Book Review: Freedom, We Sing by Amyra León and Molly Mendoza

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Review by Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez, PhD & Ingrid Campos

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: As powerful as it is beautiful, Freedom, We Sing is a lyrical picture book designed to inspire and give hope to readers around the world. Molly Mendoza’s immersive, lush illustrations invite kids to ponder singer/songwriter Amyra León’s poem about what it means to be free. It’s the perfect book for parents who want a way to gently start the conversation with their kids about finding hope in these very tense times we are living in.

OUR TWO CENTS: Amyra León’s Freedom, We Sing (2020) is a lyric poem told between a Black mother and her child as they contemplate the meaning of freedom. They ask questions about freedom like “Is it a place?/ Is it a thought?/ Can it be stolen?/ Can it be bought?” Questioning what freedom is, where it is, and who can access it are tremendously important questions for children and adults alike to ask and analyze. In this book, the idea of freedom is threaded to the experiences of others: “Mama tells me that/ there are children/ with hearts like mine/ beat beat beating in their chests/  With different skin colors/ hair, languages, and interests/ they learn to walk and talk/ and dance and scream/  Just like me or anybody.” While there are differences amongst people that could, and have, created forms of oppression limiting one’s freedoms, León also reminds readers that inside our chest are similar beating hearts.

The purpose of freedom for all is not to ignore each other’s differences but to embrace them while also highlighting our similarities. León and Mendoza also represent the very real oppressions that can impact one’s freedom. In one spread, Mendoza illustrates refugees of different skin tones walking together toward freedom. León writes: “Mama tells me that/ There are mothers/ With hearts like ours/ Beat beat beating/ In their chest/ Running from war/ With whatever is left/ Doing everything/ They can to protect/ Their children/ And their breath.” Again, León and Mendoza highlight differences and similarities as means of coming together rather than finding ways to other one another. 

The mother and the child give readers a poetic definition of freedom: “Mama tells me/ Breath is Freedom/ A sweet release/ The right to be/ A universal sign of life and peace.” In these lines, freedom is tied to breathing, to existing, to life. Freedom is as essential as breathing. Freedom can be seen as an individual act because, for the most part, we are responsible for our own breathing. However, León and Mendoza align the idea of freedom as breathing to the idea of community. On the page spread with “Breath is Freedom,” Mendoza has illustrated a diverse group of people with their eyes closed, drawn to look like they’re inhaling. Their faces look peaceful and some of them smile. Throughout the story, León repeats the words “inhale” and “exhale” to describe many things, such as people breathing, but also as trees, and the relationship between the sun and the moon. The repetition of the phrase forces readers to pause and take a deep breath. The relationship of breath and freedom can also be linked to Climate Change. There are several depictions of nature in the book, such as birds, trees, and flowers that suggest that breathing clean air should be a freedom that should also be protected.  

Molly Mendoza’s illustrations are vibrant and magical. There are several depictions of movement in her illustrations. In the first pages, the mother and her child are dancing and twirling and strokes of yellows and oranges mimic their movements behind them. In the pages depicting large groups of diverse people marching, there are also bold strokes of color signaling their direction or standing in for a sort of path to guide them. The pages with “inhale” and “exhale” also demonstrate movement by showing contraction and expansion. In one page, for example, a beautiful tree with yellow, green, and blue leaves stands tall and packed in with the word “inhale” to the left of the tree. On the other page, the same tree, now bare showing all its branches, is surrounded by an explosion of color and shapes with the word “exhale” underneath.

Additionally, Mendoza uses the idea of differences and similarities to visually depict the message of the book. Contrasting concepts such as the colors blues, yellows and oranges, the sun and the moon, and the expression to inhale and exhale can be found throughout the book. One scene, for example, shows the mother and her child sitting next to each other with a sun above the mother and a moon above the child. The word “Inhale” rests above the moon. In the next page, the mother and the child hug and above them the sun and moon have come together to create a new shape. Below them is the word “Exhale.” Readers will certainly have fun looking at all of Mendoza’s brilliant art. 

Freedom, We Sing presents an always relevant conversation about the meaning of freedom. León’s poem examines how freedom is all around us and within us and something we can give to ourselves. León also points to the ways that people around the world are fighting for their freedoms, even if it means having to leave one’s home behind. Mendoza’s artwork is a visual representation of what freedom looks like–from the tiniest flower to the vastness of the universe. With this book, León and Mendoza remind readers that freedom starts with breathing—inhale and exhale.

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Photo by Maria Marrone

ABOUT THE WRITER (from her website): Amyra is a musician, playwright, author, and activist. Her work fuses music and poetry through powerfully transparent performances focusing on social inequalities and communal healing whilst celebrating love, blackness, and womanhood.

She has performed throughout the United States and Europe collaborating with the likes of The Apollo, BAM, BBC, Roundhouse, Amnesty International and more.

Amyra composed Una Mujer Derramada in collaboration with Sivan Eldar commissioned by and performed with Lisbon’s Gulbenkian Orchestra, the Montpellier National Opera, and the Paris Chamber Orchestra. She is the inaugural recipient of the Battersea Arts Centre Phoenix Award which led to the 2019 London premiere of her debut play VASELINE.

She is the author of Concrete Kids (Penguin 2020), Freedom We Sing (Flying Eye Books 2020) and Darling (Walker, Candlewick 2022) . Her musical debut, Something Melancholy, led to sharing stages with Common, Robert Glasper, Nikki Giovanni and more. Amyra’s debut album, WITNESS, is set to release this summer.

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© Maddie Maschger

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR (from her website): Molly Mendoza is an illustrator currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is captivated by the relationships that she has built with friends, family, and foes alike over the course of her life. Molly sets out to emulate those relationships through her chaotic yet rhythmic style to make some dang-good drawings.

Alongside personal/observational narrative, Molly enjoys making images of  space travel, plants, ladies and small dogs. Frequently she can be found working on editorial projects, making comics/zines, and eating hot dogs. Molly is a BFA graduate from the Pacific Northwest College of Art and recipient the RockStar Games Award from the 2015 SOI Student Competition — she continues to work hard and remain a pretty cool lady.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWERSSonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Ingrid Campos is a 19-year-old college student interested in Latinx Literature. After graduating from LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) this year with an associates in Writing and Literature, she will continue her studies at Queens College to earn her Bachelors in English Education 7-12 . Ingrid was born and raised in Queens, New York. As a Mexican-American living in Queens and graduating from the public school system, Ingrid is inspired to become a high school teacher. One of her main goals is to center academic curriculums around more diversity and inclusivity towards Black and Brown students.

Book Review: Pelo Bueno/Good Hair by Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, illustrated by Brittany Gordón Pabón

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Presented by Sujei Lugo

As a children’s librarian at a public library system in the U.S., and in a neighborhood with a high percentage of Latinxs (mainly Dominicans & Puerto Ricans) and Spanish-speakers, I’m oftentimes being asked for children’s literature in Spanish, de allá. Allá being our islands and archipelago in the Caribbean that we want our children, and ourselves, to feel connected to in different ways including children’s books. Yes, it is a challenge to acquire books from Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and limited vendor options and collection development policies that present more restrictions and barriers that opportunities to expand our collections don’t make this endeavor easy.  It is usually through my trips to Puerto Rico and with the help of outside funds and grants that I’m able to get children’s books in Spanish directly from local bookstores, authors, and illustrators in Puerto Rico. I wonder about the experiences and challenges of fellow library workers and educators to get relevant and important children’s literature in Spanish into the hands of our children. Barriers aside, it is important to also highlight, promote, and support Puerto Rican children’s authors and illustrators that are creating, working, and surviving in Puerto Rico. Here at Latinxs in Kid Lit, we will try to continue to review and showcase children’s literature written in Spanish (sometimes available in English) from Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries. 

Today we are highlighting a review of the picture book Pelo Bueno, written by renowned AfroBoricua author Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, and illustrated by Brittany Gordón Pabón. The review is written by two fellow Puerto Rican librarians, Mercy Delgado Cordero & Jeanmary Lugo González, who don’t only give their insights about the book, but also discuss their participation in an activity where Pelo Bueno was used as a conversation piece about racism in Puerto Rico, afroamor & afroreparación. This is our second review written in Spanish.

Resumen:

La abuela Petronila demuestra todo el amor que siente por su nieta, al contarle historias familiares. También brinda lecciones sobre la defensa del cabello natural. Este es un cuento que resalta las raíces de la afropuertorriquenidad y que infunde orgullo para que crezca la autoestima en nuestros nietos y nietas, hijos e hijas.

Reseña por Mercy Delgado Cordero y Jeanmary Lugo González

Pelo bueno es un cuento infantil que busca combatir el racismo desde la afroreparación concientizando sobre el llevar el pelo natural como símbolo de respeto, identidad, autoestima, orgullo, cuidado y valoración. Este hermoso y cálido cuento, en voz de su autora, es un llamado al afroamor y a la afroreparación.

Consideramos este cuento uno de justicia racial empoderado por dos personajes femeninos afrodescendientes. La portada del libro y los colores de las ilustraciones son de tonalidades verde, negro y marrón, proporcionando un contraste de la naturaleza (lo natural) con la piel evidentemente negra. Los dos personajes del cuento son femeninos, personajes que cuestionan sus propias realidades incluyendo sus semejanzas. El cuento es narrado por una niña que es evidentemente negra, quien describe la relación con su abuela como una de amor, comprensión, sabiduría y diversión. La relación de los personajes es semejante a la de la autora con su abuela, llamada Petronila. Por eso en cada página podemos sentir esa cercanía y ese sentimiento de amor, cuidado y protección. 

La portada del libro nos presenta una persona mayor, por sus codos arrugados, peinando el afro de una niña con rostro sonriente. Los colores presentados en la portada los vamos encontrando en las otras páginas del libro ilustrado por Brittany Gordon Pabón.

Me gusta cuando la abuela Petronila peina mis caracolitos. Así le dice ella a mi pelo rizado rizadito“, es la primera línea del cuento. El acto de peinar y ser peinado es una conexión de amor, cuidado, respeto, confianza, y cuando se tiene el pelo bueno, también es un asunto de conocimiento, sabiduría y ancestralidad. La abuela Petronila, personaje femenino evidentemente negra, representa la sabiduría y el amor. Desde el comienzo de la narración se expone la relación de la abuela con su nieta. La importancia de la herencia, lo heredado como símbolo de unión y fuerza.

Acto seguido, se ve a la niña buscando refugio en su abuela, el conflicto: la burla por su pelo en la escuela. En la conversación de la niña con su Abuela, podemos ver como la pequeña ha sufrido de bullying o acoso escolar, recibiendo comentarios de sus compañeros refiriéndose a su cabello como “pelo malo” o Afro. Agresiones racistas que están institucionalizadas y enraizadas en el imaginario de la sociedad puertorriqueña. Petronila con la sabiduría de los abuelos, le pregunta con suspicacia si su pelo había hecho algo malo, y la invita a ignorar a quienes la molestan, pero sobre todo comienza a detallarle las maravillas de su pelo bueno y todas sus posibilidades. En forma de un divertido juego se peinan, hacen trenzas, ponen turbantes, y va explicándole toda la magia, la alegría y los misterios que esconde cada peinado, con referentes históricos de la cultura afropuertorriqueña.

Pelo Bueno es una invitación desde la ternura a desaprender el tan mentado “Pelo malo” con el que nos criamos las afrorizadas. Es deconstruir la frase más utilizada por años, llamar al pelo afro “pelo malo”. Cuestionando entonces por qué es malo, si no ha hecho daño a nadie. “Tu pelo no es malo, tu pelo no es travieso, tu pelo no es desobediente. Tu pelo no se porta mal, no miente, no ofende, no humilla, no se burla. Por eso tu pelo no puede ser malo. Tu pelo no ha hecho nada malo” (p.10).

Es una historia que infunde valores de respeto, autoamor, aceptación y orgullo ancestral. Es por esas razones una herramienta social poderosa para educar desde la sensibilidad y la fantasía, la magia y la alegría, que nos evoca un momento especial entre abuela y nieta. Entretiene, pero a la vez, es puro aprendizaje de lo que significa ser afrodescendiente, con los referentes históricos a los que alude la autora. Por ejemplo, cuando le comenta que se puede hacer trenzas, le dice: “Recuerda que las trenzas para nuestras abuelas eran muy importantes. Con las trenzas se dibujaban mapas de escape cuando nuestras ancestras eran esclavizadas” (p. 12). Las historia de nuestros afros, es la historia de una raza cimarrona que lleva siglos luchando por su libertad, justicia y respeto, y este cuento lo trabaja desde la ternura y cuidado del cabello. 

Pero es sin duda el momento de la historia en el que la niña le devuelve el cariño, las atenciones y lo aprendido, haciéndole lo mismo a su abuela en su pelo rizado rizadito, blanco, blanquito. Un mensaje de que este libro cumplirá su misión, cuando tras disfrutarlo y aprender del afroamor, compartamos ese conocimiento con los demás sobre el respeto al cabello natural. 

El hecho de que la niña no tenga nombre permite que cualquiera pueda verse reflejado en ella, identificarse, ponerse en su lugar. Este aspecto es clave y convierte al libro en uno único en su clase en cuanto a la pertenencia que debe apelar la literatura infantil. Poder vernos representados en un libro, ver a personajes similares al lector, le hace sentir parte del mundo. Convirtiéndose entonces en una herramienta para la justicia racial que buscamos apelar en nuestra sociedad.  

El libro de Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro logra conectar con quien lo lee, es imposible no recordar nuestras afrovivencias en cada página, reconocerse en ellas e ir sanando en cada palabra, con la carga emocional y de poder ancestral que recoge, con las memorias de las agresiones racistas sufridas. Sobre todo para quienes comienzan un proceso de aceptación a su cabello natural, este hermoso y sonoro libro les da un empujoncito. Pelo bueno es un viaje a la aceptación de lo afro, al conocer sus orígenes y enaltecer el orgullo de la negritud, es un proceso de fortalecimiento interior desde la significancia de la experiencia de cada lector. Es un mensaje de respeto al otro y su diversidad racial y cultural, es la respuesta a una búsqueda de redención personal produciendo un sentimiento por conocer y enorgullecernos de nuestra historia, de nuestros ancestros. Este es un libro infantil, con una historia que trasciende edades y generaciones. Lo puede leer un niño o una niña de 6 años, como una joven adulta de 38 años, y ahogarse en un llanto tierno y nostálgico. Son todas posibilidades que evoca esta lectura. 

Por esta razón en Puerto Rico se ha utilizado este libro como herramienta educativa y afroreparativa, para hacer actividades, foros, conversatorios, entrevistas, lecturas en voz alta. Ocupa un lugar privilegiado en salones de belleza de cabello afrorizado y poco a poco va llegando a los salones, bibliotecas y hogares puertorriqueños. 

TEACHING TIPS

Este libro puede ser utilizado en las clases de español e inglés ya que recientemente fue traducido al inglés. Además en tópicos de:

  • inclusión y diversidad
  • historia y afrodescendencia
  • autoestima 
  • bullying
  • cuidado del cabello natural

Se puede leer en grupo y desarrollar un diálogo afroreparativo con discusiones sobre la autoestima, sanación y aceptación. Una posible actividad es ir leyendo el cuento en voz alta e ir recreando los peinados que le hace la abuela a la niña. También, es importante resaltar para los educadores la campaña #ennegrecetuprontuario con la que la autora promueve que se incluyan en los currículos recursos sobre afrodescendencia y afrodescendientes. Mientras que el llamado a los bibliotecarios debe ser que #ennegrezcansuscolecciones. Pero, además de la adquisición del mismo, las bibliotecas lo pueden incluir en los clubes de lectura y llevar a cabo diversas actividades creativas, para grandes y chicos.

Un ejemplo de una actividad es la realizada por la Biblioteca de la Universidad de Puerto Rico en Bayamón el 23 de abril de 2020: “Pelo Bueno: Lectura y conversatorio sobre el cuento infantil que busca combatir el racismo desde la afroreparación”. En la misma, celebrada durante la Semana de la Biblioteca, que este año su lema era Encuentra tu lugar, se leyó en voz alta el cuento y luego se dio paso a un conversatorio con 15 afrorizados. Un diálogo desde el corazón sobre lo que les evocó la lectura del cuento Pelo bueno desde su experiencia personal y desde sus diversas trincheras como educadores, bibliotecarios, profesores, estilistas de pelo rizado, influencers del movimiento afropuertorriqueño, chef y artistas. Un cuento infantil desde la perspectiva de 15 adultos emocionados por los recuerdos que les evocaba escuchar el relato. Risas y lágrimas fueron testigos de un hermoso evento de amor y afroreparación. Dando lugar al lema de Encuentra tu lugar que es lo que busca el cuento infantil, ofrecernos un lugar común para vernos y encontrarnos, ir sanando.

El libro se puede adquirir a través de Libros 787, Aparicio Distributors, Inc., Librería Norberto González, Librería Mágica Por medio de Amazon puedes adquirir las versiones en español e inglés. Además de Barnes & Nobles.

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Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro es directora del Departamento de Estudios Afropuertorriqueños, proyecto performático de Escritura Creativa que responde a la convocatoria promulgada por la UNESCO de celebrar el Decenio Internacional de los Afrodescendientes. Dirige la Cátedra de Mujeres Negras Ancestrales con sede en EDP University en San Juan, Puerto Rico y ha sido invitada por la ONU al Programa “Remembering Slavery” para hablar de mujeres, esclavitud y creatividad en 2015, y presentar el Proyecto de la Cátedra en Harvard University en 2017.

La autora es madre de una preciosa hija de nombre Aurora, en quien se ha inspirado para escribir poemas, cuentos cortos y novelas. El blog virtual de la autora en internet se titula Boreales, y ha sido provocado por las hermosas luces boreales y australes que se pueden ver desde el Polo Norte y el Polo Sur, también en claro homenaje a su unigénita. Sus escritos promueven maravillosas lecciones que denuncian la justicia social y la igualdad entre todos los seres humanos. También visibilizan apasionados enfoques sobre la discusión de la afroidentidad y la derogación del racismo. 

Esta activista a la que le encanta escribir sobre las lanchas de su pueblo natal, Cataño, ha ganado los siguientes galardones: Premio Nacional del Instituto de Literatura Puertorriqueña en 2008, Premio Nacional de Cuento PEN Club de Puerto Rico en 2013, y Premio del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña en 2012 y 2015. Fue elegida como una de las escritoras más importantes de América Latina en 2007 durante la iniciativa Bogotá 39 y ha sido elegida Escritora del Año en Puerto Rico en 2016. Ha publicado los libros infantiles y juveniles: Thiago y la aventura del huracán. (Editorial EDP University, 2018) Las Reyas Magas (Editorial EDP University, 2017) Negrita linda como yo: versos dedicados a la vida de la Maestra Celestina Cordero (Cátedra de Mujeres Ancestrales, 2017) Oscarita: la niña que quiere ser como Oscar López Rivera (Cátedra de Mujeres Ancestrales, 2016) María Calabó (Cátedra de Mujeres Ancestrales, 2016) Las caras lindas (Editorial EDP University, 2016) Capitán Cataño y las trenzas mágicas (Editorial EDP University, 2015) Thiago y la aventura de los túneles de San Germán (Editorial EDP University, 2015) Mis dos mamás me miman (Editorial Boreales, 2011) La linda señora tortuga (Ediciones Santillana, 2017).

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Mercy Delgado Cordero: La Dra. Mercy Delgado Cordero es una apasionada bibliotecaria con 12 años de experiencia en el contexto universitario, tanto público como privado. Es la encargada de la Colección Puertorriqueña y el Archivo Histórico de la Biblioteca de la Universidad de Puerto Rico en Bayamón. También es profesora del programa graduado de Bibliotecología en Cambridge College. Pero sobre todo se considera una líder cultural. Ha dedicado su vida académica y profesional a estudiar y trabajar con libros y por los libros. Tiene la convicción que la lectura y la educación tienen un poder único de transformación social y personal, que nos asegurará tener un mejor País. Tiene un bachillerato en Literatura Comparada e Historia del Arte, un postgrado en Edición y Artes Editoriales, una maestría en Ciencias de la Información-Bibliotecología y un doctorado en Liderazgo de Organizaciones Educativas; todos de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras.

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Jeanmary Lugo González: Bibliotecaria profesional puertorriqueña. Cuenta un bachilletaro en Literatura Comparada y un grado de maestría de la Escuela Graduada de Ciencias y Tecnologías de la Información ambas de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras.  Comenzó su carrera profesional como bibliotecaria auxiliar en la Biblioteca Gerardo Sellés Solá de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras. Actualmente trabaja en la Colección Puertorriqueña de la misma institución. Desea continuar desarrollándose como bibliotecaria académica con interés en las destrezas de información y la promoción de programas, servicios y colecciones.

Book Review: Federico and the Wolf by Rebecca J. Gomez, Illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

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Reviewed by Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez, PhD & Ingrid Campos 

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: With his red hoodie on and his bicycle basket full of food, Federico is ready to visit Abuelo. But on the way, he meets a hungry wolf. And now his grandfather bears a striking resemblance to el lobo. Fortunately, Federico is quick and clever—and just happens to be carrying a spicy surprise! Federico drives the wolf away, and he and Abuelo celebrate with a special salsa. Recipe included.

OUR TWO CENTS: Rebecca J. Gomez’s Federico and the Wolf  is an illustrated book about a young boy named Federico who is sent to the market to pick up ingredients to make pico de gallo with his abuelo. As he travels through a forest-like park, he meets a hungry lobo who wants his food. When Federico says no the lobo comes up with a plan and meets Federico at his abuelo’s shop. The lobo dresses up as Federico’s abuelo and tries to eat him. Using chiles and peppers. Federico is able to ward off the lobo. 

With Federico and the Wolf  Gomez and Chavarri present a retelling of the classic tale, The Little Red Riding Hood. The differences from the classic tale and Gomez’s is that the protagonist is a Mexican-American boy in a modern setting. In this version, Federico is sent to the marketplace to find ingredients such as jalapeños, onions, garlic, limes, and fresh herbs with which to make Pico de Gallo. Instead of the classic red cape, Federico wears a sleeveless red hoodie and his basket is attached to the front of  his bike, which he uses to get to the market and to Abuelo’s shop through a park with a forest feel. Instead of chopping down the wolf with an axe, Federico uses his peppers and chiles to lure the lobo away and rescue his abuelo. There are a few Spanish words sprinkled throughout the story that are simple enough to translate with context clues from the narrative and from the illustrations. However, the book does include a glossary of Spanish words and as an added bonus, a recipe for Pico de Gallo. The differences in this retelling make Federico and the Wolf  a classic in and of itself. 

 Elisa Chavarri’s illustrations include colorful and bold images. One of the most vibrant scenes is the marketplace. There are many details any observant reader can point out, such as guitars, flores, the jars of red and green goods, and other people walking around with their bags. Federico’s bag has a luchador face on it. The market has fruit stands and a churro vendor. What makes the scene more colorful is the papel picado hanging above the market. The illustrations of the lobo are excellently done and are humorous, such as when he dresses up as abuelo and eats the chiles. Chavarri’s detail for facial expressions on the main characters adds another layer of complexity to the story.  From the cover, the wolf looks mischievous and cunning. Federico, on the other hand, has a sly smile that makes him look confident and like he can certainly outwit the lobo. When brave Federico shoves an habanero in the wolf’s mouth, Federico’s hand looks tiny in comparison to the conniving wolf’s enormous teeth. And in the next scene, Federico stands with hands on hips, like a superhero, while the wolf’s wild eyes are red and full of tears, tongue sticking out showing readers just how spicy a habanero can be. Chavarri’s illustrations complement the story perfectly. 

Additionally, Gomez’s use of rhyme makes the story even more entertaining for young readers. Gomez follows an ABCB rhythm which gives the story the classic fairy tale, sing song, feel. The rhyme scheme creates an additional layer of fun for readers. For example, the story opens with:

  Once upon a modern time

a boy named Federico

left to buy ingredients 

to make the perfect pico. 

In this quatrain, or set of four lines, the last word of the second line rhymes with the last word of the fourth line. It might be fun to let younger readers find the rhyme words as they read. For the most part, the entire story is told in the ABCB rhyme pattern, which readers will definitely catch as they follow Federico through the story. 

We find Gomez and Chavarri’s Federico and the Wolf  significantly powerful because it represents a young, brown, Mexican-American boy standing up to the “big, bad wolf” threatening his existence. Just like in the story about Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf in this version can be read as a representation of many social threats in the child’s life. Federico is not afraid, although he is surprised to see the wolf in his abuelo’s clothes, because unknowingly his journey prepared him for this moment of confrontation. Federico uses the ingredients for Pico de Gallo to attack and disempower the wolf. By using these ingredients, Federico depends on his family knowledge and on his heritage to survive and thrive. Readers, young and old, will find themselves cheering for Federico.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rebecca J. Gomez has been writing stories and poems for kids since she was five years old. She also loves to hike, draw, and play games with her husband and their three children. She has co-authored four picture books with Corey Rosen Schwartz. Federico and the Wolf is her first solo picture book.

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ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Elisa Chavarri is a freelance illustrator originally from Lima, Peru. She did much of her growing up in Northern Michigan where she now resides with her husband, 6yr old Lucia, and 3yr old Marcel. Elisa graduated with honors from The Savannah College of Art and Design, where she majored in Classical Animation and minored in Comics.  

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ABOUT THE REVIEWERSSonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Ingrid Campos is a 19-year-old college student interested in Latinx Literature. After graduating from LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) this year with an associates in Writing and Literature, she will continue her studies at Queens College to earn her Bachelors in English Education 7-12 . Ingrid was born and raised in Queens, New York. As a Mexican-American living in Queens and graduating from the public school system, Ingrid is inspired to become a high school teacher. One of her main goals is to center academic curriculums around more diversity and inclusivity towards Black and Brown students.

Cover reveal for Sing With Me: The Story of Selena Quintanilla/Canta conmigo: La historia de Selena Quintanilla by Diana López, illus by Teresa Martinez

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We are delighted to host the cover reveal for Diana López’s picture book Sing With Me: The Story of Selena Quintanilla, which will be published simultaneously in Spanish: Canta conmigo: La historia de Selena Quintanilla. The Spanish version was translated by Carmen Tafolla. Both are illustrated by Teresa Martinez and will be published by Dial Books on April 6, 2021!

From a very early age, young Selena knew how to connect with people and bring them together with music. Sing with Me follows Selena’s rise to stardom, from front-lining her family’s band at rodeos and quinceañeras to performing in front of tens of thousands at the Houston Astrodome. Young readers will be empowered by Selena’s dedication–learning Spanish as a teenager, designing her own clothes, and traveling around the country with her family–sharing her pride in her Mexican-American roots and her love of music and fashion with the world.

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First, here is some information about the creators:

About the author: Diana López is the author of several middle grade novels including CONFETTI GIRL, ASK MY MOOD RING HOW I FEEL, and LUCKY LUNA. She was born and raised in Corpus Christi, Texas, Selena’s hometown. SING WITH ME, THE STORY OF SELENA QUINTANILLA is her debut picture book.

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About the illustrator: Teresa Martínez is the illustrator of numerous books for children, including The Halloween Tree and It’s Not a Bed, It’s a Time Machine. She lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, but was born and raised in Monterrey, where Selena frequently visited, becoming part of its culture and its heart. Martínez remains a huge fan of Selena’s music.

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Now, some insight about the book from the creators:

From the author, Diana López: I’m so excited to share the cover of my upcoming picture book biography, SING WITH ME, THE STORY OF SELENA QUINTANILLA. I live in Corpus Christi, Selena’s hometown, so I often see illustrations or photographs of her at restaurants or on T-shirts. There’s a Selena mural in her old neighborhood and a memorial, the Mirador de la Flor, which features a statue of Selena gazing at the sea. It also has a giant, white rose, Selena’s favorite flower. I love that illustrator, Teresa Martínez, chose Selena’s most famous concert for the cover of our picture book, but a special treat are the roses lovingly tossed to Selena in gratitude for her music.

Here’s what Teresa Martínez said when asked about her inspiration for the cover: “When I think about Selena, I go back immediately to my Quinceañera party and see my friends singing out loud on the mic Selena’s songs. That passion and energy in her songs. Without a doubt, I had a lot of inspiration with her music, wardrobe, and the feeling of happiness that youth brings. For her book, I opted for a vibrant color palette that was so in use those days, and of course, I couldn’t leave behind the purple color associated with the fantastic outfit Selena wore at the Astrodome, so purple takes an important part in the cover. For this project overall, I wanted the reader to feel involved in her presence through the colors and little details throughout the book.”

As someone who primarily writes middle grade novels, I’m used to “painting” people and places with words. That’s why early drafts of this picture book were a bit wordy. I had to keep reminding myself that a picture book is a collaboration between a writer and an illustrator, and I couldn’t have asked for a better co-creator. When Nancy Mercado, our editor at Dial Books for Young Readers, first shared Teresa Martínez’s portfolio, I could not stop smiling. Her art has color, movement, and whimsy, and I’m so pleased to see these traits on every page in our book, but most especially on the cover, which does a wonderful job of capturing Selena’s beautiful spirit. I can’t wait to share SING WITH ME, THE STORY OF SELENA QUINTANILLA—its art, its story, its joy.

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Finally, here is the cover of Sing with Me: The Story of Selena Quintanilla/ Canta conmigo: La historia de Selena Quintanilla:

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Ta-da!

Sing with Me: The Story of Selena Quintanilla is available now for pre-order!

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Book Review: Todos Iguales: Un Corrido de Lemon Grove/ All Equal: A Ballad of Lemon Grove by Christy Hale

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Reviewed by Sanjuana Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Roberto Àlvarez loved school. Along with other Mexican American children, he attended the Lemon Grove School, where all students—Mexican American and Anglo—studied together as  equals.

In the summer of 1930, the Mexican families learned of a plan to segregate their children in a small, inferior school. Refusing to let this happen, the parents organized. They filed a lawsuit against the school board, with twelve-year-old Roberto as the plaintiff. On March 12, 1931, the judge announced his ruling, supporting the children’s right to equal education. The Mexican American students were immediately reinstated in the Lemon Grove School to learn as equals once again.

With captivating illustrations inspired by vintage citrus crate labels, Christy Hale brings to life the little-known story of the first successful school desegregation case in the United States. It stands as an empowering case in the United States. It stands as an empowering testament to an immigrant community and its tenacity in the fight for educational equity.

MY TWO CENTS: I first learned about this case when I was a PhD student at Georgia State University in a sociology of education course. I remember feeling cheated when I realized that I had not learned about this important piece of American history. This book details the story of the first school desegregation case in the U.S. and does so in a way that children can understand the injustice that the families faced and the courage that it took to challenge school segregation.

The book begins by telling the reader about Roberto Álvarez, a Mexican American 12 year old who attends school in Lemon Grove. Roberto and all the other Mexican children attended the same school as the White children. During the summer of 1930, the families learned that a new school was being built for the Mexican students. When the students returned to school in January of 1931, the principal did not allow the students to enter the school and told them “move aside and let the Anglo students go to class… You do not belong here” (n.p.).

The parents organized. They met with the Mexican consul who believed that “the new school was just a pretext to segregate all the Mexican American children and give them an inferior education” (n.p). The parents filed a lawsuit against the school board and began to raise money for the legal expenses. Roberto Álvarez was named as the plaintiff in the case of Roberto Álvarez v. the Boards of Trustees of Lemon Grove School District. Roberto testified in court and the judge ruled that the school district could not separate all the Mexican American students. All of the students returned to their school the following Monday.

The illustrations in this book are colorful, bold, and bright. One of the features that I noticed in the illustrations was the beautiful way in which the author/illustrator included details such as women’s trenzas, mandiles (aprons), and features of the community in which the children lived. Hale was also able to capture the different emotions that the children experienced. She captured the joy of playing outside and also how scared the children felt as they were being taken to a new school. An author’s note also explains how the illustrations are based on vintage California citrus labels.

One of the obvious characteristics of this book is how it privileges the Spanish translation of the texts. Very few books place the Spanish translation first on the page. The back matter provides extensive detail about the case including what occurred before, during the case, and after. It includes the names of all the children who were included in the court case and gives detailed information about Roberto Ricardo Álvarez, the main character in the story.

This books begins by honoring the “corrido” on which this book is based on: “Un Corrido de Lemon Grove.” A “corrido” is a traditional Mexican story song. This particular corrido details the story of the community in Lemon Grove (details about corridos are included in the back matter). The two pages that feature the corrido grant permission for photocopying. This book could be used a mentor text for students who want to write their own corrido. This is a book that should also be a part of any text set that includes civil rights topics. The case set the stage for Brown v Board and it should be a topic that is introduced to students.

TEACHER RESOURCES: A video titled The Lemon Grove Incident tells about the court case. This was produced by PBS.

Zinn Education Project: Lemon Grove Incident- This page includes a description of the incident as well as a list of teaching resources.

Lee and Low provides a teacher guide for this book.

Lee and Low Blog Post- “How One Teacher Used Todos Iguales to Inspire Social Justice”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR (from her website): When I was little, I knew I shouldn’t make marks in books, so instead, I drew on tiny pieces of paper and tucked my “illustrations” alongside the words. At age ten, I decided to become a writer and illustrator. Back then, my best friend and I acted out the books we loved. Our favorite was Harriet the Spy. Dressed in disguises, we roamed the neighborhood investigating and jotting down our observations in our secret notebooks, just like Harriet. Back at spy headquarters we shared our discoveries with each other. Soon we began writing and illustrating our own stories every day after school.

I have created books as long as I can remember. I studied calligraphy, bookbinding, letterpress and all other means of printing, typography, design, and illustration.

After earning a B.A. in Fine Arts and a Masters in Teaching at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, I worked as an art educator for several years. Then I decided to pursue my childhood dream by relocating to Brooklyn, New York to study design and illustration at Pratt Institute.

I taught at the New York Center for Book Arts and as an adjunct professor in the Communication Design department at Pratt Institute while working in children’s book publishing as a designer and art director. During this period, I also began illustrating and have since worked on over 30 books—writing some of those too.

After many years in New York, I moved to Northern California where I continue to work as a writer, illustrator, designer, art director, and as an educator—offering programs at museums, schools, and libraries. I teach an online course in Writing for Picture Books through the illustration department at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Sanjuana C. Rodriguez is an Assistant Professor of Literacy and Reading Education in the Elementary and Early Childhood Department at Kennesaw State University. Her research interests include the early literacy development of culturally and linguistically diverse students, early writing development, literacy development of students who are emergent bilinguals, and Latinx children’s literature. She has published in journals such as Journal of Language and Literacy Education, Language Arts, and Language Arts Journal of Michigan.

Book Review: ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat by Raúl the Third with color by Elaine Bay

Review by Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez, PhD and Ingrid Campos

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: In this new Vamos! title, Let’s Go Eat, Little Lobo is excited to take in a show with wrestling star El Toro in his bustling border town. After getting lunch orders from The Bull and his friends to help prepare for the event, Little Lobo takes readers on a tour of food trucks that sell his favorite foods, like quesadillas with red peppers and Mexican-Korean tacos. Peppered with easy-to-remember Latin-American Spanish vocabulary, this glorious celebration of food is sure to leave every reader hungry for lunch!

OUR TWO CENTS: ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat by Raúl the Third with color by Elaine Bay centers Little Lobo, his dog Bernabé, and his rooster friend, Kooky Dooky. Little Lobo takes his delivery services to El Coliseo to meet Luchador star, El Toro, who asks Little Lobo to get lunch orders for him and all of his famished wrestling friends before the big show that night. Little Lobo, Bernabé, and Kooky Dooky visit different food trucks and food stands in the area to find some of their favorite Mexican dishes such as tacos, tamales, churros, aguas frescas, and many more delicious treats. 

¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat is crowded with fun, humorous characters from cover to cover: from a snake with a sombrero slithering up a utility pole, to a tortoise driving a “Tortas Tortuga” truck with “despacito” blazoned across the side, to “Armor Dillo,” a luchador armadillo covered in armor, and so much more. The illustrations are also action-packed, mimicking the high energy of any good lucha match. The cars speed by leaving zig-zag “vroom” behind. The floor retumba like waves at the rumble of the luchadors’ hungry tummies. Puffs of smoke or exhaust rise as Little Lobo dashes from one place to the next. Elaine’s color choices bring the book to life–resembling Little Lobo’s lively neighborhood. Additionally, readers will find many words for different types of foods, animals, and actions as part of the illustrations. On one spread, when Little Lobo first meets all the luchadores, their names are drawn to match their styles, like the “L” in “Lizarda” is as long as their tongue. On another page, when Little Lobo goes to pick up dessert, there are so many options that the words fill up half the page: “Flan,” “arroz con leche,” “churros,” and more. Raúl and Elaine give every inch of the pages something new for readers to find with every read.

¡Vamos! is also an extraordinary book for showcasing bilingualism in Spanish and English. Some of the speech bubbles offer immediate translation of the Spanish words and phrases: “Un poquito de esto. Un poquito de lo otro. A little of this. A little of that.” Other speech bubbles or words in the illustrations don’t offer direct translations; instead, the illustrations serve as context for translation. An example of this is when Little Lobo sits to watch the lucha, and the vendor shouts, “¡Cacahuates! ¡Palomitas! ¡Soda!” There’s no direct translation on the page but instead the reader can see the vendor toss a bag of peanuts at Little Lobo. On other pages, the English and Spanish serve as a call and response. When Little Lobo and Bernabé make it to El Coliseo for the first time, Little Lobo asks, “¡¿Qué es eso?!” and one of the luchadores responds with, “That’s our bellies. We are very hungry.” Additionally, there’s a food glossary at the end of the book, which readers can refer to if they are unfamiliar with the words. The author also encourages readers to use a Spanish-English dictionary to look up words not found in the glossary, which is a significant way to encourage proactiveness and agency in young readers. 

The heart of this story is not only Mexican food but also love and respect for street food vendors. Raúl does an excellent job at representing the diversity of street food, the types of kitchens where the food is made, and kinds of characters who make the food. After getting the long list of food orders from the luchadores, Little Lobo, Bernabé, and Kooky Dooky head outside to shop from the different food vendors. The narration reads, “A food truck is a kitchen on wheels. Food of all kinds can be prepared there. Some food sellers used modified bikes or wagons.” There are also food sellers selling out of a cooler and from a box around their neck. Additionally, in ¡Vamos!, Raúl shows that street food vendors are an important staple of any community and demonstrates how street food vendors support one another. For example, at one point in the story, Little Lobo notices: “At the elotero, the corn boils in the giant tub right on the cart. Macho gives all his husks to Tammy. She uses them to wrap her tamales.” Here, the vendors support one another by sharing supplies to create food that’ll feed a community, but the example also demonstrates how conservation is an innate part of many Latinx cultures; nothing goes to waste. 

By capturing the diversity and beauty of Mexican food and street food vendors, Raúl challenges negative stereotypes that currently may exist around both of these cultures. At a time when street vendors are under constant policing and harassment, a book like ¡Vamos! is essential reading to expand young peoples’ understanding of culinary practices and respect for those who make the food and for those who deliver it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR: (From his website) Raúl The Third is an award-winning illustrator, author, and artist living in Boston. His work centers around the contemporary Mexican-American experience and his memories of growing up in El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Lowriders in Space was nominated for a Texas BlueBonnet award in 2016-2017 and Raúl was awarded the prestigious Pura Belpré Award for Illustration by the American Library Association for Lowriders to the Center of the Earth. He was also a contributor to the SpongeBob Comics series.

¡Vamos! Let’s Go to The Market! is Raúl’s first authorial project, which he wrote and illustrated, and is colored by Elaine Bay.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWERSSonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Ingrid Campos is a 19-year-old college student interested in Latinx Literature. After graduating from LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) this year with an associates in Writing and Literature, she will continue her studies at Queens College to earn her Bachelors in English Education 7-12 . Ingrid was born and raised in Queens, New York. As a Mexican-American living in Queens and graduating from the public school system, Ingrid is inspired to become a high school teacher. One of her main goals is to center academic curriculums around more diversity and inclusivity towards Black and Brown students.