Book Review: Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle, illus. by Rafeal López

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Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: As a little girl, Teresa Carreño loved to let her hands dance across the beautiful keys of the piano. If she felt sad, music cheered her, and when she was happy, the piano helped her share that joy. Soon she was writing her own songs and performing in grand cathedrals.

Then a revolution in Venezuela drove her family to flee to the United States. Teresa felt lonely in this unfamiliar place, where few of the people she met spoke Spanish. Worst of all, there was fighting in her new home, too- a Civil War.

Still, Teresa kept playing, and soon she grew famous as the talented Piano Girl who could play anything from a folk song to a sonata. So famous, in fact, that President Abraham Lincoln wanted her to play at the White House! Yet with the country torn apart by war, could Teresa’s music bring comfort to those who needed it the most?

MY TWO CENTS: Dancing Hands is a biographical picture book about María Teresa Carreño Garcia de Sena that embraces creativity, family, and music during turmoil in Venezuela and the United States. Teresa, also known as Piano Girl, learns early on that music is an art for others to enjoy in the moment and in their hearts. Despite inevitable conflict in both her home country, Venezuela, and her new home, the United States, music becomes her refuge. Playing the piano calms the storms, brings together her family, and inspires other artists, and even the president in office, Abraham Lincoln.

While the text is in English only, the language used to describe Teresa’s talent is filled with poetic and descriptive language. It moves the reader through a narrative timeline of events and emotions. The illustrations are phenomenal and invoke more emotions as the reader learns about Teresa’s life changes. The use of acrylic paint and its textured shades contrast against the sharp lines and fierce colors that spread across each page. Each page has strategically placed colors and imagery placement to convey the story’s mood. Still, Teresa’s life experiences and talents remain front and center, with her connection to her music and cultures highlighted. My favorite moment in her story is when, as a young child, Teresa inspired other musicians to come and create music. It shows how far and wide her inspiration reached even at a young age!

TEACHING TIPS: Many of these teaching moments can be implemented in a K-5 setting, with a focus on the grades 3 and up.

  • Writing Mentor Text
    • Descriptive language: The author provides a plethora of metaphors and descriptive language that can serve as models for student writing when used to describe objects, moments, and feelings.
    • Mini lesson on adjectives and verbs
  • Addition to a biography unit or music unit
    • The historical note at the end of the book can serve as a catalyst for further research into the life of María Teresa Carreño Garcia de Sena. Student researchers can also find out more about her music and how it added to the arts during and after her time.
    • In music class, students can learn more about her compositions, as well as listen to her music compositions to add to their study.
  • Author and illustrator study
    • Pair this text with other picture books written by Margarita Engle and compare her writing style as well as the characters.
    • Pair this text with other picture books illustrated by Rafael López and compare his artistic style.

Listen to María Teresa Carreño Garcia de Sena’s composition called La Falsa Nota played by another pianist.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of many acclaimed books, including two other collaborations with Rafael López, Bravo! and Drum Dream Girl, as well as The Flying Girl; All the Way to Havana; Miguel’s Brave Knight; The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor book; Jazz Owls; The Poet Slave of Cuba; and her memoirs Enchanted Air and Soaring Earth. She lives in central California. Visit her at margaritaengle.com Follow her on Twitter: @margaritapoet

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ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Rafael López was born and raised in Mexico, a place that has always influenced the vivid colors and shapes in his artwork. He now creates community-based mural projects around the world and illustrates acclaimed children’s books, including The Day You Begin, Bravo!, Drum Dream Girl, We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands, and Book Fiesta! Rafael divides his time between Mexico and California. Visit him at  https://rafaellopez.com/

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is also a current doctoral student in NLU’s  EdD Teaching and Learning Program with an emphasis on Reading, Language, and Literacy.  When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never-ending “to read” pile!

Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors: Reina Luz Alegre

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By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This is an occasional series about middle grade Latinx authors. We decided to shine a spotlight on middle grade writers and their novels because, often, they are “stuck in the middle”–sandwiched between and overlooked for picture books and young adult novels. The middle grades are a crucial time in child development socially, emotionally, and academically. The books that speak to these young readers tend to have lots of heart and great voices that capture all that is awkward and brilliant about that time.

Today, we highlight Reina Luz Alegre.

Reina Luz Alegre lives in the Miami area with her family. She’s dreamed of becoming an author since the second grade, and grew up to work on various other professional dreams—including as a freelance journalist and lawyer—before debuting her first novel, The Dream Weaver. When she’s not writing, Reina loves to read, sing, and salivate over baking shows.

The Dream Weaver just released last week, on June 23, 2020!

 

Dream Weaver Final CoverHere is the publisher’s description:

Zoey comes from a family of dreamers. From start-up companies to selling motorcycles, her dad is constantly chasing jobs that never seem to work out. As for Zoey, she’s willing to go along with whatever grand plans her dad dreams up—even if it means never staying in one place long enough to make real friends. Her family being together is all that matters to her.

So Zoey’s world is turned upside down when Dad announces that he’s heading to a new job in New York City without her. Instead, Zoey and her older brother, José, will stay with their Poppy at the Jersey Shore. At first, Zoey feels as lost and alone as she did after her mami died. But soon she’s distracted by an even bigger problem: the bowling alley that Poppy has owned for decades is in danger of closing!

After befriending a group of kids practicing for a summer bowling tournament, Zoey hatches a grand plan of her own to save the bowling alley. It seems like she’s found the perfect way to weave everyone’s dreams together…until unexpected events turn Zoey’s plan into one giant nightmare. Now, with her new friends counting on her and her family’s happiness hanging in the balance, Zoey will have to decide what her dream is—and how hard she’s willing to fight for it.

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Reina Luz Alegre

Current Author Photo Reina Luz AlegreQ. Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

I’ve wanted to become a writer since second grade. I remember we’d be assigned to make up a story, and it felt like the classroom around me just disappeared. I’d become totally absorbed by the page in front of me, on which I wrote whatever scenes started streaming through my head like a TV show. And I’ve just never stopped wanting to escape into writing a story.

Q: Why do you choose to write middle grade novels?

I really love the sweet hopefulness in middle grade. I’m a huge fan of happy (or at least not unhappy) endings.

Q: What are some of your favorite middle grade novels?

I have so many favorites! IVY ABERDEEN’S LETTER TO THE WORLD by Ashley Herring Blake, FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON by Janae Marks, LOVE SUGAR MAGIC: A MIXTURE OF MISCHIEF by Anna Meriano, just to name a few, plus I’m so excited to read my fellow Musas’ books on LasMusasBooks.com.

Q: If you could give your middle-grade self some advice, what would it be?

I think I’d do almost everything differently if I could go back to middle school! First, I’d tell myself to relax because I took everything—and especially myself—way, waaay too seriously. I’d tell myself to have a bit more fun and not worry so much about what other people thought. I sometimes counted myself out before anyone else could. I more or less assumed popular kids could never become close friends because they were too cool.  I was just so extremely self-conscious and insecure about all the social stuff.

Q: Please finish this sentence: Middle grade novels are important because…

Middle grade novels are important because they help middle grade readers feel less alone as they navigate all those big changes and feelings that are part of adolescence. I also think middle grade novels are awesome for teens and adults because (at least all the ones I’ve read so far) always leave you feeling fairly uplifted and hopeful.

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photo by Saryna A. JonesCindy L. Rodriguez was a newspaper reporter for The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe before becoming a public school teacher. She is now a reading specialist at a Connecticut middle school. Cindy is a U.S.-born Latina of Puerto Rican and Brazilian descent. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU. Her debut contemporary YA novel is When Reason Breaks (Bloomsbury 2015). She also has an essay in Life Inside My Mind (Simon Pulse 2018) and wrote the text for Volleyball Ace, a Jake Maddox book (Capstone 2020). She can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

12 Afro-Latinx Kid Lit Creators You Can Support Right Now

 

Today, we would like to spotlight 12 Afro-Latinx creators in Kid Lit because:

  • the Kid Lit publishing world is overwhelmingly white,
  • the Latinx creators who do get published are largely white or white-passing,
  • racism, anti-blackness, and colorism are systemic plagues in Latinx communities, in addition to our communities at large,
  • and, as a result of all of the above, Afro-Latinx creators do not get the regular attention and respect they deserve.

We stand with the Black community and will use our blog to amplify the voices and work of Black creators more often. Many of us are also educators who are working within the K-12, higher education, and library systems to combat racism, shrink the achievement gap, and best serve our Black students and other students of color. We will continue to do this work.

Below, you will find information about the creators, links to their websites, and links to any past posts from our site. If you click on the book covers, you will go to IndieBound.org, where you can put money behind your support by buying books!

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Elizabeth Acevedo

From her website: Elizabeth Acevedo is a New York Times bestselling author of The Poet X and With the Fire on High. Her critically-acclaimed debut novel, The Poet X, won the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. She is also the recipient of the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction, the CILIP Carnegie Medal, and the Boston Globe-Hornbook Award. Additionally, she was honored with the 2019 Pure Belpré Author Award for celebrating, affirming, and portraying Latinx culture and experience.

Our review of THE POET X: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/03/08/book-review-the-poet-x-by-elizabeth-acevedo/

   

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Lily Anderson  Headshot - credit Chris Duffey.jpgLily Anderson:

From her website: I’m Lily, the curly haired gal in the pictures. I’m a writer from the slice of suburbs between Sacramento and San Francisco that could never get it together enough to be the Bay Area. After spending my childhood searching for books about mixed race kids who talk too fast and care too much, I decided to start writing my own.

My books are about snarky girls and emotional intelligence and sometimes monsters. As a woman of Afro-Puerto Rican decent, representing a diverse world isn’t a trend for me—it’s my greatest joy.

Our review of UNDEAD GIRL GANG: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/11/19/book-review-undead-girl-gang-by-lily-anderson/

   

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TransientVeronica Chambers

From her website: Veronica Chambers is a prolific author, best known for her critically acclaimed memoir, Mama’s Girl which has been course adopted by hundreds of high schools and colleges throughout the country. The New Yorker called Mama’s Girl, “a troubling testament to grit and mother love… one of the finest and most evenhanded in the genre in recent years.” Born in Panama and raised in Brooklyn, her work often reflects her Afro-Latina heritage.

She coauthored the award-winning memoir Yes Chef with chef Marcus Samuelsson as well as Samuelsson’s young adult memoir Make It Messy, and has collaborated on four New York Times bestsellers, most recently 32 Yolks, which she cowrote with chef Eric Ripert. She has been a senior editor at the New York Times MagazineNewsweek, and Glamour. Born in Panama and raised in Brooklyn, she writes often about her Afro-Latina heritage. She speaks, reads, and writes Spanish, but she is truly fluent in Spanglish. She is currently a JSK Knight fellow at Stanford University.

Our review of THE GO-BETWEEN: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/02/08/book-review-the-go-between-by-veronica-chambers/

        

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PictureTami Charles

From her website: Former teacher. Wannabe chef. Tami Charles writes books for children and young adults. Her middle grade novel, Like Vanessa, earned Top 10 spots on the Indies Introduce and Spring Kids’ Next lists, three starred reviews, and a Junior Library Guild selection. Here recent titles include a humorous middle grade, Definitely Daphne, picture book, Freedom Soup, and YA novel, Becoming Beatriz. When Tami isn’t writing, she can be found presenting at schools both statewide and abroad. (Or sneaking in a nap…because sleep is LIFE!)

Our Q&A with Tami Charles: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2019/10/03/spotlight-on-middle-grade-authors-part-12-tami-charles/

         

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Robert Liu-Trujillo

From his website: Robert Liu-Trujillo is a life long Bay Area resident. Born in Oakland California, he’s the child of student activists who watched lots of science fiction and took him to many demonstrations. Always drawing, Rob grew up to be an artist falling in love with graffiti, fine art, illustration, murals, and children’s books. In that order, sort of. Through storytelling he’s been able to scratch the surface of so many untold stories. Rob is the author and illustrator of Furqan’s First Flat Top. He’s a dad of a teenage boy and a brand new baby girl. He loves ice cream and his wife who laughs big and corrects his grammar every chance she gets. Down with the system and soggy french fries!

Rob is a co-founder of The Trust Your Struggle Collective, a contributor to The Social Justice Childrens Bk Holiday Fair, The Bull Horn BlogRad Dad,  Muphoric Sounds, and the founder of Come Bien Books.

Our review of FURQAN’S FIRST FLAT TOP: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2016/12/15/libros-latinxs-furqans-first-flat-topel-primer-corte-de-mesita-de-furqan/

Our review of ONE OF A KIND LIKE ME: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2017/05/04/book-review-one-of-a-kind-like-meunico-como-yo-written-by-laurin-mayeno-illustrated-by-robert-liu-trujillo/

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IMG_5888Torrey Maldonado

From his website: What do you get from teaching nearly 20 years in a middle school in the Brooklyn community that you’re from & you’re an author? Gripping relatable novels and real-life inspiration. Voted a “Top 10 Latino Author” & best Middle Grade & Young Adult novelist for African Americans, Torrey Maldonado was spotlighted as a top teacher by NYC’s former Chancellor. Maldonado is the author of the ALA “Quick Pick”, Secret Saturdays, that is praised for its current-feel & timeless themes. His newest MG novel, Tight, is a coming of age tale about choosing your own path. Learn more at torreymaldonado.com

Our review of TIGHT: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/09/06/book-review-tight-by-torrey-maldonado/

Our Q&A with the Torrey Maldonado: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/09/04/spotlight-on-middle-grade-authors-part-6-torrey-maldonado/

   

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☆ Poet, Author, Editor, Lecturer, Scholar, ActivistTony Medina

From his website: Tony Medina is the author/editor of seventeen books for adults and young readers. Medina has taught English at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus and Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY and has earned an MA and PhD in English from Binghamton University, SUNY. The first Professor of Creative Writing at Howard University in Washington, DC, Medina’s latest books are I and I, Bob Marley (Lee & Low Books, 2009), My Old Man Was Always on the Lam (NYQ Books, 2010), finalist for The Paterson Poetry Prize, Broke on Ice (Willow Books/Aquarius Press, 2011), An Onion of Wars (Third World Press, 2012), The President Looks Like Me (Just Us Books, 2013) and Broke Baroque (2Leaf Press, 2013).

   

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Yesenia_HeadShotYesenia Moises

From her website: Bronx native, Afro-Latina, and illustrator on Monique Fields’ debut picture book Honeysmoke: A Story About Finding Your Color, Yesenia is a freelance toy designer and illustrator. Her work has been featured on various media outlets such as SyFy and NBC News. On the toy side of things, she worked with Mattel and Spin Master and has even dabbled in comics here and there with Action Lab and Image. She enjoys creating colorful and whimsical illustrations that depict people of marginalized backgrounds in worlds where even ordinary life can be vibrant and full of wonder. In a time where the world can be a scary place, she wants it to be filled with big hair, bright colors, and lots of sazón from the heart!

Her author-illustrator debut, Stella’s Stellar Hair, is set to release in January 2021.

Our Q&A with Yesenia Moises: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/12/06/spotlight-on-latina-illustrators-lulu-delacre-cecilia-ruiz-yesenia-moises/

 

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MaikaMouliteandMaritzaMouliteMaika Moulite and Maritza Moulite

From their website: Maika Moulite is a Miami native and daughter of Haitian immigrants. She earned a bachelor’s in marketing from Florida State University and an MBA from the University of Miami. When she’s not using her digital prowess to help nonprofits and major organizations tell their stories online, she’s writing stories of her own. She also blogs at Daily Ellement, a lifestyle website featuring everything from diverse inspirational women to career guidance. She’s the oldest of four sisters and loves Young Adult fantasy, fierce female leads, and laughing.

Maritza Moulite graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s in women’s studies and the University of Southern California with a master’s in journalism. She’s worked in various capacities for NBC News, CNN, and USA TODAY. An admirer of Michelle Obama, Maritza is a perpetual student and blogs at Daily Ellement as well. Her favorite song is “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire.

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Image may contain: one or more people and closeupSofia Quintero

Sofia Quintero is a writer, activist, educator, speaker, and comedienne. She is also the author of Show and Prove, Efrain’s Secret, and has written several hip-hop novels under the pen name Black Artemis. This self-proclaimed “Ivy League homegirl” graduated from Columbia and lives in the Bronx.

Our review of SHOW AND PROVE: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2015/06/18/libros-latins-show-and-prove/

 

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Eric VelasquezEric Velasquez

Eric Velasquez is an Afro-Puerto Rican illustrator born in Spanish Harlem. He attended the High School of Art and Design, the School of Visual Arts, and the famous Art Students League in New York City. As a children’s book illustrator, Velasquez has collaborated with many writers, receiving a nomination for the 1999 NAACP Image Award in Children’s Literature and the 1999 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for The Piano Man. For more information, and to view a gallery of his beautiful book covers, visit his official website.

He is the illustrator of thirty books. Click here for a list of his work on his website.

Our review of GRANDMA’S GIFT: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2016/06/02/celebrating-pura-belpre-winners-spotlight-on-grandmas-gift-by-eric-velasquez/

Our review of GRANDMA’S RECORDS: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2014/02/13/libros-latinos-grandmas-records/

                 

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Ibi Zoboi

From her website: Ibi Zoboi was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her novel American Street was a National Book Award finalist and a New York Times Notable Book. She is also the author of Pride and My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, a New York Times bestseller, and Punching the Air with co-author and Exonerated Five member, Yusef Salaam. She is the editor of the anthology Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America. Raised in New York City, she now lives in New Jersey with her husband and their three children.

   

 

 

Review of Nerds, Goths, Geeks, and Freaks: Outsiders in Chicanx and Latinx Young Adult Literature

Reviewed by Cris Rhodes

Publisher’s Description of the Book: 

Contributions by Carolina Alonso, Elena Avilés, Trevor Boffone, Christi Cook, Ella Diaz, Amanda Ellis, Cristina Herrera, Guadalupe García McCall, Domino Pérez, Adrianna M. Santos, Roxanne Schroeder-Arce, Lettycia Terrones, and Tim Wadham

In Nerds, Goths, Geeks, and Freaks: Outsiders in Chicanx and Latinx Young Adult Literature, the outsider intersects with discussions of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. The essays in this volume address questions of outsider identities and how these identities are shaped by mainstream myths around Chicanx and Latinx young people, particularly with the common stereotype of the struggling, underachieving inner-city teens. 

Contributors also grapple with how young adults reclaim what it means to be an outsider, weirdo, nerd, or goth, and how the reclamation of these marginalized identities expand conversations around authenticity and narrow understandings of what constitutes cultural identity. 

Included are analysis of such texts as I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Shadowshaper, Swimming While Drowning, and others. Addressed in the essays are themes of outsiders in Chicanx/Latinx children’s and young adult literature, and the contributors insist that to understand Latinx youth identities it is necessary to shed light on outsiders within an already marginalized ethnic group: nerds, goths, geeks, freaks, and others who might not fit within such Latinx popular cultural paradigms as the chola and cholo, identities that are ever-present in films, television, and the internet.

MY TWO CENTS: In a departure from my usually reviewed materials for this website, I was delighted to jump into an academic text. I’ve reviewed fiction for Latinxs in Kid Lit, but this is a work of scholarship and thus, a very different read. Usually, when I review, I try to temper my scholarly focuses and think about what a readership of young people would enjoy. Here, however, the intended audience of the text is scholars like me! Thus, the publication of this edited collection was exciting, dating back to the moment when I spotted the original call for chapters and hoped that it would be just the right addition to our field. It is.

As scholars of Latinx children’s literature know, there is a paucity of edited volumes on the subject. In fact, only a few have been published, and all within the last several years. Importantly, Nerds, Goths, Geeks, and Freaks furthers existing scholarly conversations about Latinx children’s literature by looking at “outsiders within an already marginalized community” (from the Introduction by editors Trevor Boffone and Cristina Herrera). For those outside of Latinx children’s literature scholarship: This area of study tends to focus on stereotypical portraits of young Latinxs–that is, the chola/a/x, inner-city kids, at-risk youth, etc. But, in focalizing other Latinx youth populations, this volume encourages engagement with very real, seldom interrogated Latinx adolescents. 

The book itself is neatly divided into different categories, allowing readers to hone in on chapters of particular interest to them. Though the title indicates that the book centers nerds, goths, geeks, and freaks–it actually does more than that, analyzing Latinx adolescents who are bookworms, or superheroes, or queer, or artists, in addition to those who fit within the identities listed in the book’s title. Such analyses of Latinxs who don’t settle in the stereotypical image of Latinx youth are much needed in the field of literary study and are also essential conversations for those of us who read and enjoy Latinx children’s books. Using the frameworks provided by Boffone and Herrera and their authors encourages us to spotlight Latinx youth literature that defies the single story often perpetuated about Latinxs. 

Cris Rhodes, the reviewer, in her teen years

For someone who identified, at some time or another throughout my own teen years, as a Latina nerd, goth, geek, and freak, seeing explorations of these identities in literature is affirming. I would’ve loved to have had a book like Gabi, A Girl in Pieces when I first decided I wanted to be a writer or The First Rule of Punk when I dyed half of my hair purple (not nearly as cool as the quetzal green Malú uses in the book). As a current scholar of children’s literature, I consider conversations about these textual moments as doing much good to our field. They highlight that studying Latinxs isn’t a niche occupation, but is integral to studying children’s literature as a whole. And, as a consumer of Latinx youth literature, I’m glad to see these books given their critical due. 

The chapters in this collection are academically rigorous and critical, yet accessible. This is one of the few scholarly texts that I would recommend for general readers (not just scholars), and particularly for older, adolescent readers headed into college. The writing modeled throughout is the kind of cogent, scholarly writing their professors and teachers will be looking for. Additionally, it should be largely understandable for those without a critical scholarly background, as each author does a good job of providing a foundation for the analyses they make. And, for anyone not fully comfortable reading scholarship, I encourage them to at least peruse the Table of Contents for ideas on quality fiction to read!

All in all, Nerds, Goths, Geeks, and Freaks: Outsiders in Chicanx and Latinx Young Adult Literature is a solid academic text, a great invitation for new, Latinx youth literature scholars, and an intriguing library of excellent Latinx children’s books. 

TEACHING TIPS: Listen, I think all professors in the humanities (heck, also in STEM) should be teaching something about Latinx youth. If they’re not, then they’re doing a disservice both to their students and to the growing population of Latinx youth throughout the world. That being said, this volume would serve well in college-level education courses, especially for students at predominantly white institutions who have little previous exposure to studying Latinx youth or Latinx children’s literature. Additionally, I would teach the chapters in this volume in general literature courses or more specialized children’s or Latinx literature courses. (In fact, I’m a little miffed this volume wasn’t released before I taught my “Latinx Youth and Their Literatures” course!). Finally, as I explained in my review, the tone of each of the chapters is exemplary of good scholarly writing, thus I would also encourage teachers/professors to show this to students as a model of scholarly research and writing. 

The following chapter titles offer an additional glimpse of themes explored in Nerds, Goths, Geeks, and Freaks: Outsiders in Chicanx and Latinx Young Adult Literature:

Chapter 5: “Afuerxs and Cultural Practice in Shadowshaper and Labyrinth Lost“, by contributor Domino Pérez

Chapter 8: ” ‘These Latin Girls Mean Business’: Expanding the Boundaries of Latina Youth Identity in Meg Medina’s YA Novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass,” by editor-contributor Cristina Herrera

Chapter 12: “The Coming-of-Age Experience in Chicanx Queer Novels What Night Brings and Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,” by contributor Carolina Alonso

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Cris Rhodes holds a Ph. D. from Texas A&M-Commerce. She is an assistant professor of English at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches writing, culturally diverse literature, and ethnic literatures. In addition to teaching, Cris’s scholarship focuses on Latinx youth and their literature or related media. She also has a particular scholarly interest in activism and the ways that young Latinxs advocate for themselves and their communities.

Review: Running by Natalia Sylvester

 

Reviewed by Elena Foulis

SUMMARY FROM THE PUBLISHER: When fifteen-year-old Cuban American Mariana Ruiz’s father runs for president, Mari starts to see him with new eyes. A novel about waking up and standing up, and what happens when you stop seeing your dad as your hero—while the whole country is watching.

In this authentic, humorous, and gorgeously written debut novel about privacy, waking up, and speaking up, Senator Anthony Ruiz is running for president. Throughout his successful political career he has always had his daughter’s vote, but a presidential campaign brings a whole new level of scrutiny to sheltered fifteen-year-old Mariana and the rest of her Cuban American family, from a 60 Minutes–style tour of their house to tabloids doctoring photos and inventing scandals. As tensions rise within the Ruiz family, Mari begins to learn about the details of her father’s political positions, and she realizes that her father is not the man she thought he was.

But how do you find your voice when everyone’s watching? When it means disagreeing with your father—publicly? What do you do when your dad stops being your hero? Will Mari get a chance to confront her father? If she does, will she have the courage to seize it?

MY TWO CENTS: Natalia Sylvester’s YA debut novel, Running, is remarkable in many ways, but particularly in its attention to youth culture and the important role teens play in activism. Mariana (Mari) Ruiz, the protagonist, is a fifteen-year-old Cuban American girl, whose father is running for president but who has been in politics for most of his life. While the novel focuses on this Cuban-American family, and centers on Miami, Florida, as the geographical location of the story, it is not only about this. Sylvester masterfully weaves the complexity of growing up Latina/o with current issues of the region that resonate in other parts of the country, or are in some ways universal.

For example, Sylvester uses Spanish in the novel, especially in the dialogue between Mari’s parents and her abuelo, who lives with them, and we know that Mari understands it. At various points throughout the story, the protagonist reflects on the complexity of living in two languages and how incomprehensible literal translation is. I particularly enjoyed her reflection on the word desahogarse because I have used this word myself so many times and realize that some of the meaning is lost when you translate it. The novel also paints Latinx/Cuban-American identity by way of family traditions and food.

In the story, there are sociopolitical issues that Mari has heard about most of her short life but without understanding their gravity. For example, gentrification, water safety issues, and immigration. There are several moments throughout the novel when Mari is forced to think more critically about all these issues. She understands the impact of gentrification and water contamination more fully when her best friend, Vivi, along with Vivi’s recently divorced mother, are forced to leave their neighborhood. When Vivi moves to Miami Beach, she and her mother have to live in a small apartment with her aunt because they cannot afford anything in their old neighborhood. We also learn that Vivi’s grandmother ends up in the hospital due to water toxicity.

Mari, however, does not connect the dots that easily. She is also dealing with being the daughter of a politician. Along with this comes the pressure to be a perfect and supportive family. She also suffers the loss of privacy, which leads to cyberbullying–not to mention the usual challenges of being a teenager. When Vivi is forced to leave their high school, Mari connects with a group of students who are fighting for change by protesting and holding local leaders accountable. The group, called PODER, is made up of peers who are of Haitian, Dominican, and Peruvian ancestry, all with personal connections to some of the issues they advocate for. For example, Didier, whose family is Haitian, explains to Mari the different paths to immigration that Cubans and Haitians have had; one considered an exile and the other a refugee. It is through these encounters and personal stories that Mari begins to come into her own consciousness and political awareness; indeed, the political becomes very personal to her as she looks further into her own father’s voting record and his stand on issues. It is through PODER that she begins to understand the power of social media and technology in general. Yet, because of her family’s public life, she does not have access to these modes of communication and the political impact they wield.

As an orderly reader who reads books from beginning to end, I did not get to the author’s note which explains that the novel was inspired by real events until I had finished the story. Yet, throughout the novel, I kept thinking about the role played by young women like Emma Gonzalez from Parkland, Florida; Mari Copeny from Flint, Michigan; and Greta Thunberg, from Sweden, who have used their voices and the reach of social media to bring about action regarding gun control and environmental justice.

Instead of a traditional coming-of-age story, or even a love story, what Sylvester shows us is the growth of a leader and an activist. Mari—who grew up in politics, hearing her father’s speeches regarding family, justice, and community—slowly becomes aware of her own blindness on these issues. Although not fully explored in the novel, I would also like to add that the author reveals some of the dangers of technology. In this case, Mari becomes a victim of cyberbullying, but her newfound community helps her see that what happens is not her fault. This part of the story briefly addresses issues such as consent, shame and victim-blaming.

Given our current political environment, during a presidential election year and in the middle of a pandemic, I find this novel especially timely.

Note: This book’s release date is July 14, 2020, but is now available on pre-order. 

Photo credit: Eric Sylvester

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Natalia Sylvester is the author of two novels for adults, Chasing the Sun, and Everyone Knows You Go Home, which won an International Latino Book Award. Born in Lima, Peru, she grew up in Miami, Central Florida, and South Texas, and received a BFA from the University of Miami. Running is her YA debut. She lives in Austin, Texas, and can also be found at nataliasylvester.com

 

 

 

 

Elena Foulis

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

 

 

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

Reviewed by Elena Foulis

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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