We’ve been quiet here because we are officially on summer vacation. We will be back in September with more posts and book reviews. In the meantime, check out our posts from this year and read, read, read. See you all soon!
By Emma Otheguy
Every Thursday afternoon the summer I was fourteen, I volunteered at story hour. The public library had a small lawn where they would set up a chair, and us teenagers would read while the younger kids sat in the grass around us. I always came straight from dance class, and I remember so clearly how the world looked from my big reading chair: my flip-flops and convertible tights, the lawn grass and its summer scent, the kids looking up at me as I looked down at them. I discovered Maurice Sendak’s Outside Over There and marveled at how it could be so mysterious and yet so familiar: a goblin’s kingdom, and a protective older sister.
That summer was the first time I was aware of not being a child myself, realizing that I had changed and that my perspective in the big chair was different from that of the little faces sitting in the grass. I was finding for the first time that I could no longer go waltzing in the front door of children’s worlds, that to access the viewpoint of these kids I would have to be like Ida in Outside Over There, who reaches the goblin realm by going backwards out the window. Ida’s story reminded me of Rubén Darío’s Margarita, sailing under the sky and over the sea to reach a kingdom where stars grow like flowers. I knew by fourteen that you could not go knocking at the door to other galaxies, that they could only be reached by an angled approach, and magic.
I knew all about finding my way to outside over there, because it was an exact reflection of my experience as a child of immigrants: translating one culture for the other, figuring out if backwards out the window or sideways through the rain was the right way to help my parents understand the latest American trend. It’s what adults do when they read picture books to children, and it’s what children do when they hold two cultures within themselves. I didn’t visit Cuba until I was a teenager, and so my parents’ homes, their memories and our family and friends in Cuba, were known to me only through this act of translation. Each summer we visited our family in Puerto Rico, my parents’ attempt to sail through the sky and pluck the stars, to show us the world we couldn’t know. We walked along El Pasaje de la princesa in San Juan, and they told us about el malecón in La Habana. In Luquillo there were memories of Varadero, and in all that sun and green and salty air we tried to find Cuba, tried to reach the world we couldn’t access in the normal way, the world we could only know backwards out the window and through the rain.
I read the Narnia books, and Julie Edwards’ Mandy and Anna Elizabeth Bennett’s The Little Witch with different eyes than the other kids in my school, with a fierce identification, because I knew all about worlds tucked away in cedar for safekeeping, about gardens under lock and key, about children and parents who could visit only in magic mirrors. Cuba was all of these things to me, and in children’s books I saw the willing together of separate worlds that I associated with the gap between my parents and me, and my role in explaining the United States to them.
But for all I learned from Ida and Margarita, I couldn’t in those days close the divide between the books I read in school and those I read at home. They might as well have existed in their own separate realms, so completely inaccessible were they to one another. At home, we read poetry and picture books that my parents picked up on their travels, or that we got as gifts from family in Puerto Rico and Mexico. We read what my parents remembered of their own childhoods, like Darío’s Margarita and Martí’s Los zapaticos de rosa. Those stories were dear, and magical, and wholly confined to my life at home.
Today, Latinx children’s authors have finally brought the books of home and the books of the school and library closer together. There are too many to name in one blog post, so I will only say that it has been a tremendous privilege to read and share the titles that have been featured on this site. These books mean that children today don’t have to experience the world as divided and distant, they mean that home and town can be closer together. They mean that it’s safe to love both Sendak and Darío.
My debut picture book, Martí’s Song for Freedom, is a biography of Cuban poet and national hero José Martí, but it is more importantly the story of the connections he made between Latin America and the United States, of how he loved Cuba while living in New York. This book honors Martí’s activism and his fight for justice, and it also tells the story of how Martí learned to go outside-over-there: how he found in the sighing pine trees the sound of the Cuban palmas reales he missed so much, how he lessened the distance between Cuba and New York. He came from everywhere and was on the road to every place, he knew how to dip under the sky and over the sea, how to close the gaps between divided worlds. He used poetry and passion to accomplish it. He too, would know about picture books, and his story is for every child who learns to share and hold our diverse cultures together.
MARTÍ’S SONG FOR FREEDOM / MARTÍ Y SUS VERSOS POR LA LIBERTAD hits shelves July 17th, 2017. To learn more about the inspiration for this book, read Emma’s earlier blog post at Anansesem. MARTÍ is now available for pre-order from any retailer, and Emma is sending signed bookplates and stickers to all pre-orders. Fill out this form to get yours!
Emma Otheguy is a children’s book author and a historian of Spain and colonial Latin America. She is a member of the Bank Street Writers Lab, and her short story “Fairies in Town” was awarded a Magazine Merit Honor by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Otheguy lives with her husband in New York City. Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad is her picture book debut. You can find her online at http://www.emmaotheguy.com.
Once again, Jacqueline Jules has created a memorable, culturally relevant chapter book adventure with adorable illustrations by Miguel Benítez. Freddie Ramos Rules New York is the sixth book in the charming Zapato Power series, and this time around I read the book alongside my (then) six-year-old son, Liam Miguel. Before I tell you what he had to say, here’s how the publisher describes Freddie Ramos Rules New York:
Freddie and his mom are visiting Uncle Jorge in New York City! Just before they leave, Mr. Vaslov gives Freddie a new pair of zapatos to replace the ones that were getting too small. But Freddie worries if his new zapatos will work as well as his old ones. Will Freddie be able to save the day when Uncle Jorge misplaces an engagement ring in the middle of a New York City traffic jam?
My two cents: I’ve reviewed Jacqueline Jules’s work before for Latinxs in Kid Lit (check out my posts on Freddie Ramos Stomps the Snow and her Sofia Martinez series), and Freddie Ramos Rules New York possesses the same strengths, central among which is a gentle corrective to the tendency to focus on middle-class families in chapter books. In Freddie Ramos Rules New York, we get glimpse of what it means to stay with family when there isn’t much extra money to spare; Freddie sleeps in a sleeping bag on the floor, and meals are at home, not out in restaurants. Yet the loving support of family is a central theme of the books.
Liam Miguel’s take: Liam Miguel was six when we read this book together. The level was just right for him to read on his own, but he let me join him since we wanted to do this review. He gobbled the book in about three nights. Here is a quick summary of what Liam Miguel said he liked about it:
Teaching Recommendations: Like the other books in the Zapato Power series, this book would make an excellent choice for classroom read-alouds with pauses to talk about situations, make predictions, evaluate characters’ decisions, and/or connect events in the story to students’ own lives. The series is also perfect for independent reading groups in the 1st-3rd grade range. Additional Zapato Power activities are available on Jacqueline Jules’s website here.
Bottom Line: This is a must-have addition to classroom and library shelves. In fact, I was thrilled to see a whole stack of Freddie Ramos Rules New York on my most recent visit to our neighborhood library.
The Zapato Power Series Author and Illustrator:
Jacqueline Jules is the award-winning author of more than twenty children’s books, many of which were inspired by her work as a teacher and librarian. She is also an accomplished poet. When not reading, writing, or teaching, Jacqueline enjoys taking long walks, attending the theater, and spending time with her family. She lives in Northern Virginia.
Illustrator Miguel Benitez likes to describe himself as a “part-time daydreamer and a full-time doodler.” He lives with his wife and two cats in England.
Reviewed by Sujei Lugo and Lila Quintero Weaver
DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Jean-Michel Basquiat and his unique, collage-style paintings rocketed to fame in the 1980s as a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the art world had ever seen. But before that, he was a little boy who saw art everywhere: in poetry books and museums, in games and in the words that we speak, and in the pulsing energy of New York City. Award-winning illustrator Javaka Steptoe’s vivid text and bold artwork that echoes Basquiat’s own introduce young readers to the powerful message that art doesn’t always have to be neat or clean—and definitely not inside the lines—to be beautiful.
OUR TWO CENTS:
Radiant Child is a heartfelt and vibrant picture book about the childhood and life of Puerto Rican-Haitian American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Written for young children, it celebrates Basquiat’s art and traces the early steps of his artistic formation, as he makes his way toward the pinnacle of fame. From boyhood, he begins developing his own “messy” style of art-making, one that evokes powerful personal emotions, while addressing the sound and fury of social and cultural politics. Javaka Steptoe received the 2017 Caldecott Medal for his work as the book’s illustrator, a fitting recognition of the dynamic and engaging art seen in these pages.
The story in Radiant Child shifts through various New York City settings, including interiors of the Basquiat family home in Brooklyn, the exhibit spaces of an art museum, the streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and the artist’s studio. As a boy, Basquiat sees art everywhere he looks, not just in the museums he visits with his mother or in the poetry books she reads to him, but also in everyday objects that he encounters around the city. Early on, while other children in the neighborhood skip rope, young Basquiat “dreams of being a famous ARTIST.” You can tell how seriously he has devoted himself to this dream by the pencils, papers, and drawings scattered all over his bedroom.
Throughout childhood, the primary influencer on Basquiat’s art is his mother, Matilde, a Puerto Rican woman who “designs and sews,” and sometimes even joins her child in the act of drawing. Her artistic influence on him is not always intentional. After a car accident leaves Jean-Michel injured, Malide introduces him to Gray’s Anatomy. Her hope is to teach the young boy how the human body is knit together. Little does she anticipate that the diagrams from this book will seep into his catalog of artistic imagery and emerge as motifs in his mature work. In addition to taking Jean-Michel to museums, Matilde also conveys the message that art can be found in ordinary things, including the “messy patchwork of the city.” This sets up an interesting parallel, in which Basquiat, an Afro-Latino child of humble beginnings with no formal education in the arts, is shaped by the traditional, elitist, and largely white institutions of the New York art world, yet simultaneously absorbs the powerful visual elements inherent in his own cultural milieu. In the book’s museum scene, it is fascinating to note that his favorite work of art is Picasso’s “Guernica,” an immense painting that depicts the horrors of the Nazi bombing of the Basque people during the Spanish Civil War. Perhaps it is before this very painting that the boy begins to develop ideas about artistic self-expression as a major force in the world.
Tragically, when Basquiat’s mother suffers debilitating mental illness and is hospitalized, this shatters the circle of love that fed the young boy’s artistic growth. He continues living with his father, Gerard, but “things are not the same,” and as a teenager, Jean-Michel runs off to live on his own in the “concrete jungle where only the tough survive.” There, he begins his career as a graffiti artist. Signing his work with SAMO©, Basquiat creates street art that captivates the city and propels him from the streets to the galleries. Fame follows, just as the young boy dreamed, and this is where the story portion of Radiant Child ends. The book’s back matter, however, includes a substantial section that acknowledges Basquiat’s drug addiction and untimely death at 27.
How does a children’s illustrator depict the life and oeuvre of such a celebrated artist? As explained in an author’s note, Javaka Steptoe answers this challenge not by reproducing, but by reinterpreting Basquiat’s work. The result is original and memorable, yet strongly evocative of Basquiat’s signature style. Steptoe achieves this by employing the graffiti and collage methods that his subject used, in combination with traditional painting techniques, and by incorporating symbols and motifs associated with Basquiat, such as stylized human skulls and femurs.
Each page spread in Radiant Child is a small construction consisting of a scene painted over a textured background. For his background materials, Steptoe relies heavily on found objects, primarily throwaways. Due to their worn condition, these objects call to mind the crumbling cityscape of 1980s Lower East Side—one of Basquiat’s stomping grounds. The repurposed materials include wooden slats salvaged from dumpsters, and Steptoe glorifies the raw condition of these slats by assembling them into rough jigsaw-puzzle surfaces, in which each nail hole and splintered edge contributes to the painted illustration’s lively texture. Steptoe enhances the textured effect by collaging photographs over select areas, presenting pockets of visual intrigue for readers to explore.
Although this is a picture book, the rich inspiration it offers should not be denied to older kids. Native children and children of color stand to benefit the most from such exposure. In witnessing Basquiat’s artistic journey, we also arrive at a greater appreciation of the soothing power of art. We see that artistic creativity can act as a therapeutic exercise in the face of pain, fear, separation, and insecurity. Radiant Child also delivers the unmistakable and essential message that messiness and art-making go hand in hand, and that although the results may be “sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, [it’s] somehow still beautiful.” Indeed, this message is joyously inscribed on every page, in every scribble, and through every splintered and splattered collage.
As the son of award-winning illustrator John Steptoe, Javaka Steptoe grew up surrounded by art and children’s books, and went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. In his own career, the younger Steptoe has captured many honors, including the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, as well as recognition from the NAACP Image Awards, and the 2017 Caldecott Medal. Read more about him at his official website.
FURTHER READING AND VIEWING
In its final pages, Radiant Child appends information on portions of Basquiat’s life not covered in the story, including a section detailing motifs and symbols that appear in his work.
The publisher Little Brown provides an informative page on Radiant Child. There, you can view a book chat with Javaka Steptoe and watch an embedded video of a live art demo he shared on New York Times’s Facebook page.
Here is an additional interview with Steptoe, conducted by Travis Jonker, of School Library Journal, for the series “The Yarn,” which looks closely at how kids’ books are made.
For anyone interested in further exploration of Basquiats’s world, abundant online and print resources exist, although they are primarily aimed at adult readers. Here is a sampling.
Basquiat’s friend and one-time roommate Alexis Adler talks on video about photos she took of him. See it here.
Read an illuminating conversation with Basquiat, published in Interview Magazine in 1983.
The estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat maintains a website devoted to his life and work. Visit it here.
Compiled by Cecilia Cackley
This is a monthly series keeping track of the book deals announced by Latinx writers and illustrators. The purpose of this series is to celebrate book deals by authors and illustrators in our community and to advocate for more of them. If you are an agent and you have a Latinx client who just announced a deal, you can let me know on Twitter, @citymousedc. If you are a Latinx author or illustrator writing for children or young adults, and you just got a book deal, send me a message and we will celebrate with you! Here’s to many more wonderful books in the years to come.
Anne Hoppe at Clarion Books has bought world rights to The Sky’s the Limit, a middle grade memoir by rocket scientist and interim CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA Sylvia Acevedo. The book is a personal account of how Acevedo overcame childhood poverty through her involvement with the Girl Scouts and Head Start, to become one of the first Hispanics to receive a post-graduate degree in engineering from Stanford University. The book will be simultaneously published in English and Spanish, in fall 2018.
Author agent: Adriana Dominguez at Full Circle Literary.
Andrea Welch at S&S/Beach Lane has acquired world rights to mother-son team Surishtha Sehgal (l.) and Kabir Sehgal‘s Thread of Love, to be illustrated by Zara Gonzalez Hoang. The picture book is a sibling-love and Indian-holiday story told to the tune of the classic song “Frére Jacques.” Publication is scheduled for fall 2018.
Illustrator agent: Andrea Morrison at Writers House.
Jenna Pocius at Little Bee has acquired world rights to Coyote Moon author Maria Gianferrari‘s (l.) Operation Rescue Dog, a story told from two points of view: that of a girl on her way to meet her new rescue puppy, and the puppy itself as she approaches their meeting place. Luisa Uribe will illustrate; publication is slated for summer 2018.
Illustrator agent: Alli Brydon at Bright USA.
The first three books from Disney-Hyperion’s new imprint Rick Riordan Presents were announced, and one is Storm Runner by Jennifer Cervantes, a book about a 13-year-old boy who must save the world by unraveling an ancient Mayan prophecy. It will publish in September 2018.
Carol Hinz at Lerner/Millbrook Press has acquired world rights to The Vast Wonder of the World, a picture book by Mélina Mangal (l.), illustrated by Luisa Uribe, about the life and accomplishments of Ernest Everett Just, an African-American research biologist. The book is slated for fall 2018.
Illustrator agent: Alli Brydon at Bright USA
Victoria Rock at Chronicle Books has bought world rights to Rosie’s Sword by Jacqueline Veissid (l.), to be illustrated by Paola Zakimi, in which a girl, always feeling left out of her older brothers’ play, uses a stick and a big imagination to transform the world around her. Publication is slated for spring 2019.
Illustrator agent: Emily van Beek at Folio Jr. / Folio Literary Management.
Kat Brzozowski at Feiwel and Friends has bought 2017 Stonewall Honor recipient Anna-Marie McLemore‘s Blanca & Roja, a magical realist Snow-White & Rose-Red meets Swan Lake, in which two sisters become rivals in a game that will turn the losing girl into a swan. Publication is scheduled for fall 2018.
Author agent: Taylor Martindale Kean at Full Circle Literary.
Reviewed by Cecilia Cackley
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Let’s get the feminist party started!
Here We Are is a scrapbook-style teen guide to understanding what it really means to be a feminist. It’s packed with essays, lists, poems, comics, and illustrations from a diverse range of voices, including TV, film, and pop-culture celebrities and public figures such as ballet dancer Michaela DePrince and her sister Mia, politician Wendy Davis, as well as popular YA authors like Nova Ren Suma, Malinda Lo, Brandy Colbert, Courtney Summers, and many more. Altogether, the book features more than forty-four pieces, with an eight-page insert of full-color illustrations.
Here We Are is a response to lively discussions about the true meaning of feminism on social media and across popular culture and is an invitation to one of the most important, life-changing, and exciting parties around.
MY TWO CENTS: This is an excellent, comprehensive look at feminism from many different perspectives. For the purposes of this book talk, I will be focusing on three essays in particular, but the whole book is a great balance of voices. By turns funny, serious, personal, or historical, it includes comics, lists, poetry, song lyrics, and interviews. This collection is the perfect book to hand to a teen who strongly identifies as a feminist, as well as the teen who is trying to figure out what it’s all about. In short, there is something for everyone here.
Three essays in particular are of interest to us here at Latinxs in Kid Lit (full disclosure, one is by my fellow blogger Ashley Hope Pérez) and they couldn’t be more different. “Pretty Enough” by Alida Nugent, is a personal story about growing up feeling out of place because of her Puerto Rican features and the change in her self-image after a trip to Puerto Rico. ‘The “Nice Girl” Feminist” by Ashley Hope Pérez is an amusing but incisive list of unspoken commandments for being a “nice girl” that really should be broken. And “Many Stories, Many Roads” by Daniel José Older is a stirring call to action and a testament to the truth that there are many different journeys to being a feminist.
Nugent’s description of her hometown in Westchester is amusing. “Antique shops, cider festivals and designer purses” are some points she includes on the list, along with high school friends who questioned her background (“Where are you from again?”) and pointed out her physical differences. It was a trip to Puerto Rico and her mother’s hometown that helped Nugent figure out that it wasn’t that she didn’t like her looks, but that she was tired of being the one person who stuck out. For teens growing up in similar situations where they feel out of place, Nugent holds out the promise that we can find somewhere to belong and be ourselves–whatever that looks like.
I laughed when I saw the title of Pérez’s piece. “Nice girl” is not a label I would have applied to myself as a teen. And yet, although I grew up in a much more liberal environment than Pérez, I was also one of those girls who didn’t understand the big deal about orgasms (like Pérez, I eventually figured it out). Not all teens are comfortable speaking loudly and challenging authority. One of the best things about Pérez’s piece is that she demonstrates how big injustices have their roots in small, everyday attitudes toward women and girls—attitudes that teens can absolutely challenge in small ways. In the end, Pérez writes, realizing you don’t have to conform to someone else’s expectations is a feminist act all by itself.
Older sets his essay in Barcelona and builds a strong setting, taking the reader along as he wanders through the city to the harbor. As he walks, he meditates both on the past he is processing (history, personal relationships, career experiences) and the future he is trying to figure out. Older makes clear that he considers art (specifically storytelling) to be essential to his activism and that being a feminist is a process, one that requires constant learning, unlearning and relearning. His prose is both reassuring and energizing at the same time, so that by the end of the essay, I felt ready to move forward, try again, and do better. You can’t ask for more from a book for young people.
TEACHING TIPS: Many of the selections here would be great to assign and discuss in a high school class on history, sociology, or psychology. My 16-year-old brother is currently in the middle of a gender inequality unit in his AP English class, and he is using this book to fulfill an independent reading assignment. Nova Ren Suma’s piece about gender inequality in school reading lists is a great choice to start a discussion about curriculum, canon, and the choices made by teachers and professors.
The short length of the selections and incorporation of lists, photos, and questionnaires make this a great book to recommend to teens who are interested in the subject, but not ready to tackle something lengthy by bell hooks or Simone de Beauvoir. Many of the contributors, such as Kody Keplinger, Brandy Colbert, Malinda Lo, Nova Ren Suma and Erika Wurth have other published work that readers can seek out and read as well. The piece by Wendy Davis would be an excellent choice for a government or civics class when talking about women in politics and schools reading Michaela DePrince’s autobiography can use her essay to further their knowledge about her life and art.
ABOUT THE EDITOR: Kelly Jensen is a former teen librarian who worked in several public libraries before pursuing a full-time career in writing and editing. Her current position is with Book Riot, the largest independent book website in North America, where she focuses on talking about young adult literature in all of its manifestations. Her writing has been featured on The Huffington Post, at Rookie Magazine, The Horn Book, BlogHer, School Library Journal. She contributed an essay and a guide to teen sexuality in pop culture for Amber J. Keyser’s The V-Word: True Stories of First-Time Sex and is the author of the book It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader from VOYA Press.
Interview with Daniel José Older:
Interview with Alida Nugent:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Cecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington, DC, where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.