Book Review: Confetti Girl by Diana López

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

Confetti GirlDESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Apolonia “Lina” Flores is a sock enthusiast, a volleyball player, a science lover, and a girl who is looking for answers. Even though her house is crammed full of her dad’s books, she’s having trouble figuring out some big questions, like why her father keeps retreating into his reading, why her best friend is changing their old rules, and, most of all, why her mother had to die last year. Like colors in cascarones, Lina’s life is a rainbow of people, interests, and unexpected changes.

MY TWO CENTS: In Confetti Girl, López masterfully blends serious middle school issues, like friendships and first kisses, with the even more serious issues middle schoolers face, such as the death of one parent and the paralyzing grief of the other. Apolonia “Lina” Flores is an easily lovable character with her crazy socks and desire to do well on the volleyball court and in the classroom. But everything starts to unravel as Lina’s dad gets lost in books and her best friend, Vanessa, gets lost in Carlos’s dreamy eyes. With her relationships already strained, Lina’s situation gets worse when she’s benched for failing grades.

What makes Confetti Girl not only an awesome middle grade read but also a great novel about Latin@s is how López seamlessly weaves in cultural details. She talks about how she decided to include certain details here. By using such things as cascarones and dichos throughout the novel, López introduces cultural specifics to readers without being preachy or teacher-like. In other words, I could see young readers responding with, “Cool, let’s make those,” or “Yup, my mom says things like that all the time,” instead of “Oh, that’s a Latin thing” (closes book). The Kirkus review of this novel put it this way: “An appealing coming-of-age novel set in a traditional Mexican-American town, in which Hispanic teachers, students and parents celebrate traditional American holidays such as Thanksgiving alongside such traditional Mexican observances as el Día de los Muertos and a Quinceañera.” Click here for the full review.

Confetti Girl, López’s first middle grade novel, was a winner of the William Allen White Award and named to New York Library’s “100 Titles for Reading and Sharing.” It was a commended title for the 2010 Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, and Latinidad’s “Top Latino Book of the Year” for Middle Grade Category. It was also a Scholastic Book Club and Book Fair Selection.

TEACHING TIPS: Lots of great teaching tips, including discussion questions and activities, can be found on the author’s website. Click here for her “Teacher Resource” page and here for a PDF of a Teacher’s Guide for Confetti Girl.

Also, to align with the Common Core State Standards, teachers could easily mix this fictional novel with nonfiction articles that range from cascarones to the grieving process. Teachers could also bring in Watership Down by Richard Adams since it plays a significant role in Confetti Girl. Students could read Watership Down first and then read Confetti Girl to truly understand how the classic novel helps Lina to make sense of her own life.

LEXILE: 660

AUTHORDiana López is the author of the adult novella, Sofia’s Saints and the middle grade novels, Confetti Girl, Choke, and the recently released Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel. She is also featured in the anthologies Hecho en Tejas and You Don’t Have a Clue. She has been a guest on NPR’s Latino USA and is the winner of the 2004 Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Award. Diana teaches English and works with the organization, CentroVictoria, at the University of Houston Victoria.

For more information about Confetti Girl visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out GoodreadsIndieBound.orgWorldCat.orgLittle Brown Books for Young ReadersScholasticAmazon, and Barnes and Noble.

You can also click here for a book trailer of Confetti Girl featuring the author!

Diana can also be found on the site Read to Write Stories, where she blogs about how to create conflict with subtext.

Diana López on Migas, Confetti, and Martha Stewart

By Diana López

Ask My mood RingRecently, I was asked an excellent question. This came from a writing teacher who shared Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel with his class and wanted me to comment on the narrative techniques I used. His students noticed that I’d added a description of migas, a dish that Tejanos are very familiar with. So they were curious about how I handled cultural details in my fiction. In other words, when writing for readers who do not have the same cultural background as my characters, how do I decide what to explain and what to leave for the reader to figure out?

I love sharing the unique foods, words, and customs of my Tex-Mex world. That said, I don’t intentionally add cultural details. I don’t have to because they’re here, in my home and neighborhood. I don’t even recognize them as unique sometimes. For example, in the second chapter of Confetti Girl, we visit a home filled with cascarones and everything that is used to make them—eggshells, tissue paper, vinegar dyes, and confetti. I grew up with cascarones. Starting in January, my mother would save eggshells, and by the end of Lent, we’d have piles of egg cartons stacked on top of the fridge. She’d save old magazines and newspapers too, so we could make confetti with a hole-puncher. Then a few days before Easter, the family would gather around the table to dye the eggshells and fill them with confetti. This was my favorite part of cascarones—not cracking them on each other’s heads but making them.

Confetti GirlCascarones are an important tradition during San Antonio’s Fiesta, and people often sell them from empty parking lots or their front yards. After seeing so many confetti eggs around my neighborhood, I thought, what a great detail for my book. I had no idea they’d be so important in the final version.

When I first submitted the manuscript to New York publishers, they wrote back with questions about these mysterious cascarones. They wanted pictures and instructions. They were so fascinated by something I’d taken for granted. So now when you open a copy of Confetti Girl, you’ll see the confetti egg instructions on its opening pages. It’s wonderful to hear from readers who are making them for the first time. A young girl from Australia wrote to say that she and her mum made them, and when I visit schools, students often share some very creative cascarones, much too pretty to crack on anyone’s head.

Something similar happened with a cultural detail in my mood ring book. Making a promesa when someone gets ill is a common practice in South Texas, so naturally, when my character Erica learns her mother has breast cancer, she makes a promise to get five hundred people to sponsor her for a fundraiser. Like the cascarones, the promesa gained importance as I worked through the novel. Not only did it provide a goal for Erica, but it also worked thematically by giving her a chance to ask a lot of questions about faith and hope. I love when details come to life this way.

ChokeThere are smaller cultural details in my books, too. Erica sings “pio pio pio” to her mom. In Choke, my character eats barbacoa and drinks Big Red for breakfast. My books are full of “mijas” and “viejitos.” These details may not take on any symbolic significance, but they are just as important because they’re integral to the setting.

At a book festival last month, a participant asked me to name a pet peeve related to writing. I said, “I hate when people tell me I should add more cultural interest to my books.” In other words, I don’t like these details to be forced. They have to feel natural, and as long as I’m not consciously adding them, they will be. Sure, my characters eat migas, but they eat pizza, too.

So how do I decide which details to explain and which to leave alone? This is where a good editor comes in. We’ll get to this point in the revision process where she’ll highlight places with unfamiliar images and words. I remember the first time this happened. I wrote a book set in Corpus Christi, and I mentioned the T-heads, not realizing how unique that term was. The editor had no idea what I was talking about, so I added an appositive phrase for clarification. Ultimately, that’s what I have to determine. Are there enough context clues or should I be a little more explicit? The last thing I want is for a reader to stop because she’s confused. In that sense, I am very grateful to have an editor who is not from my world and who can point out these places—and the best editors are good about letting me decide what to do.

Now here’s something very interesting. Did you know that Martha Stewart featured cascarones on her show? Soon they’ll be as mainstream as piñatas and guacamole, so don’t be surprised when I take all the credit!

Photo credit: Todd Yates

Photo credit: Todd Yates

Diana López is the author of the middle grade novels Confetti Girl, Choke, and Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel. An adaptation of Choke will be featured on the Lifetime Movie Network this summer. Ms. Lopez teaches at the University of Houston-Victoria and works with CentroVictoria, an organization devoted to promoting Mexican American literature. She is also one of the editors of the literary magazine, Huizache.

A Conversation with René Colato Laínez

By Lila Quintero Weaver  portada-juguemos-futbol-football

If you are not acquainted with the picture books of René Colato Laínez, get thee to a bookstore right away! A Salvadoran transplant who teaches kindergarten in California, René writes joyful, bilingual picture books that children everywhere adore. I am delighted to share a one-on-one conversation with René about his life and work.

Lila: René, on your website, you express that the goal of your writing is “to produce good multicultural children’s literature; stories where minority children are portrayed in a positive way, where they can see themselves as heroes, and where they can dream and have hopes for the future. I want to write authentic stories of Latin American children living in the United States.”

As a collaborator on Latin@s in Kid Lit, a blog that exists to promote those very goals, I say BRAVO! Now for a question: What led you to adopt these goals?

René: I came to the United States when I was 14 years old. In my country, I was a smart student. I had good grades and many dreams to accomplish. In the United States, I did not know the new language. I felt lost and many times I thought that I would never be able to accomplish my goals. The inspiration to write books with a positive message to minority children came from my own life experience. I worked hard and never gave up. Yes! I accomplished my dreams. I am a teacher and an author. I want to tell minority children that they can accomplish anything they want. With “ganas” you can conquer the highest mountain.

Senor Pancho

Lila: Let me brag on your latest book. Señor Pancho Had a Rancho has received glowing reviews. It was named a top picture book by Chicago Public Library and was included in the Cuatrogatos Foundation anthology, De Raices y Sueños. I could keep going, but let me pause to ask: What inspired you to create what’s essentially a Spanish version of “Old McDonald Had a Farm”?

René: One day my ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher told us that we could learn English through music. She played the song of a man named McDonald and he had many farm animals. When I listened to the song, I was confused when the dog barked woof woof instead of gua gua. My teacher told me that in English farm animals made English sounds. I said to myself, “If I bring my perro from El Salvador, he has to learn English too!” Later on, when I became a teacher, I played the song with my kindergarteners, but I always added the Spanish sounds. After having so much fun with my students, I decided to write a book about both English and Spanish farm animals, where they could have a great time speaking two languages.

Lila: Please share a bit about your childhood experiences of immigration from El Salvador.

René: I left the country with my father, due the civil war. Along with thousands of Salvadorans, my family was looking for a better place where we could be safe from the war. But I had a happy life as a child. I loved to go to school and read all the comics books from Mexico and Argentina, like El Chapulín Colorado and Mafalda. Since first grade, I wanted to become a teacher. My favorite books were Don Quijote and Las Telerañas de Carlota. I was so surprised to find my favorite book in English, here in the United States—Charlotte’s Web.

Lila: You teach kindergarten in a California school full of Latino children. How has this influenced your writing? Is teaching what led you to write picture books in the first place?

René: In high school and college, I wrote many drafts of novels. But when I came to the classroom, I discovered picture books and soon fell in love with them. I started to write my own books for my students and they called me “El Maestro lleno de Cuentos” (“The Teacher Full of Stories”). Later on, after receiving advice from many teachers and talented authors such us Alma Flor Ada, Isabel Campoy and Amada Irma Pérez, I decided to submit my work for publication.

Lila: Your books consistently offer bilingual texts. Why is this important to you?

René: I love bilingual books because you can share them with families who speak Spanish, English or both. They can also be great tools to speak and learn to read a second language. When I started to submit my manuscripts, I always envisioned them as bilingual books—books that I could share with my students, their parents, my family here in the United States, and all my relatives and friends in El Salvador.

Lila: Your writings frequently celebrate the happy coexistence of Latino and non-Latino cultures. This occurs in The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Pérez and in Juguemos al Fútbol/ Let’s Play Football (coming out this month in the bilingual hardcover edition), to name just two examples. What inspires your multicultural bent?

René: Latino children usually live in two worlds in the United States. They speak English and Spanish and celebrate holidays from the two cultures. Many times people fight to see which language or culture is most important. I love them both and in my books I want to tell children that instead of deciding which culture is better, we can celebrate both and have double the fun.

Lila: Writing a picture book looks easy only to those who have never tried it. What’s it like for you? Do you wait for inspiration to strike or do you have a disciplined routine?

René: Writing picture books is so much fun for me. It was not easy at first but I read tons of them until I was ready to write my own stories for publication. I usually start with the problem or idea for a story. Then I think it over, again and again, and begin to create the story in my mind. When I have something solid, I begin to write it. Many incidents in the classroom help me with ideas for new stories.

Lila: You graduated from the prestigious Vermont College of Writing for Children & Young Adults and have published at least nine books. That’s a lot of experience! Can you share some hints for aspiring writers?

René: Never give up, believe in yourself, and work hard for your dreams. Take creative writing classes and join critique groups. If you are writing children’s books, it is always a great idea to join SCBWI, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Submit your work and learn from rejection letters. Believe in your stories, because you are the only one who can tell and write them. 

renecolatolainezRené Colato Laínez is a native of El Salvador. He is the award-winning author of many picture books and the recipient of honors that include the Latino Book Award, the Paterson Prize for Books for Young People, the California Collection for Elementary Readers, the Tejas Star Book Award Selection, and the New Mexico Book Award. He is listed among “Top Ten New Latino Authors to Watch (and Read)” by the site Latinostories.com*. He received a degree from the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. René’s full-time profession is teaching kindergarten in California. For more information, please visit his official author site

Agent Chat with Adrienne Rosado of Nancy Yost Literary

By Zoraida Córdova

I’d like to welcome Adrienne Rosado of Nancy Yost Literary. Eight years ago, I was one of Adrienne’s minions slush pile interns. Three books later, I’m proud to call her my agent and BFF.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Adrienne: I’m a second generation native New Yorker and have worked in publishing for just over 8 years. I represent a very eclectic group of authors and somehow was lucky enough to have stumbled into the “when I grow up” perfect job.

Me: What were some of your favorite books growing up?

29380_10152263632420414_1819881365_nAdrienne: I always read older than my age group because there wasn’t the wide range of YA and MG books in the way that we know now. When I was a kid (because apparently I’m about 500 yrs old now), you were either an R.L. Stein/Christopher Pike, or Babysitter’s Club/Sweet Valley High reader. I was all about Fear Street. There was a really clear divide in what types of books were offered to children based on gender. I remember being made to read the Lurlene McDaniel books because they were “girl books.” I remember one really bitter summer when the assigned book for girls was The Secret Garden while the boys read Indian in the Cupboard.

So, I ended up reading a lot of Stephen King and Michael Crichton instead.

Me: So when you were in school, were Latin@ books ever highlighted/incorporated into the curriculum? I did grades 1-12 in NYC public schools, and the only Latin@ book I read in high school was House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.

Adrienne: I would completely agree with you. We didn’t cover very many books with multicultural characters. I definitely read HoMS and Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia. Basically, we did classics by lots of dead authors, unless we were celebrating some kind of heritage month, which in hindsight is really sad.

Me: I agree. We shouldn’t wait for Latino or Black history months to enjoy these stories. Now, for some businessy questions: as an agent, what do you look for in submissions?

Adrienne: It boils down to quality writing. I want a well-defined protagonist, multilayered secondary characters, and a really fantastic voice. I want this regardless of the character’s race or magical species, I’m looking at you, Z.

Me: *Holds out hand for a gold star* What is the biggest mistake new authors have made when contacting you (other than addressing you as MR. Rosado)?

Adrienne: Sending me submissions before they’re ready. I see so many subs that still need another round or two of revisions and you always want to put your best foot forward.

Me: How can an author show their professionalism?

Adrienne: The most successful authors that I know have always acted as professionals before they were published. They did their research in their genres. They avoided trend chasing. They strove to make their manuscripts as pristine as possible before sending them out.

Sometimes, it’s even as simple as having a dedicated professional email address with your name as opposed to babygirl23XOXO@aol.com
It’s demonstrating a familiarity with what being a modern author entails, having a Twitter account, a blog, etc.

Deadlines are also huge. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I request a manuscript and then am told that the author needs another couple of months to polish it. That’s unprofessional.

Me: How many clients do you represent? Are you still looking?

Adrienne: I try to keep a smaller and diverse list, so I can give my authors personal attention. I’m always on the look out for fresh voices and new talent.

Me: How do you decide where to pitch a manuscript?

Adrienne: It’s not dissimilar from how an author looks for an agent. The sign of a good agent is someone who maintains a good network of editorial contacts. They know who is looking for what kind of material. You wouldn’t go to an imprint that does non-fiction with supernatural YA. Everyone’s taste is different, even within houses and imprints. Your agent should stay up-to-date with what editors are looking for.

Me: How do you work with your authors? How deep are your edits?

Adrienne: It’s different with every author and the level they’re at with their careers. Some agents don’t do any editorial work at all. I happen to do some editorial work with my clients.

With debut authors I tend to do more polishing edits, and even some developmental, before going out on submission in order to put our best foot forward in the publishing marketplace.

There has to be a level of trust in the editorial process and open communication.  I would never want to make suggestions that an author felt were inauthentic to their material.

Me: What are you looking to represent now?

Adrienne: This is going to sound like a cop out, but I’m looking for strong writing, an exciting voice, something that’s going to put me in the character’s life and make me feel like part of that story that has the potential to make me miss my stop on the subway.

I accept anything from MG to Adult. I do have a soft spot for thrillers, anything dark and edgy, Southern Gothics, and things that make me laugh or cry really hard.

Me: What do you think we can do as a writing community to promote or have more books with diverse characters?

Adrienne: I think that diversity should be a facet of a character and not a defining characteristic of the story. Your work for example. You happen to be an Ecuadorian immigrant who wrote a book, which includes a diverse cast of characters, but that’s not why I represent you. I represent and read your books because I love the stories and world that you’ve created.

Me: It also represents my upbringing. My friends have always been first or second generation immigrants from all over the place. But it’s still hard to see ourselves in a lot of media without stereotypes.

Adrienne: I feel that the issues in multicultural literature are different now than they were 15-20 years ago. The stories we’re reading now are going to a generation that is used to having diversity in their daily lives. It’s less about assimilating into a new culture/community and more about individual identity. For instance, when I was a teen, if someone asked me where I was from, I would say I’m a New Yorker. That wouldn’t have been the case for my parent’s generation. Now, it’s assumed that people have a diverse background. It’s not uncommon in this city.

Me: It might be different for kids who live in less diverse communities and states.

Adrienne: Agreed. But that doesn’t mean that children and teens from a less diverse community are not going to be able to relate to another teen’s story just because it comes from a protagonist of a different race, religion, etc. People read to learn about something different, a new world, a new character, whether it’s a coming of age story or an epic fantasy. A good story is a good story. It should be how a story is told that defines the book.

Me: Totally. Though I think authors shouldn’t be afraid to write more diverse characters and make it a non-issue. In writing classes people like to throw around the phrase “write what you know,” but I think we should “write what you don’t know.”

Adrienne: I agree. Added to that, though, is that growing up happens to the best of us, so we all happen to face really similar challenges as we “come of age.” For example, isn’t it Jane Austen that said, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single teen in possession of a good prom dress, must be in want of a date.”  Or something like that anyway?

Me: LOL. Something like that. Maybe the problem is that people keep making it a problem.

Adrienne: I completely agree with that. There should be more diversity in books. I think the issue is that many authors fear that they will get pigeonholed as “multicultural” when that is only a sliver of the story.

Me: Agreed. Sometimes our politically correctness gets in the way.

Adrienne: At the end of the day, write a good story. Don’t be afraid to let your characters be who they are…

Me: Well thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Now, I’m going to go write a quasi-biographical YA based on my early years.

Adrienne: *groans*

Me: Kidding. Thanks for being with us. If you’d like submit to Adrienne Rosado, please read the NYLA guidelines.

Here are some of Adrienne’s clients:

PLAY ME BACKWARDS FRONT copy   colony-225-1   Blood_Tango   9781402265136-300   7990393-1

 

Give Kid Lit Readers a Broad Range with Real Characters

 

For our first set of posts, each of us will respond to the question: “Why Latin@ Kid Lit?” to address why we created a site dedicated to celebrating books by, for, or about Latin@s.

By Ashley Hope Pérez

Like Stephanie, my personal commitment to Latin@ lit comes from my work with teens. Much of my energy as a high school English teacher in Houston went to finding ways to make reading and writing an authentic, meaningful, and empowering part of my students’ lives.

I spent a lot of time scouring our school library and talking to my reluctant readers about what they wanted in a book. No big surprise: a lot of them wanted a book that reflected their experiences in a way that would ring true. We had plenty of successes, but there were a number of students for whom it seemed that the gateway book—that critical read that would persuade them of all that words can do—was missing.

“I want a book that shows how my life really is,” I heard over and over. “Not just somebody brown, but somebody real,” one student insisted. And, “please, I can’t stand it when they make it seem like if you just get into college, you’ve got it made.” That last bit came from one of my top-performing seniors, an impressive scholar by all accounts but also a young woman who had few illusions about the conflicting demands she would be facing in the coming years.

My students—aware of my aspirations to “one day” write a novel—began to recommend (okay, insist, pester, badger) that I write the book that they were looking for, and they were both my inspiration and the first readers of What Can’t Wait. Similarly, The Knife and the Butterfly began with writing exercises I was using to give a group of freshmen in a summer school English class a way of responding to the news coverage of a deadly gang fight a few miles away. In my third novel (watch for it in 2015 from Carolrhoda Lab), I take my concern with Latin@ experiences in a new direction by bringing them to the history of my native East Texas. I explore Hispanic experiences in the primarily black-and-white world of 1930s East Texas through the story of a school explosion, family secrets, an interracial romance between a Mexican American girl and a black boy, and the pressures created by Texas’s three-fold segregation system (black, white, and “Mexican” schools existed in many places). The third novel is going to be something different from my contemporary fiction, for sure, but it’s still written with my students in mind. I like to think that it’s the kind of book that would persuade my students to think about how past experiences scar the present—and what we do to mark loss and begin healing.

It matters quite a lot to me that Latin@ lit avoid the trap of making an “issue” of ethnicity, as Zoraida pointed out. Ethnicity was a non-issue for my students, not because they lived in such a multicultural world (Zoraida’s experience) but in fact because their world was relatively homogeneous; most of the kids in the Southeast Houston neighborhood where I taught were from working class families with roots in Mexico. Even my students who weren’t bilingual regularly heard Spanish and had strategies for managing the interconnections of Spanish and English in their community.

I don’t include glossaries in my novels, as I discuss here, because my books are first and foremost for my kids—and because I believe in the resourcefulness of other readers who come along. All of that to say: writing for my kids felt urgent back when I started What Can’t Wait, and it still does today. But Latin@s in Kid Lit has a broader mission than featuring Latin@ YA: we’re about highlighting awesomeness by, for, and about Latin@s for kids of all ages, including younger readers.

When I have the chance to talk with librarians or teachers about book selection, I often beg them first to make sure their collection goes well beyond the default “diversity” titles. Book selections for younger children should go beyond portrayals of special holidays, for example. I often caution teachers about resorting too quickly to the “minority celebrity” of the hour when attempting to diversify their reading lists.

By the time my (mostly Latin@) students reached my senior English class, most of them had read The House on Mango Street—in part or in whole—a half dozen times. That was because Cisneros’ (wonderful!) and widely discussed book had become synonymous with “Latino experience” in the minds of well-meaning teachers who had little additional knowledge of Latin@ lit, and they didn’t look beyond it when making choices for their classrooms.

The absence of a broad selection of diverse titles can reinforce students’ feelings of exclusion and general disengagement from the world of books. By contrast, offering students (whatever their background) a broad range of literature can generate a lot of excitement.

I, for one, am all for excitement! In future posts, I hope to contribute to the conversation by offering my two cents on what’s happening in the world of Latin@ YA and also by highlighting some of my Latin@ kidlit reading adventures with my son, Liam Miguel.

More from me soon!

Ashley

P.S. Since I talk a lot about how I came to focus on Latin@ experiences in my fiction, I’ve cribbed some of this post from a past feature I did at STACKED , another blog that YA fans and librarians should have on their radar.

Writing and Reading Latino/a Kid Lit is for Everyone, Not Just Latin@s

 

For our first set of posts, each of us will respond to the question: “Why Latin@ Kid Lit?” to address why we created a site dedicated to celebrating books by, for, or about Latin@s.

By Stephanie Guerra

I teach children’s literature at Seattle University, and each quarter, my students discuss issues of voice and agency in children’s literature. We take up questions such as: What constitutes authenticity in multicultural children’s literature? Who has the “right” to write from various cultural, racial, gender, or ethnic perspectives? It’s wonderful and fascinating to see the debates that arise. Some of my students argue that for literature to be “authentic,” authors should be insiders of the groups they’re portraying. Others feel that intermarriage or long-term residency within a given group is adequate. Still others believe that fiction should be judged on its own merits, apart from the qualifications or attributes of the author.

by Stephanie Guerra

by Stephanie Guerra

I’m in the “fiction should be judged on its own merits” category, and my first novel (TORN, 2012), is written from the perspective of a biracial Latina teen. I’m not Latina. I married into this last name, which migrated from Spain to Italy so many centuries ago that the Guerra family (my husband’s) identifies as Italian. I am of Italian, Irish, Croatian, and German descent. I chose to attempt a Latina character in honor of a dear friend who expressed to me some of the complexities of her biracial identity.

While each reader must be his or her own judge of whether I captured the biracial experience, the writing itself was a joy, and many teens have expressed that the book meant something to them. In crafting characters from other cultural, ethnic, and racial groups, I believe we’re called to expand our understanding and love of the people we’re trying to depict. It worked this way for me. So this is half of my answer to Why Latin@ Kid Lit?: because I believe writing it and reading it is for everyone, not just Latin@s.

The second reason I care to promote Latin@ Kid Lit is because of my work with incarcerated teens. My academic research is focused on building literacy with at-risk teens, and I’ve encountered study after study demonstrating that readers need the chance to “see themselves” in at least some of the books they read.

I teach creative writing at a juvenile correctional facility, and my students are largely black, white, and Latin@. They respond enthusiastically to fiction about Latin@ characters and culture, and I would love to find more of this material, especially books which are accessible, fast-paced, and of high literary quality. In particular, I’d like to see more Latin@ fiction that falls outside the street lit category. (Street lit, also called urban lit, gangsta lit, and hip-hop lit, is edgy fiction set in urban neighborhoods and featuring gritty topics like drug use, prostitution, gangs, etc.)

In this blog, I hope to provide resources for the many teachers and librarians serving Latin@ teens. I especially want to speak to non-Latin@ adults. I know how it feels to be a cultural outsider teaching cultural insiders. It’s easy to feel awkward or presumptuous discussing racial and cultural issues with students of color, but I don’t think it’s the best way to serve our students. We can and should connect with them on this issue, especially if they indicate a desire to do so. We should work to find literature that speaks to them, and we should find ways to talk about that literature—or to listen respectfully. Latin@ kid lit is a gift we can give children, teens, and ourselves.