Reflections on the Children’s Literature Association’s Annual Conference

 

By Marilisa Jiménez García, Ph.D.

The Children’s Literature Association (ChLA) meets for its annual conference every June. Founded in 1973, ChLA seeks to advance scholarship and criticism of children’s and young adult literature, particularly as a field of literary study. Academic associations, journals, and conferences provide scholars with an opportunity to organize and disseminate research. They also provide spaces for rethinking the purpose of a field more broadly with established and up and coming scholars. After years of attending ethnic studies and general literature and literacy conferences, I was invited to form part of a Latin American Children’s Literature panel chaired by Ann González at ChLA 2015 in Richmond, Virginia.

I arrived at ChLA 2015 hoping to reconnect with a group of scholars and educators that inspired my intellectual pursuit of children’s and young adult literature. ChLA 2009 was the first conference I attended as a University of Florida graduate student in Charlotte, North Carolina. My colleagues and professors said I would find a supportive and friendly scholarly community, something I immediately confirmed. I was thrilled to find others who valued the artistic, creative, and historical value of children’s and young adult texts and media, something which might be hard to find in English departments. Yet, from the outset, I also noticed I was one of the only, if not the only, Latino/as at the conference. I was on a panel about language in children’s literature chaired by my dissertation director, Kenneth B. Kidd. By that point, I had found my dissertation research on Puerto Rican children’s literature and its representations of U.S. colonialism, nationalism, race, and gender. After I delivered my paper, “Language Borders and the Case of Puerto Rican Children’s Literature,” which was later published, several people in the audience waited to speak to me about my research. I felt a sense of validation. This was also one of the first times people referred to my research as “brave.” I still wrestle with seeing this as a compliment in terms of the work I do, whether I was brave for presenting Latino/a culture and Spanglish as belonging in a tradition of American writing or if my presence as an underrepresented minority seemed somehow exceptional. Even considering the underrepresentation of Latino/as in American children’s literature and the overall sparse numbers of Latino/a faculty, was I brave for presenting what I knew?

Me and Kenneth Kidd, photo by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

Me and Kenneth Kidd, photo by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

Being the only Latina in an academic environment was not a new experience for me, but as someone who studied Victorian and American children’s literature, what was new was my realization of how often the depictions of Anglo-British and Anglo-American children and childhood are presented as central, and even universal. The terms “the child” and “children’s literature” seemed reserved for these portrayals. Progressing into my doctoral career, within the context of groups such as ChLA, I found that my work was often greeted with questions such as, “What does this have to do with children’s literature?” or “How is this about childhood?” In part, my dissertation in 2012, which won an award in Puerto Rican Studies, addressed the centrality of Anglo culture in children’s literature. I now realize that even in my position as a very junior scholar, I was perhaps one of the first to begin probing at the systemic diversity issue in kid lit, which today, though certainly not new predicament, has reached the forefront. Realistically, it was not until Robin Bernstein’s important study Racial Innocence (2013) that the field more holistically and publicly began to underline how representations of childhood and innocence are coded white.

My movement into ethnic studies and organizations like the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) provided a space for me to develop the kinds of conversations I wanted to have about race, nationality, and the study of children’s literature in the academy, including its branches into education and library science. Truthfully, those of us who work in Latino/a children’s literature owe a great debt to education scholars, such as Sonia Nieto, whose foundational work on the subject in the 1970s and 1980s parallels with the work of Rudine Sims Bishop in African American children’s literature. Yet, I always kept my eye on ChLA, and was excited to hear that diversity and the lack of minority representation in children’s books would be the theme of ChLA 2014 (“Diverging Diversities: Plurality in Children’s and Young Adult Literature”). I could not attend ChLA 14, though my paper on Latino/a young adult (YA) literature was read by Kidd.

Thursday morning at ChLA 2015 found me a bit anxious. Walking into the Omni Hotel Richmond on the first day of the conference, I was still attempting to process the tragic shooting at a Charleston church the night before. As someone who spent quite a bit of my life in the context of the South and the sway of the Confederate flag, the grim headlines seemed to frame everything I saw, even the 2015 conference theme: “Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me Death.” Once in the reception area, I met a Twitter friend, master’s student, Cristiana Rhodes of Texas A&M University, Corpus Christie, who approaches children’s literature through Chicano/a epistemologies. We discussed our work and perspective on being Latino/a in a field which sometimes struggles to see us as part of “English.” I was so encouraged to see a young Latina chairing a panel at ChLA and presenting her research on resisting stereotypical depictions of the Day of the Dead. Rhodes shared similar feelings to what mine had been as a graduate student. Later on, she said, “As a Latina, one of my primary goals in presenting at any academic conference is visibility–to let other academics know that we’re here and we’re doing good, valuable research. I think our place in ChLA, in particular, is to further solidify that diversity is an integral part of children’s literature, and without diverse perspectives the field would lose something.

“I think children’s lit scholars are beginning to understand that the field shouldn’t just be dominated by (white) hegemonic perspectives, and that’s really encouraging for someone like me who is new to the field. However, I still firmly believe that diversity shouldn’t be tokenized by the association (and I feel it often is) and I feel like the only thing we can do to remedy this is to stay visible and keep our research relevant. That’s my goal as a member of ChLA.”

Rhodes, who plans to pursue a doctorate, also said, “I think, as a whole, the children’s literature community [and ChLA] is really welcoming for new scholars regardless of their race, gender, education-level, etc. I’m always sort of constantly afraid that my age, coupled with my race, will inevitably exclude me from certain spaces within academia, but I’ve never felt left out or ignored because of these things while in the company of other children’s literature scholars.”

Rhodes’ comments continued to impress me as I had lunch with Casey Alane Wilson, Rebekah Fitzsimmons, and Mariko Turk, doctoral students from the University of Florida. Wilson and Fitzsimmons, who presented a paper on the construction of the YA genre, including how YA is used as a platform for diverse writers, helped me see that our field is at a moment of transition and restructuring, a moment in which those of us entering the academy are also questioning the history, structures, and key terms which formed and continue to guide our fields. This urge to question is something we were nurtured as scholars to do. My doctoral training under Kenneth Kidd in particular placed me in a position to think about how children’s literature developed as a field and how it is valued by the different branches, in part because of Kidd’s own against the grain perspective on kid lit. Kidd, a founding member of ChLA’s diversity committee, encouraged me to participate in the membership meeting and the coming year’s diversity committee.

Wilson, who is writing her dissertation on the dynamics of young adult literature, commented on her assurance that ChLA has evolved as a space for confronting these issues, conversations that she said “we, as scholars, have a responsibility to have…But I would also say that I’d like to see more of these conversations that aren’t limited specifically to panels about race — these questions should come up and be discussed in so-called ‘regular’ panels, too.”

The panel I presented on in Latin American children’s literature was well-attended. My panel chair, Gonzalez wrote Resistance and Survival (2011), an important study on Latin American and Caribbean children’s literature, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in learning more about the roots of Latin American cultures and kid lit, including Latino/a. During my presentation on race and nationality in Puerto Rican textbooks, which were used in Puerto Rico and New York City schools during the 1950s, I understood why it was important for me to continue attending ChLA. The research and perspective I brought to ChLA meant that even if Latino/as and people of color in general were underrepresented, my presentation and any conversations it inspired, raised the visibility of these groups in the field. In particular, by retracing the history of Latino/as in children’s literature, I hope to present how people of color form part of the foundation of children’s literature, and not the margins.

In terms of diversity, one of the conference highlights was a panel on Black Lives Matter featuring Katherine Capshaw Smith of the University of Connecticut, Michelle Martin of the University of South Carolina, and Myisha Priest of New York University, and chaired by Richard Flynn of Georgia Southern University, who drew a parallel to the Charleston shooting in his introduction. Together, these scholars underlined the importance of children’s literature and the tensions between innocence and criminality in terms of narrating the public deaths of black children, including Emmit Till, Robert “Yummy” Sandifer, and Kalief Browder. Another panel, “Illustrating African American history,” focused on how race and racism is depicted in children’s literature, and there was a panel titled “American Indians and Indianness,” which I was unable to attend.

Rhodes, Sonia Rodríguez (who could not attend), and I were the only scholars focusing solely on Latino/a children’s literature. Lilian B.W. Feitosa read one paper on Brazilian children’s literature and Renee Lathman read on poverty and marginality in Puerto Rican children’s literature. Also, Rhonda Brock-Servais and Aslyn Kemp from Longwood University delivered a great presentation on gender in Meg Medina’s work. The panel I presented on encompassed my perspective of Latin American and Latino/a children’s literature. In the future, I hope to organize a panel on Latino/a kid lit and hope it will not be seen as a an international panel since Latino/a is indeed a U.S. formation. The international panels at ChLA provide a great opportunity for diverse perspectives on children’s literature, but some scholars, such as Wilson, note that scheduling the international panels concurrently limits the opportunities for exchanges.

ChLA is an organization which has historically been committed to social justice. Overall, I think it would benefit from relationships with scholars doing ethnic studies and education research, an initiative listed in their Diversity Committee Plan 2009-2013. Collaboration with these fields would enable exchanges from the perspective of theories such as critical race theory (CRT) and Latino critical theory (LatCrit). I would also encourage children’s illustrators and authors to attend the conference to see how their work is impacting future frameworks and interpretations. ChLA is still a smaller and more manageable conference than meetings such as American Library Association (ALA), Modern Language Association (MLA), and/or National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE). It’s smaller, welcoming environment perhaps makes it more suitable for increasing the participation of scholars of color through mentoring events or spaces designed to nurture the needs of future faculty. Katherine Slater of Rowan University and chair of the Membership Committee said that ChLA plans to incorporate activities, including panels, speakers, and discussion groups that nurture diversity.

After Saturday’s membership meeting, I spoke to Ebony Elizabeth Thomas of the University of Pennsylvania and Kidd about my intentions to return to ChLA and get more involved in the planning and leadership. I felt incredibly supported during my conversations with Kidd, Thomas, Martin, and Capshaw, and by the ChLA community. Given the social movements and narratives of race overlapping with the narratives of the academy, I also felt that change was impossible to avoid. While preparing this reflection, I spoke with other scholars of color about how entering these spaces where we are the only ones makes us feel overwhelmed at times. Because for us, “diversity” is a term used to describe our lives and very beings, and not a theme. Perhaps, that is why when we choose to come to these places, and in my case return, we seem brave.

 

Marilisa_Jimenez-Garcia

Marilisa Jiménez García is a research associate at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY. She works at the intersections of Latino/a Studies and childhood and children’s literature studies. She is currently working on a book manuscript on the history of Latino/a children’s and young adult literature and an essay on the Latino/a “YA” tradition. She is conducting a survey of NYC teachers on teacher education and the use of diverse lit. in the classroom.

Cincos Puntos Press: Publishing Diverse Titles for 30 Years

By Patrick Flores-Scott

Cinco Puntos Press - WikipediaThe 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

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

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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

Celebrating When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez

This post is a little different from our usual Libros Latinos features in that it focuses on the release of our very own Cindy L. Rodriguez’s debut YA novel, When Reason Breaks, which is available now. Cindy wasn’t sure she wanted us to blog about her book at all, but we persuaded her that readers would want to know more about the rock-star author whose initiative brought Latin@s in Kid Lit into the world. This post is more a celebration than a review, but we aim to celebrate in a way that’s useful to readers, teachers, librarians, and advocates of Latin@ literature. Read on to hear from Latin@s in Kid Lit bloggers Ashley, Lila, Zoraida, and Sujei!

WhenReasonBreaks_Comp

Publisher’s Description: A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy. In an emotionally taut novel that is equal parts literary and commercial, with a richly diverse cast of characters, readers will relish in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and be completely swept up in the turmoil of two girls fighting for their lives.

What We Love

Ashley: Whatever the similarity of their names, there’s an immediate outward contrast between quiet, cautious Emily and bold, impulsive Elizabeth. Yet When Reason Breaks powerfully illustrates the animosity—and, ultimately, kinship—that develops between these two as they each become more aware of the inner demons the other faces. This emerges in a rare private encounter between the two girls:

 “I see you, Emily Delgado,” she whispered. “Your problem isn’t really about your friends of Kevin or your dad. You try to hide it, but I know.” Elizabeth patted Emily’s leg. “Trust me, I know.”

In the oblique understanding of inner struggle communicated in this relationship, When Reason Breaks passes the Bechdel Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 4.12.00 PMtest with flying colors. Whereas no one can miss Elizabeth’s explosive temper and sometimes contentious behavior, Elizabeth “sees” Emily’s struggle with depression in a way teachers, counselors, parents, and friends do not. (Even Emily’s supportive and observant boyfriend Kevin doesn’t recognize what’s going on with her.) Still, for me a crucial point of drama in the novel was the question of whether Emily and Elizabeth would ultimately help each other or perhaps instead enable each other’s self-destructive tendencies.

Other highlights in the novel for me were the fabulously written group scenes–both between family members and the girls with their friends–and the graceful incorporation of Spanish.

Lila: I adore a novel that takes me somewhere I’ve never been. In When Reason Breaks, that new territory is the intricate relationship of two high school classmates whose personal styles and family backgrounds sharply contrast. They’re forced to cross the divide when their teacher pairs them in an assignment involving Emily Dickinson’s poetry. As the story moves forward, the girls’ opposite natures create conflict, but you sense that they’re somehow on intersecting paths. At one point, deep in the book, a bridge seems to form between them.

It’s a beautiful scene that takes place in the woods, framed by autumn trees. (I’m a craft geek, and one of the elements I admire in a strong work of fiction is setting.) But it gets better. In this scene, the characters exchange funny stories that somehow morph into poignant, self-revelations that reveal far more than either girl has allowed her closest friends to see. Cindy pulls off this delicate dance in such a natural, believable way, primarily through dialogue. And just when I thought the girls’ friendship was cemented, something else comes along and the tension between them ratchets up all over again.

Sujei: Cindy captures the emotional journey of the main characters through rich descriptions of what they do, think, experience, and feel. Above all, what came to my mind while reading the novel is its “New England” feeling and how it brings a new voice and view to Latin@ literature. The references to Thoreau’s Walden, Amherst College, Red Sox, the woods, Emily Dickinson contribute to that feeling as do other details. Here, Cindy brings us a YA novel that portrays a Latino family living in New England, a very real experience that is often marginal (if not invisible) in broader literary and media depictions of Latinos.

Emily D in WhiteZoraida: This is the first book I’ve read in a long time (or maybe ever) that made me choke up by the end of chapter 1. When I was in high school, I fell madly in love with Emily Dickinson and her poetry—and poetry in general. So for that, this book has a special place in my heart. I love the way each chapter starts with a short epigraph from one of Emily’s poems. I also love that both girls share the same initials, and despite coming from different backgrounds, also share the same internal struggle. Cindy deals with the strong emotions in this book so subtly that when you realize what’s happening, it hits you in the gut. Here are some of the many, many things I loved in this book:

#1 Two individual and smart girls.

#2 Girls that don’t let themselves get bossed around by boys.

#3 Complicated and complex relationships between girls/girls, student/teacher, boys/girls, children/parents.

#4 Dealing with depression and anger in a way that is very real

#5 Straight up beautiful and emotionally subtly powerful writing.

#6 An incredibly diverse cast that is genuine.

#7 All the feels.

While I was reading the book I kept seeing myself in both of these girls. As a teen. As an adult. And I think that was my takeaway from this. I’m a little bit of both, and maybe so is everyone else.

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When Reason Breaks has received praise all over the blogosphere and on review sites. Check out these awesome write-ups: What Sarah Read, The Lifelong Bookworm, Disability in Kid Lit, Rich in Color, Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly.

Teaching Tips from Ashley

How I wish this book had been around back in 2007 when I was teaching a thematic unit on mental illness. As Cindy discussed here, one of the crucial contributions of the novel is that it shows depression and mental illness apart from especially traumatic circumstances. It also provides ample opportunity for discussion of the subtlety of many of depression’s symptoms.

We see Emily’s gradual withdrawal from her personal relationships and the slow creep of fatigue taking over ordinary functioning. It also powerfully illustrates the challenges of managing anger. As Zoraida notes, “I remember feeling like Elizabeth all the time as teen. I had (and sometimes still do) have this anger that I feel is overwhelming and don’t want other people to see. Yet, her acting out is a sign that she WANTS to be seen, which is the opposite of Emily who shies away from that and internalizes her feelings.”

For additional recent works that deal with depression, suicide, and mental illness, see this School Library Journal post and this post on Stacked. These are great resources for finding companion pieces to read along with When Reason Breaks.

Teachers may also find this an easy sell to students intrigued by Emily Dickenson’s life or poetry, and Cindy’s subtle incorporation of biographical details in fiction—combined with an author’s note that unpacks many of these connections—offers a fine model of the use of fiction in multi-genre research projects. For an overview of the multi-genre approach, check out this general introduction to multi-genre writing from Colorado State, and for an online workshop module focused on teaching multi-genre writing in middle school, see this site. Once you’re sold on the idea, Tom Romano’s pioneering books on the approach will become indispensible. The key texts are Writing with Passion: Life Stories, Multiple Genres (1995) and Blending Genre, Altering Style: Writing Multigenre Papers (2000).

Guest Post: How to Create Diverse Characters

by Kimberly Mitchell

YemeniBoy

A boy from Taiz, Yemen

With the launch of the #weneeddiversebooks campaign last spring, the idea of diversity in children’s writing is everywhere these days. As the diverse books movement moves forward, all writers of kid lit should consider how to create diversity in their work.

Creating characters outside your race and ethnicity can sound daunting. It doesn’t have to be this way. My characters often represent cultures and races outside my own. In Traders of Incense, my protagonist is an Arab boy, based on my time spent in Yemen. In Pen and Quin and the Mystery of the Painted Book, Pen and Quin are Mexican American twins. My motivation behind creating these protagonists stems from my desire to connect with readers and view the world through the eyes of others.

Here are some suggestions on how to create authentic, diverse characters.

1) Mine your own background and experience.

I’ve had the chance to travel to some spectacular places, from Yemen to Peru. The people I’ve met and the cultures I’ve experienced changed the way I view the world.

Where have you traveled? It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as the Middle East. Perhaps you grew up in the South and now live in the Northeast, or vice versa. Or you came from a predominantly majority town and now work with people from different backgrounds.

Use these experiences as launching points for characters and settings in your work.

2) Consider your relationships.

Who do you hang out with? Are your friends, colleagues, and mentors different from you ethnically, economically, or culturally? If not, now is the time to examine those relationships and diversify! It’s difficult to write diverse characters when your own life doesn’t reflect diversity.

If you want to create characters outside your own experience and do so in an authentic way, you must reach out to people different from yourself with an open mind and heart. Be open with your intentions as a writer, but be authentic in your desire to develop the relationship. People love to talk about their families and traditions if you let them. My friends from other cultures and backgrounds have been great sources for me to draw on when creating my characters. Enjoy making new friends and learning new things!

3) Cultivate familiarity.

As you create your diverse characters, you must be familiar with the background and family you’ve chosen for them. Cultivating familiarity means putting yourself in a position to really know what it’s like to be your character.

It could mean studying a new language, traveling to a new city, or finding those places in your own city where your character would live, work, and play. Get familiar with it until it feels natural to you. Until that happens, your characters won’t feel authentic.

4) Do your research – and not just on Google.

Let me say that Google Earth is an amazing invention. I have used it countless times in my own work. A 360-degree street view? Yes! However, the internet cannot provide all the information you need to create your characters.

Doing your research should include finding places and people like your characters and talking to them, participating in events, and reading stories similar to your own, especially when those stories reflect the types of characters you’re creating.

5) Authenticate through readers.

This one is huge for writers creating characters outside their own backgrounds. If possible, I always include beta readers with ethnicities or backgrounds similar to my characters and ask them to read the story with an eye toward that aspect of the work.

For my story that includes Mexican-American protagonists, I asked friends who are Mexican and American, and now raising their Mexican American sons, to read the story. Listen carefully to the response of your readers, and be willing to tweak the story according to their response.

6) Be prepared for kickbacks.

As hard as you try, you won’t fully be able to escape criticism. There will always be people who question your ability to write a story about a Latina girl if you aren’t Latina, or who claim you can’t speak for a Muslim boy if you’re not Muslim.

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The author with a Yemeni friend

Certainly you want to avoid stereotyping as much as possible, but if you use your experiences, relationships, research and authentic readers well, you’ll be able to weed out many of the difficulties of writing across diverse backgrounds.

7) Love your characters and your story. Let them speak for themselves.

As writers, we get to choose the types of characters we create. We can’t let the fear of stepping outside of ourselves dictate our choices. The alternative would be simply staying within the comfort of your own race, background, gender, ethnicity, social status and nationality.

And I, for one, refuse to do that. The children we write for deserve better.

KimberlyMitchell2014Kimberly Mitchell loves journeys, real or imagined. She has traveled to five continents and speaks four languages. Kimberly is represented by Marlene Stringer of the Stringer Literary Agency and hopes to find publishers for her middle-grade novels soon. She lives in Northwest Arkansas with her husband and the best souvenir she ever found, a Yemeni cat.

More Libros Latin@s: 24 YA & MG Novels By/About Latinos in 2015!

Just when you thought your To-Be-Read list couldn’t get any longer, here we have 24 young adult and middle grade novels to be released in 2015 that are all by and/or about Latin@s. While they all share this aspect, you’ll see the novels are diverse, representing these genres: horror, fantasy, contemporary, science-fiction, memoir, magical realism, romance, and historical. Authors include award winners Margarita Engle, and Pam Muñoz Ryan, as well as NY Times Bestselling authors Kierra Cass and Anna Banks. Alongside these authors are many debuts, which are *starred* in the list below. If you click on the cover image, you will go to the book’s Goodreads page, so you can easily add them to your TBR list! And if you’re adding them, you are likely interested in diverse kid lit and should, therefore, consider participating in the We Need Diverse Books reading challenge. Happy reading!!

*SHUTTER by Courtney Alameda

20757532Micheline Helsing is a tetrachromat—a girl who sees the auras of the undead in a prismatic spectrum. As one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing lineage, she has trained since childhood to destroy monsters both corporeal and spiritual: the corporeal undead go down by the bullet, the spiritual undead by the lens. With an analog SLR camera as her best weapon, Micheline exorcises ghosts by capturing their spiritual energy on film. She’s aided by her crew: Oliver, a techno-whiz and the boy who developed her camera’s technology; Jude, who can predict death; and Ryder, the boy Micheline has known and loved forever.

When a routine ghost hunt goes awry, Micheline and the boys are infected with a curse known as a soulchain. As the ghostly chains spread through their bodies, Micheline learns that if she doesn’t exorcise her entity in seven days or less, she and her friends will die. Now pursued as a renegade agent by her monster-hunting father, Leonard Helsing, she must track and destroy an entity more powerful than anything she’s faced before . . . or die trying.

JOYRIDE by Anna Banks

22718685A popular guy and a shy girl with a secret become unlikely accomplices for midnight pranking, and are soon in over their heads—with the law and with each other—in this sparkling standalone from NYT-bestselling author Anna Banks.

It’s been years since Carly Vega’s parents were deported. She lives with her brother, studies hard, and works at a convenience store to contribute to getting her parents back from Mexico.

Arden Moss used to be the star quarterback at school. He dated popular blondes and had fun with his older sister, Amber. But now Amber’s dead, and Arden blames his father, the town sheriff who wouldn’t acknowledge Amber’s mental illness. Arden refuses to fulfill whatever his conservative father expects.

All Carly wants is to stay under the radar and do what her family expects. All Arden wants is to NOT do what his family expects. When their paths cross, they each realize they’ve been living according to others. Carly and Arden’s journey toward their true hearts—and one another—is funny, romantic, and sometimes harsh.

24527773THE SMOKING MIRROR by David Bowles

Carol and Johnny Garza are 12-year-old twins whose lives in a small Texas town are forever changed by their mother’s unexplained disappearance. Shipped off to relatives in Mexico by their grieving father, the twins soon learn that their mother is a nagual, a shapeshifter, and that they have inherited her powers. In order to rescue her, they will have to descend into the Aztec underworld and face the dangers that await them.

HOSTAGE by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

23899848Welcome back to Las Anclas, a frontier town in the post-apocalyptic Wild West. In Las Anclas, the skull-faced sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can speed up time, and the squirrels can teleport sandwiches out of your hands.

In book one, Stranger, teenage prospector Ross Juarez stumbled into town half-dead, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble— including an invasion by Voske, the king of Gold Point. The town defeated Voske’s army, with the deciding blow struck by Ross, but at a great cost.

In Hostage, a team sent by King Voske captures Ross and takes him to Gold Point. There he meets Kerry, Voske’s teenage daughter, who has been trained to be as ruthless as her father. While his friends in Las Anclas desperately try to rescue him, Ross is forced to engage in a battle of wills with the king himself.

22918050THE HEIR by Kierra Cass

Twenty years ago, America Singer entered the Selection and won Prince Maxon’s heart. Now the time has come for Princess Eadlyn to hold a Selection of her own. Eadlyn doesn’t expect her Selection to be anything like her parents’ fairy-tale love story. But as the competition begins, she may discover that finding her own happily ever after isn’t as impossible as she always thought.

 

 

18625184REBELLION by Stephanie Diaz

It’s been seven days since Clementine and Logan, along with their allies, retreated into hiding on the Surface. The rebels may have won one battle against Commander Charlie, but the fight is far from finished. He has vowed to find a way to win—no matter the cost. Do the rebels have what it takes to defeat him…and put an end to this war?

As Clementine and Logan enter a desperate race against time to defeat Commander Charlie—and attempt to weaken his power within his own ranks—they find themselves in a terrifying endgame that pits them against a brutal enemy, and each other. With every step, Clementine draws closer to losing Logan…and losing control of herself.

ENCHANTED AIR by Margarita Engle

23309551In this poetic memoir, Margarita Engle, the first Latina woman to receive a Newbery Honor, 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?

*THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT by Melissa Grey

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Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.

But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

22504701ROLLER GIRL by Victoria Jamieson

For most of her twelve years, Astrid has done everything with her best friend Nicole. But after Astrid falls in love with roller derby and signs up for derby camp, Nicole decides to go to dance camp instead. And so begins the most difficult summer of Astrid’s life as she struggles to keep up with the older girls at camp, hang on to the friend she feels slipping away, and cautiously embark on a new friendship. As the end of summer nears and her first roller derby bout (and junior high!) draws closer, Astrid realizes that maybe she is strong enough to handle the bout, a lost friendship, and middle school… in short, strong enough to be a roller girl.

*UNUSUAL CHICKENS FOR THE EXCEPTIONAL POULTRY FARMER by Kelly Jones

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Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown feels like a fish out of water when she and her parents move from Los Angeles to the farm they’ve inherited from a great-uncle. But farm life gets more interesting when a cranky chicken appears and Sophie discovers the hen can move objects with the power of her little chicken brain: jam jars, the latch to her henhouse, the entire henhouse…

And then more of her great-uncle’s unusual chickens come home to roost. Determined, resourceful Sophie learns to care for her flock, earning money for chicken feed, collecting eggs. But when a respected local farmer tries to steal them, Sophie must find a way to keep them (and their superpowers) safe.

Told in letters to Sophie’s abuela, quizzes, a chicken-care correspondence course, to-do lists, and more, Unusual Chickens is a quirky, clucky classic in the making.

SURVIVING SANTIAGO by Lyn Miller-Lachman

23013839To sixteen-year-old Tina Aguilar, love is the all and the everything.

As such, Tina is less than thrilled to return to her homeland of Santiago, Chile, for the first time in eight years to visit her father, the man who betrayed her and her mother’s love through his political obsession and alcoholism. Tina is not surprised to find Papá physically crippled from his time as a political prisoner, but she is disappointed and confused by his constant avoidance of her company. So when Frankie, a mysterious, crush-worthy boy, quickly shows interest in her, Tina does not hesitate to embrace his affection.

However, Frankie’s reason for being in Tina’s neighborhood is far from incidental or innocent, and the web of deception surrounding Tina begins to spin out of control. Tina’s heart is already in turmoil, but adding her and her family’s survival into the mix brings her to the edge of truth and discovery.

Fans of Gringolandia will recognize the Aguilar family as they continue their story of survival and redemption.

ECHO by Pam Muñoz Ryan

22749539Music, magic, and a real-life miracle meld in this genre-defying masterpiece from storytelling maestro Pam Muñoz Ryan.

Lost and alone a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.

SHADOWSHAPER by Daniel José Older

22295304Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.

*WHEN REASON BREAKS by Cindy L. Rodriguez

22032788A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.

In an emotionally taut novel with a richly diverse cast of characters, readers will relish in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and be completely swept up in the turmoil of two girls grappling with demons beyond their control.

*MORE HAPPY THAN NOT by Adam Silvera

19542841The Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto — miracle cure-alls don’t tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. But Aaron can’t forget how he’s grown up poor or how his friends aren’t always there for him. Like after his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it’s not enough.

Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn’t mind Aaron’s obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn’t mind talking about Aaron’s past. But Aaron’s newfound happiness isn’t welcome on his block. Since he’s can’t stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.

*HOLLYWOOD WITCH HUNTER by Valerie Tejeda

23202520From the moment she first learned the truth about witches…she knew she was born to fight them.

Now, at sixteen, Iris is the lone girl on the Witch Hunters Special Ops Team.

But when Iris meets a boy named Arlo, he might just be the key to preventing an evil uprising in Southern California.

Together they’re ready to protect the human race at all costs. Because that’s what witch hunters do.

Welcome to Hollywood.

HUNTERS OF CHAOS by Crystal Velasquez

23309533Ana’s average, suburban life is turned upside down when she’s offered a place at the exclusive boarding school in New Mexico that both of her late parents attended. As she struggles to navigate the wealthy cliques of her new school, mysterious things begin to occur: sudden power failures, terrible storms, and even an earthquake!

Ana soon learns that she and three other girls with Chinese, Navajo, and Egyptian heritages harbor connections to priceless objects in the school’s museum, and the museum’s curator, Ms.Benitez, is adamant that the girls understand their ancestry.

It turns out that the school sits on top of a mysterious temple, the ancient meeting place of the dangerous Brotherhood of Chaos. And when one of the priceless museum objects is shattered, the girls find out exactly why their heritage is so important: they have the power to turn into wild cats! Now in their powerful forms of jaguar, tiger, puma, and lion they must work together to fight the chaos spirits unleashed in the ensuing battle and uncover the terrifying plans of those who would reconvene the Brotherhood of Chaos.

These titles do not yet have final covers, but we have provided as much information as we could find. Some of them are already listed on Goodreads.

OUT OF DARKNESS by Ashley Hope Pérez. This title is not yet listed on Goodreads, but Ashley wrote a post for us about the historical event at the heart of this story.

Zoraida Córdova’s LABYRINTH LOST in which a teen girl in family of powerful Brujas, accidentally banishes them in a bid to avoid her own magical destiny, then ventures into the otherworldly land of Los Lagos to save them, with the mysterious but alluring Nova as her guide, who seems to have an agenda all his own.

MOVING TARGET by Christina Diaz Gonzalez. It’s a middle-grade novel pitched as “Percy Jackson meets The Da Vinci Code.” In the story, a 12-year-old girl studying in Rome discovers she is a member of an ancient bloodline enabling her to use a legendary object that can alter the future.

THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS by Anna-Marie McLemore, in which two teenagers from rival families of traveling performers fall in love despite impossible odds.

NEVER, ALWAYS, SOMETIMES by Adi Alsaid, described on GoodReads as “two best friends, a boy and girl, make a list of the cliché things they will never do their senior year.”

NAKED by Stacey Trombley: When tough teenager Anna ran away to New York, she never knew how bad things would get. After surviving as a prostitute, a terrifying incident leaves her damaged inside and out, and she returns home to the parents she was sure wouldn’t want her anymore.

Now she has a chance to be normal again. Back in school, she meets a boy who seems too good to be true. Cute, kind, trusting. But what will he do when he finds out the truth about her past? And when a dark figure from New York comes looking for Anna, she realizes she must face her secrets…before they destroy her.

If we’re missing any, please let us know in the comments!

Which ones are you planning to read?

Guest Post: Why I’m Not Interested in a Mexican Katniss

By Guinevere Zoyana Thomas

Earlier this year, Matt de la Peña asked the publishing industry one of the most thought-provoking questions ever: “Where is the African American Harry Potter or the Mexican Katniss?

His question was part of a conversation about why there aren’t that many POC equivalents to such iconic characters in YA and MG.

There doesn’t seem to be a good enough excuse for there not to be more Latino characters in kid lit especially with the Latino population rapidly growing, so to say there isn’t a market for it is just undetermined fabrication. I, for one, identify as an Afro-Cubana who would gladly buy a book from a Latina author that featured a Latina protagonist in a heartbeat!

But the truth is, I’m not sure I want a Mexican Katniss or a black Harry Potter or even an Asian Percy Jackson. A small part of me feels that if I say I do, I’d be telling the world that in order for a POC character to be great, we’d  have to follow thedefault” archetype. Everybody knows it: white, skinny, Christian, hetero, and because girls are so popular in YA, born female.

Comparisons are wonderful, because, I mean, who doesn’t want to be compared to what’s considered a great character, but I think it’s more than fair to say that boys and girls of color have earned the chance to be the models of their own standards, and, unfortunately, the only ones who don’t think about how representation in kid lit is important are the ones who are swimming in characters dedicated to their own images.

23117815One YA book that stood out to me this year was Dia of the Dead by Brit Brinson. It had zombies, it had action, and it definitely had drama. But most importantly to me, it had something that’s always left out of the conversation about Latinos in fiction–an Afro-Latina protagonist named Dia.

Her character was so amazingly memorable and struggled with the many things most Afro-Latinas go through in terms of identity that it was too hard to draw a comparison to another character in a similar situation who just happens to be a non-white Latina. All I could really give her credit for was being Dia, and isn’t that what we’re all really looking for in a character?

I don’t think we need a Mexican Katniss, but instead a chance to be on a bookshelf next to Katniss in our own stories with our own myths and legends. And it wouldn’t hurt if she had an amazing name like Citlalli, or even Amaryllis.

What I hope for her is to be a character that is a hero all on her own, clearing her own path and setting her own standard.

About the Blogger/Aspiring writer:

GuinevereGuinevere Zoyana Thomas is one half of the ever so silent and deadly “Twinjas” @Twinja Book Reviews. When she isn’t perfecting back handsprings or working on her red belt in Tang Soo Do, she’s going H.A.M. editing her diverse time-travel YA novel under the pseudonym “GL Tomas.”

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