Book Review: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

22295304By Cecilia Cackley

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

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle

By Sujei Lugo

drum dream girl coverDESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Girls cannot be drummers. Long ago on an island filled with music and rhythm, no one questioned that rule — until the drum dream girl. She longed to play tall congas and small bongós and silvery, moon-bright timbales. She had to practice in secret. But when at last her music was heard, everyone sang and danced and decided that boys and girls should be free to drum and dream.

Inspired by a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers, Drum Dream Girl tells an inspiring true story for dreamers everywhere.

MY TWO CENTS: Inspired by the childhood of Chinese Afro Cuban drummer Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, Margarita Engle and Rafael López enchantingly encapsulate through poetic text and dreamy illustrations a girl’s dreams and her desires to play music. By focusing on our girl’s “dreaming” period and the stage when she finally achieves her dream as a child, the author and illustrator furnish a landscape where children should be free to dream, and one they can relate to and which allows them to see themselves as dreamers.

Through the first line of Engle’s poem, “On an island of music, in a city of drumbeats, the drum dream girl dreamed,” we meet our Caribbean dream girl, who dreams about congas, bongós, and moon-bright timbales on a island where everyone believes only boys should play drums. This excluding notion and the exposure to such blatant sexism at such a young age do not prevent our girl from dreaming. She plays her own imaginary music, walks around tapping her feet and plays contagious drum rhythms on tables and chairs. When her big sisters invite her to join their new all-girl dance band, the drum dream girl is excited, but her father reminds her that “only boys should play drums.” She keeps drumming and dreaming, until her father realizes that her talent deserves to be heard. With a compelling illustration of her father “pulling” her drumming and dreaming daughter from the sky to the ground, she perseveres and lands back on her island of music, making her dream a reality.

The text is really descriptive, filled with poetic repetition and acknowledgements of the natural landscape of the island. Rafael López’s trademark of colorful and vibrant illustrations enhances the musical and dreamy experience of our character, providing images where you feel you are listening to the music and the beats. Through two-page layout canvases rich with smiling moons, suns, and birds, huge instruments, and our drum dream girl with closed eyes, he captures the spirit, the breeze, and the rhythm of our little drummer. López also successfully portrays the essence of Cuban city life and its racial and ethnic demographics.

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Drum Dream Girl is the story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a mixed race Cuban girl, who defied gender roles in the 1930’s music scene. The girl and her story show the importance of family, teacher, and music-education support to expose and develop our children’s musical talents. The all-girl dance band she joined was Anacaona, an orchestra founded by Cuchito Castro and her sisters. This forgotten and overshadowed group challenged the male-dominated Cuban music scene and an environment where women were seen as incapable of playing music. For more information about this group, look for the book Anacaona: The Amazing Adventures of Cuba’s First All-Girl Dance Band, written by Alicia Castro, Ingrid Kummels and Manfred Schäfer, or watch this preview of the documentary Anacaona: The Amazing Story of Cuba’s Forgotten Girl Band.

TEACHING TIPS: The picture book will work great as a read-aloud and a rich addition to music-themed library programs, where children could also make their own drums. With older children, teachers can incorporate poetry writing, drawing, and visualizing music as poetry. The text, illustrations, and content make this book perfect to be adapted as a musical play.

Other classroom activities can include historical exploration of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga’s life, Cuban music, and other female musicians. Margarita Engle includes a publisher’s discussion guide on her website.

AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR:

Margarita Engle is a Cuban-American author, botanist, and professor who enjoys collaborating with her husband in volunteer work for wilderness search and rescue dog training programs. Engle is the winner of numerous awards for her children’s and young adult books, including the Newbery Honor for The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom (2008), becoming the first Latina to win that children’s literature award. In addition to her work as a writer, she also contributes to various periodicals such as Atlanta Review, Bilingual Review, California Quarterly, Caribbean Writer, Hawai’i Pacific Review, and Nimrod. Margarita Engle is a member of PEN USA West, Amnesty International, Freedom House of Human Rights and Freedom to Write Committee.

Some of her titles are: The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano (2006), Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba (2009), The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba (2010), Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck (2011), The Wild Book (2012), The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist (2013), Mountain Dog (2013), Silver People: Voices From the Panama Canal (2014), Orangutanka: A Story in Poems (2015), The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist (2015), and Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings (2015).

Rafael López is a Mexican award-winning illustrator and artist, whose work is influenced by his cultural heritage, colors of Mexican street life, and Mexican surrealism. In addition to children’s books, López has illustrated posters, United States Postal Service stamps such as the Latin Music Legends series, and he has launched street art projects to revitalize urban neighborhoods, such as the Urban Art Trail Project.

He is the recipient of various Pura Belpré Honor for Illustration awards for books such as: My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/Me Llamo Celia: La Vida de Celia Cruz (2006), Book Fiesta!: Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day/ Celebremos El Día de los Niños/El Día de Los Libros (2010), The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred (2012) and Tito Puente: Mambo King/Rey del Mambo. He also received two Américas Awards for Children’s and Young Adult Literature for My Name is Celia (2006) and ¡Yum! ¡Mmmm! ¡Qué Rico! Americas’ Sproutings (2007).

DDG Pages 32-33 Final-revised-small

For more information about Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music (2015), visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.orgindiebound.org, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and goodreads.com. You can also watch the book trailer below.

Guest Post: Why I’m Not Interested in a Mexican Katniss

By Guinevere Zoyana Thomas

Earlier this year, Matt de la Peña asked the publishing industry one of the most thought-provoking questions ever: “Where is the African American Harry Potter or the Mexican Katniss?

His question was part of a conversation about why there aren’t that many POC equivalents to such iconic characters in YA and MG.

There doesn’t seem to be a good enough excuse for there not to be more Latino characters in kid lit especially with the Latino population rapidly growing, so to say there isn’t a market for it is just undetermined fabrication. I, for one, identify as an Afro-Cubana who would gladly buy a book from a Latina author that featured a Latina protagonist in a heartbeat!

But the truth is, I’m not sure I want a Mexican Katniss or a black Harry Potter or even an Asian Percy Jackson. A small part of me feels that if I say I do, I’d be telling the world that in order for a POC character to be great, we’d  have to follow thedefault” archetype. Everybody knows it: white, skinny, Christian, hetero, and because girls are so popular in YA, born female.

Comparisons are wonderful, because, I mean, who doesn’t want to be compared to what’s considered a great character, but I think it’s more than fair to say that boys and girls of color have earned the chance to be the models of their own standards, and, unfortunately, the only ones who don’t think about how representation in kid lit is important are the ones who are swimming in characters dedicated to their own images.

23117815One YA book that stood out to me this year was Dia of the Dead by Brit Brinson. It had zombies, it had action, and it definitely had drama. But most importantly to me, it had something that’s always left out of the conversation about Latinos in fiction–an Afro-Latina protagonist named Dia.

Her character was so amazingly memorable and struggled with the many things most Afro-Latinas go through in terms of identity that it was too hard to draw a comparison to another character in a similar situation who just happens to be a non-white Latina. All I could really give her credit for was being Dia, and isn’t that what we’re all really looking for in a character?

I don’t think we need a Mexican Katniss, but instead a chance to be on a bookshelf next to Katniss in our own stories with our own myths and legends. And it wouldn’t hurt if she had an amazing name like Citlalli, or even Amaryllis.

What I hope for her is to be a character that is a hero all on her own, clearing her own path and setting her own standard.

About the Blogger/Aspiring writer:

GuinevereGuinevere Zoyana Thomas is one half of the ever so silent and deadly “Twinjas” @Twinja Book Reviews. When she isn’t perfecting back handsprings or working on her red belt in Tang Soo Do, she’s going H.A.M. editing her diverse time-travel YA novel under the pseudonym “GL Tomas.”

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Black Girl with a Spanish Name

 

By Libertad Araceli Thomas

“Do you know what your name means?”

This was a question that made me hate name tags since the second grade. “Libertad? You know it means ‘Freedom’ in Spanish, right?” Of course, I knew what my name meant. I knew what it meant when I was old enough to talk, I knew what it meant before I ever entered school, and I knew what it meant at 18 years old when I took my first job as a barista at a local coffee shop and was again subjected to wearing the name tags I so dreaded as a kid. At home, I was Libertad, but to the world I was a Black girl with a Spanish name.

From first glance, loads of people tell me I don’t “look” Latina. And what’s devastating is that for a while, I believed them. You see, a darker skinned girl with kinky hair like me never made it to my TV screen when “La Familia” parked our butts down to watch Spanish language programs.

Afro-Latinas like me rarely, if ever, showed up in any history lessons. In fact, I hadn’t even known that any Black Latinas made contributions to Latin American societies until I was well out of college and half way into my 20’s. But the thing that hurt the most for a kid who liked to lose herself in books was that a girl like me, Black and Cuban with an unusual name that almost no one can say, was never in any works of fiction.

I tell people all the time being a Black Latina has to be the equivalent to seeing a unicorn in real life. No matter how real you appear to be, standing there in front of them, they have to question your existence and blink a million times at the mere sight of you. I’ve always felt too black to be Latina and too foreign to feel completely African-American. Worst of all, I felt invisible. I can’t help thinking maybe it would have been different if more Afro-Latin@s were in books.

The thing that’s missing here is a little thing called representation. We don’t only need Latin@ characters; we need intersectionality.

In a bright future, I want to pick up a book that goes above and beyond to highlight just how diverse and multifaceted Latino culture can be. I want to read about Latin@s of Asian ancestry like the ones I knew growing up in Miami. Queer Latin@s who are brown, black, mixed, and indigenous. Latin@s who speak Portuguese instead of Spanish, because far too often Brazilians get left out of the conversation, and most of all I’d love to see more Black Latin@s as lead protagonists.

It took me 20+ years to stop feeling like just a Black girl with a Spanish name. Girls after me deserve different. Most of all, they deserve better.

About the Blogger/Aspiring writer:

Libertad ThomasLibertad Araceli Thomas is part one of the Twinjas of Diversity @ Twinja Book Reviews. When she’s not reading stories featuring multicultural lead protagonists, she’s busy improving her no hand aerials and working on getting her Blue Belt in Tang Soo Do and Purple in Shaolin Kempo. She writes under the pen name “GL Tomas.”

During my blog’s Black Speculative Fiction Month I dedicated a Top Ten list of Afro Latinos in Speculative Fiction because I just looove Spec Fic, Please check it out and comment with any additions I could add to the list!

 

 

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Guest Post: Self-Publishing Often the Only Recourse for Writers of Color

By Zetta Elliott 

“I am an immigrant.” When I visit schools, I always start my presentation with these words. Next, I ask the students to guess my country of origin. Their answers are often predictable and sometimes surprising: the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico—Italy! When I tell them that I don’t speak Spanish but I do speak a little French, they call out a different list of countries until someone gets it right: Canada.

I open with my immigrant status in part because I once had a Latina approach me at the end of a presentation in Brooklyn and say, “I hate that word.” I didn’t ask about her status, but it was clear that she felt there was something shameful about being an immigrant. So I announce my own status with pride and use my presentation to demonstrate how my early years in Canada helped to shape the writer I became after I migrated to the US twenty years ago.

Immigration is a charged issue here, and though Canadians aren’t generally mentioned in the national debate, there’s still a pretty good chance I could run into trouble in Arizona. As a mixed-race woman of African descent, I often get read as Latina. Here, in New York City, I walk with my driver’s license, my passport, and my green card at all times because my Afro-Caribbean father taught me that some protections are reserved for citizens only (and only those citizens who aren’t brown like me). My father also urged me not to get involved in social justice movements, but I chose to disregard that advice.

I’m a black feminist—or what my father would call “a troublemaker.” I began to write for children over a decade ago because I couldn’t find culturally relevant material to use with my black students. I came to the US to attend graduate school, and there I developed a deeper understanding of intersectionality and invisibility. The title of one black feminist anthology encapsulates this perfectly: All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave. Black women too often find themselves erased from discussions of racism and sexism, and when it comes to children’s literature, it can be just as easy for Afro-Latin@ kids to fall through the cracks.

Published by Skyscape, 2010

In 2000, I started a book club for the girls in my building. They were all black and we had been meeting for weeks before I realized that half the girls in the group were Panamanian. When they were with me, they spoke the black vernacular of their African American peers, but at home they spoke Spanish. When I wrote my YA time-travel novel A Wish After Midnight, I decided to give my protagonist a hybrid identity—Genna Colon’s mother is African American but her father is an Afro-Panamanian immigrant. When her father leaves the family to return to Panama, Genna yearns for a connection to her Latino heritage, but her jaded mother insists that race trumps ethnicity: “in America, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what language you speak. Black is black and you might as well get used to it.”

Such a simplistic understanding of race is not uncommon, but many scholars, activists, and artists advocate for an appreciation of multiplicity—recognizing and respecting the specificity of blackness instead of reducing it to a single generic identity. As a black feminist writer, one of my goals is to counter the marginalization of black children in literature by writing stories about kids who are silenced and/or rendered invisible. I try to avoid the all too familiar “types” that seem to show up over and over again. Hakeem Diallo is a gifted basketball player but he’s also Muslim, biracial (black and South Asian), and he dreams of becoming a chef one day. Dmitri is a bird-watching math whiz who loses his mother to cancer and so lives with his elderly white foster mother. Judah is a Rastafarian teen from Jamaica who dreams of moving to Africa.

munecas_front_covercorrected

Self-published through CreateSpace under Rosetta Press

In 2009, I went to see the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novella Coraline. I had some issues with the representation of women in the film, and went home thinking of a way to write a story about black boys and dolls. The end result was Max Loves Muñecas!—one of four chapter books that I self-published in May. The story follows three homeless boys in 1950s Honduras who are taken in by a kind woman who makes dolls. I was inspired by my father’s childhood in the Caribbean. He was raised by his grandmother on the island of Nevis, and with no money to spare, my father learned to make his own toys out of recycled materials. They were poor but my great-grandmother made sure my father was always presentable and well behaved. Respectability meant a lot since the family had so little.

I knew I wanted my story to take place within the Caribbean basin, but I had limited knowledge of Latin America. I chose Honduras for the setting of Max Loves Muñecas! because the best doll maker I know is Afro-Honduran designer Cozbi Cabrera. Also my community college student Saira, a Garífuna woman, gave a presentation in class about the murder rate in Honduras—the highest in the world. This is due, in part, to street violence fueled by gang members who have been deported from the US. My story isn’t set in contemporary Honduras, but the book does challenge gender norms and exposes the tender, creative side so many boys are forced to conceal.

I often write about boys because I have seen firsthand how expressive, sensitive boys shut down as they mature and assume the hard, unfeeling posture of a young “thug.” Boys around the world are socialized in a way that leaves them unable to reveal their authentic selves and the consequences can be devastating—especially for girls, but for boys and men as well. As a feminist I realize that if I want to end violence against women and girls, I have to start paying more attention to boys.

These issues mean a lot to me, but social justice is not generally a priority for the children’s publishing industry. For the past five years I have written essays and given talks about the glaring inequality within publishing, and the issue has garnered more attention recently thanks to the social media campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Several editors rejected Max Loves Muñecas! (the last one wrote, “Zetta is such a lovely writer and I did enjoy this story – but I just don’t think we can find a big enough market for it”) and so the story sat on my hard drive for five years until I finally decided to self-publish it. I found a Honduran illustrator, Mauricio J. Flores, on Elance; he completed ten black and white illustrations and I used the print-on-demand site CreateSpace to publish the book.

The biggest challenge with self-publishing is finding a way to connect your books with readers. The Brown Bookshelf recently ran a series called “Making Our Own Market,” and I contributed a guest post in which I shared my core objectives:

  1. To generate culturally relevant stories that center children who have been marginalized, misrepresented, and/or rendered invisible in children’s literature.
  2. To produce affordable, high-quality books so that families—regardless of income—can build home libraries that will enhance their children’s academic success.
  3. To produce a steady supply of compelling, diverse stories that will nourish the imagination and excite even reluctant readers.

If these objectives resonate with you, I hope you’ll give my books a chance. The bias against self-published books is hard to overcome; major outlets refuse to review them, and only a few book bloggers are willing to give self-published books a chance (thank you, Latin@s in Kid Lit). Many are poorly written and shoddily produced, but when publishing gatekeepers exclude so many talented writers of color, self-publishing is often our only recourse. If we wait for the industry to change, another generation of children will grow up as I did—without the “books-as-mirrors” they need and deserve.

 

IMG_1198Born in Canada, Zetta Elliott earned her PhD in American Studies at NYU. Her poetry has been published in several anthologies, and her plays have been staged in New York and Chicago. Her essays have appeared in Horn Book MagazineSchool Library Journal, and The Huffington Post. Her picture book, Bird, won the Honor Award in Lee & Low Books’ New Voices Contest and the Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers. Elliott’s young adult novel, A Wish After Midnight, has been called “a revelation…vivid, violent and impressive history.” Ship of Souls, published in February 2012, was included in Booklist’s Top Ten Sci-fi/Fantasy Titles for Youth and was a finalist for the Phillis Wheatley Book Award. Her third novel, The Deep, was published in November 2013. She currently lives in Brooklyn.

Other books by Zetta Elliot. For a full list, visit her blog.

Published by Lee and Low, 2008

Published by Skyscape, 2012

The Phoenix on Barkley Street

One of four kids books self-published, 2014