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:


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.


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.





Pretending w Text


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 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.





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'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.





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





























Book Review: Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

Gaby Lost and FoundDESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: When Gaby Ramirez Howard starts volunteering at the local animal shelter, she takes special pride in writing adoption advertisements. Her flyers help the dogs and cats there find their forever homes: places where they’ll be loved and cared for, no matter what.

Gaby is in need of a forever home herself. Her mother has recently been deported to Honduras and Gaby doesn’t know where to turn. Meanwhile, Gaby’s favorite shelter cat, Feather, needs a new place to live. Gaby would love to adopt her–but if Gaby doesn’t have a place that feels like home to her, how can she help Feather?

MY TWO CENTS: I’m a sucker for stray animals and have more than once scooped up a roaming dog and delivered him to a non-kill animal shelter. So, Angela Cervantes had me from Chapter 1, which places the protagonist Gaby up a tree trying to rescue a cat. From this point on, Cervantes presents Gaby’s story with a great mix of heart-wrenching moments and humor. Some parts of the book are light and soooo middle school–I know; I teach in one–while other parts deal with the more serious issue of deportation and the effects on children when a parent is gone.

Since her mother has been deported to Honduras, Gaby must live with her father, who is ill-equipped to raise a sixth-grade girl. Gaby would much rather live with her best friend Alma and her family. Better yet would be if her mom were able to come back home, but this trip is expensive and dangerous.

Cervantes parallels Gaby’s situation with the sixth-grade class community project at the Furry Friends Animal Shelter. Both the animals and Gaby have less than ideal living arrangements are in need of new permanent homes. During the community service project, Gaby has the special job of writing descriptions of the animals on fliers that will be displayed around town and on the shelter’s website.

Eventually, Gaby writes a flier for herself. In part it reads:

Gaby Ramirez Howard: …Three months ago, my mom was deported, and now I live with my father, who looks at me like I’m just another job he wants to quit. I’m seeking a home where I can invite my best friend over and have a warm breakfast a couple times a week. Waffles and scrambled eggs are my favorite!

GAH! My heart, Angela Cervantes!!

In between the chapters that caused me to clutch my heart and give my daughter random hugs, I literally laughed out loud. Scenes with the four friends–Gaby, Alma, Enrique, and Marcos–are hysterical. In one, Alma, who is trying to train a spirited shelter dog named Spike, tests the commands on the boys. “Back! Down! Sit and stay!” In another scene, three firefighters arrive at the shelter to adopt a dog for the firehouse. Alma says to the other girls, “Let’s go see what’s smoking,” and then the girls nickname each of the cute firefighters: Hottie, Smokey, and Sizzler. Very funny.

If you are a middle school teacher, librarian, or parent, you should have a copy of this book on your shelf. To make it easy for you, Angela Cervantes is giving away a signed copy of Gaby, Lost and Found, along with a poster and T-shirt. Click on the Rafflecopter link here to enter.

TEACHING TIPS: Gaby, Lost and Found could be used in a Language Arts or social studies classroom. In Language Arts, students could track the plot and make predictions along the way about how Gaby’s situation will be resolved. Students could also be creative and write “fliers” for any number of people or things: their siblings, pets, themselves. A social studies could easily use the novel in a unit about the history of immigration in the United States. Ideally, after reading non-fiction texts, students could read a novel-length book–either fiction or narrative nonfiction–that centers on immigration. In addition to Gaby, Lost and Found, teachers could offer books about people from other countries so that students could compare/contrast immigrant experiences.


Angela Cervantes

AUTHORAngela Cervantes was born and raised in Kansas, with most of her childhood spent in Topeka in the Mexican-American community of Oakland. Angela has a degree in English and an MBA, and she is the co-founder of Las Poetas, a Chicana poetry group that has developed into the Latino Writers Collective. In 2005, her 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 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.

Gaby, Lost and Found is her first novel.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Gaby, Lost and Found visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.org, indiebound.org, goodreads.com, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and Scholastic.

Author Angela Cervantes On Publishing & Her Animal-Loving Latina Protagonist

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

Today, we are thrilled to have a Q&A with author Angela Cervantes, who talks about her debut novel, Gaby, Lost and Found (Scholastic), her advice for pre-published writers, and a little about how she crafted a wonderful middle grade novel that’s both funny and heartbreaking. Angela is also super generous and is offering a signed book, a poster, and a T-shirt to one lucky winner. Click on the Rafflecopter link here or at the end of the post to enter!

Gaby Lost and FoundCR: Since this is your debut novel, can you tell us about your publishing journey. Were there any things you did in particular that, in hindsight, you think were particularly helpful as you pursued an agent and book deal? What advice would you give to pre-published writers?

AC: My middle grade novel, Gaby, Lost and Found has been out almost 10 months now, and I’m still learning things about myself and the publishing journey. In the beginning, when I was a simple wanna-be-Kid Lit author with a manuscript, the idea of facing the publishing industry was scary.If you had met me then, I would have told you that I’d rather pick up a hitchhiker with face tattoos than have to face the world of slush piles and soul-less rejection letters.

Eventually, I realized that if I loved my book enough, I had to be willing to take on rejection. After all, the worst things they can do to you is ignore you completely or reject your work. Tough, but big deal. Every writer in the history of the written world has received a rejection or been passed up at some point, right? If they rejected my work, I was in good company.

I could go on and on with advice for pre-published writers. Never pick up hitchhikers with face tattoos! Really, I’ve learned so much. First, I would start with the very basic: If you’re going to go the traditional publishing route, like I did, then you must finish that manuscript. You have to show the agent something fast when they ask for a partial or full manuscript. My second advice is to take that completed manuscript to a writing critique group. Feedback is crucial. I belong to a critique group called the Firehouse Five (although we are six now) and we meet monthly to provide critique to each other’s work. It’s priceless. My final advice, take your writing-group-critiqued and completed manuscript to a local writers’ conference and sign up for a pitch or first pages sessions with an agent. I met my agent through a writer’s conference. She liked my pitch, but made it very clear there was plenty of work to be done on my manuscript before she’d offer representation. I did the work and I was signed. With her guidance, I made more revisions and it was sent off for submission. Soon, the first rejection arrived. It didn’t kill me. A week or so later, I received an offer for my first novel. Yay!

Angela C and brother

From her website: Angela, age 10, with her brother Enrique and their dogs, which were the inspiration for Spike in the novel.

CR: I love how you mixed Gaby’s story with the animals’ stories, how they were both in new situations and looking for new homes. How did you get the idea to address the subject of immigration for a MG audience, using homeless animals as a link to Gaby’s situation?

Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I really didn’t start with the idea to address the subject of immigration. I’m character-driven in my writing so I started with just Gaby, a funny, smart, and brave girl who is also a serious animal lover like her mom. I think if I had started out subject-driven with the intention to write a book on the issue of immigration, it would have been a much different novel. It would have come across as more lecturing and I don’t like to lecture or be on the receiving end of a lecture. No thank you. And kids don’t want to be lectured to either. At school visits, kids always ask me about deportation, but more in the context of why or how this happened to Gaby. They always tell me that they want Gaby and her mom to be together. They’re invested in Gaby’s happiness. It’s precious.

CR: Even though Gaby is dealing with the serious issue of her mother being away, she is also a “typical” MG girl, laughing and doing silly things with her male and female friends. Was this a conscious decision on your part, to show a range of emotions and not have it be an “issue” book or overly depressing?

AC: It’s funny that you ask that because my original drafts were even more depressing! I pulled a lot out during the revision process because the story was going in all sorts of directions. What got me back on track was again focusing on Gaby and who she was and not what she was going through. Gaby is an eleven year old girl. She loves animals. She loves glitter. She can climb trees and beat the boys at a water balloon fight. Would Gaby be defeated by bullying at school, the loss of her mom, the neglect of her father, and poverty? Or would this young girl rise up, even if she responds with some missteps, and show us what she’s made of? For me that was the only conscious decision on my part in writing this novel. I had to be true to Gaby and not define her by what she was going through, but show where she was going.

CR: Are you an animal lover? Did you have to do any particular research about animal shelters or spend time at one to capture what happens there?

AC: Besides my many years of experience as an animal lover and pet owner, I did visit several local animal shelters for information and inspiration. At the animal shelters, I asked tons of questions, held a lot of cats, wrote a lot of notes and pet a lot of dogs for this book. Why can’t all research be that much fun?

CR: What are you working on now? Can you share what’s next for you?

AC: Sure! I’ve completed my second middle-grade novel and I am now in the throes of revision. Fun stuff! Wish me luck.

Angela Cervantes

Angela Cervantes was born and raised in Kansas, with most of her childhood spent in Topeka in the Mexican-American community of Oakland. Angela has a degree in English and an MBA, and she is the co-founder of Las Poetas, a Chicana poetry group that has developed into the Latino Writers Collective. In 2005, her 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 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.

Gaby, Lost and Found is her first novel.

Click HERE to enter the giveaway. One winner will receive a signed copy of Gaby, Lost and Found, a poster, and a T-shirt. You can enter for free once each day. A winner will be chosen on Saturday, 5/24/14. Good luck!!