Q&A with author-illustrator Jarod Rosselló and translator Eva Ibarzabal

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Interview by Romy Natalia Goldberg

Please enjoy this interview with Jarod Rosselló, the author and illustrator of the Red Panda & Moon Bear graphic novel series, and translator Eva Ibarzabal, who helped create the Spanish version, Panda Roja y Oso Lunar

Romy Natalia Goldberg: First of all, congratulations on both versions of Red Panda & Moon Bear! It’s exciting to have another Latinx graphic novel to add to our shelves, especially one with a Spanish translation.

Jarod Roselló: Thank you! I’m so excited to have it in the world. I immediately sent a copy to my abuela! 

The original English version, Red Panda & Moon Bear, was published in July 2019 and Panda Roja y Oso Lunar was published in July of 2020. What was the genesis of the Spanish translation? Was it in the works from the beginning or did the opportunity present itself further along in the process? 

Jarod: It wasn’t an original plan, or at least not one that was shared with me at the time I was working on the book. Shortly after Red Panda & Moon Bear was released, IDW Publishing (Top Shelf’s parent company) announced a new Spanish-language initiative, and then I got an email from my editor that my book had been selected by IDW to be translated as part of the first wave of Spanish-language books. 

Beforehand I said “original English version” but that begs the question – when you created these characters and wrote the original manuscript was it all in English in your head? Or were there some scenes or phrases that naturally popped into your head in Spanish first?

Jarod: English is my primary language, despite the fact I was raised in Miami by my Cuban family, and spoke Spanish with certain family members who didn’t speak English. We didn’t speak Spanish much in my house, with my siblings and parents, but still, there are certain words, expressions, and phrases that only exist in Spanish for us. I think it’s easy to explain that growing up bilingual or in a bilingual setting, means that you “switch” between languages. But when I use Spanish terms—in my books, or in real life with my own kids—it doesn’t necessarily feel like two separate languages. I wanted the English edition to feel that way as well, that when Spanish appeared it wasn’t a breach in the English, it’s just the way language developed and is used in these communities and families. That matched my own experience growing up and felt true for me.

I’m curious about the process for creating a translation. In addition to yourself, who else was involved? 

Jarod: It started with my editor letting me know they were looking for a translator. We decided early on, that someone else would translate it, and that we would look for someone who was either Cuban, Cuban American, or spoke a more Caribbean Spanish, so the setting would hold. 

Eva Ibarzabal: When they contacted me for the first time I had serious doubts. I had already translated fiction and biographies for young readers, but graphic novels were way beyond my comfort zone. The approach is completely different, you have space constraints and a unique style, but then I read the English version and fell in love with the characters and the story. I’m very happy with the outcome.

There are so many variations of Spanish out there. In Spanish translations, this is something that really comes through in figures of speech and exclamations. I learned some new ones reading Panda Roja y Oso Lunar, which I assume are specific to the Caribbean. Did everyone speak the same “type” of Spanish? If not were there particular scenes and word choices that generated debate?  

Eva: Jarod and I have something in common, we are both Cuban-Americans. I lived in Miami for a short period of time before moving to Puerto Rico, and my family was very attached to their roots and ancestry. I guess that helped me capture the essence of the characters and their way of speaking. I just had to dust off some memories of my own childhood and the comics I used to read back then. Other than that, some sounds and the use of onomatopoeia are the most difficult to translate because in Spanish we tend to use lengthy descriptions instead. 

Jarod: There were also some interesting conversations after we got Eva’s script, because we also had a Spanish-language editor working on it, and they had notes about some of the expressions and suggestions for changes. But sometimes, I’d never heard of the expression the editor wanted to use. In the end, my editor let me cast the tie-breaking vote on which one we would use. 

This book feels different from other translations I’ve read. It’s clear you had a specific goal in mind. 

Jarod: This stemmed from an early conversation with my editor that it shouldn’t just be a translated book, but that the Spanish edition should be a Spanish-language universe, and it should be read that way. 

Eva: I think the best compliment a translator can receive is that their work does not read as a translation. You have to digest all the ideas and convey the meaning in the most natural way possible; the text should flow. In the case of a graphic novel, an additional challenge is to be concise, because Spanish tends to be more wordy. I was counting words and measuring spaces all the time to be sure the new text would fit and not take space from the illustrations. It’s definitely like a parallel universe, as Jarod says.

Jarod: And you did such a fabulous job with that, Eva. I loved how you were able to preserve the puns and references, and still capture the spirit and energy of the book. 

It sounds like there were two different processes you had to go through – translating the copy and adjusting the content. Let’s talk about the copy first. For a panel where you had a basic sentence that needed to go from Spanish to English, what did you do? I assume it wasn’t as easy as just copying text from a Spanish script and plunking it into your text bubbles. 

Jarod: As Eva mentioned, Spanish tends to be longer, not just in the construction of sentences, but individual words can be very long, which created some visual challenges fitting them into the existing word balloons. 

One benefit to being both the letterer and the original artist was that I could adjust the word balloons to accommodate the Spanish, just how I write out the English first, then draw the word balloon around it. It’s not quite that simple, either, though, because the word balloons take up visual space in the panel. So, often, I had to redraw certain panels so that relevant imagery wasn’t being blocked or so the visual composition still looked the way I would want it to look. 

I wanted to put the same care and attention to detail in the Spanish edition. And I also really love that the English and Spanish editions are not exactly the same: some drawings are new, some panels are modified, and even corrected a few tiny mistakes I found along the way!

Now let’s talk about what sounds like a much more complex process – altering content, both the text and actual images, that simply would not make sense if translated directly into Spanish. 

Jarod: A good example of this was in chapter 7. The kids and the dogs head to the library. The kids are reading a picture book in Spanish and the dogs are curious because they don’t know Spanish. There’s a brief conversation about how the kids’ Spanish is a little rusty, and that they need to practice more. In the Spanish edition, though, it’s a Spanish-speaking world, so this conversation wouldn’t have made any sense, because the dogs are speaking Spanish. 

So, I rewrote the opening pages to that chapter so that the characters are talking about how comics are real books, and reading comics counts as reading. I redrew a few of the panels as well and edited the others. And we sent that scene separately to Eva to be translated, and then we went back in and swapped pages to put it all together. 

Eva: And I was glad of that decision because I already had a big question mark on that page! That’s the advantage of all the team working together and communicating all along. I think the solution was perfect.

Red Panda & Moon Bear: The Curse of The Evil Eye is slated for January 2022. Will there be a Spanish translation as well? Did the experience of translating the first book alter the way you’re writing and drawing the second installment at all? 

Jarod: I don’t know if they’re planning a Spanish translation of The Curse of the Evil Eye, but I really hope so! The experience of relettering and sitting with my book in Spanish definitely affected how I approached book 2. The Spanish and Cuban roots of the setting are more visible, there’s a lot more Spanish, too. I feel like reading Eva’s translation taught me what this world looks like in Spanish, and even gave me a little confidence to use more of it. I feel like I can hear the character’s voices more clearly, and that’s helped me understand them and their world better. 

Eva: From my point of view, it was a great learning experience which I really enjoyed. So I hope to be part of the team again if the decision to have a Spanish version is made. How about a simultaneous launching? That would be awesome!  

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Jarod Roselló is a Cuban American writer, cartoonist, and teacher. He is the author of the middle-grade graphic novel Red Panda & Moon Bear, a Chicago Public Library and New York Public Library 2019 best book for young readers, and a 2019 Nerdy Award winner for graphic novels. Jarod holds an MFA in Creative Writing and a PhD in Curriculum & Instruction, both from The Pennsylvania State University. Originally from Miami, he now lives in Tampa, Florida, with his wife, kids, and dogs, and teaches in the creative writing program at the University of South Florida. You can reach him at http://www.jarodrosello.com and @jarodrosello (Twitter & Instagram)

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Eva Ibarzabal is a Cuban-Puerto Rican translator, writer and media and language consultant. After completing a BA in Modern Languages and a MA in Translation, Eva worked in print media and television for 20 years, winning multiple accolades for the production of Special News Programs. A few years ago, her love for Literature made her switch to Literary Translation. Her works include biographies, fiction and children books. Her English to Spanish Translation of El mundo adorado de Sonia Sotomayor won the International Latino Book Award in 2020.

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

Book Review: Red Panda and Moon Bear/Panda Roja y Oso Lunar by Jarod Roselló

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Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK (from the front cover): Red Panda and Moon Bear are the defenders of their community! Dressed in their magic hoodies, these brave siblings rescue lost cats, scold bullies, and solve problems, all before Mami and Papi get home. But lately… the mysteries have been EXTRA mysterious. All of RP and MB’s powers may not be enough to handle ghosts, evil robots, alien invaders, and portals in space-time! It’ll take all their imagination- and some new friends- to uncover the secret cause behind all these mysteries…before the whole world comes to an end!

MY TWO CENTS: A humorous tale of two Latinx siblings fighting crime, while at the same time, making sure they do not get in trouble. Red Panda and Moon Bear are each filled with positivity which reassures their community members that they will get the job done! Of course, Red Panda and Moon Bear take all their mysteries seriously, but as an adult reader, I often laughed at the quirky characters and the sibling bond. Each mystery, no matter how small, is met with enthusiasm and a teamwork approach, especially when they have to make their own time machine. It is this same bond that spreads positivity throughout all of their monstrous and robotic encounters in this much needed graphic novel.

Red Panda and Moon Bear is a long-awaited, action-packed graphic novel, now in English and Spanish. My bilingual, bicultural readers are obsessed with early graphic novels filled with humor, and I cannot wait to get this book in their hands!

TEACHING MOMENTS:

Many of these teaching moments can be implemented in a grades K-5 setting.

  • A writing mentor text for teaching dialogue, onomatopoeia, and punctuation
  • A reading mentor text for teaching prediction and character development
  • An inspiration for students to create own graphic novel
  • A read aloud for all ages!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR: Jarod Roselló is a Cuban-American cartoonist, writer, and educational researcher from Miami, Florida. He teaches comics and fiction in the creative writing program at the University of Southern Florida in Tampa. Check out his website (https://www.jarodrosello.com/) and follow him on Twitter @jarodrosello

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

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Book Talk: Anna-Marie McLemore’s Books

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Welcome to our first Book Talk, which can be found on our YouTube channel! Here, Dr. Cris Rhodes and Dr. Sonia Rodriguez talk about the body of work created by Anna-Marie McLemore. Click on the link to watch the book talk and then add your comments below to join the conversation. ENJOY!

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Book Review: Miss Meteor by Anna-Marie McLemore and Tehlor Kay Mejia

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Review by Dr. Cris Rhodes

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: There hasn’t been a winner of the Miss Meteor beauty pageant who looks like Lita Perez or Chicky Quintanilla in all its history.

But that’s not the only reason Lita wants to enter the contest, or her ex-best friend Chicky wants to help her. The road to becoming Miss Meteor isn’t about being perfect; it’s about sharing who you are with the world—and loving the parts of yourself no one else understands.

So to pull off the unlikeliest underdog story in pageant history, Lita and Chicky are going to have to forget the past and imagine a future where girls like them are more than enough—they are everything.

MY TWO CENTS: Born from a magical collaboration between Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore, Miss Meteor follows the rekindled friendship between Lita Perez and Chicky Quintanilla as Lita, who has an urgent and extraterrestrial secret, decides to spend her final days on earth entering the Miss Meteor pageant. In the opening chapter, Lita tells the reader, “I don’t remember the moment I turned from star-stuff thrown off a meteor into a girl,” but her corporeal body is slowly deteriorating, leaving her “turning back into the stardust [she] once was” (1, 6). Lita explains that this isn’t the beginning of losing herself; in fact that process started years before when her friendship with Chicky Quintanilla deteriorated. Chicky, for her part, is an anomaly in her family–nothing like her boisterous sisters, Chicky prefers no makeup and keeping to the margins. But, as Lita’s body increasingly returns to stardust, she resolves to enter the pageant and to enlist Chicky to manage her success. 

If Miss Meteor were just to follow the rekindled friendship between Lita and Chicky, it would be an uplifting and touching story–but add in Mejia and McLemore’s characteristic magic and intrigue, it is an out of this world adventure. Lita’s literal otherworldliness is well-tempered by her somewhat geeky love of cacti and her clumsiness. Chicky’s rebellion is grounded by her devotion to her family’s struggling restaurant, “Selena’s,” named for the Tejana superstar who shares their last name (and a woman whom Chicky, despite her standoffish exterior, secretly idolizes). Together, Chicky and Lita’s campaign to climb to the top of the pageant allows each to excavate the parts of themselves they had long buried. Confronting the realities of their failures and shortcomings allows them to grow individually and together. 

As the great Selena Quintanilla once said, “if you have a dream, don’t let anybody take it away. And you always believe that the impossible is always possible.” This wisdom holds true for Miss Meteor, as Chicky and Lita defy the odds throughout the book. In alternating chapters, the two narrate their story of overcoming and the power of friendship. The text itself is relatively accessible, in keeping with both Mejia and McLemore’s traditionally immersive prose. While the pace is sometimes a bit slow, I was always invested in the characters and their pursuits. Further, the normalized queer content of the book is something that I have found to be a key part of Mejia’s and McLemore’s oeuvres. 

Tehlor Kay Mejia exploded onto the Latinx literature scene with her We Set the Dark on Fire series and Anna-Marie McLemore’s opulent books like When the Moon was Ours have been captivating readers for years. So, then, a collaboration between the two clearly sparks magic. Co-authored books like Miss Meteor run the risk of sounding too disparate, not cohering the dual narratives. While it is clear that Chicky belongs to Mejia and Lita is McLemore’s, the two blend well together. Chicky’s attitude and personality are emblematic of the gritty and industrious characters in Mejia’s other books. Likewise, Lita’s supernaturality and light share McLemore’s trademark magical realism. The balance in the narrative was equal between the two, and I was invested in both Chicky and Lita. Both characters were equally intriguing and I can see readers developing an affinity for either depending on their own personality and interests. Overall, Miss Meteor is a beautiful book, a fun read, and a shining addition to Mejia and McLemore’s bibliographies.

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Cris Rhodes is an assistant professor of English at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. She teaches courses of writing, culturally diverse literature, and ethnic literatures. In addition to teaching, Cris’s scholarship focuses on Latinx youth and their literature or related media. She also has a particular scholarly interest in activism and the ways that young Latinxs advocate for themselves and their communities.

March Latinx Book Releases!

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In addition to listing 2021 titles by/for/about Latinx on our master list, we will remind readers of what’s releasing each month. CONGRATULATIONS to these Latinx creators. Let’s celebrate these March book babies!

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DEFINITELY DOMINGUITA: Captain Dom’s Treasure by Terry Castasús, illustrated by Fatima Anaya (Aladdin, March 2, 2021). Chapter Book. When Dominguita finds an old map in the back of an even older book in her beloved library, she is excited to see a telltale X marking an unknown place. Everyone knows that X marks the spot for treasure—and Dom knows that means a new adventure for her, Pancho, and Steph!

But everyone seems to think that the map, while fun, probably isn’t real. Dom is determined to prove them wrong. And as the trio starts to uncover the mystery of the map, they realize that it has closer ties to the community they love than they could have imagined.

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DEFINITELY DOMINGUITA: Knight of the Cape by Terry Castasús, illustrated by Fatima Anaya (Aladdin, March 2, 2021). Chapter Book. All Dominguita wants to do is read. Especially the books in Spanish that Abuela gave to her just before she moved away. They were classics that Abuela and Dominguita read together, classics her abuela brought with her all the way from Cuba when she was a young girl. It helps Dominguita feel like Abuela’s still there with her.

One of her favorites, Don Quixote, tells of a brave knight errant who tries to do good deeds. Dominguita decides that she, too, will become a knight and do good deeds around her community, creating a grand adventure for her to share with her abuela. And when the class bully tells Dominguita that girls can’t be knights, Dom is determined to prove him wrong. With a team of new friends, can Dominguita learn how to be the hero of her own story?

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GRADUATION GROOVE by Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook, illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda (little bee books, March 2, 2021). Picture Book. It’s time to graduate from kindergarten! This book celebrates all of the things that make kindergarten great. From classmates to projects, teachers to pets, kindergarten is full of amazing experiences. Graduating from kindergarten and starting first grade is an important milestone in every kid’s life. Whether you’re excited or nervous, this book is perfect for your special day and will help you dance to first grade!

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IMPOSSIBLE by Isol, translated by Elisa Amado (Groundwood Books, March 2, 2021). Picture Book. Toribio is two years old and his parents love him very much, but some days, taking care of him feels like an impossible task. He won’t sleep, makes a fuss when eating, splashes his bath water everywhere, and refuses to use his potty. At the end of the day, Toribio’s parents are exhausted. So when they see an ad for a specialist who can solve any type of problem, his desperate parents make an appointment right away. Mrs. Meridien’s methods deliver overnight results, but her solution isn’t quite what they had in mind.

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Cover designed by Erin Fitzsimmons. Art by Kevin Tong.

INFINITY REAPER by Adam Silvera (Quill Tree Books, March 2, 2021Young Adult. Emil and Brighton Rey defied the odds. They beat the Blood Casters and escaped with their lives–or so they thought. When Brighton drank the Reaper’s Blood, he believed it would make him invincible, but instead the potion is killing him.

In Emil’s race to find an antidote that will not only save his brother but also rid him of his own unwanted phoenix powers, he will have to dig deep into the very past lives he’s trying to outrun. Though he needs the help of the Spell Walkers now more than ever, their ranks are fracturing, with Maribelle’s thirst for revenge sending her down a dangerous path.

Meanwhile, Ness is being abused by Senator Iron for political gain, his rare shifting ability making him a dangerous weapon. As much as Ness longs to send Emil a signal, he knows the best way to keep Emil safe from his corrupt father is to keep him at a distance.

The battle for peace is playing out like an intricate game of chess, and as the pieces on the board move into place, Emil starts to realize that he may have been competing against the wrong enemy all along.

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ONCE UPON A QUINCEAÑERA by Monica Gomez Hira (HarperTeen, March 2, 2021). Young Adult. Carmen Aguilar just wants to make her happily ever after come true. Except apparently “happily ever after” for Carmen involves being stuck in an unpaid summer internship. Now she has to perform as a party princess! In a ball gown. During the summer. In Miami.

Fine. Except that’s only the first misfortune in what’s turning out to be a summer of Utter Disaster. 

But if Carmen can manage dancing in the blistering heat, fending off an oh-so-unfortunately attractive ex, and stopping her spoiled cousin from ruining her own quinceañera—Carmen might just get that happily ever after—after all.

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ONCE UPON ANOTHER TIME by Matt Forrest Esenwine and Charles Ghignaillustrated by Andres F. Landazabal (Beaming Books, March 2, 2021). Picture Book. With sweeping landscapes and up-close details of the natural world, Once Upon Another Time takes readers through a lyrical exploration of the world as it was before humans made their mark. Contrasting the past with the present, this expansive picture book serves as a warm invitation for children–and all people–to appreciate, explore, and protect the magic and wonder of this planet we call home.

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PEACE by Miranda Paul and Baptiste Paul, illustrated by Estelí Meza(NorthSouth Books, March 2, 2021). Picture Book. Peace is on purpose. Peace is a choice. Peace lets the smallest of us have a voice. From a hello and pronouncing your friend’s name correctly to giving more than you take and saying I’m sorry, this simple concept book explores definitions of peace and actions small and big that foster it. Simultaneously published in Spanish.

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THE IMMORTAL BOY by Francisco Montaña Ibáñez, translated by David Bowles (Levine Querido, March 9, 2021). Two intertwining stories of Bogotá. One, a family of five children, left to live on their own. The other, a girl in an orphanage who will do anything to befriend the mysterious Immortal Boy. How they weave together will never leave you. Presented in English and Spanish.

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THE RAMBLE SHAMBLE CHILDREN by Christine Soontornvatillustrated by Lauren Castillo(Nancy Paulsen Books, March 9, 2021). Picture Book. Merra, Locky, Roozle, Finn, and little Jory love their ramble shamble house. It’s a lot of work taking care of the garden, the chickens, and themselves, but they all pitch in to make it easier–even Jory, who looks after the mud puddles. When they come across a picture of a “proper” house in a book, they start wondering if their own home is good enough. So they get to work “propering up” the garden, the chickens, and even the mud puddles. But the results aren’t exactly what they expected, and when their now-proper household’s youngest member goes missing, they realize that their ramble shamble home might be just right for their family, after all.

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COQUI IN THE CITY written and illustrated by Nomar Perez (Dial Books, March 16, 2021). Picture Book. Miguel’s pet frog, Coquí, is always with him: as he greets his neighbors in San Juan, buys quesitos from the panadería, and listens to his abuelo’s story about meeting baseball legend Roberto Clemente. Then Miguel learns that he and his parents are moving to the U.S. mainland, which means leaving his beloved grandparents, home in Puerto Rico, and even Coquí behind. Life in New York City is overwhelming, with unfamiliar buildings, foods, and people. But when he and Mamá go exploring, they find a few familiar sights that remind them of home, and Miguel realizes there might be a way to keep a little bit of Puerto Rico with him–including the love he has for Coquí–wherever he goes.

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MY DAY WITH THE PANYE by Tami Charles, illustrated by Sara Palacios (Candlewick, March 16, 2021). Picture Book. In the hills above Port-au-Prince, a young girl named Fallon wants more than anything to carry a large woven basket to the market, just like her Manman. As she watches her mother wrap her hair in a mouchwa, Fallon tries to twist her own braids into a scarf and balance the empty panye atop her head, but realizes it’s much harder than she thought. BOOM! Is she ready after all?

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THE MIRROR SEASON by Anna-Marie McLemore (Feiwel & Friends, March 16, 2021). Young Adult. Graciela Cristales’ whole world changes after she and a boy she barely knows are assaulted at the same party. She loses her gift for making enchanted pan dulce. Neighborhood trees vanish overnight, while mirrored glass appears, bringing reckless magic with it. And Ciela is haunted by what happened to her, and what happened to the boy whose name she never learned.

But when the boy, Lock, shows up at Ciela’s school, he has no memory of that night, and no clue that a single piece of mirrored glass is taking his life apart. Ciela decides to help him, which means hiding the truth about that night. Because Ciela knows who assaulted her, and him. And she knows that her survival, and his, depend on no one finding out what really happened.

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WHEN THINGS ARE HARD, REMEMBER by Joanna Rowlandillustrated by Marcela Calderon (Beaming Books, March 16, 2021). Picture Book. A seed falls to the ground. A child moves away from home. Can life bloom in a new place? Joanna Rowland explores what it means to have hope–hope that things will get better, hope that you are cared for even when things are hard, and hope that new growth is waiting to burst forth, just around the corner.

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LOST IN THE NEVER WOODS by Aiden Thomas (Swoon Reads, March 23, 2021). Young Adult. It’s been five years since Wendy and her two brothers went missing in the woods, but when the town’s children start to disappear, the questions surrounding her brothers’ mysterious circumstances are brought back into the light. Attempting to flee her past, Wendy almost runs over an unconscious boy lying in the middle of the road.

Peter, a boy she thought lived only in her stories, asks for Wendy’s help to rescue the missing kids. But, in order to find them, Wendy must confront what’s waiting for her in the woods.

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NIÑOS: POEMS FOR THE LOST CHILDREN OF CHILE by María José Ferrada, illustrated by María Elena Valdez, translated by Lawrence Schimel (Eerdmans, March 23, 2021). Picture Book. On September 11, 1973, a military coup plunged Chile into seventeen long years of dictatorial rule. Only the return of democracy could reveal the full horrors of Augusto Pinochet’s regime: 3,197 people dead or disappeared—including thirty-four children under the age of fourteen.

This book is a stirring memorial to those victims and to the cost of extremism. Thirty-four poems—one for each child lost—consider the diverse hopes of these fragile young lives. From Alicia to Jaime, Héctor to Paola, Soledad to Rafael, they were brave and creative, thoughtful and strong. In these pages, some children watch for the changing seasons. Some listen for new sounds on rainy afternoons. And some can’t wait for their next birthday.

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YOUR HEART, MY SKY: Love in a Time of Hunger by Margarita Engle (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, March 23, 2021). Young Adult. The people of Cuba are living in el período especial en tiempos de paz—the special period in times of peace. That’s what the government insists that this era must be called, but the reality behind these words is starvation.

Liana is struggling to find enough to eat. Yet hunger has also made her brave: she finds the courage to skip a summer of so-called volunteer farm labor, even though she risks government retribution. Nearby, a quiet, handsome boy named Amado also refuses to comply, so he wanders alone, trying to discover rare sources of food.

A chance encounter with an enigmatic dog brings Liana and Amado together. United in hope and hunger, they soon discover that their feelings for each other run deep. Love can feed their souls and hearts—but is it enough to withstand el período especial?

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THE HAZARDS OF LOVE VOL. 1 by Stan Stanley (Oni Press, March 30, 2021). YA Graphic Novel. Amparo’s deal with the talking cat was simple: a drop of blood and Amparo’s name to become a better person. Their mother and abuela would never worry about them again, and they’d finally be worthy of dating straight-A student Iolanthe. But when the cat steals their body, becoming the better person they were promised, Amparo’s spirit is imprisoned in a land of terrifying, flesh-hungry creatures known as Bright World.

With cruel and manipulative masters and a society that feeds on memories, Amparo must use their cleverness to escape, without turning into a monster like the rest. On “the other side,” Iolanthe begins to suspect the new Amparo has a secret, and after the cat in disguise vanishes, she’s left searching for answers with a no-nonsense medium from the lesbian mafia and the only person who might know the truth about Bright World.

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ZONIA’S RAIN FOREST/ La selva de Zonia written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (Candlewick, March 30, 2021). Picture Book. Zonia’s home is the Amazon rain forest, where it is always green and full of life. Every morning, the rain forest calls to Zonia, and every morning, she answers. She visits the sloth family, greets the giant anteater, and runs with the speedy jaguar. But one morning, the rain forest calls to her in a troubled voice. How will Zonia answer? Back matter includes a translation of the story in Asháninka, information on the Asháninka community, and resources on the Amazon rain forest and its wildlife.

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Book Review: Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! by Alexandra Alessandri, illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonada

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Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK (from the front cover): Ava Gabriela is visiting her extended family in Colombia for the holidays. She’s excited to take part in family traditions such as making buñuelos, but being around all her loud relatives in an unfamiliar place makes Ava shy and quiet. How will Ava find her voice before she misses out on all the New Year’s fun?

MY TWO CENTS: This #OwnVoices picture book is a heartwarming story about New Year traditions in Colombia, as well as the development of Ava’s personality. While there is some mention of traditions such as buñuelos and the Old Year doll, the highlight is definitely the main character, Ava. She is a quiet, shy character. Ava and her family are busy making preparations for the New Year. As her family shows various Colombian traditions, Ava observes but does not say much. In the beginning, Ava hesitates to say hello or “speak up.” Yet after making buñuelos, Ava begins to giggle. Throughout the book, she begins to question why she is so shy and often shows what she means to say versus what she actually does with a signal or facial movement. As a teacher, her behavior and speech reminded me of a student who had a speech-language need, thus Ava may connect to students who share the experience of finding the words to say in public situations.

The illustrations span across the spread using bold colors and subtle details. The English and Spanish text is written in an authentic manner, one that I appreciate as a frequent Spanglish speaker. Additionally, the text placement allows for readers to focus on the illustrations. Overall, Ava’s character was a joy to follow throughout this story. I appreciated that all of her family members respected her participation, even if she did not verbally respond right away. The days were filled with family traditions, love, and most of all, patience, as they welcomed one another, shy or not.

TEACHING TIPS: Many of these teaching moments can be implemented in a grades K-5 setting, with a focus on the primary grades. This is a great addition to any classroom library and as a read aloud. Some ideas to focus on during instruction:

  • Themes: Culture & Traditions
    • The Author’s Note gives readers an insight into the Colombian traditions mentioned in the book, such as the twelve grapes and the Año Viejo traditions.
  • Themes: Character Empathy; Finding Voice
    • Focus on Ava, how she communicates with her family and the feelings she has throughout all her experiences.
  • Mentor Text: Writing in two languages
    • How to use and format both English and Spanish in a narrative text

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Photo by Dawn Yap @ YapOriginals

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alexandra Alessandri is a Colombian-American poet, English professor, and children’s author, who grew up surrounded by plenty of primos and primas. She’s obsessed with coffee and urban murals, and every year, she looks forward to buñuelos and el Año Viejo. When not writing or teaching, Alexandra spends her time daydreaming of Colombia, relearning the piano, and planning the next great adventure with her family. She lives in Florida with her husband, son, and hairless pup. Visit her online at alexandraalessandri.com

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From the illustrator’s website

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Addy Rivera Sonda is a Mexican illustrator who loves color and nature. When not drawing, she explores ways to live a more sustainable life. Addy hopes her stories and art can build empathy and lead to a more inclusive world. She currently lives in California. Find her website at addyriverasonda.wixsite.com/portfolio.

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