Happy Book Birthday to My Year in the Middle!

Happy book birthday to My Year in the Middle! What you are gazing at is my debut children’s book. It’s a middle-grade novel featuring a 12-year-old Latina character named Lu Olivera— a story of friendship, self-discovery, athletic challenges, and the courage to stand up to racism. 

Here is what Shelf Awareness wrote about My Year in the Middle: “Weaver, who previously published a graphic memoir called Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White, writes vividly about the spaces in the middle, between black and white. Any reader who has struggled to find a safe and happy place between polarities will appreciate Weaver’s deep understanding of just how difficult–and rewarding–this can be.” (You can read the whole review here.)

And now, for a quick rundown of the story’s major points, follow this picture essay, complete with sticky notes and chalk dust.  

NOTE: Each chapter starts off with a pencil drawing that I created. I hope young readers enjoy the vintage touches these images bring.

 

And did I mention there’s running? One day in PE class, it hits Lu that she can run like the blue blazes! Field Day is around the corner—and with it comes the chance to race against a fierce and accomplished competitor.

Racial and political drama is everywhere—in the headlines, at the breakfast table, in the classroom. Based on historical events that I remember from my own youth, the gubernatorial primary playing out in the story’s background serves as a textbook case for nasty elections. Somehow Lu gets caught in this tangle.

Is there romance? Oh yes!

Also: MUSIC. Lots of timeless rock & roll and delicious soul music, just the way Lu and her friends dig it!

Okay, this is only a blitz tour! If you’d like to learn more about the novel itself and the story behind the story, please visit my website. There, you will find extensive information, including a downloadable discussion guide developed by education specialists at Candlewick Press, as well as links to early reviews—plus some My Year in the Middle extras for young readers!

Please ask your librarian to acquire My Year in the Middle for your community or school library! It’s also available for sale at many independent bookstores and all major national booksellers. It’s listed here in Candlewick’s catalog. 

One more thing: I wrote a from-the-heart guest post for Nerdy Book Club. Please check it out by clicking HERE—and while you’re there, enter their giveaway (time sensitive). Each of four winners will receive a copy of My Year in the Middle, plus one of the original art pieces I created for the book. Here’s an advance peek of what winners will receive.

 

Ready for 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia: Fútbol/Soccer Children’s Literature Bibliography

 

by Sujei Lugo

For the next couple of weeks, the 2018 FIFA World Cup, one of the world’s biggest sports events, will be held in Russia. This international soccer/fútbol competition brings spectators of all kinds together, drawing on their common passion—and this applies to avid fans who follow the sport throughout the year, as well as those who only pay attention every four years when the World Cup is played. Either way, this is the time to catch up with the latest players and root for your favorite team/country.

I live and work in a neighborhood where the caregivers of my library’s kids are often watching fútbol games on their phones, and where once in a while the little ones wear their favorite player’s jersey, or that of their parents’ or grandparents’ national team. It is one of those times when we break down certain barriers of communication with neighbors, family, friends, co-workers, and the people sitting next to us—because we are all speaking fútbol.

Like my fellow children’s librarians, the time for summer reading/learning programs is upon us, and we are always eager to support and encourage recreational and informational reading for our youth. The 2018 FIFA World Cup is a great opportunity to showcase our fútbol/soccer children’s books, and to start or continue conversations with our small patrons—and root (or debate!) together.

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I posted a picture on my social-media accounts of the fútbol children’s books display that I put together at my library, along with coloring sheets of this year’s World Cup mascot, Zabivaka! My great colleagues Angie Manfredi and Cory Eckert suggested that I should assemble a bibliography of these books, and well, here it is! Included here are titles in Spanish and English, as well as bilingual editions, and it contains everything from early readers to graphic novels to chapter books. The majority of these titles are by Latinx or Latin American authors or illustrators. Many feature Latinx or Latin American characters and players, but I also included more general titles about the game and its players. My list focuses on books available at my library branch, but we know there are many more great ones out there! I hope this list inspires you to get your library display going, or perhaps to acquire some of these winners for your library, classroom, or home shelf, all for your favorite little ones!

Fútbol/Soccer Children’s Literature Bibliography

Alexander, Kwame (2016). Booked. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. [Chapter Book; Novel in Verse]

Apps, Roy; illustrated by Chris King (2015). Dream to Win: Leo Messi. Franklin Watts. [Early Readers; Biography]

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Boelts, Maribeth; illustrated by Lauren Castillo (2015). El fútbol me hace feliz. Candlewick Press. [Picture Book]

Boelts, Maribeth; illustrated by Lauren Castillo (2012). Happy Like Soccer. Candlewick Press. [Picture Book]

Borth, Teddy (2017). Fútbol: grandes momentos, récords y datos. Abdo Kids. [Early Readers]

Brown, Monica; illustrated by Angela Dominguez (2015). Lola Levine is not Mean! Little, Brown and Company. [Early Readers]

Brown, Monica; illustrated by Rudy Gutiérrez (2009). Pelé: King of Soccer/Pelé: el rey del fútbol. Rayo. [Picture Book; Biography; Bilingual]

Cline-Ransome, Lesa; illustrated by James E. Ransome (2007). Young Pelé: Soccer’s First Star. Schwartz & Wade Books. [Picture Book; Biography]

Colato Laínez, René; illustrated by Lancman Ink (2014). ¡Juguemos al fútbol y al football!/Let’s Play Fútbol and Football! Alfaguara. [Picture Book; Bilingual]

Crespo, Ana; illustrated by Nana Gonzalez (2015). The Sock Thief. Albert Whitman & Company. [Picture Book]

Dahl, Michael; illustrated by Christina Forshay (2018). Goodnight Soccer. Capstone Young Readers. [Picture Book]

Doeden, Matt (2017). Sports All-Stars: Cristiano Ronaldo. Lerner Publications. [Biography]

9789874616364Domínguez, María & Juan Pablo Lombana (2014). El Chavo: El partido de fútbol/The Soccer Match. Scholastic. [Picture Book; Bilingual]

Duopresslabs; illustrated by Jon Stollberg (2016). Messi superstar. ¡Achis! [Biography]

Elzaurdia, Paco (2013). Superestrellas del fútbol mexicano: Rafael Márquez. Mason Crest. [Biography]

Franz Rosell, Joel; illustrated by Constanze v. Kitzing (2012). Gatito y el balón. Kalandraka. [Picture Book]

Garlando, Luigi; illustrated by Stefano Turconi (2012) ¡Gol! Un gran equipo. Vintage Español. [Chapter Book & Comics]

Javaherbin, Mina; illustrated by Renato Alarcão (2014). Soccer Star. Candlewick Press. [Picture Book]

Jökulsson, Illugi (2015). James Rodríguez. Abbeville Press. [Biography]

Jökulsson, Illugi (2015). Stars of Women’s Soccer. Abbeville Press. [Biographies]james-rodriguez

Jökulsson, Illugi (2015). Stars of World Soccer. Abbeville Press. [Biographies]

Lombana, Juan Pablo; illustrated by Zamie Casazola (2014). Soccermania/Futbolmanía. Scholastic, Inc. [Bilingual]

Manushkin, Fran; illustrated by Tammie Lyon (2018). Pedro: el golazo de Pedro. Picture Window Books. [Early Readers]

Morgan, Alex (2016). The Kicks: Settle the Score. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. [Chapter Book]

Nevius, Carol; illustrated by Bill Thomson (2011). Soccer Hour. Marshall Cavendish Children. [Picture Book]

Oldfield, Tom & Matt Oldfield (2017). The Little Genius: Sergio Agüero. Dino. [Biography]

Oldfield, Tom & Matt Oldfield (2016). El pistolero: Luis Suárez. Dino. [Biography]

Paul, Batiste; illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara (2018). The Field. NorthSouth Books. [Picture Book]

Pelé; illustrated by Frank Morrison (2010). For the Love of Soccer! Disney Hyperion. [Picture Book]

Pérez Hernando, Fernando (2016). Armando. Takatuka. [Picture Book]

Pinkney, Brian (2015). On the Ball. Disney Hyperion. [Picture Book]

downloadRadnedge, Aidan (2018). 50 Things You Should Know About Soccer. Quarto Publishing.

Simon, Eddy; illustrated by Vincent Brascaglia (2017). Pelé: the King of Soccer. First Second. [Graphic Novel]

Teixeira Thiago, Jorge (2013). Superestrellas del fútbol brasilero: Neymar. Mason Crest. [Biography]

Vázquez Lozano, Gustavo A. (2013). Superstars of Soccer Colombia: Iván Córdoba. Mason Crest. [Biography]

Vázquez Lozano, Gustavo A. (2013). Superstars of Soccer Mexico: Javier “Chicharito” Hernández. Mason Crest. [Biography]

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Quizás Algo Hermoso: Interview with author F. Isabel Campoy

 

by Sujei Lugo

The picture book Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood, written by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, and illustrated by Rafael López, was published in 2016. Based on a true story about a community art initiative led by Rafael López and his wife, graphic designer and community leader Candice López, the book received rave reviews, won the 2017 Tomás Rivera Book Award, and made our 2016 Favorite Latinx Books list. This inspiring tale, along with its vibrant illustrations, provides tremendous inspiration in the realm of literacy, community, and arts education. Its impact on youth makes it a resource toward engagement and collaboration for teachers, librarians, and community organizers. As a youth librarian, I used Maybe Something Beautiful for a Día de los Niñxs/Día de los Libros program and wrote a post about it, entitled Día Art Bilingual Story Time!    

Last March 2018, a Spanish edition was published under the title Quizás algo hermoso: cómo el arte transformó un barrio. This text is not a translation of the English edition, but a new, original text by F. Isabel Campoy. We had the opportunity to chat with Isabel about Quizás algo hermoso, and we also asked about her work in children’s books and how she stays inspired.

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You’ve been publishing children’s books for years. What inspires or fuels you to keep publishing English, Spanish and bilingual titles for our little ones?

The adults who surround the first ten years of any child have complete influence in the development of their intellectual capabilities. The language they hear, the type of interactions they have with their surroundings, the number of experiences they are exposed to, all these are cornerstones in the foundation of their lives. Books do not substitute lived experiences, but they are great complements to them. If a child is read in the language they hear at home. If a child looks at illustrations that invites them to new landscapes, cities, monuments, or people. If children are presented with positive experiences, feelings or actions, those children will grow richer, more capable, more alert and open to learning. That is what fuels me to keep publishing in Spanish, and in English. To give children MORE. More language, more knowledge, more joy. More is always MORE. And children have the amazing ability to build up big brains if we offer them the possibility of learning.

When I was a child, there were very few books published for children, and the ones available had just a few illustrations in black and white. But I had the great fortune to have a father who was subscribed to the National Geographic Magazine since 1940. Those magazines saved me, fueled my imagination, and planted the seed in my heart for knowledge. When I recently published “Alegría, poesía cada día” with National Geographic Magazine I felt that a 70-year circle had been completed. What a joy that was!

I want children to dream the way I did. Very fortunately the book industry now offers many opportunities for great reading experiences.

In 2016 Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood published to rave reviews. This year, we have a Spanish edition titled Quizás algo hermoso: cómo el arte transformó un barrio. Why did you choose to write a new, original Spanish text instead of providing a bilingual edition or direct translation?

If you are a balanced bilingual, when you write, in whatever language you are writing, you are being an original writer in that language. Quizás algo hermoso and Maybe Something Beautiful express the same idea in two languages. My co-author Theresa Howell and I worked the manuscript in English for almost three years! Every comma was measured, every expression, every interjection was pondered— while simultaneously I was building its parallel in Spanish. It is a lot of fun!

When a child reads a book, they must find a flawless use of that language, natural expressions, high command on part of the author of the grammar and syntax, a natural flow of meaning. Those are the components of an authentic text.

I wish all children had the opportunity to read and speak more than one language.

All countries in Latin America have speakers in more than one language. In the case of Mexico, for example, over 50 languages other than Spanish are spoken. I find that to be a cultural treasure!

Lead Artist Antonio Lente. Photo by Paul López Albuquerque

Mural in Abuquerque, New Mexico. Lead artist, Antonio Lente. Photo by Paul López

 

How has the reaction been to both versions of the book by adults and children?

When we chose to write this manuscript, we had one goal: to share a positive community action with readers anywhere. The example set by Rafael and Candice López in San Diego was born out of a true desire for transformation, and they succeeded beautifully. Art was the means and solidarity was the goal. Their example is now being replicated in many places in this country. Rafael’s brushes are magic wands and the world is his canvas!

We have received letters from teachers and their students telling us about how they reacted to the book. There have been real murals painted, and murals on huge brown paper covering school hall walls. There have been little altars with suggestion boxes on how each child imagines the transformation of their environment through art. We have seen pictures of painted river rocks creating paths in gardens, and little paintings, like Mira’s, attached to fences. It is extraordinary what children can imagine, and it is enlightening to listen to them!

Adults have found in this text an example that can be replicated in their own corners of the world. And they are doing it!

Can you talk about the importance of having this story available in Spanish? Do you plan to publish it in other languages?

A couple of months ago we had the great news that the book had been translated into Chinese! That would add at least 300 million possible readers to our book! We are very happy.

I wanted to see this book in Spanish from day one. We were very happy to see it finally printed. The community that the book reflects is a picture of life in many places in the United States. Muralism is a vibrant reflection of Hispanic art. Three internationally known painters in Mexico: Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros, brought murals to the forefront of artistic expression. Their palette and what they chose to paint reflected the people and the history of Mexico. Writing a book about murals was also paying homage to the lives of our communities, as diverse and multicultural as they are everywhere.

San Francisco

Mural in San Francisco, California. Photo provided by F. Isabel Campoy

Quizás algo hermoso can now be read by parents as well as children whose first language is Spanish. But also, by English-speaking children who are in Dual Language Programs. It is certainly beautiful to see how many more children are becoming bilingual. The two largest languages in this continent, English and Spanish, are embracing each other, providing a better path towards understanding for the new generations.

In your travels, have you seen vivid examples of mural painting that speak to the spirit of a community?

I am drawn to all forms of art. My first visit in every city is to its museums, art galleries, and monuments. In the United States there are famous cities with great murals—for example where I live, in San Francisco. They all depict life in the neighborhood or pride on the diverse cultures of the city. Philadelphia is famous for its murals, and Albuquerque now has miles of fantastic paintings all over the city’s walls. In a book I co-authored with Alma Flor Ada entitled Yes, We Are Latinos!, a book about diversity within the Latino culture, I wrote about the Tower in the Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, painted by Frederico Vigil. That tower is a fabulous historic overview of Latinos. 

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Mural in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by artist Ernel Martínez

Also abroad, from El Cairo to London, from Rome to Barcelona, murals are a part of the richness we can find everywhere in the world. You can see some examples on the website for Maybe Something Beautiful www.maybesomethingbeautiful.com.

If you could paint something beautiful, what would it be and in which barrio?

When my friend and children’s book author René Colato Laínez asked this question, I answered: A tree!

Because like them, we have roots that hold us firm in our culture and language, in family and knowledge. Like them, we have a cycle of life, fruits for new generations. Our branches hold the joy of growth; our leaves, the beauty of seasons.

Where is that brush… I’ll start right now!

And about the barrio…. do I need to choose one? Could it be one in every neighborhood where there are people like Rafael and Candice López, ready to transform their reality into something really beautiful?….. Allow me to dream that it is possible!

Thank you very much for inviting me to share with your readers. ¡Un enorme y hermoso abrazo, F. Isabel Campoy! 

Isabel Campoy Headshot

 

About F. Isabel Campoy: Isabel is the author of over 100 children’s books. She is a recognized scholar devoted to social justice and to promoting diverse books in diverse languages. Isabel is the recipient of the Ramón Santiago and Tomás Rivera Awards, among others. She is a member of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language. www.isabelcampoy.com

 

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About Sujei Lugo:  a former elementary school librarian in Puerto Rico, is a children’s librarian at the Boston Public Library, Connolly Branch. She holds an MLIS from the University of Puerto Rico and is currently a doctoral candidate in LIS at Simmons College, focusing on anti-racism and children’s librarianship. She is an active member of REFORMA, ALA and ALSC (newly minted Board of Directors member). Sujei served on the 2018 Newbery Award Committee and as co-chair of the 2018 ALSC Charlemae Rollins President’s Program. A member of the We’re the People Summer Reading Project. Twitter: @sujeilugo

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Book Birthday to Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova!

We are especially proud to celebrate the release of the second volume in Zoraida Córdova’s Brooklyn Brujas series, Bruja Born!

Zoraida made a huge splash with Labyrinth Lost, the first book in the series, and we couldn’t be prouder to see her success continue! Just check out what Kirkus and School Library Journal wrote and you’ll see that we’re not the only ones excited about Bruja Born. Plus, don’t miss Zoraida’s cover reveal in Bustle, which includes a tantalizing excerpt of the new novel.

Here’s how the publisher describes BRUJA BORN: 

Three sisters. One spell. Countless dead.

Lula Mortiz feels like an outsider. Her sister’s newfound Encantrix powers have wounded her in ways that Lula’s bruja healing powers can’t fix, and she longs for the comfort her family once brought her. Thank the Deos for Maks, her sweet, steady boyfriend who sees the beauty within her and brings light to her life.

Then a bus crash turns Lula’s world upside down. Her classmates are all dead, including Maks. But Lula was born to heal, to fix. She can bring Maks back, even if it means seeking help from her sisters and defying Death herself. But magic that defies the laws of the deos is dangerous. Unpredictable. And when the dust settles, Maks isn’t the only one who’s been brought back…

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Ready to order? Click on this link for buying options!

¡Felicidades, Zoraida!

Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and grew up in Queens, New York. Her previous books include the Vicious Deep trilogy and the On the Verge series. For more information about Brooklyn Brujas and the rest of Zoraida’s books, be sure to visit her author website. She is also on numerous social-media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

March and April 2018 Latinx Book Deals

 

Compiled by Cecilia Cackley

This is a monthly series keeping track of the book deals announced by Latinx writers and illustrators. The purpose of this series is to celebrate book deals by authors and illustrators in our community and to advocate for more of them. If you are an agent and you have a Latinx client who just announced a deal, you can let me know on Twitter, @citymousedc. If you are a Latinx author or illustrator writing for children or young adults, and you just got a book deal, send me a message and we will celebrate with you! Here’s to many more wonderful books in the years to come.

April 26

None.

April 24

Author of Lola Levine chapter book series Monica Brown and 12-year-old star of the music video “Soy Yo” by Bomba Estereo Sarai Gonzalez’s, third book SARAI SAVES THE MUSIC plus a 4th book in the fictional series based on Sarai’s life, again to Marisa Polansky at Scholastic, in a two-book deal, for publication in spring 2019, by Stefanie Von Borstel of Full Circle Literary for Brown and Monica Villarreal and Rick Doorman of Authentic Media for Gonzalez. All four books in the new series will also be available in Spanish editions.

 

Alvina Ling at Little, Brown has acquired Roseanne Montillo‘s The Atomic Women. The YA nonfiction book tells the stories of the little-known female scientists who were critical to the invention of the atomic bomb and an examination of the moral implications of their work. Publication is planned for fall 2019. Author agent: Rob Weisbach at Rob Weisbach Creative Management.

 

Zachary Clark at Scholastic has bought Rated, by Girl at Midnight author Melissa Grey, in which teens navigate a hierarchical ranking system in a Black Mirror-esque future. Publication is slated for 2019. Author agent: Catherine Drayton at InkWell Management.

April 19

Hilary Van Dusen at Candlewick Press has bought world rights to Dean Robbins‘s (l.) picture book, ¡Mambo Mucho Mambo!, which tells the story of how Latin jazz music and mambo dancing at New York City’s integrated Palladium Ballroom broke down barriers in the 1950s and set the stage for the civil rights movement. Artist Eric Velasquez will illustrate. Publication is scheduled for fall 2020. Illustrator agent: Rubin Pfeffer at Rubin Pfeffer Content.

April 17

None.

April 12

Kait Feldmann at Scholastic/Levine has acquired world rights to Aida Salazar‘s (l.) debut picture book, Jovita Wore Pants, the story of Jovita Valdovinos, who dressed as a man and commanded a battalion of revolutionaries in a fight for religious freedom in the Mexican sierras. The biographical picture book is based in part on personal accounts told to Salazar, who is related to Valdovinos. Debut picture book artist Molly Mendoza will illustrate. Publication is scheduled for 2020.Author agent: Marietta B. Zacker at the Gallt and Zacker Literary Agency. Illustrator agent: none.

 

Margaret Raymo at HMH has bought, in a two-book deal, Lowriders in Space illustrator Raúl the Third‘s bilingual picture book, Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market. Inspired in part by Richard Scarry’s Busytown, the book offers a guide to the food, marketplace, games, animals, plants, and more of a U.S./Mexico border town. Publication is set for spring 2019. Agent: Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

April 10

Jessica Garrison at Dial has acquired Red House, Tree House, Little Bitty Brown Mouse by Jane Godwin (l.), illustrated by Blanca Gomez. The picture book is an exploration of colors and patterns and counting and more, with a tiny mouse hidden on every page. Publication is planned for fall 2019. Illustrator agent: Rebecca Sherman at Writers House sold world rights.

 

Andrea Welch at S&S/Beach Lane has bought world rights to Here Comes Ocean, a picture book by Meg Fleming (l.) (Ready, Set, Sail), illustrated by Paola Zakimi (Secrets I Know). The book follows a child who discovers that along with every rolling wave comes a new possibility for adventure. Publication is slated for spring 2020. Agent: Emily van Beek at Folio Jr./Folio Literary Management.

April 5

None.

April 3

John Morgan at Macmillan/Imprint has acquired two picture books by Karen Kilpatrick and Luis O. Ramos Jr. (center), illustrated by Germán Blanco. When Pencil Met Eraser depicts the creative journey that brings Pencil and Eraser together. Publication is planned for summer 2019, followed by a second, untitled book. Agent: Deborah Warren at East West Literary.

March 28

Nick Thomas at Scholastic/Levine has acquired, at auction, the first three books in Daniel José Older’s Dactyl Hill Squad, a middle grade historical fantasy series that reimagines the Civil War in a world where dinosaurs roamed alongside humans. In the center of this extraordinary moment is a squad of young people from the Colored Orphan Asylum in New York City, and at their head, a brave and brilliant girl named Magdalys Roca, who wants nothing more than to flee south and rescue her injured brother. Publication of the first book is set for fall 2018, with book two to follow in summer 2019. Author agent: Eddie Schneider at JABberwocky Literary.

March 22

Alexis Orgera and Chad Reynolds at Penny Candy have acquired world rights to Thank You, Crow by Michael Minkovitz (l.), illustrated by Jose Medina. Their debut picture book stars a boy whose act of kindness toward an injured crow leads to friendship and adventure. Publication is slated for fall 2017.

March 20

Kate O’Sullivan at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has bought world rights to journalist Beth Ferry‘s (l.) picture book, Marsha’s Magnetic, illustrated by Lorena Alvarez. In the book, Marsha uses the scientific method to try and discover just what makes her classmates popular, until she realizes the best way to attract friends is to be yourself. Publication is scheduled for spring 2020. Illustrator agent: Alli Brydon at the Bright Group.

March 15

None.

March 13

Liza Kaplan at Philomel has acquired Jenny Torres Sanchez‘s new novel, By the Water. The book follows sisters Lola and Rosie in the wake of a car accident that landed them at the bottom of a lake, as they struggle to find a new relationship amid brain damage and the lingering fear that the accident wasn’t an accident at all. The book is set for publication in summer 2020. Author agent: Kerry Sparks at Levine Greenberg Rostan.

March 8

None.

March 6

None.

March 1

Erin Clarke at Knopf has bought world rights to Salsa Lullaby, a bilingual picture book by Jen Arena (l.), illustrated by Erika Meza, in which mami, papi, and bebé dance/bailan, sing/cantan, jump/saltan, and more until bebé falls asleep. The book is set for fall 2019. Author agent:   Jill Corcoran at Jill Corcoran Literary Agency. Illustrator agent: Claire Cartey at Holroyde Cartey.

 

Sylvan Creekmore at Wednesday Books has acquired, in a preempt, S. Gonzales‘s Only Mostly Devastated. Pitched as Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets Clueless, inspired by Grease, the book follows a boy trying to navigate a family crisis and a move to a new school who is quickly adopted by a new group of friends and comes face-to-face with his summer fling—only to discover that the perfect boy he remembers now won’t even look at him. Publication is planned for spring/summer 2019. Author agent: Moe Ferrara at BookEnds Literary.

 

Reported by Cecilia Cackley, 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.

Book Review: The Closest I’ve Come by Fred Aceves

 

Reviewed by Cris Rhodes

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Marcos Rivas yearns for love, a working cell phone, and maybe a pair of sneakers that aren’t falling apart. But more than anything, Marcos wants to get out of Maesta, his hood, away from his indifferent mom and her abusive boyfriend—which seems impossible.

When Marcos is placed in a new after-school program, he meets Zach and Amy, whose friendship inspires Marcos to open up to his Maesta crew, too, and to think more about his future and what he has to fight for. Marcos ultimately learns that bravery isn’t about acting tough and being macho; it’s about being true to yourself. The Closest I’ve Come is a story about traversing real and imagined boundaries, about discovering new things in the world, and about discovering yourself, too.

MY TWO CENTS: As a seasoned reader of Latinx young adult literature, I expect books that centralize male protagonists to fit within a particular, if unfortunate, macho framework; but I hoped that The Closest I’ve Come would buck tradition. While some parts of the book surprised me (like protagonist Marcos Rivas and his pals having a heart-to-heart at the end of the book), others conformed to the stereotypes I’ve grown used to—absent or abusive fathers, drug trafficking, and gratuitous violence.

Based on the book’s description, I anticipated The Closest I’ve Come would deliver a stereotype-busting journey of self-acceptance; but it’s not until the final fifty pages or so of this book that I was able to see this narrative coalesce. In the condensed space of this young adult novel, Aceves juggles quite a bit, sometimes to the detriment of his overarching goal of revealing how Marcos overcomes his circumstances and comes to accept himself. The plot is sprawling. It follows Marcos as he navigates the complex racial hierarchies of his poor, urban neighborhood, Maesta; through the hallways of his high school; into Future Success, the special program he finds himself enrolled in; and inside the four walls of his home, where he battles a tense relationship with his mother and abuse at the hands of her racist boyfriend. Though I had some difficulty keeping track of the plot, as well as the multiple characters corresponding to each subplot, each reveals a new facet of Marcos’s identity—his tenderness, his concern, and his desire to please.

Yet, whereas Marcos—via Aceves’s first-person narration—is fairly open about his feelings of inadequacy and his hopes for the future, he only shares these thoughts with the reader. Marcos longs for the love of his distant mother. He also vies for the attention of his non-traditional crush– Amy, a punk white girl. But he cannot share his feelings with either of the women in his life, nor can he truly connect with his other friends. It is clear from Aceves’s honest and lyrical prose that Marcos is bright and caring, but he is stunted by the cultural milieu of Maesta.

Though I found the book engaging and Marcos to be a sympathetic narrator, I was a little disappointed that The Closest I’ve Come proliferates the narrative that Latinxs (and other minoritized peoples, as the other residents of Maesta are African-American) are poor, destitute, and violence-prone. Eventually, Aceves undercuts this dominant paradigm by having Marcos reveal his true feelings to his mother, Amy, and his friends, but I worry that it comes too late to dispel the single story of tragedy that the rest of the book is situated within.

Nevertheless, in the end, Marcos realizes that to be truly happy, he must be honest, not just with himself, but with his friends and relatives. This message is so important, particularly within the scope of the emotion-suppressing machismo that pervades representations of Latinos in media and culture. The closeness Marcos and his friends share when they reveal their secrets to each other fosters a sense of community and family that had been missing from Marcos’s life. Aceves succinctly explains, “How lucky that I been tight with these guys all my life. With friends like these, who needs family?” (304). In emphasizing the family that Marcos chooses, rather than the terrible one he is born into, Aceves finally delivers on promise implied in the book’s description: to reveal how Marcos remakes himself.

While I am still unsure if this ending sufficiently subverts the other, more stereotypical traits of The Closest I’ve Come, I do think this book could serve as an important mirror for readers whose circumstances are similar to Marcos’s. In other words, though this book does perpetuate some stereotypes and questionable tropes relating to Latinxs, it may reach readers who, like Marcos and his time with Future Success, simply need the right experiences to turn their lives around.

TEACHING TIPS: Because of my reservations about the book, I might be hesitant to teach it as the central focus of a literature class, but for a language arts unit focused on linguistics, The Closest I’ve Come offers several possibilities. It could provide some examples of vernacular English, as Marcos often drops auxiliary verbs or uses double negatives. Students might also discuss Marcos’s disuse of Spanish (he barely speaks it at home and has trouble understanding it when it is spoken to him), which is particularly important within the context of official language debates.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fred Aceves was born in New York but spent most of his youth in Southern California and Tampa, Florida, where he lived in a poor, working class neighborhood like the one described in The Closest I’ve Come. At the age of 21, he started traveling around the world, living in Chicago, New York, the Czech Republic, France, Argentina, Bolivia, and Mexico, his father’s native land. Among other jobs, he has worked as a delivery driver, server, cook, car salesman, freelance editor, and teacher of English as a second language. The Closest I’ve Come is his first novel.

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Cris Rhodes is a doctoral student at Texas A&M University – Commerce. She received a M.A. in English with an emphasis in borderlands literature and culture from Texas A&M – Corpus Christi, and a B.A. in English with a minor in children’s literature from Longwood University in her home state of Virginia. Cris recently completed a Master’s thesis project on the construction of identity in Chicana young adult literature.