Book Review: The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez

 

Review by Lettycia Terrones, MLIS, PhD Student

Malú and the D.I.Y. (with a little help from the Elders) Aesthetic of Punk Rock Girls

There is a scene half-way through Celia C. Pérez’s brilliant middle-grade novel The First Rule of Punk that pulls so powerfully at the heartstrings of all those who have ever struggled with forming their identity as a minoritized person in the U.S. Having just wrapped up the first practice session of her newly formed punk band, The Co-Co’s, Malú (María Luisa O’Neill-Morales), the novel’s protagonist, learns an important lesson about what it means to be “Mexican.” It’s a lesson that not only connects Malú to her cultural heritage in a way that is authentic, it also invites her to self-fashion an identity that encompasses all parts of her, especially her punk rock parts! The lesson comes at the hands of Mrs. Hidalgo, the mother of Joe (José Hidalgo) who is Malú’s friend-in-punk, fellow seventh-grader at José Guadalupe Posada Middle School, and the guitarist of her band. And, it’s a lesson that complements those imparted by the many teachers guiding Malú to incorporate the complexity of seemingly disparate parts that make up who she is.

Before leaving the Hidalgo basement, which serves as the band’s practice space, Mrs. Hidalgo asks Malú to pull out a vinyl copy of Attitudes by The Brat. Putting needle to the Image result for Attitudes by The Bratrecord, Malú listens to the first bars of “Swift Moves” the EP’s opening song and asks in wonder, “Who is she?” To which Mrs. Hidalgo replies, “That’s Teresa Covarrubias.” And, so begins a history lesson for the ages. By introducing Malú to Teresa Covarrubias, the legendary singer of The Brat—the best punk band ever to harken from East L.A. —Mrs. Hidaldo, in a true punk rock move, being that she’s one herself, reclaims the cultural lineages that are so often erased and suppressed by dominant narratives, by affirming to Malú: “And they’re Chicanos, Mexican Americans … Like us.” (Pérez 162). Mrs. Hidalgo opens a door and illuminates for Malú something so beautiful and lucent about our culture. She designates this beauty as being uniquely part of a Chicanx experience and sensibility. So that in this moment, Malú’s prior knowledge and understanding of the punk narrative expands to include her in it as a Mexican American girl. She too belongs to this lineage of Mexicanas and Chicanas that made their own rules, which as Malú will go on to learn, indeed is the first rule of punk (Pérez 310).

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Joan Elliott-Said a.k.a. Poly-Styrene

This “like us,” this cultural resonance, this CORAZONADA to our heritage as Chicanx people in the U.S. is exactly the attitude and voice that can only come from one who has experienced what it’s like to live in the liminal spaces where as you’re neither from here nor from there. Pérez, herself of bicultural Cuban and Mexican heritage, indeed speaks to this experiential knowledge, saying in a recent interview in The Chicago Tribune that it wasn’t until college when she read Pocho by José Antonio Villareal that she recognized her own experience reflected in the pages of literature for youth (Stevens). Pérez in The First Rule of Punk speaks to the same imperatives that Marianne Joan Elliott-Said a.k.a. Poly-Styrene, another legendary woman of color, punk rock innovator, and singer of the classic British punk band X-Ray Spex, expressed when she sang following lyrics: “When you look in the mirror/ Do you see yourself/ Do you see yourself/ On the T.V. screen/ Do you see yourself/ In the magazine” (“Identity” X-Ray Spex).

Pérez holds up a mirror to all the weirdo outsiders, all the underrepresented youth who are made to not fit in, and shows them a story that reflects and honors their truth. She takes on the complexities and messiness of culture and identity construction, doing justice to this tough work of self-fashioning by presenting to us the diverse ingredients that combine in such a way to produce a beautifully vibrant, brave, and rad punk rock twelve-year-old girl, Malú. Most importantly, Pérez shows us the significance of our elders, our teachers who assume different roles in guiding us, and guiding Malú, to always “stand up for what she believes in, what comes from here,” her/our corazón (Pérez 190).

Malú is a second-generation, avid reader, and bicultural kid (Mexican on her mom’s side, Punk on her dad’s side), who has to contend with starting a new school in a new town, making new friends, and dealing with her mom’s fussing over her non-señorita fashion style. She moves to Chicago with her mother who (in the type of first-generation aspirational splendor so integral to our Chicanx cultural capital that many of us will surely recognize) will begin a two-year visiting professorship. Malú dances away her last night in Gainesville to The Smith’s Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want with her dad, an old punk rocker who owns Spins and Needles, a records store. She brings with her handy zine supplies to chase away the homesick blues, creating zines and surrendering her anxieties to her worry dolls.

On the first day of school, Malú puts on her best punk rock fashion armor: green jeans, Blondie tee, trenzas, silver-sequined Chucks in homage to the OG Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, and some real heavy black eyeliner and dark lipstick, yeah! Of course, she gets called out. First, by her mom who tells her she looks like a Nosferatu(!), and then by the popular Selena Ramirez, her nemesis, who calls her weird, and then by the school policy, which lands Malú in the auditorium full of all the other kids who also stick out. Pérez captures the sticky reality of socialization where school serves as an agent of assimilation. She renders this moment with a tender humor that grateful adult eyes can point to when dealing with our children who will also likely experience this rite of passage. Malú resists being boxed in. She doesn’t want to assimilate. She doesn’t want to be “normal,” and neither does her friend Joe, whose bright blue hair and Henry Huggins steelo communicates an affinity with Malú’s punk aesthetic.

Thus, Pérez sets the stage. Malú, and her Yellow-Brick-Road crew comprised of Joe, Benny (trumpet player for the youth mariachi group), and Ellie (burgeoning activist and college-bound), are all Posada Middle School kids brought together by Malú’s vision and verve to start a punk band to debut at the school’s upcoming anniversary fiesta and talent show. Rejected, some would say censored, for not fitting into Principal Rivera’s definition of traditional Mexican family-friendly fun that she intends for the fiesta, The Co-Co’s decide to put on their own Do-It-Yourself talent show. Dubbed Alterna-Fiesta, The Co-Co’s plan to feature themselves and all the other students rejected from the school showcase for not fitting the mold.

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The Plugz

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Ritchie Valens

The self-reliance of D.I.Y. ethos, however, does not overshadow the importance of collectivism and solidarity that supports Malú’s response and agency toward expression. Again, she has her elders to thank. Mrs. Hidalgo helps set up the Alterna-Fiesta stage, which they improvised outside the school directly following the “official” talent show. Señora Oralia, Joe’s grandmother and Mrs. Hidalgo’s mom, turns Malú on to the power of Lola Beltrán, whose rendition of “Cielito Lindo” Malú transforms into a punked-out version in the tradition of Chicanx musical culture—from Ritchie Valens to The Plugz—that fuses traditional Mexican songs with rock and roll. Even Malú’s mom, who often projects her notions of what Malú should look and be like, is also the source of an important lesson. She teaches Malú about her abuelo Refugio Morales who came to the U.S. as a Bracero, and about her abuela Aurelia González de Morales who migrated to the U.S. at sixteen years old. She helps Malú see her grandparents’ experiences reflected in her own day-to-day life in Chicago.

Malú recognizes her family’s story of migration in the lives of her peers at Posada Middle School who might be recent immigrants. She reflects upon today’s workers, whose hands, like those of her grandfather, pick the strawberries she sees in the supermarket. Through zine-making, Malú makes sense of her world. She synthesizes the new information she’s learned about her family history to create new knowledge, as documented by her zine: “Braceros like my abuelo worked with their arms … and their hands manos (Abuelo’s tools). I work with my hands, too. Not in a hard way like Abuelo. But we both create (my tools) … scissors, paper, glue stick, markers, stack of old magazines, copy machine” (Pérez 116-117). Through the creative process of making zines, Malú weaves herself into her family’s tapestry of lived experiences, values, and character that are collectively shaped by her family. Malú’s Bracero zine exemplifies what Chicana artist Carmen Lomas Garza describes as the resilient function of art, which works to heal the wounds of discrimination and racism faced by Mexican Americans—a history that is also part of Malú cultural DNA (Garza 19). Her Bracero zine is an act of resilience through art. It reflects a creative process tied to collective memory. Indeed, she calls upon herself, and by extension, her reader, to remember. For it is the act of remembering and honoring who and where we come from that enables us to integrate and construct our present lives.

Malú’s family tapestry also includes her father, who despite being geographically far away, is firmly present throughout Malú’s journey. Malú seeks his counsel after Selena calls her a coconut, i.e. brown on the outside, white on the inside. Selena, the popular girl at Posada Middle School, embodies all of the right “Mexican” elements that Malú does not. She’s dances zapateado competitively, speaks Spanish with ease, and dresses like a señorita. Confused and hurt by Selena’s insult, Malú, being the daughter of a true punk rocker, flips the insult around and turns it into the name of her band, The Co-Co’s. The move, like her father said, is subversive. And it’s transformative as it addresses how divisions happen within our culture where demarcations of who is “down” or more “Mexican” often mimic the very stereotypes that we fight against. And it’s her father’s guidance to always be herself that equips her to resist the identity boxes that try to confine her. Malú, through the course of this story, figures out her identity by shaping, combining, fashioning—even dying her hair green in homage to the Quetzal—and harmonizing all the parts of herself to create an identity that fits her just right.

The First Rule of Punk is outstanding in its ability to show authentically how children deal with the complexities and intersections of cultural identity. It reminds us of what Ghiso et al. interrogate in their study of intergroup histories as rendered in children’s literature. As children’s literature invites young people to use its narrative sites to engage the intellect in imagination and contemplation, the researchers ask, “whether younger students have the opportunity to transact with books that represent and raise questions about shared experiences and cooperation across social, cultural, and linguistic boundaries” (Ghiso et al. 15). The First Rule of Punk responds affirmatively to this question in its resplendent example of our connected cultures and collective experiences. Malú, in making whole all the parts that comprise her identity, models for us, the reader, our own interbeing, our own interconnection. It’s like she’s asking us: “Wanna be in my band?” I know I do! Do you?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: (from her website): Inspired by punk and her love of writing, Celia C. Pérez has been making zines for longer than some of you have been alive. Her favorite zine supplies are her long-arm stapler, glue sticks, animal clip art (to which she likes adding speech bubbles), and watercolor pencils. She still listens to punk music, and she’ll never stop picking cilantro out of her food at restaurants. Her zines and writing have been featured in The Horn Book MagazineLatinaEl AndarVenus Zine, and NPR’s Talk of the Nation and Along for the Ride. Celia is the daughter of a Mexican mother and a Cuban father. Originally from Miami, Florida, she now lives in Chicago with her family and works as a community college librarian. She owns two sets of worry dolls because you can never have too many. The First Rule of Punk is her first book for young readers.

To read a Q & A with the author, click here

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Lettycia Terrones is a doctoral student in the Department of Information Sciences at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she researches Chicanx picturebooks as sites of love and resilient resistance. She’s from East L.A. Boyle Heights.

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

The Brat. Attitudes. Fatima Records, 1980.

Pérez, Célia. C. The First Rule of Punk. New York, Viking, 2017.

Garza, Carmen Lomas. Pedacito De Mi Corazón. Austin, Laguna Gloria Art Museum, 1991.

Ghiso, Maria Paula, Gerald Campano, and Ted Hall. “Braided Histories and Experiences in Literature for Children and Adolescents.” Journal of Children’s Literature, vol. 38, no.2, 2012, pp. 14-22.

Stevens, Heidi. “Chicago Librarian Captures Punk Aesthetic, Latino Culture in New Kids’ Book.” Chicago Tribune, 23 August 2017. chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/stevens/ct-life-stevens-wednesday-first-rule-of-punk-0823-story.html . Accessed 25 August 2017.

X-Ray Spex. “Identity.” Germfree Adolescents, EMI, 1978.

Book Reviews: Gift-worthy Bilingual Children’s Books

Reviews by Ashley Hope Pérez

It’s an ongoing challenge for our family to find high-quality books in Spanish, and it is even more difficult to find bilingual editions where Spanish and English are presented as equals. This beautiful children’s book offers a novel solution: its sturdy cardboard accordion-style construction can be read from either side. One side offers the classic words to “Las mañanitas,” and the other presents an English version. The same design can be found in three other Canticos books, which you can discover here.

The Birthday Book / Las Mañanitas by Susie Jaramillo

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: The fourth book in the Canticos series of bilingual nursery rhymes was inspired by the most popular birthday song in Spanish. Fans of the series will recognize a cast of characters from the Canticos collection who wake up their bunny friend on his special day and then partake in a joyful, cake-filled, celebration in The Birthday Book / Las Mañanitas. Like other Canticos books, The Birthday Book / Las Mañanitas has a unique, interactive, accordion design that presents the Spanish version of the book in one direction and its English adaptation in the other. Children can sing the song straight through, lift the flaps, or stand it up and surround themselves with the story.

I loved the look of this book, but I didn’t know if Ethan Andrés, our board book reader, would take to it. At first, he was most interested in unfolding all the pages and spreading the book out across the floor. Then he spent time lifting all the flaps on the pages. (His favorite part is the peek-a-boo hands of the monkeys.) Now, it is a bedtime staple, and we usually read it like a “regular” book rather than spreading it out.

The novelty of the liftable flaps has not worn off for Ethan Andrés, and he loves “uncovering” the sleeping bunny to wish him feliz cumpleaños. Other sweet details abound, from a drawing of a chick that says “pío, pío” (the sound chicks make in Spanish), to the friendly animal cast.

The high-quality construction and simple elegance of the book make it excellent for a gift for a beloved child. The book comes in a sturdy box for added protection. A free app provides grown-ups and kids alike with the tune that accompanies the song, so there’s no need to worry if you don’t know it already. And as you can tell from the video below, I’m no singing diva, but my kiddo doesn’t mind… he’s too busy “finding” the animals under the flaps.

I look forward to adding more of the Canticos books to our collection, especially “Los pollitos,” as that traditional song is one of Ethan’s favorites. “Las Mañanitas/The Birthday Book” won’t be for sale until mid June, but you can preorder it now. And you should!

*Note: a copy of this book was provided by the publisher for our review.

LiamReadsToEthan

Liam Miguel reads to his baby brother, Ethan Andrés.

As a bilingual mother and early literacy advocate, I’m always on the look out for high quality baby books in Spanish. The selection at big-box bookstores is often limited to simple board books with titles like La ropaLa comida, and so on, some of which I’ve found to have spelling or accent errors. And anyway, I want something richer and more interesting, something that will invite Spanish into the interaction. Which is why I was thrilled to discover these beautiful books to read, touch, and hear with babies. The books featured here are distributed through IPG, Independent Publishers Group. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Librarians, teachers, and interested parents should check out the IPG Spanish-language catalogs for many more options.

IPG titles are now my go-to when it’s time to pick out gifts for new babies in bilingual or Spanish-speaking households. Here are a few baby books that have become favorites in our household.

Uno, Dos, ¡Cucú! by Anette Rusling, with illustrations by Katie Saunders

UnoDos_cover

UnoDos_inside

 

 

 

 

 

DESCRIPTION: This ingenious lift-the-flap book about numbers also features peepholes to give children a clue as to what lies beneath. The rhyme on each page encourages young readers to discover what’s hiding and to count the objects.

WHAT WE LOVE ABOUT IT: The page-size flaps are oh-so-inviting for chubby little baby fingers–and sturdy enough to stand up to their vigorous “loving.” This is one of Ethan’s go-to bedtime books, and he enjoys the bright colors of theillustrations and the way that the set of objects that appears when the flap is closed changes when the flap is opened. For example, underneath the flap, the mice on the page for “7” become skittish elephants surprised by the rodents. The face of each elephant is partially concealed by the cut-out that creates the shape for each mouse’s body. Loads of fun.

 

Los pequeanimales al dedillo, with illustrations by Julie Mercier

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DESCRIPTION: Colorful illustrations, flaps that can be lifted, and varied textures combine in this engaging book to introduce children to a range of baby animals. As kids interact with the elements on each page of this didactic and fun book, they’ll learn more about foals, fawns, bear cubs, and a number of other animals.

WHAT WE LOVE ABOUT IT: This book has beautiful images and wonderful textures, which our baby loves. It also has interesting science information that keeps my older son engaged and asking questions. The page on mammals–complete with animals nursing–is especially fun to talk about since his baby brother is breastfeeding.

 

Los sonidos de la noche, with illustrations by Emily Bolam

LosSonidos_cover

DESCRIPTION: Nocturnal animals such as the owl, the bear, and the wolf come to life for little hands in this delightfully interactive book. Each page spread presents a different animal that children can touch and a sound button that lets them know what noises the animal makes. This book is an engaging, entertaining way for very young readers to start learning about the natural world.

LosSonidos_inside2WHAT WE LOVE ABOUT IT: This is a book with something for everyone. Ethan Andrés loves the furry critters, and Liam Miguel “helps” his brother press the sound buttons. I don’t know if it’s the night sounds or the tickle of his brother’s hand on his, but the experience always gets Ethan giggling. I’m not usually a fan of books or toys that make noise, but these sounds are pleasant and last a reasonable duration.

 

 

P.S. The books featured here were received from IPG, which does an excellent job of curating and distributing some of the most beautiful and distinctive Spanish-language materials available in the U.S. I’m a fan.

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWERAshley Hope Pérez is a writer and teacher passionate about literature for readers of all ages—especially stories that speak to diverse Latino experiences. She is the author of three novels, What Can’t Wait (2011) and The Knife and the Butterfly (2012), and Out of Darkness (2015), which won a Printz Honor. A native of Texas, Ashley has since followed wherever writing and teaching lead her. She completed a PhD in comparative literature from Indiana University and enjoys teaching everything from Spanish language and Latin American literature to the occasional course on vampires in literature. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Drum Dream Girl Story Walk: A Literary Stroll Around My Neighborhood

 

By Sujei Lugo

My public library has been collaborating with a local non-profit community organization for more than 10 years, and when I started working there as the children’s librarian earlier this year, one of my plans was to continue building our relationship with this non-profit. This organization offers youth development programs meant to engage young people in a variety of activities including community organizing, advocacy, and educational programs. The majority of the programs focus on Afro-Latino dance, music, and community-theatre workshops and classes. I’ve invited participants, mainly Afro-Latino teens, to offer workshops and put on performances at my library. Such activities help them to develop leadership skills and give them a sense of empowerment and visibility in their community.

Drum Dream Girl Story Walk page 1 and map located at the library entrance

Drum Dream Girl Story Walk page 1 and map located at the library entrance

A couple of months ago, I contacted their arts and cultural programs director to discuss a great new picture book, Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, by Margarita Engle and Rafael López. This book seemed like ideal material to adapt into a play. Not long after that conversation, the organization’s special-projects manager stopped by my library and we had an informal chat about future collaborations. We wanted to work together on programming that would connect my library with their youth community center, located just five blocks away. This is when I shared my idea for a story walk, which seemed like a perfect way to integrate the community, cover the physical area between both buildings, and support literacy initiatives. She loved the idea, and it fit our mutual vision, for the following reasons: A. our community has a huge Latin@ population with lots of Latin@-owned businesses; B. a group of Afro-Latina teen drummers is active in the non-profit; C. my obsession and support for Latino children’s literature; and D. the Cuban restaurants in our neighborhood seemed like a natural tie-in for Drum Dream Girl in the context of a story walk.

Now we needed to move to the fun part: the planning.

First, we identified and contacted local businesses and organizations to talk about our story walk idea and our interest in incorporating them into the program. We explained that we were going to take a picture book, create poster boards for each page, and post them in storefront windows. Participants would walk down the street from the library to the youth community center, and following a Drum Dream Girl Story Walk map, they would read the page displays along the route. Community members responded enthusiastically, from “Eso está genial. Todo sea por la biblioteca y los niñ@s,” to “That’s so cool. Of course we are in.” Using their storefront windows was a great way to integrate them into our story walk. In the neighborhood surrounding the library, 90% of the businesses and organizations are locally owned and they include a significant number of non-profit endeavors. What’s more, 11 out of the 15 storefront participants turned out to be Latin@-owned businesses. Once they agreed to take part in the walk, we created a map containing the street addresses of each storefront and the corresponding page number(s) from the book located at each address.

Next came the creation of the story pages which would be posted in the windows. A successful story walk works best when using a picture book with a simple, easy-to-follow narrative, featuring single page illustrations, and minimal text. In this case, we made allowances for Rafael López, who paints some of the most beautiful illustrations in children’s literature, but which are usually double-page spreads. This posed a bit of a challenge. We first purchased three copies of the book, since we needed to use actual pages and not scans or photocopies. Then, using an X-acto knife, a pair of scissors, and a lot of patience, I carefully separated and cut the pages. This was done using two copies of the book, to ensure the display of all pages, front and back. (The third copy was a backup, in case of errors.) To maintain the look of the full spreads,  I carefully rejoined separated pages with hidden adhesive tape. Using glue sticks, I attached the pages to poster boards and added a prepared label containing the book’s title, the author’s and illustrator’s names, the correct page number, and the names of the sponsoring library and community organization. The final step was to trim and laminate each poster board.

From beauty salons to Cuban restaurants and health centers, the Drum Dream Girl Story Walk boards

From beauty salons to Cuban restaurants and health centers, the Drum Dream Girl Story Walk boards

 

For our story walk inauguration, we selected a Saturday morning. The actual story walk was designed to be read independently, which allowed families and individuals to follow the story at their own pace. They would pick up a map at the library, walk down the main street reading each story poster, and end up at the youth community center where related activities were being offered. To enhance the reading experience, we encouraged kids to jot down certain details of the story, such as the number of people they saw on each poster, which quickly turned into a game for them and increased their attentiveness. Since this book is about an Afro-Latina drummer, several activities were music-related. At a craft table, children created their own drums, maracas, and other instruments, using recycled materials. In a separate room, story-walk readers had the opportunity to participate in a drumming workshop conducted by Latina teen drummers. These activities brought an already wonderful book to life, and provided a way to celebrate the power of music as well as elements of Latino heritage.  The publisher was kind enough to furnish a few copies of the book, which were given out as prizes to the first kids that finished the story walk.

The Drum Dream Girl Story Walk was up for a two-week period. During this time, patrons stopped by the library to pick up maps, children flocked to the crafts area to make musical instruments, and many picked up a copy of the book, while others shared their excitement about how well the story walk integrated their community. A copy of the map was located outside, at the front of the library, so that even during our closed hours, anyone interested could follow the story on their own. A lot of people who knew nothing about the program enjoyed the story as they passed through the neighborhood, leading to greater awareness about the story walk, the library, the community, and of course, the courageous Cuban girl who changed a piece of music history.

Drum dreamers

Drum dreamers

 

The Drum Dream Story Walk was a great event to plan and implement in an urban setting, and although it took time and patience to create the poster boards, I would definitely do it again. Alternative programs like this contribute to breaking down the physical barriers that often exist between a library and the community it serves, and also tighten relationships with local groups, businesses, and library patrons. I foresee future story walks in my library work, using diverse picture books and bilingual titles. I also intend to invite school classes and local groups to form story-walk read-alouds. And let’s not forget that music and art-making activities enhance the story-walk experience and help bring a book to life in memorable ways.

 

SujeiLugoSujei Lugo was born in New Jersey and raised in her parents’ rural hometown in Puerto Rico. She earned her Master’s in Library and Information Science degree from the Graduate School of Information Sciences and Technologies at the University of Puerto Rico and is a doctoral candidate in Library and Information Science at Simmons College, focusing her research on Latino librarianship and identity. She has worked as a librarian at the Puerto Rican Collection at the University of Puerto Rico, the Nilita Vientós Gastón House-Library in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the University of Puerto Rico Elementary School Library. Sujei currently works as a children’s librarian at the Boston Public Library. She is a member ofREFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking), American Library Association, and Association of Library Service to Children. She is the editor of Litwin Books/Library Juice Press series on Critical Race Studies and Multiculturalism in LIS. Sujei can also be found on Twitter, Letterboxd and Goodreads.

Book Review: Sofi and the Magic, Musical Mural/Sofi y el Mágico Mural Musical

 

Reviewed by Sujei Lugo

Sofi-and-the-Magic-Musical-MuralDESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: When Sofi walks through her barrio to the local store, she always passes a huge mural with images from Puerto Rico: musicians, dancers, tropical flowers and—her least favorite—a vejigante, a character from carnival that wears a scary mask. One day on her way home from the bodega, she stops in front of the mural. Is one of the dancers inviting her to be his partner? “Okay, let’s dance,” Sofi giggles, and suddenly she’s in Old San Juan, surrounded by dancers and musicians playing bongos, tambourines and güiros. She begins to dance and sing with her new friends, but her pleasure turns to fear when the vejigante—wearing a black jumper with yellow fringe and a red, three-horned mask—spins her around and around! What does he want from her? How can she get away?

MY TWO CENTS: In this debut bilingual picture book, author Raquel M. Ortiz and illustrator Maria Dominguez capture the story of an imaginative girl and her magical and musical encounter with a neighborhood mural. Inspired by a mural located in South Bronx, New York, Ortiz and Dominguez give us a story that celebrates Puerto Rican traditions, community-based art, and city life.

Our young protagonist Sofía is lying on her bed feeling pretty bored. Her mom asks her to go to the bodega at the end of the block to get some milk and to remember that she should “not talk to ANYONE!” Sofía gets her scarf and coat, nods to her mom, and embarks on her journey to get the half-gallon of milk. Strolling along the sidewalk, she looks at the huge mural painted on a nearby building. She is stunned by its size and the colorful images of musicians, dancers, amapola flowers, and her least favorite, a vejigante. While returning from the bodega, Sofia can’t help admiring the mural once again. This is when she notices that one of the musicians, a plenero, is extending his hand to her to dance, breaking the wall between reality, art, and imagination. In a heartbeat, Sofía finds herself inside the mural, starting a whimsical experience that will bring her close to her Puerto Rican heritage.

Reading and seeing images of things that I grew up with put a smile on my face. From the plena song “Porque la plena viene de Ponce, viene de barrio de San Antón” to the carnival song “¡Toco-toco, toco-toco! ¡Vejigante come coco!”, I couldn’t help singing along with all the plenas and remembering the presence of plena songs in family gatherings, “navidad” parties, cultural “festivales”, carnivals, and even street protests. No wonder it is known as the  “periódico cantado” (sung newspapers), telling everyday stories all year long.

We also meet the famous vejigante, wearing its colorful outfit and a scary mask made from coconut shell (although some are made from papier-mâché). The vejigante is a mischievous folkloric character that resembles a buffoon or the devil, and which became a symbol of Puerto Rican cultural identity. In the story, Sofi plays and dances with the vejigante that she once saw as scary. She ends up wearing his outfit and flies around the Puerto Rican landscape going through El Yunque rainforest, and landing at the church plaza in Old San Juan. Here the author metaphorically portrays how through art, music, and traditions we can “fly” to the island of Puerto Rico, and demonstrates the deep connections that exist between the Puerto Rican diaspora and the island.

In terms of layout and illustrations, the bilingual text is located on the left side of the book with small illustrations dividing the English and Spanish texts and whole-page illustrations accompanying the text on the right side. The illustrator based her design and images on the original mural and conversations with the students that drew the images for mural. From soft colors for the city and bright and vivid colors for the mural, Dominguez’s paintings transport us from a wintry day in New York City to a sunny day in Puerto Rico.

Using The Pueblo Sings/El Pueblo Cantor mural as an inspiration for this picture book communicates the power of art, music, literature, and images to represent a community and tell its stories of resistance. The 7th- and 8th-grade students that designed the mural embraced the process of community building, public art, and history. It was created with and for the Puerto Rican community that has lived in New York City for decades. The mural’s statement is about the existence of the people and is a representation of their stories. It brings identification to the neighborhood and informs visitors about the living, breathing community located there. It is exciting to see the author centering the narrative on a young Puerto Rican girl who experiences this connection with her culture, traditions, and family, and then back to herself. In so doing, this book gives a powerful testament to how children can experience these connections and embrace them as their own.    

The book includes author and illustrator biographical notes, a glossary, and information about the mural.

TEACHING TIPS: The bilingual picture book is recommended for children ages 4 to 8. It works as a read aloud and for early independent readers. At home or at the library, librarians, parents, grandparents or other caregivers can read the story aloud in English, Spanish, or both, while teaching new words, concepts and discussing the different images. Teachers can include the discussion of Puerto Rican history, traditions, and music in their curriculum. 

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Vejigantes puppets I created for a library program. I explained to the children the meaning of vejigantes and how I grew up seeing them almost everywhere back in Puerto Rico.

 

Since the main focus of the story and its inspiration is a mural, children can create their own small-scale cardboard murals. Adults should encourage children to use elements from their community or their personal or family stories as inspiration. Moving activities to the street, adults can stroll down the neighborhood with children to view community murals, posing such questions as: Who created this mural? Who is it about? What does it represent? Does it represent the community where it is located? What type of murals should our neighborhood have? This will create a conversation about public art, public space, and community.

AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR: Raquel M. Ortiz was born and raised in Lorain, Ohio, and has been making art and telling stories since she was little. She holds a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from the University of Salamanca and has worked at The Brooklyn Museum, the Allen Memorial Art Museum and El Museo del Barrio. Raquel is the author of El Arte de la Identidad, the documentary Memories of the Wall: Education and Enrichment through Community Murals and textbooks and educational materials for children in Puerto Rico and the United States. She lives in New York City with her family and is a professor at Boricua College.

Maria Dominguez moved from Cataño, Puerto Rico to New York City when she was five year old. She began her artistic career as a muralist with Cityarts in 1982. Over the past twenty-five years, Dominguez has created over twenty public art murals and worked with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York City, Artmaker, Inc. and Brooklyn Connect. The recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts, she has also headed El Museo del Barrio’s Education Department. She currently teaches art in New York City’s Public School System.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Sofi and the Magic, Musical Mural/Sofi y el Mágico Mural Musical, check your local public library, your local bookstore or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

SujeiLugoSujei Lugo was born in New Jersey and raised in her parents’ rural hometown in Puerto Rico. She earned her Master’s in Library and Information Science degree from the Graduate School of Information Sciences and Technologies at the University of Puerto Rico and is a doctoral candidate in Library and Information Science at Simmons College, focusing her research on Latino librarianship and identity. She has worked as a librarian at the Puerto Rican Collection at the University of Puerto Rico, the Nilita Vientós Gastón House-Library in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the University of Puerto Rico Elementary School Library. Sujei currently works as a children’s librarian at the Boston Public Library. She is a member of REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking), American Library Association, and Association of Library Service to Children. She is the editor of Litwin Books/Library Juice Press series on Critical Race Studies and Multiculturalism in LIS. Sujei can also be found on Twitter, Letterboxd and Goodreads.

Book Review: Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle

By Sujei Lugo

drum dream girl coverDESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Girls cannot be drummers. Long ago on an island filled with music and rhythm, no one questioned that rule — until the drum dream girl. She longed to play tall congas and small bongós and silvery, moon-bright timbales. She had to practice in secret. But when at last her music was heard, everyone sang and danced and decided that boys and girls should be free to drum and dream.

Inspired by a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers, Drum Dream Girl tells an inspiring true story for dreamers everywhere.

MY TWO CENTS: Inspired by the childhood of Chinese Afro Cuban drummer Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, Margarita Engle and Rafael López enchantingly encapsulate through poetic text and dreamy illustrations a girl’s dreams and her desires to play music. By focusing on our girl’s “dreaming” period and the stage when she finally achieves her dream as a child, the author and illustrator furnish a landscape where children should be free to dream, and one they can relate to and which allows them to see themselves as dreamers.

Through the first line of Engle’s poem, “On an island of music, in a city of drumbeats, the drum dream girl dreamed,” we meet our Caribbean dream girl, who dreams about congas, bongós, and moon-bright timbales on a island where everyone believes only boys should play drums. This excluding notion and the exposure to such blatant sexism at such a young age do not prevent our girl from dreaming. She plays her own imaginary music, walks around tapping her feet and plays contagious drum rhythms on tables and chairs. When her big sisters invite her to join their new all-girl dance band, the drum dream girl is excited, but her father reminds her that “only boys should play drums.” She keeps drumming and dreaming, until her father realizes that her talent deserves to be heard. With a compelling illustration of her father “pulling” her drumming and dreaming daughter from the sky to the ground, she perseveres and lands back on her island of music, making her dream a reality.

The text is really descriptive, filled with poetic repetition and acknowledgements of the natural landscape of the island. Rafael López’s trademark of colorful and vibrant illustrations enhances the musical and dreamy experience of our character, providing images where you feel you are listening to the music and the beats. Through two-page layout canvases rich with smiling moons, suns, and birds, huge instruments, and our drum dream girl with closed eyes, he captures the spirit, the breeze, and the rhythm of our little drummer. López also successfully portrays the essence of Cuban city life and its racial and ethnic demographics.

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Drum Dream Girl is the story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a mixed race Cuban girl, who defied gender roles in the 1930’s music scene. The girl and her story show the importance of family, teacher, and music-education support to expose and develop our children’s musical talents. The all-girl dance band she joined was Anacaona, an orchestra founded by Cuchito Castro and her sisters. This forgotten and overshadowed group challenged the male-dominated Cuban music scene and an environment where women were seen as incapable of playing music. For more information about this group, look for the book Anacaona: The Amazing Adventures of Cuba’s First All-Girl Dance Band, written by Alicia Castro, Ingrid Kummels and Manfred Schäfer, or watch this preview of the documentary Anacaona: The Amazing Story of Cuba’s Forgotten Girl Band.

TEACHING TIPS: The picture book will work great as a read-aloud and a rich addition to music-themed library programs, where children could also make their own drums. With older children, teachers can incorporate poetry writing, drawing, and visualizing music as poetry. The text, illustrations, and content make this book perfect to be adapted as a musical play.

Other classroom activities can include historical exploration of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga’s life, Cuban music, and other female musicians. Margarita Engle includes a publisher’s discussion guide on her website.

AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR:

Margarita Engle is a Cuban-American author, botanist, and professor who enjoys collaborating with her husband in volunteer work for wilderness search and rescue dog training programs. Engle is the winner of numerous awards for her children’s and young adult books, including the Newbery Honor for The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom (2008), becoming the first Latina to win that children’s literature award. In addition to her work as a writer, she also contributes to various periodicals such as Atlanta Review, Bilingual Review, California Quarterly, Caribbean Writer, Hawai’i Pacific Review, and Nimrod. Margarita Engle is a member of PEN USA West, Amnesty International, Freedom House of Human Rights and Freedom to Write Committee.

Some of her titles are: The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano (2006), Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba (2009), The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba (2010), Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck (2011), The Wild Book (2012), The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist (2013), Mountain Dog (2013), Silver People: Voices From the Panama Canal (2014), Orangutanka: A Story in Poems (2015), The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist (2015), and Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings (2015).

Rafael López is a Mexican award-winning illustrator and artist, whose work is influenced by his cultural heritage, colors of Mexican street life, and Mexican surrealism. In addition to children’s books, López has illustrated posters, United States Postal Service stamps such as the Latin Music Legends series, and he has launched street art projects to revitalize urban neighborhoods, such as the Urban Art Trail Project.

He is the recipient of various Pura Belpré Honor for Illustration awards for books such as: My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/Me Llamo Celia: La Vida de Celia Cruz (2006), Book Fiesta!: Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day/ Celebremos El Día de los Niños/El Día de Los Libros (2010), The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred (2012) and Tito Puente: Mambo King/Rey del Mambo. He also received two Américas Awards for Children’s and Young Adult Literature for My Name is Celia (2006) and ¡Yum! ¡Mmmm! ¡Qué Rico! Americas’ Sproutings (2007).

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For more information about Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music (2015), visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.orgindiebound.org, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and goodreads.com. You can also watch the book trailer below.

Book Review: Finding the Music/En Pos de la Música by Jennifer Torres

 

finding the music coverBy Sujei Lugo

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Above Reyna’s favorite booth in her family’s restaurant hangs the old vihuela, a small guitar-like instrument, that belonged to her abuelito when he was in a mariachi band. Reyna has never heard the vihuela played, but her mamá treasures the instrument as a reminder of abuelito and his music. One noisy day in the restaurant, Reyna accidentally damages the vihuela. Determined to get it repaired before Mamá notices, Reyna sets out to search her neighborhood for someone who can help her fix the instrument. Little does Reyna know that along the way she will find herself growing closer to abuelito and to the power of his music.

MY TWO CENTS: From the winner of the 2011 Lee & Low Books New Voices Award, here we have a bilingual story filled with charm that showcases the power of music as an intergenerational unifier.

Every weekend, Reyna hangs out at her mom’s restaurant, Cielito Lindo, reading and enjoying the cast of characters that visit the place. One day, she accidentally breaks her grandfather’s precious vihuela that hanged on one of the restaurant’s walls. Reyna never met her abuelito, but her mother’s tales about him and the way he played the vihuela are near and dear to her. Reyna knows she must embark on a journey to fix her abuelo’s beloved instrument.

This journey will bring her to learn, first hand, about his legacy and the importance of music and the power of community engagement. Throughout each page, and Reyna’s conversation with different community members, her abuelo’s presence can be felt. Jennifer Torres uses Reyna’s journey as a great portrayal of how meaningful everyday life is for a community. The vihuela becomes a powerful artifact that jump-starts the memory of the past, the important history of the community that tends to be invisible but is so essential to understanding the present. The broken vihuela reveals other anecdotes from the past that will help Reyna see the bigger picture of who her abuelo was and how the community remains united through their shared past. And it is through oral history and the passing of this knowledge that Reyna becomes aware of the real importance behind the vihuela and why it was hanging on the wall. The breaking of the vihuela is not a tragedy, but the catalyst for Reyna to better understand where she came from and get closer to her mother and her community.

The realistic illustrations by Renato Alarcão, enhance the warmth of the tale and allow readers to see the characters’ expressions and feelings. Each image is filled with pastel colors and a consummated care to portray the connection and relations of the characters. The illustrations really echo a phrase said by Reyna’s mother at the beginning of the story, “these are the sounds of happy lives.” The illustrations truly convey the sounds of these lives.

Torres’s first picture book, Finding the Music/En Pos de la Música, is a solid work that is very much welcomed. The importance of oral history, the unifying qualities of music and the importance of preserving the artifacts that trigger the remembrance of who we were are all important concepts to help spark the curiosity of children among their own families and communities. We are in a constant search of adequate representation and we sometimes fail to see that in our own stories lie strong narratives that empower us and unite us.

*The book includes a glossary and pronunciation guide. The backstory of the Cielito Lindo and author’s note about mariachi music and band are also apprehended. Spanish translation by Alexis Romay.

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TEACHING TIPS: 
This bilingual picture book is recommended for children ages 4-9, and works well for early readers and as a read aloud with musical interventions as a bonus. Librarians, parents, grandparents, and caregivers can read with the young ones in English, Spanish, or both, while practicing or learning new vocabulary, identifying the different images and community components presented through the illustrations. It’s also a perfect book for a StoryWalk, given that our main character walks around her neighborhood finding some clues and stories about her abuelo. StoryWalk allows people to visit different points (parks, local stores, buildings) around the neighborhood where pages of the books are spread, they would walk to one point to another to follow the story.

Language Arts, Social Studies, Arts, and Music educators can collaborate in the development of different activities: vocabulary and writing activities, discussions and conversations regarding community, neighborhoods and Mexican, Chicano, and Latino history; the incorporation of drawings with writing activities; and the history of Mexican folk music. The author includes helpful activities for the Language Arts classroom: Story Map and Mini-Memoir. On the publisher’s website, you can access teaching guides developed for this book and other resources.

AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR:

Jennifer Torres is a freelance journalist, author, and coordinator of a community-wide literacy initiative at University of the Pacific, California. She studied journalism at Northwestern University, Illinois and at University of Westminster, London, England. Torres also worked as reporter for The Record newspaper, covering education, immigration, and other issues related to children and families. FINDING THE MUSIC/EN POS DE LA MÚSICA is her first picture book and her first middle grade novel, STEF SOTO, TACO QUEEN, will be published in Fall 2016.

Renato Alarcão is a graphic designer, illustrator and professor of visual arts. He studied in the Illustration as a Visual Essay program at the School of Visual Arts of New York and at The Center for Book Arts. In addition to his work as an illustrator, Alarcão has collaborated in different youth arts projects and has presented lectures on illustration, creativity, and artistic techniques. He has presented his work in exhibitions at the American Institute for the Graphic Arts, the American Society of Illustrators, the New York Public Library, the Skirball Cultural Center of Los Angeles, the Biennale of Illustrations in Bratislava, where he won the NOMA Prize for Illustrated Book. Some of his illustrated books: RED RIDIN’ IN THE HOOD: AND OTHER CUENTOS by Patricia Santos Marcantonio, SOCCER STAR by Mina Javaherbin, ROBERTO’S TRIP TO THE TOP by John B. Paterson & John Paterson, ELLA ENFEITIÇADA by Gail Carson Levine, Andiana Figueiredo.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Finding the Music/En Pos de la Música visit your local library or bookstore. Also, check out WorldCat.orgIndieBound.orgGoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.