Review: The Sarai Books by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown, illus. by Christine Almeda

 

Review by Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez

In the past year I have been immersed in numerous early readers and transitional chapter books as part of a research project that examines representations of Latinx characters in these kinds of texts. The Sarai book series has been one of my favorites to read!

While the short format of early readers and chapter books can sometimes limit how much character development and details authors can offer, the Sarai books don’t fall short on these aspects. Sarai is free spirited, caring, creative, confident, and as a reader I got to know her personality (and her sisters’ personalities as well) through her interactions with others and her many ventures.

The following are reviews for books 2, 3, and 4 of the series. Read our review of Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome (Sarai Book #1). All books in the series are now available in Spanish as Saraí #1: Saraí y el Significado de lo Genial, Saraí #2: Saraí en Primer Plano, Saraí #3: Saraí Salva la música, and Saraí #4: Saraí y la Feria Alrededor del Mundo.

 

Sarai in the Spotlight (Sarai Book #2)

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: When Sarai’s best friend suddenly moves away, Sarai has to navigate school – and the unfriendly girls in the cafeteria – all by herself. Then, new girl Christina moves to town and the teacher volunteers Sarai to show her around. But Sarai thinks Christina is not at all like her–she never wants to play at recess, she’s always got her head in a notebook, and she’s so shy! But when Christina writes Sarai a spoken-word poem for her to recite at the class talent show, Sarai learns that sometimes winning teams are made from unlikely pairs!

MY TWO CENTS: Sarai’s awesomeness continues in this second installment of the series. Her affirmation of being awesome continues in this book, especially when she shares with her family that some of the girls in her class bother her during recess (38). This demonstration of confidence continues when she stands up for herself during an incident with the same group of girls, doing so without putting anyone down. And that is the beauty of Sarai’s proclamations of confidence: they highlight how awesome she is and feels without making anyone else feel bad about themselves. Further, she also shows a little bit of self-doubt, which is to be expected of a child growing up. She is finding herself and becoming her own person.

This book focuses on how Sarai deals with her best friend moving away and then how she slowly befriends the new girl, Christina. They don’t have many things in common yet, which makes Sarai miss her friend Isa. However, Sarai is respectful about their differences and open to learning more about her new friend. As a result, they collaborate for the school’s talent show, creating together a wonderful performance.

Sarai’s blossoming friendship with Christina is as delightful to witness as her relationship with her sisters, Josie and Lucía. As she explains, they might sometimes fight and disagree, but they all stick up for each other. Each sister has a distinct personality, and we learn little bits about them throughout the story. For example, we learn that Lucía has a little bit of a temper, (11), and is also very empathetic: “Lucía used to have her own cafeteria card, but she kept buying food for everyone who she thought didn’t have enough money to eat…” (16). We also continue to learn about Josie, who attends a different school from her sisters, wears cochlear implants, and communicates through a combination of signs and words. The sisters — along with their cousins Juju, Javier, and Jade — are part of the Super Awesome Sister-Cousin Fun Club, where they come up with awesome ideas.

With so many fun activities happening in Sarai in the Spotlight (like the kids’ game of Rainbow Art Paint Tag) and all the relatable experiences Sarai goes through, readers will definitely enjoy this second book in the series.

TEACHING TIPS: Because this book introduces a new character, there is a good use of descriptions that help readers get to know her. In addition, readers learn more about Sarai, her sister, and her friend Isa. Teachers, then, can use the book to teach about character development through descriptions. Students can create profiles for the different characters in the book and then they could create and develop their own characters.

 

Sarai Saves the Music (Sarai Book #3)

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: They’re cutting funding at Sarai’s school and her band program is the first to go. That is totally not okay with Sarai. She decides to organize a benefit concert to raise money! When she and her bandmates promote the concert on their video channel, it catches the attention of Sarai’s favorite singer, Sparkles Sanchez! Can Sarai save the music?

MY TWO CENTS: I have to admit that, while I enjoyed all four books in the Sarai series,  this one is my absolute favorite! In the third installment of the series, we witness how Sarai and Christina’s friendship continues to grow, as they support and empower one another. When some of the girls at school keep teasing Sarai, Christina suggests that they are jealous because Sarai is “so smart, and because you’re you!” (11).  Equally helpful are Sarai’s neighbors and family, who continue to support the kids’ many ventures. This is particularly evident when everyone bands together to help Sarai help save her school’s music program.

It is this aspect that makes this book especially poignant. For one, it depicts the precarious state of the U.S. education system, where programs are being cut and teachers are losing their jobs. When Ms. Cruz — Sarai’s music teacher– shares the news with the class that the school district is cutting the funds for elementary music programs, students are understandably upset. More so, they are worried about what this means for their teacher. When Sarai asks Ms. Cruz if she will lose her job, the teacher can’t help but cry. This takes Sarai and the students aback, as they have “never seen a teacher cry before” and they “feel worried” (36). I truly appreciate the honesty from both Ms. Cruz and the students that is depicted here. Often, teachers are not encouraged to show vulnerability, even when their livelihood might be in danger, so Ms. Cruz’s moment of honesty with her students allows them to understand her situation better– and in turn, readers can better understand the realities many of their own schools and their own educators might be facing.

“Isn’t there anything we can do? Fundraise? Protest? Sign petitions?” Sarai asks, as the students try to figure out what they can do to save the music program and Ms. Cruz’s job (36). Sarai, always having something up her sleeve, mobilizes her classmates, her family, and her community to effect some change. Through her new venture, Sarai’s Garage Chat, a TV show she records with her sisters and cousins from their own garage, Sarai and her classmates are able to spread the word about the benefit concert they are organizing. It is important to note that Sarai takes action and mobilizes, but she creates a community and involves them. It is not a solo project. Everything is motivated and planned by the kids, and the adults are there to support them. One of the most moving moments in this book takes place when students are recording their plea to the community to attend their benefit and donate to the music program: each child made an argument about why music programs are so crucial.

In addition to its depiction of activism and empathy, this book continues showing readers all the awesome personalities in Sarai’s group of friends and family. There is something with which readers can connect– whether it is the games and fun ideas Sarai and her family come up with or her obsession with Stephanie Sparkles Sanchez (who gave me major Selena Quintanilla vibes and I loved it!). Through her contagious upbeat personality, Sarai is following her musical idol’s advice to “Spread the Sparkle!”

TEACHING TIPS: Teachers can use this early chapter book to discuss how the students in Sarai’s school worked together to try to solve a problem and could ask students to identify an issue in their school or community they would like to address. They could propose ideas and consider what steps they would need to take toward making improvements. Teachers can also use this book to focus on argument writing; as each student in Sarai’s class makes an argument for saving the music program, they put into practice appeals to logic and emotion.

 

Sarai and the Around the World Fair (Sarai Book #4)

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: When Sarai outgrows her bike, she worries she’ll never get to travel anywhere. But when Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary hosts their first Around the World Fair, Sarai learns that with a little imagination you can go anywhere you want!

MY TWO CENTS: In this fourth installment there is no “big problem” that Sarai needs to or wants to solve. Rather, we continue to see her character development, getting to know her and her family. Mainly, Sarai’s empathy and understanding of her family’s needs come through again. This time, she has been eyeing a bicycle, yet Sarai understands her parents’ financial struggles and doesn’t ask for expensive things, including the new bike she really wants. Her inventive and resourceful Tata — her grandfather — however, decides to fix an old bike for Sarai. And though she is reluctant at first, not sure what the end product would be, Sarai ultimately enjoys helping her Tata fix the old bike and appreciates how great it turns out to be.

I found her reluctance to be relatable and so important to include. She is such a positive and upbeat character, and a wonderful role model for children, but I also appreciated that we get to see Sarai upset. Seeing a range of emotions (like frustrations and being upset) can be helpful for young readers, and it is especially important to show them that it is okay to feel upset and then demonstrate how they can deal with their different emotions. After Sarai has some time to work through her frustrations with Tata and the old bike he is trying to fix, she apologizes to him, and Tata apologizes to her as well.  This exchange not only shows that she is human– experiencing and expressing a range of emotions– but it also shows that adults need to understand what children are experiencing and show them they matter.

At school, Sarai must decide what country to research and present at the Around the World Fair. Embracing her parents’ two countries — Peru and Costa Rica — she would love to feature both. She decides to do some “research to make an informed decision” (42). Funny as she is, Sarai, after doing some research, tells her friend Christina that one day, when they are “really old, like twenty” they could travel to Ireland, Peru, and Costa Rica, where their families are from. In the end, Sarai is able to present on her chosen country (I won’t tell you which one). At the end of the book, readers will find a recipe and a step-by-step guide for making empanadas, like the ones she shares at the fair.

This fourth, and hopefully not the last, book in the series is truly delightful!

 

Sarai GonzalezABOUT THE AUTHORS: Sarai Gonzalez became an overnight sensation after appearing in Bomba Estero’s, “Soy Yo,” a music video about embracing yourself and loving your flaws. The video garnered over 75million views and The New York Times called Sarai a Latina icon. Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome is the first book in her new chapter book series inspired by her life. Sarai is now 13 years old and lives in New Jersey with her family.

 

monica6Monica Brown is the award-winning author of super awesome books for children, including the Lola Levine chapter book series, Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/no combina, Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos, and Waiting for the Biblioburro. She is a professor of English at Northern Arizona University, specializing in Latinx and African American Literature. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, with her husband and her dogs, Lola and Finn. Visit her at www.monicabrown.net.

 

.

.

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Christine Almeda is a Filipino-American freelance illustrator from NJ / NYC. She graduated from Montclair State University, earning a BFA and an Award for Excellence in Animation & Illustration, focusing on children’s media. She believes in the power of storytelling and that art has the ability to make life a little more beautiful. You can learn more about her work at https://www.christinealmeda.com/about.

 

 

 

headshotABOUT THE REVIEWER: Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez is an Assistant Professor of English (Children’s Literature) at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.  Her teaching and research are in the areas of children’s literature (particularly Latinx literature), girlhood studies, and children’s cultures. Her published work has focused on girlhood as represented in literature and Puerto Rican girls’ identity formation with Barbie dolls. She has presented research on Latinx children’s books at various conferences and has served on children’s book award committees such as the 2017 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the 2018 Pura Belpré Award. Currently, she is part of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s “A Baker’s Dozen” committee.

 

 

Review: Color Me In by Natasha Díaz

 

Review by Maria Ramos-Chertok

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Growing up in an affluent suburb of New York City, sixteen-year-old Nevaeh Levitz never thought much about her biracial roots. When her Black mom and Jewish dad split up, she relocates to her mom’s family home in Harlem and is forced to confront her identity for the first time.

Nevaeh wants to get to know her extended family, but because she inadvertently passes as white, her cousin thinks she’s too privileged, pampered, and selfish to relate to the injustices African Americans face on a daily basis. In the meantime, Nevaeh’s dad decides that she should have a belated bat mitzvah instead of a sweet sixteen, which guarantees social humiliation at her posh private school. But rather than take a stand, Nevaeh does what she’s always done when life gets complicated: she stays silent.

Only when Nevaeh stumbles upon a secret from her mom’s past, finds herself falling in love, and sees firsthand the prejudice her family faces that she begins to realize she has her own voice. And choices. Will she continue to let circumstances dictate her path? Or will she decide once for all who and where she is meant to be?

MY TWO CENTS: In Color Me In, Nevaeh Levitz shares her adolescent journey as a bi-racial girl trying to find herself in the races and cultures that make up her ancestry.  Daughter of a Jewish father and a Black mother, Nevaeh is caught between two worlds when her parents get divorced. I was very excited to read this book because I identified with many of the themes:  parents getting divorced, Jewish heritage, multicultural family, and trying to find myself in the two distinct cultures that make up my background. What I was reminded by reading this book is that despite the many levels on which I could relate to the themes, every journey is unique. This is particularly the case when dealing with the reality of what it means to have black skin in a country founded on racism and white supremacy.

The book exposes how skin color plays out not only in Nevaeh’s family, but when she’s out in her community trying to live life. It also exposes the implications of how the class divide operates to create different realities in education and access to material goods.

The book does a wonderful job of grappling with the challenges and gifts of a dual identity (and in some instances dueling identities). Nevaeh is looking to find herself in places that don’t have a blueprint for her existence. I wish this book had been available for me forty years ago.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the letter from the author at the end where she talks about what this book means to her and why she wrote it. That is where the entire book came together for me at a deeper level.

TEACHING TIPS: While the primary audience for this book is adolescents, I think anyone of any age with a bi-racial identity could relate to the themes.

Nevaeh’s grandmother is portrayed as overbearing, controlling, and unloving, so if this is a class’s first introduction or discussion of Jewish people, it might leave a negative impression, especially given that the Jewish father is a philanderer and not a very sympathetic character either. Nevaeh is able to find a foothold in Judaism despite them, but not because of their full support or acceptance. I’d encourage teachers to provide a larger context for understanding Jewish people.

The theme of bullying and racist language used against Nevaeh by her classmate and former friend Ally allows for an opportunity to discuss how words hurt and can be used as weapons. This could lead to an interesting discussion about hate speech, how the Supreme Court defines and classifies hate speech, and how the legal standard doesn’t necessarily help someone being bullied at school. Identifying strategies to respond to bullies and bystander intervention role plays could be fruitful.

There is an opportunity to discuss the role of ritual in developing and maintaining cultural identity. Students could be asked to examine the rituals in their life and how they offer (or don’t offer) them a way to deepen their understanding of who they are.

Given Nevaeh’s friendship with Stevie, I could imagine a meaningful discussion about what it means to be a good friend, how friendship makes a difference in one’s life, and what Nevaeh learned about friendship over the course of the story.

The topic of police brutality and misuse of power also stands out in two scenes where racial profiling occurs. Both of these situations help open Nevaeh’s eyes to the reality of racism and could lead to a discussion of how folks walk in the world with or without white skin privilege.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Natasha Díaz is a born and raised New Yorker, currently residing in Brooklyn, NY with her tall husband. She spends most of her days writing with no pants on and alternating between E.R. and Grey’s Anatomy binges. Natasha is both an author and screenwriter. Her scripts have placed as a quarterfinalist in the Austin Film Festival and a finalist for both the NALIP Diverse Women in Media Fellowship and the Sundance Episodic Story Lab. Her essays can be found in The Establishment and Huffington Post. Her first novel, Color Me In, was published by Delacorte Press/Random House August, 20 2019.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Maria Ramos-Chertok is a writer, workshop leader and coach who facilitates The Butterfly Series, a writing and creative arts workshop for women who want to explore what’s next in their life journey.  In December 2016, she won 1st place in the 2016 Intergenerational Story Contest for her piece, Family Recipes Should Never be Lost.  Her work has appeared in the Apogee Journal, Entropy Magazine, and A Quiet Courage.   Her piece Meet me by the River will be published in Deborah Santana’s forthcoming anthology All the Women in my Family Sing (Jan 2018) http://nothingbutthetruth.com/all-the-women-in-my-family-sing/. She is a trainer with Rockwood Leadership Institute www.rockwoodleadership.organd a member of the Bay Area chapter of Write on Mamas. For more information, visit her website at www.mariaramoschertok.com

 

Book Review: My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illus by Zeke Peña

 

Review by Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: When Daisy Ramona zooms around her neighborhood with Papi on his motorcycle, she sees the people and places she’s always known: the tortillería!, Abuelita’s church!, Franky, the barking Labradoodle! She also sees a community that is changing around her. But as Daisy and her papi reach the homestretch, the purple, blue, and gold sky glowing behind them, she knows that some things, like the love from her papi and family, will never change. With vivid illustrations and text bursting with heart, My Papi Has a Motorcycle is a young girl’s love letter to her hardworking dad and to the feeling of home we always carry with us.

The book is also available in Spanish as Mi papi tiene una moto.

MY TWO CENTS: Through this book, Quintero writes a love letter to her father “who showed [her] different ways of experiencing home” and a love letter to Corona, California, “a city that will always be a part of [her]” (Author’s note). The book begins with Daisy reading a book as she waits for her father to come home and take her on a ride around the city on his motorcycle. A wonderful feast to the eyes on this first page is the intertextuality that illustrator Zeke Peña provides: the book Daisy is reading is Lowriders to the Center of the Earth (written by Cathy Camper and illustrated by Raul the Third). It is a small, yet delightful, nod for readers who are familiar with the book series.

As the duo sets off on their journey, they pass many sights that are staples of Daisy’s city. There’s her Abuela’s church, Joy’s Market – where Mami buys Daisy’s gummy bears –, Rocket Repair, and Don Rudy’s Raspados – Daisy’s favorite place for shaved ice, which seems to have closed down. This is a point of concern for Daisy, who notices how disappointed her father is and affirms that she will not be the only one who misses the place. It comes as a happy surprise for her, then, when at the end of her journey that evening Don Rudy comes by with shaved ice, now in a small and portable cart.

Not only does the reader go on a tour of these places that Daisy enjoys, but we also get a glimpse into her life, her family’s life, her neighborhood, and some of the important history about the city. Passing by the murals painted around, Daisy explains their importance: “We roar past murals that tell our history – of citrus groves and immigrants who worked them, and of the famous road race that took place on Grand Boulevard a hundred years ago.”

As they race their way through Grand Boulevard, Daisy imagines being part of the races, the crowd cheering her on. The way Quintero weaves some of the history with Daisy’s daily life and imagination is brilliant, as readers are able to see the city through her eyes – lovingly and full of admiration – and at the same time they learn some of its history, as Daisy learns it, too.

In her author’s note, Quintero explains how the story was inspired by her own childhood in Corona, California. Through her words and Peña’s illustrations, she wanted to honor the immigrant workers, like her grandfather, who did the majority of the hard labor that helped establish the city, and a lot of the U.S. She explains that while the murals [Zeke Peña] created were imagined, the history they depicted was real.” These details, such as the city holding the road race on what is now known as Grand Boulevard, or the fact that Corona was known as the “Lemon Capital of the World” because of all the citrus that was cultivated there, were all present in the journey Daisy takes the reader.

There is so much heart in this book! It is clear how much Daisy loves and admires her papi, whose voice – she says – touches everything, even when everything around them is noisy. It doesn’t matter what else is going on, her father is central in her life. She admires his work as a carpenter, a job that he has had since he first arrived to the country, showing the reader not only his hard work, but how much she appreciates him for spending this sacred time with her even when he comes home really tired.

The language is very literary and the descriptions are vivid. One of my favorite combinations of vivid descriptions in the text and detailed imagery in the illustrations comes from a spread where Daisy describes how she and her dad take off on the motorcycle. She says the shiny blue metal up the motorcycle glows in the sun, making the sky blue and purple and gold. This rich imagery is further enhanced by Peña’s mix of colors and his placement of the duo at the center of a pool of gold, as if they were riding right into the sun. Peña’s use of comics elements like speech bubbles or onomatopoeic graphics like “VROOOOOOOM” when the motorcycle is revving up are a perfect fit for Quintero’s words.

Daisy and her papi’s motorcycle ride around the city is more than just a ride; it is really her life. And no matter how far she goes from the city or how many changes it undergoes, it will always be a part of her. This really shows how important this place is for her and how much of her identity is tied to it. Quintero closes the narrative with Daisy enjoying her shaved ice, sitting with her papi. Lovingly, Daisy thinks about her town and “all the changes it’s been through,” and finds comfort in knowing that in her little house with her family “there are things that will always stay the same.” “Mañana we fly again,” her dad assures her.

TEACHING TIPS: This book makes for a wonderful read aloud for all ages. It would be a strong mentor text for writing, and teachers could focus on:

  • The use of vivid descriptions
  • The importance of setting(s) in a story
  • Characterization

In addition, the book’s detailed illustrations can be great for teaching or developing visual literacy, asking students to explore how the illustrations support the text.

For older readers, the questions Quintero poses in her author’s note can be used for teaching this book. Who are the people who build our cities and form our communities? Who are the people who get streets named after them, and who are the people who lay the asphalt? These could become the basis of individual or collective research projects for students to learn more about their communities.

IsabelQABOUT THE AUTHOR: (from the dust jacket) Isabel Quintero is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. She lives and writes in the Inland Empire of Southern California. Isabel is the author of Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, which received the Morris Award, the Ugly Cat & Pablo chapter book series, and was commissioned to write Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide, which was awarded the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. One of her favorite memories is riding on the back of her papi’s motorcycle as a little girl.

 

Zeke PenaABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: (from the dust jacket) Zeke Peña is a cartoonist and illustrator working on the United States/Mexico frontera in El Paso, Texas. He makes comics to remix history and reclaim stories using satire and humor; resistencia one cartoon at a time. Zeke studied Art History at the University of Texas Austin and is self-taught in digital illustration. The graphic biography he illustrated titled Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide received the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award.

 

 

 

headshotABOUT THE REVIEWER: Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez is an Assistant Professor of English (Children’s Literature) at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Her teaching and research are in the areas of children’s literature (particularly Latinx literature), girlhood studies, and children’s cultures. Her published work has focused on girlhood as represented in literature and Puerto Rican girls’ identity formation with Barbie dolls. She has presented research on Latinx children’s books at various conferences and has served on children’s book award committees such as the 2017 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the 2018 Pura Belpré Award. Currently, she is part of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s “A Baker’s Dozen” committee.

 

 

Book Reviews: ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market by Raúl the Third and Babymoon by Hayley Barrett, illus by Juana Martinez-Neal

 

Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Richard Scarry’s Busytown gets a Mexican-American makeover in the marketplace of a buzzing border town from Pura Belpré Medal-winning illustrator Raúl the Third.

Bilingual in a new way, this paper over board book teaches readers simple words in Spanish as they experience the bustling life of a border town. Follow Little Lobo and his dog Bernabe as they deliver supplies to a variety of vendors, selling everything from sweets to sombreros, portraits to piñatas, carved masks to comic books!

MY TWO CENTS: Where to begin?! Raúl the Third’s illustrations are unique and like no other. If you’ve read Lowriders in Space then you know what I am referring to. His attention to detail, and similar to a graphic novel format, adds another dimension of following Little Lobo to the market in a town in Mexico.

I learned so much about the daily ins-and-outs of this community through the text, but most of all, its illustrations. The number of illustrations and words reflect a life of the hustle and bustle of the town, while also showing the love of la comunidad. Overall, it’s a fun and rich graphic picture book addition to add to your library. I highly recommend this book as a read-aloud at school and home, and an interactive text to use for students to learn about communities and the different pieces and people that make it thrive!

TEACHING TIPS: Many of these teaching moments can be implemented in a grades K-5 setting.

  • Use as a writing mentor text
    • for describing a small moment in time (a day at the market, shopping with family) or
    • writing about what makes their community a community
    • How the placement and use of illustrations enhance an author’s writing and storytelling
  • Focus on cultural artifacts and items that represent their own culture or are similar to their culture

 

RaulThirdABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR: Raúl the Third was born in El Paso, Texas, and grew up going back and forth between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. He is the Pura Belpré Award-winning illustrator of Lowriders to the Center of the Earth. Raúl lives in Boston, Massachusetts, with his wife, artist Elaine Bay, and son, Raúl the Fourth. Learn more about his work here!

 

 


Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: In a perfect gift for new and expectant parents (and siblings), a gentle story pays tribute to the wonder and emotion of a family’s first quiet days with a newborn.

The house is hushed. The lights are low.
We’re basking in a newborn glow.

Inside the cozy house, a baby has arrived! The world is eager to meet the newcomer, but there will be time enough for that later. Right now, the family is on its babymoon: cocooning, connecting, learning, and muddling through each new concern. While the term “babymoon” is often used to refer to a parents’ getaway before the birth of a child, it was originally coined by midwives to describe days like these: at home with a newborn, with the world held at bay and the wonder of a new family constellation unfolding. Paired with warm and winsome illustrations by Juana Martinez-Neal, Hayley Barrett’s lyrical ode to these tender first days will resonate with new families everywhere.

MY TWO CENTS: A touching story to share with all about the blessing of a baby. The story begins from the outside where a sign is hanging on the door, “See you soon”. The ambiguous message leaves readers to wonder if they are expecting someone soon, if the family is out of town, or if it is a message for visitors. A great moment to stop and give readers an option to infer from the title and the message on the door. The next page reveals a full spread of a family surrounding their new family member–a newborn. Words are weaved in and out of this new world that consists of long embraces, collaborative games, and peaceful smiles.

Juana Martinez-Neal does it again! The way she utilizes her strokes and warm palette adds a softness to all the images that leave readers with a peaceful feeling–the feeling of home. Many readers describe this feeling of a “warm hug” as we journey with this family’s new life, and boy they are not wrong! The family’s pet is also part of this new life, as the reader notices facial expressions and adds a comical and realistic experience for all animal lovers who welcome new babies (we all know that “look”!).

Overall, this is an amazing addition to your school and home library that represents the love that is multiplied in the family. I highly recommend this book as gifts for families expecting babies and a read-aloud for students who are expecting new siblings!

TEACHING TIPS: Many of these teaching moments can be implemented in a grades K-5 setting, with a focus on the primary grades.

  • Teaching descriptive vocabulary words and phrases
  • Lesson on phonemic awareness such as focusing on rhyming words
  • Focus on the illustrator’s purpose of using certain colors or placement of illustrations to convey meaning and book themes
  • Great addition to any family unit in a reading curriculum
  • Mentor text for writing about family life, changes, or life moments.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hayley Barrett is the author of three upcoming picture books, Babymoon (Candlewick 2019), What Miss Mitchell Saw (S&S/Beach Lane, 2019), and Girl Vs. Squirrel  (Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House, 2020). She lives outside of Boston with her husband John. Their two terrific kids have flown the coop.

 

 

Photo of author-illustrator Juana Martinez-NealABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Juana Martinez-Neal is the recipient of the 2018 Pura Belpré Medal for Illustration for La Princesa and the Pea (Putnam/Penguin 2017). Alma and How She Got Her Name (Candlewick 2018), her debut picture book as author-illustrator, was awarded the 2019 Caldecott Honor.

She was named to the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) Honor list in 2014, and was awarded the SCBWI Portfolio Showcase Grand Prize in 2012. She was born in Lima, the capital of Peru, and now lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with her husband and three children.

 

 

img_0160ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is also a current doctoral student in NLU’s EDD Teaching and Learning Program with an emphasis on Reading, Language, and Literacy. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never-ending “to read” pile!

 

Book Review: The Piñata that the Farm Maiden Hung by Samantha R. Vamos, illus. by Sebastià Serra

 

Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: A band of helpful animals joins the farm maiden, a farmer, and a boy in order to make a piñata from scratch and decorate the plaza. But then everyone falls asleep in the warm afternoon sun…

…and no one fills the pinata that the farm maiden hung.

How will they finish in time for the party? And who is the party for?

This bilingual story borrows the familiar structure of “The House that Jack Built” and is a companion title to The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred, a Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book.

MY TWO CENTS: This is a must-have addition to your classroom library and curriculum! It highlights the significance and collaboration in Latinx celebrations, traditions, and community. I am infatuated with this book’s integration of culture and overall style in a familiar story structure from the first book, The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred. The farm maiden and her community members, who include the boy, horse, cat, goose, farmer, and sheep, all partake in sharing their contribution to make the centerpiece of the celebration. In this case, the centerpiece is the piñata. There are other essential pieces to complete the celebration like alebrijes, cascarones, and papel picado. The author does not explicitly tell the reader who this party is for or why, but the characters are enthusiastically working together to get it right!

The author and illustrator, however, give readers a clue into this celebration by placing on the first page a young girl in her room who then walks outside, with the remaining characters peeking out of the house. This is a great stopping point for inferring and predicting before the story begins!

The deliberate shading and bold layers of color accentuate character features and the beauty in the environment as the characters are preparing for a celebration. Throughout the story line, words in Spanish are emphasized in bold print and their definitions are included at the end of the book. Cultural representations include alebrijes (wood carvings), cascarones (confetti in eggshells), and papel picado (tissue paper flags). Characters also share humor and collaboration as they work together to make this moment as special as they can, even when they all take a nap and forget to fill the piñata! No worries, because as they say “Teamwork makes the dream work,” and a dream it sure was! The birthday girl walks in and is surprised by the beautiful, thoughtful setup, but most of all there is an intricate and colorful piñata! The story ends at it should whenever a piñata is in the story- time to hit and break it! Readers are invited to sing along in Spanish and English to La Canción de la Piñata/ The Piñata Song, one that is reminiscent in many Latinx childhood memories.

Overall, I am forever grateful for this, a book that authentically reflects a Latinx culture. While there was an absence of food, except for the cake, it highlighted other parts of the celebration that are just as important. The words in this book brought life to Spanish vocabulary words and to the illustrations that married with the theme of collaboration, teamwork, and love for special moments like birthdays. Most of all, it solidifies the symbolic meaning of the piñata, which is an experience that is meant to be shared with those who bring you joy and happiness.

TEACHING TIPS: Many of these teaching moments can be implemented in a grades K-5 setting, with a focus on the primary grades.

  • The repetitive nature in the text is perfect for reader participation and engagement in read alouds, especially in the early grade levels.
  • Readers can develop their inferring abilities, especially with the illustrations.
  • Focus on building vocabulary, not only focusing on the Spanish words that are introduced but also on verbs and descriptive language.
  • Readers can be invited to learn more about other traditions, centerpieces, and components that are essential in other cultural celebrations.
  • Students can learn to make a piñata!
    • Included at the end of a book, is a step-by-step guide to make a piñata. This pairs well with a lesson on reading the procedural text.
  • This book can also be combined in a unit to compare and contrast story lines and characters. Books in this unit can include The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred, as well as other stories similar to The House that Jack Built. Students can also be invited to write their own story that follows this structure.

 

Image result for samantha r vamosABOUT THE AUTHOR: Samantha R. Vamos is the author of the companion title for this book, The Cazeula That the Farm Maiden Stirred, a Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book. She also wrote Alphabet Boats, Alphabet Trains, and Alphabet Trucks. She lives with her family in California.

Listen to Samantha R. Vamos talk about this book, The Piñata That the Farm Maiden Hung, on her publisher’s podcast.

Link: (https://charlesbridge.blogspot.com/2019/01/charlesbridge-unplugged-19-samantha.html)

 

 

Image result for Sebastiá SerraABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Sebastià Serra is an award-winning artist who has illustrated more than 70 children’s books in Spain, Italy, France, UK, Portugal, Taiwan, Brazil, and the United States. Also, he has worked as a graphic designer for several television shows, family theatre, and many museums and cultural institutions. He lives in Barcelona, Spain.

 

 

 

 

img_0160ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-3 and also teaches an undergraduate college course in Children’s Literature. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never ending “to read” pile

 

 

Book Review: Quizás algo hermoso by F. Isabel Campoy, Theresa Howell, illus. by Rafael López

 

Review by Maria Ramos-Chertok

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Una edición en español lírica del aclamado e inspirador libro de cuentos ilustrados Quizás algo hermoso, ilustrado por el ganador de la medalla Pura Belpré, Rafael López.

Ganador del Premio Tomás Rivera

¿Qué pueden conseguir unas gotas de color en una comunidad gris? Viendo lo que Mira y sus vecinos descubren, ¡más de lo que nunca pudo imaginarse! Basado en una historia real, Quizás algo hermoso nos revela cómo el arte puede inspirar la transformación – y cómo incluso la más pequeña artista puede llegar a conseguir algo grande. ¡Toma un pincel y únete a la celebración!

A lyrical Spanish language edition of the acclaimed and inspiring picture book Maybe Something Beautiful, illustrated by Pura Belpré Medal winner Rafael López.

MY TWO CENTS: Quizás algo hermoso is hopeful and inspiring, not only because of its message, but because it is based on a true story.  In the book, we meet Mira, a young artist who uses colorful drawings to enliven her world and connect with people in her neighborhood.  When she meets a muralist in her community, her love of art takes on another dimension, and together they work to transform their surroundings by engaging in a collective art project.  Their desire to be inclusive shows their neighbors that artistic expression is accessible to anyone willing to pick up a paint brush. By doing so, they debunk the idea that the label “artist” should be reserved solely for those who pursue formal artistic training.   The permission to create, to unite for a common purpose, and to use beauty as a tool in community empowerment provide valuable motivation for readers imagining how to replicate this magical experience.

Aside from the message, readers will be delighted to know that the illustrator, Rafael López, is the muralist upon whom the story is based. López and his wife Candice, a graphic designer and community organizer, are the ones who envisioned this project in the East Village of San Diego, California. The illustrations are vivid, engaging, and inspiring. The art depicts a multiracial cast of characters, something I personally look for and value in picture books.

I’ve read both the English (2016) and Spanish (2018) versions of the book and thoroughly enjoyed both. I am thrilled that such a relevant and instructional book has been translated into Spanish because it allows the message to reach a wider audience.

TEACHING TIPS: At the most basic level, Quizás algo hermoso can be used to encourage children to engage in art by showing them that one does not have to be a self-identified artist to enjoy and benefit from an art project. Beyond that, the book can be used to introduce community-based art. Whenever possible, I would recommend bringing students on a field trip to view local murals. Part of that lesson might include a discussion about the value and purpose of engaging a neighborhood in such a project.

Aside from the uplifting aspects of the book, there is also a deeper layer to explore related to depressed communities – communities that are dilapidated and somber, like the one in which Mira lived. For students living in such an area, this could be a difficult conversation, but one that might give voice to some important discussions related to class, race, and community resources. There might also be an inquiry as to why pejorative words are sometimes used to describe communities (e.g., slums, ghettos) and how those words make people feel. I’d recommend this conversation for older students.

Teachers can also discuss the benefits of what happens when people come together to work on a common goal: meeting new people, talking to people you might not have otherwise spoken to, and seeing change happen. This could be an opportunity to have your class choose a group project and then have them journal throughout the process about what they are learning about themselves and others.

While the primary audience for this book is younger children, I see a benefit of using it with older children (through fifth grade), especially in bi-lingual classrooms and/or Spanish language classrooms.

 

isabel-campoyABOUT THE AUTHORS (from the book)Isabel Campoy is an author, anthologist, translator, and bilingual educator who has won many awards for her professional contributions. Her many accolades include ALA Notables, the San Francisco Library Award, the Reading the World Award from the University of San Francisco, the NABE Ramón Santiago Award, the International Latino Children’s Book Award, and nine Junior Library Guild selections. She is a member of the North American Academy of Spanish Language. She lives in Northern California.

 

THERESA HOWELLTheresa Howell is a children’s book author and editor with many bilingual books to her credit. Mutually inspired by Rafael Lopez’s efforts to transform communities through art, they combined their talents in the lyrical text of Maybe Something Beautiful. She lives in Colorado.

 

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Rafael López is both the illustrator of this book and the inspiration for the character of the muralist. He was born and raised in Mexico, a place that has always influenced the vivid colors and shapes in his artwork. He now creates community-based mural projects around the world and illustrates award-winning children’s books. Rafael López divides his time between Mexico and San Diego, California.

 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Maria Ramos-Chertok is a writer, workshop leader and coach who facilitates The Butterfly Series, a writing and creative arts workshop for women who want to explore what’s next in their life journey. In December 2016, she won 1st place in the 2016 Intergenerational Story Contest for her piece, Family Recipes Should Never be Lost. Her work has appeared in the Apogee Journal, Entropy Magazine, and A Quiet Courage. Her piece Meet me by the River will be published in Deborah Santana’s forthcoming anthology All the Women in my Family Sing (Jan 2018) http://nothingbutthetruth.com/all-the-women-in-my-family-sing/. She is a trainer with Rockwood Leadership Institute www.rockwoodleadership.organd a member of the Bay Area chapter of Write on Mamas. For more information, visit her website at www.mariaramoschertok.com