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.


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?

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.

Book Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo


Review by Mark Oshiro

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about.

With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

MY TWO CENTS: I had a difficult childhood. I was queer and Latinx and stuck in a home with parents who did not understand either identity and certainly not the intersection of them. (I was adopted.) It meant that I felt that I existed in constant friction with them. That friction manifested in a deep, existential desire in me: I wanted acceptance. I wanted to live.

I found that same desire within the pages of The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo’s masterful and gut-wrenching debut. Told in verse, I devoured this book in one sitting, only taking a break to wipe at the tears that welled in my eyes. Acevedo has crafted a living, breathing world in Xiomara, and you can tell that from the very first page. Her unique voice, coupled with an engaging story about acceptance, rebellion, and identity in this Dominican-American teen, makes The Poet X a powerful read.

There’s nothing here I could nitpick, even if I tried. The pacing is brilliant, and my heart was racing as I approached the climax. Acevedo’s prose, which is informed by her years of work in slam poetry, is vivid, lyrical, captivating. There were countless sentences or lines that knocked me flat on my ass, and you’re certain to find one of your own. But it’s the characterization that gripped me the most. I related so intensely to Xiomara’s desire to live beyond the prescriptions of her mother’s religion that at times, I felt that Acevedo had reached deep down into a well within me, extracting the pain, terror, and—ultimately—vindication I experienced when I clashed with my own parents about my sexuality, my body, and my need to be my own person. The supporting cast is well-rounded and memorable (particularly Xiomara’s twin brother, Xavier, since I am also a twin), and they each affect the story in meaningful ways.

This is an astounding accomplishment, and I’m so thrilled that Dominican-Americans (and those who identify as Afro-Latinx) have a book that so brilliantly represents them. For fans of Jason Reynolds, Sandra Cisneros (particularly The House on Mango Street), and Liara Tamani’s Calling My Name.

TEACHING TIPS: Another reason I admired The Poet X is because Acevedo so seamlessly addresses weighty topics with ease and care, and the book never feels like it’s teaching you a lesson. The novel addresses issues such as sizeism, street harassment, homophobia, misogyny, sexual shame, and abuse, particularly when that abuse is paired with religion. Because the book is composed in verse that work like vignettes, it will be easy to assign essays or discussions based on specific poems. Acevedo’s language is modern and youthful, so I expect teens will connect with it quicker than most other works.

WHERE TO GET IT: The Poet X released on Tuesday. To find it, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

                        Photo: Bethany Thomas

Photo: Bethany Thomas

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): Elizabeth Acevedo was born and raised in New York City and her poetry is infused with Dominican bolero and her beloved city’s tough grit.

She holds a BA in Performing Arts from The George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. With over twelve years of performance experience, Acevedo has been a featured performer on BET and Mun2, as well as delivered several TED Talks. She has graced stages nationally and internationally including renowned venues such as The Lincoln Center, Madison Square Garden, the Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts, and South Africa’s State Theatre, The Bozar in Brussels, and the National Library of Kosovo; she is also well known for  poetry videos, which have gone viral and been picked up by PBS, Latina Magazine, Cosmopolitan, and Upworthy.

Acevedo is a National Slam Champion, Beltway Grand Slam Champion, and the 2016 Women of the World Poetry Slam representative for Washington, D.C, where she lives and works.

Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Puerto Del Sol, Callaloo, Poet Lore, The Notre Dame Review, and others. Acevedo is a Cave Canem Fellow, Cantomundo Fellow, and participant of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop. She is the author of the chapbook, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016)  and the forthcoming novel, The Poet X (HarperCollins, 2018).



Oshiro_Mark.jpgABOUT THE REVIEWER: Mark Oshiro is the Hugo-nominated writer of the online Mark Does Stuff universe (Mark Reads and Mark Watches), where he analyzes book and television series unspoiled. He was the nonfiction editor of Queers Destroy Science Fiction! and the co-editor of Speculative Fiction 2015. He is the President of the Con or Bust Board of Directors and is usually busy trying to fulfill his lifelong goal to pet every dog in the world. His YA Contemporary debut, Anger is a Gift, is out May 22, 2018 with Tor Teen.


Cover Reveal for Bookjoy Wordjoy by Pat Mora and illus. by Raul Colón


We are so excited to host a cover reveal for Lee & Low’s upcoming spring title from two of the biggest names in the Latinx children’s book community: Pat Mora and Raul Colón. Their new book, called Bookjoy, Wordjoy is the third collaboration between these two award-winning book creators. First, let’s take a quick look at their two previous collaborations. Click on the cover images for more information:

Dona Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart   


Now, here’s some information about their new book, which releases May 15, 2018:

Whether we are collecting words, reading favorite books in the library, celebrating holidays, writing poems, sharing secrets, or singing a jazzy duet, words and books can take us on wonderful adventures and bring us joy. Poet Pat Mora has brought together a collection of her poems that celebrates engaging with words and books in all these ways and more. Vivid illustrations by Raul Colón bring the poems to life and interpret the magic of the language with captivating images in a style influenced by Mexican muralists. Together the poems and illustrations are sure to inspire creative wordplay in readers of all ages.

We can read, you and I,
see letters become words,
and words become books . . .
You and I read, round and round,
bookjoy around the world.

Before we reveal the cover, the wonderful crew at Lee & Low have provided us with some insight on how Raul Colón created his illustrations. ARTISTS: This is for you! Insight from one of the greatest Latinx illustrators!

Raul Colón worked with watercolors on paper and Prismacolor pencils to complete these illustrations. He started the visuals with a light yellow watercolor wash on white paper. When it dries, he pencils in the full drawing, then continues with a watercolor that’s usually applied in sepias and golden brown tones. The next step is to etch a few lines onto the paper in the proper areas. Finally, the “real” and final colors are rendered with multiple layers of color pencils.


Now for the cover reveal!

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Building suspense….almost there!










 And here’s a bonus inside illustration:

spread 30-31

Bookjoy, Wordjoy releases May 15, 2018 (Lee & Low). You can pre-order it at IndieboundAmazon, and Barnes & Noble, among other places.


Pat MoraABOUT THE AUTHOR (From her website): 2018 promises to be a happy poetry year for Pat. Lee and Low Books is publishing her fourth poetry collection for young readers, Bookjoy, Wordjoy, illustrated by the talented Raúl Colón. The University of Arizona Press will publish her seventh adult poetry collection, Encantado: Desert Monologues. Pat’s other poetry collections for children are This Big SkyConfetti, and Yum! ¡MmMm! ¡Qué Rico! Pat also wrote two collections for young adults, Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems about Love written in the voices of teens, and My Own True Name.

Pat has published more than thirty-five award-winning children’s books. Her recent books include The Remembering Day, El Día de los Muertos and Water Rolls, Water Rises/El agua rueda, el agua sube. Among her other children’s books, many available in Spanish or bilingual editions, are Doña Flor: A Tall Tale about a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart and Tomás and the Library Lady.

She has published three books of adult nonfiction Zing! Seven Creativity Practices for Educators and Students, a writing memoir and innovation guide; House of Houses, a family memoir; and Nepantla: Essays from the Land in the Middle. Her adult poetry inclues six collections.

Pat’s honors include the Lon Tinkle Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Texas Institute of Letters, the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, and she delivered the May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture. She’s a lifetime member of the United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY), an honorary member of the American Library Association, received National Leadership (Kellogg Foundation) and Poetry Fellowships (NEA), and honorary doctorates from North Carolina State University and SUNY Buffalo.

With her daughter, Libby Martinez, Pat wrote I Pledge Allegiance and Bravo, Chico Canta! Bravo! A literacy advocate excited about sharing what she calls “bookjoy,” in 1996, she founded Children’s Day, Book Day, in Spanish, El día de los niños, El día de los libros, “Día.” Pat and her partners including the American Library Association and First Book nationally promote this year-long initiative of creatively linking all children and families to books and establishing annual April Children’s Day, Book Day celebrations. Pat’s Book Fiesta captures this bookjoy spirit. April 30, 2018 is the 22nd anniversary of this initiative.

Born in El Paso to a loving, bilingual family, Pat lives in Santa Fe. She’s grateful for her three children, her enthusiastic four-year-old granddaughter, her husband, anthropology professor Vern Scarborough, and her readers. A former teacher, university administrator, museum director, and consultant, Pat is a popular speaker about creativity, inclusivity and bookjoy. She is always working on new books.


Image result for raul colon illustrator biographyABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR (From The National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature website): Colón was born in New York City in December of 1952 and moved with his parents in the 1960s to Caguas, Puerto Rico, where he studied commercial art. In 1978 Colón made Florida his home, working at an educational television center designing everything from puppets to short animated films. In 1988 the artist settled with his family in New City, New York and began a freelance career. Today, Colón continues to be a versatile and acclaimed illustrator whose work has appeared in important national publications.

An award-winning illustrator of over thirty books for children, Colón was chosen to illustrate Dr. Jill Biden’s Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops as well as Frank McCourt’s bestselling Angela and the Baby Jesus, both from Paula Wiseman Books. The industry has recognized Colón with a Golden Kite Award, two Pura Belpré Award, a gold and silver medal from the Society of Illustrators, included twice in the NY Public Library’s 100 titles for Reading and Sharing; and been a two-time recipient of The Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Award.

Colón uses very unique techniques in his artwork to create texture and rich, deep colors. The illustrations are done on watercolor paper and combine watercolor washes, etching, and the use of colored pencils and litho pencils. Colón himself explained his technique for the illustrations in Angel and the Baby Jesus. “I began with textured watercolor paper. I added a wash of golden undertone watercolor. On top of that I drew the image – sketched it – and then added the middle tones. There are about 5 to 8 washes on top of each other. I then used colored pencils to make the texture of the paper come out. I also use a scratchboard instrument appropriately called a “scratcher” to draw down through the layers.”

Colón currently resides in New City, NY with his family.

Guest Post by Author NoNieqa Ramos: Voice Lessons


By NoNieqa Ramos

I’ll never forget the sweltering summer in NY, when my soul mate and I dined with a friend and editor from a NYC publishing house, partially because we spent 300 dollars on appetizers. I mean for 20 bucks we could have had arroz con habichuelas y maduros and a friggin bistec, you know?

But we had all gotten into the friend zone–where you want to be when your friend happens to be a Big Wig–and I was loving being back in Manhattan, where I used to bus to the Port Authority and cab it to the Village to get various body parts pierced.

The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary was a Work-in-Progress. I met said editor at an SCBWI pitch conference and she had told me, “I was the reason she came to these conferences.” That even though the plot of my manuscript was “crazy town”– I was writing about a Korean boy named Yin Coward who shot his nemesis and true love and ended up hiding in the walls of his Catholic school–my “voice” was “OMG.”

Yin Coward later got rejected by a hotshot agent who said “Alas, it had too much voice,” and was eventually put to bed in a C drive. Ultimately, years later, when my agent Emily Keyes sent the completed The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary to my friend and editor at the aforementioned publishing house, she declined, saying “It was too beautiful.” Now I sit with reviews from Kirkus calling my voice “hard to process” but “inimitable” and “unique.” I’m speaking at the ALAN Conference at NCTE to discuss The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary on the Panel: “Giving Voices to Difficult Experiences.” BookList says my writing is “exceptional” and “I’m a voice to watch.”

It fascinates me that Kirkus called the syntax of DDG a “stylistic choice.” What’s of great fascination to me, is as a Nuyorican from the Bronx, it wasn’t until my thirties that I found my own voice, my own place at the table, so to speak. I’ve spent my life, like my protagonist Macy Cashmere, being defined by other people.

In the Bronx, I was 100 Puerto Rican. Let me ‘splain. With my people, it was a source of pride and defiance. In my family, my elders had started in the barrio and worked their way from poverty to being lab techs, social workers, principals, and vice-presidents in the ‘burbs.

In my reality, I learned, there were hidden definitions. So there was this Italian boy I had a crush on. He used to give me extra cannolis with my orders. I’m thirteen. One day I’m walking home and he’s standing on the corner.

He’s saying things like come over here and talk to me. I smiled, but kept walking, not knowing, really, what to do with my skinny-ass self. Then the cursing started. I was a Puerto Rican slut. (Whaaat?) etc. etc. This was one of many delightful experiences with race. I learned boobs weren’t the only thing to enter a room first. My brownness did, too.

Back to that editor and friend. There was wine and three-hundred-dollar lobster rolls. Did I want an actual entree? Well, having a need for food, shelter, and insurance–I had a Catholic teacher’s budget at the time–made that a hard NO.

Anyway, there was witty repartee to fill me up. Have I mentioned, I’m that English teacher that delights in witty repartee, the use of active voice, and sentence diagramming? Then I did it. I code switched. Can’t remember exactly what ungrammatical thing I said. But I do remember being corrected by this friend, this editor, this white lady in public like I was a child.

About the English teacher thing. Command of the English language has empowered me (and my family) throughout life to get awards, attention, scholarships, employment, respect, and lots of comments like “What are you?” (Puerto Rican and literate, that’s what I am bee–)

Losing the Spanish language has done the same, and is one of the biggest tragedies in my cultural life. My protagonist Macy Cashmere’s ungrammatical language is not a “stylistic choice.” It is an outright rebellion. Nod if you feel me. As Macy would say, “Just because you monolingual motherfoes can’t speak my language ain’t my problem. I mean, you could read Faulkner, but you can’t get me because I say ‘a’ instead of ‘an’?”

The thing is, we need diverse voices that speak grammatically correct. We need diverse voices that crush stereotypes like cockroaches under chancletas. We writers love to write from the perspective of the diamonds-in-the-rough who also happen to be literary geniuses. Well, guess what?

Macy’s there, too. If you’re not going to make room at the table for her, she’s bound to do something about it. Maybe sit right on your lap. Maybe toss the table. You find her story hard to read? Intense? Remember the Macys of the world are living that story. She’s been silenced all her life. She doesn’t look right. She doesn’t act right. But she’s stronger than you. If the whole damn world ended, she’d still be standing because her world has ended a thousand times. But what, you want to filter her? Don’t get me wrong, I gave Macy Miss Black. I want Macy to make it. I  want to get her counselors and tutors and have her rescued by librarians.

But Macy doesn’t exist for me or for you. The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary is BY Macy and FOR Macy. As Kirkus said, Macy is “aggressive, angry, and intimidating.” And, hello, that’s because she doesn’t get the luxury of magic powers or magic foster parents. One of my foster kids left me to be adopted by her aunt. Years later, I found her back on a foster kids website–now having been abused by her mom and rejected by the only sane relative she had—hoping desperately for someone to be her “forever family” at the age of thirteen. The age kids almost NEVER get adopted. This book is for that kid. Take a listen.

CLICK HERE for our review of The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary.


NoNieqa Ramos spent her childhood in the Bronx, where she started her own publishing company and sold books for twenty-five cents until the nuns shut her down. With the support of her single father and her tias, she earned dual master’s degrees in creative writing and education at the University of Notre Dame. As a teacher, she has dedicated herself to bringing gifted-and-talented education to minority students and expanding access to literature, music, and theater for all children. A frequent foster parent, NoNieqa lives in Ashburn, Virginia, with her family. She can be found on Twitter at @NoNiLRamos.


Book Review: Pitch Dark by Courtney Alameda


Review by Mark Oshiro

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Set against a future of marauding space scavengers and deadly aliens who kill with sound, here is a frightening, fast-paced YA adventure from the author of the acclaimed horror novel, Shutter.

Tuck has been in stasis on the USS John Muir, a ship that houses Earth’s most valued artifacts—its natural resources. Parks and mountains are preserved in space.

Laura belongs to a shipraiding family, who are funded by a group used to getting what they want. And they want what’s on the Muir.

Tuck and Laura didn’t bargain on working together, or battling mutant aliens who use sound to kill. But their plan is the only hope for their crews, their families, and themselves.

In space, nobody can hear you scream . . . but on the John Muir, the screams are the last thing you’ll hear.

MY TWO CENTS: I read Shutter years ago and was blown away by the seemingly effortless nature of Courtney Alameda’s genre-bending craft. She managed to craft a world that made an unquestionable amount of sense, and it combined disparate elements you don’t often see in the same story. Pitch Dark is no exception. Somehow, Alameda has been able to borrow the visceral, gory, and heart-stopping brilliance of a film like Alien and mix it with the adventure of Tomb Raider or Uncharted. Oh, and there’s also a generation ship. (Sort of.) And horrific monsters. And burgeoning love. And commentary on subjugation, imperialism, and racism.


Pitch Dark wastes no time, and while there’s a bit of a steep learning curve at the beginning—the book has alternating first-person narratives that don’t seem connected at all—the worldbuilding pays off just past thirty pages into the book. We are introduced to the shipraiding universe of Laura Cruz, who is exuberant about her love for what her family does. (It’s a neat twist on the trope of kids hating the family business.) She thrives when she gets to dig deep into the history of humanity… which is a big deal within Pitch Dark, set over four hundred years in the future. Humanity is haphazardly spread about the galaxy after a terrorist attack forced them to abandon Earth, so the Cruz family mission is an integral part of the story.

Then there’s Tuck, the nerdy, reference-happy member of the John Muir, one of the ships that left Earth nearly four hundred years prior. He awakes from stasis to find out he’s been unconscious far longer than he was supposed to be. Even worse, something contaminated the stasis machines, and his fellow humans have…well, let’s just say they’ve evolved since then.

Of the two, I preferred Laura’s narration more than Tuck’s, though Tuck grew on me over time. In Laura Cruz, Alameda has crafted a memorable and awe-inspiring character, one I hope is the focus of other books in the future. (Pitch Dark is a standalone, but this could easily be a multi-book series.) Laura’s Spanglish is comforting to read, since I grew up with it in Southern California, and the Cruz family is an eternal delight. If you’re looking for a book with a loving Latinx family, look no further than Pitch Dark.

And if you want an addictive, insightful page-turner, get Pitch Dark for that reason, too. This book is downright horrifying, and when you learn what the Muir crew became, it becomes a significant source of tension and terror within the novel. The two storylines intersect (literally so!) in a shocking way, and seeing each character deal with the world of the other character’s ship is satisfying and exciting. It helps that Alameda manages to imbue all of this with an inventive social commentary about the nature of imperialism and control, most of which appears in Laura’s POV. Who controls a story? What version gets told? And how do you resist a narrative that purports to make you a villain to everyone else?

Above all: I had a blast reading this book, which I devoured in just two sittings. I’ve been itching for more YA horror, and Alameda absolutely delivers. The pacing is incredibly quick, the dialogue is snappy and contains an in-universe context for all the pop culture references, and there are a few sequences in here that made me want to crawl under the covers and never come out. Bravo, Courtney Alameda.

TEACHING TIPS: I imagine that most teachers might shy away from a horror novel, and admittedly, Pitch Dark is very, very violent and gory. But the visceral story is part of the extended metaphor for the environment of current day politics. Alameda crafts a subplot between Laura Cruz and the Smithson family that touches on issues of consent, sexual assault, and colonialism, particularly since the Smithson family is horrifically desperate to do whatever they can to center anthropology on themselves and their own power. There’s a lot of potential for discussion in the interactions between the Cruz family and Tuck, which touch on racism, stereotypes, and white savior tropes.

Courtney Author Photos2013_117.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: A veteran bookseller and librarian, Courtney Alameda now spends her days writing thriller and horror novels. Her debut novel, Shutter, was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award and hailed as a “standout in the genre” by School Library Journal. Her forthcoming novels include the science fiction/horror mashup, Pitch Dark (Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends 2018), and Seven Deadly Shadows, an urban fantasy set in Japan. (Co-authored with Valynne Maetani. HarperTeen 2018). Courtney holds a degree in English literature with an emphasis in creative writing. She is represented by John M. Cusick of Folio Literary. A northern California native, she now resides in Utah with her husband, a legion of books, and a tiny five-pound cat with a giant personality. Member HWA, SFWA, SCBWI; and SDCC Creative Professional.

WHERE TO GET IT: Pitch Dark releases February 20! To find it, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.


Oshiro_Mark.jpgABOUT THE REVIEWER: Mark Oshiro is the Hugo-nominated writer of the online Mark Does Stuff universe (Mark Reads and Mark Watches), where he analyzes book and television series unspoiled. He was the nonfiction editor of Queers Destroy Science Fiction! and the co-editor of Speculative Fiction 2015. He is the President of the Con or Bust Board of Directors and is usually busy trying to fulfill his lifelong goal to pet every dog in the world. His YA Contemporary debut, Anger is a Gift, is out May 22, 2018 with Tor Teen.


Book Review: The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos


Review by Mark Oshiro

The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Macy’s school officially classifies her as “disturbed,” but Macy isn’t interested in how others define her. She’s got more pressing problems: her mom can’t move off the couch, her dad’s in prison, her brother’s been kidnapped by Child Protective Services, and now her best friend isn’t speaking to her. Writing in a dictionary format, Macy explains the world in her own terms—complete with gritty characters and outrageous endeavors. With an honesty that’s both hilarious and fearsome, slowly Macy reveals why she acts out, why she can’t tell her incarcerated father that her mom’s cheating on him, and why her best friend needs protection . . . the kind of protection that involves Macy’s machete.

MY TWO CENTS: The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary is unlike any YA I’ve read in 2017. A raw, unflinching, and surprisingly hilarious book, it’s organized as a series of definitions, like a dictionary, but with vignettes instead of sentence-long explanations. This is an ambitious book with a concept that is effortlessly pulled off, and it has one of the most compelling and authentic voices I’ve come across in a long time. The entire book is presented as the writings of Macy Cashmere MYOFB in real time, and I never once questioned it; that’s just how good this story is. Macy is self-aware of her challenging predicaments—a mother who seems to care more about the men who visit her than her own daughter, a brother stuck in another family’s home due to a CPS intervention, a father in prison—but the book is vibrant in discussing such weighty issues. As dark as this book gets at times (I flat-out bawled the final thirty pages or so), Nonieqa Ramos never lets this book fall into despair. No, Macy is unbelievably alive, and the energy conveyed through Ramos’s immersive writing is one of many things that makes this a compelling, electrifying read. There’s a chapter here where Ramos manages to reference a machete, Fabuloso, and Agüeybaná in the span of a few pages, and not once does it come across inauthentic.

There’s no mistaking how vulgar and gritty the text feels at times, but it’s all part of the convincing, believable world that Ramos builds. These people feel so real, so completely fleshed out that you begin to ache for them before you’re halfway through The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary. And the bulk of that sympathy lands on Macy. While Ramos doesn’t shy away from portraying the full experience of a young girl with ADHD, compulsive behavior, and who has been deemed “emotionally disturbed,” I can only imagine the sheer power this must give to people like Macy who have never seen themselves in a book, let alone as the protagonist. Simply put, this book feels larger-than-life, the kind of endeavor you’d expect from someone who had been publishing novels for years. Somehow, this is Ramos’s debut, which makes me eager to see what they’ve got up their sleeves.

For now, though, this is a book that is easy to devour, but will haunt you long after you finish it. It is unique, shocking, and heartbreaking; it is also the kind of novel I want kids everywhere to read. It is certain to be one of my top recommended novels for 2018.

TEACHING TIPS: There are a number of issues that Ramos speaks on through Macy that are ripe for a moderated class discussion: drug use, sex work, mental illness (and the stigmas that come with having a mental illness), foster care, misogyny, and racism. The book is populated with a diverse cast—many of these people are not common in YA in general!—and the language/slang is modern and convincing, so I expect students will find themselves captivated by Macy’s unique voice. Because of the way that the book is broken up, it will be easy to assign writing prompts or topics based solely on one of the definitions. I would recommend discussions about “CLANG,” “DOLPHIN,” “FEED,” and “GOOD-BYE.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: NoNieqa Ramos spent her childhood in the Bronx, where she started her own publishing company and sold books for twenty-five cents until the nuns shut her down. With the support of her single father and her tias, she earned dual master’s degrees in creative writing and education at the University of Notre Dame. As a teacher, she has dedicated herself to bringing gifted-and-talented education to minority students and expanding access to literature, music, and theater for all children. A frequent foster parent, NoNieqa lives in Ashburn, Virginia, with her family.

WHERE TO GET IT: The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary releases a week from today! To find it, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.


Oshiro_Mark.jpgABOUT THE REVIEWER: Mark Oshiro is the Hugo-nominated writer of the online Mark Does Stuff universe (Mark Reads and Mark Watches), where he analyzes book and television series unspoiled. He was the nonfiction editor of Queers Destroy Science Fiction! and the co-editor of Speculative Fiction 2015. He is the President of the Con or Bust Board of Directors and is usually busy trying to fulfill his lifelong goal to pet every dog in the world. His YA Contemporary debut, Anger is a Gift, is out May 22, 2018 with Tor Teen.