Book Review: The Victoria In My Head by Janelle Milanes

 

Review by Katrina Ortega

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK (from Simon & Schuster): A shy, rule-following teen winds up joining a local rock band in this laugh-out-loud, heartfelt coming-of-age novel.

Victoria Cruz inhabits two worlds: In one, she is a rock star, thrashing the stage with her husky voice and purple-streaked hair. In the other, currently serving as her reality, Victoria is a shy teenager with overprotective Cuban parents, who sleepwalks through her life at the prestigious Evanston Academy. Unable to overcome the whole paralyzing-stage-fright thing, Victoria settles for living inside her fantasies, where nothing can go wrong and everything is set to her expertly crafted music playlists.

But after a chance encounter with an unattainably gorgeous boy named Strand, whose band seeks a lead singer, Victoria is tempted to turn her fevered daydreams into reality. To do that, she must confront her insecurities and break away from the treadmill that is her life. Suddenly, Victoria is faced with the choice of staying on the path she’s always known and straying off-course to find love, adventure, and danger.

From debut author Janelle Milanes comes a hilarious and heartfelt tale of the spectacular things that can happen when you go after what you really want.

MY TWO CENTS: I’m not a voracious reader of romance novels for any age group. This book, however, completely caught me off guard. I won’t say that the book wasn’t predictable. It was, but it would have been disappointing if it had not been predictable.

Without giving too many details away, Victoria Cruz is growing up in a world where all outcomes are designed to please what she thinks others are expecting of her. The Victoria in her head wants so much to be her own person, but she has a hard time dealing with what she thinks her parents reactions will be. Her Cuban parents gave up everything in Cuba and have worked so hard in the United States to give Victoria and her brother the life that is often unavailable in countries like Cuba. Victoria, like so many children of immigrant parents, feels like telling them that she doesn’t want to become a doctor and graduate from Harvard will disappoint them in a way she’s not ready to accept. When she finally takes the plunge and starts rebelling in small ways (which she does with help from her best friend, Annie), Victoria finally starts feeling like herself. In doing this, of course, she lies to her parents, hiding her real self once she begins acting more like the “Victoria in her head.”

Here’s where the predictability sets in. Does Victoria get in over her head with the lies she’s telling to others? Yes. Does she inevitably have to face some truths that she’s been trying to hide from herself? Maybe. Does everything turn out well in the end? Quite possibly, but I don’t want to give any spoilers!

But as I mentioned, that’s not a disadvantage in this case! The version of herself that she tries to hide is a person who is passionate, easy-going, and even incredibly funny. In one passage, Victoria complains about a part of her female anatomy in a way that is “lmao” funny, but in a way that most anyone, regardless of gender, can empathize with. Herein lies Victoria’s real value. She’s a very likable character who makes questionable decisions (just like any of us), is afraid of disappointing her parents, sometimes is a little self-centered, but not maliciously. Readers will want her to succeed, to make the person she is in her head a reality.

Because of her Cuban background, the reader gets a taste of the Latinidad that she identifies with (large family gatherings, celebrating Noche Buena with her abuelita who never lets an opportunity to comment on Victoria’s vegetarianism pass, learning choreographed salsa dances because you’re in your cousin’s quince court). The thing that Milanes does particularly well is she makes Victoria more than just a Cuban-American. While her parents are a little obsessed with her being an exemplary child (for legitimate reasons, of course), Victoria is not defined just by her Cuban identity or her Latina ethnicity. Instead, those things are small parts of the compilation that is a more real representation of identity: where she comes from is important, but so is what she likes and dislikes, who she meshes well with, what her dreams are. The way that Milanes creates a “whole package” character in Victoria is what shines brightest in this book.

TEACHING TIPS: One important lesson to be learned from reading The Victoria In My Head is that it’s important to be true to yourself. Throughout the book, Victoria tries to deny the things that she wants out of life to either please those around her or be the model person that she thinks others want to see. The reader can see her grapple with her identity throughout, and can hopefully associate with her struggle and learn that compromising one’s identity to please the world often leads to catastrophe.

greeceABOUT THE AUTHOR (from Author’s Website): Janelle Milanes is originally from Miami, FL and received her BA in English Literature from Davidson College. A lifelong YA addict, she moved to New York for her first job as a children’s literature associate at Simon & Schuster. For the past five years, Janelle has worked as a teacher and librarian throughout the New York City area. Her first novel reflects many of her own experiences growing up as a second-generation Latina in America. Janelle currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their two cats. Her favorite Disney princess is Belle, since she was also a big book nerd.

 

 

FullSizeRenderABOUT THE REVIEWER: Katrina Ortega (M.L.I.S.) is the Young Adult Librarian at the Hamilton Grange Branch of the New York Public Library. Originally from El Paso, Texas, she has lived in New York City for six years. She is a strong advocate of continuing education (in all of its forms) and is very interested in learning new ways that public libraries can provide higher education to all. She is also very interested in working with non-traditional communities in the library, particularly incarcerated and homeless populations. While pursuing her own higher education, she received two Bachelors of Arts degrees (in English and in History), a Masters of Arts in English, and a Masters of Library and Information Sciences. Katrina loves reading most anything, but particularly loves literary fiction, YA novels, and any type of graphic novel or comic. She’s also an Anglophile when it comes to film and TV, and is a sucker for British period pieces. In her free time, if she’s not reading, Katrina loves to walk around New York, looking for good places to eat.

Book Review: Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

 

Review by Araceli Méndez Hintermeister

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Moss Jeffries is many things—considerate student, devoted son, loyal friend and affectionate boyfriend, enthusiastic nerd.

But sometimes Moss still wishes he could be someone else—someone without panic attacks, someone whose father was still alive, someone who hadn’t become a rallying point for a community because of one horrible night.

Six years ago, Moss Jefferies’ father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media’s vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks.

Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals by their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. Despite their youth, the students decide to organize and push back against the administration.

When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.

MY TWO CENTS: As a teenager, all you do is dream of being someone else, but for Moss, it is less about escaping his world and more about escaping himself. Since the loss of his father six years ago due to police negligence, Moss’s life is thrust into a state of disarray that is constantly afflicted by anxiety and self-doubt. Injustice is rampant in his community, and the death of his father is a marker of a world meant to dismantle communities that are different, whether it be in race, gender, sexuality, or other. Moss knows he should fight, but the pain is still real and it immobilizes him. While others want him to fight, rally, and march, Moss first wants to find peace so that freedom from his anger can finally bring about progress.

Through Moss, we learn that all the feelings he experiences are in fact his tools for survival. His mother teaches him that where he sees anger due to injustice, he can also find power, freedom, and strength that can lead to progress. Oshiro brilliantly gives us a challenging and truthful world that will foster profound discussion on a topic we shouldn’t be shying away from. I also admire that Anger is a Gift highlights how oppression targets so many due to their identities and shows us that we cannot ourselves rise while leaving others behind.

TEACHING TIPS: Police violence is a difficult topic to make sense of, let alone explain to others. With honesty, Anger is a Gift allows us to realize that the confusion and array of feelings that come with experiencing sensless violence in our communities are justified. Through Moss, we are allowed to experience how one individual utilizes those feelings to bring action rather than inmobilize him. Anger is a Gift can be used in conjunction to other books that explore police violence, but I encourage you to supplement your readings with news clips and articles that report on police violence. Encourage your students to identify the differences and potential biases in these reports.

RECOMMENDED READING: 

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles
  • All American Boys by  Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely

 

Oshiro_Mark.jpgABOUT THE AUTHORMark Oshiro is the Hugo-nominated writer of the online Mark Does Stuff universe (Mark Reads and Mark Watches), where he analyzes book and TV series. He was the nonfiction editor of Queers Destroy Science Fiction! and the co-editor of Speculative Fiction 2015, and is the President of the Con or Bust Board of Directors. When not writing/recording reviews or editing, Oshiro engages in social activism online and offline. Anger is a Gift is his debut YA contemporary fiction novel.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Araceli Méndez Hintermeister is a librarian and archivist with a background in public, academic, and culinary libraries. She has an M.A. in history and MLIS from Simmons College, where she focused her studies on the role of libraries and archives in the cultural preservation of the U.S.-Mexican border. Additionally, she holds a BA in ethnic studies from Brown University. Her research is greatly influenced by her hometown of Laredo, TX, which has led her to work in serving immigrants and underrepresented communities. Her current work is bringing new and diverse literature to the T in Boston through Books on the T. You can find Araceli on Instagram.

 

Book Review: Love, Sugar, Magic: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano

 

Review by Cecilia Cackley

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Leonora Logroño’s family owns the most beloved bakery in Rose Hill, Texas, spending their days conjuring delicious cookies and cakes for any occasion. And no occasion is more important than the annual Dia de los Muertos festival.

Leo hopes that this might be the year that she gets to help prepare for the big celebration—but, once again, she is told she’s too young. Sneaking out of school and down to the bakery, she discovers that her mother, aunt, and four older sisters have in fact been keeping a big secret: they’re brujas—witches of Mexican ancestry—who pour a little bit of sweet magic into everything that they bake.

Leo knows that she has magical ability as well and is more determined than ever to join the family business—even if she can’t let her mama and hermanas know about it yet.

And when her best friend, Caroline, has a problem that needs solving, Leo has the perfect opportunity to try out her craft. It’s just one little spell, after all…what could possibly go wrong?

MY TWO CENTS: While we’ve had a strong list of Latinx YA fantasy and magical realism books building for some time, most middle grade books by Latinx authors tend to fall into the genres of realistic fiction or historical fiction. So I was absolutely delighted to read this series opener by Anna Meriano which gives a traditional literary fantasy arc a Latinx, and specifically Mexican-American, voice. Meriano riffs on so many tropes here, including the family with a secret, the youngest child who is desperate to be included, and the sorcerer’s (here, bruja’s) apprentice whose attempts at magic go awry.

One of my favorite things about this book is how the author creates a protagonist who doesn’t speak Spanish (her abuela, who looked after her older sisters and taught them Spanish, died when she was little) and uses it as an obstacle that drives the plot. Magic spells are written in Spanish, so it makes sense that Leo struggles with following them—but also that she perseveres and sees them as her birthright. Not all Latinx kids in the US speak Spanish, for a variety of reasons, and I loved seeing that incorporated into the narrative.

The family relationships in this book are just outstanding. Each sister is individual, and the conflicts between them feel real and lived. I would read an entire book about Marisol and her journey. Meriano doesn’t take the easy way out by having the parents absent or conveniently clueless for most of the narrative, instead making Leo sneak around, constantly worried that her magical efforts will be found out. Of course she is wrong, and the consequences are my favorite part of the book. Leo has to work to fix her mistakes. There is no waving a wand or finding the right words or having a mentor pick up the pieces. She has help, (some of it from an…interesting…source) but she has to do the heavy lifting and figure out the steps to reverse the effects of her spells. Magic systems are tricky to write, and I appreciate that Meriano has created a world with clear rules and expectations, even if they can be bent or broken occasionally.

I would go so far as to say this book is a textbook example of a story that includes specific cultural details, holidays, and language without having them be the focus of the book. So much pop culture centered around Latinx characters uses the Day of the Dead celebrations as an entry and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it gets old after awhile. I loved how Meriano uses the Day of the Dead festival as a set piece, (it’s nice to see how the Logroño family aren’t outsiders in their town), but the book itself isn’t about Day of the Dead. Being a bruja has nothing to do with Day of the Dead. Being Mexican-American is about more than Day of the Dead, a fact that some in the media have yet to grasp.

My favorite line in this book is what Mamá tells Leo when she asks what it means to be a witch.

“A witch can be anyone. A bruja is us. And what does it mean to be a bruja? That’s like asking what it means to be a Texan, or a girl, or curly haired. It doesn’t mean anything by itself. It’s part of you. Then you decide what it means.”

I’m so thrilled that young kids, just hitting middle school, struggling with their identity, will have Leo and her family to make them laugh and guide them to a better understanding of who they are who they want to be in the world.

TEACHING TIPS: There is so much to unpack here for a literature circle or book group at a school. Leo makes lots of choices, which have consequences for many different people, so students can have a field day debating what she should or shouldn’t have done at many different points in the story. Spanish classes, start translating some of those spells! Students could test some of the recipes in the back of the book and bring in their efforts to share with classmates (there is even a gluten-free option). The fantasy elements of the book provide a means for students to write personal narratives imagining themselves into that world: what magical power would you like to have? What are the pros and cons of Isabel’s power versus Alma and Belén’s?

Image result for anna merianoABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anna Meriano grew up in Houston with an older brother and a younger brother, but (tragically) no sisters. She graduated from Rice University with a degree in English and earned her MFA in creative writing with an emphasis on writing for children from the New School in New York. She has taught creative writing and high school English and works as a writing tutor. Anna likes reading, knitting, playing full-contact quidditch, and singing along to songs in English, Spanish, and ASL. Anna still lives in Houston with her dog, Cisco. Her favorite baked goods are the kind that don’t fly away before you eat them.

RESOURCES: 

Interview with us about being a middle grade author: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/01/05/spotlight-on-middle-grade-authors-part-3-anna-meriano/

Interview on BNKids blog: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/kids/baking-brujas-interview-anna-meriano-love-sugar-magic-dash-trouble/

Excerpt on EW: http://ew.com/books/2017/06/29/love-sugar-magic-dash-of-trouble-excerpt/

Pitch America interview: https://pitchamerica.wordpress.com/2017/07/10/interview-with-anna-meriano-author-of-love-sugar-magic/

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Cecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington DC where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.

Q&A and Cover Reveal with Author-Illustrator Tony Piedra

 

By Cecilia Cackley

Today, we’re thrilled to introduce you to Tony Piedra, a former film animator who worked on several awesome Pixar movies, including the Oscar-winning Coco! Tony will have his debut picture book released by Arthur A. Levine Books later this year. Before we get to the Q&A, here’s some background information on the author-illustrator:

tony piedraFrom his website: In a previous chapter of my life, I was a Sets Technical Director at Pixar Animation Studios. For nine years, I collaborated with some of the most talented artists and storytellers in the world to help realize the environments in films, such as, UpCars 2The Good DinosaurInside Out, and Coco, as well as several of Pixar’s short films, including The Blue Umbrella. Now, I am taking the skills and experiences from my time working in the film industry and putting them to use as an author and illustrator of children’s books. My debut picture book, The Greatest Adventure, will be released Fall 2018 through Arthur A. Levine Books an Imprint of Scholastic Inc.

Now, here’s a brief description of The Greatest Adventure:  Eliot imagines sailing wild rivers and discovering giant beasts, right there on his block. But he wishes his adventures were real. Eliot’s grandpa, El Capitán, once steered his own ship through dangerous seas, to far-off lands. But he can’t do that anymore. Can Eliot and El Capitán discover a real adventure… together? Come find out All aboard The Greatest Adventure.

Now….here is the beautiful cover of the book, which releases September 11, 2018.

 

 

GREATEST ADVENTURE Cover

ALSO, CLICK ON THE LINK TO GET A GLIMPSE OF THE INSIDE ART: Greatest Adventure

 

Q. What picture books do you remember from when you were growing up? Are there any stories or artists that were especially meaningful or inspirational for you?

A. In a bright red building I affectionately remember as the “Red Library,” I discovered a book called Album of Sharks, illustrated by Rod Ruth and written by Tom McGowen. This book left such a vivid impression on my mind due to Ruth’s striking full page illustrations, that over 20 years later, when I tried to locate a copy of the book with absolutely no information other than my childhood memories, I was able to do so because I remembered each and every one of Ruth’s illustrations so clearly. I find it funny how at such young age we are intrinsically drawn to certain subjects, and for whatever reason I was then, and still am, drawn to sharks. I love the danger, mystery, and wonder they conjure in my mind, and Ruth’s illustrations captured this in a way that no photo has ever been able to do.  Later I learned that Rod Ruth and Tom McGowen paired up on over a half dozen “Album of” books, each beautifully illustrated, and I imagine, entertainingly written—I wasn’t such a good reader back in those early days.  As an homage to Album of Sharks and more specifically as a small, but deeply felt thank you to Rod Ruth, I inserted a token of admiration for one of Ruth’s most memorable paintings in my debut picture book, The Greatest Adventure.

 

Q. What are your favorite art materials to work with? How much (if any) of your process is digital?

A. Just give me a pencil and some white computer paper, and I will be distracted working for hours. These have been my default materials since the beginning. I dabble with gouache, acrylics, and oils, but they are not my natural mediums. If I need to do some thinking or planning there’s nothing better than pencil and paper. I followed that same practice on The Greatest Adventure. Throughout the planning and dummy stage of this book I solved compositions and decided on scene staging with these simple materials and time. All the heavy lifting happens at this humble stage. When I’m finally satisfied with a composition and ready to do a final illustration, I scan in the sketches and begin the meticulous process of painting them digitally in Photoshop.  My final paintings are 95% digital with subtle touches of texture scanned in from traditional media.

Q. You’ve come to picture books from animation (congratulations on Coco’s many wins!). How is the artistic process for the two kinds of storytelling similar or different? Are there any secrets about Coco (or Pixar in general) you can share with us?

A. Thank you for the congratulations. Coco represents the final year and a half of my career at Pixar, and I’m very proud of the film, and the work I helped bring to the screen, namely the cemetery in Miguel’s hometown of Santa Cecilia.

Fundamentally, the process of creating a picture book and an animated film are very similar in that both mediums require a team of individuals to bring to life a story and world that had never existed before. Where they differ most strikingly is in the number of individuals per team and their level of specialization. Picture book-making, though clearly a team effort, does not require an army of individuals at the creative stage. Much of the work is realized by the author and illustrator in collaboration with the editor, designer and production team. And so, in general terms, the publishing team is smaller and the skillset of each individual on that team fairly broad when compared to the specialization required in producing a computer-generated film. A typical Pixar film employs 250-300 highly-specialized people to collaborate on a singular vision. Just to give you an idea of how specialized the work on these films is, there are specialists known as “groomers,” whose sole responsibility is to create hair, and trust me this is a full-time job, especially, when you’re trying something as innovative as the wild, red locks of Merida in Pixar’s Brave, or you’re styling the hair for an entire town as was required in Coco. Imagine the equivalent in the picture book world, an illustrator who only draws hair!

My area of expertise is called Set Dressing. It is not too different from interior decoration. Think of how interior decorators bring rooms and homes to life with their choices of color and arrangement of decor. There is, however, one key difference: the set dresser’s goal in arranging objects on a film is to reveal aspects of the characters through their environment, which requires a great deal of story specificity. Think of a college dorm room versus the bedroom of someone who is obsessively organized. How would these rooms be arranged differently? What would each room say about its owner’s character? The answers to these questions are provided by set dressing. My work on Coco required the careful arrangement of flowers, candles, and foods on the graves which made up the cemetery in the film. These ofrendas were arranged to show the love and respect family members paid to their deceased relatives on Día de los Muertos. It took me nearly a year and a half to set dress the entire cemetery, and this is but one part of the process required to bring to screen one scene in the film.

Q. What are some books you’re looking forward to from Latinx creators? These can be picture books or chapter books.

I have admired the work of Julia Sardá for many years. Her work is primarily known in Europe, but I think that she is one of the most talented children’s book illustrators out there today. Somebody please bring her to the American children’s book market! I’m also excited to see what comes next from Lorena Alvarez, a Colombian children’s book author and illustrator, whose exciting work I came across last year with the release of Night Lights published by Flying Eye Books.  I also just discovered JOAN PROCTOR, DRAGON DOCTOR: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles written by Patricia Valdez and illustrated by Felicita Sala. The book was recently released and it speaks to me both through Felicita’s beautiful illustrations and the subject’s love of lizards, which I can completely relate to. I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

Q. What do you want your next great adventure to be? Is there anywhere you want to travel to or wonders you’d like to see?

At the beginning of last year, I wondered the same thing: what would be my next adventure? I had just left Pixar to pursue a full-time career in children’s books, and one of my goals outside of finishing up my first book was to find ways to travel the world as an independent artist. For the longest time, I had admired how my best friend’s sister had managed to see so much of Europe and South America with the help of playwright grants. So naturally, I figured somebody for some reason must need an author/illustrator to go to the rainforest! I then stumbled upon an artist-in-residence program called Voices of the Wilderness.  This residency sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service brings artists of all sorts to remote areas of Alaskan wilderness to witness their beauty and share the importance of conserving these wild corners with the American public. I applied for the residency and a few months later found myself standing in the rain on Admiralty Island, a 1,500 square mile rock covered in a swath of temperate rainforest and home to the greatest concentration of coastal brown bears in the world. This was not the adventure I had envisioned; it was grander. And this island and one bear in particular on it have become the centerpiece of my next story for children. Where next?  Who knows!

 

 

Cecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington, DC, where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.

Book Review: Alma and How She Got Her Name/ Alma y come obtuvo su nombre, by Juana Martinez Neal

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming to a shelf near you on April 10, 2018!

Reviewed by Dora M. Guzmán

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION: If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! How did such a small person wind up with such a large name? Alma turns to Daddy for an answer and learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; and other namesakes, too. As she hears the story of her name, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell. In her author-illustrator debut, Juana Martinez-Neal opens a treasure box of discovery for children who may be curious about their own origin stories or names.

MY TWO CENTS: What is in a name? A name is a gift given to you at birth and you carry it through all your stages of life. Parents and guardians spend months deciding on their baby’s name, sometimes even long before a baby is in the picture. But what if your name doesn’t fit on your paper because of its length?

In a world where we tend to question our differences, this story does quite the opposite. Growing up in the United States, one tends to have a single first name, maybe a middle name, and just one last name. However, this differs in certain other countries, including in Latin American, where it is not out of the ordinary to have more than one name.

Meet Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela, the main character of this story. Yes, her name is long. However, wondering about the length is what leads Alma on the journey to discover the story behind her name. Throughout the book, we learn the rich history and origins of each of Alma’s names. Many of her names were inspired by her ancestors and their humble traits and contributions to the world. The people behind her names influence Alma’s passions and character, even as she embraces each person and the love they gave her as a baby. She quickly learns that those same traits are present in her everyday life, and she rightfully claims that name through her affirmation of “I am____”. Alma soon learns that with claiming her name comes a lot of love and culture. She will now be able to contribute those gifts to the world. As Alma declares, “I am Alma, and I have a story to tell.”

This story wonderfully illustrates how to embrace YOU and the name you carry throughout life. In this story, Juana demonstrates that our name is a spotlight on not only our ancestors and the imprints they left on our lives, but also a forever part of us and what we can give to this world.

This picture book illuminates an essential connection to ancestors. Inspired by her own name, Juana reminds readers that our names are not just our own, but a reflection of our culture as well.

I am always amazed at Juana’s illustrations, especially in this picture book. The beauty of the main character connecting to her past is captured in colors and soft shades that will delight the reader’s eye. Juana also brings attention to each name through the addition of colorful accents and font styles. In page after page, the illustrations offer a collective reflection of everything that Alma’s ancestors represent, forming a visual reminder that who we are is a collection of everyone who came before us.

TEACHING TIPS: Teachers of all grade levels can use this picture book to illustrate our Latinx identity. This book is a perfect addition to an identity unit, where readers can delve into their own names and family trees. Teachers can also use this book as a reading mentor text around the main character’s learning process, as well as understanding the author’s message. The Spanish version is authentic to the Spanish language and perfect for bilingual/dual language classroom settings. Alma and How She Got Her Name/Alma y como obtuvo su nombre is a definite must add to all libraries in classrooms and homes!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR: Juana Martinez Neal is an award-winning illustrator and artist. Her passion for art started as a child and led her to study at one of the best schools in fine arts in Peru. Her journey as an illustrator led her to the United States, where she continues to illustrate a variety of children’s books. For updates on her art, follow her on Instagram @juanamartinezn. Juana’s official website can be found at http://juanamartinezneal.com/

 

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches college courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is currently a doctoral student with a major in Reading and Language. 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!

Q&A With Illustrator Jacqueline Alcántara about her debut picture book, The Field

 

By Cecilia Cackley

Jacqueline Alcántara was featured in a previous round-up of Latina illustrators here on Latinxs in Kid Lit, and we got more information about her when we found out she was also the inaugural recipient of a mentorship from the We Need Diverse Books organization. Now, we’re catching up wit Alcántara since her first picture book, The Field, written by Baptiste Paul, was released last week by NorthSouth Books. Here is the official description of the book, which received a starred review from Kirkus, and the cover:

A soccer story–for boy and girls alike–just in time for the World Cup.

Vini Come The field calls, ” cries a girl as she and her younger brother rouse their community–family, friends, and the local fruit vendor–for a pickup soccer (fútbol) game. Boys and girls, young and old, players and spectators come running–bearing balls, shoes, goals, and a love of the sport.

“Friends versus friends” teams are formed, the field is cleared of cows, and the game begins. But will a tropical rainstorm threaten their plans?

The world’s most popular and inclusive sport has found its spirited, poetic, and authentic voice in Baptiste Paul’s debut picture book–highlighting the joys of the game along with its universal themes: teamwork, leadership, diversity, and acceptance. Creole words (as spoken in St. Lucia, the author’s birthplace island in the Caribbean) add to the story and are a strong reminder of the sport’s world fame. Bright and brilliant illustrations by debut children’s book illustrator Jacqueline Alcántara –winner of the We Need Diverse Books Illustration Mentorship Award–capture the grit and glory of the game and the beauty of the island setting where this particular field was inspired.

Soccer fan or not, the call of The Field is irresistible.

TheField_Cover_JacquelineAlcantara.jpg

Congratulations on your first picture book! Can you tell us a little bit about the media you used to create the illustrations? Is it one technique or were you mixing several different ones? 

Thank you so much! It’s quite exciting to finally be able to celebrate this book and years of hard work! And thank you very much for supporting me and The Field!

These illustrations are a combination of pencil, marker, gouache and Photoshop. Every day ,I understand more and more what it is I love about each medium – so instead of trying to make one “say it all,” I work mixed-media so I get the beautiful line-work of pencil, the speed and consistency of markers, the flat opaque color and beautiful texture of gouache, and the limitless possibilities of working in Photoshop! I also scan my work at multiple points along the way which allows me to push the illustration without fear of taking it too far into ruin.

There is so much amazing movement in this book. How did you decide when to use panels and when to use full page spreads? What was your research process like for the figures and movements of the players? 

I really love illustrating people and movement. I think that was a big reason I was so attracted to the project in the first place! To begin, I watched movies, fútbol games, documentaries, looked through photographs etc – and drew hundreds of figure sketches of kids and adults playing soccer, really trying to find the most dynamic and natural poses. It was so interesting to see how people’s styles, circumstances, settings, and techniques all changed country to country. The thing that didn’t change, was the look on people’s faces after the game – the looks of joy, friendship, exhaustion.

After I created my cast of characters, I went back through all my figure sketching and decided which movements or styles of kicking, running, and playing felt right for each character. Who was the confident player? Who was the more shy and awkward player, etc?

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Carlitos_Kicking

I felt the beginning of the book was a series of static moments. Connected, but individual moments that focused on the players. I felt this would be best portrayed in panels so we could focus on each moment. As the story progresses, we see ‘The Field’ itself becoming the main character. The Field unites the players, creates friendships, teaches lessons, makes memories! So it felt right to fall back and show the field in its entirety – making the place, the people, and the action more united.

The men’s World Cup is coming up soon. Are you a fútbol fan? If you are, which team will you be cheering for? 

I am! While I don’t love watching sports on TV, I LOVE  watching world events like the Olympics and the World Cup. My favorite team is Barça, so for the World Cup I’ll be rooting for Spain!

 

photo credit @eyeshotchaABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR (from her website): Jacqueline Alcántara is a freelance illustrator and spends her days drawing, painting, writing and walking her dog. She is fueled by electronic and jazz music, carbs and coffee. Jacqueline studied Art Education and taught high school art and photography before transitioning to illustration.

In combination with freelance illustration, Jacqueline has a wide range of work experience in other art and design related positions. She managed an art gallery and framing studio in Chicago, worked in the set decoration department on NBC’s “Chicago Fire”, and was the Member Relations Manager at Soho House Chicago where she cultivated a community of Chicago creatives in fashion, advertising, fine art and more. She has a never ending interest in learning new skills and taking on new challenges.

Her experience working with children has led her to focusing on children’s literature and specifically in pursuit of projects featuring a diverse main character. She won the 2016 “We Need Diverse Books Campaign” Mentorship Award and is excited to be working to promote inclusiveness and diversity in children’s literature and the illustration field.