Cincos Puntos Press: Publishing Diverse Titles for 30 Years

 

By Patrick Flores-Scott

The El Paso, Texas publisher, Cinco Puntos Press, has been on my radar ever since my mother-in-law—who lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico, an hour away from the Cinco Puntos Press offices—handed me a copy of Benjamin Alire Saenz’s YA novel, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood. I fell in love with that book and went on to read Saenz’s follow-up, Last Night I Sang to the Monster. Now my wife and I regularly read Cynthia Weill’s Opuestos and AbeCedario to our toddler and Saenz’s A Gift from Papá Diego is our older son’s current go-to bedtime picture book. (Full disclosure: I cry real tears every time Papá Diego shows up to the party.)

Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, a Girl in Pieces was one of 2014’s most lauded books, winning the Morris Award, and showing up on book of the year lists put out by Kirkus, Booklist and The School Library Journal.

All these great Cinco Puntos titles beg the question: What is going on in El Paso?

Bobby and Lee Byrd, both writers, founded Cinco Puntos Press in El Paso, Texas thirty years ago. In a phone conversation, CEO John Byrd explained that, “When my parents moved here they sought out folks who were making art. In El Paso, that means Latino artists and folks writing about the Latino experience. We publish the kind of books we publish because we’re in El Paso. Our mission to do this kind of work was a natural outgrowth of where we were.”

Byrd lists El Paso as a strength for Cinco Puntos because it gives the publisher a unique perspective on life and art. He noted that New York publishers are all bound by the confines of Manhattan. “That’s why so much of what they do seems so similar. Being in El Paso, we don’t hear all that industry noise. We can develop our own unique perspective on publishing.”

A critical factor in Cinco Puntos’ growth has been their relationship with indie distributor Consortium, Book Sales and Distribution. “When we first started with Consortium, the industry had made it clear that books by Hispanic authors couldn’t sell through mainstream channels. Consortium helped change that. They successfully place a lot of stuff that really pushes the boundaries and we’re proud to have our books sold alongside others that are distributed by Consortium.”

I asked Byrd about the relationship between independent publishers and the We Need Diverse Books campaign. He noted that about half of the books (according to the most recent Multicultural Literature Statistics from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center) listed as “multicultural” were published by independent presses.

“It’s hard to find anyone who disagrees with the aims of We Need Diverse Bookseven traditional publishers all agree. Still, New York houses just aren’t publishing those books. We Need Diverse Books is crucial, but energy focused on changing New York is misplaced.” Real change, Byrd insists, will come when we support and grow the diverse publishers, small publishers, independent publishers who are already doing the work of producing great “diverse books” by and about traditionally underrepresented voices.

Check out just of few of the notable Cinco Puntos Press titles below, and while you’re at it, grab some coffee and “Pan Dulce” with founder, Lee Byrd, as she interviews Cinco Puntos authors at the publisher’s YouTube channel .

Picture Books:

   

Little Chanclas by José Lozano

Walking Home to Rosie Lee by A. LaFaye, illustrated by Keith D. Shepherd

Cada Niño/Every Child by Tish Hinojosa

Don’t Say a Word, Mamá by Joe Hays, illustrated by Esau Andrade Valencia

Middle Grade:

  

Maximilian and The Mystery of the Guardian Angel by Xavier Garza

Maximilian and the Bingo Rematch by Xavier Garza

Remember Dippy by Shirley Reva Vernick

Teen:

    

This Thing Called the Future by J. L. Powers

The Blood Lie by Shirley Reva Vernick

The Smell of Old Lady Perfune by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez

Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Graphic Novel/Poetry-Photography:

 

Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush by Luis Alberto Urrea, illustrated by Christopher Cardinale

Vatos by Luis Alberto Urrea, Photographs by Jose Galvez

 

PatrickFS1Patrick Flores-Scott was, until recently, a long-time public school teacher in Seattle, Washington. He’s now a stay-at-home dad and early morning writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Patrick’s first novel, Jumped In, has been named to a YALSA 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults book, an NCSS/CBC Notable Book for the Social Studies and a Bank Street College Best Book of 2014. He is currently working on his second book, American Road Trip

Book Review: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

By Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez

20702546DESCRIPTION OF THE NOVEL:

July 24

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

MY TWO CENTS: Isabel Quintero’s 378 page debut YA novel, Gabi: A Girl in Pieces, is witty, exciting, and heart-felt. Through a diary entry narrative, the novel follows Gabi Hernandez through her senior year in high school. Gabi is a self-identified light-skinned, fat Mexican with an insatiable appetite for hot wings, tacos, sopes, and poetry. The novel opens with a fantastic obsession for hot wings and with Sebastian, Gabi’s best friend, coming out to her. In a small piece of paper Sebastian writes, “I’m gay,” which does not surprise Gabi. Instead, she is more concerned about his parents’ reaction. Cindy, Gabi’s other best friend, also confesses to Gabi that she had sex with German and might be pregnant. Gabi, who is still a virgin, is taken aback but comforts Cindy in her time of need and together they discover that Cindy is in fact pregnant. By the end of the novel, Gabi has had her first kiss, broken up with her first boyfriend, and has sex with her second boyfriend. To top it all off, the Hernandez family must also contend with the father’s meth addiction which ultimately kills him. Poetry and letter writing give Gabi an opportunity to process all of the difficulties that she and her friends endure throughout the year.

Gabi: A Girl in Pieces covers an array of themes, like sexuality, body image, addiction, coming out, writing, healing, and teen pregnancy, among others, that attempt to speak to the experiences of Latino youth in the United States. The opening lines of the novel reveal that Gabi’s mom had her out of wedlock and has since been shunned by the grandmother. The dichotomy of the “good girl/bad girl” is a burden that follows Gabi throughout the novel. Her naiveté about sex and relationships makes her susceptible to her mother’s and Tia Bertha’s religious banter about womanhood—good girls keep their legs closed and go to heaven. Gabi, however, is quick to question her mother’s indoctrination and to point out the contradictions in their own behavior and in what they expect from her brother. Gabi’s mother’s constant insistence to be a “good girl” is also tied to a rejection of American identity. In other words, Gabi’s mother suggests that having sex or going away to college, things “bad girls” do, is part of American culture and Gabi’s desire to participate in such behavior further distances her from their Mexican identity. The juxtaposition of how Latina women should behave in accordance to their culture and religion to how American women behave has been signaled as the key reason for why Latina teens are at a higher risk of attempting and committing suicide in the United States (see Luis Zayas). Research, national reports, and media coverage on the topic argue that there exists a generational tension between mothers and daughters of Latino descent in the US. This tension is said to lead to higher risk of depression, low self-esteem, and potential self-harm. While Gabi’s character does not follow that pattern, it is clear that the tension with her mother impacts the ways she sees herself.

There are many qualities that make Gabi stand out within the genre of Latina/o Children’s and Young Adult Literature. What I find specifically unique about this novel is the thorough engagement with drug addiction. Gabi’s entries capture the barrage of feelings of living with someone who is dependent on a drug. She explains that there are days, weeks, and even months, when they might not hear from her father because he’s on a high binge. They might also see him in the park getting high with the other drug addicts. As children, their dad took them along to pick up his meth. At the end, Gabi finds him overdosed and dead with a pipe on hand in the garage. The novel attempts to highlight how an entire family can be harmed by addiction. While the father’s backstory is never fully developed (because, obviously, he is not the focus of the story), the story suggests that drug addiction is a disease affecting many Latino communities and deserves further attention. That Quintero brings it up in her book provides an opportunity to discuss how children are impacted by a parents’ drug addiction.

Overall, Gabi: A Girl in Pieces is an extraordinary read with the potential to create various dialogues in and outside the classroom. Gabi struggles with body image because of her body type and light skin color, Cindy eventually reveals that she was raped by German, and Sebastian gets kicked out of his house for coming out. Gabi’s body image issues allow us to examine representations of Latino bodies in popular culture, cultural expectations on the body, and the centering of light skin bodies over darker skin ones in Latino culture. By the end of the novel, it is suggested that Cindy might seek counseling for what happened to her, but there is definite tension about whether her rape is an individual problem or one that should be addressed by a community. Without having anywhere else to go, Sebastian is forced to stay with his aunt, who believes religion will cure him of his queerness. And while Sebastian eventually joins the LGBTQ club in his school, there seems to be little support coming from his Latino community. Gabi is clever and sarcastic and extremely funny. It’s a book that details the inner thoughts and struggles of a young Latina on a journey to self-empowerment or a book about a young Latina’s long journey to Pepe’s House of Wings.

Reanna Marchman Photography

Isabel Quintero; Reanna Marchman Photography

TEACHING TIPS: The use of a diary style in Gabi presents a great opportunity to ask students to keep their own diary or journal while they read the novel. One way to approach this type of assignment would be to ask students to respond to each of Gabi’s entries. However, because so much of Gabi’s experience is concerned with sex education and sex, it’ll be important to establish conversation guidelines with the class. The opening diary entry reveals how sex ed. and sex is gendered. Gabi’s grandmother beats her daughter for getting pregnant, and, as a result, Gabi’s mom tries to impose those conservative and traditional views on Gabi. Students can respond to the opening entry by writing about the values that their families, communities, or the media have tried to impart on them regarding sex. When teaching Gabi, it is also important to be aware that many experiences with sex are closely tied to some sort of violence or trauma, as is the case with Cindy. When discussing and writing about Cindy’s rape, it’ll be extremely significant to steer away from conversations that blame the victim. A more productive approach would be to talk about ways to make communities accountable to issues of sexual assault and street harassment. A diary entry assignment will help students closely engage with the themes of the novel by allowing them to practice character analysis and by giving them a space to connect their personal experiences to what they read.

Another way to approach teaching a novel like Gabi is to talk about diary keeping as a genre. The use of the diary to tell a story has a very long literary tradition, so it will be important to talk with students about why this might be the case. In other words, consider why diaries have existed this long, what their purposes may have been (or if the purpose has changed), and why Quintero chose to write Gabi in this form. Discussing Facebook, Twitter, and other relevant social media might also create a fruitful discussion on diary keeping in the 21stcentury. An interesting digital media project might be to ask students what Gabi might be tweeting, posting, liking, etc., given what they know from her diary. A more literary approach would be to discuss other Latina/o children’s and young adult texts in this genre like Amada Irma Perez’s My Diary from Here to There. While My Diary is a children’s illustrated text, it nonetheless makes use of the diary form to capture a story of pain, struggle, and love.

Gabi also opens up a dialogue about addiction that can lead to many powerful discussions about substance abuse in communities of color. A few other Latina/o young adult texts that deal with issues of addiction include Benjamin Alire Saenz’s Last Night I Sang to the Monster, E.E. Charlon-Trujillo’s Fat Angie, and Gloria Velazquez’s Tyrone’s Betrayal. The young protagonists of these novels have some sort of relationship to addiction that influences their own understanding of drugs and alcohol and how they deal with pain and trauma. Conversations about addiction can be very difficult to have, so it will be important to discuss triggers and trigger warnings when broaching the subject. If students are not comfortable discussing the topic, then returning to the use of the diary form can provide a safe space for students to still engage the conversation. Students do not always have to provide a personal response but can instead think about Gabi’s actions and reactions to her father’s addiction. Gabi often expresses frustration at her mother for enabling or putting up with her husband’s addiction. Gabi’s younger brother feels unloved and eventually rebels because of the situation at home. Asking students what the family members’ different experiences reveal about addiction complicates popular understandings of what addiction looks like and how it can be cured.

AUTHOR (from the author’s website): Born and raised in Southern California to Mexican parents, Isabel Quintero always took home too many books from the library as a a child. Later, she married her husband Fernando in a library. In addition to writing young adult literature, poetry, and fiction,  she teaches English at a couple community colleges, freelance writes for the Arts Council of San Bernardino County, is a member of PoetrIE (a literary arts organization who’s working to bring literary arts to the communities of the IE), and an avid pizza and taco eater. You can read about why she writes in her first blog post, titled, “Why I Write.” Gabi: A Girl in Pieces has received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.orgindiebound.org, cincopuntos.comgoodreads.comamazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.

 

headshotSonia Alejandra Rodríguez has been an avid reader since childhood. Her literary world was first transformed when she read Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless me, Última as a high school student and then again as a college freshman when she was given a copy of Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. Sonia’s academic life and activism are committed to making diverse literature available to children and youth of color. Sonia received her B.A. in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of California, Riverside, where she focuses her dissertation on healing processes in Latina/o Children’s and Young Adult Literature.

Pig Park and the Cosmic Race: Diversity and Identity in My New YA Novel

By Claudia Guadalupe Martinez

As a kid, I assumed everyone around me was Mexican. I lived less than a mile from the Texas-Mexico border, so we pretty much were Mexican. This neighborhood inspired my first novel, The Smell of Old Lady Perfume–a world vastly different from the one that surrounds my protagonist, Masi Burciaga, in my new novel Pig Park. Masi’s cast of neighbors runs the gamut from the Nowaks to the Wongs.

2236319Nevertheless, Mexican identity is something I thought very much about as I wrote. Two-thirds of the Latino population in the U.S. was of Mexican descent in the last Census, and I can’t help asking myself what it means to be Mexican these days. I didn’t grow up purposefully Mexi-centric. I was a product of my environment. I’d never had the opportunity to truly interact with non-Mexicans, non-Mexican Latinos, or Mexicans with experiences significantly different from mine until I moved to California for college.

Even then, the diversity I experienced was a somewhat artificial one created by a college admissions team. California was still the Southwest, and my new community and I still shared many experiences. But seriously, since I barely knew how to drive, I can hardly say I experienced L.A.

Chicago would be different. One day, I cashed in my airline miles and set off to visit a friend there. I walked into a coffee shop and stumbled onto a flier for an apartment rental. So began my long-term relationship with the city and neighborhood that would inspire Pig Park.

My new Chicago landlady occasionally referred to my neighborhood as Mexican, but my neighbors included Mexicans, African Americans, Filipinos, Puerto Ricans, and miscellaneous white folks. Everyone just mixed it up.

18528311Mexicans have formed communities in Chicago since the 1850’s. And, while a 2012 Census study from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research named Chicago the most segregated city in America, Chicagoland’s Mexican population is massive enough at 1.4 million that some neighborhood overflow is to be expected. This is how diversity develops naturally. Scholar José Vasconcelos talked about Mexicans as “the cosmic race;” behind it was the idea that we actually have a little bit of everything in us, that we like to mix it up, eventually transcending racial and ethnic categories.

Life happened, as it is wont to do. I eventually got married, moved into a house in a new neighborhood, and became a mom. My husband is of the sort who wouldn’t be caught dead putting ketchup on a hot dog and gladly plays tour guide to visiting family and friends, introducing them to the many surprises of our city. He is a Chicagoan through and through. He is also of Guatemalan and Salvadoran descent. As such, I don’t know if my two-year daughter and my son (who will be born this October) will consider themselves Mexican or not. After all, identity is a fluid thing, partially assumed and partially assigned. My husband and I hope they consider themselves whatever they want, and are never made to feel that they can’t.

I wrote Pig Park recognizing that the world my children will be a part of isn’t exactly one thing, and that this is the type of world many kids are increasingly growing up in.

CGMTZ_photoby neus raffols_color_CROPPEDClaudia Guadalupe Martinez is the author of The Smell of Old Lady Perfume (Cinco Puntos, 2008) and Pig Park (Cinco Puntos, 2014). She grew up in sunny El Paso, Texas, where she learned that letters form words from reading the subtitles of old westerns with her father. She now lives and writes in Chicago.

Forgive Me My Bluntness: I’m a Writer of Color and I’m Right Here In Front of You: I’m the One Sitting Alone at the Table

By René Saldaña, Jr.

I’ve avoided writing this piece long enough. Number one reason is that politically I’m a conservative, and the last thing I want to do is to appear as though I’m playing the race card. Which I’m not, though it might look like it. Doing so’s a cheap and underhanded thing to do. So I don’t. Second reason: what I’m tossing out there can be dangerous to my career as a writer, I’ve been told, because of who I’m aiming it at: the very folks who buy my books, or won’t due to my brazenness: librarians and fellow educators, my bread and butter. (I trust in the educator, though, enough to know that if we are about anything we are about growth through honest self-reflection; it’s my hope that this piece will serve as a catalyst for such). Third reason: during my own reflection over the last couple of years, mulling over whether I should or shouldn’t put this observation to paper, one of the cons was that maybe it’s just sour grapes I’m dishing. Ultimately, it’s not. Not even just a little.

My sincere desire is to talk from the heart, to share this heavy load I’ve been carrying, and to reciprocate. I’ll do my part to take on the equally heavy burden librarians and educators have been carrying for far too long. To, arm in arm, move in a direction upward when we’re talking about race, in particular race in children’s and YA publishing, a hot topic to be sure.

8334361Let me tell you a story: I’m attending a librarians’ convention. I’ve been asked to sit on a panel or two, and at this point in my story I’ve met those obligations. Like happens at these functions, as a writer with a new book under my belt (best I can remember it’s A Good Long Way published by Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Público Press), I’m also committed to sit for an hour at a table to sign copies of my latest. This is a very awkward thing for me to do. I really don’t like this part of my job. I mean, really, who am I? I’m not a top-tier author, and so I realize I won’t get the throngs of fans begging for my signature. (I found this out while sitting at another table, this one in D.C. at the National Book Festival in 2005, and I happened to be sitting next to Mary Pope Osborne, whose line was unimaginably long; I had to ask my wife, who was pushing our son in a stroller, and my sister-in-law to act as my line). Talk about eating humble pie. I get it. If a couple of teachers or librarians line up for my signature I count myself the most fortunate writer in the world. This time is no different from other times. I’m resolved to sit my time out, and if I get that librarian or two, I’ll make it a point to let them know how lucky I am to meet them.

I truly feel that way. My love for libraries and librarians goes back a long, long way. Back to when I was checking out the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Little House on the Prairie during my elementary school years, and later books on UFOs, lost treasures, and the book that kept me in the reading act, Piri Thomas’s Stories from El Barrio during middle school, and throughout high school and college, to this day even, visiting our public library with my children. Along with my parents and a small handful of teachers, I owe librarians the bulk of my reading life. This is why, in the end, I feel I need to write this essay: I owe librarians dearly.

So, back to the story: I’m sitting there with Arte Público’s representative, and I do get the one or two curious librarians who ask about my work. I could tell them that I’ve published three other books with Random House, that I’ve published several short stories in several anthologies edited by Gallo, Springer, and Scieszka, but I don’t. The only book that matters to me is the one I just published. It’s my favorite book. Not my favorite because it is my most recent. It’s really and truly my favorite of all the titles I’ve published to date. I love A Good Long Way for so many reasons, but that’s the stuff for another essay. These librarians are kind and buy a copy for their collections, are already thinking of which students will benefit from this book most (and it’s not just Latino kids they’re telling me about).

From the time I sat, I’ve taken notice of the author two tables down from me. I actually just presented with her. Undeniably a rock star in the field. The kind of author for whom I’d stand in line to get her autograph. I know her personally, too. She’s a genuinely awesome person. I’ve used her work in my graduate adolescent lit classes. My students love her. I understand why these librarians are in line to get her signature and for a chance at a word or two, maybe a picture if time allows.

What I don’t get, though, is that not a one of these librarians in this other author’s line chances to look up in my direction, not that I can tell from my time at the table, anyhow. Not a one notices that just two tables down is another writer, one of color, a conversation that has been pushed to the fore recently? The Myers’ father and son team each wrote brilliant editorials for the New York Times (in the middle of me writing and rewriting this piece, wouldn’t you know it? The world of children’s and YA writing is shaken to the foundation at the news of Walter Dean Myers’ death and among his last acts was to force us to have this difficult conversation, so thanks to him). Others like Monica Olivera have added to that conversation in a blogpost on NBC Latino, Matt de la Peña and the folks over at Lee & Low have ably challenged us to consider the state of children’s and YA publishing regarding race. Lee & Low on Twitter, especially, has rocked that boat. But it was a discussion we were having back then, too. Albeit mostly amongst ourselves, we writers and publishers and teachers and librarians of color. So it’s been brewing a long enough time.

So, what I’ve heard librarians say over the last decade and a half on my visits is that there are so many Latino children, and how unfortunate that there are so few Latino authors publishing books for them. “Just look at how excited these kids get,” they tell me, “to find one of their own publishing books.” It’s true, they do get excited to meet writers of color; I’ve seen it with my own eyes, heard it with my own ears. As a side note: I’ve also seen kids jump for joy at meeting white authors.

Can you tell I’m purposely going off on rabbit trails? I’m avoiding getting to the point again.

But whatever. There’s an urgency. We need to get beyond this hurdle. We need to courageously speak about race. Confront it head on. We’re told this also by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in one of his early speeches at the outset of his work for the Obama administration. We must face our shortcomings if we are to get to that place Dr. King dared us to dream about alongside him.

Anyway, these librarians have told me that there is so little of this material, and what there is of it is so hard to find.

Okay, I’m jumping in, confronting, being courageous, mostly trusting my readers to know I’m out for all our best interests, and especially for those we serve, our students: so,

NO! this material is not hard to find.

Simply look up and two tables down from where you’re standing, there I am. At that point in my career I’ve got some six books to my name. There. I. Am.

And if you think I’m an idiot, especially now that I’m telling you this, then do this other thing and you’ll know I’m right: walk up and down those aisles that usually are nowhere near the major publishers, the ones relegated to the edges of the main floor. They’re the small, independent presses. The outliers, in so many ways. You’ll know them because they’re the ones who don’t give out ARCs or free copies of books. Not because they don’t want to but because it’s not in their budgets to do so. Take 20 minutes per stall, look through their catalogues, their titles. For goodness’ sakes, talk to the reps, who are usually the publishers and editors themselves (when it’s not both of them, it’s either Bobby or Lee Byrd of Cinco Puntos Press manning their booth), and these reps will explain clearly what they have for you and your readers. They’re eager, as eager as you and I, to help all children reach their reading potential. Next, buy from them directly. Come ready with cash, checks, or cards. They’ll take any method of payment.

I’m not saying that the Bigs don’t publish authors of color. They obviously do. Random House has me and several other Latinos on their list. So has Dial. Scholastic. Little, Brown. S&S. Etc. They publish Black writers, and Asian writers. The difference is, though, that the smaller presses focus all their attention on writers of color, so they are experts at it. Arte Público Press/Piñata Books is one. Another is Cinco Puntos Press out of El Paso (of Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood fame but before that a picture book titled The Story of Colors by Subcomandante Marcos with magnificent illustrations by Domitila Domínguez, a book I’ve yet to find shelved in the libraries I’ve visited, even in deep South Texas where the majority of the population is Latino, Mexican American, and Mexican to be exact). Lee & Low, that sometime ago acquired Children’s Book Press and that recently started Shen Books, a new imprint that “focuses on introducing young readers to the cultures of Asia,” is yet another. The list of them, admittedly short—nevertheless, these few presses publish nothing but books by and about people of color. For all readers, but in particular readers of color.

The books are there.

All you have to do is to look for them.

And when you think you’ve found them all, look again. Because we’re still writing the books, publishers big and small are still publishing them. All we need is for you to look and look and look again until you can’t look no more, which likely means you’ve retired and you’re no longer pushing books into kids hands formally. But a librarian is a librarian is a librarian. You’ll be giving books to kids any chance you get ’til the day you die.

This is why I know I can write a piece like this, harsh as it might seem: because you’re educators first and foremost. And you’ll forgive me my bluntness. But we are not the focal point of this conversation, our children are. So we are either proactive and talk and then do, or we stand in the way of the progress necessary. Let’s be the former.

Rene Saldana

René Saldaña, Jr., is the author of the bilingual picture book Dale, dale, dale: Una fiesta de números/Hit It, Hit It, Hit It: A Fiesta of Numbers. He’s an associate professor of Language and Literature in the College of Education at Texas Tech University in West Texas. He’s also the author of several books for young readers, among them The Jumping Tree, Finding Our Way: Stories, The Whole Sky Full of Stars, A Good Long Way, and the bilingual Mickey Rangel detective series. He can be reached at rene.saldana@sbcglobal.net.

Book Review: Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

SammyBy Cindy L. Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: A young adult novel Latino-style–the year is 1969. America is at war, Hollywood is a dirt-poor Chicano barrio in small town America, and Sammy and Juliana, about to head into their senior year, are in love.

MY TWO CENTS: Sáenz creates strong main and supporting characters long remembered after finishing the novel. Sammy’s voice was spot-on as a teen boy who grapples with the personal issues all teens do–friends, love, fears and hopes for the future–while also dealing with poverty, racism, and the Vietnam War era. Sáenz brilliantly mixes Spanish and English, local “neighborhood” issues with larger social issues like drug addiction and homophobia. While Sammy and Juliana are in love, as the book blurb states, this is not a traditional love story. Something tragic happens shortly into the novel that ends the love affair. I won’t spoil it, but the relationship was short-lived, and Sammy spends the rest of the novel dealing with this loss and many others. If you’re looking for something light-hearted with a happy ending, this one’s not for you. Sáenz left me feeling what it’s like to get pounded by life, as Sammy was and as many people are.

TEACHING TIPS: This book has many issues worth pursuing in the classroom: immigration, poverty, grief, drug-use, discrimination based on race and sexual preference. Parts of this novel could easily be used by teachers in different ways. I say parts because I don’t believe every novel used in class needs to be read cover-to-cover. A history teacher, for example, may want to zero in on certain aspects of a novel, but may not want to handle elements typically taught by an English teacher, like character development or symbolism.

The thread about the Vietnam War could be pulled from the novel and used to complement nonfiction pieces in high school history classes. The character Pifas is drafted and students protest the war by wearing black arm bands and staging a sit-in in the school cafeteria. These were among the most memorable moments in the novel. The conversation between Sammy and Pifas about being drafted is emotionally gut-wrenching, and my heart sank when Gigi gets out of the car and falls to her knees in reaction to news about Pifas.

English teachers could use nonfiction pieces about any of the novel’s issues to attack author’s craft, investigating the differences between an objective, factual version of events versus a fictionalized one. Students could then choose an issue from the novel that is still relevant today (hint: all of them) and write two short versions of an event, one as a nonfiction writer would and the other as a fiction writer would.

LEXILE: 390

AUTHOR: (information comes directly from Cinco Puntos Press and University of Texas at El Paso)

Benjamin Alire Sáenz was born in 1954 in Old Picacho, a small farming village outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico. After graduating from high school in 1972, he entered the seminary. He was later ordained a Catholic priest, but left the priesthood three and a half years later. At the age of 30, he entered the University of Texas at El Paso. He later received a fellowship at the University of Iowa. In 1988, he received a Wallace E. Stegner Fellowship in poetry from Stanford University. In 1993, he returned to the border to teach in the bilingual MFA program at UTEP.

Sáenz is an award-winning poet and author of books for children and young adults. His first YA novel, Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and won the Americas Book Award, The Paterson Prize, and the JHunt Award. It was named one of the top ten Young Adult novels by the American Library Association and one of the top books of the year by the Center for Children’s Books, The New York Public Library, and the Miami Herald.

His other YA novels are:

He Forgot to Say Goodbye   Last Night I Sang to the Monster   Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Sammy & Juliana in Hollywoodvisit your local library or book store. Also, check out Cinco Puntos Press, IndieBound.org,  GoodreadsAmazon.com, and Barnes and Noble.com.