Book Review: Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring by Angela Cervantes

 

Review by Jessica Agudelo

DECRIPTION OF THE BOOK: A room locked for fifty years. A valuable peacock ring. A mysterious brother-sister duo. Paloma Marquez is traveling to Mexico City, birthplace of her deceased father, for the very first time. She’s hoping that spending time in Mexico will help her unlock memories of the too-brief time they spent together. While in Mexico, Paloma meets Lizzie and Gael, who present her with an irresistible challenge: The siblings want her to help them find a valuable ring that once belonged to beloved Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Finding the ring means a big reward — and the thanks of all Mexico. What better way to honor her father than returning a priceless piece of jewelry that once belonged to his favorite artist! But the brother and sister have a secret. Do they really want to return the ring, or are they after something else entirely?

MY TWO CENTS: Paloma Marquez does not want to travel to Mexico City. But thanks to a literature fellowship awarded to her mother, Emma, at a Mexican university, she is left with little choice. She will miss out, she laments, on her familiar Kansas City summer: fireworks, reading by the pool, shopping at the mall with friends (all things she can do in Mexico, too, of course). Upon their arrival, she remains pouty and pessimistic, exasperating even her mother, who tells her, “Seriously Paloma…you’re the only one who complains about a free trip to Mexico.”

Her attitude slowly begins to change on their first night in Coyoacán, when Paloma and her mother attend a party at Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s former home turned museum. Paloma cannot help being absorbed by the vivid colors, mariachi music, delicious guanábana drinks, and the intriguing artist whose images permeate the museum. It certainly doesn’t hurt that very cute boys are in attendance, like Tavo, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Farill, the wealthy benefactors of her mother’s fellowship, or Gael Castillo, an aspiring artist, who along with his sister, Lizzie, a talented trumpet player in a mariachi band, recruit Paloma to seek out Frida’s peacock ring. Her encounter with these characters at Casa Azul is no accident. The location is at the heart of the unfolding mystery, not only because it is the scene of the crime, but because all the characters have a connection to it. And, just like Casa Azul houses secrets beneath a vibrant exterior, Paloma soon finds that the outward charm of her new acquaintances belies their true intentions.

Before Paloma decides to join the Castillos in their investigation, she dreams about Frida, who tells her, “It’s true I am missing something…But you’re missing something, too.” Although Paloma is half Mexican (by way of her father, who died in a car accident when she was a toddler), she is disconnected from her heritage, and experiences a bit of culture shock when she first alights in Mexico. She worries about “all these kidnappings going on” and the “drug trafficking kingpin dude.” Her mother, who is white, dismisses Paloma’s concerns as “nonsense,” but admits, “I haven’t done a good job of exposing her to her Mexican heritage.” Cervantes parallels Paloma’s cultural development with the mystery plot, fittingly, since her own identity requires piecing together memories her mother shares of her father, and jotting them down on notecards. It is through Frida, though, that Paloma begins to explore her Mexican side independently. She connects with the icon’s life and art, including her mixed heritage and penchant for self-portraits (likened to selfies in the text). Her exposure to Mexico also serves as exposure for some readers, who may have little to no familiarity with the nation. Although the focus remains on Frida and not Mexico at large, it is a positive step toward creating more positive associations of Mexico for a wider readership.

Although Paloma is initially apprehensive about her possible role in solving a mystery, she cannot help but be intrigued. After all, she is a big fan of mysteries herself, and cannot pass up an opportunity to flex her sleuthing skills. She constantly emulates her favorite literary crime solver, Lulu Pennywhistle, who is both an acknowledgment of the middle grade mystery canon (think Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden), and a subtle commentary on it. Me, Frida and the Secret of the Peacock Ring, is one of very few titles to feature a young protagonist of color, take place in a Latin American city (if any), and focus on the legacy of a female Latinx artist (none; please correct me if I’m wrong). But here now is Paloma Marquez, with keen eyes and note cards in hand, to inspire a new generation of mystery buffs. Art history itself is a favorite subject of the mystery genre for children. Many titles, like the classic From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, and more recent fare like Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett and Under the Egg by Laura Fitzgerald depict novice investigators exploring the history of an artist or artwork to ultimately save the integrity of the art itself, the adults too naive or cynical to do the job themselves, and sometimes even their own fates.

More sophisticated readers of the genre may foresee the revelation of the story’s villain, but the lack of suspense is offset by the fantasy of slipping into the role of crime solver, just as Paloma experienced. And indeed, her discoveries about herself are as integral to the narrative as the whereabouts of the ring. When readers catch a glimpse of Rafael Lopez’s stunning cover art for Me, Frida and the Secret of the Peacock Ring, they may not think they are holding a mystery at all. No dark doorways or creepy staircases. No pointed flashlights or magnifying glasses. Instead, there is Paloma gazing directly at the viewer, evoking Frida’s signature portraits, framed by lush, floral elements, and of course, a peacock (although there is no real peacock ring, Frida was famously an animal lover). She is inviting readers to take a look at all she has uncovered.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Angela Cervantes is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Gaby, Lost and Found and Allie, First at Last. Angela is the daughter of a retired middle-school teacher who instilled in her a love for reading and storytelling. Angela writes from her home in Kansas City, Kansas. When she is not writing, Angela enjoys reading, running, gazing up at clouds, and taking advantage of Taco Tuesdays everywhere she goes.

Click here for a recent Q&A with Angela Cervantes.

 

J_AgudeloABOUT THE REVIEWER: Jessica Agudelo is a Children’s Librarian at the New York Public Library. She has served on NYPL’s selection committee for its annual Best Books for Kids list, and is currently a co-chair for the 2018 list. She contributes reviews of English and Spanish language books for School Library Journal and is a proud member of the Association of Library Services to Children and REFORMA (the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and Spanish Speakers). Jessica is Colombian-American and born and raised in Queens, NY.

Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors Part 5: Angela Cervantes

 

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This is the fifth in 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 Angela Cervantes.

Her latest middle grade novel, Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring releases tomorrow!! Go get this book with the beautiful cover and awesome premise. Here’s a little more about it:

A room locked for fifty years.
A valuable peacock ring.
A mysterious brother-sister duo.
Paloma Marquez is traveling to Mexico City, birthplace of her deceased father, for the very first time. She’s hoping that spending time in Mexico will help her unlock memories of the too-brief time they spent together.
While in Mexico, Paloma meets Lizzie and Gael, who present her with an irresistible challenge: The siblings want her to help them find a valuable ring that once belonged to beloved Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Finding the ring means a big reward — and the thanks of all Mexico. What better way to honor her father than returning a priceless piece of jewelry that once belonged to his favorite artist. But the brother and sister have a secret. Do they really want to return the ring, or are they after something else entirely?

And now more about Angela: She is the beloved and award-winning author of several middle grade fiction novels. Her first novel, Gaby, Lost and Found, was named Best Youth Chapter book by the International Latino Book Awards and a Bank Street College of Education’s Best Books of 2014. Angela’s second middle grade novel, Allie, First At Last, received a starred-review from Kirkus and was a finalist for Florida’s Sunshine State Young Readers Award. Angela’s next middle-grade novel is the junior novelization of Disney Pixar’s animated film, Coco, was released in October 2017. Angela’s fourth novel, Me, Frida and the Secret of the Peacock Ring, will be released by Scholastic on March 27, 2018.

Angela Cervantes

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

A. My love for books inspired me to be a writer. Books were my first friends, and I relied on them to get me through some tough times, like my parents’ divorce, the loss of my abuelos, and issues around poverty. At an early age, I decided that I wanted to tell stories about girls like me. There’s nothing else I’ve ever wanted to be in my life.

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

A. It was my agent, Adriana Domínguez at Full Circle Literary who diagnosed me with a promising voice for middle grade fiction. Once I let that soak in, I knew she was right. I dived head-first, and I’m so happy I did, because I love middle grade novels and writing for middle grade students.

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

A. How much time do you have? There are so many! Growing up, I was obsessed with the Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis. They are still my all-time favorite books. More recently, I’m a big fan of Rita Williams-Garcia. Her books, One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven are amazing. Other faves that I’ve read recently include Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan; The Smoking Mirror (Book One) by David Bowles; Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper; Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson and The First Rule of Punk by Celia Pérez. I also love, love, love Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe García McCall.

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

A. Don’t throw away your stories. They’re not stupid. Someday, you’ll wish you could read them again. 🙂

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

A. Middle grade novels are important because young people need a safe place to let their dreams, curiosities and imagination play.

 

   

 

 

photo by Saryna A. Jones

Cindy L. Rodriguez was a newspaper reporter for The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe before becoming a public school teacher. She is now a reading specialist at a Connecticut middle school. Cindy is a U.S.-born Latina of Puerto Rican and Brazilian descent. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU. Her debut contemporary YA novel, When Reason Breaks, released with Bloomsbury Children’s Books (2015). She will have an essay in Life Inside My Mind, which releases 4/10/2018 with Simon Pulse. She can also be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

COVER REVEAL! Me, Frida and the Secret of the Peacock Ring by Angela Cervantes

 

Dear readers, don’t you love cover reveals? We do! They’re like sneak peeks at gorgeously wrapped gifts we’re not allowed to open until the special day arrives.

Today, we’re thrilled to share the magnificent cover of Angela Cervantes’s upcoming middle-grade novel, Me, Frida and the Secret of the Peacock Ring.

But first, a bit about the story:

Me, Frida and the Secret of the Peacock Ring is a middle-grade mystery about twelve-year old Paloma Marquez, who accompanies her mother on a research fellowship to her father’s birth country of Mexico, only to become entangled in a mystery involving an artifact that once belonged to the artist Frida Kahlo.

Publication is slated for Spring 2018 by Scholastic. The book cover design was created by the award-winning illustrator Rafael López. 

Enticed? So are we! Keep up with the book’s release date and other important details on Angela’s website. Also, check out the latest guest post she contributed to this blog, as well as our review of one of her best known books.

Finally, don’t miss this write-up about the incomparable Rafael López, illustrator of the cover.

Now for the cover reveal!

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About the author: Angela Cervantes was born and raised in Kansas. Most of her childhood was spent in Topeka, Kansas living in the Mexican-American community of Oakland. Her family also spent a lot of time in El Dorado and Wichita visiting a slew of aunts, uncles and cousins on weekends.

Angela graduated from the University of Kansas (Go Jayhawks!) with a degree in English. After KU, she moved to Brownsville, Texas. In Brownsville, Angela was introduced to the music of Selena, ceviche, and learned to two-step. After Brownsville, Angela moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, where for two years she taught High School English and literature. In 2003, Angela returned to Kansas City, completed an MBA, co-founded Las Poetas, an all-female poetry group, and began working at an international children’s organization.

In 2005, Angela’s short story, “Pork Chop Sandwiches” was published in Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul. In 2007, she won third place for Creative Nonfiction in the Missouri Review’s audio competition for her story “House of Women” and Kansas City Voices’ Best of Prose Award (Whispering Prairie Press) for her short story, “Ten Hail Marys”. In 2008, she was recognized as one of Kansas City’s Emerging Writers by the Kansas City Star Magazine. In 2014, she was named one of the Top Ten New Latino Authors to Watch by LatinoStories.Com.

Angela’s first novel, Gaby, Lost and Found [Scholastic Press; 2013], won Best Youth Chapter Fiction Book in the International Latino Book Awards. Angela’s second middle-grade novel, Allie, First At Last, was released Spring 2016. See FAQs about the author.

About the illustrator: Raised in Mexico City, Rafael López makes his home part of the year in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, as well as in San Diego, California. He credits Mexican surrealism as a major artistic influence. Besides his Pura Belpré medals and honors, Rafael is also a double recipient of the Américas Award. For more about his work, including poster illustrations and a mural project in San Diego that is the subject of a new picture book, Maybe Something Beautiful, visit his official website.

Book Review: Allie, First At Last by Angela Cervantes

 

Allie, First At Last (1)Reviewed by Marianne Snow Campbell

FROM ANGELA CERVANTES’S WEBSITE: Allie Velasco wants to be a trailblazer. A trendsetter. A winner. No better feeling exists in the world than stepping to the top of a winner’s podium and hoisting a trophy high in the air. At least, that’s what Allie thinks…. she’s never actually won anything before. Everyone in her family is special in some way—her younger sister is a rising TV star; her brother is a soccer prodigy; her great-grandfather is a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. With a family like this, Allie knows she has to make her mark or risk being left behind.  She’s determined to add a shiny medal, blue ribbon, or beautiful trophy to her family’s award shelf. When a prestigious school contest is announced, Allie has the perfect opportunity to take first —at last. There’s just one small snag… her biggest competition is also her ex–best friend, Sara. Can Allie take top prize and win back a friend — or is she destined to lose it all?

MY TWO CENTS: Fifth grade can be a tough year – it certainly was for me.  As kids approach and enter adolescence, many begin to grapple with who they are and who they want to be. Meanwhile, they may fall out with longtime friends who are going through the same transitions. While experiencing these growing pains and periods of uncertainty, kids can find comfort in books. Reading about characters who are undergoing the same journeys and struggles can help young readers see that they’re not alone – it’s normal to feel out of place and unsure of oneself.

Allie Velasco is a fifth-grader trying her best to discover her identity and make her mark on the world around her. For Allie, that means being the best at something – not that she’s sure what that something is. While her siblings excel at acting, soccer, and community service, her mother has been voted Best News Anchor of the Year, and her great-grandfather is a war hero, Allie is keenly seeking out her niche and putting a lot of pressure on herself to “succeed.”

Frankly, I wish Allie, First at Last had existed when I was in fifth grade. Although it’s been a couple of decades since I experienced my own tween tribulations, it was almost therapeutic to revisit that stage of my life through Allie. And I’m certain there are plenty of young readers out there today who will relate to her as well. This book is sure to appeal to kids who are “finding themselves,” having friend problems, or feeling eclipsed by siblings.

But don’t go thinking that this book is all sadness and doubt! Angela Cervantes fills the pages with humor that’s sharp with hints of snark and sarcasm, but never mean. For example, Allie and her best friend write a song about her cat called “It’s Not Easy Being Fluffy.” I approve. Also, although Allie faces challenges and insecurities, she still demonstrates strength and self confidence by assertively confronting rude kids in her class, nurturing a loving relationship with her sister and bisabuelo, and demonstrating a deep, natural appreciation for her Mexican-American roots. A great role model indeed.

TEACHING TIPS AND RESOURCES:  Allie, First at Last would be a perfect choice for a middle-grade classroom book club. Teachers can provide students with a list of books (including this one), and students can then choose which book they’d like to read, form small groups with classmates who chose the same book, enjoy, and discuss. With its highly relevant themes and humor, Allie is certain to be a hit, and kids can make it their own as they connect it to their lives and respond collaboratively. Educators should be sure to stock this volume in their classroom libraries and media centers for self-selected reading time. There’s nothing like a fun, engrossing book for motivating kids to read!

Also, be sure to check out Angela Cervantes’s teacher resources, available on her website. She’s created printer-friendly activity sheets with writing prompts for both Allie, First at Last and her previous novel, Gaby, Lost and Found.  The prompts present great ideas for journaling, in-class discussions, and even research projects.  Enjoy!

Angela CervantesABOUT THE AUTHOR: Angela was born and raised in Kansas. Most of her childhood was spent in Topeka, Kansas living in the Mexican-American community of Oakland. Her family also spent a lot of time in El Dorado and Wichita visiting a slew of aunts, uncles and cousins on weekends.

Angela graduated from the University of Kansas (Go Jayhawks!) with a degree in English. After KU, she moved to Brownsville, Texas. In Brownsville, Angela was introduced to the music of Selena, ceviche, and learned to two-step. After Brownsville, Angela moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, where for two years she taught High School English and literature. In 2003, Angela returned to Kansas City, completed an MBA, co-founded Las Poetas, an all-female poetry group, and began working at an international children’s organization.

In 2005, Angela’s short story, “Pork Chop Sandwiches” was published in Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul. In 2007, she won third place for Creative Nonfiction in the Missouri Review’s audio competition for her story “House of Women” and Kansas City Voices’ Best of Prose Award (Whispering Prairie Press) for her short story, “Ten Hail Marys”. In 2008, she was recognized as one of Kansas City’s Emerging Writers by the Kansas City Star Magazine. In 2014, she was named one of the Top Ten New Latino Authors to Watch by LatinoStories.Com.

Angela’s first novel, Gaby, Lost and Found [Scholastic Press; 2013], won Best Youth Chapter Fiction Book in the International Latino Book Awards. Angela’s second middle-grade novel, Allie, First At Last, will be released Spring 2016. See FAQs about the author.

WE ARE GIVING AWAY A HARDCOVER OF ALLIE, FIRST AT LAST BY ANGELA CERVANTES, WHICH OFFICIALLY RELEASES 3/29/16.

CLICK HERE TO LINK TO THE RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY!

 

MarianneMarianne Snow Campbell is a doctoral student at The University of Georgia, where she researches nonfiction children’s books about Latin@ and Latin American topics and teaches an undergraduate course on children’s literature. Before graduate school, she taught pre-K and Kindergarten in Texas, her home state. She misses teaching, loves critters, and can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Guest Post by Angela Cervantes: Piñata Busters and Trailblazers

IMG_0149We’ve all met piñata busters and trailblazers. These are the extraordinary people who take on immense challenges to pave the way for others to succeed. These folks are determined, ready-to-bust-through-obstacle-types who put the “P” in perseverance and the “G” in ganas.

In my second middle grade novel, Allie, First At Last (3/29/16; Scholastic Inc.) ten-year old Alyssa Velasco wants desperately to make her mark and be a trailblazer like the rest of her family—a highly motivated group of trophy-winners and “first-evers.” However, in her determination to win something, she steamrolls through anyone she believes is trying to compete with her, including her ex-best friend, Sara, and new buddy, Victor Garcia.

Allie, First At Last (1)In short, Allie has no clue what it means to be a true trailblazer or piñata buster, but by the end of the book, she finds out the hard way.

I was inspired to write this book because I grew up in a close-knit, proud, Mexican-American community where we celebrated the accomplishments of people like Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman to go to space (1993 Discovery mission); Henry Cisneros, the first Mexican-American mayor of San Antonio (Yay, Texas!); Tom Flores, the first Hispanic NFL head coach to win the Super Bowl (Go Raiders!).

Being raised in this community, I have always been inspired by the stories of individuals who, regardless of the obstacles before them, like racism, sexism, and poverty, could deliver a strong smack to the status quo and negative stereotypes.

As I wrote Allie, First At Last, I relished researching other Hispanic and non- Hispanic “piñata busters.” I couldn’t feature all of the piñata busters I wanted in my novel, but here are just a few I mention:

  • Katie Jurado – First Mexican actress to be nominated for an Academy Award in an acting category (1954)
  • Sonia Sotomayor- First Latina Supreme Court Justice (2009)
  • Gwendolyn Brooks –  The first African-American person to win a Pulitzer prize (1950)
  • Junko Tabei- First woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest (1975)
  • Billy Mills – First American to win the 10,000m at the Olympics (1964)

The thing about piñata busters/trailblazers is that sometimes we look for them in Hollywood films, Wikipedia, or our history books, but the truth is we don’t have to look that far. They’re all around us.

In Allie, First At Last, Allie’s new friend, Victor Garcia, is a true trailblazer. He is not concerned about a trophy shelf or being famous; he is simply trying to be the first in his family to graduate from high school and go to college someday. The obstacles in front of him are clear: his family is poor, and he will depend on scholarships to afford college. He is a child of immigrants and will be navigating the path to college by himself.

Regardless of the hurdles, Victor enters the game willingly and with one sole purpose: to gash a hole in the obstacles (the piñata) so that his younger siblings and entire family get the sweet rewards.

How many of us have been in Victor’s shoes or know of someone who has been the first in his/her family to go to college? Graduate from college? Start a business? Become a teacher? Publish a children’s book?

For me, Allie, First at Last, is a story celebrating generations of piñata busters and trailblazers.

I wrote it because I couldn’t get Allie Velasco out of my head. She had something to say, so I wrote it for her and for all the kids out there dealing with competition and finding their place in the world. I hope Allie’s story inspires children to explore trailblazers in their own families who have opened a path for them to reach their dreams. I hope they, just like Allie, decide that in their young lives, they won’t close doors behind them, but leave them wide open for others to enter, too.  And I hope, like Allie, they understand that, “true trailblazers are motivated not by glory, but by love for friends, family, and country.”

angela at libraryAngela Cervantes is a native of Kansas. Her achievements are manifold and include earning an MBA, co-founding an all-female poets group, teaching high school, and writing two middle-grade novels, Gaby, Lost and Found, and Allie, First at Last. To learn more, visit her website here.

 

 

WE ARE GIVING AWAY A HARDCOVER OF ALLIE, FIRST AT LAST BY ANGELA CERVANTES, WHICH OFFICIALLY RELEASES 3/29/16.

CLICK HERE TO LINK TO THE RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY!

 

A Holiday Sampler of Treasured Memories

By Lila Quintero Weaver

Come in from the cold! Childhood memories bring warmth to almost everything we do during the holidays, no matter how we choose to celebrate. As adults, we’re often in charge of enlivening the season for the children we love, as well as the child still within us. For extra inspiration, we’ve called on some favorite people with connections to Latin@ kid lit.  Here’s the question we posed to Jacqueline Jules, Margarita Engle, Danette Vigilante, Angela Cervantes, and Tracy López:

The holiday season often reflects the wide diversity within the Latin@ community. Would you share a childhood memory of your Hanukkah or Christmas past, or simply a special winter memory?

And here’s how they answered:

JACQUELINE JULES 

Menorah collage

Hanukkah, like all Jewish holidays, follows a lunar calendar. It generally occurs at least a week (if not two or three) before Christmas. As a child, not having to wait till December 25th  was a great bonus for me. I loved getting presents before everyone else at school. The year I remember most is when I received a mezuzah necklace. A mezuzah contains a parchment with the Sh’ma prayer, the central tenant of the Jewish faith. My parents gave me a small cylindrical pendant on a sterling silver chain. It was a requested gift and my first real piece of jewelry.

Growing up in a small southern town, my religion made me an outsider. But wearing a symbol of my faith was still important to me. It is an integral part of who I am. My parents raised me to treasure my own celebrations. Hanukkah is a minor holiday of far less importance than the Jewish high holidays in the fall or Passover in the spring. We gave gifts in our nuclear family, but we never tried to make it a Jewish equivalent of Christmas. After a first night with a special present, the other nights were less about gifts and more about the candle-lighting ceremony. My parents owned several Hanukkah menorahs and we would light them all, creating a beautiful row of glowing candles on our dining room table. One menorah was shaped like a bird with candle holders on two golden wings. I still have that menorah and use it in my holiday celebrations.

JJulesWebPic

Jacqueline Jules is the award-winning author of more than twenty children’s books, includes the fabulous Zapato Power series. Great news: she’s busy creating even more fun books for kids! At the bottom of this post, check out her Hanukkah-inspired titles.

 

 

 

MARGARITA ENGLE

Pretending w Text

Hermanas

Family time is the greatest gift offered by any holiday, no matter which religion or season is being celebrated. One of my fondest December memories is the way my sister and I always surprised each other with identical gifts, even though our mother took us shopping separately. Adventure stories, animal tales, and nonfiction natural history books were our inevitable choices. One year, we gave each other the same dinosaur identification chart. We saw ourselves as explorers-in-training, our shared interests a preview of lifelong curiosity about the world. Those shared interests became an even more lasting memory than baking cookies, or admiring the colorful cheer of holiday lights.

MargaritaMargarita Engle is the author of many acclaimed young adult and children’s novels, including The Surrender Tree, which received a Newbery Honor. Her newest picture book is Tiny Rabbit’s Big Wish, and more publications are in the works, including a memoir we can’t wait to read! Here’s her latest guest post for this blog.

 

 

 

DANETTE VIGILANTE

Danette CollageThe first smell of steam heat pumping and banging its way into our third-floor apartment in the Red Hook Houses served as the official announcement of fall.

The radiators in our apartment were used for more than just keeping us warm, though. Mom placed orange skins on top of their steel bones, giving the air a sweet citrus scent. When we needed to dry our winter gear after playing in the snow, to the radiator it all went. When I absolutely had to wear a certain pair of jeans soon after they had been washed, the radiator served as a quick dry cycle. They came off a bit stiff and practically able to stand on their own, but that was a small price to pay. Besides, after a few deep knee bends, all was well. My little sister had her own important use for the radiators— heating up squares of Now and Later candies until they were soft and gooey.

Every year, after the Thanksgiving dishes had been washed and dried, my best friend’s mom did something that excited the kids living in nearby buildings; she’d officially welcome Christmas by decorating her second floor windows in twinkling multicolored lights–a Christmas tree dressed in its best, standing proudly in the center of it all.

A door had been swung open, and one by one, every window from the first through sixth floors, had followed suit. Our drab brick buildings had finally come alive! The magic of the winter season, with its good cheer and best wishes, had entered our hearts, filling us with hope, gratitude and joy.

Danette_Vigilante_head_shot_high_resDanette Vigilante is the award-winning author of two children’s books, The Trouble with Half a Moon and Saving Baby Doe. She lives in New York with her husband, two daughters, two puppies and a cat with an attitude! Don’t miss her inspiring guest post, “Danette Vigilante on the Importance of Dream Seeds.

 

 

 

ANGELA CERVANTES

Feliz NavidadOne Christmas, my family was visiting my brother at the army base in Fort Sill. On Christmas Eve, some soldiers were making their way through the neighborhood, house-by-house, Christmas caroling. They came to our doorstep and sang a lively version of Jingle bells and then went on their merry way to the next house. A few minutes later, my sister, Rio, asked me to go out to the car with her to help bring in the rest of the gifts. As we headed to her car, parked curbside, the soldiers were standing in the middle of the street seeming unsure of where to go next. My sister and I grabbed the gifts out of the trunk and when we turned around, the soldiers were standing in front of us. They started singing “Joy to the World.” We couldn’t believe it.

 It was a real serenata!

When they finished, Rio gave me this look and I knew what we had to do. We put our gifts down. At Rio’s count of three we belted out, “Feliz Navidad” with as much glorious Jose Feliciano-ness we could muster. Rio snapped her fingers and shook her hips. I pretended that I had maracas and shimmied around. The soldiers sang along and bopped their heads. “I want to wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart.” When we finished, one of the soldiers said, “That was cool. No one has sung back to us the entire night.”

What can I say? Leave it to the Cervantes girls to keep it real on Christmas Eve!

Angela CervantesAngela Cervantes is an award-winning author whose debut novel, Gaby, Lost and Found, has been named Best Youth Chapter book by the International Latino Book Awards and a Bank Street College of Education’s Best Books of 2014. Angela’s second novel, a spin-off of Gaby, Lost and Found, will be released by Scholastic Press in 2016.  Read about what inspired Angela to write Gaby in this Latin@s in Kid Lit interview.  

 

 

TRACY LÓPEZ

Tracy's NativityOne of my favorite childhood memories is when my little sister and I used to lie on the carpet and play with the nativity my mother set up under the Christmas tree. It was a typical, simple nativity with a moss-covered manger made of wood and plastic figures representing Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, the angel, a shepherd with a lamb hefted onto his shoulders, and a few barnyard animals. The nativity scene was actually a gift to my mother from my father, who grew up in a Jewish home; my parents say he won it on a radio show when I was really little. That same nativity is still put on display each Christmas at my parents’ house. Although I’m an adult with two teenage sons, I’m always tempted to play with the little figures when I see it set up, which horrifies my husband, Carlos. He’s Salvadoran and in El Salvador the nativity (or “nacimiento”) is much more spectacular than my mother’s humble display. A Salvadoran nativity can take up an entire room and features entire villages of people, but kids are definitely not allowed to play with it!

Tracy LopezTracy López is a freelance writer, blogger and novelist. Her work has appeared in Fox News Latino, Mamiverse, SpanglishBaby and many other print and online publications. She is Owner/Editor-in-Chief of the influential blog Latinaish.com, and is a member of the team of We Need Diverse Books.

 

 

 

HOLIDAY BOOKSHELVES

We wouldn’t be doing our cheerful duty if we didn’t top off this glorious stroll down memory lane with book recommendations related to the season. Here’s a round-up of titles we think you and your young readers will relish this winter holiday.

Happy Hanukkah Lights    Christmas Makes me Think

HanukkahZiz    Kwanzaa with Boots

Celebrate Hanukkah    Twas Nochebuena

Piñata in a Pine tree    Las Navidades

Seven Candles for Kwanzaa    Green Christmas

And for older readers:

Las Christmas

 

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL! WE’LL SEE YOU IN 2015!