Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors: Karla Arenas Valenti

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By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This is an occasional series about middle grade Latinx authors. We decided to shine a spotlight on middle grade writers and their novels because, often, they are “stuck in the middle”–sandwiched between and overlooked for picture books and young adult novels. The middle grades are a crucial time in child development socially, emotionally, and academically. The books that speak to these young readers tend to have lots of heart and great voices that capture all that is awkward and brilliant about that time.

Today, we highlight Karla Arenas Valenti.

Karla Arenas Valenti is an author of picture books and middle grade novels. She loves writing stories that take readers into unexpected places (emotionally and intellectually), pushing them to explore the boundaries of what they know about themselves and the world around them.  She also loves playing with magical realism, bending the worlds of her stories to create intriguing spaces for readers to explore.

Karla is the creator of the “My Super Science Heroes” series (Sourcebooks), an exploration of key historical figures depicting science as it truly is: an epic adventure with super heroes, super evil, and super science powers! Her picture book, Maria Mariposa (Chronicle) is a bilingual story about a girl who receives a gift from her home in Mexico on her first day of school in the U.S.—and how she finds a way to share the magic of that gift with everyone around her.

Karla’s debut middle grade novel, Loteria (Knopf) takes readers deep into the heart of Mexican culture, mythology, and lore in a story about free will and a simple game of chance with and life-and-death stakes. Karla lives in the Chicagoland area with her husband and three kids, two cats, and hundreds of books.

Here is the publisher’s description of Lotería, Karla’s middle grade debut, which just released on Tuesday!

HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY!!

Cover for Lotería

The turn of a card could change your destiny in this captivating middle grade adventure based on the Lotería card game and perfect for fans of Coco. While searching for her missing cousin, a young girl is transported to a mythical kingdom, becoming entangled in a perilous game of chance.

In the hottest hour of the hottest day of the year, a fateful wind blows into Oaxaca City. It whistles down cobbled streets and rustles the jacaranda trees before slipping into the window of an eleven-year-old girl named Clara. Unbeknownst to her, Clara has been marked for la Lotería.

Life and Death deal the Lotería cards but once a year, and the stakes could not be higher. Every card reveals a new twist in Clara’s fate—a scorpion, an arrow, a blood-red rose. If Life wins, Clara will live to a ripe old age. If Death prevails, she’ll flicker out like a candle. 

But Clara knows none of this. All she knows is that her young cousin Esteban has vanished, and she’ll do whatever it takes to save him, traveling to the mythical Kingdom of Las Pozas, where every action has a price, and every choice has consequences. And though it seems her fate is sealed, Clara just might have what it takes to shatter the game and choose a new path.

Karla Arenas Valenti weaves an adventure steeped in magic and mythology—gorgeously illustrated by Dana Sanmar—exploring the notion of free will in a world where fate holds all the cards.

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Karen Arenas Valenti

1. Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

I have always been a writer. In fact, I have been writing stories since I was in kindergarten. That said, I wasn’t able to truly focus on becoming an Author until about ten years ago. I loved writing, and I knew I had “some” talent. However, I still had a lot to learn about the craft of storytelling and kidlit publishing in general. SCBWI was invaluable in this regard, as was connecting with a community of writers (in my case through Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge).

2. Why do you choose to write middle grade novels?

I love writing for middle graders because they are in a wonderful phase of transformation where they are growing into a new self, conscious of how big the world is and how much more meaningful their role can be. This can be at once empowering, but also so terribly intimidating. To put a book in a reader’s hand at this point is to give them a tool of self-discovery that can have a great impact on their lives. I am honored to be a part of that process. I also love writing about middle graders, for they see a world that is at once real but also teeming with magic (magical realism!). This is my tribe.

3. What are some of your favorite middle grade novels?

This is a tough question to answer, so perhaps I can answer a slightly different one – favorite 2020 and 2021 MG novels? In no particular order, I loved WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER (Tae Keller), ECHO MOUNTAIN (Lauren Wolk, and also BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA which I am now reading), WOLF FOR A SPELL (Karah Sutton), MAÑANALAND (Pam Muñoz Ryan), RED, WHITE AND WHOLE (Rajani LaRocca), and THE NIGHT DIARY (Veera Hiranandani).

4. If you could give your middle-grade self some advice, what would it be?

You’re right to feel confused and unmoored. This is a time of transition and growth. It will pass, and you will find a new version of yourself. Which is not to say this isn’t the most important thing happening to you right now! It is. You are in the middle of a momentous event: you are becoming.  

5. Please finish this sentence: Middle grade novels are important because…

Middle grade novels are important because they allow readers to journey through experiences that challenge them to grow and evolve in important ways within the confines of a safe space. That safe space is crucial, because it gives readers the confidence to lose themselves and experiment with the new ideas, feelings, and selves that will shape them.

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photo of Cindy L. Rodriguez by Saryna A. Jones

Cindy L. Rodriguez is a former journalist turned teacher and children’s author. She is a middle school reading specialist in Connecticut, where she lives with her family. Cindy is a U.S.-born Latina of Puerto Rican and Brazilian descent. Her debut contemporary YA novel is When Reason Breaks (Bloomsbury 2015). She also has an essay in Life Inside My Mind (Simon Pulse 2018) and wrote the text for three Jake Maddox books: Volleyball Ace (2020), Drill Team Determination (2021), and Gymnastics Payback (2021). Upcoming books are The Doomed Search for the Lost City of Z (Capstone, 2022), and Three Pockets Full: A story of love, family, and tradition (Cardinal Rule Press, 2022). She can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

September 2021 Latinx Book Releases!

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

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In addition to listing 2021 titles by/for/about Latinx on our master list, we will remind readers of what’s releasing each month. CONGRATULATIONS to these Latinx creators. Let’s celebrate these September book babies! Please let us know in the comments if we are missing any.

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Cover for Battle of the Bands

BATTLE OF THE BANDS, edited by Lauren Gibaldi and Eric Smith (Candlewick, September 7, 2021). YA Anthology. A daughter of rock ’n’ roll royalty has a secret crush. A lonely ticket taker worries about his sister. An almost-famous songwriter nurses old wounds. A stage manager tires of being behind the scenes. A singer-songwriter struggles to untangle her feelings for her best friend and his girlfriend. In this live-out-loud anthology, the disparate protagonists of sixteen stories are thrown together for one unforgettable event: their high school’s battle of the bands. Told in a harmonic blend of first- and third-person narrative voices, roughly chronological short stories offer a kaleidoscopic view of the same transformative night. Featuring an entry from Justin Courtney Pierre, lead vocalist of Motion City Soundtrack, Battle of the Bands isa celebration of youth, music, and meeting the challenges of life head-on.

With stories by Brittany Cavallaro, Preeti Chhibber, Jay Coles, Katie Cotugno, Lauren Gibaldi, Shaun David Hutchinson, Ashley Poston, Jenny Torres Sanchez, Sarah Nicole Smetana, Eric Smith, Jenn Marie Thorne, Sarvenaz Taghavian, Jasmine Warga, Ashley Woodfolk, and Jeff Zentner, and featuring Motion City Soundtrack’s Justin Courtney Pierre.

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Cover for Bright Star

BRIGHT STAR by Yuyi Morales (Neal Porter Books, September 7, 2021). Picture Book.

Child, you are awake
You are alive
You are a bright star,
Inside our hearts.

Told with a combination of powerful, spare language and sumptuous and complex imagery that is typical of Yuyi Morales’s work, this is the story of a fawn making her way through a border landscape teaming with flora and fauna native to the region. A gentle but empowering voice encourages her to face her fears when she comes across an obstacle in the form of an insurmountable barrier. Yuyi Morales’ first book since her New York Times bestseller Dreamers is a book for very young children looking for their place in a world full of uncertainty. It is a book with resonance for all children, especially those whose safety is threatened due to the immigration crisis in the US.

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Cover for Hair Story

HAIR STORY by NoNieqa Ramos, illustrated by Keosha Morris (Carolrhoda Books, September 7, 2021). Picture Book. Preciosa has hair that won’t stay straight, won’t be confined. Rudine’s hair resists rollers, flat irons, and rules.

Together, the girls play hair salon They take inspiration from their moms, their neighbors, their ancestors, and cultural icons. They discover that their hair holds roots of the past and threads of the future.

With rhythmic, rhyming verse and vibrant collage art, author NoNieqa Ramos and illustrator Keisha Morris follow two girls as they discover the stories hair can tell.

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Cover for La tierra de las grullas (Land of the Cranes)

LA TIERRA DE LAS GRULLAS, the Spanish edition of THE LAND OF THE CRANES by Aisa Salazar (Scholastic en español, September 7, 2021). Middle Grade. Betita, de nueve años, sabe que es una grulla. Papi le contó la historia desde antes que su familia emigrara a Los Ángeles buscando refugio de la guerra del narco en México. Los aztecas procedían de un lugar llamado Aztlán, en lo que es hoy el sureste de Estados Unidos, cuyo nombre significa “tierra de las grullas”, y establecieron su gran ciudad en el centro del universo: Tenochtitlán, la actual Ciudad de México. Cuenta una profesía que su gente regresaría un día a vivir entre las grullas en la tierra prometida. Papi le dice a Betita que ellos son grullas que han regresado a su hogar.

Un día, el querido padre de Betita es arrestado por el Servicio de Control de Inmigración y Aduanas y deportado a México. Betita y su mamá ingrávida se quedan solas, pero finalmente son también detenidas y deben aprender a sobrevivir en un campamento de detención de familias en las afueras de Los Ángeles. Incluso en estas condiciones crueles e inhumanas, Betita encuentra amparo en su propia poesía y en la comunidad que ella y su madre encuentran en el campamento. Las voces de sus compañeros en busca de asilo vuelan por encima del odio que los mantiene enjaulados y que amenaza cada día con hacerlos caer más bajo de lo que jamás imaginaron. ¿Podrán Betita y su familia volver a ser una sola?

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LOTERÍA by Karla Arenas Valenti (Knof, September 7, 2021). Middle GradeA perilous game of chance. A journey among myths and monsters. A girl whose fate hangs in the balance…It is the hottest hour of the hottest day in Oaxaca City when Life and Death walk into town, ready to begin a new game of la Lotería. But first, they need a pawn, a child whose fate will be determined by the winner of the game: a long and prosperous life or an untimely death. Fate finds this child in a robin-egg blue house, tucked beneath a massive jacaranda tree. And so, the game begins.

Every card reveals a new twist in Clara’s fate: a tree, a scorpion, a fateful arrow, a mermaid, a deer, a treacherous rose. But Clara knows none of this. All she knows is that her cousin Esteban has vanished, and she’ll do whatever it takes to save him, traveling to the mythical Kingdom of Las Pozas in her search. And although it seems her fate was sealed as soon as the cards were dealt, Clara just might have what it takes to shatter the game and choose a new path.

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MISSING OKALEE by Laura Onjeda Melchor (Shadow Mountain, September 7, 2021)Middle Grade. When compared to her nearly perfect little sister, Phoebe Paz Petersen feels she doesn’t measure up in her parents’ eyes. Okalee is smart and beloved for her sunny disposition, which makes it hard for Phoebe to stand out in their small town in Montana. But if she can get picked for the coveted solo in the school choir, she’ll stop being a middle-school nobody and finally get her chance to shine.

Despite her sister’s annoying perfection, Phoebe actually loves spending time with Okalee. They have one very special, secret tradition: River Day–when they hold hands and make their way across the cold, rushing Grayling River, to celebrate the first hint of spring. This year’s River Day crossing, however, goes horribly wrong, and Phoebe’s world is suddenly turned upside down.

Heartbroken and facing life without Okalee, Phoebe is more determined than ever to sing the solo in the school concert as a way of speaking to her sister one last time. But Phoebe’s so traumatized by what happened, she’s lost her beautiful singing voice.

Kat Waters wants the choir solo for herself and is spreading a terrible rumor about what really happened to Okalee on River Day. If Phoebe tells the truth, she believes her family will never forgive her and she may never get to sing her goodbye to Okalee. Even worse, somebody is leaving Phoebe anonymous notes telling her they saw what really happened at the river.

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PURA’S CUENTOS: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Magaly Morales (Abrams Books for Young Readers, September 7, 2021). Picture Book. Pura’s abuela always has a cuento to share. She crows ¡Qui-qui-ri-quí! for Señor Gallo, booms Borom, Borom for Señor Zapo, and tells of a beautiful cockroach who loves a mouse. Pura clings to these stories like coquíes cling to green leaves.

When Pura grows up and moves from Puerto Rico to Harlem, she gets a job at the library, where she is surrounded by stories—but they’re only in English. Where is Señor Gallo? Where is Pérez the mouse? Where is Puerto Rico on these shelves? She decides to tell children the tales of her homeland in English and in Spanish.

Pura’s Cuentos captures the exuberant spirit and passion of Pura Belpré: celebrated storyteller, author, folklorist, and the first Latina librarian in New York City. A pioneer of bilingual storytimes, she welcomed countless new families to the library, formed cultural bridges in her community, and broke the rules by telling stories that weren’t printed in books—at least, not yet.

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Small Town Monsters by Diana Rodriguez Wallach

SMALL TOWN MONSTERS by Diana Rodriguez Wallach (Underlined, September 7, 2021). Young Adult. Vera Martinez wants nothing more than to escape Roaring Creek and her parents’ reputation as demonologists. Not to mention she’s the family outcast, lacking her parents’ innate abilities, and is terrified of the occult things lurking in their basement.

Maxwell Oliver is supposed to be enjoying the summer before his senior year, spending his days thinking about parties and friends. Instead he’s taking care of his little sister while his mom slowly becomes someone he doesn’t recognize. Soon he suspects that what he thought was grief over his father’s death might be something more…sinister.

When Maxwell and Vera join forces, they come face to face with deeply disturbing true stories of cults, death worship, and the very nature that drives people to evil.

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WHERE I BELONG by Marcia Argueta Mickelson (Carolrhoda Lab, September 7, 2021). Young Adult. In the spring of 2018, Guatemalan American high school senior Milagros “Millie” Vargas knows her life is about to change. She’s lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, ever since her parents sought asylum there when she was a baby. Now a citizen, Millie devotes herself to school and caring for her younger siblings while her mom works as a housekeeper for the wealthy Wheeler family. With college on the horizon, Millie is torn between attending her dream school and staying close to home, where she knows she’s needed. She’s disturbed by what’s happening to asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, but she doesn’t see herself as an activist or a change-maker. She’s just trying to take care of her own family.

Then Mr. Wheeler, a U.S. Senate candidate, mentions Millie’s achievements in a campaign speech about “deserving” immigrants. It doesn’t take long for people to identify Millie’s family and place them at the center of a statewide immigration debate. Faced with journalists, trolls, anonymous threats, and the Wheelers’ good intentions–especially those of Mr. Wheeler’s son, Charlie–Millie must confront the complexity of her past, the uncertainty of her future, and her place in the country that she believed was home.

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Image result for BAREFOOT DREAMS OF PETRA LUNA

BAREFOOT DREAMS OF PETRA LUNA by Alda P. Dobbs, illustrated by John Jay Cabuay (Sourcebooks, September 14, 2021). Middle Grade. It is 1913, and twelve-year-old Petra Luna’s mama has died while the Revolution rages in Mexico. Before her papa is dragged away by soldiers, Petra vows to him that she will care for the family she has left–her abuelita, little sister Amelia, and baby brother Luisito–until they can be reunited. They flee north through the unforgiving desert as their town burns, searching for safe harbor in a world that offers none.

Each night when Petra closes her eyes, she holds her dreams close, especially her long-held desire to learn to read. Abuelita calls these barefoot dreams: “They’re like us barefoot peasants and indios–they’re not meant to go far.” But Petra refuses to listen. Through battlefields and deserts, hunger and fear, Petra will stop at nothing to keep her family safe and lead them to a better life across the U.S. border–a life where her barefoot dreams could finally become reality.

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HELLO, TREE by Ana Crespo, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, September 14, 2021). Picture Book. When a wildfire comes roaring into the forest, all the animals and humans flee. But all the tree can do is wait. Wait until many days and nights pass. Wait until the fire loses the battle. And wait until the forest is still before the forest can be reborn and the animals and the girl can come back.
 
Inspired by the 2013 Black Forest fire and told from the viewpoint of a tree watching its home destroyed, Hello, Tree is about the kinship between humans and nature, and preservation of the environment.

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MIGHTY MILER: Keila Runs America by Keila Merino, illustrated by Ana Aranda (Six Foot Press, September 15, 2021). Picture Book. Feeling shy and uncertain and speaking only a few words of English, Keila finds an unlikely friend in her gym teacher, Mr. Jones. He shouts out instructions to the students as they play kickball and dodgeball, and at first Keila doesn’t understand him and doesn’t know what to do. Finally, he yells out to her, “Just run ” And then Keila starts running . . . and running . . . and running She discovers that she has a natural talent for the sport. Through running, Keila finds inside her a determination that she never knew she had. Learning to run like the wind, Keila bravely adapts to her new life in America and develops a confidence and sense of herself that will stay with her forever.

Mighty Miler is the true story of ultrarunning champion, coach, and New York City schoolteacher Keila Merino. An immigrant from Mexico, she discovered running in the schoolyards of Arizona and has harnessed the sport to hurdle barriers of language, gender, and class. Today she competes around the world and shares a message of optimism, hard work, and kindness that has shaped the lives of her students–many of whom are immigrants–as much as it has her own. Keila’s story shows that by following one’s passion and helping others, one can achieve the American dream.

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CUBA IN MY POCKET by Adriana Cuevas (FSG/Macmillan, September 21, 2021). Middle Grade.

When the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 solidifies Castro’s power in Cuba, twelve-year-old Cumba’s family makes the difficult decision to send him to Florida alone. Faced with the prospect of living in another country by himself, Cumba tries to remember the sound of his father’s clarinet, the smell of his mother’s lavender perfume.

Life in the United States presents a whole new set of challenges. Lost in a sea of English speakers, Cumba has to navigate a new city, a new school, and new freedom all on his own. With each day, Cumba feels more confident in his new surroundings, but he continues to wonder: Will his family ever be whole again? Or will they remain just out of reach, ninety miles across the sea?

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TEEN TITANS: Beast Boy Loves Raven by Kami Garcia, illustrated by Gabriel Picolo (DC Comics, September 28, 2021). Young Adult. It seems like years, but it’s only been a few days since Raven Roth recovered her memories, trapped her demon father, Trigon, into her amulet, and had her heart broken for the first time. But she doesn’t have time to think about the past…she has to focus on finding a way to get rid of Trigon for good.

Garfield Logan still can’t believe he has powers that allow him to change into different animals, but the price of knowing that his parents kept this secret hidden from him just feels too high. And what’s more, his difficulty controlling these abilities could have unexpected consequences.

Both are seeking answers from the one person who seems to have them all figured out: Slade Wilson.

When their paths converge in Nashville, Raven and Gar can’t help but feel a connection, despite the secrets they both try to hide. It will take a great amount of trust and courage to overcome the wounds of their pasts. But can they find acceptance for the darkest part of themselves? Or maybe even love?

Guest Post: Margarita Longoria, editor of Living Beyond Borders: Growing Up Mexican in America

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By Margarita Longoria

I want to thank Latinxs in Kid Lit for giving me an opportunity to talk about my anthology Living Beyond Borders: Growing Up Mexican in America with you!

I am Margarita Longoria, and I am the editor of a YA Anthology called Living Beyond Borders: Mexican in America, a mixed media collection of 20 short stories, poems, essays & more from celebrated and award-winning authors that explores the Mexican American experience.

This collection is very special and important to me, and I am honored and humbled to be able to share it with you all August 17, 2021. The idea of this book was born a few years ago, when my news feed was being bombarded with hate speech about Mexican people. I was upset and wanted to lash back. As a former English teacher, a librarian, and a lover of words, I decided the best way to do this should be with words. I felt beautiful words, hopeful words, and truthful words about our culture would counteract all the hateful words that were coming our way. Afterall, words and books bring people together. I am a firm believer that if you do not understand something, you should read about it. People are often misinformed about many serious issues, and, if given the opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes, even through the pages of a book, you can begin to understand others. Before we judge, before we hate, before we form ideas about something we know nothing about, it is important to be informed. Books give you that power. I wanted to give that power to those who needed a window into our community and a mirror to those to be proud of who they are and where they come from. I reached out to several writers in the Mexican American community who agreed to take this journey with me, and I set my sights on a carefully curated anthology that would represent the culture we love. It is a dream come true and a privilege to give this book to you. I hope you enjoy this work of heart.

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The authors represented in the anthology are: Francisco X. Stork, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, David Bowles, Rubén Degollado, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Diana López, Xavier Garza, Trinidad Gonzales, Alex Temblador, Aida Salazar, Guadalupe Ruiz-Flores, Sylvia Sánchez Garza, Dominic Carrillo, Angela Cervantes, Carolyn Dee Flores, René Saldaña Jr., Justine Narro, Daniel García Ordáz, and Anna Meriano.

Justine Narro

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ABOUT THE EDITOR: Margarita Longoria is a lifelong bookworm, book blogger, and an award-winning high school librarian in South Texas. She is the founder of Border Book Bash: Celebrating Teens and Tweens of the Rio Grande Valley and served on state reading committees for the Texas Library Association. She is the editor of LIVING BEYOND BORDERS: GROWING UP MEXICAN IN AMERICA, a mixed-media collection of short stories, personal essays, poetry, and comics, that is a hopeful love letter from the Mexican American community to today’s young readers. She holds a BA and an MA in English and an MLS in Library Science. She is passionate about diverse books, her two sons, coffee, and Mr. Darcy. She grew up in Edinburg, Texas, and lives with her family in the Rio Grande Valley. You can visit Margie online at margiesmustreads.com and follow her on Instagram at @MargiesMustReads.

Book Talk: The Cot in the Living Room by Hilda Eunice Burgos, illus. by Gaby D’Alessandro

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

Welcome to another Book Talk, which can be found on our new YouTube channel!

Here, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Dora M. Guzmán talk about THE COT IN THE LIVING ROOM by Hilda Eunice Burgos, illustrated by Gaby D’Alessandro.

ABOUT THE BOOK: Night after night, a young girl watches her mami set up a cot in the living room for guests in their Washington Heights apartment, like Raquel (who’s boring) and Edgardo (who gets crumbs everywhere). She resents that they get the entire living room with a view of the George Washington Bridge, while all she gets is a tiny bedroom with a view of her sister (who snores). Until one night when no one comes, and it’s finally her chance! But as it turns out, sleeping on the cot in the living room isn’t all she thought it would be.

With charming text by Hilda Eunice Burgos and whimsical illustrations by Gaby D’Alessandro, The Cot in the Living Room is a celebration of the ways a Dominican American community takes care of one another while showing young readers that sometimes the best way to be a better neighbor is by imagining how it feels to spend a night sleeping on someone else’s pillow.

Click on the link to watch the book talk and then add your comments below to join the conversation. ENJOY!

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Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Dora 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, Language, and Literacy. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never-ending “to read” pile!

Book Review: The Hazards of Love Vol. 1: The Bright World by Stan Stanley

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Review by Katrina Ortega

Cover for The Hazards of Love Vol. 1

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: The Hazards of Love follows the story of a queer teen from Queens who makes some mistakes, gets dragged into a fantastical place, and tries to hustle their way back home.

Amparo’s deal with the talking cat was simple: a drop of blood and Amparo’s name to become a better person. Their mother and abuela would never worry about them again, and they’d finally be worthy of dating straight-A student Iolanthe. But when the cat steals their body, becoming the better person they were promised, Amparo’s spirit is imprisoned in a land of terrifying, flesh-hungry creatures known as Bright World.

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

MY TWO CENTS: Stan Stanley’s The Hazards of Love Vol. 1: The Bright World caught me totally off guard. Based on the cover, I was expecting a cute (and fantastical) love story, but I got so much more than that.

First, the artwork in this graphic novel was extraordinarily captivating. It almost felt startling at first–the colors were so strong and dramatic, and the weight of the lines was so bold. But the style, which, I believe, was intentionally done in a way that strengthened the Latinx feel of the story, quickly grew on me. The artwork also adds an air of mystery to the story itself. 

The Bright World–an alternate and fantastical universe–is brought to life through Stanley’s artwork. It is a complex world clarified through brightly (pun intended) colored illustrations and sharp, heavy black outline. The vividness of the color helps differentiate which world the story is taking place in (which is helpful, as the story line switches between present day Queens, New York, and the Bright World), and highlights the Latinidad of the storyline, reminding me of the brightness that one might see at a feria or fiesta in Mexico. Both the characters and the places in the Bright World could be mistaken for belonging in a Mexican folklore picture book. 

The story, however, is definitely not one for a picture book! The artwork appeals to young adult readers, and the story itself is definitely not one for kids. The characters of this story are well developed (and some of them are downright creepy), the world is intricate with a very detailed history of its own, and the plot is enticing while often being thrilling and suspenseful. 

Amparo, our queer, non-binary main character, is a feisty high schooler when the story begins. Through the betrayal of a mysterious cat, they find their body stolen and are thrust into a mysterious, fantastical world where their life is on the line, with no corporeal body and they’re unsure that they’ll ever find their way back home. Amparo’s experience in the Bright World is terrifying, but shows how cunning and sharp they are as a character, and how dedicated they are to returning to their real world love, Iolanthe, even if that means making a deal with a metaphorical devil and risking any hope they have of survival. All in all, The Hazards of Love Vol 1 was a delightfully fanciful way to begin this series and I’m excitedly awaiting the next volume!

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Stan Stanley

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: (via Simon and Schuster):  Stan Stanley makes comics that are sometimes creepy, sometimes funny, but always queer. She’s been making comics since she was in high school and has continued doing so throughout various science-related careers when she was supposed to be doing science. Instead, she created Friendly Hostility, The Hazards of Love, and her online journal comic, Stananigans. The Hazards of Love is heavily influenced by the ephemera of the Mexico in which Stan grew up, though she now finds herself in NYC among a lovely crew of weirdos. She lives with her spouse, a large cat, and a larger collection of bones.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Katrina Ortega (M.L.I.S.) is the manager of the New York Public Library’s College and Career Pathways program. 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. In her free time, if she’s not reading, Katrina loves to walk around New York, looking for good places to eat.

August 2021 Latinx Book Releases!

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

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In addition to listing 2021 titles by/for/about Latinx on our master list, we will remind readers of what’s releasing each month. CONGRATULATIONS to these Latinx creators. Let’s celebrate these August book babies! Please let us know in the comments if we are missing any.

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DRILL TEAM DETERMINATION: A Jake Maddox JV Girls Story text by Cindy L. Rodriguez (Capstone/Stone Arch Books, August 1, 2021). Middle Grade. Thirteen-year-old Aniyah comes from a long line of drill and step team members. Her mom and aunts all competed, so none of them understand why Aniyah doesn’t want to continue the tradition. But Aniyah doesn’t like attention or performing. Then Aniyah’s friend Stacy convinces her to give the team a try. They dance just for fun and they don’t compete, so there’s no pressure. Aniyah discovers she is right—it is kind of fun! But just when Aniyah is starting to get into the groove, the rules change, and the team decides to enter a competition. Can Aniyah overcome her fears and get on board with competition, or will she have to step away from drill team?

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GYMNASTICS PAYBACK: A Jake Maddox Mysteries Book text by Cindy L. Rodriguez (Capstone/Stone Arch Books, August 1, 2021). Middle Grade. Mia Hernandez’s gymnastics team is nervous about the upcoming season. However, they’re encouraged when their new coach tells them that she was once a gymnast for their longtime rivals. The coach’s knowledge will be a great advantage during the season. But strange things begin to happen at the competitions. The wrong music is played during some girls’ floor exercises. Itching powder ends up in one team’s chalk. At another meet, the parallel bars fall apart while a competitor performs her routine. Someone is taking dangerous risks to cheat at the competitions. But who could it be, and why? Follow along as Mia discovers the shocking truth behind who’s been sabotaging the competition during the gymnastics season in this Jake Maddox JV Mystery.

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A SONG OF FRUTAS/ Un pregón de frutas by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Sara Palacios (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, August 3, 2021). Picture Book. The little girl loves visiting her grandfather in Cuba and singing his special songs to sell all kinds of fruit: mango, limón, naranja, piña, and more! Even when they’re apart, grandfather and granddaughter can share rhymes between their countries like un abrazo—a hug—made of words carried on letters that soar across the distance like songbirds.

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LIKE A LOVE SONG by Gabriela Martins (Underlined, August 3, 2021). Young AdultFake boyfriend. Real heartbreak? Natalie is living her dream: topping the charts and setting records as a Brazilian pop star… until she’s dumped spectacularly on live television. Not only is it humiliating–it could end her career.

Her PR team’s desperate plan? A gorgeous yet oh-so-fake boyfriend. Nati reluctantly agrees, but William is not what she expected. She was hoping for a fierce bad boy–not a soft-hearted British indie film star. While she fights her way back to the top with a sweet and surprisingly swoon-worthy boy on her arm, she starts to fall for William–and realizes that maybe she’s the biggest fake of them all. Can she reclaim her voice and her heart?

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PAOLA SANTIAGO AND THE FOREST OF NIGHTMARES by Tehlor Kay Mejia (Rick Riordan Presents, August 3, 2021). Middle Grade. Six months after Paola Santiago confronted the legendary La Llorona, life is nothing like she’d expected it to be. She is barely speaking to her best friends, Dante and Emma, and what’s worse, her mom has a totally annoying boyfriend. Even with her chupacabra puppy, Bruto, around, Pao can’t escape the feeling that she’s all alone in the world.

Pao has no one to tell that she’s having nightmares again, this time set in a terrifying forest. Even more troubling? At their center is her estranged father, an enigma of a man she barely remembers. And when Dante’s abuela falls mysteriously ill, it seems that the dad Pao never knew just might be the key to healing the eccentric old woman.

Pao’s search for her father will send her far from home, where she will encounter new monsters and ghosts, a devastating betrayal, and finally, the forest of her nightmares. Will the truths her father has been hiding save the people Pao loves, or destroy them?

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WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE GREEN? by Rana DiOrio, illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda (Little Pickle Press, August 3, 2021). Picture Book. A young boy and girl explore all the different ways they can be green over the course of a day. Drawing on two sides of your paper instead of just one. Walking to the park instead of getting a ride. Turning off the water while you brush your teeth. They discover lots of amazing facts (like how our food travels an average of 1,500 miles to be on our plate ) and realize there’s so much they–and we–can do to help save our world

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Yamile Saied Méndez - Wish Upon a Stray

WISH UPON A STRAY by Yamile Saied Méndez (Scholastic, August 3, 2021). Middle Grade. María Emilia’s life turns upside-down when she and her family immigrate from Argentina to the US. How can she make new friends when simply speaking English all day is exhausting?

Luckily, she has the company of a stray dog in the neighborhood, who happens to look and act just like her beloved pet cat back home. Eventually, it turns out the pup isn’t a stray after all — she belongs to María Emilia’s new neighbor, Donovan. In order to spend more time with the dog (who totally isn’t her reincarnated cat… right?), she agrees to sing in Donovan’s band. But can Emilia find her new voice without losing herself?

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ALEJANDRIA FIGHTS BACK! / ¡LA LUCHA DE ALEJANDRIA! by Leticia Hernandez-Linares, illustrated by Robert Liu-Trujillo for the Rise-Home Project (Feminist Press, August 10, 2021). Picture Book. For nine-year-old Alejandria, home isn’t just the apartment she shares with Mami and her abuela, Tita, but rather the whole neighborhood. Home is the bakery where Ms. Beatrice makes yummy picos; the sidewalk where Ms. Alicia sells flowers with her little dog, Duende; and the corner store with friendly Mr. Amir.

But lately the city has been changing, and rent prices are going up. Many people in el barrio are leaving because they can no longer afford their homes, and For Sale signs are popping up everywhere. Then the worst thing happens: Mami receives a letter saying they’ll have to move out too.

Alejandria knows it isn’t fair, but she’s not about to give up and leave. Join Alejandria as she brings her community together to fight and save their neighborhood.

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Boogie Boogie, Y'all - Kindle edition by Esperanza, C. G., Esperanza, C.  G.. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

BOOGIE BOOGIE, Y’ALL written and illustrated by C.G. Esperanza (Katherine Tegan Books, August 10, 2021). Picture Book. A celebratory ode to graffiti and the Boogie Down Bronx. The city is alive with vibrant art in every corner of the parks, the shops, the trains. But most people are too busy to see it—or worse, choose to ignore it! When three children stop to marvel at the art around their community, they realize it’s up to them to show everyone else how truly special it is when art and reality dance together so seamlessly.

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HOW MOON FUENTEZ FELL IN LOVE WITH THE UNIVERSE by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, August 10, 2021). Young Adult. When her twin sister reaches social media stardom, Moon Fuentez accepts her fate as the ugly, unwanted sister hidden in the background, destined to be nothing more than her sister’s camerawoman. But this summer, Moon also takes a job as the “merch girl” on a tour bus full of beautiful influencers and her fate begins to shift in the best way possible.

Most notable is her bunkmate and new nemesis, Santiago Phillips, who is grumpy, combative, and also the hottest guy Moon has ever seen.

Moon is certain she hates Santiago and that he hates her back. But as chance and destiny (and maybe, probably, close proximity) bring the two of them in each other’s perpetual paths, Moon starts to wonder if that’s really true. She even starts to question her destiny as the unnoticed, unloved wallflower she always thought she was.

Could this summer change Moon’s life as she knows it?

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13th STREET #6: Fight with the Freeze-Ray Fowls by David Bowles, illustrated by Shane Clester (HarperChapters, August 17, 2021). Chapter Book. Cousins Malia, Dante, and Ivan must face off against the evil queen of 13th Street. But she has lots of monsters on her side, including birds that can freeze you with a look! Can the cousins defeat her and shut down 13th Street once and for all?

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BIG APPLE DIARIES written and illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez (Roaring Brook Press, August 17, 2021). Middle Grade. It’s the year 2000 in New York City. For 12-year old Alyssa, this means splitting time between her Puerto Rican dad’s apartment in Manhattan and her white mom’s new place in Queens, navigating the trials and tribulations of middle school, and an epic crush on a new classmate. The only way to make sense of it all is to capture the highs and lows in doodles and hilarious comics in a diary.

Then life abruptly changes on September 11, 2001. After the Twin Towers fall and so many lives are lost, worries about gossip and boys feel distant and insignificant. Alyssa must find a new sense of self and purpose amidst all of the chaos, and find the strength to move forward with hope.

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Cover for Child of the Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua

CHILD OF THE FLOWER-SONG PEOPLE: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua by Gloria Amescua, illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams Books for Young Readers, August 17, 2021). Picture Book. As a young Nahua girl in Mexico during the early 1900s, Luz learned how to grind corn in a metate, to twist yarn with her toes, and to weave on a loom. By the fire at night, she listened to stories of her community’s joys, suffering, and survival, and wove them into her heart.

But when the Mexican Revolution came to her village, Luz and her family were forced to flee and start a new life. In Mexico City, Luz became a model for painters, sculptors, and photographers such as Diego Rivera, Jean Charlot, and Tina Modotti. These artists were interested in showing the true face of Mexico and not a European version. Through her work, Luz found a way to preserve her people’s culture by sharing her native language, stories, and traditions. Soon, scholars came to learn from her.

The book includes an author’s note, timeline, glossary, and bibliography.

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DEFINITELY DOMINGUITA: All for One by Terry Castasús, illustrated by Fatima Anaya (Aladdin, August 17, 2021). Chapter Book. Dom, Pancho, Steph, and their noble steed, Rocco, are ready for their next adventure! When their beloved El Señor Fuentes asks Dom to run a very important errand—to put the order in at the local butcher shop for his daughter, Leni’s, upcoming quinceañera—Dom is happy to help. But when Señor Fuentes discovers the order was never put in—and the food for the party has been sold to someone else—Dom takes a cue from The Three Musketeers to try and figure out what happened.

With the help of Pancho and Steph, Dom discovers the dastardly Bublassi brothers have big plans to sabotage Leni’s party. Keeping in mind the famous motto All for One and One for All, Mundytown’s own Three Musketeers are determined to make sure Leni has a party she’ll remember for all the right reasons!

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LIVING BEYOND BORDERS: Growing up Mexican in America edited by Margarita Longoria (Philomel Books, August 17, 2021). Young Adult Anthology. Twenty stand-alone short stories, essays, poems, and more from celebrated and award-winning authors make up this YA anthology that explores the Mexican American experience. With works by Francisco X. Stork, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, David Bowles, Rubén Degollado, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Diana López, Xavier Garza, Trinidad Gonzales, Alex Temblador, Aida Salazar, Lupe Ruiz-Flores, Sylvia Sanchez Garza, Dominic Carrillo, Angela Cervantes, Carolyn Dee Flores, René Saldaña Jr., Justine Narro, Daniel García Ordaz, and Anna Meriano. In this mixed-media collection of short stories, personal essays, poetry, and comics, this celebrated group of authors share the borders they have crossed, the struggles they have pushed through, and the two cultures they continue to navigate as Mexican American.

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MY TWO BORDER TOWNS / MIS DOS PUEBLOS FRONTERIZOS by David Bowles, illustrated by Erika Meza (Kokila, August 24, 2021). Picture Book. Early one Saturday morning, a boy prepares for a trip to the Other Side/el Otro Lado. It’s close—just down the street from his school—and it’s a twin of where he lives. To get there, his father drives their truck along the Rio Grande and over a bridge, where they’re greeted by a giant statue of an eagle. Their outings always include a meal at their favorite restaurant, a visit with Tío Mateo at his jewelry store, a cold treat from the paletero, and a pharmacy pickup. On their final and most important stop, they check in with friends seeking asylum and drop off much-needed supplies.

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BRAINS! NOT JUST A ZOMBIE SNACK by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Matthew Rivera (Henry Holt and Co. BYR, August 31, 2021). Picture Book. Brains. 78% water, 100% delicious. A zombie chef who has sworn off eating brains salivates over this super powerful organ in this funny and fact-filled picture book. From learning about how the brain processes messages from our five senses, to learning why wrinkly human brains are so much more powerful than smooth mouse brains, this is a hilarious introduction to the organ that does it all.

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