Book Review: A New Kind of Wild by Zara González Hoang

 

Review by Romy Natalia Goldberg

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: For Ren, home is his grandmother’s little house, and the lush forest that surrounds it. Home is a place of magic and wonder, filled with all the fantastical friends that Ren dreams up. Home is where his imagination can run wild.

For Ava, home is a brick and cement city, where there’s always something to do or see or hear. Home is a place bursting with life, where people bustle in and out like a big parade. Home is where Ava is never lonely because there’s always someone to share in her adventures.

When Ren moves to Ava’s city, he feels lost without his wild. How will he ever feel at home in a place with no green and no magic, where everything is exactly what it seems? Of course, not everything in the city is what meets the eye, and as Ren discovers, nothing makes you feel at home quite like a friend.

Inspired by the stories her father told her about moving from Puerto Rico to New York as a child, Zara González Hoang’s author-illustrator debut is an imaginative exploration of the true meaning of “home.”

MY TWO CENTSRen, an imaginative young boy, lives at the edge of El Yunque, a tropical rain forest whose lush vegetation is the perfect setting for daily magical escapades. A move to the city (location unspecified) leaves Ren homesick and lonely. He sees no room for magic in the urban landscape. Ava, on the other hand, is at home in the city. Equally imaginative, she delights in the hustle and bustle.

When she meets Ren, Ava is determined to help him see the city through her eyes. But her enthusiastic city tour only makes Ren more homesick and they part ways frustrated with each other. From his apartment window, Ren observes Ava, noticing she is as happy and at ease in the city as he used to be in El Yunque. When they meet up again, Ren apologizes, explaining how everything feels different to him. Ava listens first, rather than barreling into action. Armed with a new understanding of Ren, Ava takes him on yet another tour of the city. This time, Ren is able to see the magic she was trying to show him all along.

I thoroughly enjoyed A New Kind of Wild’s take on how the unfamiliar can become familiar with the help of an understanding friend. It would have been easy to simply have Ava show Ren around, resulting in him immediately seeing all the magical possibilities he missed before when experiencing the city alone. The message there would be “All it takes is a friend!” However, González Hoang’s approach is different. When Ava first approaches Ren, she eagerly bombards him with questions, so many “he thought his head would explode.” When Ren explains his discomfort with his new surroundings, “all Ava heard was a challenge.” Ava enthusiastically shows Ren her world, but it is only after she has truly listened to Ren and understood where he came from that she is able to connect with him and help him feel welcome. In a time when we are (too) slowly realizing good intentions aren’t always enough, the lessons this book imparts can be powerful and useful both at home and in the classroom.

I also appreciate A New Kind of Wild’s depiction of magic in a working class, urban setting. Often the “positives” of urban areas are all upper class signifiers, but González Hoang’s delightful watercolors show us children finding inspiration and fun in basements and on rooftops, rather than on outings to museums or large fancy parks. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many garbage bags in a picture book, but I loved it. 

TEACHING TIPSA New Kind of Wild could be used to start a classroom discussion about moving, be it from one country to another or simply one type of community to another. Where would students take Ren if he moved to their community? Another possible activity is to take a photo of an everyday place (a street corner, a storefront) and have students use mixed media to overlay imaginative elements.

A New Kind of Wild releases April 21, 2020.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: (from her website): Zara González Hoang grew up in a little bungalow in the frozen tundra of Minnesota. Surrounded by snow, she spent her days dreaming, doodling and listening to the colorful stories of her Dad’s life growing up in Puerto Rico while trying to figure out where she fit in as a Puerto Rican Jew in a sea of Scandinavians. (She’s still figuring that out.)

These days, she lives outside of DC in a magical suburban forest with her Mad Man husband, human-shaped demon, and curly coated corgi. She still spends her days dreaming and doodling, but now instead of listening to stories, she’s starting to tell some of her own.

To learn more about Zara González Hoang, click HERE to get an inside look at her studio and HERE to for a brief Q&A as part of our Spotlight on Latina Illustrators series.

 

 

RNGoldberg-profile.jpegABOUT THE REVIEWER: Romy Natalia Goldberg is a Paraguayan-American travel and kid lit author with a love for stories about culture and communication. Her guidebook to Paraguay, Other Places Travel Guide to Paraguay, was published in 2012 and 2017 and led to work with “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” and The Guardian. She is an active SCBWI member and co-runs Kidlit Latinx, a Facebook support group for Latinx children’s book authors and illustrators. Learn more at romynatalia.com

 

Book Review: Rotten! Vultures, Beetles, Slime, and Nature’s Other Decomposers by Anita Sanchez, illus by Gilbert Ford

 

Review by Emily Aguiló-Pérez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: What’s that terrible smell? Plug your nose! Run! Something smells…rotten! But rotten isn’t always bad. If nothing ever rotted, nothing could live. Decomposition seems like the last stop on the food chain, but it’s just the beginning. When dead things rot, they give life to a host of other creatures. So who are these decomposers? Sharks and vultures feast on animal carcasses. Worms, maggots, and dung beetles devour decaying plant and animal matter. Decomposition is happening everywhere: oceans, forests, in your backyard—even between your teeth! It’s nature’s way of creating energy for all living things. So unplug your nose! Open this book to uncover the dirty rotten truth about one of nature’s most fascinating processes.

MY TWO CENTS: Who knew learning about dung beetles, worms, vultures, mummies, and numerous other “rotten” things could be so much fun?! In this informative book, Anita Sanchez provides so many facts about decomposition. I learned, for instance, about the different kinds of dung beetles and how they create their homes out of dung. It’s fascinating! I also learned about the decomposition process of a tree log and why it doesn’t smell terrible (even though one would think anything rotten would smell badly). The book also touches on items that do not decompose and the dangers they pose for nature. Speaking about plastic, it explains that “landfills are overflowing with plastic that’s sitting there, not decomposing. But even worse is the plastic that doesn’t make it into a landfill” (65).

Eighty-three pages of information can seem like a lot for a young reader, but Sanchez’s writing paired with the engaging and colorful illustrations by Gilbert Ford truly provide a fun learning experience. The book is divided into eight chapters, each one focusing on a different decomposer. Each chapter has a variety of sections that provide focused information on the specific topic, using stories, humorous snapshots, and creative illustrations. Some of my favorite recurring sections were “Decomposer Selfie,” which provides short bits of information about an animal or organism, and “Rot It Yourself,” which offers brief experiment directions. There is much to enjoy in this book! It would make a great addition to any library.

TEACHING TIPS: The book naturally lends itself to a science classroom (especially upper elementary and middle grades). There are experiments students can perform and which do not require too many materials. In addition, students can use the bibliography that is included at the end of the book to perform further research on a specific topic, animal, organism, etc. presented in the book.

In addition, this book is a wonderful model for various approaches to informational or non-fiction writing. Because it uses narratives, short blurbs, longer texts, descriptions, comparisons, process analysis, and images, among others, students can learn about and develop their own skills for writing non-fiction.

 

Anita Sanchez--author photoABOUT THE AUTHOR: (from the dust jacket) Anita Sanchez loves to explore nature, even the stinky, slimy parts of it. She dug into the world of rot by creating a compost pile, viewing vultures, watching worms, and even swimming with (very small) sharks. Check out her blog about unloved plants and animals at anitasanchez.com.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: (from the dust jacket) Gilbert Ford feels spoiled rotten for getting to spend all his time drawing. He is the author and illustrator of The Marvelous Thing That Came from a Spring and How the Cookie Crumbled. He has also illustrated the award-winning Mr. Ferris and His Wheel, Soldier Song, Itch!, and many middle grade novels. He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Learn more about his work at gilbertford.com.

 

 

 

 

headshotABOUT THE REVIEWER: Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez is an Assistant Professor of English (Children’s Literature) at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.  Her teaching and research are in the areas of children’s literature (particularly Latinx literature), girlhood studies, and children’s cultures. Her published work has focused on girlhood as represented in literature and Puerto Rican girls’ identity formation with Barbie dolls. She has presented research on Latinx children’s books at various conferences and has served on children’s book award committees such as the 2017 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the 2018 Pura Belpré Award. Currently, she is part of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s “A Baker’s Dozen” committee.

Book Review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

 

Review by Cris Rhodes

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg, France.  Women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia Blau and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves. 

Five centuries late:  A pair of red shoes seals to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.

MY TWO CENTS: As with any Anna-Marie McLemore book, Dark and Deepest Red is like watching a particularly colorful sunrise breach over a murky, ominous landscape. It’s illuminating, warming, but also bears with it a hint of darkness that makes the sunlight that much sweeter. Their distinctive prose, full of lush and elegant language, is immediately recognizable as is their attention to telling the stories of people history would try to forget. Dark and Deepest Red takes that task to a new level, pairing the historical narrative of Lala and Alifair in Strasbourg in 1518 with that of Rosella and Emil in a contemporary world. Their stories parallel, sharing common themes and motifs.

The Strasbourg narrative retells the dancing plague, in which roughly 400 people were struck by a shared affliction: dancing incessantly, sometimes to death. McLemore frames this historical moment as not just a time to examine socio-religious and early medicinal practices, but as a backdrop for xenophobic concerns about the Romani peoples. Lala, also called Lavinia to avoid being coded as Romani, flees her homeland to avoid persecution, but anti-Romani laws follow her. With the onset of the dancing plague also comes speculation that Lala or her aunt are the culprits. Her assumed involvement is further compounded by her relationship with the transgender Alifair. Lala is the focus character for the chapters recounting Strasbourg in 1518, making her a key character alongside Rosella and Emil.

Meanwhile, Rosella and Emil alternate chapters. Rosella’s told in the first person and Emil’s in the third. That we only get into Rosella’s mind is important, as she is afflicted with a similar plague: when she resews a pair of shoes originally made by her treasured grandparents and tries them on, she quickly learns that she cannot remove the shoes, and, to make matters worse, the shoes force Rosella to dance and, indeed, act independently of her body, often putting her in danger. The shoes also lead Rosella into Emil’s arms. Emil, who has rejected his own Romani heritage, must tap into his roots to help save Rosella.

The alternating chapters are a dance in and of themselves, leaping from Rosella to Strasbourg to Emil back to Strasbourg and resuming the sequence. This alternation, however, does possibly overemphasize the Strasbourg chapters, potentially at the risk of subordinating Rosella and Emil’s stories. When reading, I did find myself more invested in Lala and Alifair, rather than Rosella and Emil. (And, to be fair, this may just be a personal preference, but I do wonder if this is tied to the narrative structure, or my own personal interest in dance and the dancing plague…) While each story is deeply intertwined and McLemore does an artful job of drawing them together, the dual narratives may appear too divergent, at least initially. To be clear, they do come together. And they do so in the intricate, special, and supernatural ways typical of McLemore’s work.

Importantly, as well, for an audience invested in Latinx children’s literature, this text does not centralize Latinidad or problematize it. It’s incidental but nevertheless present. I find this so significant. Rosella’s ethnicity and racialized body are certainly something that inform the plot, but she is not the one who largely experiences xenophobia, Lala does. Regardless, Latinx readers will find mirrors in Lala’s experiences. That McLemore poses this shift in representation offers a wider appeal to this text. Rather than being seen as a “Latinx text,” or a “Romani text,” or a “queer text,” it’s all three. At these intersections we find a lovely, challenging, and poignant read.

TEACHING TIPS: The historical narrative of this text would lend it well to a paired text with a lesson on history. It may also be an interesting discussion tool to aid in explorations of the treatment of queer peoples in history. 

It would also pair well with discussions of Andersen’s “The Red Shoes,” as McLemore notes thus tale as a major influence on their writing of the novel. Students may read both and write about the similar themes. Students may also consider other Andersenesque stories and write their own retelling wise diverse casts. 

 

Anna-Marie McLemoreABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anna-Marie McLemore (they/them) is the queer, Latinx, non-binary author of THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist; 2017 Stonewall Honor Book WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature; WILD BEAUTY, a Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist Best Book of 2017; BLANCA & ROJA, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice; DARK AND DEEPEST RED, a Winter 2020 Indie Next List title; and THE MIRROR SEASON, forthcoming in 2021. 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWERCris Rhodes is an assistant professor of English at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. She teaches courses of 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.

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

 

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

Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK:

One is a rainbow.

One is a cake.

One is a piñata that’s ready to break!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

img_0160ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is also a current doctoral student in NLU’s  EDD Teaching and Learning Program with an emphasis on Reading, Language, and Literacy.  When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never-ending “to read” pile!

 

Book Review: The Fresh New Face of Griselda by Jennifer Torres

 

Review by Clarissa Hadge

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Griselda “Geez” Zaragoza has a love for beautiful things, like her collection of vintage teacups and the flower garden she and her dad planted in the front yard. But when his business fails, Griselda loses not just her home, but also her confidence and her trust in her unflappable parents.

Tagging along with big sister Maribel, who postponed college for a job selling Alma Cosmetics, Geez dreams up a way to reclaim the life she thinks she lost. If she can sell enough tubes of glistening, glittery Alma lip gloss, she’ll win a cash prize that could help jump start her dad’s business.

With ups and downs along the way, Geez will discover that beauty isn’t just lost or found, but made and re-made.

MY TWO CENTS: Griselda “Geez” Zaragoza and her family have fallen on hard times. Her dad has lost his landscaping business, forcing the family to move from their home to Griselda’s Nana’s house. Her mom, a former TV reporter from before Griselda was born, picks up hours as an assistant at Griselda’s Tia Carla’s salon. Griselda’s big sister Maribel has postponed going off to college to stay home and help the family by selling cosmetics door-to-door as a saleswoman for Alma Cosmetics. Griselda spends the summer before starting sixth grade following Maribel through her rounds.

After one of these sales calls, Griselda sees an ad in her sister’s cosmetic brochure that reads, “Are you between the ages of 12 and 19? Join Alma Cosmetics as a Junior Associate.” The ad promises Junior Associates who sell 500 tubes of Alma’s new Fairytale Collection lip gloss a chance to win $5,000, and the opportunity to be the “Fresh New Face” of the cosmetics line.

In the moment, Griselda tosses the brochure away, her mind heavy with thoughts about her family’s finances. The only thing that seems to bring her happiness anymore are her collection of First Lady teacups, found at various yard sales through the years, searching long and hard with her Nana. Maribel gives Griselda a lip gloss, for helping with their last sale.

A fashion forward classmate notices Griselda holding the lip gloss at lunch on the first day of school, and realizes that it’s a color that is from a new line. Griselda initially offers to give it away, but then she realizes that she could instead sell it to the classmate. The classmate eagerly buys the new gloss, and other girls notice, asking Griselda if she has other colors. An idea starts formulating in Griselda’s mind – that she could maybe become a Junior Associate with Alma Cosmetics, and potentially win the $5,000 prize. Griselda knows that $5,000 isn’t going to get her house back, or her dad’s job, but she knows that it can help her family in some way. After a starting boost from Maribel, she gains traction in her cosmetic sales. With more and more classmates excited about the new colors and styles, and their eager willingness to pay, Griselda’s popularity grows.

But though she is on her way to winning the cash prize, and maybe becoming the “Fresh New Face” of Alma, Griselda’s rise is not without its obstacles. She might be able to sell lip gloss and nail polish, but at what expense? Her friends? Her relationship with her family? Though her intentions are honorable, Griselda will learn a valuable lesson in what it takes to be at the top.

Jennifer Torres’s middle grade novel is a sweet tale of one girl trying to help her family. I appreciated the way that the novel dealt with class differences, Griselda’s introspection about her family’s situation, and what she could do to make things easier for all of them. Though the Zaragozas are not without a physical roof over their heads, and have the privilege of never going without food, Torres captures the turmoil a tween might undergo, of wanting to help, but not being quite old enough to make a significant difference. Griselda’s relationship with her Nana was one of my favorite parts of the novel, and with seamless Latinx references throughout the text – Griselda eating pan dulce with her Nana before school in the morning, the breezy inflections of her Nana calling her mija – I was reminded of my own childhood moments with my Granny.

The secondary character of Griselda’s best friend Sophia was fleshed out without being stereotypical. My heart broke as Griselda has less and less time with Sophia and have an inevitable falling out at the mall. The scene is supposed to be celebratory, as they are there to spend their birthdays together, but it ends in disaster. Griselda’s worry over money comes to a head when she internalizes all of her anger and sadness as she sees Sophia spending money, without having to care about how much everything costs, as Griselda does. The scene is poignant, both girls angry at each other for all the wrong reasons, but not realizing no one is really to blame in the moment.

I especially loved the details about Griselda’s First Lady tea cups, with each chapter starting with a quote from a First Lady. This characteristic of Griselda felt unique. I have to admit I searched online to see if these existed, and while it doesn’t appear as though a matching set exists in our world, I’d like to think that Griselda eventually finds all of the cups to make a full set.

 

jtorresABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Torres is the author of Flor and Miranda Steal the Show, Stef Soto, Taco Queen, and Finding the Music/En Pos de la Música. A graduate of Northwestern University and the University of Westminster, London, her background is in journalism. She has worked for The Record newspaper in Stockton and now lives with her husband and two little girls in Southern California.

 

 

 

CH headshotABOUT THE REVIEWER: Clarissa Hadge is a Chicanx transplant from sunny Southern California who now lives in the less-than-sunny Northeast. A graduate of Simmons University, her background is in writing for children. An advocate for more inclusive literature for children and young adults, she is the bookstore manager and children’s book buyer at an independent bookstore in Boston and the current co-chair of the New England Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council (NECBA).

Review: The Sarai Books by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown, illus. by Christine Almeda

 

Review by Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez

In the past year I have been immersed in numerous early readers and transitional chapter books as part of a research project that examines representations of Latinx characters in these kinds of texts. The Sarai book series has been one of my favorites to read!

While the short format of early readers and chapter books can sometimes limit how much character development and details authors can offer, the Sarai books don’t fall short on these aspects. Sarai is free spirited, caring, creative, confident, and as a reader I got to know her personality (and her sisters’ personalities as well) through her interactions with others and her many ventures.

The following are reviews for books 2, 3, and 4 of the series. Read our review of Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome (Sarai Book #1). All books in the series are now available in Spanish as Saraí #1: Saraí y el Significado de lo Genial, Saraí #2: Saraí en Primer Plano, Saraí #3: Saraí Salva la música, and Saraí #4: Saraí y la Feria Alrededor del Mundo.

 

Sarai in the Spotlight (Sarai Book #2)

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: When Sarai’s best friend suddenly moves away, Sarai has to navigate school – and the unfriendly girls in the cafeteria – all by herself. Then, new girl Christina moves to town and the teacher volunteers Sarai to show her around. But Sarai thinks Christina is not at all like her–she never wants to play at recess, she’s always got her head in a notebook, and she’s so shy! But when Christina writes Sarai a spoken-word poem for her to recite at the class talent show, Sarai learns that sometimes winning teams are made from unlikely pairs!

MY TWO CENTS: Sarai’s awesomeness continues in this second installment of the series. Her affirmation of being awesome continues in this book, especially when she shares with her family that some of the girls in her class bother her during recess (38). This demonstration of confidence continues when she stands up for herself during an incident with the same group of girls, doing so without putting anyone down. And that is the beauty of Sarai’s proclamations of confidence: they highlight how awesome she is and feels without making anyone else feel bad about themselves. Further, she also shows a little bit of self-doubt, which is to be expected of a child growing up. She is finding herself and becoming her own person.

This book focuses on how Sarai deals with her best friend moving away and then how she slowly befriends the new girl, Christina. They don’t have many things in common yet, which makes Sarai miss her friend Isa. However, Sarai is respectful about their differences and open to learning more about her new friend. As a result, they collaborate for the school’s talent show, creating together a wonderful performance.

Sarai’s blossoming friendship with Christina is as delightful to witness as her relationship with her sisters, Josie and Lucía. As she explains, they might sometimes fight and disagree, but they all stick up for each other. Each sister has a distinct personality, and we learn little bits about them throughout the story. For example, we learn that Lucía has a little bit of a temper, (11), and is also very empathetic: “Lucía used to have her own cafeteria card, but she kept buying food for everyone who she thought didn’t have enough money to eat…” (16). We also continue to learn about Josie, who attends a different school from her sisters, wears cochlear implants, and communicates through a combination of signs and words. The sisters — along with their cousins Juju, Javier, and Jade — are part of the Super Awesome Sister-Cousin Fun Club, where they come up with awesome ideas.

With so many fun activities happening in Sarai in the Spotlight (like the kids’ game of Rainbow Art Paint Tag) and all the relatable experiences Sarai goes through, readers will definitely enjoy this second book in the series.

TEACHING TIPS: Because this book introduces a new character, there is a good use of descriptions that help readers get to know her. In addition, readers learn more about Sarai, her sister, and her friend Isa. Teachers, then, can use the book to teach about character development through descriptions. Students can create profiles for the different characters in the book and then they could create and develop their own characters.

 

Sarai Saves the Music (Sarai Book #3)

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: They’re cutting funding at Sarai’s school and her band program is the first to go. That is totally not okay with Sarai. She decides to organize a benefit concert to raise money! When she and her bandmates promote the concert on their video channel, it catches the attention of Sarai’s favorite singer, Sparkles Sanchez! Can Sarai save the music?

MY TWO CENTS: I have to admit that, while I enjoyed all four books in the Sarai series,  this one is my absolute favorite! In the third installment of the series, we witness how Sarai and Christina’s friendship continues to grow, as they support and empower one another. When some of the girls at school keep teasing Sarai, Christina suggests that they are jealous because Sarai is “so smart, and because you’re you!” (11).  Equally helpful are Sarai’s neighbors and family, who continue to support the kids’ many ventures. This is particularly evident when everyone bands together to help Sarai help save her school’s music program.

It is this aspect that makes this book especially poignant. For one, it depicts the precarious state of the U.S. education system, where programs are being cut and teachers are losing their jobs. When Ms. Cruz — Sarai’s music teacher– shares the news with the class that the school district is cutting the funds for elementary music programs, students are understandably upset. More so, they are worried about what this means for their teacher. When Sarai asks Ms. Cruz if she will lose her job, the teacher can’t help but cry. This takes Sarai and the students aback, as they have “never seen a teacher cry before” and they “feel worried” (36). I truly appreciate the honesty from both Ms. Cruz and the students that is depicted here. Often, teachers are not encouraged to show vulnerability, even when their livelihood might be in danger, so Ms. Cruz’s moment of honesty with her students allows them to understand her situation better– and in turn, readers can better understand the realities many of their own schools and their own educators might be facing.

“Isn’t there anything we can do? Fundraise? Protest? Sign petitions?” Sarai asks, as the students try to figure out what they can do to save the music program and Ms. Cruz’s job (36). Sarai, always having something up her sleeve, mobilizes her classmates, her family, and her community to effect some change. Through her new venture, Sarai’s Garage Chat, a TV show she records with her sisters and cousins from their own garage, Sarai and her classmates are able to spread the word about the benefit concert they are organizing. It is important to note that Sarai takes action and mobilizes, but she creates a community and involves them. It is not a solo project. Everything is motivated and planned by the kids, and the adults are there to support them. One of the most moving moments in this book takes place when students are recording their plea to the community to attend their benefit and donate to the music program: each child made an argument about why music programs are so crucial.

In addition to its depiction of activism and empathy, this book continues showing readers all the awesome personalities in Sarai’s group of friends and family. There is something with which readers can connect– whether it is the games and fun ideas Sarai and her family come up with or her obsession with Stephanie Sparkles Sanchez (who gave me major Selena Quintanilla vibes and I loved it!). Through her contagious upbeat personality, Sarai is following her musical idol’s advice to “Spread the Sparkle!”

TEACHING TIPS: Teachers can use this early chapter book to discuss how the students in Sarai’s school worked together to try to solve a problem and could ask students to identify an issue in their school or community they would like to address. They could propose ideas and consider what steps they would need to take toward making improvements. Teachers can also use this book to focus on argument writing; as each student in Sarai’s class makes an argument for saving the music program, they put into practice appeals to logic and emotion.

 

Sarai and the Around the World Fair (Sarai Book #4)

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: When Sarai outgrows her bike, she worries she’ll never get to travel anywhere. But when Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary hosts their first Around the World Fair, Sarai learns that with a little imagination you can go anywhere you want!

MY TWO CENTS: In this fourth installment there is no “big problem” that Sarai needs to or wants to solve. Rather, we continue to see her character development, getting to know her and her family. Mainly, Sarai’s empathy and understanding of her family’s needs come through again. This time, she has been eyeing a bicycle, yet Sarai understands her parents’ financial struggles and doesn’t ask for expensive things, including the new bike she really wants. Her inventive and resourceful Tata — her grandfather — however, decides to fix an old bike for Sarai. And though she is reluctant at first, not sure what the end product would be, Sarai ultimately enjoys helping her Tata fix the old bike and appreciates how great it turns out to be.

I found her reluctance to be relatable and so important to include. She is such a positive and upbeat character, and a wonderful role model for children, but I also appreciated that we get to see Sarai upset. Seeing a range of emotions (like frustrations and being upset) can be helpful for young readers, and it is especially important to show them that it is okay to feel upset and then demonstrate how they can deal with their different emotions. After Sarai has some time to work through her frustrations with Tata and the old bike he is trying to fix, she apologizes to him, and Tata apologizes to her as well.  This exchange not only shows that she is human– experiencing and expressing a range of emotions– but it also shows that adults need to understand what children are experiencing and show them they matter.

At school, Sarai must decide what country to research and present at the Around the World Fair. Embracing her parents’ two countries — Peru and Costa Rica — she would love to feature both. She decides to do some “research to make an informed decision” (42). Funny as she is, Sarai, after doing some research, tells her friend Christina that one day, when they are “really old, like twenty” they could travel to Ireland, Peru, and Costa Rica, where their families are from. In the end, Sarai is able to present on her chosen country (I won’t tell you which one). At the end of the book, readers will find a recipe and a step-by-step guide for making empanadas, like the ones she shares at the fair.

This fourth, and hopefully not the last, book in the series is truly delightful!

 

Sarai GonzalezABOUT THE AUTHORS: Sarai Gonzalez became an overnight sensation after appearing in Bomba Estero’s, “Soy Yo,” a music video about embracing yourself and loving your flaws. The video garnered over 75million views and The New York Times called Sarai a Latina icon. Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome is the first book in her new chapter book series inspired by her life. Sarai is now 13 years old and lives in New Jersey with her family.

 

monica6Monica Brown is the award-winning author of super awesome books for children, including the Lola Levine chapter book series, Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/no combina, Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos, and Waiting for the Biblioburro. She is a professor of English at Northern Arizona University, specializing in Latinx and African American Literature. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, with her husband and her dogs, Lola and Finn. Visit her at www.monicabrown.net.

 

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ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Christine Almeda is a Filipino-American freelance illustrator from NJ / NYC. She graduated from Montclair State University, earning a BFA and an Award for Excellence in Animation & Illustration, focusing on children’s media. She believes in the power of storytelling and that art has the ability to make life a little more beautiful. You can learn more about her work at https://www.christinealmeda.com/about.

 

 

 

headshotABOUT THE REVIEWER: Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez is an Assistant Professor of English (Children’s Literature) at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.  Her teaching and research are in the areas of children’s literature (particularly Latinx literature), girlhood studies, and children’s cultures. Her published work has focused on girlhood as represented in literature and Puerto Rican girls’ identity formation with Barbie dolls. She has presented research on Latinx children’s books at various conferences and has served on children’s book award committees such as the 2017 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the 2018 Pura Belpré Award. Currently, she is part of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s “A Baker’s Dozen” committee.