Book Reviews: Gift-worthy Bilingual Children’s Books

Reviews by Ashley Hope Pérez

It’s an ongoing challenge for our family to find high-quality books in Spanish, and it is even more difficult to find bilingual editions where Spanish and English are presented as equals. This beautiful children’s book offers a novel solution: its sturdy cardboard accordion-style construction can be read from either side. One side offers the classic words to “Las mañanitas,” and the other presents an English version. The same design can be found in three other Canticos books, which you can discover here.

The Birthday Book / Las Mañanitas by Susie Jaramillo

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: The fourth book in the Canticos series of bilingual nursery rhymes was inspired by the most popular birthday song in Spanish. Fans of the series will recognize a cast of characters from the Canticos collection who wake up their bunny friend on his special day and then partake in a joyful, cake-filled, celebration in The Birthday Book / Las Mañanitas. Like other Canticos books, The Birthday Book / Las Mañanitas has a unique, interactive, accordion design that presents the Spanish version of the book in one direction and its English adaptation in the other. Children can sing the song straight through, lift the flaps, or stand it up and surround themselves with the story.

I loved the look of this book, but I didn’t know if Ethan Andrés, our board book reader, would take to it. At first, he was most interested in unfolding all the pages and spreading the book out across the floor. Then he spent time lifting all the flaps on the pages. (His favorite part is the peek-a-boo hands of the monkeys.) Now, it is a bedtime staple, and we usually read it like a “regular” book rather than spreading it out.

The novelty of the liftable flaps has not worn off for Ethan Andrés, and he loves “uncovering” the sleeping bunny to wish him feliz cumpleaños. Other sweet details abound, from a drawing of a chick that says “pío, pío” (the sound chicks make in Spanish), to the friendly animal cast.

The high-quality construction and simple elegance of the book make it excellent for a gift for a beloved child. The book comes in a sturdy box for added protection. A free app provides grown-ups and kids alike with the tune that accompanies the song, so there’s no need to worry if you don’t know it already. And as you can tell from the video below, I’m no singing diva, but my kiddo doesn’t mind… he’s too busy “finding” the animals under the flaps.

I look forward to adding more of the Canticos books to our collection, especially “Los pollitos,” as that traditional song is one of Ethan’s favorites. “Las Mañanitas/The Birthday Book” won’t be for sale until mid June, but you can preorder it now. And you should!

*Note: a copy of this book was provided by the publisher for our review.

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Liam Miguel reads to his baby brother, Ethan Andrés.

As a bilingual mother and early literacy advocate, I’m always on the look out for high quality baby books in Spanish. The selection at big-box bookstores is often limited to simple board books with titles like La ropaLa comida, and so on, some of which I’ve found to have spelling or accent errors. And anyway, I want something richer and more interesting, something that will invite Spanish into the interaction. Which is why I was thrilled to discover these beautiful books to read, touch, and hear with babies. The books featured here are distributed through IPG, Independent Publishers Group. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Librarians, teachers, and interested parents should check out the IPG Spanish-language catalogs for many more options.

IPG titles are now my go-to when it’s time to pick out gifts for new babies in bilingual or Spanish-speaking households. Here are a few baby books that have become favorites in our household.

Uno, Dos, ¡Cucú! by Anette Rusling, with illustrations by Katie Saunders

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DESCRIPTION: This ingenious lift-the-flap book about numbers also features peepholes to give children a clue as to what lies beneath. The rhyme on each page encourages young readers to discover what’s hiding and to count the objects.

WHAT WE LOVE ABOUT IT: The page-size flaps are oh-so-inviting for chubby little baby fingers–and sturdy enough to stand up to their vigorous “loving.” This is one of Ethan’s go-to bedtime books, and he enjoys the bright colors of theillustrations and the way that the set of objects that appears when the flap is closed changes when the flap is opened. For example, underneath the flap, the mice on the page for “7” become skittish elephants surprised by the rodents. The face of each elephant is partially concealed by the cut-out that creates the shape for each mouse’s body. Loads of fun.

 

Los pequeanimales al dedillo, with illustrations by Julie Mercier

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DESCRIPTION: Colorful illustrations, flaps that can be lifted, and varied textures combine in this engaging book to introduce children to a range of baby animals. As kids interact with the elements on each page of this didactic and fun book, they’ll learn more about foals, fawns, bear cubs, and a number of other animals.

WHAT WE LOVE ABOUT IT: This book has beautiful images and wonderful textures, which our baby loves. It also has interesting science information that keeps my older son engaged and asking questions. The page on mammals–complete with animals nursing–is especially fun to talk about since his baby brother is breastfeeding.

 

Los sonidos de la noche, with illustrations by Emily Bolam

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DESCRIPTION: Nocturnal animals such as the owl, the bear, and the wolf come to life for little hands in this delightfully interactive book. Each page spread presents a different animal that children can touch and a sound button that lets them know what noises the animal makes. This book is an engaging, entertaining way for very young readers to start learning about the natural world.

LosSonidos_inside2WHAT WE LOVE ABOUT IT: This is a book with something for everyone. Ethan Andrés loves the furry critters, and Liam Miguel “helps” his brother press the sound buttons. I don’t know if it’s the night sounds or the tickle of his brother’s hand on his, but the experience always gets Ethan giggling. I’m not usually a fan of books or toys that make noise, but these sounds are pleasant and last a reasonable duration.

 

 

P.S. The books featured here were received from IPG, which does an excellent job of curating and distributing some of the most beautiful and distinctive Spanish-language materials available in the U.S. I’m a fan.

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWERAshley Hope Pérez is a writer and teacher passionate about literature for readers of all ages—especially stories that speak to diverse Latino experiences. She is the author of three novels, What Can’t Wait (2011) and The Knife and the Butterfly (2012), and Out of Darkness (2015), which won a Printz Honor. A native of Texas, Ashley has since followed wherever writing and teaching lead her. She completed a PhD in comparative literature from Indiana University and enjoys teaching everything from Spanish language and Latin American literature to the occasional course on vampires in literature. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Spotlight on Latina Illustrators Part 5: Alyssa Bermudez, Elisa Chavarri and Zara Gonzalez Hoang

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the fifth in a series of posts spotlighting Latina illustrators of picture books. Some of these artists have been creating children’s books for many years, while others will have their first book out soon. They come from many different cultural backgrounds, but all are passionate about connecting with readers through art and story. Please look for their books at bookstores and libraries!

Alyssa Bermudez

Photo by Mark Cowles

Photo by Mark Cowles

Alyssa Bermudez is a New Yorker who studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology and now lives and works in Tasmania. She illustrated Lucia the Luchadora by Cynthia Leonor Garza, which was published in 2017 by Pow! Kids Books.

Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist?

A:  I have always wanted to be someone who makes things. Whether it was designing shoes or learning to sew, I have always felt most like my true self when I’m making something. Growing up in New York, I had access to incredible artistic resources, and being exposed to that from a young age also made it feel totally natural. I don’t actually remember a time that I didn’t want to become an artist.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A:  Watercolor and Photoshop are my current absolute favorites. Watercolor has a mind of its own and sometimes that spontaneity shows up on the page. I love the confidence of its presence and combining it with digital techniques where I can control it afterwards.

Q: Please finish this sentence: “Picture books are important because…”

A: Picture books are important because it allows children to visualize and understand their own stories as they grow up. They can see their lives reflected in this way. The world is an exciting and colorful place full of adventure, and picture books highlight this to kids and adults.

Lucia the Luchadora Cover

Elisa Chavarri

Elisa Chavarri is a freelance illustrator originally from Lima, Peru. She did much of her growing up in Northern Michigan where she now resides with her husband, baby girl, cat, and dog. Elisa graduated with honors from The Savannah College of Art and Design, where she majored in Classical Animation and minored in Comics.  Books she has illustrated include Rainbow Weaver/Tejadora del arco iris from Lee & Low Books, Maybe Mother Goose and Fairly Fairy Tales from Aladdin Books and various titles for American Girl.

Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist? 

A: For me, it was my love of the old classic Disney movies and cartoons, once I discovered that people actually created these characters and worlds by doing countless drawings and concept art, I was hooked. In addition I’ve liked drawing and coloring as long as I can remember.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: This is a tough one for me because I like different mediums for different reasons. My top favorites are pencil/paper, acrylics, watercolors, and digital. The one I use the most is digital, and it’s the one I learned last, but for completing work on time and revisions, it is the most versatile and efficient medium. To play around with on my own time and for personal projects I really enjoy acrylics and watercolors for their ease of use. I’ve been using these and oil paints since I was a kid thanks to my mom encouraging my artistic leanings and putting me in various classes. Digital painting I began learning in college, but mostly am self-taught.

Q: Please finish this sentence: “Picture books are important because…”

A: They introduce children to stories/reading and the arts which are among the most life enriching things in the world!

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Zara Gonzalez Hoang

Zara Gonzalez HoangZara Gonzalez Hoang is an illustrator originally from Minneapolis, now living near Washington, D.C. She studied art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and will illustrate the upcoming picture book Thread of Love by Surishtha Sehgal and Kabir Sehgal for the Simon and Schuster imprint Beach Lane.

Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist?

A: I was lucky enough to be born into a family of teachers, so paper and art supplies were always around. I think at the heart of it all was the feeling of connection I got as a child drawing with my dad. I remember him lying on the floor with me, a sketchbook between us, drawing horses (my favorite) and boats (his favorite). My dad had a creative soul that wasn’t often expressed, so to be able to share a piece of it was always something special.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I work primarily digitally. I’ve always been drawn to computers (I was actually a computer science major in college for a little while), so I think the idea of merging art and technology appeals to me on different levels. I like working digitally because it’s so easy to change things if you’re not satisfied. I have a tendency to change my mind a lot so being able to change colors with ease or move elements around is really appealing. I draw so much digitally that when I’m drawing traditionally and make a mistake my mind tells me I need to hit the undo button (even though that is obviously not possible!)

Also, being a mom of young son, it’s a lot easier to turn on my tablet and get some “painting” done without having to worry about my paint drying on my brushes or making a giant mess that I don’t have time to clean up when my guy needs me. There are so many great brushes being created for Photoshop these days (Kyle’s Brushes are my favorite) that emulate different traditional media that it’s become a lot harder to tell the difference if you know what you are doing.

Q: Please finish this sentence: “Picture books are important because…”

A: They help children make sense of the world around them. There is a quote that I read recently that really resonates with me and gets to the heart of why I think picture books are important so I will just put that here because I don’t think I can say it any better than Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop:

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirror in books.”

I got into picture books because as a mixed-race Latina Jew married to a Vietnamese refugee with a Vietnamese/Puerto Rican/Jewish Buddhist child I want to help create mirrors for children who don’t have them. There are so many stories that are not represented, I feel like part of my purpose is to help bring them to life.

Spotlight on Latina Illustrators Part 4: Carolyn Dee Flores, Christina Rodriguez, and Jacqueline Alcántara

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the fourth in a series of posts spotlighting Latina illustrators of picture books. Some of these artists have been creating children’s books for many years, while others will have their first book out this year. They come from many different cultural backgrounds, but all are passionate about connecting with readers through art and story. Please look for their books at bookstores and libraries!

Carolyn Dee Flores

Carolyn Dee Flores grew up around the world and now lives in San Antonio, Texas. She worked as a computer analyst, rock musician and composer prior to becoming an illustrator of children’s books. She illustrated Dale, dale, dale: una fiesta de números/Hit it, hit it, hit it: a fiesta of numbers and Canta, Rana, Canta/ Sing Froggie Sing, which were both named to the Tejas Star Reading list. Her illustrations for the book Daughter of Two Nations won a Skipping Stones Honor Award. Her most recent work can be seen in the book Una Sorpresa para Teresita/ A Surprise for Teresita, published in October 2016 by Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Publico Press.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A:   My Uncle Rey. He was a professional artist. He made me realize it was something you could do. Be an artist for a living.

When I was little, I used to go over to my grandmother’s house and see his drawings and paintings framed on the wall and I would think, “How on earth does someone get that good?” Later, I found out he had gone to art school and become an artist for the Air Force. When he passed away, my aunt gave me his art books. I read every page … over and over and over. That’s when I first learned about Goya and Rembrandt and Velázquez. It meant everything to me.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium. 

A: Oil. Oil. And then oil. I am very excited about a new technique I developed for painting with oil on cardboard. It completely saturates the board until it looks like brushed felt. It also enables me to control the bleed and dry quickly. This is the first time I have been able to get those intense colors that you get with oil paints – in an illustration. I use this process in my new book “A Surprise for Teresita” which comes out this month.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: They are a child’s very first glimpse into all the possibilities of being a human being. Whether it is stepping into the Wizard of Oz, or a Dr. Seuss landscape, or playing with the pigeon in Mo Willems’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus – or going to a playground down the block – the reality for a child is the same. The world is full of color, and rhythm and courageous deeds and breathtaking imagination. Picture books affirm a child’s vision … forever. Nothing could be more important than that!

Dale, Dale, Dale / Hit It, Hit It, Hit It Cover  Canta, Rana, Canta / Sing, Froggie, Sing Cover  

 

Christina Rodriguez

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Christina Rodriguez lives in Rhode Island and has illustrated more than twelve books for children. She is a three time nominee for the Tejas Star Book Award. Among the books she has illustrated are Un día con mis tias/ A Day with my Aunts, Mayte and the Bogeyman, We are Cousins/ Somos primos, The Wishing Tree and Adelita and the Veggie Cousins.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: I became a children’s book illustrator thanks to the adults who steered me in that direction as a child: from my dad who taught me how to draw horses as a child, to my teachers who encouraged my love of art and reading, and finally to my mother for supporting my decision to go to art school at RISD.  Without the continuous support of the role models in my life, I might not be where I am today.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I have two favorite mediums: digital and watercolors. Watercolor painting was one of the first techniques I learned, but I didn’t really get into it until college, when it became a safer alternative to oil paints (the fumes were giving me headaches). Most of my books are done in a mixture of watercolors, watercolor pencils, and gouache -an opaque type of watercolors – that gives me a lot of control in the details and the ability to add depth and texture. I also carry a travel-sized watercolor paint box with my sketchbook everywhere I go.

My other favorite medium is digital: I’ve illustrated a few books completely in Adobe Photoshop, from sketches to finished art. Many book illustrators incorporate digital programs into their workflows at some point, whether it’s resizing sketches, or cleaning up and enhancing finished paintings. I use a Microsoft Surface Pro which makes creating digital illustrations even easier.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: They introduce children to many rich and important concepts at a young age: a love of reading and art, active listening, and critical thinking of complex subjects while in a safe place. Picture books can provide the foundation upon which a rich education can be built.

  Mayte and the Bogeyman/Mayte y El Cuco Cover  We Are Cousins/Somos Primos Cover    Adelita and the Veggie Cousins/Adelita y Las Primas Verduritas Cover

 

Jacqueline Alcántara

photo credit @eyeshotchaJacqueline Alcántara is a freelance author and illustrator who previously taught high school art and photography. She won the inaugural We Need Diverse Books Illustrator Mentorship Award in 2016. Her first book is The Field which will be published in 2018 by NorthSouth Books.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: For as long as I can remember, I loved drawing, cutting, gluing, painting, inventing characters, and writing stories. As a kid, my mom would take me down to the Art Institute’s kids programs, and I still remember the texture of the paper they gave me, and how excited I felt about creating art inside the museum. When I was in high school, my dad took me to Honduras a few times, and each time, we visited with one his best friends who happened to be a fantastic painter and brilliant musician. His name was Carlos Brizzio, and he quickly became the coolest person in the world to me. By the time I finished high school, I knew I wanted to work within “the arts,” even if I hadn’t yet figured out what that meant.

After I graduated from college, I worked as an art teacher, and I decided that I wanted to combine my love of art  and kids, and pursue children’s illustration. Lots of artists have inspired me along the way, but my first loves, beyond Quentin Blake and Chris Van Allsburg, were Dalí, Picasso, and Redon. I still look at a lot of art and visit my favorite paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, but now I’m mostly inspired by silly things that happen throughout the day, serious things that are happening in the world, and all of the beauty that I find in between.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: At this point in time, I’m most in love with markers and gouache. I love gouache because of the opaque/flat feeling of the color. I like that it’s an old medium as well—that it has history and depth. I started using markers recently, when I became interested in fashion illustration. Markers allow you to work fast and consistently, and I love the way they layer on top of one another  to almost look and feel like watercolors, or digital painting. I use Photoshop for almost all of my illustrations to collage, experiment, and play with light, color and composition.

Mixed media is so much fun because you can have a plan for your piece, but so much is still left to chance and experimentation, which is exciting when you’re creating a piece, and so satisfying when it’s complete.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: Along with TV and movies, books are largely responsible for how we formulate our ideas about people, cultures, and especially, ourselves from an early age. The stories and characters we read in picture books represent some  of the first ways in which we begin to explore these things, and those impressions stick with us, whether consciously or subconsciously, for a very long time. Picture books ask questions about our world and ourselves and can provide us with comfort, curiosity, hope and empathy. But my favorite part is  the details, and the magical way in which the words and pictures can tell the same story while saying different things. I also love that children can “read” a picture book even before they are ready to read the text, and how repeated readings help them to discover the details, thought, humor and care that goes into the process of creating them. Picture books are important because they help us to visualize our pasts and futures, as they feed our imagination.

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Books to Look For:

Dale, dale, dale: una fiesta de números/Hit it, hit it, hit it: a fiesta of numbers by Carolyn Dee Flores

Canta, Rana, Canta/ Sing Froggie Sing by Carolyn Dee Flores

Una Sorpresa para Teresita/ A Surprise for Teresita by Carolyn Dee Flores

Un día con mis tias/ A Day with my Aunts illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Mayte and the Bogeyman illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

We are Cousins/ Somos primos illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Adelita and the Veggie Cousins illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Creating a Diverse Book Legacy: Interview with Culture Chest Founder

The climate in our country at present makes it increasingly urgent for us to bring diverse portrayals of diverse peoples to young readers. In addition to the resources we promote through schools, libraries, and other communities, there’s a new kid on the block, a subscription service called Culture Chest, which provides books that highlight diverse experiences geared toward readers aged 3-8. Several subscription options are available.

Here are some highlights of my chat with Rose Espiritu, founder of Culture Chest.

LKL: Tell us the mission behind Culture Chest. What does it bring to the work of diversifying children’s literature?

Rose: Two years before beginning Culture Chest, I was working on a documentary about parenting someone of a different race. I interviewed over one hundred interracial families as well as those brought together through transracial adoption. Many families explained the difficulties of finding books with characters that looked like their children. While filming, I interviewed a young Latina girl who was adopted by a Caucasian family when she was born. She told me about a book that described the adoption process and compared it to a “birthing video.”  It was the only explanation she had for how she came to be. Through her, I realized the importance of children’s literature.

culturechestboxRose: As a second generation immigrant of Nigerian and Filipino descent, I struggled with finding literature about my heritage when I was growing up. I created Culture Chest to help people learn about themselves and other cultures. I wanted to provide a resource for parents to teach their children about the world within the comfort of their own homes.

I think of Culture Chest as a social venture, and I want to support the diversification of children’s books. The goal is to show publishing companies that folks want diverse stories with cultural relevance which will hopefully prompt them to invest more resources towards supporting authors from diverse backgrounds.

LKL: How do you select the books?culturechest1

Rose: I consult with children’s book reviews and testimonials as well as books that I personally enjoy. I look for books written by diverse and emerging authors who have a personal connection to their work. At Culture Chest, we do not look for books where characters “happen” to be a person of color. We want stories with cultural relevance that encourage children to love other cultures.

LKL: What are some of your favorite books by or about Latinxs? 

In children’s books, one favorite is The Gullywasher by Joyce Rossi. The book is a
grandfather telling a tall tale about how he got older. I was super close to my lolo (grandfather) and it reminded me of that special bond.

 

Tito Puente, Mambo King by Monica Brown is a fun vibrant story of about Tito Puente banging on pots and pans as a child. I’ve seen many children light up after reading it to them! We featured this title in our September box.

garciagirlsFor older readers, I love How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Álvarez. I immediately related to this book and its themes of pressure to assimilate, racial identity, and the immigrant experience. I love the fact that it is told from the perspective of four girls. It felt like snapshots of the past. I was introduced to the time of Trujillo and the political unrest in the Dominican government that led to their family fleeing to America. This book had adventure, laughter, and stories everyone with strict Catholic roots can relate to.

LKL: What else should readers know about Culture Chest?

We are a humble startup with big dreams of promoting culture through books, toys, and other avenues. Traveling to other countries and reconnecting with my heritage as an adult has helped me become a much more self-assured, confident person. My parents immigrated to this country, so their goal was to be American. As an American, I feel I have to work twice as hard to hold onto my heritage. I know others share this desire. Our goal is to help make it easier for parents and children to engage with their culture.

LKL: How can folks learn more about what you do? 

Please join to our email list and connect with us on Twitter at @CultureChest. You can also find us on Facebook and at our website. Learn more and subscribe at culturechest.com, and use the promo code WELCOME to get 10% off as a new subscriber.

 

Take Two!: SLJ’s Shelley Diaz Predicts 2016 Pura Belpré Award Winners

By Shelley M. Diaz 

While I didn’t correctly predict the top winners in last year’s Pura Belpré Awards, many of the titles mentioned received recognition at the American Library Association’s 2015 Youth Media Awards. I wonder how close I will get this year! We’ll see on January 11 as the children’s literary world waits with baited breath for the announcements of the recipients of the top kid lit awards presented by librarians in the United States.

Results of Mock Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, Coretta Scott King, and Geisel lists have been tallied on the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) blog. An Oregon chapter of REFORMA (National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking) even posted their own Mock Pura Belpré. And the “Latinas 4 Latino Lit” blog posted their top picks in late November.

Before I get to my predictions, let’s recap the criteria for the Pura Belpré Medals:

First, here’s a short overview of the criteria that librarians on the committee (members of REFORMA and ALSC) will consider when naming the recipients of the 2015 awards (found in the Pura Belpré Award Manual).

  1. Two medals shall be awarded annually at the Annual Conference of the American Library Association, one to a Latino author of an outstanding children’s book and one to a Latino illustrator for creating an outstanding children’s picture book. Each of these must be an original work that portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience.
  2. The award-winning books must be published in the United States or Puerto Rico during the preceding year.
  3. Recipients of the Pura Belpré medal must be residents or citizens of the United States or Puerto Rico.
  4. Fiction and nonfiction books for children published in Spanish, English, or bilingual formats are eligible.

More specifics:

  1. A “children’s book” shall be a book for which children are a potential audience. The book must display respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.
  2. Particular attention will be paid to cultural authenticity.
  3. “Resident” specifies that author has established and maintained residence in the United States, or Puerto Rico, as distinct from being a casual or occasional visitor.

So without further ado, here are my picks for this year’s winners. If you click on the cover images or the title links, you will be taken to IndieBound for more information:

 

Pura Belpré 2016 Author Award

23309551Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle. illus. by Edel Rodriguez. S. & S./Atheneum.

Reasons why I think it will win: Already a YALSA Nonfiction Finalist, an SLJ Top Latino Book, and the recipient of multiple starred reviews, the latest work by the first Latina to receive a Newbery Honor is truly a tour de force. A memoir in verse detailing her struggles as young person caught between two worlds—Cuba and the U.S.—this title is as compelling and well-written as Engle’s previous Pura Belpré recognized titles. Plus, the Oregon Mock Pura chose this as its winner—and I’m in full agreement.

Honors:

22295304Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks

Probably one of the most celebrated YA titles this year, this urban fantasy with an unapologetic but totally real Afro-Latina is a joy to read and heeds the call for diversity within the sci-fi/fantasy genres. Plus, the celebration of Latino culture is strong in this title, offering an often ignored aspect of our culture—anti-Blackness.

SLJ Q&A: Urban Fantasy Counter-Narrative: Daniel José Older on “Shadowshaper”

 

24612544Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx by Sonia Manzano. Scholastic.

Manzano is no stranger to the Pura Belpré Awards. Her Revolution of Evelyn Serrano took an Honor in 2013. And it’s no secret how much I enjoyed this memoir about her path to Sesame Street, where she played the iconic “Maria.” The lyrical text evokes both the childhood trauma and resilience that made her the role model and award-winning writer and actress she is today. Just try to keep a dry eye. Manzano’s holiday-themed picture book Miracle on 133rd Street could also take a medal this year. The Oregon Mock certainly thinks so.

SLJ Video: Daniel José Older Talks to Sonia Manzano, Sesame Street’s ‘Maria,’ About Her Memoir

 

24795948Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh. illus. by author. Abrams.

I don’t think it’s possible to have a year in which Tonatiuh doesn’t win a Pura recognition. It’s written in the bylaws, I think. (Just kidding. Sort of.)

 

 

Other possible contenders:

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Scholastic. Though only one section of past Author Medalist’s ambitious novel directly celebrates Latino culture, this book has lots of fans in the library world. It might get a nod on January 11.

Mango, Abuela and Me. Candlewick by past Author winner Meg Medina. There’s a parrot and an adorable abuela bridging cultural and linguistic divides. Sounds like a recipe for a winner to me.

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle. illus. by Rafael López. HMH. Wouldn’t it be amazing if Engle takes both the Award and an Honor? This picture book inspired by an Afro-Chinese-Cuban female musician who broke gender barriers is a true gem.

Salsa: Un Poema Para Cocinar/A Cooking Poem. by Jorge Argueta. Illus. by Duncan Tonatiuh. Groundwood. This bilingual text, part of the “Cooking Poem” series is as delectable as the previous entries. Definitely a contender!

Since the committees tend to stay away from upper-end YA, I don’t know if Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not (SohoTeen) or Ashley Hope Pérez’s Out of Darkness (Lerner) will be recognized, but wouldn’t that be nice?

 

 

Pura Belpré 2016 Illustrator Award

22749711Winner: Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle. illus. by Rafael López. HMH.

Reasons why I think it will win: Have you seen this book? It just screams “Caress Me!” The illustrations are majestic and vibrant and López isn’t a stranger to the Pura Belpré either. Once again, no surprise on how much I love it here. But, I’m not the only one! Already on several Best lists, it’s also been garnering some possible Caldecott buzz. The art elevates the already excellent text by incorporating the protagonists’ multicultural background, showcasing the diversity within the Latino people.

 

Honors:


Maya’s Blanket/La manta de Maya
by Monica Brown. illus. by David Diaz. Lee & Low/Children’s Press. Grandmas and blankets. This bilingual text by an award-winning team had me at “Hola.” And Diaz is at the top of his form with his latest.

 

 

 

24795948Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh. illus. by author. Abrams. A New York Times Best Illustrated book of 2015, this informational book about the artist whose calaveras have become synonymous with Día de los muertos is as gorgeous as it is informative. Tonatiuh doesn’t disappoint—and I’m sure he won’t be disappointed on January 11.

 

 

23282198The Great and Mighty Nikko by Xavier Garza, Cinco Puntos. While Garza was honored in 2012 for narrative, he might just garner some recognition this time around for his fabulous art in this concept book. Riffing off a similar Lucha Libre theme as his past books, this counting tale is just so eye-catching that it might surprise us.

 

Other contenders:

Little Chanclas by José Lozano. illus. by author. Cinco Puntos. The stylized illustrations reminiscent of street art and the infectious and expressive heroine and her penchant for sandals just might charm the committee enough to win some praise.

Mango, Abuela and Me by Meg Medina. Illus. by Angela Dominguez. Candlewick. Dominguez received a nod for her irresistible art in 2014 Maria Had a Little Llama / María Tenía una Llamita and she’s certainly been busy this year with her contribution to the “Lola Levine” chapter books and her own Knight Together. This could certainly be her year!

 

So, those are my picks! What say you? Did I leave anything out?

Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s MOVING TARGET Stars a Latina Action-Adventure Heroine

The final Hunger Games movie, Mockingjay Part 2, raked in $75.8 million over the holiday weekend, landing in the number one spot for the second weekend. One article reported the action adventure has made $440.7 million worldwide so far and is inching closer to $3 billion total for the series. The success of the Hunger Games and other best-selling children’s books series, coupled with the dearth of children’s books with people of color as main characters, led author Matt de la Peña to say this in a 2014 interview with CNN.com: “I hope more commercial books feature more characters of color. That would change the game. Where’s the African-American Harry Potter or the Mexican Katniss?”

Few novels depict Latin@ main characters in action adventures. We’ll pause here to highlight a few, which would make great holiday gifts for your action-loving young reader:

The Living  23202520  The Culling (The Torch Keeper, #1)  Sanctum (Guards of the Shadowlands, #1)  17571252

And, this summer, one more title was added to the list: Moving Target, a middle grade featuring a young Latina caught in a Divinci-Code-like European adventure. On Thursday, we will post a review of the novel by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, who is also giving away a signed copy of the novel and a poster. See the link at the end of this post to enter. First, though, read what Christina had to say about her inspiration for Moving Target.

Christina Diaz Gonzalez: While growing up, I loved action/adventure stories where the hero went on a quest or a mission and often had to fight villains in order to fulfill their destiny. Whether these stories were in books, TV, or movies there was one thing that was always true… none of the heroes ever looked or sounded quite like me. Years passed (many, many years) and today there are still very few heroes that reflect the diversity of today’s readers.

23734473So, when I came up with the idea of writing my own action/adventure novel (that has been described as  “Percy Jackson meets Da Vinci Code with a dash of Indiana Jones”) it only seemed natural that the main character would be someone my ten year-old self would have loved to see as the heroine. That was when the character of Cassie Arroyo first popped into my head. She’s an American girl with a Hispanic background (like me) who discovers that she is part of an ancient bloodline that is connected to the legendary Spear of Destiny (this part is definitely not like me). In the story, there are riddles to decipher, mysteries to solve, and assassins to evade… all the things that I loved to read about when I was kid. (Okay, who am I kidding? I STILL love to read about all that stuff!) And one of the best parts about writing this story (which is part of a series) is that it’s another small step forward in the general realization that heroes come in all shades and ethnicities.

So buckle up and enjoy a thrilling ride with a brand new heroine… the smart, courageous, and Latina, Cassie Arroyo.

 

Christina GonzalezChristina Diaz Gonzalez is the award-winning author of The Red UmbrellaA Thunderous Whisper, and Moving Target. Her books have received numerous honors and recognitions including the American Library Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults, the Florida Book Award, the Nebraska Book Award, a Notable Social Studies Book and the International Literacy Association’s Teacher’s Choice Award.  She speaks to students across the country about writing, the importance of telling their stories and the value of recognizing that there is a hero in each one of us. Visit her website at www.christinagonzalez.com for further information.

Check out Christina’s recent guest post for this blog’s Cuban series here.