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

Book Review: Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

RollerGirlCVR

Reviewed by Lila Quintero Weaver

Roller Girl is a recipient of a 2016 Newbery Honor!

FROM THE NEWBERY MEDAL HOME PAGE: Astrid falls in love with roller derby and learns how to be tougher, stronger and fearless. Jamieson perfectly captures the highs and lows of growing up in this dynamic graphic novel.

MY TWO CENTS:  Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl captivated me right off and only grew sweeter on a second reading. In addition to the immersive power of graphic novels, the story of Roller Girl delivers a solid punch: 12-year-old Astrid Vasquez gets hooked on roller derby and devotes herself to the sport while navigating the ups and downs of middle-school friendships.

Astrid’s passion for roller derby ignites when Ms. Vasquez takes Astrid and her best friend, Nicole, to their first derby bout. Afterward, Astrid can talk of nothing but the derby and fails to notice that Nicole doesn’t share her excitement. Come on, how could she not? Check out the theater of it all: the players’ costumes and wild hair colors, the electricity of the crowd, and the take-no-prisoners energy that drives the sport. Astrid even discovers an idol in Rainbow Bite, a star jammer for the Rose City Rollers, who exemplifies roller derby’s ferocity and skill. Astrid loves the fact that there’s nothing girlie or restrained about roller-derby culture, and when she hears about summer camp for junior players, she’s chomping at the bit to sign up. Best friends do everything together, right? This assumption crumbles when Nicole reveals that she’s planning to attend dance camp instead, along with Rachel, Astrid’s one true nemesis from their early elementary days.

With Nicole’s “desertion,” Astrid has to face the first day at derby camp alone. From there, complications abound. Ms. Vasquez is under the impression that Nicole’s mom will give Astrid a ride home at the end of each day’s session. Astrid is afraid to tell her mom that Nicole isn’t participating, as this would lead to all sorts of questions Astrid wants to avoid. As a result, the lies she must tell and the long walks home she must endure only add to the drama of those first grueling weeks at the rink. Did I mention that Astrid discovers she’s a lousy skater?

Despite aching muscles and botched skill drills, Astrid persists and finds new motivations as she enters more deeply into the world of her chosen sport. The camp coaches balance demanding practices with timely pep talks, and Astrid strikes up a friendship with Zoey, a camper her age. Another boost comes in the form of a correspondence with Rainbow Bite that starts when Astrid discovers the star jammer’s locker and begins leaving notes for her. (Rainbow proves a generous celebrity and writes back with inspiring tips.)

None of these triumphs mean that Astrid transforms into a roller derby standout; what matters are the personal victories that she achieves over the course of the summer, including earning the respect of her teammates and figuring out some important things about who she is and what sort of friend she wants to be.

Roller Girl succeeds on multiple levels. Through a lively narrative and a rich visual landscape, it draws readers into the fascinating world of roller derby, often explaining the rules and strategies of a sport unfamiliar to many through clever diagrams and dramatized scenes. Through these invitations to explore the sport, it portrays women and girls as highly capable both physically and intellectually. Readers get a clear sense that women can—and should—take on tough challenges.

In addition, Roller Girl gives us a Latina character comfortable with her ethnic identity and shows us Anglo characters who are equally accepting. Astrid’s Latina background doesn’t even emerge until page 54, and only much later do we learn that the family is Puerto Rican. This information comes across casually, as just another cool detail about the main character. At least this is how Astrid’s new friend Zoey takes the information when Astrid reveals it during a scene in which West Side Story plays in the background.

Astrid says to Zoey, “I’ve seen this movie! My mom made me watch this for an evening of Puerto Rican cultural heritage. Or something.” (At first blush, the idea that an adult puertorriqueña would push this movie as representative of her culture struck me as improbable. I associate West Side Story with racial stereotypes, discriminatory casting—white actors playing the Puerto Rican leads—and the problematic practice of filming lighter-skinned Latino actors in brown-face. But after asking around, I learned that not all Latinos recoil at the legacy of West Side Story, and many view Rita Moreno’s dynamic, Oscar-winning performance as a cause for celebration.)

In general, my sense is that ethnicity may not be central to the story, yet it gives readers additional exposure to a positively framed diverse character who faces the same challenges most 12-year-olds face. In fact, one of the biggest ways that Roller Girl succeeds is in its depiction of Astrid’s emotional journey. It delivers an honest and satisfying ride through many of the complex social and internal upheavals of middle-school life. I particularly like the author’s portrayal of mixed emotions. On one page, a central panel depicts a kindergarten poster of cartoon faces bearing unambiguous expressions. The caption reads: “The feelings were all simple ones, like ‘happy’ and ‘sad.’ They didn’t tell you about feelings that got mixed together like a smoothie.” In the next panel, Astrid contemplates exactly such “mixed together” feelings, the result of running into Nicole after weeks of separation. Astrid is happy to see her former best friend yet sad about the emotional distance that stands between them now. Out of this, she coins a new word, “shad,” a distillation of those contradictory feelings—happy and sad. This moment of acceptance that emotions are complex seems to me a marker that a character is coming of age.

As happens with the best of sports stories, Roller Girl follows a character’s trajectory through brutal training challenges, inevitable setbacks, as well as moments of triumph–and elevates these into something beyond athletic achievement. At twelve, Astrid is finding her way in the world. Some of her falls are literal and happen on the skating rink. Some are relational and emotional, and arrive without the benefit of coaches to teach her how to land injury-free. The important thing is that after each fall, Astrid is learning how to dust herself off and get back into the game.

TEACHING TIPS AND RESOURCES: A major theme of Roller Girl is the troubled landscape of middle-school friendships. Try this exercise with young readers. Assign a “treasure hunt” for episodes in the story that demonstrate the ebb and flow of friendships. Ask students to identify relational missteps that Astrid and other characters make, i.e., jumping to conclusions, not listening, passing judgments, not speaking up; ask them to do a similar search for positive practices that build friendships.

For visual help on grasping the rules of roller derby, check out the video on this page.

One of Astrid’s challenges is figuring out a good derby name. There are rules and traditions that must be observed, as outlined in this guide.

AuthorPhoto_VictoriaJamieson_LoRes_400x400ABOUT THE AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR: Pennsylvania native Victoria Jamieson attended the Rhode Island School of Design. Her work history includes a stint as book designer for HarperCollins Children’s Books. She now writes, illustrates, and teaches illustration at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon, where she also skates in the Rose City Rollers roller-derby league.

 

 

Newbie skaters like Astrid could probably use the tips from this video.

 

IMG_1291Lila 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. 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.

Our Latin@s in Kid Lit Favorite Titles of 2015

 

As the year draws to a close, we want to celebrate by highlighting current Latin@ children’s and YA books that captured our hearts.

2015 has been a good year, one that’s brought greater visibility to works by Latin@ authors and illustrators, as well as books by non-Latin@ creators that feature themes and characters with Latin@ connections. Make no mistake, the number of published titles originating in our community still remains at proportionately dismal levels, but this blog aims to promote, discuss, and amplify the voices that do exist. We also want to share our recommendations so that librarians, teachers, booksellers and parents will know about the best books out there.

Please note that this is a favorites list, and as such isn’t as comprehensive as a “best of” list. We’ve reviewed many of the 73 Latin@ titles published this year, but not all of them, including many we hear are worthy of acclaim. We hope you’ll share your own favorites in the comments! And rest assured, we’ll keep striving to give well-crafted, Latin@-leaning books their due in our Libros Latin@s book talks and other features.

Here’s what we focused on in compiling the list:

  • Children’s and young-adult books about Latin@s or by Latin@s, published in 2015
  • Respectful representations of Latin@s and their experiences
  • Rich stories with intersectionality of race, ethnicity, class, gender, generations, and/or languages
  • Titles for a range of age levels and genres
  • High literary quality and (when relevant) strong visuals
  • Books with heart!

So now that you know the backstory of our list, here are our Latin@s in Kid Lit Favorite Titles of 2015, presented in sections by reading level and alphabetized by title. Click on the links to read full reviews. 

Picture Books

22749711Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle and Rafael López. This is the inspiring true story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese Afro Cuban girl enamored with drums. Because tradition in 1930s Cuba prohibits girls from taking up drumming, what Millo achieves by breaking this taboo is even greater than the music she makes. Through their combined art, Engle and López enchantingly encapsulate Millo’s dreams. For our full review, click here.

 

20786680Finding the Music/En Pos de la Música by Jennifer Torres & Renato Alarcão. Before Reyna was born, her abuelito played in a mariachi band. His specialty was the vihuela, a small guitar-like instrument that has since fallen into disrepair. Reyna takes up the quest to get the repairs made. The vihuela becomes a powerful artifact that jump-starts the memory of the past, the important history of the community that tends to be invisible but is so essential to understanding the present. Here’s our review.

 

24795948Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh. Nineteenth-century Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada created now-famous engravings of calaveras, skeletons engaged in everyday activities that have become synonymous with the Day of the Dead. In this picture book, author-illustrator Tonatiuh presents Posada’s life story, complete with background information on contextual events, such as the Mexican Revolution. Read our full review.

 

22747814Growing Up Pedro: How the Martinez Brothers Made It From the Dominican Republic All the Way to the Major Leagues by Matt Tavares. Dominican baseball star Pedro Martinez, who helped lead the Boston Red Sox to a World Series win, got his start with plenty of help from his big brother Ramón. This is a story of brotherhood and of dreaming big and achieving bigger, powerfully illustrated by the author. Here’s our review.

 

22521973Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson. Young CJ would rather just go home after church than join his grandmother for their weekly bus ride to volunteer at the local soup kitchen. Will he change his mind? With simple yet poetic text and sumptuous “sunset colors,” Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson explore the concept of community in this inviting story. Check out this review.

 

24727082Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina & Angela Dominguez. Can a grandmother and granddaughter develop a close relationship when one speaks Spanish and the other speaks English? Of course! In Meg Medina’s warm tale of love, patience, and language, Mia and her abuela – along with a parrot named Mango – teach each other more than just words. Angela Dominguez’s rich, clean illustrations amplify this beautiful book. Check out this review.

 

22750413Salsa: Un Poema Para Cocinar/A Cooking Poem by Jorge Argueta, Duncan Tonatiuh & Elisa Amado. Argueta has created several bilingual poetry books that celebrate traditional Latin American dishes–including Guacamole, Sopa de frijoles / Bean Soup, and Arroz con leche / Rice Pudding – and Salsa is just as mouth-watering. This story poem creates playful connections between salsa’s vegetable ingredients and the musical instruments that they resemble. Tonatiuh’s signature illustrations bring extra flavor to the mix. Don’t miss our review.

 

cover-remembering-dayThe Remembering Day/ El Día de los Muertos by Pat Mora and Robert Casilla. This is a beautiful story about remembering our ancestors and their customs. Mora creates a loving relationship between a granddaughter and her grandmother that grows stronger as they practice their indigenous traditions together. For the grandmother, remembering is a significant aspect of everyday life but as the “leaves turn golden and fall from the trees” remembering becomes a celebration of those that have passed. After grandmother’s death it becomes the granddaughter’s responsibility to remember and honor her grandmother. Mora and Casilla’s story emphasizes that El Día de los Muertos is more about remembering than it is about calaveras and flowers. Here’s a review by La Bloga.

 

24694189Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago & Rafael Yockteng. A timely and moving picture book, originally published in Spanish, about a father and daughter traveling north towards the U.S. border. From counting what’s around her to meeting people and a “coyote”, this story, told from the child’s point of view, portrays migrant refugees journeys with deep empathy. Check out this review.

 

Vamonos Let's GoVámonos/Let’s Go by René Colato Laínez & Joe Cepeda does more than simply render the English and Spanish versions of “The Wheels on the Bus” side by side. Instead, it extends the songs to explore the sounds of all kinds of vehicles—and to track the lively journey of two children on the bus as they make their way to the park. Classroom activities available from Holiday House.

Early Readers/ Chapter Books

Lola Levine is Not MeanLola Levine is Not Mean! by Monica Brown & Angela Dominguez. In this delightful short chapter book, second grader Lola tackles soccer balls, annoying little brothers and runaway guinea pigs. Perfect for fans of school stories, family stories and all-around awesome characters! Check out the starred review Kirkus gave it.

 

 

SofiaMartinezFamilyAdventureSofía Martinez: My Family Adventure by Jacqueline Jules. This series is a lovely addition to the world of early chapter books. Lively main character Sofia keeps herself in the middle of the action in her loving, playful extended family, and her adventures are light and joyful with a touch of mischief. The charming illustrations by Kim Smith will bring giggles to young readers. We reviewed it here.

 

Middle Grade

22749539Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Breaking from traditional narrative, this novel traces the connected stories behind a magical harmonica. Using diverse characters that live in far-flung geographical locations, the story introduces less familiar aspects of well-known historical events: laws regarding children with birth ‘defects’ in 1930’s Germany, conditions for orphans during the Depression in the US, and the segregation of schools in California for children of Mexican descent during World War II. Here’s our review.

 

24612558Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez is a middle-grade fantasy thriller starring Cassie Arroyo, a Cuban-American expatriate living in Italy. After Cassie’s father is struck by a hail of bullets, whisked off to surgery, and then vanishes, she discovers that she, not her father, is the main target of the assassins. She then teams up with Asher and Simone to recapture the Spear of Destiny, a medieval artifact mysteriously linked to Cassie’s family line and the reason that her formerly blasé life at a private school is shattered overnight. Here’s our review.

 

22504701Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. In this highly engaging graphic novel, 12-year-old Astrid Vasquez finds her calling on a roller-derby track. Never mind that she brings no skating abilities to her first day of practice, or that her best friend would rather be at ballet camp. With the help of a savvy coach and teammates, and inspiration from a star jammer on the Rose City Rollers pro team, Astrid locates her derby groove. Check out this review.

 

22639675Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones. Moving from Los Angeles to a farm, Sophie gets quite a surprise when she encounters a cranky chicken with supernatural abilities. It’s easy to love Sophie, the half-Latina main character in this middle grade novel that upgrades the “new girl in town” idea by adding cool, magical chickens and letters from the beyond. Yes, we reviewed it.

 

Young Adult

22609281Barefoot Dogs: Stories* by Antonio Ruiz Camacho, a debut collection of interconnected stories, captures the flawed but fascinating humanity of the extended Arteaga family as they flee Mexico City after the kidnapping of the family patriarch. Even in exile, theirs is a relatively charmed existence. Unlike Latino immigrants driven north by more quotidian hardships, these scattering family members have no difficulty obtaining legal access to Palo Alto, Madrid, Austin, and New York City. They are not, however, wholly unsympathetic, and the particulars of the stories offer a counterweight to assumptions about Mexican immigrant experiences. Several stories, including “It Will Be Awesome Before Spring” and “Okie,” take the perspective of grandchildren in the family. For a full review, click here.

 

24612544Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx by Sonia Manzano. Sonia Manzano is an actor widely recognized for her role as Maria on Sesame Street. This memoir provides generations of readers with an opportunity to experience Sonia’s evolution from a young Latina, a puertorriqueña, in the Bronx into a promising performer. She powerfully reveals struggles to reconcile the love and abuse she witnessed in her family life. Don’t miss our review.

 

23309551Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir, by Margarita Engle. In this personal and deep mirror of her childhood, Engle showcases historical and emotional stories of life between two countries and two cultures. A memoir-in-verse that softly intertwines a love letter to Cuba and life, family, and memories attached to the island. Young readers will get a solid coming-of-age tale of growing up bicultural and the joys and pains found through that journey. Check out this review.

 

19542841More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera. Growing up in the Bronx with rough memories of his father’s suicide, Aaron Soto gets by with the help of a supportive girlfriend and a hardworking mom. But the promise of relief from the memories lures him into considering a radical procedure, and there are other self-discoveries to come. This debut novel offers a unique confrontation of race, class and sexuality. The main character is easy to root for in this ever-so-slightly sci-fi story. Read our full review here.

 

25256386Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez. The 1937 New London, Texas, school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—serves as the backdrop for this riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and destructive forces beyond the control of its teen characters. The novel opens with the explosion, and then flashes back to show how the characters’ lives intersect before the event. Check out our full review.

 

25364635Queer Brown Voices: Personal Narratives of Latina/o LGBT Activism* by Uriel Quesada, Letitia Gomez & Salvador Vidal-Ortiz, interweaves the traditions of testimonio and institutional history in a collection of 14 personal essays and oral histories that demonstrate how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Latina/o activists helped shape the LGBT movements of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. This collection corrects the tendency to overlook the many Latinas/os who were fighting for LGBT causes well before more widely known white leaders, like Harvey Milk, became active. For a full review, click here.

 

22295304Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. Sierra Santiago’s expectations of a normal fun summer in Brooklyn flip upside down when supernatural events intrude: zombies, weeping graffiti murals, Caribbean magic. But Sierra is the kind of heroine who makes plans and follows through, is clear-eyed about the shortcomings of people she loves, and takes charge with attitude. Read more of our review.

 

23395349Show and Prove by Sofia Quintero. The year is 1983. Blend together teenagers, hip-hop, urban plight, and racial tension; mix in summer camp trips and hanging out with friends, and you arrive at Show and Prove. This is a book about negotiating feelings and mistakes and tragedy. It’s a political book, examining identity and racism and bias in a way that never feels forced. For our full review, go here.

 

22609306Signal to Noise* by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This literary fantasy about coming–of-age romance, mixtapes and sorcery is set against the background of Mexico City in two time frames. It relates the intimate story of teenage Meche in 1988 and how she has grown up – and not – in the intervening 20 years. The universal themes of alienation and parental discord are emotions that anyone of any age can relate to. Modern teens may find themselves fascinated by the description of life in Mexico City nearly 30 years ago and discover it’s not so different from their lives today. Yes, we reviewed it.

 

23013839Surviving Santiago by Lyn Miller-Lachman is the continuing story of the Aguilar family from Miller-Lachman’s novel Gringolandia. In this novel, Tina returns to Chile, which continues to be ruled by the Pinochet dictatorship in 1989. Tina falls in love with a local boy named Frankie, who has dangerous political connections and is a threat to her and her father, Marcelo, an important, targeted voice in the democracy movement. Here’s our review.

 

20734002The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore is a 2016 William C. Morris Award finalist for good reason. McLemore’s lyrical prose centers on two traveling performance families, the Corbeaus and Palomas, hated rivals for generations who violently clash whenever they perform in the same town. A dangerous, forbidden romance develops between Lace Paloma and Cluck Corbeau that leads to family secrets revealed and a stunning climax filled with gorgeous magical realism. We will be reviewing the book in February and Anna-Marie will be writing a guest post for us. Check back then! In the meantime, check out this review.

 

22032788When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez. On the surface, Emily and Elizabeth share little in common besides 10th-grade lit class and the study of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. But they’re both hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice and one of them will attempt suicide. Set in New England, this captivating novel delivers a strong portrayal of Latin@s and a cast of satisfyingly complex characters from diverse backgrounds. Check out our full review here.

*Not technically classified as YA, these are adult books which may be of interest to teens.

Summer Reading Picks for You!

 

Summer Reads

Summer’s upon us, and we’re here to help you choose the right Latin@ kid-lit for your young readers. Putting together a fun and useful list was a matter of posing six questions to our contributing book specialists, Lettycia Terrones, Cecilia Cackley, Marianne Snow and Sujei Lugo. We love the variety and originality of their answers and bet you will too. Take this list to your local library or bookstore and stock up!

1. Is there a brand-new release you can’t wait to get your hands on?

Lost in NYC

Lettycia: Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure, a TOON Graphic release written by Nadja Spiegelman and illustrated by Sergio Garcia Sanchez. It tells the story of a group of kids on a New York City field trip. Things go haywire when Pablo gets separated from the rest. This title will also be released in Spanish. At TOON Books, get a glimpse of the stunning illustrations. Cesar_Chavez_Cover

Lettycia: Luis y Jennifer en: César Chavez & la máquina de tiempo, by Juan Carlos Quezadas and Bernardo Fernández. Written in Spanish, this book follows time travelers to 1966, where they encounter adventures in the vineyards of California during the height of César Chavez’s campaign. For purchasing information, go to LA Librería.

Funny Bones

Sujei: Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras, by author-illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh. Here, Tonatiuh lends his artistic power to the amazing story of the 19th-century Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada, whose calavera drawings have become synonymous with El Día de los Muertos. For more information, see Abrams Books.

Sujei: The Great and Mighty Nikko! A Bilingual Counting Great and Mighty NikkoBook, written and illustrated by Xavier Garza. It’s bedtime, but Nikko must first wrestle masked luchadores! How many of them are there? Uno, dos, tres…Learn more at Cinco Puntos Press.

Drum Dream GirlThree of our contributors chose Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López. It’s based on the true story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a young Cuban in the 1930s who defied the social stigma against female drummers. Marianne says, “I’ll read anything that Margarita Engle writes and Rafael López’ illustrations are sumptuous.” Cecilia and Sujei feel much same, and apparently, so does Kirkus!

 

2. Oldies, but goldies! Which classic book do you wish every kid would read?

taste_of_the_mexican_market_sml

Marianne: El gusto del mercado mexicano/ A Taste of the Mexican Market, by Nancy María Grande Tabor. Marianne: “This book beautifully weaves together math, science, and culture as the author takes readers on a tour of a traditional Mexican market.” For a peek at the gorgeous interior of this award-winning book, go to the official Charlesbridge page.

Cuba 15Cecilia: Cuba 15, by Nancy Osa. Nudged by her grandmother, a Cuban-American girl reluctantly dives into preparations for her quinceañera. Click here for more information on this multiple award-winner.

Streets are freeSujei: The Streets are Free, by Kurusa. Kids in a Venezuelan barrio realize that if they’re ever going to get a playground, they’ll have to build it themselves. This inspiring book is based on a true story. Learn more at Scholastic.

 

 

3. Is there an adorable picture book you’d like to remind readers about? 

Counting with FridaSujei: Counting with Frida/Contando con Frida, by Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein. It’s a bilingual board book from Lil’ Libros that employs images inspired by the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo to teach counting. Looks irresistible!

ChavelaMarianne: Chavela and the Magic Bubble, written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Magaly Morales. This book takes readers on a magical ride to the sapodilla tree, the source of chicle, essential to the manufacture of chewing gum. “You can’t go wrong with colorful illustrations, magic realism, a sweet family story, and bubble gum,” Marianne explains. Check out this review on La Bloga.

Knit TogetherCecilia: Knit Together, by Angela Dominguez. It’s the story of a collaboration between a knitting mom and a daughter who draws. The adorable illustrations pay tribute to the textures and colors of yarn. See more on Angela’s website!

 

 

4. Everybody has at least one fabulous book on their must-read list. What’s yours? 

Mexican WhiteboyCecilia: Mexican Whiteboy, by Matt de la Peña. It’s the dramatic story of a teenage boy who excels at baseball, but struggles with his mixed Latino heritage. We recently featured this novel within a YA-focused book talk on Matt. Don’t miss it!

Alamo WarsMarianne: Alamo Wars, by Ray Villarreal. “I’m immensely interested in Texan history and multiple perspectives (Tejano, Mexican, Anglo) about historical events, and this middle-grade book tackles those topics by exploring how a school struggles to address controversial representations of the past when they put on a play about the Battle of the Alamo. Should be fascinating!” Here’s the book’s page on Amazon.

Evelyn overSujei: The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, by Sonia Manzano, of Sesame Street fame. Evelyn is a Puerto Rican girl living in New York City’s Spanish Harlem, and coming of age just as the activist group known as the Young Lords is creating literal and political heat in the barrio. Read the Latin@s in Kid Lit review here.

5. Which book have you found impossible to put down? In fact, you’re sure somebody should make a movie of it!

Smell of old lady perfumeMarianne: The Smell of Old Lady Perfume, by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez. She says, “Martinez’ novel addresses subjects like family, loss, and friendship with grace, warmth, and understanding, and reading it felt like coming home.” This novel garnered a long list of honors for its portrayal of a young girl whose life in a Texas border town undergoes upheaval when her father suffers a stroke. Read more on the Cinco Puntos site.

ShadowshaperCecilia and Sujei both got hooked by Daniel José Older’s debut YA novel, Shadowshaper– a mystical fantasy thriller starring Sierra Santiago, a 15-year-old Brooklyn girl of Afro-Caribbean heritage with supernatural connections. Publishers Weekly gave it a solid thumbs up.

Gabi A GirlSujei: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, by Isabel Quintero. The author took the book world by storm in 2014, crafting her main character through strongly voiced and often humorous diary entries. Gabi is a Mexican American high school girl whose friendships, romantic crushes and family troubles create a dramatic mix. Here’s our book talk.

AristotleFor this category, Lettycia seconded the nomination of Gabi and also chose Pura Belpré winner Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz. It’s the moving story of the tight friendship and blossoming romance between two Latino boys. Here’s our review.

6. And now for the “wild card”– a category of your making. 

Niño wrestles the worldCecilia is ready to turn two recent books into plays–Niño Wrestles the World, by Yuyi Morales, and Drum Dream Girl, discussed above. Niño Wrestles the World is one of the most celebrated picture books in Latin@ children’s literature. Click here to read Sujei’s review and here, for Lettycia’s examination of the story’s fable elements.

My daughter my sonLettycia described her “wild card” choice as the “best book for parents to read with their kids.” It’s My Daughter, My Son, The Eagle, The Dove, written by Chicana poet Ana Castillo and illustrated by Susan Guevara. The book celebrates milestones in a child’s and family’s life. It’s an homage to traditional Aztec chants and includes art inspired by Aztec culture. See it at Barnes and Noble.

My feet are laughingThe final wild-card suggestion is in the category of poetry. In Sujei’s words, My Feet Are Laughing, by Lissette Norman, is “a poetry book that celebrates family and life in the city.” Sadie, the main character, calls New York City home. The poems highlight Dominican American life in the neighborhoods of Harlem. Here’s a review from Rhythm, the Library Dog!

 

For additional suggestions, check out this reading list from Edi Campbell and friends. It’s built around diverse books of all types, not just Latino reads. And at Latinas 4 Latino Lit, take advantage of a summer reading program designed especially for Latino families.

Meet our contributors:

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. Cecilia’s interests include literacy, immigrant advocacy and bilingual theater.

Sujei Lugo has studied and worked in children’s library services in Puerto Rico and Massachusetts, where she is currently working toward her Ph.D. in Library and Information Science from Simmons College.

Marianne Snow is a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, where she researches Latin@ picture books, representations of Latin@ people in nonfiction children’s texts, and library services for Spanish-speaking children and families.

Lettycia Terrones serves as the Education Librarian at the Pollak Library at California State University, Fullerton. Her research interests are in Chicana/o children’s literature and critical literacy.

 

 

 

 

How and Why I Wrote My Graphic Memoir

by Lila Quintero Weaver

Final CoverreducedLast September at the Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference in Brooklyn, NY, I listened as Daisy Hernandez stated her belief that memoir writing arises from the unanswered questions a writer has about her own life. For me, by contrast, starting a memoir is what led me to realize I had questions.

Before beginning my writing journey, it had never occurred to me that there was anything remotely fascinating about my life. I’d grown up as an immigrant child from Argentina in Marion, a tiny dot of a town in the Black Belt region of Alabama, where for most of our 12 years in residence we were the only Latin@s. But then I realized that our isolation at this time and in this place was a story.Demographic pie

How big of a role did this cultural setting, with its legacy of racism, play in making me who I am? That was one of my biggest questions, and eventually, my outsider status and my awakening to racial inequity formed the narrative core of my graphic memoir, Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White (The University of Alabama Press, 2012).

[Note: All the art in this post is from Darkroom. Click on images to enlarge the view.]

My family’s arrival in Alabama synched up perfectly with several hallmark events in the Civil Rights Movement. We first briefly lived in Birmingham, where within six weeks of our arrival, the Freedom Riders rolled up to the bus depot and into the hands of a vicious mob. Then we moved to Marion, where racial segregation ruled every conceivable setting. Most white people seemed perfectly at home with this arrangement, but it made me deeply uneasy, even at age six.

Whites only

In 1965, African Americans across the Black Belt region were attempting to register as voters, but local officials obstinately barred the way. That February 18th, in Marion’s city square, a white mob clashed with a group of mostly local black protesters, while police stood idly by or participated in the beatings. My father witnessed some of these horrors and so did a host of other citizens, yet none of my teachers ever addressed these events. February 18th and everything surrounding it was quickly swept aside as if it had never happened.

Literacy TestI’d always known that a young black activist had been shot by a state trooper that night, but I’d never actually heard his name—Jimmie Lee Jackson. I did not know that his death—eight days later at Good Samaritan Hospital, in nearby Selma—had triggered Bloody Sunday, which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

My father died in 1995 before I ever thought to press him for details of what he saw during the violent clash. Among other things, I would have asked how witnessing such brutality at close hand affected his view of America. For decades, the only reason his account of that night didn’t fade from memory completely was because of some home movies he’d taken around the same time. They showed peaceful protest marches in the days leading up to February 18th.

After the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, civil rights activists set their sights on desegregating public schools. This time, I was the eyewitness to history—not that any child understands federal court orders, states’ rights battles, or the long, embittered tug-of-war to sort them out. Those questions would come later.

In 2004, I went back to college to complete my degree. That’s when I started to make up lost ground on the history of my region. The last thing on the checklist before graduating was a senior project.  The graphic memoir Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, gave me the idea to combine a written account with images, as an artistic exploration of my family’s immigration journey and the racially troubled times we encountered in our new homeland.

One of my goals was to find out exactly what happened that February night. I also wanted to pay homage to my father’s sideline work as a photographer and the crucial contribution that other photographers, as journalists, made to the Civil Rights Movement.

Darkroom joined spread

Grabbing the motif of photography helped me unify a complex story through metaphor and add a visual nod to the documenting power of the camera. So this is how my senior project looked: forty pages of drawings and captions, assembled in a photograph album. My drawings stood in for the photos. IMG_0031

At this stage, editors from The University of Alabama Press saw my work and offered me a contract for an expanded version. I said yes before I knew what I was getting into–a project that would consume the next three and a half years of my life.

To prepare, I dug down into family memorabilia and photos. I researched the current events of my childhood and gained a degree of perspective that wasn’t possible while the news reports were still fresh.

Darkroom process

One daunting aspect of putting the book together was teaching myself the bare necessities of digital graphics programs. First, I created my drawings traditionally, on paper—more than 500 in all. Then I experimented with different ways of digitally layering the scanned drawings and combining them with text. The effect I was going for was a scrapbook of photos and ephemera.

Passport

When the book launched in 2012, people in far-flung places showed interest in my story, including a publisher in France and college instructors from around the country who placed my memoir on their reading lists. Although I didn’t write the book with young readers in mind, it has also received a welcome in some middle school and high school classrooms.

Throughout this decade, the nation has been celebrating the 50th anniversaries of civil rights milestones. The Selma march has come to life in a major motion picture, and in a graphic novel series co-authored by U.S. Congressman John Lewis. Many eyewitnesses have published their stories, forming a rich tapestry of personal accounts. Teaching Tolerance, a division of the Southern Poverty Law Center, recently produced an instructional film for classrooms about the campaign for voting rights. It’s entitled Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot. It features visual documentation from previously untapped primary sources, including footage from the home movies that my father shot.

Bloody Sunday lies half a century behind us, yet racial tension and violence continue. I sometimes ask myself: what has actually changed? I remember the days of Jim Crow, which are, thankfully, well behind us. Yet, it seems like the passage of fifty years would’ve brought us deeper, more enduring changes.

Marching feet for Chpt 8

You may be left wondering: where’s the Latino component to my memoir? It’s there, in my initial struggle with learning English—a struggle that soon turned into a childish rejection of Spanish. It’s there, in my family’s generational divide on American culture and how fervently to embrace it.

School bus page

It’s there, in the troublesome fact that my family was spared overt bigotry because in Alabama in the middle of the 20th century, Latin@s were an almost invisible minority that posed little threat. I see this now, through the lens of history. If our immigration journey had taken us to a different region of the U.S., one where Latin@s were openly reviled and denied equality, I would’ve experienced things from a starkly different perspective. I can’t begin to guess what my life’s questions would’ve been then. For that, I turn to the stories of others.

Lila Quintero Weaver is the author-illustrator of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White. She’s working on a second book, a middle-grade novel. If Lila’s name looks vaguely familiar, it may be because she’s a regular co-blogger on Latin@s in Kid Lit. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and at her official author site.

Q & A with Illustrator Raúl the Third

selfie

Now here’s something different. Pour yourself a cup of Nescafé Suave and welcome to an ear-catching hang-out with two cool artists from the world of Latin@ kid lit. Chances are, you already know and love acclaimed illustrator Raúl Gonzalez, aka Raúl the Third, lauded in review after review for his work in Lowriders in Space, a dynamic graphic novel for kids written by Cathy Camper, released in 2014. (For a partial list of articles about Raúl, Cathy and LRIS, see the bottom of this post.)

Lowriders in Space_FC_HiRes

Raúl’s interviewer is Robert Trujillo, an up-and-coming illustrator based in California, who guest posted for Latin@s in Kid Lit in 2014. Instinct told us that Robert and Raúl would hit it off. How right we were! Today we’re offering Raúl and Robert’s Skyped conversation in audio format. It’s 32 minutes of lively repartee on becoming an artist, breaking into illustration, diversity in kid lit and much more– all laced with a zesty dose of Mexican American culture and comic-book geekiness. We’re betting you’ll find the chat engaging, revealing and funny.

(Teachers and parents, a small caution about some adult language.)

Some readers may not have access to audio playback, so we’re also posting a transcript of the conversation. Click here: Raúl Gonzalez Interview

Whether you listen or read, be sure to scroll down the length of this post for a FEAST of images related to the Q & A.

 

 

blackhole

A spread in Lowriders in Space, penned in Bic ballpoints by Raúl Gonzalez

 

Throughout the interview, Raúl refers to sketches, thumbnails, and overlays that he created for Lowriders in Space. To enlarge the view, click on individual images.

 

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low and slow

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The die-cast Impala

 

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Inking stage

 

More art by Raúl, the fine artist and muralist

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Born Again, by Raúl

 

Tufts University

A mural by Raúl at Tufts University

 

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“The Shape of Your Path,” by Raúl

 

Photos of Raúl on book tour and at home

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Raul at a library visit

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Raúl with his parents

 

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The artist and his family

 

The Thing cropped

“The Thing,” an early comic creation by Raúl

Raúl and LRIS have been written up EVERYWHERE! Here’s a minuscule sampling of the coverage.

Kirkus–a starred review of Lowriders in Space

School Library Journal, a print interview with Raúl

The Nerdy Book Club, featuring the 2014 Nerdy Awards for Graphic Novels

The Boston Globe, an exhibit by Latino artists at the Fitchburg Art Museum

 

Visit Raúl’s website here. He’s also on Facebook and Twitter. And don’t miss the official trailer for Lowriders in Space!  It’s a co-creation by Raúl, his artist wife, Elaine Bay, and their young son.

Screen Shot Raul and Rob

Raúl, center; Robert, bottom right

 

A huge thanks to our interviewer, Robert Trujillo! We look forward to seeing his art in future publications, including his upcoming book with Arte Público.

photo1 Born and raised in the Bay Area, Robert Trujillo is a visual artist and father who employs illustration, storytelling, and public art to tell tales. These tales manifest in a variety of forms and they reflect the artist’s cultural background, dreams, and political / personal beliefs. He can be found online and on Twitter at @RobertTres.

 

Finally, a special thanks to our audio editor, Caitlin C. Weaver.