Book Review: When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

 

28220826Reviewed by Elena Foulis

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

MY TWO CENTS: When the Moon Was Ours, captures a beautiful love story full of colors, scents, musical prose, and magical realism. Miel and Samir are peculiar children; Miel grows roses from her wrists and Sam paints moons and hangs them in trees around town. Anna-Marie McLemore’s rich narrative walks us through the lives of Miel and Sam, two teenagers with complicated histories. Miel’s fear of water, ghosts, pumpkins, and tormented memories of her mother, are intensified when the town’s rusted water tower falls and water rushes out over the fields and her. It is at this moment that she appears in the town, at the age of five, alone, in a thin nightgown, and bathed in rusted water.  No one knows her or approaches her, except for Moon (Sam), who talks to her and covers her with his jacket. Miel goes home with Sam, but Aracely, the town’s curandera, offers to bring her home and look after her.

This town, like the novel, is full of mystery. There are four beautiful sisters, known as the Bonner sisters, who are thought to be witches. They usually get people to do what they want, and get boys to fall in love with them. They seemingly accept and care for Miel, but are manipulative and cruel to her when they think her flowers can help them get their powers back. The Bonner sisters are not free from gossip, envy, unexpected pregnancies, and secret sexual desires. The readers slowly begin to discover that what makes everyone mysterious—aside  from the growing roses from Miel’s skin—is the world of secrets, half-truths, and distorted memories that each character holds. Hanging throughout the novel is the theme of gender fluidity. The story follows the blooming romance between Miel and Sam, who seem to tend to each other’s pains, desires, and bodily discoveries of unexpected peculiarities. Both Miel and Sam are foreign to the town, but it is Sam who is sometimes the target of discrimination because of the color of his skin and feminine features. Sam tells Miel the story his mother told him about bacha posh, a cultural practice in which families with no sons, dress a daughter as a son, and as an adult, the daughter returns to live as woman. Eventually, we discover how this tradition has impacted Sam’s life. Similarly, we learn about the connection between Sam’s life and Aracely, the town’s healer.

It is clear that the Bonner sisters are white, Miel is Latina, and Sam is Italian-Pakistani, and, although minimal, we can see how they experience life in this town. Las gringas bonitas, as Miel refers to them, are privileged and powerful, while Sam works the Bonner family’s fields. The theme of racial experiences or discrimination is not central to the novel, but it does point us to different lived experiences.

In the end, the novel is about acceptance and love. It is also about the complexity and danger of strict gender roles, and the freedom to live outside of that. For Sam, his assigned name and gender at birth did not match who he had become. The man he had become is the man who Miel loved. It is important to note the author’s personal story at the end of the book. Although she tells us at the beginning that this is a work of fiction, in the end, she explains her personal connection to Miel and Sam’s story. The author grew up listening to La Llorona stories, the weeping woman who, the legend tells, tried to drown her children by the river, and later learned about the story of the bacha posh, a cultural practice in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She also tells us about her marriage to a transgender male.

TEACHING TIPS: Teaching this novel opens up the opportunity to research different legends, traditions, and cultural practices in relation to gender plurality and sexuality. For example, recent stories from India and Mexico about cultures that have embraced a third gender have come to light.  The author’s page offers several links on interviews, music, and essays written about transgender awareness. As a pre-reading activity, teachers can also hold discussions about legends like La Llorona, children’s folk ghost stories, and the differences and similarities between curanderos/healers and witches. Further research into McLemore’s use of colors, scents, and other sensory descriptions can open up discussions about culture, mood, place, and magical realism.

Anna-Marie McLemoreABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anna-Marie McLemore was born in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, raised in the same town as the world’s largest wisteria vine, and taught by her family to hear la llorona in the Santa Ana winds. She is a Lambda Literary Fellow, and her work has been featured by The Portland Review, Camara Oscura, and the Huntington—USC Institute on California and the West. Her debut novel The Weight of Feathers was a Junior Library Guild Selection, a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults book, and a William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist. When the Moon Was Ours is her second novel. 

 

 

 

headshot2016ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Elena Foulis has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies from the University of Arkansas. Her research and teaching interests include U.S. Latina/o literature, and Digital Oral History. She is currently working on a digital oral history collection about Latin@s in Ohio, which has been published as an eBook titled, Latin@ Stories Across Ohio. She currently lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

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

Crossing Borders: A Guest Post by Author Reyna Grande

dsc_0205In my memoir, The Distance Between Us, I write about my experience as a border crosser. Borders have always been a part of my life. It saddens me to see that the world—instead of tearing down border walls—is actually building more of them. There are more border barriers today than ever before. In 1989 there were only 15 border walls in the world. Today there are more than 63, and counting.

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The author’s childhood home

My first experience with borders came at the age of two when my father left Mexico to seek a better life in the U.S. Two years later, my mother also left to the land across the border, leaving me and my siblings behind. By the time I was five, I had no mother and no father with me, and a border stood between us, separating us. I was left behind to yearn for the day when my family would be reunited.

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Reyna (center) and siblings Carlos & Mago

At the age of nine I found myself face to face with that border. I had to run across it, become a ‘criminal’, break U.S. law for a chance to have a father again. I succeeded on my third attempt and began my new life in Los Angeles at my father’s house. I thought I was done with borders; I didn’t know there would be more to be crossed—cultural borders, language borders, legal borders, gender and career borders, and more.

As a Mexican immigrant, as a woman of color, as a Latina writer I’ve fought to break down the barriers American society puts up for the groups I belong to. It’s always been a struggle to be Mexican in this country, and especially so in these dark times. For over a year Mexican immigrants had been under attack, blatantly demeaned and vilified by Donald Trump, who began his presidential campaign by calling Mexicans rapists, drug dealers, criminals. He said he would literally build more border walls, and now that he’s been elected president, we will bear witness to his hatred of my people. But he’s wrong about many things—especially when he said that Mexico doesn’t send its best. Like most Mexican immigrants, I have given nothing but my best to this country since the moment I crossed the U.S. border. I’ve worked hard at learning the language, understanding the American way of life, at pursuing my education, honing my writing craft, so that one day I could be a contributing member of this society and use my skills and passion to keep this country great. This is what most immigrants do. Our work ethic, our drive, our perseverance, our passion, our commitment to succeed and to give our best is undeniable.

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Reyna in her college years

Being a woman has never been easy. In the U.S. we might have it better than other countries, but still, women here have always struggled to overcome the borders put before us. We’ve had a long battle to redefine our place in the home and the workplace, our right to earn equal pay to what men receive. To be seen as more than someone’s daughter, wife, or mother. We had a long fight for our right to vote and to have a political voice, and for the past year we were fighting for our right to lead. For the first time we could have had our first female president since the birth of this nation, but despite her qualifications, since the very beginning of her campaign, Hillary Clinton was held to a double-standard because of her gender. Because she was a woman. We let that man get away with saying the most insulting, offensive, and ridiculous things. But Clinton? We let her get away with nothing. We elected a man who has absolutely no experience in running a country, instead of the woman who was more than qualified to do that and more.

We witnessed, at a national level, what happens on a daily basis to women in the workplace—we lose to men who are less qualified than us.

Last week we bore witness to a white woman failing to tear down the wall put before her by a sexist, patriarchal society. The fight is even harder for women of color who struggle not just against gender inequality but racial inequality. Since race impacts our feminism, we’ve always fought two battles at the same time. As a woman of color, I fight for equality but I also fight for justice. For us women of color, it isn’t enough to integrate ourselves into the existing system. We seek to transform the system and end injustices.

As a Latina writer, I’ve been dealing with other kinds of borders throughout my career. Latinos are 17.4 % of U.S. population, around 55 million of us, but we’re only around 4% of working professionals— including artists, writers, actors. We’re often kept on the periphery of the arts—and we fight on a daily basis for the right to contribute our stories, our talent, our creativity to American identity and culture. Through our art, we aim to fight against the barrier of invisibility. If we aren’t in books, in film, in TV, in art galleries, in music, does that mean we don’t exist?

The publishing industry lacks diversity at every level. The majority of books are written by, and are about, white people. Eighty-two percent of editors are white. Eighty-nine percent of book reviewers are white. They’re la migra of the publishing industry, the border patrol. They decide who gets in and who doesn’t, who gets published, whose books get attention. Latino writers have often struggled to get across the border of the mainstream publishing industry, often ending up with tiny presses (who lack the resources to do right by them) or self-publishing.

But having successfully run across the U.S. border at the age of nine taught me one thing—I can cross any border. This is the biggest reason why I wrote The Distance Between Us. I want to inspire others to believe in themselves and to find the strength to overcome. It is this belief that has helped me succeed in ways I never dreamed of. I want to encourage our youth, immigrant and non-immigrant alike, to keep giving their best and continue striving toward their dreams, despite the obstacles they find along the way.

Now more than ever, let us continue fighting for social justice, for a world without borders, for our right to create art, for our voices to be heard. It is through our stories that we will build bridges and tear down walls.

Reyna Grande is the award-winning author of two novels and a memoir, The Distance Between Us, which was recently published as a young readers edition. See our review here, where you may also learn more about Reyna’s story and watch video interviews. Her official website offers additional information about her published works, speaking schedule, and career news.

(Left) The original version of The Distance Between Us; (right) the young readers edition.

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Words from a First-Time Demonstrator: Speak up with Your Kids

liamash_whetstonevigilSunday, at the age of 32, I went to my first demonstration. My husband and I took the kids and gathered with about 500 neighbors for a peaceful, family-friendly vigil and march. Our goal: to come together in response to acts of intimidation and intolerance in Columbus. We wanted to show that there’s no place for hate in our community.

Whatever your political views, here’s why you should seek opportunities to speak up, create, and act with your kids to affirm diversity and take a stand against racism and hate.

Kids need context. As in other moments in history, present economic and political tensions have combined with racism to cause some people to blame shared problems on specific groups and to take this moment as an opportunity to lash out against them. Tell your kids that this is wrong, and that when we hear it or see it directed at ourselves or others, we speak up.

Kids need to know we stand against racism, scapegoating, and hate. With the talk and images that are circulating, we need to name racism and intolerance as real, dangerous, and unacceptable. To stay silent, even with our kids, is to normalize hate. We need to make plain that it is not “just words.” Now, more than ever, we are seeing that words can do damage, both directly and indirectly, and that’s something to talk about. At home, we have been talking a lot about how respecting a political office does not mean accepting hateful speech from the person who has achieved that office or his supporters.

Kids need to know we stand for diversity. We’ve been making a point of talking with the boys about faith traditions and cultures different from our own as well as sharing the range of stories that can exist within any particular community. This matters especially for those groups that have been maligned and targeted, including Muslims, Latinxs, immigrants, LGBT people, and victims of sexual assault.

Thanks to hearing chants at the vigil, including “Education, not deportation!” and “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!” Liam Miguel had great questions about what it means to be an immigrant. That was an opportunity for us to share that, with the exception of American Indians, all family stories in America began with immigration. Talk about the numerous motives for immigration and the still more numerous reasons for welcoming others into our communities.

Kids need to know that we are not alone. We can come together in support for each other and in commitment to protect the rights of the most vulnerable. My older son was beaming as he marched, and I know that part of that joy was that he had a chance to join his classmates, teachers, and neighbors to send a powerful message.liammakesposters

Kids need to know that they can act. Creating positive posters might seem like a small thing, but it gave Liam Miguel and me time to talk about what has been happening. It was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever gotten to share with him. We talked about things we might write or draw, and he was able to understand how some things we might agree with wouldn’t work (e.g. the regular American flag) because right now they are also being used by some folks connected to hate speech. And he got it–that a message is not just in the text but in the context as well.

Working on something together that has a positive goal or helps others can give kids—and us—agency at a time of overwhelming uncertainty.

Kids need words of strength. By seeing the beautiful signs promoting diversity and love—and challenging injustice—kids at the march saw the power of words for positive change. Liam Miguel stood with me when one of the organizers asked me to speak at the beginning of the meeting. The speaker wasn’t loud enough to reach the back of the crowd, but I know that my most important audience, the little guy beside me, could hear. Here’s what I wrote to share. I hope it gives you strength, too.

Words from a First-Time Demonstrator

Many of us are working through grief and disbelief and anger.

Some of us are stunned and frightened by what we are seeing in our communities, reports of hate, intolerance, and racism. Others of us knew and heard and felt this ugliness long before the election season.

Some of us are new to this fight. Others have never had the luxury of not fighting.

For all of us, it is clear that we have a lot of work to do.

There are people out there now who see this election as license to injure and demean.

We will stand up to them, and we will stand with all those who have been vilified and scapegoated. We reject hatred and blame. We reject verbal and physical attacks. We reject all efforts to demean or diminish or terrorize.

We may be angry, but we will not hate. Instead, we’re here to show what we embrace. We affirm the beauty of human diversity. We honor all kinds of love, all kinds of families. We believe that deep differences enrich us instead of dividing us.

There are also people out there now who are blind to the injury they inflict or that is being inflicted around them.

I believe—I have to believe—that they have hearts capable of growing and minds that can change. These are the people we want to win over. These are the people we talk to and listen to with as much patience as we can muster.

In this work, we need to be passionate… and compassionate. We need to be outspoken for what’s right while also being capable of listening, guiding, making a path into new ways of being in community. We need to remember that we’re working on ourselves, too. We need to learn from people who’ve been doing this work longer than we have.

We need to answer human brokenness with human connection.

Let’s walk together.

Let’s care for each other.

Let’s reach out to our neighbors here and beyond our town.

Let’s be a place of sanctuary, because the need is already there, and it’s going to get bigger.

Let’s organize, advocate and act.

Let’s keep showing up, keep standing up, keep speaking up because there is no place for hate in our hearts, and there is no place for hate in our community.

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Educating Children and Young People for Joy and Justice: A Guest Post by Author and Teacher Ann Berlak

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All art in this article is by Daniel Comacho for Joelito’s Big Decision/La gran decisión de Joelito by Ann Berlak.

By Ann Berlak

To prepare children and young people to participate in the construction of a more just and joyful future, we must tell them stories that make the invisible visible and unsettle what is taken for granted.

 “Everything in the mainstream media suggests that popular resistance is ridiculous…unless it is far away, long ago.”

Solnit (2016)

Poverty is increasing worldwide in the face of unimaginable wealth for the very few. Talk of the public good has been almost silenced, public services are rapidly being privatized and the environment degraded, and we have come to take as normal wars without end. Yet, though largely obscured by mainstream media and by schooling at all levels, movements for climate, racial, and economic justice are sweeping the globe.

Given these realities, what stories should we tell young people to prepare them to participate in social transformation?

 Stories that reveal:

  • how the decisions and actions of each of us affect the lives and actions of others, often in hidden ways
  • how differences of power in the hierarchies of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and disability—differences that may be initially invisible– affect how we and others experience our lives differently (empathy)
  • how to connect the dots between everyday injustices and the social forces that create and sustain them—for example, societal dynamics that create the vast extremes of wealth and poverty
  • how ordinary people acting together can create a more just and joyful world
  • that joining with others to create a more just future is a joyful life option for each of us

img_0268-2Aren’t children too young to think about social and political issues? Should we interfere with children’s innocence by prematurely exposing them to the darker sides of life?

Which children are we talking about here? Certainly not those children who already experience despair, who go to bed hungry, whose parents can’t find jobs. Acknowledging these realities means acknowledging the experiences of children and young people who are often marginalized in school and in children’s fiction.

When adults are silent about the social, political, and economic dynamics of society, children internalize the perspectives that dominate public discourse and begin to believe, for example, that people get rich because they are smarter or work harder. They learn to blame “the victim,” and to normalize war, violence, and astounding inequalities.

This is disastrous for privileged children as well as for members of groups that are on the downside of the prevailing power imbalances. Both groups drift toward the belief that this is how things have always been and how they must continue to be, and these convictions become quite resistant to change. As the tree is bent, the tree grows.

joelito-cover-two-boysJoelito’s Big Decision/ La gran decisión de Joelito

For thirty years, I taught prospective elementary school teachers. My primary intention was to challenge them to think about what kind of future they wanted to construct through what they taught. What should schooling in their classrooms be for, beyond preparing children to be “college and career ready”?

After I retired, I went back into classrooms as a guest social-justice teacher. This experience reconfirmed my belief that if given any encouragement at all, children and young people will eagerly engage in dialogue about the social, political, and economic issues that surround and shape them.

I also realized that when adults don’t address these issues, children construct their own explanations for what they see around them, and that they weave these from the dominant ideologies of the society. For example, the children I taught had a variety of explanations for how and why some people get rich: They “won the lottery,” “worked hard at school,” “were really smart.” Of course, many also believed the inverse—that people who are poor do not work hard, or are not smart—even when these beliefs conflicted with their own first-hand experiences.

Eventually, I decided to write a storybook for children that would help teachers and parents spark lively conversations like the ones I had as a social-justice teacher, and elicit looks of surprise that conveyed “ah-ha” experiences that are our rewards as teachers. The result is the bilingual, beautifully illustrated and timely Joelito’s Big Decision/ La gran decisión de Joelito. It’s about a boy, a burger, a friendship, and the fight to raise the minimum wage. The book’s illustrator is Daniel Camacho. José Antonio Galloso provided the translation.

img_0267Our book tells the tale of Joelito, who eats dinner at MacMann’s Burger Restaurant with his family every Friday. The story begins one Friday when he finds his best friend Brandon and Brandon’s parents at the restaurant entrance, holding up signs saying, “Low Pay is Not OK,” and “Fight for 15,” and urging the hungry Joelito not to eat at MacMann’s tonight.

Our book explains the sources of income inequality in a way that young children can understand—Brandon’s dad tells Joelito, “I would have to work for 500 years to earn what Mr. MacMann earns in one year” —and shows that people working together are making history today.

Why don’t parents and teachers talk more about economic inequality with children and young people?

The school curriculum is increasingly controlled by the 1%. This control militates against schools teaching children and young people to question the huge discrepancies of wealth and power. Because the structure of our economy offers most people an uncertain economic future, many parents are preoccupied with their children becoming “college and career ready.” Readiness is often reduced to achieving high scores on standardized tests, while preparing children for active citizenship and critical thinking increasingly falls by the wayside.

img_0264_2Hope

We hope that literary gatekeepers—parents, teachers, caregivers, and librarians will include among the stories that they share with children depictions of ordinary people working together toward a better future. The bookshelves in our classrooms, libraries, and homes are crowded with the tales of solitary heroes and heroines fighting battles in worlds of fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. Stories of contemporary people in the trenches for social change belong on those bookshelves, too.

 

 

 

IMG_0297Author Ann Berlak has been a teacher and teacher educator for over fifty years. She envisions schools as places where children learn to become active, caring participants in the creation of a world that works for everyone. Joelito’s Big Decision/La gran decisión de Joelito was selected for the 2016-2017  California Reads list of teacher recommended books. Keep up with current news about Joelito on Facebook.

Illustrator Daniel Camacho lives and works in Oakland, California. His at-home studio is filled with ongoing projects, and is usually open to visitors upon request. He teaches art to elementary and middle school students and works to promote an awareness of Mexican/Latino culture through his participation with the Oakland Museum of California, the Spanish Speaking Unity Council, local public libraries and other community based organizations. Learn more about Daniel from his official website.

Translator José Antonio Galloso was born in Lima, Peru. He is a writer, photographer, and a bilingual teacher with studies in audiovisual communication, Spanish, and writing. He has published poetry and fiction and his works have been included in several anthologies. His photographic work, which he considers an extension of his writing, has been exhibited and published in different galleries, printed media and online. He has been living in the Bay Area since 2002.