Q&A with Author Diana López about NOTHING UP MY SLEEVE

 

By Marianne Snow Campbell

Today we’re very pleased to host a dialogue with Diana López in honor of her newest middle grades novel, Nothing Up My Sleeve, which released on April 19.  This book follows three friends – Dominic, Loop, and Z – as they discover the exciting world of stage magic one summer. It’s equal parts humor, character study, and magic lessons – a fun and fascinating read. After finishing Nothing Up My Sleeve (click here for our book review), I was definitely curious about Diana’s creative process, so I’m very grateful that she was able to answer these questions for me. Enjoy!

I love the backdrop of stage magic in Nothing Up My Sleeve.  What inspired you to explore this topic?

My husband, Gene, inspired me. I wouldn’t know the first thing about magic if it weren’t for him. He’s an aficionado with a great collection of magic books, props, and videos. Over the years, I’ve been a tagalong at magic lectures and conventions, including the TAOM convention that I write about. Magicians are so creative, and if you think about a magic performance, you’ll realize that it’s just another form of storytelling. How could I resist? I had to write this book! And I had so much fun finding magic tricks that resonated with the characters’ personal lives. This is what stories do—give us tools for coping and for celebrating life.

Another important source of inspiration comes from my nephews who turn absolutely everything into a competition. Think about it. Competitions are wonderful for writers because they have a built-in sense of conflict—you’re “fighting” against others but you’re also fighting against yourself as you work to problem-solve or overcome insecurities. In a sense, a competition is a form of story, too.

Also, could you describe your process in creating this book?

I carry a little notebook around and jot down bits of dialogue or names of interesting things. I sometimes take pictures, too. Anything that feels like a good detail for a story. The magic shop, Conjuring Cats, is completely inspired by JCR Magic in San Antonio, for example.

Eventually, I realized that I wanted to write about three boys at a magic competition. But who were they? What kind of magic did they do? What else were they dealing with? To find out, I had to do a lot of exploratory writing, stuff that never gets into the final novel. It’s my way of searching for voices. And with three boys, I needed three voices that were distinct.

Once I had the voice and general sense of where the book was going, I started drafting. I’m not an outliner. I prefer to write, rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite. Stuff gets moved around, deleted, added, and the story eventually works itself out. I know it’s not the most efficient way to write, but for me, it’s the most enjoyable.

What made you decide to use three narratives? How did you go about developing Dominic, Loop and Z?

My previous books follow one character, so using three narratives was a new experience for me. From the beginning, however, it felt like the best approach for this novel. I love competitions—sports, board games, reality shows like Survivor or Amazing Race. It’s fun to root for someone, but often, I find myself rooting for more than one person. Something similar happened when writing this book. I found myself rooting for all three boys, so I wanted to give each of them time on the stage.

Using three perspectives also gave me a chance to explore how different people learn a new skill and perform in front of audiences. I love the unique set of abilities and insecurities that accompany each character. One of my favorite experiences with this book was taking a classic sleight, like the French drop, and seeing how the boys used their personalities to create different versions of this one move.

As for developing the characters, Dominic, Loop, and Z are very loosely based on three of my nephews. I love to eavesdrop on their conversations, and I’ve had plenty of chances to witness how they fight and how they show affection. Writers harvest ideas and voices from their environment, and that’s exactly what I did. I even called my nephews when I was looking for creative insults like “Fungus Foot, Toilet Clogger, Slobber Boy, and Stink Bomb.” Yup, they get total credit for that.

What do you want readers to carry away from Nothing Up My Sleeve and your other middle-grades books, Confetti Girl, Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel, and Choke?

I want them to enjoy the books. Just have fun. It breaks my heart to hear young people (or anyone) complain that books are boring. If I can make people laugh or nod because they recognize a bit of themselves in the story, then I have done my job.

For readers who like to dig a little deeper, I’ve posted some discussion guides on my website. You can find them on the “classroom” page http://www.dianalopezbooks.com/classroom.php . Find a friend and have a book chat. Published books don’t belong to the authors anymore. They belong to the readers.

    

As an author and creative writing professor, you clearly know a thing or two about writing. What kind of advice would you like to give to aspiring young writers out there – especially writers who want to publish books that celebrate diverse experiences and perspectives?

Aspiring writers are probably tired of hearing this, but it bears repeating because it’s so true. The best way to improve your writing is to read, read, read. And if you’re interested in celebrating diverse perspectives, then buy those titles. Do a little research to discover writers from your community, and then support them. We need to let publishers know that there’s a real interest in these books.

The second bit of advice is to pay attention to the world around you. Just read the signs, watch the people at parks or malls, browse the aisles at grocery stores. Examine familiar places as if seeing them for the first time. The diversity is built-in, and these are the details you want to capture in your books.

Since you published your first book, have you seen a change in the quality/quantity of diverse books published?

Yes, there’s an enthusiastic call for diverse books right now. I’m thinking of the We Need Diverse Books Campaign, and I’m seeing more diversity in our award-winners. This makes me very happy.

But, we still have a long way to go. I grew up in a working class, Mexican American family, a group that is still underrepresented. Here is a population statistic from “A Demographic Portrait of Mexican-Origin Hispanics in the United States” by Ana Gonzalez-Barrera and Mark Hugo Lopez: “Mexicans are by far the largest Hispanic-origin population in the U.S., accounting for nearly two-thirds (64%) of the U.S. Hispanic population in 2012.” Two-thirds of the Hispanic population in this country! I haven’t done the research, but I’m curious. If you took all the books published by Latinos in this country, what percentage will be by Mexican Americans?

So, moving in the right direction? Yes. But are we there yet? No. That’s why it’s an exciting time to be a writer and an advocate for diverse books.

Do you have any new book projects in the works?  Can you share anything about these projects?

Right now, I’m working hard to spread the news about NOTHING UP MY SLEEVE. I like to write short stories, too, so I’m using the time between book projects to finish and polish some shorter pieces I’ve been working on.

I was so excited to find out about CentroVictoria!  Tell us about your work there.

Photo credit: Todd Yates

Photo credit: Todd Yates

CentroVictoria is supported by the University of Houston-Victoria, where I work. Its founding director is Dagoberto Gilb, author of BEFORE THE END, AFTER THE BEGINNING. Our goal is to promote Mexican American literature and art. Right now, we’re doing this in two ways. One is the publication of an annual magazine called HUIZACHE. It’s a beautiful magazine, and I highly recommend it for people interested in Latino literature. Please visit our website http://huizachemag.org/ to learn more. The second way we promote the literature is to help educators. Dagoberto and his son, Ricardo Gilb, edited a textbook that was just released by Bedford St. Martin’s. It’s called MEXICAN AMERICAN LITERATURE: A PORTABLE ANTHOLOGY, a great resource for those who want a taste of important works and a sense of how the literature has changed. Dagoberto and Ricardo did a phenomenal job. For my part, I wrote an instructor’s manual full of discussion questions. It’s available as a downloadable pdf file.

To learn more about me, my books, and my work with CentroVictoria, please visit my website at www.dianalopezbooks.com

 

 

MarianneMarianne Snow Campbell is a doctoral student at The University of Georgia, where she researches nonfiction children’s books about Latin@ and Latin American topics and teaches an undergraduate course on children’s literature. Before graduate school, she taught pre-K and Kindergarten in Texas, her home state. She misses teaching, loves critters, and can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Listening Latinx: An author’s audiobook experience

OutOfDarknessAudioCoverI have been listening to audiobooks for nearly three decades, so it was something of a dream come true to see Out of Darkness go into production shortly after it received a Printz Honor. Before production began, though, I found myself wondering if my strong opinions about narration, pronunciation, and the like would get in the way—or set me up for disappointment. What if the narrator’s voice didn’t match the texture or tone I’d imagined in writing?

I needn’t have worried. I loved how involved I got to be in the process with Listening Library. Executive producer Aaron Blank proved scrupulous in his attention to detail, from the pronunciation of my last name (yes, that accent mark means something, as I explain here) to the particulars of how to say “Cari” and “Beto,” the names of the twins in the novel. Yes, I might have sent him audio recordings of me pronouncing their names…

A few people have asked me if I wanted to narrate my own book. In general, I find that author-narrated audiobooks are rarely as effective as those narrated by actors. In particular, I have an aversion to the sound of my own voice on recordings, so that option wasn’t even on the table. (Although I would like brownie points for recording this brief introduction to Out of Darkness.)

WashAsJackie

Robinson: my image of Wash

Aaron shared my sense that it was important to cast a Latinx narrator or a narrator with exceptional Spanish and cultural competency. We also agreed that it would be important to find talent capable of handling the wide range of voices, including Henry’s oil field diction and Wash’s African American Vernacular. It’s possible that I sent Aaron YouTube videos to illustrate the flattening of vowels common among East Texans as well as examples of intonation for Southern accents and African American Vernacular that captured the particularity of speech without any whiff of caricature. And (*secret revealed*) since I always pictured Wash as a young Jackie Robinson, I had to send some footage of a film about Robinson, too.

I listened to many wonderful auditions, but Benita Robledo’s beautifully modulated voice stood out immediately. She settled quickly into the world of the novel, managing not only to capture the texture of Naomi’s experience but also the nuances of other point-of-view characters as well.

BenitaRobledo_ItsAWrap

Benita’s voice is as beautiful as she is. Sometimes you can feel that smile in the narration.

It’s a tremendous boon that, as director Tony Hudz noted, Benita gets “all the pronunciations, pitch- and letter-perfect.” But what Benita brings is more than that. Also a Texan, she grew up near Brownsville and (again quoting Tony) “knows this turf” emotionally and psychologically. In my listening, I hear the spark of connection, sincere animation of my words that comes in part from recognizing the silences that they seek to counter. Benita shared this about the experience of bringing Out of Darkness to sound:

In the still hush of the recording studio, with only my voice and my director to guide me, I would lose myself in Ashley Hope Pérez’s words. Sometimes I’d get so involved in the story, I wouldn’t realize a whole morning had passed and it was time for a break. She has an incredible talent for creating beauty even in the ugliest of times. For me, getting to live and breathe Out of Darkness, was nothing short of magic.

The admiration is mutual. Ditto regarding my feelings for Lincoln Hoppe, who masterfully renders the passages in the voice of “The Gang,” which captures the collective voice of the senior class. The Gang is a kind of ugly distillation of the thoughts circulating and is often thick with unexamined racism. Because of the character of these sections, and because it is the only first-person narration in the novel, we felt it should have a different narrator. (Benita does all the other chapters.) Here’s what Tony had to say about Lincoln’s role:

Lincoln_Hoppe_NotEvil

Lincoln Hoppe

The first thing you have to know about Lincoln Hoppe is that he’s a 6’4″ puppy dog. With glasses. One of the sweetest, gentlest people I’ve ever met. It is thus a tribute and a testament to his professionalism and skill as a reader when I say that he captured full well the ugliness and evil of The Gang. God, he did a good, awful job. And I think the slightly husky/sometimes almost raw texture of his voice will play off beautifully against Benita’s relative sweetness and lightness.

And it does, friends, it does.

Benita and Lincoln’s voices animate the narrative world of my book. Benita captures the beauty and audacity of hope in the face of prejudice, and Lincoln distills the surprising lyricism of some of the darkest threads of human consciousness that I’ve ever tried to write.

A caveat: it’s hard to listen to the prologue of Out of Darkness. This is through no fault of Benita’s. The prologue is difficult to read on the page, too; I wanted it to be that way. As one reviewer noted, the prologue acts as “a litmus test to see if you can emotionally handle this haunting novel.” The prologue figures the tremendous loss of the New London school explosion, which left one in four children dead, and the terrible possibilities it unleashes in the imagined world of my novel. Hearing this part read aloud ups the ante as Benita’s voice evokes the human stakes of tragedy.

NLSchoolExplosionatNight

Some of the lights that inspired the opening of the prologue.

It’s a difficult beginning for a difficult book. But it is a kind of difficulty that, I believe, we need to reckon with. It’s the kind of difficulty that helps us face, honestly, all that we are capable of in moments of great loss, the beauty and the horror of our humanity.

Want to listen to Out of Darkness on audio? It releases April 26. Pre-order it from Listening Library or Audible. You can also request it on CD at your local library or get a digital check-out through Overdrive.com.

And, PS, here’s the scoop on Out of Darkness, copy courtesy of the brilliant folks at Carolrhoda Lab:

“This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?”

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them. They know the people who enforce them. But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion the worst school disaster in American history as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

 

Our Latin@s in Kid Lit Favorite Titles of 2015

 

As the year draws to a close, we want to celebrate by highlighting current Latin@ children’s and YA books that captured our hearts.

2015 has been a good year, one that’s brought greater visibility to works by Latin@ authors and illustrators, as well as books by non-Latin@ creators that feature themes and characters with Latin@ connections. Make no mistake, the number of published titles originating in our community still remains at proportionately dismal levels, but this blog aims to promote, discuss, and amplify the voices that do exist. We also want to share our recommendations so that librarians, teachers, booksellers and parents will know about the best books out there.

Please note that this is a favorites list, and as such isn’t as comprehensive as a “best of” list. We’ve reviewed many of the 73 Latin@ titles published this year, but not all of them, including many we hear are worthy of acclaim. We hope you’ll share your own favorites in the comments! And rest assured, we’ll keep striving to give well-crafted, Latin@-leaning books their due in our Libros Latin@s book talks and other features.

Here’s what we focused on in compiling the list:

  • Children’s and young-adult books about Latin@s or by Latin@s, published in 2015
  • Respectful representations of Latin@s and their experiences
  • Rich stories with intersectionality of race, ethnicity, class, gender, generations, and/or languages
  • Titles for a range of age levels and genres
  • High literary quality and (when relevant) strong visuals
  • Books with heart!

So now that you know the backstory of our list, here are our Latin@s in Kid Lit Favorite Titles of 2015, presented in sections by reading level and alphabetized by title. Click on the links to read full reviews. 

Picture Books

22749711Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle and Rafael López. This is the inspiring true story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese Afro Cuban girl enamored with drums. Because tradition in 1930s Cuba prohibits girls from taking up drumming, what Millo achieves by breaking this taboo is even greater than the music she makes. Through their combined art, Engle and López enchantingly encapsulate Millo’s dreams. For our full review, click here.

 

20786680Finding the Music/En Pos de la Música by Jennifer Torres & Renato Alarcão. Before Reyna was born, her abuelito played in a mariachi band. His specialty was the vihuela, a small guitar-like instrument that has since fallen into disrepair. Reyna takes up the quest to get the repairs made. The vihuela becomes a powerful artifact that jump-starts the memory of the past, the important history of the community that tends to be invisible but is so essential to understanding the present. Here’s our review.

 

24795948Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh. Nineteenth-century Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada created now-famous engravings of calaveras, skeletons engaged in everyday activities that have become synonymous with the Day of the Dead. In this picture book, author-illustrator Tonatiuh presents Posada’s life story, complete with background information on contextual events, such as the Mexican Revolution. Read our full review.

 

22747814Growing Up Pedro: How the Martinez Brothers Made It From the Dominican Republic All the Way to the Major Leagues by Matt Tavares. Dominican baseball star Pedro Martinez, who helped lead the Boston Red Sox to a World Series win, got his start with plenty of help from his big brother Ramón. This is a story of brotherhood and of dreaming big and achieving bigger, powerfully illustrated by the author. Here’s our review.

 

22521973Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson. Young CJ would rather just go home after church than join his grandmother for their weekly bus ride to volunteer at the local soup kitchen. Will he change his mind? With simple yet poetic text and sumptuous “sunset colors,” Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson explore the concept of community in this inviting story. Check out this review.

 

24727082Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina & Angela Dominguez. Can a grandmother and granddaughter develop a close relationship when one speaks Spanish and the other speaks English? Of course! In Meg Medina’s warm tale of love, patience, and language, Mia and her abuela – along with a parrot named Mango – teach each other more than just words. Angela Dominguez’s rich, clean illustrations amplify this beautiful book. Check out this review.

 

22750413Salsa: Un Poema Para Cocinar/A Cooking Poem by Jorge Argueta, Duncan Tonatiuh & Elisa Amado. Argueta has created several bilingual poetry books that celebrate traditional Latin American dishes–including Guacamole, Sopa de frijoles / Bean Soup, and Arroz con leche / Rice Pudding – and Salsa is just as mouth-watering. This story poem creates playful connections between salsa’s vegetable ingredients and the musical instruments that they resemble. Tonatiuh’s signature illustrations bring extra flavor to the mix. Don’t miss our review.

 

cover-remembering-dayThe Remembering Day/ El Día de los Muertos by Pat Mora and Robert Casilla. This is a beautiful story about remembering our ancestors and their customs. Mora creates a loving relationship between a granddaughter and her grandmother that grows stronger as they practice their indigenous traditions together. For the grandmother, remembering is a significant aspect of everyday life but as the “leaves turn golden and fall from the trees” remembering becomes a celebration of those that have passed. After grandmother’s death it becomes the granddaughter’s responsibility to remember and honor her grandmother. Mora and Casilla’s story emphasizes that El Día de los Muertos is more about remembering than it is about calaveras and flowers. Here’s a review by La Bloga.

 

24694189Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago & Rafael Yockteng. A timely and moving picture book, originally published in Spanish, about a father and daughter traveling north towards the U.S. border. From counting what’s around her to meeting people and a “coyote”, this story, told from the child’s point of view, portrays migrant refugees journeys with deep empathy. Check out this review.

 

Vamonos Let's GoVámonos/Let’s Go by René Colato Laínez & Joe Cepeda does more than simply render the English and Spanish versions of “The Wheels on the Bus” side by side. Instead, it extends the songs to explore the sounds of all kinds of vehicles—and to track the lively journey of two children on the bus as they make their way to the park. Classroom activities available from Holiday House.

Early Readers/ Chapter Books

Lola Levine is Not MeanLola Levine is Not Mean! by Monica Brown & Angela Dominguez. In this delightful short chapter book, second grader Lola tackles soccer balls, annoying little brothers and runaway guinea pigs. Perfect for fans of school stories, family stories and all-around awesome characters! Check out the starred review Kirkus gave it.

 

 

SofiaMartinezFamilyAdventureSofía Martinez: My Family Adventure by Jacqueline Jules. This series is a lovely addition to the world of early chapter books. Lively main character Sofia keeps herself in the middle of the action in her loving, playful extended family, and her adventures are light and joyful with a touch of mischief. The charming illustrations by Kim Smith will bring giggles to young readers. We reviewed it here.

 

Middle Grade

22749539Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Breaking from traditional narrative, this novel traces the connected stories behind a magical harmonica. Using diverse characters that live in far-flung geographical locations, the story introduces less familiar aspects of well-known historical events: laws regarding children with birth ‘defects’ in 1930’s Germany, conditions for orphans during the Depression in the US, and the segregation of schools in California for children of Mexican descent during World War II. Here’s our review.

 

24612558Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez is a middle-grade fantasy thriller starring Cassie Arroyo, a Cuban-American expatriate living in Italy. After Cassie’s father is struck by a hail of bullets, whisked off to surgery, and then vanishes, she discovers that she, not her father, is the main target of the assassins. She then teams up with Asher and Simone to recapture the Spear of Destiny, a medieval artifact mysteriously linked to Cassie’s family line and the reason that her formerly blasé life at a private school is shattered overnight. Here’s our review.

 

22504701Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. In this highly engaging graphic novel, 12-year-old Astrid Vasquez finds her calling on a roller-derby track. Never mind that she brings no skating abilities to her first day of practice, or that her best friend would rather be at ballet camp. With the help of a savvy coach and teammates, and inspiration from a star jammer on the Rose City Rollers pro team, Astrid locates her derby groove. Check out this review.

 

22639675Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones. Moving from Los Angeles to a farm, Sophie gets quite a surprise when she encounters a cranky chicken with supernatural abilities. It’s easy to love Sophie, the half-Latina main character in this middle grade novel that upgrades the “new girl in town” idea by adding cool, magical chickens and letters from the beyond. Yes, we reviewed it.

 

Young Adult

22609281Barefoot Dogs: Stories* by Antonio Ruiz Camacho, a debut collection of interconnected stories, captures the flawed but fascinating humanity of the extended Arteaga family as they flee Mexico City after the kidnapping of the family patriarch. Even in exile, theirs is a relatively charmed existence. Unlike Latino immigrants driven north by more quotidian hardships, these scattering family members have no difficulty obtaining legal access to Palo Alto, Madrid, Austin, and New York City. They are not, however, wholly unsympathetic, and the particulars of the stories offer a counterweight to assumptions about Mexican immigrant experiences. Several stories, including “It Will Be Awesome Before Spring” and “Okie,” take the perspective of grandchildren in the family. For a full review, click here.

 

24612544Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx by Sonia Manzano. Sonia Manzano is an actor widely recognized for her role as Maria on Sesame Street. This memoir provides generations of readers with an opportunity to experience Sonia’s evolution from a young Latina, a puertorriqueña, in the Bronx into a promising performer. She powerfully reveals struggles to reconcile the love and abuse she witnessed in her family life. Don’t miss our review.

 

23309551Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir, by Margarita Engle. In this personal and deep mirror of her childhood, Engle showcases historical and emotional stories of life between two countries and two cultures. A memoir-in-verse that softly intertwines a love letter to Cuba and life, family, and memories attached to the island. Young readers will get a solid coming-of-age tale of growing up bicultural and the joys and pains found through that journey. Check out this review.

 

19542841More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera. Growing up in the Bronx with rough memories of his father’s suicide, Aaron Soto gets by with the help of a supportive girlfriend and a hardworking mom. But the promise of relief from the memories lures him into considering a radical procedure, and there are other self-discoveries to come. This debut novel offers a unique confrontation of race, class and sexuality. The main character is easy to root for in this ever-so-slightly sci-fi story. Read our full review here.

 

25256386Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez. The 1937 New London, Texas, school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—serves as the backdrop for this riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and destructive forces beyond the control of its teen characters. The novel opens with the explosion, and then flashes back to show how the characters’ lives intersect before the event. Check out our full review.

 

25364635Queer Brown Voices: Personal Narratives of Latina/o LGBT Activism* by Uriel Quesada, Letitia Gomez & Salvador Vidal-Ortiz, interweaves the traditions of testimonio and institutional history in a collection of 14 personal essays and oral histories that demonstrate how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Latina/o activists helped shape the LGBT movements of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. This collection corrects the tendency to overlook the many Latinas/os who were fighting for LGBT causes well before more widely known white leaders, like Harvey Milk, became active. For a full review, click here.

 

22295304Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. Sierra Santiago’s expectations of a normal fun summer in Brooklyn flip upside down when supernatural events intrude: zombies, weeping graffiti murals, Caribbean magic. But Sierra is the kind of heroine who makes plans and follows through, is clear-eyed about the shortcomings of people she loves, and takes charge with attitude. Read more of our review.

 

23395349Show and Prove by Sofia Quintero. The year is 1983. Blend together teenagers, hip-hop, urban plight, and racial tension; mix in summer camp trips and hanging out with friends, and you arrive at Show and Prove. This is a book about negotiating feelings and mistakes and tragedy. It’s a political book, examining identity and racism and bias in a way that never feels forced. For our full review, go here.

 

22609306Signal to Noise* by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This literary fantasy about coming–of-age romance, mixtapes and sorcery is set against the background of Mexico City in two time frames. It relates the intimate story of teenage Meche in 1988 and how she has grown up – and not – in the intervening 20 years. The universal themes of alienation and parental discord are emotions that anyone of any age can relate to. Modern teens may find themselves fascinated by the description of life in Mexico City nearly 30 years ago and discover it’s not so different from their lives today. Yes, we reviewed it.

 

23013839Surviving Santiago by Lyn Miller-Lachman is the continuing story of the Aguilar family from Miller-Lachman’s novel Gringolandia. In this novel, Tina returns to Chile, which continues to be ruled by the Pinochet dictatorship in 1989. Tina falls in love with a local boy named Frankie, who has dangerous political connections and is a threat to her and her father, Marcelo, an important, targeted voice in the democracy movement. Here’s our review.

 

20734002The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore is a 2016 William C. Morris Award finalist for good reason. McLemore’s lyrical prose centers on two traveling performance families, the Corbeaus and Palomas, hated rivals for generations who violently clash whenever they perform in the same town. A dangerous, forbidden romance develops between Lace Paloma and Cluck Corbeau that leads to family secrets revealed and a stunning climax filled with gorgeous magical realism. We will be reviewing the book in February and Anna-Marie will be writing a guest post for us. Check back then! In the meantime, check out this review.

 

22032788When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez. On the surface, Emily and Elizabeth share little in common besides 10th-grade lit class and the study of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. But they’re both hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice and one of them will attempt suicide. Set in New England, this captivating novel delivers a strong portrayal of Latin@s and a cast of satisfyingly complex characters from diverse backgrounds. Check out our full review here.

*Not technically classified as YA, these are adult books which may be of interest to teens.

Guest Post: Amber J. Keyser on Heritage and Healing

 

WayBackFromBrokenToday, we’re thrilled to have a guest post by Amber J. Keyser, author of The Way Back From Broken (Carolrhoda Lab, 2015). Amber’s debut novel earned a starred review from Booklist, which described it as “an exquisite and enthralling exploration of loss, love, and healing” and concluded that “this vivid, moving exploration of grief and recovery hits all the right notes.” Here’s the publisher’s description of The Way Back from Broken:

Rakmen Cannon’s life is turning out to be one sucker punch after another. His baby sister died in his arms, his parents are on the verge of divorce, and he’s flunking out of high school. The only place he fits in is with the other art therapy kids stuck in the basement of Promise House, otherwise known as support group central. Not that he wants to be there. Talking doesn’t bring back the dead.

When he’s shipped off to the Canadian wilderness with ten-year-old Jacey, another member of the support group, and her mom, his summer goes from bad to worse. He can’t imagine how eight weeks of canoeing and camping could be anything but awful.

Yet despite his expectations, the vast and unforgiving backcountry just might give Rakmen a chance to find the way back from broken . . . if he’s brave enough to grab it.

And now, here’s Amber.


My debut novel, The Way Back From Broken, is about two young people thrown together by shared tragedy who find healing in the Canadian wilderness. When I set about writing it, I knew I wanted to explore the different ways people navigate the difficult terrain of loss. How do we grieve? What helps us heal? Where are the pitfalls that can trap us? I wanted to write about how loss reverberates through families and threatens to tear them apart.

There are two families at the center of The Way Back From Broken—the Cannons and the Tatlases. Their lives intersect at Promise House in a support group for families who have lost children. Loss is their common ground. It links these families across differences of race and religion.

Fifteen-year-old Rakmen Cannon is biracial. His father, Michael, is black, and his mother, Mercedes, is a Catholic from Mexico. Ten-year-old Jacey Tatlas’s family is white. Her mother, Leah, is an agnostic who would rather be hiking than in church and has little use for organized religion of any kind.

The story that I’ve written belongs to Rakmen and Jacey. The Way Back From Broken explores what happens to them, but in this post, I wanted to write about the relationship between their mothers. Although it is touched upon very lightly in the final version of the book, it is still foundational to the story.

When Rakmen and Jacey’s mothers first meet, Mercedes (Rakmen’s mother) has been coming to the support group for nearly ten months after the death of her infant daughter. She is a woman of faith who does not shy away from the hard work of grief. She goes to group and therapy; she also finds comfort in prayer. She embraces Leah, whose loss is much fresher.

Leah has never been a religious person. She is a biology teacher who likes to hike and canoe. For her, comfort and solace are found in nature. But the loss of her stillborn son has shaken her to the core. She feels as if her own body has betrayed her.

As she and Mercedes become friends, Leah sees the comfort that Mercedes finds in her faith and wishes that she were able to access the spiritual sustenance that Mercedes does. Desperate to find a way to make some sense of her loss, Leah decides to return to the cabin where she spent many happy summers as a child.

This decision—and the trust these two women share—sets many things in motion during the course of The Way Back From Broken. One of the powerful things to come from the crucible of their loss is the way their families become connected, which sets much of the rest of the story in motion. Mercedes chooses to send Rakmen along with Leah and Jacey to Canada, where the stories of their families become even more intertwined. The differences that too often hold people apart make all of them stronger, especially their children. And in the end, they forge a new kind of family.

 

AmberKeyserAbout the author: Amber J. Keyser is an evolutionary biologist-turned-writer, who loves stories about heroes, scientists, and adventurers. She grew up in Oregon backpacking, fishing, and white-water rafting. Now she lives on the dry side of the mountains with her husband, two kids, and dog named Gilda. Every summer she returns to a cabin in Canada that was built by her grandmother, Algonquin Park’s first licensed, female canoe guide. If she had a choice, she would travel everywhere by canoe or on horseback.

Some of Amber’s forthcoming and recent books include The V-Word (Beyond Words, 2016), an anthology of personal essays by women about first time sexual experiences, and Sneaker Century: A History of Athletic Shoes (Twenty-First Century Books, 2015). She is the co-author with Kiersi Burkhart of the middle grade series Quartz Creek Ranch (Darby Creek, 2017). She can be reached by email at amber.j.keyser@gmail.com. Information about upcoming appearances can be found on her website at www.amberjkeyser.com.

Book Review: Becoming Maria by Sonia Manzano

Acting Out Transformative Possibilities: A Review of Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx

Becoming MariaBy Marilisa Jiménez García, Ph.D.

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: This is the remarkable true story of a girl plunged into a world she never expected. It’s the story of dreams—some of them nightmares, others visions of romance and escape. It’s the tale of a family that is loving and troubled, and of the child who grew up to become a television star.

Set in the 1950’s in the Bronx, this is the beautifully wrought coming-of-age memoir of Emmy Award-winning actress and writer Sonia Manzano, who defined the role of Maria on the acclaimed children’s television series Sesame Street.

MY TWO CENTS: Sonia “Maria” Manzano held a prominent place in American culture for over 40 years, both as a writer and actor on Sesame Street. While many Latino/a readers have struggled to find characters reflecting their experiences in books, Manzano filled this void on one of the most beloved American television franchises in history. Manzano’s performances shaped the way viewers understood Latino/a culture by breaking stereotypes through an expansive repertoire: from friendly neighbor, to comical mime, to new mother, to glamorous leading lady a’ la Ginger Rogers. Indeed, when she announced her retirement this summer, the outpouring of public tributes and reflections on her legendary career underlined just how closely audiences over a generation identified with Manzano’s evolution into a television icon. Now, as a novelist, she continues to respond to the need for Latino/a protagonists. Her newest book, a memoir, highlights the transformative capacity of theatre and performance for young people.

Becoming Maria provides generations of readers with an opportunity to experience Manzano’s evolution from a young Latina, a puertorriqueña, in the Bronx into a promising performer. It is a journey Manzano also reveals as a struggle to reconcile the love and abuse she witnessed in her family life. Becoming Maria is truly the portrait of an artist, as an early passage in the text demonstrates how, even in moments of distress, a young Sonia developed a gift for observation and imagination:

I run to our fourth-floor window, looking for anything, when I see Uncle Eddie’s car pull up. Out spills his wife, Bon Bon; my uncle Frank; his wife, Iris; and my beautiful mother. She is dressed in a soft-colored yellow dress with pleats down the front that she made herself. My father enters my line of vision as he lunges for her. Her brothers restrain him, and I can tell even from the fourth floor that Ma would rip his face off if she could.

There is something beautiful in the picture they make jerking around in the streetlight. And when the Third Avenue El comes swishing through, right in front of our window so suddenly, I feel like I am in the center of the universe and I am happy that they have had this fight because it has introduced me to the wonderful window. And that’s where I go every day, all the time between assaults when there is nervous calm (Manzano 8-9).

Young Sonia’s ability to both observe and “see beyond,” to borrow a phrase from The Giver, her surroundings and circumstances allows her distance and a space to imagine other possibilities. Through this “window,” young Sonia is able reinvent moments in her life. As children’s literature scholar Rudine Sims Bishop has established, a “window” can also function as a metaphor for literature which gives audiences insight to other worlds and cultures.[1] In this moment, young Sonia’s decision to frame her circumstances also signals Manzano’s own expertise providing access into the literary and theatrical worlds she has created for years.

Becoming Maria adds to Manzano’s titles of works marketed for young people. The closest to this text’s breadth and maturity might be her recent young adult novel, The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano (2013), which also features a strong, Latina protagonist coming into her own as a young woman—though the major plot points and struggles emphasized in Evelyn Serrano concern the collective plight of Puerto Ricans in the late 1960s in East Harlem and the rise of the Young Lord’s Party. As in Evelyn Serrano, Becoming Maria includes moments where the young Sonia contemplates the conditions of Puerto Ricans in the New York community and the island, particularly the treatment of Puerto Rican woman by the men in the community. In particular, a young Sonia is frustrated with the realities of internal sexism in a patriarchal culture:

Down with Puerto Rico! Revenge on the island! Screw those people!” becomes my internal battle cry as I vow to shun and reject the place I’ve never been to, where kids drown in sewage, the place of dead mothers, of negligent fathers, of starvation and poverty, of macho men throwing coconuts at their wives’ heads for fun! I know all the horrors even beautiful songs written about the island can’t cover up and will not be fooled by it! (177)

Young Sonia’s struggle to reconcile her views about her home life as both nurturing and abusive parallels with her feelings about her native land. As a writer, Manzano carefully demonstrates how Latino/a authors can both affirm their respective cultures while still encouraging readers to think critically. In fact, the tone and style of Becoming Maria underlines a sense of maturity and confidence in Manzano’s own voice as a novelist.

Overall, Manzano’s work fits into a tradition of Puerto Rican writers including Pura Belpré, Nicholasa Mohr, Piri Thomas, Judith Ortiz-Cofer, and Eric Velasquez who have also written for younger audiences. These writers also demonstrate the power of the creative arts as transformative practices for young Latino/as. Manzano’s position in acting and screenwriting, however, highlights the importance of cultivating spaces in media and performance arts as part of narrating Latino/a histories and counter-narratives.

TEACHING TIPS:

  • Women’s Studies/History: Consider having students read Manzano’s Becoming Maria alongside Mohr’s Nilda (1973) which also emphasizes the evolution of a young female artist. In terms of Latina women’s history, have student compare the differences between the experiences Mohr describes to that of Manzano. Similarly, Becoming Maria might be read in comparison to Esmeralda Santiago’s When I Was Puerto Rican (1993) in which Santiago narrates her journey into performance and New York City’s High School for the Performing Arts, a school which Manzano also attends and describes in the book. How is the journey into performance different/similar in Manzano and Santiago versus the journey into visual arts in Mohr?
  • The Wonderful Window: Young Sonia’s fourth-floor window functions as a kind of retreat which underlines the importance of creating private spaces of reflection and observation for young people. Ask students to reflect on the spaces they retreat to as a means of gaining perspective.
  • Dramatic Arts/Reader’s Theatre: Becoming Maria greatly emphasizes the dramatic arts as a kind of transformative pedagogy for the young Sonia who finds a sense of voice through drama. Consider following up this novel with a play referenced in the book such as Shakespeare’s works and/or Godspell.

[1] Bishop, R. S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3), ix–xi.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx, check your local public library, your local bookstore or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Marilisa_Jimenez-GarciaMarilisa Jiménez García is a research associate at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY. She works at the intersections of Latino/a Studies and childhood and children’s literature studies. She attended a performing arts middle school for theater and is currently working on a book manuscript on the history of Latino/a children’s and young adult literature and an essay on the Latino/a “YA” tradition. One of the chapters in her manuscripts is about Sonia Manzano’s work. She is also conducting a survey of NYC teachers on teacher education and the use of diverse lit. in the classroom.

Book Review: Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

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DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: “This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?”

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Smith and Wash Fullerton know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them. They know the people who enforce them. But there are some forces even the most determined color lines cannot resist. And sometimes all it takes is an explosion.

Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

OUR TWO CENTS: 

Cindy L. Rodriguez: As soon as I finished Ashley’s novel, I wanted to reread it as a writer. I want to pull it apart and study it because it’s that good. One of the things I appreciate most was the slow burn of the narrative. The novel opens with the explosion, and then flashes back to show how the characters’ live intersect before the event. The fuse lit in that opening scene coils through the narrative, gaining in intensity as the story leads back to the explosion and then its aftermath. The tension in Naomi’s home, school, and community is palpable throughout the story and increases slowly as we’re led into the heartbreaking climax.

Ashley masterfully balances the big picture and the smallest details. Her writing made me think of a photographer who could both go wide and capture a panoramic view and then zoom in for a close up and not lose anything in this process. She also beautifully balances the swoony magic of falling deeply in love for the first time and the absolutely brutal realities faced by African-Americans and Mexicans at this time in history. BRAVA!!

Lila Quintero Weaver: Ashley’s command of narrative is impressive! In Out of Darkness, she tells a story set in the American past and makes it feel of the moment. It holds all the markers of a historical novel, starting with the cataclysmic explosion of 1937 that looms with ominous eventuality over the characters we come to care about. Threaded with lively detail, the historical richness comes through in social customs, daily activities, and the speech patterns and cultural attitudes typical of 1930s east Texas. No easy feat. I detect a massive amount of research behind it all.

This devotion to authenticity translates into contemporary meaning through the story’s characters and the complicated problems they face. Naomi’s most serious problem is a predatory stepfather whose capacity for evil keeps her in a constant state of vigilance. There is no escape. She has no money or resources and she feels deep loyalty toward her two tender stepsiblings. Because Naomi is Mexican-American and lives in a part of Texas where Mexicans aren’t numerous, she has no community to fall back on and is looked upon by some white classmates as dirty and worthless. When she falls hard for Wash, a young black man who offers her a chance at true happiness, Naomi steps into the arena of forbidden love—one she must keep hidden from society and the stepfather who follows her every move with lecherous eyes. What a story!

Others agree with us, too! Out of Darkness received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews. Here are some quotes and links with more information about and praise for the novel:

“The beauty of Perez’s prose and her surefooted navigation through the dangerous landscape of the East Texas oil field in the late 1930s redeem the fact that anyone who dares read this agonizing star-crossed love story will end up in about six billion numb and tiny pieces. Absolutely stunning.” —Elizabeth Wein, author of Code Name Verity and Michael L. Printz Award Honoree

Teen Library Toolbox (an SLJ blog): http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2015/09/book-review-out-of-darkness-by-ashley-hope-perez/

Detailed review from The Midnight Garden (YA for adults): http://www.themidnightgarden.net/2015/08/outofdarkness.html

Q&A on NBChttp://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/out-darkness-latina-author-n419026

Diversity in YA post: http://www.diversityinya.com/2015/08/words-that-wake-us/

Q&A on our site earlier this weekhttps://latinosinkidlit.com/2015/09/09/qa-with-ashley-hope-perez-about-out-of-darkness/

And this post by Forever Young Adult nails the “casting call” for novel if it were made into a movie. Their picks of Christian Serratos as Naomi and Titus Makin Jr. as Wash were spot on! Nicely done, Forever Young Adult!

   

TEACHING TIPS: Although the New London, Texas, school explosion was the worst school disaster in our nation’s history, it’s one many (most) students have probably never learned about but should, as it has interesting implications concerning race and class worth exploring. Out of Darkness asks readers to think beyond the black and white dynamics of U.S. race issues by adding Latin@ children to the segregated schools system and portraying the daily concerns and realities of Mexicans who could or could not “pass” as white. Also, the violent consequences of marginalized romantic relationships isn’t often explored in curricula, but might be/should be considering the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage. A book like Out of Darkness could help teen readers appreciate the long history of struggle and violence experienced by people who have wanted to live and love freely.

2012AuthorPhoto500pixelsABOUT THE AUTHORAshley Hope Pérez is a writer and teacher passionate about literature for readers of all ages—especially stories that speak to diverse Latino experiences. She is the author of three novels, What Can’t Wait (2011) and The Knife and the Butterfly (2012), and Out of Darkness (2015). A native of Texas, Ashley has since followed wherever writing and teaching lead her. She completed a PhD in comparative literature from Indiana University and enjoys teaching everything from Spanish language and Latin American literature to the occasional course on vampires in literature. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Out of Darkness, check your local public library, your local bookstore or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.