How Do I Keep My History? How Do I Honor It? A Guest Post by Author Mia García

 

By Mia García

Okay, here’s the thing, I’m a rambler. I tend to talk in circles until I figure out what I need to say, which usually boils down to a sentence.

So bear with me if you can – if not I totally understand; I’m sure there are many things you could be watching on Netflix right now. I’ve been thinking a lot about stress and fear, particularly in relation to family and history, which sounds horrible and insulting, but it will make sense. At least I hope so.

For years, I’ve been that person who wanted to do that Ancestry DNA thing, but never had the time or the money or the motivation (most likely these last two). Plus as a Puerto Rican born and raised in PR, I’ve always been taught that my ancestry boiled down to Spanish, African, and Taíno. (Which is a crazy simplification of the diversity of people who lived on the island, which include the above and Chinese, Irish, Scottish, French, German…Okay, I should stop here before I go into a full history of the island and this parenthesis gets crazy long.)

But in terms of actual knowledge, I only know a little bit about my Spanish side, like which city my great-grandparents came from and a whole lot of nothing about the rest of it, which after the test (I finally did it!) turns out to be about eight different things, half of which made my parents go: “Where did that come from?”

For those interested, it included Spanish, African, Italian, Native American, Middle Eastern, Great Britain, and a few small traces in Caucasus and Ireland. My parents’ “WTF?” reactions came from the Great Britain, Caucasus, Middle East, and Ireland revelations.

The test itself didn’t cause the anxious thoughts, but rather sparked interest in my past. The fear and stress came from the links to my past that are slowly disappearing. It’s sad to think about the family history and stories I know nothing about and will, most likely, never know anything about because as time passes there are fewer connections to it.

Not long ago, my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, which after a few years of paralyzing sadness made me realize that I needed to safeguard as many of his memories as I could. And recently, I almost lost my mom due to a serious medical issue, but we were blessed enough to get the news we needed in time. Because of these events, I re-ignited my plan to sit my parents and family members down to talk about, well, anything they can remember while I record them on my computer (this is something that truly annoys my mother because I never give her enough time to fix her hair and make-up, but I digress), which doesn’t always happen, which then leads to the stress, the worry, and fear.

Even If the Sky Falls CoverHow much do we lose with each generation? What will I remember for my children? (I don’t have any at the moment, but that doesn’t stop my mind from going there.) But that’s only where it starts, because it’s not only about how do I keep this history, but how do I honor it? Then I start spiraling into thoughts about my book. A sweet romance about a Puerto Rican in New Orleans hanging out with a musician for a night…but maybe it should’ve been a book about my parent’s history? What have I done to represent and document my family, my people, or my culture?

I should’ve done it all in one book. Clearly, I am a failure.

And there it is.

That tangle of thoughts that many of us face each time we pick up a pen and write our stories, trying to capture every moment that has made up our lives (but not too much, because then it’s a memoir, right?), holding on tightly to the past because if we don’t who will do it? Wondering if it’s okay to just tell a story about a young Puerto Rican girl falling in love without a history lesson or maybe just a small one. Feeling like your culture flows in your veins, but you haven’t quite honored it yet…

I realize now this is not just a blog post but a conversation. That I don’t want to talk into the void, but I want to hear from my fellow Latinx community. So if you are reading this, I want to hear from you!

Have you had similar thoughts? Do you feel like you need to represent every part of your culture when you write? Tell me about yourself, your family, the stories you write!

What do you think?

If you are a Latinx creator and want to discuss the “tangle of thoughts that many of us face each time we pick up a pen and write our stories,” please email us at latinosinkidlit@gmail.com with your blog post idea. We’d love to keep this conversation going.

 

5pv_6utvxrzzwbjesfqoku0ic1kqe1dzq1c5cnsydmyM. García was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She moved to New York where she studied creative writing at The New School, worked in publishing, and now lives under a pile of to-be-read books. Her debut novel, Even If the Sky Falls, from Katherine Tegen books (an imprint of Harper Collins) is out now. Visit her at MGarciaBooks.com

Book Review: The Distance Between Us, by Reyna Grande

the-distance-between-us

The original version of this memoir was written for general audiences. This review is based on an advance reader’s copy of the young readers edition.

Reviewed by Lila Quintero Weaver

Echoes of Cinderella reverberate throughout Reyna Grande’s forceful and captivating memoir of a family torn apart by internal and external stressors, centered in a years-long separation across the U.S.-Mexico border. The Distance Between Us thrums with novelistic tension and detail, offering chiseled portraits of individuals and rendering the settings they come from in vivid form. As the story lends breath and heartbeat to a particular Mexican girl and her struggle to overcome unimaginable obstacles related to poverty, migration, and family turmoil, it also humanizes the faceless, nameless stream of undocumented migrants that we hear so much about in the news.

Due to the physical and cultural distances that develop between members of the family, Reyna spends much of her childhood feeling like an orphan. The memoir begins as her mother, Juana, leaves Reyna and her two siblings under the care of Evila, the children’s paternal grandmother. Motivated by the promise of steady work and higher wages, Reyna’s father has already left Mexico for El Otro Lado, and this happened so long ago that four-year-old Reyna must rely on a framed photo to remember what he looks like. Later, Juana decides she must migrate, too, and although she vows to return within a year, the separation stretches out much longer, stranding her children—Reyna, Mago, and Carlos—in a bleak, loveless existence. Even as the three siblings tend to chores and subsist on meager rations, Abuelita Evila lavishes treats and special privileges on Élida, another grandchild living under her roof. Although some of Élida’s spoils come from the money that Juana and her husband send for their children’s necessities, the couple remains unaware of these abuses. Each time they call to speak with their kids, Evila hovers nearby to make sure they don’t disclose anything negative.

When Juana returns from her two-and-a-half year absence, she is almost unrecognizable to Reyna. Her hair is dyed bright red, her clothes are much fancier than anything she used to wear, and there is a new baby in her arms. Worse yet, she demonstrates a chilling degree of detachment toward her children. Before long, Juana acquires a boyfriend and foists all four kids off on their other abuelita—a far poorer, but kinder woman whose house is a one-room shack constructed of bamboo sticks. A river nearby subjects the house to serious flooding.

When the children’s father finally returns to Mexico for a visit, eight years have passed. He reluctantly agrees to take Reyna and her two older siblings back to El Otro Lado. This will involve a bus trip of two thousand miles from the Mexican state of Guerrero to Tijuana, where they will engage the services of a coyote. But at a critical moment before they leave, Reyna catches a glimpse of Juana as she used to be and, aching to believe that her mother loves her, she is tempted to stay behind. Then it dawns on Reyna that her sister, Mago, is the true maternal figure in her life, the one who has offered sacrificial love and protection at every turn, and if Mago is fleeing Mexico, Reyna will, too.

In many aspects, Reyna’s story is reminiscent of the mother-son alienation described in Enrique’s Journey, by Sonia Nazario, reviewed here. Like Enrique’s odyssey, Reyna’s story reveals conditions of unrelenting poverty, and shows the personal drive and courage of individuals who dare to leave behind all that is familiar in order to make a better life. The book also shows the steep costs, both literal and metaphoric, of migration in general and chain migration in particular. (Chain migration refers to the practice of one or more family members setting out to establish a home and/or save up money, usually in preparation for the rest of the family to join them.) We see this especially in how separations intended to be brief often last much longer than planned and lead to deep relational breaches. For those of us privileged with predictable lives of plenty, it is all too easy to pronounce judgment on parents who take such drastic steps, yet stories like The Distance Between Us illuminate the complex dilemmas faced by immigrant families caught in extreme poverty with no apparent recourse in their countries of origin.

Although this memoir offers an eye-opening opportunity to grasp the bigger picture, most young readers will home in on Reyna’s personal journey, as she crosses figurative and literal landscapes pocked with obstacles. Once she and her family take the plunge toward the better life they imagine is waiting for them in El Otro Lado, readers will clutch at their hearts, rooting for Reyna with every page turn. And their hopes will be rewarded.

Reyna Grande is the author of two novels, Across a Hundred Mountains and Dancing with Butterflies. The original edition of her memoir, The Distance Between Us, was a finalist in the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Awards. She is a speaker and workshop leader for creative writers, and is the recipient of scores of awards and honors. Visit her official website to learn more.

Reyna Grande has made many televised appearances and other interviews which are available on video. Here are a few:

BookTV interview:

Informal conversation with KBeach Radio:

Reyna’s video of Abuelita Chita:

Here is an excellent interview in Spanish. There are no subtitles, but even non-Spanish speakers will enjoy the images.

 

Book Review: Nothing Up My Sleeve by Diana López

 

Reviewed by Marianne Snow Campbell

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: Sixth graders Dominic, Loop, and Z stumble upon a new magic shop in town and can’t wait to spend their summer mastering cool tricks to gain access to the Vault, a key holders-only back room bound to hold all kinds of secrets. And once they get in, they set their sights even higher: a huge competition at the end of the summer. They work on their card tricks, sleights, and vanishing acts, trying to come up with the most awesome routines possible….Problem is, the trip is expensive, and it’s money that each guy’s family just doesn’t have.

To make things worse, the shop-owners’ daughter, Ariel (who just so happens to be last year’s competition winner), will do anything to make sure the boys don’t come out on top. Even pit them against one another. Will they make it to the competition? And if so, at what cost?

Diana López, author of Confetti Girl and Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel, offers a story that’s just the right mix of heart, high jinks, and a bit of magic.

MY TWO CENTS: There’s a reason that magic trick kits sell so well at toy stores. Lots of kids love the thrill of stage magic – practicing illusions until they’re just right, creating mystery with visual puzzles, and tricking others with sleights of hand. Performing magic can help build kids’ confidence and give them a sense of agency when they might otherwise feel powerless. That’s certainly the case for Dominic, Loop, and Z, three friends who venture into the world of illusion at Conjuring Cats, the new magic store in Victoria, Texas. Each of the boys is facing a quandary that makes him feel powerless. Dominic’s parents are divorced and refuse to speak to each other, which frustrates him to no end. Meanwhile, Loop just found out that his father is actually his stepfather, and Z, the youngest child in a large family, always feels invisible. Their new magical hobby, however, leads to a summer of discovery that none of the friends expect.

One of the most valuable lessons I took away from Nothing Up My Sleeve is that hobbies are important. Once Dominic, Loop, and Z get involved in magic, they blossom. Sure, they encounter struggles along the way – jealousy, in-fighting, money troubles, family drama – but these difficulties only cause the boys to grow cognitively, socially, and emotionally. The teacher in me loves how practicing magic stimulates their critical thinking skills as they write patter (“what a magician says while performing a trick,” p. 134) for their routines and synthesize new tricks by putting their own personal spins on classic illusions. Really smart stuff! As the friends puzzle through magic, you can see how clever each boy is in his own way. This is the beauty of hobbies – kids expressing their intelligence and creativity through fun, personally meaningful activities.

OK, enough with the nerdy teacher musings. Another quality that I love about Diana López’s books is their attention to character development, and Nothing Up My Sleeve doesn’t disappoint. With magic as the backdrop, she conjures three well-rounded, realistic characters who face struggles and earn triumphs just like any real kid might. López creates a strong balance between the boys’ magical endeavors and their personal and home lives that gives this book the perfect blend of excitement and real world relevance.

Furthermore, I have to stress how much it means to me that López sets this book (and her other books) in South Texas. Catching references to places I know – Victoria, Refugio, Corpus Christi, and Houston – made me smile. Like me, a lot of young readers appreciate it when stories are set near their homes. A familiar setting can create a comfortable feeling, which, in turn, can make a book even more personally meaningful and engaging. With so many books, movies, and TV shows set in well known locales like New York and Los Angeles, it’s refreshing to find home in the pages of a book. Thank you, Ms. López for an enjoyable, relatable read!

TEACHING TIPS: As I read through Nothing Up My Sleeve, I couldn’t help thinking what a wonderful summer reading book it would be. Dominic, Loop, and Z’s adventures take place during the summer, and I can easily imagine kids soaking up this book on languid afternoons in June, July, and August. If you teach upper elementary or middle grades, consider putting it on your summer reading list.

Nothing Up My Sleeve is also an excellent book for classroom use. López fills her writing with various literary elements, which makes the book a solid model for student writing. Two particular elements that she focuses on in this book are metaphor – drawing comparisons between magic tricks and problems the boys face – and alternate perspectives. Each chapter assumes a different point, making the story richer and more complex. Unpacking these literary devices with students and encouraging them to incorporate the devices into their own pieces can really help them hone their creative writing skills.

Photo credit: Todd Yates

Photo credit: Todd Yates

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A former middle school teacher, Diana López has written several books for children, young adults, and adults, including Confetti Girl, Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel, Choke, and Sofia’s Saints. Her writing has also been featured in the anthologies Hecho en Tejas and You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens. In 2004, she received a writing fellowship from the Texas Commission for the Arts and the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation, and Emporia State University honored Confetti Girl with the William Allen White Award in 2012. She teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Houston—Victoria and serves as managing director for Centro Victoria, an organization that celebrates Mexican-American literature and culture. To learn more about her work, you can visit her website or check out her Twitter.

 

 

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

Book Review: Allie, First At Last by Angela Cervantes

 

Allie, First At Last (1)Reviewed by Marianne Snow Campbell

FROM ANGELA CERVANTES’S WEBSITE: Allie Velasco wants to be a trailblazer. A trendsetter. A winner. No better feeling exists in the world than stepping to the top of a winner’s podium and hoisting a trophy high in the air. At least, that’s what Allie thinks…. she’s never actually won anything before. Everyone in her family is special in some way—her younger sister is a rising TV star; her brother is a soccer prodigy; her great-grandfather is a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. With a family like this, Allie knows she has to make her mark or risk being left behind.  She’s determined to add a shiny medal, blue ribbon, or beautiful trophy to her family’s award shelf. When a prestigious school contest is announced, Allie has the perfect opportunity to take first —at last. There’s just one small snag… her biggest competition is also her ex–best friend, Sara. Can Allie take top prize and win back a friend — or is she destined to lose it all?

MY TWO CENTS: Fifth grade can be a tough year – it certainly was for me.  As kids approach and enter adolescence, many begin to grapple with who they are and who they want to be. Meanwhile, they may fall out with longtime friends who are going through the same transitions. While experiencing these growing pains and periods of uncertainty, kids can find comfort in books. Reading about characters who are undergoing the same journeys and struggles can help young readers see that they’re not alone – it’s normal to feel out of place and unsure of oneself.

Allie Velasco is a fifth-grader trying her best to discover her identity and make her mark on the world around her. For Allie, that means being the best at something – not that she’s sure what that something is. While her siblings excel at acting, soccer, and community service, her mother has been voted Best News Anchor of the Year, and her great-grandfather is a war hero, Allie is keenly seeking out her niche and putting a lot of pressure on herself to “succeed.”

Frankly, I wish Allie, First at Last had existed when I was in fifth grade. Although it’s been a couple of decades since I experienced my own tween tribulations, it was almost therapeutic to revisit that stage of my life through Allie. And I’m certain there are plenty of young readers out there today who will relate to her as well. This book is sure to appeal to kids who are “finding themselves,” having friend problems, or feeling eclipsed by siblings.

But don’t go thinking that this book is all sadness and doubt! Angela Cervantes fills the pages with humor that’s sharp with hints of snark and sarcasm, but never mean. For example, Allie and her best friend write a song about her cat called “It’s Not Easy Being Fluffy.” I approve. Also, although Allie faces challenges and insecurities, she still demonstrates strength and self confidence by assertively confronting rude kids in her class, nurturing a loving relationship with her sister and bisabuelo, and demonstrating a deep, natural appreciation for her Mexican-American roots. A great role model indeed.

TEACHING TIPS AND RESOURCES:  Allie, First at Last would be a perfect choice for a middle-grade classroom book club. Teachers can provide students with a list of books (including this one), and students can then choose which book they’d like to read, form small groups with classmates who chose the same book, enjoy, and discuss. With its highly relevant themes and humor, Allie is certain to be a hit, and kids can make it their own as they connect it to their lives and respond collaboratively. Educators should be sure to stock this volume in their classroom libraries and media centers for self-selected reading time. There’s nothing like a fun, engrossing book for motivating kids to read!

Also, be sure to check out Angela Cervantes’s teacher resources, available on her website. She’s created printer-friendly activity sheets with writing prompts for both Allie, First at Last and her previous novel, Gaby, Lost and Found.  The prompts present great ideas for journaling, in-class discussions, and even research projects.  Enjoy!

Angela CervantesABOUT THE AUTHOR: Angela was born and raised in Kansas. Most of her childhood was spent in Topeka, Kansas living in the Mexican-American community of Oakland. Her family also spent a lot of time in El Dorado and Wichita visiting a slew of aunts, uncles and cousins on weekends.

Angela graduated from the University of Kansas (Go Jayhawks!) with a degree in English. After KU, she moved to Brownsville, Texas. In Brownsville, Angela was introduced to the music of Selena, ceviche, and learned to two-step. After Brownsville, Angela moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, where for two years she taught High School English and literature. In 2003, Angela returned to Kansas City, completed an MBA, co-founded Las Poetas, an all-female poetry group, and began working at an international children’s organization.

In 2005, Angela’s short story, “Pork Chop Sandwiches” was published in Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul. In 2007, she won third place for Creative Nonfiction in the Missouri Review’s audio competition for her story “House of Women” and Kansas City Voices’ Best of Prose Award (Whispering Prairie Press) for her short story, “Ten Hail Marys”. In 2008, she was recognized as one of Kansas City’s Emerging Writers by the Kansas City Star Magazine. In 2014, she was named one of the Top Ten New Latino Authors to Watch by LatinoStories.Com.

Angela’s first novel, Gaby, Lost and Found [Scholastic Press; 2013], won Best Youth Chapter Fiction Book in the International Latino Book Awards. Angela’s second middle-grade novel, Allie, First At Last, will be released Spring 2016. See FAQs about the author.

WE ARE GIVING AWAY A HARDCOVER OF ALLIE, FIRST AT LAST BY ANGELA CERVANTES, WHICH OFFICIALLY RELEASES 3/29/16.

CLICK HERE TO LINK TO THE RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY!

 

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

 

Author Robin Herrera Sees Her Grandma in Herself & Her Storytelling

By Robin Herrera

Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I see my grandma. Especially now that I have shorter hair, because as long as I knew her, she wore her hair short. Strangely, it wasn’t until a few years after she died that I noticed the resemblance between us.

She was short, too, like me—I’m the shortest in my family at (barely) 5’3”. We both have round faces and eyes that crinkle into small slits when we smile.

Now, years after her death, years after I’ve forgiven her for not telling me how bad her cancer really was, I wish I’d talked to her more. I know only snippets of my grandma’s life growing up in Colorado during the Great Depression. She was the youngest girl of 16 children, the second youngest altogether. Her parents were Joseph and Josephine Herrera. (On a baptismal document I found in my grandma’s things, their name was misspelled as Herreda.) And though she told me she’d left home at a young age, family was clearly very important to her, if the dozens of photo albums she left behind were any indication.

Robin Herrera  img001

When my siblings and I were younger, Grandma told us a story of our uncle Chris (Christobel). One night, near midnight, he was driving across a long bridge. Halfway across, he glanced over at the passenger’s seat to see a woman, dressed all in white, sitting there. She had her face turned toward the window, and Uncle Chris could see her shoulders shaking as she sobbed softly. He reached out a hand to comfort her, but before he could touch her, he looked down at her hands, in her lap. They were skeleton hands.

Though Chris was terrified, he kept driving. Somehow he knew that if he could make it to the other side of the bridge, the ghostly woman would disappear. He drove faster and faster, but out of the corner of his eye he saw the woman slowly turning her head to face him. Chris knew what her face would look like. It would be a skull, and if he looked, he would die. So he kept his eyes forward and kept driving until he crossed the bridge. Only then did he dare look at the passenger’s seat and see that the woman had vanished.

Grandma called the woman La Llorona. I didn’t know until later that La Llorona was a common Mexican folktale, and that Grandma’s tale was just a version of it. But for a long time, I was terrified of La Llorona, and impressed that my uncle Chris had been smart enough not to fall victim to her.

This is one of the few ties to my Mexican heritage that I have. I remember other things, too, like making tortillas on Grandma’s tortilla press, then heating them up and smothering them in butter. When my aunt Lupe visited, she and Grandma would occasionally lapse into Spanish, spoken so quickly that I’d sometimes stand in the kitchen with them, listening in awe. (I’m terrible at learning other languages.) Aunt Lupe, more than Grandma, always called me mija. I didn’t know what it truly meant until I looked it up in college, but I knew it was a term of endearment, because she used it on all the grandkids (mijo for the boys).

When my Grandma died, I felt like I’d lost that last connection with my Mexican heritage. My dad had already died by that point, but he was biracial and, I think due to circumstances in his childhood I can’t ask him about, wasn’t fluent in Spanish. Aunt Lupe is gone now, too, or I would talk to her about my grandma and their childhood together. (Though I’m not sure she’d tell me the truth. Grandma probably wouldn’t have either, to be fair.)

Now, as a writer, I miss my grandma terribly. I like to think she’d be proud of me, and that she’d see a bit of herself in my book, though to my knowledge, she never lived in a trailer park. What I hope she’d see is a portrait of a poor family, flawed but, for the most part, happy. Because that is what I remember most about my grandma. She showed me how to be poor.

Like the characters in my book, we shopped at thrift stores for most of our clothing (and dishes, and various housewares). Every week Grandma went grocery shopping at the local Grocery Outlet, which we called the Canned Food Store, and picked up what was on sale. When she died, her cupboards were still stocked with about a hundred different cans of food. She made sure we never went hungry.

But more than anything, she taught me that being poor wasn’t a terrible thing. I didn’t even begin to realize that I was poor until late in high school, after a conversation with my sister. This will sound cheesy, but Grandma made me feel rich in other ways.

I wonder, sometimes, where I get my love of writing and making up stories. My mother went to school for art, so for a long time, I thought that might be it. But I think it came from my grandmother, who told me stories (though often embellished) of her childhood (and ghost women) from an early age. I’ll leave you with one of my favorites, which she would often tell as a joke if I asked for a story. Of course, you have to imagine it’s being told by a short, round-faced Mexican woman who is being as over dramatic as possible:

It was a dark and stormy night. The soldiers were gathered around the campfire. Suddenly the captain stood up and said, “Diego! Tell us one of your famous stories!” Slowly, Diego stood up and said, “It was a dark and stormy night. The soldiers were gathered around the campfire…” (Repeat forever.)


18405519Robin Herrera was born in Eureka, California. She has degrees from Mills College and Vermont College of Fine Arts. She now lives in Oregon. Her debut novel, Hope Is A Ferris Wheel, was published in 2014 by Amulet Books.

Book Review: I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin

By Sarah Hannah Gómez

18048909DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Celeste Marconi is a dreamer. She lives peacefully among friends and neighbors and family in the idyllic town of Valparaiso, Chile–until the time comes when even Celeste, with her head in the clouds, can’t deny the political unrest that is sweeping through the country. Warships are spotted in the harbor and schoolmates disappear from class without a word. Celeste doesn’t quite know what is happening, but one thing is clear: no one is safe, not anymore.

The country has been taken over by a government that declares artists, protestors, and anyone who helps the needy to be considered “subversive” and dangerous to Chile’s future. So Celeste’s parents–her educated, generous, kind parents–must go into hiding before they, too, “disappear.” To protect their daughter, they send her to America.

As Celeste adapts to her new life in Maine, she never stops dreaming of Chile. But even after democracy is restored to her home country, questions remain: Will her parents reemerge from hiding? Will she ever be truly safe again?

Accented with interior artwork, steeped in the history of Pinochet’s catastrophic takeover of Chile, and based on many true events, this multicultural ode to the power of revolution, words, and love is both indelibly brave and heartwrenchingly graceful.

MY TWO CENTS: This reads like a pretty classic middle grade novel in the tradition of Sharon Creech or Patricia Reilly Giff. Celeste has a very sweet and thoughtful way about her, and she narrates the day-to-day of her life with the eye of a girl who is young but observant. There is some beautiful scene setting in her house, where her grandmother, nanny, mother, and father dote on her; and at school, where she has a great teacher and the usual smattering of fun, doofy, and snobbish classmates. She has an idyllic life and loves it—until the president is assassinated and the dictator takes over.

Agosín does a good job of showing how this type of takeover happens gradually and all at once, and Celeste observes different things happening – like some classmates not showing up for school or the adults in her life all of a sudden being worried about her safety – and only slowly begins to put them together as being related to the same thing. When she moves to Maine, Celeste remains very observant and thoughtful about everything. Her descriptions are just beautiful.

But that’s also a weakness in the book – Celeste is so thoughtful that it doesn’t always feel like she has any emotion. Her parents have to go into hiding and she says she’s sad, but you don’t necessarily see it – the quality and style of her narration and her observations don’t change much depending on her mood. And it doesn’t help that the last quarter of the book goes from lyrical and fairly realistic to a totally Disney TV movie ending.

That said, there is plenty of good in this book. Latin@s? Check. And, unlike any books I remember reading from my childhood or much during my adulthood, Celeste’s family is also Jewish – her grandmother speaks to her in German and reminisces about escaping the Holocaust by coming to Chile. That parallel is what really gives the book its emotional impact. Celeste is very attached to her grandmother, and knowing that the grandmother is watching a country unravel for the second time is poignant. Acknowledging that part of Latin American history and giving Jewish-Latinas a heroine to root for is a great strength of this book, especially since it manages to use Spanish, Chilean cultural traditions, and Jewish traditions in a way that neither over explains to those of us who know it already nor under explains to those who are unfamiliar.

I would hand this book to any little girl who is already a fan of classic middle grade characters who love to write, like Betsy Ray or Harriet M. Welsch, or to fans of books by Julia Alvarez or Jeanne Birdsall.

AUTHOR: Marjorie Agosín was born in Maryland and raised in Chile. She and her parents, Moises and Frida Agosín, moved to the United States due to the overthrow of the Chilean government by General Pinochet’s military coup. Coming from a South American country and being Jewish, Agosín’s writings demonstrate a unique blending of these cultures. Agosín is well known as a poet, critic, and human activist. She is also a well-known spokesperson for the plight and priorities of women in Third World countries. Her deep social concerns and accomplishments have earned her many awards and recognitions, and she has gained an international reputation among contemporary women of color.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT I Lived on Butterfly Hill, visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.org, indiebound.org, goodreads.com, amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.

 

HannahSarah Hannah Gómez is a school librarian in Northern California with a passion for promoting diverse literature to tweens and teens of all colors. She has an MA from the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature and an MS in library and information science from Simmons College. She blogs at her own website and at YALSA’s The Hub. She is working on a novel and a screenplay.