Q&A with Alexandra Alessandri about her new book Isabel and Her Colores Go to School, illus. by Courtney Dawson

.

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.

Today, we are chatting with author Alexandra Alessandri about her second picture book, Isabel and Her Colores Go to School, which is illustrated by Courtney Dawson.

The book just released yesterday! HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY!

.

First, here is the publisher’s description of the book:

English, with its blustery blues and whites, just feels wrong to Isabel. She prefers the warm oranges and pinks of Spanish. As she prepares for class at a new school, she knows she’s going to have to learn–and she would rather not! Her first day is uncomfortable, until she discovers there’s more than one way to communicate with friends. This is a universal story about feeling new and making new friends.

.

Now, here’s some information on the creators:

Alexandra Peñaloza Alessandri is a Colombian American poet, children’s author, and Associate Professor of English at Broward College. She received her BA and MA degrees in English from Florida International University, as well as a Certificate of Fiction from UCLA Extension. Her poetry has appeared in The Acentos Review, Rio Grande Review, YARN, and Atlanta Review, where her poem “Inheritance” was a Finalist in the 2017 International Poetry Competition. She is the author of Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! (Albert Whitman, Oct. 2020) and Isabel and Her Colores Go to School (Sleeping Bear Press, Fall 2021).

Alexandra is represented by Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency. When not writing or teaching, Alexandra spends her time daydreaming, relearning the piano, and planning the next great adventure with her family. She lives in Florida with her husband, son, and hairless pup, dreaming of Colombia.

.

Courtney Dawson - Photo by Anthony Dekleine

Courtney Dawson is a children’s book illustrator of many titles including A Vote is a Powerful Thing (Albert Whitman) and The Stars Beckoned (Philomel). She is inspired by the world around her and all of the good in it. Courtney loves to work on projects that are empowering, inclusive, and whimsical. She also loves rainy days and painting to Sam Cooke in her California studio.

.

.

Now, here’s our Q&A with Alexandra:


1. What was your inspiration for this story?

Isabel and Her Colores Go to School was inspired by my own experience of starting kindergarten in New York. We only spoke Spanish at home, and when I started school, I spoke almost no English. My story was a little different—I literally got lost in the hallways of my school because I misunderstood the teacher—but I wanted to channel those feelings into Isabel’s story.

.

2. In the story, your character struggles with the first day of school and not knowing the language. What made you decide to incorporate colors, too? (I couldn’t help but think of the song De Colores while reading it.)

I hadn’t listened to “De Colores” since I was a kid! Thank you for this trip down memory lane.

Though I’m not an artist, I love color—the bolder and brighter the better—and I’m also fascinated by the different names for different shades (I love reading the names on paint chips!) When I started brainstorming for Isabel, I didn’t know I would incorporate color this way, but I knew Isabel was an artist, so I started asking myself, What would the different languages sound like to her? What would she associate them with? For her, Spanish would remind her of home, with the green of her mountains, pinks, yellows, and purples of her mami’s flowers, the brilliant blues of nearby rivers. And, because English is foreign—and scary—for her, she would associate it with storms. As I wrote and revised, I worked at strengthening this connection in both a literal and figurative manner.

.

3. The story has the Spanish translation right on the pages. Was that part of your original vision for this story, so that Spanish speakers could read and enjoy it, too?

I’ve always wanted to have my stories translated into Spanish, so my family and Spanish speakers could read and enjoy them. For Isabel, though, I wrote and submitted the story in English with Spanish sprinkled in, as it’s what’s most natural for me. It was my brilliant editor Sarah Rockett who suggested having the book as a both an English and Spanish edition. I celebrated! I didn’t realize just how much I yearned for this, and I’m incredibly excited to be able to share this story with English and Spanish speakers.

.

4. The artwork on the pages is beautiful. Did you have any input in the art process?

Courtney’s art is just so gorgeous! I love how she got the essence of who Isabel and the other characters are and how she captured the play of colors in the artwork. When I first saw her sketches, I knew the story was in great hands. I did get to see the art in a few parts of the process, like the cover sketches and interior pages, and I was invited to give feedback, which I appreciated. But most of my feedback was just me gushing about the illustrations—Courtney’s art just blew me away!

See for yourself….

.

Congratulations to Alexandra and Courtney! Isabel and Her Colores Go to School is now available wherever books are sold. You can quickly find it here at Indiebound or through her publisher, Sleeping Bear Press.

July 2021 Latinx Book Releases!

.

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.

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 July book babies! Please let us know in the comments if we are missing any.

.

MUSE SQUAD: THE MYSTERY OF THE TENTH by Chantel Acevedo (Balzer + Bray, July 6, 2021). Middle Grade.

Callie Martinez-Silva is finally getting the hang of this whole goddess within thing. Six months after learning she was one of the nine muses of ancient myth, she and the other junior muses are ready for new adventures. Except first Callie has to go to New York City for the summer to visit her dad, stepmom, and new baby brother.

Then the muses get startling news: an unprecedented tenth muse has been awakened somewhere in Queens, putting Callie in the perfect position to help find her. And she’ll have help—thanks to a runaway mold problem in London, Muse Headquarters is moving to the New York Hall of Science.

But balancing missions and family-mandated arts camp proves difficult for Callie, especially once mysterious messages from spiders (yikes!) begin to weave a tale of ancient injustice involving Callie’s campmate Ari.

Now Callie and her friends have to make a choice: follow orders and find the tenth muse or trust that sometimes fate has other plans.

.

SING WITH ME: THE STORY OF SELENA QUINTANILLA by Diana Lópezillustrated by Teresa Martinez (Dial Books, July 6, 2021). Picture Book. From a very early age, young Selena knew how to connect with people and bring them together with music. Sing with Me follows Selena’s rise to stardom, from front-lining her family’s band at rodeos and quinceañeras to performing in front of tens of thousands at the Houston Astrodome. Young readers will be empowered by Selena’s dedication–learning Spanish as a teenager, designing her own clothes, and traveling around the country with her family–sharing her pride in her Mexican-American roots and her love of music and fashion with the world. This book is being released simultaneously in Spanish.

.

Image result for summer in the city of roses

SUMMER IN THE CITY OF ROSES by Michelle Ruiz Keil (Soho Teen, July 6, 2021). Young Adult. All her life, seventeen-year-old Iph has protected her sensitive younger brother, Orr. But this summer, with their mother gone at an artist residency, their father decides it’s time for fifteen-year-old Orr to toughen up at a wilderness boot camp. When he brings Iph to a work gala in downtown Portland and breaks the news, Orr has already been sent away. Furious at his betrayal, Iph storms off and gets lost in the maze of Old Town. Enter George, a queer Robin Hood who swoops in on a bicycle, bow and arrow at the ready, offering Iph a place to hide out while she figures out how to track down Orr.

Orr, in the meantime, has escaped the camp and fallen in with The Furies, an all-girl punk band, and moves into the coat closet of their ramshackle pink house. In their first summer apart, Iph and Orr must learn to navigate their respective new spaces of music, romance, and sex work activism—and find each other to try to stop a transformation that could fracture their family forever.

.

SWIMMING WITH SHARKS: Wild Rescue #2 by Melissa Cristina Márquez (Scholastic, July 6, 2021). Middle Grade. Twelve-year-old Adrianna Villalobos and her older brother Feye travel the globe with their parents, the hosts of a suspenseful nature show called “Wild Survival!” The show features daring animal rescues and the work the family does at their animal sanctuary.

Their latest adventure takes them to the coast of Sri Lanka. There they must rescue an injured tiger shark– before it’s too late!

.

.

.

.

TIME VILLAINS by Victor Piñeiro (Sourcebooks Young Readers, July 6, 2021). Middle Grade. Javi Santiago is trying his best not to fail sixth grade. So, when the annual “invite any three people to dinner” homework assignment rolls around, Javi enlists his best friend, Wiki, and his sister, Brady, to help him knock it out of the park.

But the dinner party is a lot more than they bargained for. The family’s mysterious antique table actually brings the historical guests to the meal…and Blackbeard the Pirate is turning out to be the worst guest of all time.

Before they can say “avast, ye maties,” Blackbeard escapes, determined to summon his bloodthirsty pirate crew. And as Javi, Wiki, and Brady try to figure out how to get Blackbeard back into his own time, they might have to invite some even zanier figures to set things right again.

.

ALL THESE WARRIORS by Amy Tintera (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, July 13, 2021). Young Adult. When the world was crumbling, seventeen-year-old Clara fought back. She escaped her abusive home and joined Team Seven, a monster fighting squad of runaways and misfits formed to combat the scrabs terrorizing the planet. And after nearly dying in Paris, Clara and Team Seven discovered the sinister truth behind the scrab invasion. Scrabs aren’t just mindless monsters set on destruction. They’re being trained and weaponized by MDG, a private security firm hired by the government. 

Now Clara and the rest of Team Seven have made it their mission to expose MDG. But no one said fighting for the truth would be easy. And as Clara and Team Seven find themselves at the center of a global conspiracy, they must face their biggest threat yet: their own demons.

.

BELLA’S RECIPE FOR SUCCESS by Ana Siqueira, illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez (Beaming Books, July 13, 2021). Picture Book. Bella wants to find out what she’s good at. But she quits everything she (barely) tries because she’s a desastre. Her somersaults are like jirafas rolling downhill, her piano playing like elephant feet. When she decides to learn how to bake with her abuela, her first attempt at dulce de leche frosting looks like cocodrilo skin. She must learn it’s okay to try again or she won’t be good at anything.

.

.

.

EL CUCUY IS SCARED, TOO! by Donna Barba Higueraillustrated by Juliana Perdomo (Abrams Books for Young Readers, July 13, 2021). Picture Book. Ramón is a little boy who can’t sleep. He is nervous for his first day at a new school. And El Cucuy is the monster who lives in Ramón’s cactus pot. He can’t sleep, either. It turns out that El Cucuy is scared, too!

This story explores the worries that can accompany moving to a new place and beginning a new journey—and reveals how comfort, bravery, and strength can be found through even the most unexpected of friendships.

.

.

.

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS illustrated by Jeannette Arroyo (Disney Classic & Little Golden Books, July 13, 2021). Picture Book. Tim Burton’s classic film The Nightmare Before Christmas-retold for the first time as a Little Golden Book. Jack Skellington is the King of Halloween Town… but after so many years of the same spooky thing, he’s become bored of scaring. When Jack accidentally discovers Christmas Town, he hatches a crazy scheme to take over a new holiday for the year. But can the master of monstrous scares spread Christmas cheer like jolly old Saint Nick? And what will Halloween Town’s power-hungry Oogie Boogie do when he discovers Jack’s plan?

.

.

.

PARANORTHERN: And the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calypse by Stephanie Cookeillustrated by Mari Costa (Etch/HMH Books for Young Readers, July 13, 2021). Graphic Novel/Middle Grade. It’s fall break in the supernatural town of North Haven, and young witch Abby’s plans include pitching in at her mom’s magical coffee shop, practicing her potion making, and playing board games with her best friends—a pumpkinhead, a wolf-girl, and a ghost. But when Abby finds her younger sister being picked on by some speed demons, she lets out a burst of magic so strong, it opens a portal to a realm of chaos bunnies. And while these bunnies may look cute, they’re about to bring the a-hop-ocalypse  (and get Abby in a cauldronful of trouble) unless she figures out a way to reverse the powerful magic she unwittingly released. What’s a witch to do?

.

.

ISABEL AND HER COLORES GO TO SCHOOL by Alexandra Alessandri, illustrated by Courtney Dawson (Sleeping Bear Press, July 15, 2021). Picture Book. Isabel doesn’t speak much English, preferring the colors and comfort of Spanish, yet she still finds creative ways to communicate when words won’t work.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Book Review: Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! by Alexandra Alessandri, illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonada

.

Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK (from the front cover): Ava Gabriela is visiting her extended family in Colombia for the holidays. She’s excited to take part in family traditions such as making buñuelos, but being around all her loud relatives in an unfamiliar place makes Ava shy and quiet. How will Ava find her voice before she misses out on all the New Year’s fun?

MY TWO CENTS: This #OwnVoices picture book is a heartwarming story about New Year traditions in Colombia, as well as the development of Ava’s personality. While there is some mention of traditions such as buñuelos and the Old Year doll, the highlight is definitely the main character, Ava. She is a quiet, shy character. Ava and her family are busy making preparations for the New Year. As her family shows various Colombian traditions, Ava observes but does not say much. In the beginning, Ava hesitates to say hello or “speak up.” Yet after making buñuelos, Ava begins to giggle. Throughout the book, she begins to question why she is so shy and often shows what she means to say versus what she actually does with a signal or facial movement. As a teacher, her behavior and speech reminded me of a student who had a speech-language need, thus Ava may connect to students who share the experience of finding the words to say in public situations.

The illustrations span across the spread using bold colors and subtle details. The English and Spanish text is written in an authentic manner, one that I appreciate as a frequent Spanglish speaker. Additionally, the text placement allows for readers to focus on the illustrations. Overall, Ava’s character was a joy to follow throughout this story. I appreciated that all of her family members respected her participation, even if she did not verbally respond right away. The days were filled with family traditions, love, and most of all, patience, as they welcomed one another, shy or not.

TEACHING TIPS: Many of these teaching moments can be implemented in a grades K-5 setting, with a focus on the primary grades. This is a great addition to any classroom library and as a read aloud. Some ideas to focus on during instruction:

  • Themes: Culture & Traditions
    • The Author’s Note gives readers an insight into the Colombian traditions mentioned in the book, such as the twelve grapes and the Año Viejo traditions.
  • Themes: Character Empathy; Finding Voice
    • Focus on Ava, how she communicates with her family and the feelings she has throughout all her experiences.
  • Mentor Text: Writing in two languages
    • How to use and format both English and Spanish in a narrative text

.

Photo by Dawn Yap @ YapOriginals

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alexandra Alessandri is a Colombian-American poet, English professor, and children’s author, who grew up surrounded by plenty of primos and primas. She’s obsessed with coffee and urban murals, and every year, she looks forward to buñuelos and el Año Viejo. When not writing or teaching, Alexandra spends her time daydreaming of Colombia, relearning the piano, and planning the next great adventure with her family. She lives in Florida with her husband, son, and hairless pup. Visit her online at alexandraalessandri.com

.

.

.

From the illustrator’s website

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Addy Rivera Sonda is a Mexican illustrator who loves color and nature. When not drawing, she explores ways to live a more sustainable life. Addy hopes her stories and art can build empathy and lead to a more inclusive world. She currently lives in California. Find her website at addyriverasonda.wixsite.com/portfolio.

.

.

.

.

.

.

img_0160

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is also a current doctoral student in NLU’s  EDD Teaching and Learning Program with an emphasis on 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!