who gives the reader a tour of her city and her life. Juana loves her family, her friends and her school, but she does not like having to learn English. Only when her family reminds her that they have a trip planned to the theme park Astroland in the United States, does Juana admit that maybe English has its uses after all.

Medina was born in Colombia and now lives in Washington, DC, where she works out of a shared studio space on the northwest side of the city. I spent an afternoon with her there, looking at the tools she used to create the illustrations for Juana and Lucas and talking about the process of creating the book.

Medina started out working in graphic design. She originally came to the United States from Colombia to study at the Corcoran School in DC, but found that the program there didn’t fit her needs and instead she moved to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Her study of graphic design prepared Medina to write and illustrate this story. “It gave me great structure to understand books,” she says, adding that studying alongside undergrad students “made it more fun, gave it a sense of exploration.”

img_4574That sense of exploration is on full display in Juana and Lucas, which features a loose, sketchy quality to the ink drawings. Medina points to the British illustrator Quentin Blake as a key influence, noting that he draws with both hands, and she often does too, or sometimes draws with one hand and colors with the other. Another favorite artist is Joaquin Salvador Lavado, better known by his pen name Quino, who created the iconic comic strip Mafalda for the Argentine newspaper El Mundo. Medina gushes about Quino’s “level of expressiveness.” She points out: “He includes wit in such simple traces and achieves complexity and an incredible level of detail in just a few lines.”

Medina likes the ability to switch between different artistic media from book to book. For her, it’s about what the story asks for.  Juana and Lucas is illustrated in pen and ink, and colored with watercolor, which is a very personal medium for Medina, as it reminds her of childhood and illustrations by favorites such as Quentin Blake. The personal components of the story of Juana and Lucas meant that watercolor felt right for the book, because it gives it a sense of nostalgia. Other illustration projects that Medina has worked on, such as Smick, written by Doreen Cronin, and the counting book 1 Big Salad combine found objects with digital drawings.

img_4573For Juana and Lucas, Medina experimented with sketches in pencil first, then used a light box to draw the final version of each illustration in ink. Watercolor came next and the drawing was then scanned so that the colors could be adjusted digitally. This process also allowed Medina to correct small errors without having to redraw an entire composition. She showed me one spread containing an airplane that hadn’t been in the original sketch. Later in the process, it was added digitally to cover up an unruly inkblot!img_4571

For Juana and Lucas, her first chapter book, Medina wrote the story first, and then went back to draw. Through writing and rewriting, she found the balance between word and image. She says “It’s important to make a book where even if a kid can’t read yet, they can still get a sense of the story.” The relationship between Juana and Lucas, in particular, is mostly visual, so even if Juana isn’t talking about him very much in the text, you see them interacting in the illustrations. Medina points out that this is more realistic, as our interactions with our pets are mostly visual and tactile. Having narrative both in the text and in the illustrations makes this a great choice for readers still transitioning from picture books to chapter books.

img_4570 The dynamic presentation of text (words that curve, get bigger or in other ways deviate from the standard type) featured throughout the story was Medina’s idea. Her thinking is that typography is part of language, explored, and it can cue certain meanings of words that may be unfamiliar to young readers.

Medina says about her writing process: “I was telling a story that was personal in my second language, so that was hard. I was lucky to be working with an editor who got it—figuring out the exact language to make it understandable without imposing too much. Candlewick has been great at not treating the text as precious, but instead seeing what is working and what isn’t.”

The book was written first in English, and she says it was almost like writing lyrics, choosing places where Spanish could be inserted in a way that made sense. Medina wanted to avoid echoing the English words in Spanish. She felt it was important to be respectful of readers and give them a chance to figure out the meanings of the Spanish words on their own. Its inclusion adds richness and reminds the reader that English isn’t Juana’s first language. The mix of the two languages feels very genuine, because mixing languages happens with all multilingual children. Their brains are trying to figure it out, and it’s natural for them to begin a sentence in one language and end it in another. The Spanish hasn’t deterred young readers who aren’t already familiar with the language. According to Medina, “I gave it to my niece, who was the first kid to ever read it. She doesn’t speak Spanish, but as soon as she finished the book, she went to the computer and pulled up Google Translate. After a moment she turned to me and said, ‘Me encantó tu libro,’ which was just…I was crying.”

img_4572For readers in the United States used to seeing European cities such as London or Paris in children’s literature, it’s a breath of fresh air to get such a detailed, child’s-eye view of a major South American city. Medina went back to Bogotá after writing several versions, and says the trip was bittersweet. “It was the first time there without my grandparents, without having a place there to call home. It was a difficult trip, but it was sweet to see the mountains and smell the eucalyptus, and it was validating to see everything. I took some license in the book. I’m not tying myself to fact-checking everything, which was liberating in a way. There was a lot I left out, especially surrounding the conflict and civil war I grew up with. That’s something I’ll maybe address in another book. The hardest illustration was my grandparents’ house, which no longer exists. It was a safe haven, so no illustration could truly do it justice.”

Readers will be happy to learn that Medina is already working on a second book in the Juana and Lucas series. In addition, her follow up to 1 Big Salad, an ABC book called ABC Pasta, will be out in the spring from Penguin Random House. Medina’s advice to other Latinx artists looking to break into illustration is to be persistent and disciplined about their work. “Tell your own stories,” she says “Not the ones that will simply please an audience, but the ones that are meaningful.” And like her character Juana, struggling to balance her two languages, Medina advises artists to “find the language for the story you want to tell.”img_4568

Juana Medina is a native of Colombia, who studied and taught at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her illustration and animation work have appeared in U.S. and international media. Currently, she lives in Washington, DC, and teaches at George Washington University. See more of Juana’s work at her official website.

Cackley_headshotCecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington, DC, where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.