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

culturechest2

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.

 

Viva Smart, Bold Girls, and Viva Lola!: A Guest Post by Author Monica Brown

 


Lola Levine Is Not Mean! CoverBy Monica Brown

Why write a chapter book series?

I love this age of reader and I love this age. It really is an honor and a delight to write an #ownvoice chapter book series because my books might be the very first “novels” a child will be read, and the first read on their own! There are plots, subplots, world creation, and all those things that go into any novel. It’s a challenging genre to write in, but it’s an important one, because chapter books can establish a true love of reading. It is also one that has had a paucity of diverse main characters, and even fewer authors of color. While most librarians will know exactly who Junie B. Jones and Judy Moody are, we just don’t have multicultural chapter books with that reach and readership, and we desperately need them.

I’m very proud of the books my amazing illustrator Angela Dominguez and I created with this series! Picture books, middle-grade, and YA get a lot of literary attention–chapter books much less so. When I Lola Levine Coverdecided to write a chapter books series, my agent told me it would be a challenge to publish because there are fewer houses that publish them and a series is a big investment. Against all odds, Angela and I did it, and our books are among the first, if not the first, Latina-authored and illustrated chapter book series.

When I was in second grade, I would have loved to meet a rough and tumble girl like Lola Levine. You see, I spent a fair bit of time on the bench at recess! Apparently I talked a lot in class, played tag a little too competitively, and jumped in puddles on purpose. I do remember that my mother was called more than once to bring me dry shoes. In fiction, as in life, rascals and rebels might have more fun, but I learned to channel that mischievousness into creative outlets and team sports, not to mention a great deal of humor. Like Lola, I was also a child of two cultures, and I know first hand that mixed-race children, like myself and my daughters, are sometimes described as “half” this or “half” that, instead of beautifully whole. Lola Levine isn’t a fraction; she is made up of multitudes! As a Lola Levine and the Ballet Scheme Covermother, a teacher, and a writer who meets thousands of children each year, I’ve also observed the way girls (and boys) who don’t quite “fit in” can experience social exclusion, teasing, and even bullying.

These are some of the reasons I created the chapter book series focusing on this irrepressible character of Lola Levine, who is boldly, fiercely, herself. Lola teaches us that girls can be competitive and loud and funny, but sensitive and nurturing, too. This series is also covering new territory. For example, in the upcoming Lola Levine and the Vacation Dream (Book 5), Lola goes to Peru with her family and visits her beloved Tia Lola. She stays in the house her mother grew up in and learns about her own complex history and Peru’s. This may be the first chapter book that addresses themes of indigenous identity and colonization in Peru.

As a writer, I’ve been inspired by director Guillermo del Toro, famous for the film Pan’s Labyrinth, who in relationship to art, imagination, and childhood once noted that there is “a particular moment that we all go through when we are asked to stop believing and stop choosing who we are and become who Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean Covereverybody else tells us to be.” He goes on to say, “we should not obey . . . imagination should not comply.” There is such a freedom in being oneself, and that is a gift I bestow on my character Lola.  It was a dream and a pleasure to create a smart, diverse, multicultural character who each day chooses to be herself, and whose imagination certainly does not comply! Viva smart, bold girls, and viva Lola!

Interested in more Chapter Books featuring Latina Characters?  In her recent blog on “Latina Girl Power! Chapter Books with Latina Characters,” librarian Mary Ann Schuer highlights Lola and other chapter books featuring Latina characters.

 

 

To the left is Monica Brown as a young soccer player; to the right is her daughter, JuJu, the original “Lola.”

monicasoccer  julessoccers

 

monica6Monica Brown, Ph.D. is the author of many award-winning books for children, including Waiting for the BiblioburroMarisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/ Marisol McDonald no combina The Lola Levine series including: Lola Levine is Not Mean!Lola Levine, Drama Queen; Lola Levine and the Ballet Scheme, and Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean. Find Monica on Facebook at Monica Brown, Children’s Author, on twitter @monicabrownbks, or online at www.monicabrown.net.

Celebrating Pura Belpré Award Winners: Spotlight on Margarita Engle

PuraBelpreAward

The Pura Belpré Awards turns 20 this year! The milestone was marked on Sunday, June 26, during the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. In honor of the award’s anniversary, we have been highlighting the winners of the narrative and illustration awards. Today’s spotlight is on Margarita Engle, the winner of the Pura Belpré Narrative Medal for The Poet Slave of Cuba (2008), The Surrender Tree (2009), and Enchanted Air (2016). Margarita has also won Pura Belpré Honors for The Lightning Dreamer (2014), Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck (2012), and The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba (2011). 

Reviews of The Poet Slave of Cuba and Enchanted Air by Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez

Review of The Surrender Tree by Cindy L. Rodriguez

THE POET SLAVE OF CUBA

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER:The Poet Slave of Cuba Cover A lyrical biography of a Cuban slave who escaped to become a celebrated poet.

Born into the household of a wealthy slave owner in Cuba in 1797, Juan Francisco Manzano spent his early years by the side of a woman who made him call her Mama, even though he had a mama of his own. Denied an education, young Juan still showed an exceptional talent for poetry. His verses reflect the beauty of his world, but they also expose its hideous cruelty.

Powerful, haunting poems and breathtaking illustrations create a portrait of a life in which even the pain of slavery could not extinguish the capacity for hope.

The Poet Slave of Cuba is the winner of the 2008 Pura Belpre Medal for Narrative and a 2007 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year.

MY TWO CENTS: In The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano, Margarita Engle beautifully captures the life of Juanito, a slave in Cuba with a talent and passion for words. Juanito is smart. He can memorize verses, songs, plays simply by listening. He can then recite them off the top of his head. His owner, Doña Beatriz, keeps him as an entertaining pet. The other slave owners call him the “Golden Beak” because of his amazing ability to recite from memory. After Doña Beatriz dies, Juanito is given to La Marquesa de Prado Ameno, a woman who does not find him amusing and is instead bent on punishing him. Juanito’s family is given freedom, but he remains enslaved. The violence he endures eventually forces him to escape. Throughout all the time, Juanito’s love for words never wavered, but instead, he taught himself to read and write.

Juan Francisco Manzano’s biography in verse is an important contribution to the retelling of Latin American history. At first, his owners found his recitations entertaining because they did not believe that he understood what he repeated, but eventually Manzano learned the power of words and would construct his own poems and stories. However, this new understanding of words led to many years of physical and emotional abuse. Engle does not romanticize slavery in this text. Her verses help readers feel Juanito’s innocence and his genuine interest for words. At the same time, Engle’s verses feel painful when Juanito gets whipped. Juanito’s life story is told through the voices of those in his life. The different voices paint a bigger picture of Juanito’s life. His mother’s death is more sorrowful, for example, because their voices formed a part in telling Juanito’s story. Engle’s verses are accompanied by artwork by Sean Qualls. There is something about the art that is also beautiful and sad.

The Poet Slave of Cuba broaches the subject of slavery in Latin America unlike any other text I’ve come across in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Engle’s verses helps put a human face to those that were oppressed, abused, and killed by slavery. Through her verses, Engle has immortalized Manzano’s story, and, at least in this one way, readers of this text can begin or continue to have conversations about slavery in Latin America.

 

THE SURRENDER TREE

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHERThe Surrender Tree CoverIt is 1896. Cuba has fought three wars for independence and still is not free. People have been rounded up in reconcentration camps with too little food and too much illness. Rosa is a nurse, but she dares not go to the camps. So she turns hidden caves into hospitals for those who know how to find her.

Black, white, Cuban, Spanish―Rosa does her best for everyone. Yet who can heal a country so torn apart by war? Acclaimed poet Margarita Engle has created another breathtaking portrait of Cuba.

The Surrender Tree is a 2009 Newbery Honor Book, the winner of the 2009 Pura Belpré Medal for Narrative and the 2009 Bank Street – Claudia Lewis Award, and a 2009 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year.

MY TWO CENTS: In The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, which was was the first novel by a Latinx to receive a Newbery Honor, Engle portrays almost 50 years of the life of Rosario Castellanos, known as Rosa la Bayamesa, who grows from a slave, a “witch-child” learning about nature as medicine, to an iconic herbalist war nurse who treated anyone–friend or enemy–and never asked for money. Engle’s novel in verse follows Rosa from 1850-1899, through the Ten Years War, the Little War, and the War of Independence. After all of that fighting, the novel ends with Spain’s surrender to the United States. With Cuba still not free, the characters are left with mixed feelings of disappointment and hopeful anticipation for a better future.

Engle’s poems alternate among five perspectives, those of Rosa, her husband José, a slavehunter known as Lieutenant Death, Captain-General Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau, Marquis of Tenerife, Empire of Spain, and a young girl named Silvia. By including these voices, Engle captures different war experiences and interesting intersections. For example, Rosa meets Lieutenant Death early on, heals him later, and then becomes his target, since Rosa has become a powerful, elusive wartime figure. Also, later in the novel Silvia, an eleven-year-old girl, leaves her farm with her ailing mother and young twin brothers because of the mandatory order for peasants to enter reconcentration camps. Silvia’s grandmother had been healed by Rosa in a previous war, and now Silvia believes Rosa is her only hope for survival.

As in The Poet Slave of Cuba, Engle does not shy away from the brutalities of slavery and war. She explains that the ear of a runaway slave, proof that the slave died resisting capture, earns the hunter four pesos. Later, Rosa notes that “some of the ears come from people whose names and faces I know.” Other times, Engle captures the exhaustion, fear, loneliness, heartbreak, and confusion of the men, women, and children hiding in caves. For example, she writes through Rosa:

The Little War?

How can there be

a little war?

Are some deaths

smaller than others,

leaving mothers

who weep

a little less?

And yet, throughout the novel, the characters also express feelings of pride and hope and a constant sense of purpose that leads to perseverance. While reading, it was easy to see why The Surrender Tree is one of Engle’s many highly-acclaimed and decorated novels.

 

ENCHANTED AIR

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHEREnchanted Air CoverIn this poetic memoir, which won the Pura Belpré Narrative Award, was a YALSA Nonfiction Finalist, and was named a Walter Dean Myers Award Honoree, acclaimed author Margarita Engle tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War.

Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not.

Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?

MY TWO CENTS: Margarita Engle’s non-fiction memoir in verse, Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings, tells of her upbringing in Los Angeles during the Cold War era, learning about the Bay of Pigs invasion, and the palpable fear she felt for her family in Cuba. Engle describes the challenges of growing up with two cultures and always longing for one place while in another. Young Margarita finds herself in words when it feels like she belongs to both culture and neither at the same time. Enchanted Air is the outstanding memoir of a truly amazing writer.

Engle’s memoir in verse is a timely story. War and violence continue to separate many children and their family in one country from their families in another country. Engle describes the isolation she felt due to her different culture when she left Cuba for the U.S. The freedom to roam about as she did in Cuba was not always very realistic in the U.S. She notes that even her mother changed a bit. Engle further recounts the fear and anxiety she felt when she learned that her two countries did not get along.  Engle found solace in libraries and the stories they contained. Poetry gave her the wings to soar again. Her memoir stops in 1965 with her childhood hope that she will one day be able to return to Cuba. Now that relations with Cuba have been renewed and commercial flights to Cuba might soon be available there are probably many that are also glad they will be able to reacquaint themselves with the island of their childhood.

TEACHING TIPS: Both The Poet Slave of Cuba and Enchanted Air tell of the importance of poetry as a tool for empowerment. Ask students to discuss the significance of words in Manzano’s and Engle’s childhood. Explaining the historical context of each text will be important so that students don’t conflate one experience with the other. In other words, slavery and the Cold War are not the same experiences and should be differentiated. Ask students to consider the circumstances that left Manzano or Engle feeling voiceless. How did they each use words (i.e. poetry and stories) to empower themselves?

Storytelling is another common thread in both texts. Ask students to discuss the memoirs, autobiographies, and biographies as genres. What are their cultural significance? In other words, why do people write their or other’s life story? Ask student to journal about whose biography they might write. Encourage students to consider someone in their family or in their community as the potential subject of their biography.

Since almost all of the characters in The Surrender Tree were real people, students could research one of the historical figures and any of the wars outlined in the novel. Another interesting exercise would be to closely examine the ending, when the American soldiers arrive and, while they are met with hospitality, they are at one point called “a foreign tyrant” rather than saviors. Students should be encouraged to read the text closely through the eyes of the Cuban characters to understand the mixed emotions at the end, when the U.S. flag is raised instead of the Cuban flag.

For more ideas on these and other books by Engle, check out her “for teachers” page on her website.

MargaritaABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of many verse books, including a Newbery Honor winner, The Surrender Tree, a PEN USA Award winner, The Lightning Dreamer, and a verse memoir, Enchanted Air, winner of many awards, including an inaugural Walter Dean Myers Award Honor, the inaugural Arnold Adoff Teen Poetry Award, and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. Margarita’s books have also received three Pura Belpré Awards and four Américas Awards, as well as a Jane Addams Award, International Reading Association Award, and Claudia Lewis Poetry Award. Books for younger children include Mountain Dog, Summer Birds, and the Charlotte Zolotow Award winning picture book, Drum Dream Girl.

Margarita grew up in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during summers with her extended family in Cuba. She was trained as a botanist and agronomist before becoming a full-time poet and novelist. She lives in Central California, where she enjoys hiding in the wilderness to help train her husband’s search and rescue dog.

 

FullSizeRender (1)Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez’s research focuses on the various roles that healing plays in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. She currently teaches composition and literature at a community college in Chicago. She also teaches poetry to 6th graders and drama to 2nd graders as a teaching artist through a local arts organization. She is working on her middle grade book. Follow Sonia on Instagram @latinxkidlit

 

 

photo by Saryna A. JonesCindy L. Rodriguez is a former journalist turned public school teacher and fiction writer. She was born in Chicago; her father is from Puerto Rico and her mother is from Brazil. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU and has worked as a reporter at The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe. She and her daughter live in Connecticut, where she teaches middle school reading and college-level composition. Her debut contemporary YA novel, When Reason Breaks, released with Bloomsbury Children’s Books on 2/10/2015. She can also be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Celebrating Pura Belpré Award Winners: Spotlight on The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales

PuraBelpreAward

The Pura Belpré Awards turns 20 this year! The milestone was marked on Sunday, June 26, during the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. In honor of the award’s anniversary, we have been highlighting the winners of the narrative and illustration awards. Today’s spotlight is on Viola Canales, the winner of the 2006 Pura Belpré Narrative Medal for The Tequila Worm.

 

Review by Cindy L. Rodriguez

The Tequila Worm CoverDESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: Sofia comes from a family of storytellers. Here are her tales of growing up in the barrio, full of the magic and mystery of family traditions: making Easter cascarones, celebrating el Día de los Muertos, preparing for quinceañera, rejoicing in the Christmas nacimiento, and curing homesickness by eating the tequila worm. When Sofia is singled out to receive a scholarship to an elite boarding school, she longs to explore life beyond the barrio, even though it means leaving her family to navigate a strange world of rich, privileged kids. It’s a different mundo, but one where Sofia’s traditions take on new meaning and illuminate her path.

MY TWO CENTS: The Tequila Worm begins as vignettes and then moves into a more traditional narrative when Sofia, the Mexican-American protagonist, is a fourteen-year-old high school freshman. In the beginning, a younger Sofia relays special family-centered moments–some downright hysterical and others more poignant–such as her First Communion, making cascarones for Easter, and celebrating both Halloween and Día de los Muertos. Throughout these moments, Sofia learns about her culture and, at times, is torn between her tight-knit community and the “American” world beyond her barrio in McAllen, Texas. After trick-or-treating in her neighborhood and then in another, wealthier part of town, Sofia has this conversation with her father:

“I wish I lived on the other side of town,” I said, looking out the window at the darkness.

“Why, mi’ja?”

“Because they live in nice houses, and they’re warm.”

“Ah, but there’s warmth on this side, too.”

“But…it’s really cold at home, and most of the houses around us are falling apart.”

“Yes, but we have our music, our foods, our traditions. And the warm hearts of our families.”

Another example is when Sofia is verbally bullied, called a “Taco Head” by students when she eats her homemade lunch at school. First, she is embarrassed and avoids the cafeteria entirely, spending that time on the playground or eating inside a stall in the girls’ bathroom to avoid ridicule. With the help of a P.E. teacher, Sofia returns to the lunch room, proudly eats her tacos in public, and is given the advice to get even, not by kicking the bully (which Sofia wants to do) but by kicking her butt at school.

Sofia, indeed, excels in academics and is offered a scholarship to St. Luke’s Episcopal School, a prestigious boarding school in Austin. Sofia’s family doesn’t understand why she wants to leave her home. When her mother asks, “But what’s wrong with here?” Sofia responds, “Nothing. But the Valley is not the whole world…I just want to see what’s out there.”

Eventually, Sofia’s family allows her to attend St. Luke’s, as long as she promises to remain connected and learn how to be a good comadre to her sister Lucy and cousin Berta. In the place she calls “Another Mundo,” Sofia learns to appreciate her family’s stories and traditions, understanding how they have shaped her and connected her to a community rich in other ways. The young girl who once hid after being called a “Taco Head,” grows into a young adult who is “brave enough to eat a whole tequila worm” and who confronts a classmate who writes a note telling Sofia to “wiggle back across the border.” Sofia responds by saying, “My family didn’t cross the border; it crossed us. We’ve been here for over three hundred years, before the U.S. drew those lines.”

The novel’s end leaps ahead in time, with Sofia as an adult, a civil rights lawyer living in San Francisco, who fights to preserve her changing neighborhood and who often visits to happily participate in the traditions she questioned as a child.

The novel’s main events are closely connected to the author’s life, as she, too, was raised in McAllen and attended a prestigious boarding school before attending Harvard University. Many of Canales’s own experiences, portrayed through Sofia, would be easily recognizable to younger Latinx readers who straddle two cultures and find value in each as they come of age.

TEACHING TIPS & RESOURCES: The Tequila Worm naturally lends itself to lessons that explore Mexican-American culture–specifically cascarones, quinceañeras, and Día de los Muertos–as well as broader literary elements, such as character development and universal themes. For classroom ideas, check out these links, starting with this fabulous, thorough Educator’s Guide created by Vamos a Leer: Teaching Latin America through Literacy

A Study Guide created by teacher Bobbi Mimmack: https://sites.google.com/a/chccs.k12.nc.us/bobbi-mimmack/the-tequila-worm-by-viola-canales

An author interview in Harvard Magazine: http://harvardmagazine.com/2006/01/the-beauty-of-beans.html

Viola Irene CanalesABOUT THE AUTHOR (from the Stanford Law School website): Early in her career, Viola Canales served as a field organizer for the United Farm Workers and an officer in the United States Army, where she was tactical director at a Brigade Fire Distribution Center overseeing Patriot and Hawk missile systems in West Germany, and before this, a platoon leader at a Hawk missile battery. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she practiced law at O’Melveny and Myers in Los Angeles (while also serving as a Civil Service Commissioner for the City of Los Angeles, to which she was appointed by Mayor Tom Bradley) and San Francisco, and then headed up the westernmost region of the Small Business Administration under the Clinton Administration. Her book of short stories, Orange Candy Slices and Other Secret Tales, was published by the University of Houston’s Arte Público Press; her novel The Tequila Worm, published by Random House, was designated a Notable Book by the American Library Association, and won its Pura Belpré Medal for Narrative, as well as a PEN Center USA Award. El Gusano de Tequila – her Spanish translation of the novel – was published in 2012 by KingCake Press. Her bilingual book of poems The Little Devil & The Rose (El Diabilito y La Rosa) was published in 2014 by the University of Houston.

 

photo by Saryna A. JonesCindy L. Rodriguez is a former journalist turned public school teacher and fiction writer. She was born in Chicago; her father is from Puerto Rico and her mother is from Brazil. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU and has worked as a reporter at The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe. She and her daughter live in Connecticut, where she teaches middle school reading and college-level composition. Her debut contemporary YA novel, When Reason Breaks, released with Bloomsbury Children’s Books on 2/10/2015. She can also be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Celebrating Pura Belpré Winners: Spotlight on Author-Illustrator Carmen Lomas Garza

PuraBelpreAwardThe Pura Belpré Awards turns 20 this year! The milestone will be marked on Sunday, June 26, from 1:00-3:00 p.m. during the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. According to the award’s site, the celebration will feature speeches by the 2016 Pura Belpré award-winning authors and illustrators, book signings, light snacks, and entertainment. The event will also feature a silent auction of original artwork by Belpré award-winning illustrators, sales of the new commemorative book The Pura Belpré Award: Twenty Years of Outstanding Latino Children’s Literature, and a presentation by keynote speaker Carmen Agra Deedy.

Leading up to the event, we will be highlighting the winners of the narrative and illustration awards. Today’s spotlight is on Carmen Lomas Garza, the winner of the 2000 Pura Belpré Illustration Medal for Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas and Pura Belpré Honors for Illustration for Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia in 1996 and In My Family / En mi familia in 1998.

Review by Marianne Snow Campbell

DESCRIPTIONS FROM THE PUBLISHERS:

Magic Windows CoverMagic Windows: Through the magic windows of her cut-paper art, Carmen shows us her family, her life as an artist, and the legends of her Aztec past. We look into Carmen’s studio and see her paint a Mexican jarabe tapatío dancer; we glimpse the hummingbirds that cross the US-Mexico border to taste the sweet nectar of the cactus flowers; and we watch Carmen teach her nieces and nephews how to make their own magic windows. Magic Windows is a continuing tribute to family and community as well as a way for Carmen to connect future generations to their ancestors by teaching and sharing with them this traditional folk art.

Check out the book discussion and activity guide created by Lindsay Harris and Haley Rugger with Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo, provided by the University of Alabama School of Library and Informational Studies.

 

Family Pictures is the story of Carmen Lomas Garza’s girlhood in Kingsville, Texas: celebrating birthdays, making tamales, picking cactus, and confiding to her sister her dreams of becoming an artist. These day-to-day experiences are told through fifteen paintings and stories, each focusing on a different aspect of Carmen’s traditional Mexican American culture growing up. The paintings and stories reflect the author’s strong sense of family and community and demonstrate how her mother’s love and hard work helped Carmen achieve her dream. For the hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans, Carmen Lomas Garza offers a book that reflects their lives and cultural traditions. For others, this beautiful work will offer insights into a fascinating life and a rich community. Sandra Cisneros provided the introduction and Pat Mora the afterword for this touchstone of Latino children’s literature. This book is bilingual (English and Spanish).

Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia Cover

 

In My Family / En mi familia: In her eagerly-awaited second book for children, In My Family / En mi familia, internationally-renowned artist Carmen Lomas Garza takes us once again to her hometown of Kingsville, Texas, near the border with Mexico. Through vibrant paintings and warm personal stories, Carmen brings to life more loving memories of growing up in a traditional Mexican American community: eating empanadas, witnessing the blessing on her cousin’s wedding day, and dancing to the conjunto band at the neighborhood restaurant. In My Family / En mi familia is Carmen Lomas Garza’s second book of family pictures, a continuing tribute to the loving family and community that shaped her childhood—and her life.

For effective strategies on incorporating students’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds into social studies curricula, check out the article “Developing Literacy through Culturally Relevant Texts” by Dr. Iliana Alanís in Social Studies and the Young Learner (2007) from the National Council for the Social Studies.  Pair In My Family with the author study guide Carmen Lomas Garza: Chicana Author and Illustrator by Deborah J. Francis, part of The Alma Project, a cultural infusion model by Denver Public Schools.

In My Family Cover

 

MY TWO CENTS: “At the age of thirteen I decided to become a visual artist and pursue every opportunity to advance my knowledge of art in institutions of higher education. The Chicano Movement of the late 1960s inspired the dedication of my creativity to the depiction of special and everyday events in the lives of Mexican Americans based on my memories and experiences in South Texas. I saw the need to create images that would elicit recognition and appreciation among Mexican Americans, both adults and children, while at the same time serve as a source of education for others not familiar with our culture.”

With this artist’s statement, Carmen Lomas Garza sums up everything I appreciate about her autobiographical children’s books. They’re real. They’re confident. They’re hopeful. In all three of her Pura Belpré award winners – Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas, Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia, and In My Family / En mi familia – Garza uses traditional media alongside her own words to represent her memories and celebrate common Mexican American cultural practices. While engaging with these exquisite images and clear, simple (and bilingual!) captions, readers of any cultural background can learn something about life in 1950s Kingsville, Texas and compare and contrast their own experiences with the artist’s.

Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas, which won the Belpré Award in 2000, provides readers with an intricate introduction to the art of papel picado, the traditional Mexican art of paper cutting that began with Mexico’s indigenous communities.

Papel picado decorations for Mexican Independence Day celebrations, Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico. Photo by Alejandro Linares Garcia.

Papel picado decorations for Mexican Independence Day celebrations, Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico. Photo by Alejandro Linares Garcia.

 

While traditional papel picado pieces often feature geometric and/or symbolic designs, Garza’s paper cutouts represent moments from her life: making paper flowers with her family, catching horned frogs, helping her grandfather water his garden.

Detail from Offering for Antonio Lomas / Ofrenda para Antonio Lomas on the back cover of Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas.

Detail from Offering for Antonio Lomas / Ofrenda para Antonio Lomas on the back cover of Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas.

According to Magic Windows’ introduction, Garza learned how to craft traditional papel picado with scissors from her mother and then, after decades of practice, began fashioning the larger, more representational pieces found in this book with a craft knife. I just can’t believe she cut all of these detailed, elaborate works by with her own two hands. Can you imagine the love, patience, and dedication it took to complete them? “These pieces are like magic windows,” she states. “When you look through them, you can see into another world.” What I see is a deep love for her family rendered with absolute care and skill. You can’t get much more magical than that.

In Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia and In My Family / En mi familia, Garza’s Belpré honor winners, we can see that same care and love channeled through a very different artistic medium – painting. Both of these books contain several paintings of the artist’s childhood memories coupled once again with bilingual captions that explain the significance of each work. Page after page treats readers to sumptuous, folk-art-style snapshots of family gatherings, tender moments, and humorous scenes.

Detail from Quinceañera on the back cover of Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia.

Detail from Quinceañera on the back cover of Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia.

I’m just going to put it out there – Carmen Lomas Garza’s books for children are my absolute favorites. 100%, no joke. Their simplicity, honesty, and artistry make them the perfect package for me, and I know there are plenty of kids out there who will appreciate her straightforward, positive, oftentimes funny depictions of her experiences as well. The universal themes of love and family that appear in each magnificent yet humble work of art can hook any child that picks up these books. As Sandra Cisneros says in her introduction to Family Pictures, enjoying Garza’s art is like “pressing our face against the window screens and peeking inside our house. These are family pictures. And it doesn’t matter if your family is from Kingsville or Cairo, Sarajevo or Katmandu. They are your family’s pictures too. Tell me, which one is you?”

Detail from Watermelon / Sandía on the back cover of Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia.

Detail from Watermelon / Sandía on the back cover of Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia.

 

TEACHING TIPS:

  • Carmen Lomas Garza’s books are excellent models for autobiographical writing and art. After reading any of these award-winning books, let students create their own artistic representation of a personal memory (using their choice of medium, if possible) and write an autobiographical story to accompany the art.
  • Explore the rich history and modern practice of creating papel picado with students. Making Magic Windows, Garza’s companion book to Magic Windows, provides plenty of information about this alluring art form as well as step-by-step instructions for young artists. If possible, invite a papel picado artist to your school to share their craft.
  • Do you live in or near Chicago, Austin, El Paso, San Francisco, or Oakland? If so, consider taking your students to an art museum or library collection that features Carmen Lomas Garza’s artwork. You can find her paintings at the National Museum of Mexican Art (Chicago), the University of Texas’s Benson Latin American Collection (Austin), the El Paso Museum of Art, the Mexican Museum (San Francisco), and the Oakland Museum of California. Viewing a full-size, in-person version of a painting from one of Garza’s books can be a powerful experience, and many kids will love connecting their museum visit to books they’ve read. I’ll never forget stumbling upon Las Posadas at the Museum of Mexican Art – it was definitely a highlight of my trip to Chicago.

 

Carmen Lomas GarzaABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR (from her website): Carmen Lomas Garza was born in Kingsville, Texas, in 1948. Inspired by her parent’s activism with the American G.I. Forum, Lomas Garza joined the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. She is a graduate of the Texas Arts & Industry University, Juarez-Lincoln/Antioch Graduate School, and San Francisco State University where she earned her M.A. in 1981. Lomas Garza is a recipient of numerous awards and has exhibited her work in galleries and museums across the United States.

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

 

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