Q&A with Ashley Hope Pérez about OUT OF DARKNESS

A Star is Born

We’re so thrilled to begin our third year online with a celebration of Out of Darkness by our amiga and co-blogger, Ashley Hope Pérez! Her third novel, which released September 1, is historical fiction, with a deadly school explosion in East Texas in 1937 as its central event. Using multiple points of view, Ashley develops a cast of complex characters who confront brutal racism and violence in addition to the beauty of first love. Amanda MacGregor of Teen Librarian Toolbox said, “Pérez’s story is nothing short of brilliant”, and we wholeheartedly agree! In fact, we think it’s one of the best 2015 releases! If it’s not on your to be read list, it should be. Click here to read Ashley’s post about her work on this novel, and for more insight, see our Q&A with her below.

Ashley, in the last two years, you finished your doctoral dissertation, changed jobs and geographical locations, and gave birth to a second child. How did you manage to write such an ambitious novel with so much else going on in your life?

When you put it like that, it does sound pretty outrageous! The short answer is that, when our first son was one, we moved to Paris for a year. I taught a ton of university English classes, ate yards and yards of bread, and worked on the first draft of the novel. I gave myself that year off from academic research. When we got back, I used the novel as a daily carrot to motivate my academic writing: if I got my words on the dissertation done, I got to take some time for the fiction.

You don’t shy away from controversial territory! This story contains sexual abuse, incest, brutal racism and frank sexuality. Talk about shaping these elements within the boundaries of young-adult fiction.

Wait–there are boundaries to young adult fiction? No one told me!! Really, though, I shouldn’t be glib. It’s just that Andrew Karre (my editor for Out of Darkness as well as for The Knife and the Butterfly and What Can’t Wait) has always seemed more interested in pushing or crossing boundaries than in upholding them. He’s probably one of very few YA editors who sends emails that say things like, “could the sexual details in this scene be a little more explicit, not so coy?” Speaking more broadly, I’ve found it useful to give myself permission to cross even my own boundaries if I felt like doing so would help me get a scene closer to where I wanted it to be. As Andrew puts it, it’s easier to go too far and then scale things back than to strike the right note by trying to tiptoe forward.

You can tell that the frank depictions of consensual sexual activity is where I feel myself most challenged, but the racism and abuse that are part of the story in Out of Darkness are probably what’s harder for readers to contend with. The reality of racism in the world of 1937 East Texas didn’t seem like something I could—or should—varnish in any way. And sexual predation, now as in the past, flourishes in response to the social and economic vulnerability of potential victims. My main character, Naomi, is extremely vulnerable in both of these areas because of her ethnicity and precarious situation in the household where she lives. Being beautiful only puts her at greater risk.

WHITESonlyWhat went into your decision to use multiple points of view?

I was thinking about angles on the story and contrasts from the time I began feeling my way into the historical material for Out of Darkness. Part of what attracted me to the story was my curiosity—almost entirely unsatisfied by historical sources—about how the African American community experienced the explosion of the (white) New London school. The tensions and interplay between characters’ visions of the world seemed integral to the telling of this particular story. This was especially true since I wanted to recenter the narrative on experiences and perspectives that have been, at best, marginal in mainstream history.

I think readers needed to see the world through a range of characters’ eyes in Out of Darkness to grasp how dramatically different our experiences can be even when we are living in the same community. This understanding is not just a source of interest vis-à-vis the past; it can help contemporary readers reckon with the reality of inequity now. For example, it makes possible reflection on dramatic contrasts in schooling experiences or interactions with police for people of different backgrounds.

The racial complexity in this story is fascinating. As a brown-skinned person, Naomi falls between racial identities and finds doors closing in both the white and black communities. Was New London a mostly white settlement in that era? Did your research turn up instances of Mexicans caught between, as Naomi was?

 Prior to the East Texas oil boom, New London was a small agrarian community with  deeply segregated black and white communities. The discovery of oil meant the influx of many outsiders, both those who were working in oil and those who were simply attracted to the possibilities of a more prosperous community. Even though African Americans were mostly excluded from oilfield work (digging ditches was an exception), newcomers also arrived in search of jobs as chauffeurs, maids, busboys, line cooks, and craftsmen. I could not confirm the presence of a Mexican American like Naomi. Although I strongly suspect that a little girl named Juanita Herron was Hispanic, it’s impossible to know for sure. Still, I was satisfied that it was at least plausible for light-skinned children like the twins to slip into the school in much the way that families in Texas with American Indian backgrounds did. For example, the Drinkwater family in New London probably had Cherokee heritage, and their children attended the white school.

newlondonexplosionNIGHT

What was it about this particular event in history that made you want to dive in and create this narrative?

The New London explosion happened close to home (about 20 minutes from where I grew up), but I knew almost nothing about it and only rarely heard it mentioned. When I started, I didn’t know where the explosion would be in the timeline of the novel, but I knew that I wanted to incorporate it. The more I explored, the clearer it seemed to me that my way “into” the story would be different from the approach taken by historians, although historical detail is of course very important to the world of Out of Darkness. I wanted to think about what the explosion meant for the victims and their families, but I was even more interested in following its repercussions outward.

What becomes possible in a community that has been shattered in this way? What forms of brokenness in the community beforehand might have been overshadowed by the deaths of almost 300 children? For example, I wanted to explore the quieter, but no less terrible, effects of segregation. After all, black children were spared from the explosion precisely because they had been excluded from the opportunities at the white New London school, which was billed in newspapers as “the richest rural school in the country.”

And, as is usually the case, I began imagining particular characters. In the case of Out of Darkness, Wash and Naomi came first, then the twins, then their stepfather Henry. Once I had Wash and Naomi, I had to find a space for them to be together (a special tree in the woods), and that’s how the Sabine River and the East Texas landscape became important to the story. I loved writing about the natural spaces of my childhood. Sometimes describing that physical beauty was a bit of a reprieve from the harshness of my characters’ circumstances. And I think I even managed to fall a bit in love with Wash myself.

 

2012AuthorPhoto500pixelsAshley 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.

 

Book Review: Surviving Santiago by Lyn Miller-Lachman

 

23013839By Cindy L. Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Returning to her homeland of Santiago, Chile, is the last thing that Tina Aguilar wants to do during the summer of her sixteenth birthday. It has taken eight years for her to feel comfort and security in America with her mother and her new husband. And it has been eight years since she has last seen her father.

Despite insisting on the visit, Tina’s father spends all his time focused on politics and alcohol rather than connecting with Tina, making his betrayal from the past continue into the present. Tina attracts the attention of a mysterious stranger, but the hairpin turns he takes her on may push her over the edge of truth and discovery.

The tense, final months of the Pinochet regime in 1989 provide the backdrop for author Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s suspenseful tale of the survival and redemption of the Aguilar family, first introduced in the critically acclaimed Gringolandia.

MY TWO CENTS: As part of her parents’ divorce agreement, Tina Aguilar must travel from Madison, Wisconsin to Santiago, Chile, to spend the summer with her father, Marcelo, a leader of the democracy movement who was previously imprisoned and tortured by the government. The experience left him with permanent physical disabilities. He is also suicidal and an alcoholic.

At first, Tina’s summer is uneventful. She stays mostly in the house with her aunt and father, who barely pays attention to her. She decides she wants to go home early, but then she meets Frankie, a motorcycle delivery boy who gives her plenty of swoony reasons to stay in Chile. Tina and Frankie fall in love, but later–without giving too much away–she discovers he can’t be trusted and that she and her father’s lives are in danger.

Lyn Miller-Lachman does a beautiful job with creating a multi-layered narrative. The romance, family drama, and political intrigue are woven together seamlessly and each of the characters are fully developed. Because of Miller-Lachman’s extensive research and personal travel experiences, the descriptions of Chile are vivid. She captures both the physical landscape and the tense emotional atmosphere during the last months of the Pinochet regime.

One thing I especially appreciated was that Miller-Lachman allows the story to unfold. In other words, I have read so many young adult novels that literally start with a bang, following the “drop the reader right into the action” formula, that reading a narrative that didn’t start this way was a relief. I got to know Tina at home in Wisconsin before she started her journey, which allowed me to connect and sympathize with her before her struggles began.

TEACHING TIPS: This novel would obviously work well in an English classroom if the focus is historical fiction, stories from Latin America, and/or themes about survival or relationships in times of political strife. Surviving Santiago would also work well in cross-curricular way, with students analyzing it as literature in English class and then discussing the historical and political aspects in history class. Teachers could also use it as an option during literature circles with a focus on multi-generational or bicultural experiences. Surviving Santiago could be one of several books offered to students in which the protagonist has to return to her homeland or a parent’s homeland, which allows the main character the opportunity to reconnect with their culture or experience it for the first time.

An image posted by the author.ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): I grew up in Houston, Texas but left at age 18 to attend Princeton University, where I met my husband, Richard Lachmann. After living in Connecticut, Wisconsin, upstate New York, and Lisbon, Portugal, we recently settled in New York City. We have two children, Derrick and Maddy Lachmann.

I received my Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and edited the journal MultiCultural Review for 16 years. In 2012, I received my Masters in Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

I love teaching as much as writing and have taught both middle and high school English, social studies, and Jewish studies. Before moving to New York City, I taught American Jewish History to seventh graders at Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady, New York and ran a playwriting elective for fourth to seventh graders.

I have lots of different hobbies because I love trying new things. In 2007, I became the assistant host of “Los Vientos del Pueblo” a bilingual program of Latin American and Spanish music, poetry, and history that currently airs on WRPI-FM, the radio station of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, on Sundays from 2-6 pm ET. I have also built a LEGO town, Little Brick Township, and create stories with my minifigures that I photograph and post on Instagram and my blog.

My husband and I enjoying traveling around the world. If I put a pin on a map for every place I’ve been, the map would have lots of pins. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in another place and time, and that’s one of the reasons I write historical fiction.

Lyn Miller-Lachman is also the author of Gringolandia and Rogue and the editor of Once Upon a Cuento, an anthology of short stories by contemporary Latin@ writers. She is also a team member for We Need Diverse Books.

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

Book Review: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

22295304By Cecilia Cackley

DESCRIPTION: (from Goodreads): Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future. Shadowshaper releases June 30, 2015.

MY TWO CENTS: Sierra Santiago is one of my new favorite heroines. She makes plans and follows through, is clear-eyed about the shortcomings of people she loves and takes charge with attitude. As Sierra follows her grandfather’s direction to find Robbie and fix the murals in her neighborhood, more and more secrets keep coming to light and she discovers an entire spirit world that has been hidden to her, but to which she is strongly connected. Older weaves in many great discussion points among the action and supernatural fighting, including colorism, gender expectations, ethics (or lack thereof) in anthropology and handling difficult family members. The Brooklyn setting and Sierra’s group of friends add realism and humor to the story, making this fresh, exciting adventure a must read for YA fans.

TEACHING TIPS: There are many different ways this title could fit into the classroom. The themes of appropriation and anthropology would fit nicely into a history or sociology classroom. Librarians will want to recommend this to teens who love fantasy or adventure stories with urban settings. Art teachers could also add this title to a list of books involving murals and large scale public art projects, as well as discuss the tradition of honoring the dead in art or have students design their own murals.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Daniel José Older is the author of the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, which began in January 2015 with Half-Resurrection Blues from Penguin’s Roc imprint. Publishers Weekly hailed him as a “rising star of the genre” after the publication of his debut ghost noir collection, Salsa Nocturna. He co-edited the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History and guest edited the music issue of Crossed Genres. His short stories and essays have appeared in Tor.com, Salon, BuzzFeed, the New Haven Review, PANK, Apex and Strange Horizons and the anthologies Subversion and Mothership: Tales Of Afrofuturism And Beyond. Daniel’s band Ghost Star gigs regularly around New York and he facilitates workshops on storytelling from an anti-oppressive power analysis. You can find his thoughts on writing, read dispatches from his decade-long career as a NYC paramedic and hear his music at ghoststar.net/ and @djolder on twitter.

RESOURCES:

Interview from Source Latino: http://thesource.com/2015/06/08/source-latino-interview-with-shadowshaper-author-daniel-jose-older/

Review from Debbie Reese about overlap with Indigenous history: http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2015/04/daniel-jose-olders-shadowshaper.html

Interview from School Library Journal: http://www.slj.com/2015/06/interviews/qa-urban-fantasy-counter-narrative-daniel-jose-older-on-shadowshaper/#_

Interview from The Rumpus: http://therumpus.net/2015/05/the-rumpus-interview-with-daniel-jose-older/

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Shadowshaper, visit your local library or bookstore. Also, check out WorldCat.orgIndieBound.orgGoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Cackley_headshotCecilia 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.

Libros Latin@s: Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth by Jeff Anderson

 

24612691By Cecilia Cackley 

DESCRIPTION (from Goodreads): Zack Delacruz is unnoticed at his middle school—and that’s just the way he likes it. But a school assembly, a typhoon of spit, and an uncharacteristic moment of bravery are all it takes to change everything. Suddenly Zack is in charge of the class fundraiser. Worse, his partner is the school’s biggest bully! If they don’t sell all the chocolate bars, there will be no dance for the sixth grade.  Zack never wanted to be a hero, but with his classmates’ hopes on the line, can he save the day? Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth releases August 14, 2015.

MY TWO CENTS: This is a light, fun read for kids who are curious about middle school and looking for something along the same lines as Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but without pictures. Zack is your typical “don’t bother me, I’m invisible” kid until a chain of events has him organizing a class fundraiser and trying to solve all the problems that come with it. The bullying part of the story is actually pretty minimal and the side characters fit easily into stock school types, nicknames and all. The supportive adults in the story (particularly Zack’s dad) smooth the way when necessary, but the fun part of the book is the building of cooperation between Zack and his classmates and watching him tackle every new disaster that hits.

TEACHING TIPS: This is probably best for elementary readers and could make a nice classroom read aloud. It could also work as a literature circle book, with discussions about the choices characters make and how their perceptions of each other change over the course of the book. There are math connections to be made with the fundraiser aspect and plenty of kids will see themselves reflected in Zack and his challenges.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeff Anderson has been sharing writing strategies with teachers and students for over 25 years. Whether presenting at national conferences like NCTE, ASCD, or in classrooms or writing his books for teachers or middle grade readers, Jeff’s passion for writing and grammar inspires teachers and young writers to soar. When he’s not writing with his “revising” dogs at home near downtown San Antonio, Texas, he’s walking, talking, or doing staff development around the US (and sometimes New Zealand).

RESOURCES:

An interview with Jeff Anderson: http://readingyear.blogspot.com/2015/03/an-interview-with-jeff-anderson-about.html

A blog post on the process of writing the book: http://pawlpblog.org/2015/06/03/guest-post-how-i-became-a-middle-grade-author-its-not-a-lone-pursuit-with-jeff-anderson/

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth, visit your local library or bookstore. Also, check out WorldCat.orgIndieBound.orgGoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Cackley_headshotCecilia 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.

Debut Celebration for The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey!

By Zoraida Córdova

I am super excited to have Melissa Grey with us at Latin@s in Kid Lit! I love fantasy, and I especially love when Latinas write fantasy. The Girl at Midnight has already received wonderful praise and starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist! To celebrate tomorrow’s launch of The Girl at Midnight, we are going to get to know the magic behind Melissa.

 

“Grey’s energetic debut offers a strong protagonist…[and the] well-built world, vivid characters, and perfect blend of action and amour should have readers eagerly seeking the sequel.” — Kirkus Reviews, Starred

 

Zoraida: Tell me about The Girl at Midnight and your inspiration for it.

Melissa: In The Girl at Midnight, there’s a magical race of creatures that live beneath the streets of New York called the Avicen. They have feathers for hair and their existence is very much a secret, but they take in a human girl who goes by the name of Echo. Echo has run away from a bad home life and finds a new family in the Avicen, so when they’re threatened by a centuries-old war, she takes it upon herself to find the firebird, a mythical entity prophesied to end the conflict once and for a all.

The book really started with Echo and the firebird. I’m a huge fan of the ballet and the legend behind it, so my research into the folklore involving the firebird gave me a lot to think about when I was developing the plot. Echo was the first character to exist and she kind of predated the story. I came up with her first and eventually found a world for her to inhabit.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

It’s not specifically writing advice, but it can be applied to writing. When I was at art school, one of my professors told me not to be precious with my work. It was the first time I’d ever heard the saying “Kill your darlings” and it really stuck with me. I can be a perfectionist, so not treating my work as something delicate and inviolable was an eye-opening change of strategy. To me, it means not being afraid of scrapping drafts or whole chapters or even characters that aren’t working to the benefit of the work as a whole.

What was the hardest scene in your novel (if it’s not too spoilery)?

The last chapter was a struggle. I’m not a huge fan of cliffhangers, but as a writer, you do want to leave people wanting more, especially if you’re writing a series like I am, so I tried very hard to strike a balance between giving readers closure and enticing them to come back for the sequel.

How does your culture play a part in your fantasy (if at all)?

Well, I’m Puerto Rican and food is a huge part of that culture. I don’t include Spanish food specifically in the book, but Echo’s life pretty much revolves around food. It’s the foundation of a lot of her relationships, which is definitely something I can relate to.

Where would be your dream writing location?

A secluded little cabin in the Scottish Highlands.

Are there any lessons you learned while writing TGaM, and how is that helping you with book 2?

I learned that I have to trust my gut while not giving into my inner perfectionist. I also learned that I didn’t need to take every single criticism I received on the manuscript as gospel because sometimes my writing partners (and even my agent and editor) didn’t agree, so I had to trust my instincts.  

What books are you reading right now?

Right now, I’m reading The Archived by Victoria Schwab (it’s amazing), The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (also amazing), and Get in Trouble by Kelly Link (amazing as well).

What do you wish to see more in YA?

That’s tough because I can only comment on what I’ve read and I don’t want to make it sound like I think YA as a whole (which is a super broad categorization) is lacking, but I will say that I love seeing books like Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap and Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn that deal with the gray areas of morality and are peopled by characters that aren’t necessarily likable but are still deeply compelling.

Who would attend your magical fantasy tea party?

Echo, naturally. And some of her friends from TGaM. If it’s a magical fantasy, I assume I can invite anyone, real or fictional, so I’ll say Hermione Granger (Harry and Ron can come, too), Door from Neverwhere, Kell and Lila from A Darker Shade of Magic (Rhys can come, too), Tana and Gavriel from The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, and Finn, Petey, Roza, and Sean from Bone Gap. Oh, and all of the Raven Boys.

What is your favorite line from your book? (Or a couple of favorite lines. I know it’s hard to choose.)

At one point, Echo is backed into a corner and she basically has to bullshit her way out of it so she says to herself, “When in doubt, bravado.” I feel like that idea has carried me through life pretty well.

 

The Girl at Midnight debuts tomorrowApril 28th, 2015!

ORDER A SIGNED COPY FROM BOOKS OF WONDER

Amazon * B&N * Kobo * IndieBound * Powells

Find Melissa on Goodreads.

 

Praise for THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT:

“Grey’s energetic debut offers a strong protagonist…[and the] well-built world, vivid characters, and perfect blend of action and amour should have readers eagerly seeking the sequel.” — Kirkus Reviews, Starred

“Sparks fly…This first novel will please fans of Cassandra Clare and Game of Thrones watchers with its remarkable world building; richly developed characters…[and] a breathtaking climax that…cannot come soon enough!”—Booklist starred review

“Inventive, gorgeous, and epic—Grey dazzles in her debut.” — Danielle Paige, New York Times bestselling author of Dorothy Must Die

“A stunning debut. Equal parts atmosphere and adventure … positively divine.” – Victoria Schwab, author of A Darker Shade of Magic

 

About THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT:

For readers of Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones and Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and BoneThe Girl at Midnight is the story of a modern girl caught in an ancient war.

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants … and how to take it.

But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Melissa Grey was born and raised in New York City. She wrote her first short story at the age of twelve and hasn’t stopped writing since. After earning a degree in fine arts at Yale University, she traveled the world, then returned to New York City where she currently works as a freelance journalist. To learn more about Melissa, visit melissa-grey.com and follow @meligrey on Twitter.

Book Review: Salsa: Un poema para cocinar / Salsa: A Cooking Poem by Jorge Argueta

 

By Marianne Snow

DESCRIPTION (from Goodreads): In this new cooking poem, Jorge Argueta brings us a fun and easy recipe for a yummy salsa. A young boy and his sister gather the ingredients and grind them up in a molcajete, just like their ancestors used to do, singing and dancing all the while. The children imagine that their ingredients are different parts of an orchestra — the tomatoes are bongos and kettledrums, the onion, a maraca, the cloves of garlic, trumpets, and the cilantro, the conductor. They chop and then grind these ingredients in the molcajete, along with red chili peppers for the “hotness” that is so delicious, finally adding a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of salt. When they are finished, their mother warms tortillas and their father lays out plates, as the whole family, including the cat and dog, dance salsa in mouth-watering anticipation.

Winner of the International Latino Book Award for Guacamole, Jorge Argueta‘s text is complemented by the rich, earthy illustrations of Duncan Tonatiuh, winner of the Pura Belpré Award. His interest in honoring the art of the past in contemporary contexts is evident in these wonderful illustrations, which evoke the pre-Columbian Mixtec codex.

MY TWO CENTS: Here’s another Jorge Argueta picture book that’ll make you hungry! 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. I love how he uses beautiful language to stir the senses, appealing to readers’ taste and smell with scrumptious descriptions of vegetables and herbs; sound by drawing comparisons between ingredients and musical instruments; and touch by weaving together the acts of cooking and dancing.

As a lover of spicy food, I particularly enjoy Argueta’s ode to hot chiles, complete with imagery that clearly evokes the crackly, wrinkled skin and the tingly burn of the peppers. Here’s a little taste:

Hay chiles con cara de abuelo

y chiles con cara de abuela.

Hay chiles rojos

como llamitas.

Al morderlos nos calientan la lengua

como si tuviéramos en la boca una lucecita.

 

There are chilies with faces like a grandfather

and chilies with faces like a grandmother.

There are red chilies

like little flames.

When we bite one our tongue gets hot,

as if we had a tiny light on in our mouth.

 

I really wish I had some salsa right now.

Meanwhile, Duncan Tonatiuh’s signature illustration style, which hearkens back to pre-Columbian Mixtec art, captures readers’ sense of sight and beautifully reminds us of Mexico and Central America’s past while celebrating a contemporary family coming together to prepare a meal. Inviting Tonatiuh to illustrate this book is a perfect choice, since his historically inspired images reflect Argueta’s description of the history of the molcajete, the mortar and pestle crafted from volcanic rock that people have long used to grind vegetables and spices. This connection of the past and present through both words and illustrations makes Salsa an especially delicious dish for me.

(My much loved molcajete.)

TEACHING TIPS: This book is an invitation for several meaningful hands-on learning activities. Students and teachers can write up bilingual recipes for salsa using the ingredients Argueta presents in the poem and then make a tasty, healthy snack to eat and share with others at school. If children have family members or friends who have experience using a molcajete to make salsa, teachers can invite these special guests to demonstrate their techniques – a perfect opportunity to welcome students’ home lives and funds of knowledge into the classroom. Afterwards, everyone can write their own food poems utilizing some of the various literary devices – similes, metaphors, rich imagery, synesthesia – that Argueta employs.

Additionally, Salsa is an excellent springboard for a science lesson about composting and plant growth. When the family in the poem finishes making their salsa, the son takes leftover lime seeds and vegetable peels outside and buries them in a hole in the ground:

Las entierro para que se conviertan en abono,

Children can do the same when they finish their own salsa, making hypotheses about what will happen to the seeds and foods scraps and then observing the changes that occur as weeks pass. Will the vegetable matter decompose and turn into soil? Will new plants emerge from the seeds? You’ll have to try it and see!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from Salsa’s book jacket): Jorge Argueta is an award-winning author of picture books and poetry for young children. He has won the International Latino Book Award, the Américas Book Award, the NAPPA Gold Award, and the Independent Publisher Book Award for Multicultural Fiction for Juveniles. His books have also been named Américas Award Commended Titles, USBBY Outstanding International Books, Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books, and Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices. A native Salvadoran and Pipil Nahua Indian, Jorge spent much of his life in rural El Salvador. He now lives in San Francisco.

LINKS / OTHER INFO: Here are a couple of fascinating videos that teachers can use to supplement the book:


FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Salsa visit your local library or bookstore. Also, check out WorldCat.orgIndieBound.orgGoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

MarianneMarianne Snow is a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, where she researches Latin@ picture books, representations of Latin@ people in nonfiction children’s texts, and library services for Spanish-speaking children and families. Before moving to Georgia, she taught Pre-K and Kindergarten in her home state of Texas and got her master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at Texas A&M University. In her spare time, she enjoys obnoxiously pining for Texas, exploring Georgia, re-learning Spanish, and blogging at Critical Children’s Lit.