Our Latin@s in Kid Lit Favorite Titles of 2015

 

As the year draws to a close, we want to celebrate by highlighting current Latin@ children’s and YA books that captured our hearts.

2015 has been a good year, one that’s brought greater visibility to works by Latin@ authors and illustrators, as well as books by non-Latin@ creators that feature themes and characters with Latin@ connections. Make no mistake, the number of published titles originating in our community still remains at proportionately dismal levels, but this blog aims to promote, discuss, and amplify the voices that do exist. We also want to share our recommendations so that librarians, teachers, booksellers and parents will know about the best books out there.

Please note that this is a favorites list, and as such isn’t as comprehensive as a “best of” list. We’ve reviewed many of the 73 Latin@ titles published this year, but not all of them, including many we hear are worthy of acclaim. We hope you’ll share your own favorites in the comments! And rest assured, we’ll keep striving to give well-crafted, Latin@-leaning books their due in our Libros Latin@s book talks and other features.

Here’s what we focused on in compiling the list:

  • Children’s and young-adult books about Latin@s or by Latin@s, published in 2015
  • Respectful representations of Latin@s and their experiences
  • Rich stories with intersectionality of race, ethnicity, class, gender, generations, and/or languages
  • Titles for a range of age levels and genres
  • High literary quality and (when relevant) strong visuals
  • Books with heart!

So now that you know the backstory of our list, here are our Latin@s in Kid Lit Favorite Titles of 2015, presented in sections by reading level and alphabetized by title. Click on the links to read full reviews. 

Picture Books

22749711Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle and Rafael López. This is the inspiring true story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese Afro Cuban girl enamored with drums. Because tradition in 1930s Cuba prohibits girls from taking up drumming, what Millo achieves by breaking this taboo is even greater than the music she makes. Through their combined art, Engle and López enchantingly encapsulate Millo’s dreams. For our full review, click here.

 

20786680Finding the Music/En Pos de la Música by Jennifer Torres & Renato Alarcão. Before Reyna was born, her abuelito played in a mariachi band. His specialty was the vihuela, a small guitar-like instrument that has since fallen into disrepair. Reyna takes up the quest to get the repairs made. The vihuela becomes a powerful artifact that jump-starts the memory of the past, the important history of the community that tends to be invisible but is so essential to understanding the present. Here’s our review.

 

24795948Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh. Nineteenth-century Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada created now-famous engravings of calaveras, skeletons engaged in everyday activities that have become synonymous with the Day of the Dead. In this picture book, author-illustrator Tonatiuh presents Posada’s life story, complete with background information on contextual events, such as the Mexican Revolution. Read our full review.

 

22747814Growing Up Pedro: How the Martinez Brothers Made It From the Dominican Republic All the Way to the Major Leagues by Matt Tavares. Dominican baseball star Pedro Martinez, who helped lead the Boston Red Sox to a World Series win, got his start with plenty of help from his big brother Ramón. This is a story of brotherhood and of dreaming big and achieving bigger, powerfully illustrated by the author. Here’s our review.

 

24727082Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina & Angela Dominguez. Can a grandmother and granddaughter develop a close relationship when one speaks Spanish and the other speaks English? Of course! In Meg Medina’s warm tale of love, patience, and language, Mia and her abuela – along with a parrot named Mango – teach each other more than just words. Angela Dominguez’s rich, clean illustrations amplify this beautiful book. Check out this review.

 

22750413Salsa: Un Poema Para Cocinar/A Cooking Poem by Jorge Argueta, Duncan Tonatiuh & Elisa Amado. Argueta has created several bilingual poetry books that celebrate traditional Latin American dishes–including Guacamole, Sopa de frijoles / Bean Soup, and Arroz con leche / Rice Pudding – and Salsa is just as mouth-watering. This story poem creates playful connections between salsa’s vegetable ingredients and the musical instruments that they resemble. Tonatiuh’s signature illustrations bring extra flavor to the mix. Don’t miss our review.

 

cover-remembering-dayThe Remembering Day/ El Día de los Muertos by Pat Mora and Robert Casilla. This is a beautiful story about remembering our ancestors and their customs. Mora creates a loving relationship between a granddaughter and her grandmother that grows stronger as they practice their indigenous traditions together. For the grandmother, remembering is a significant aspect of everyday life but as the “leaves turn golden and fall from the trees” remembering becomes a celebration of those that have passed. After grandmother’s death it becomes the granddaughter’s responsibility to remember and honor her grandmother. Mora and Casilla’s story emphasizes that El Día de los Muertos is more about remembering than it is about calaveras and flowers. Here’s a review by La Bloga.

 

24694189Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago & Rafael Yockteng. A timely and moving picture book, originally published in Spanish, about a father and daughter traveling north towards the U.S. border. From counting what’s around her to meeting people and a “coyote”, this story, told from the child’s point of view, portrays migrant refugees journeys with deep empathy. Check out this review.

 

Vamonos Let's GoVámonos/Let’s Go by René Colato Laínez & Joe Cepeda does more than simply render the English and Spanish versions of “The Wheels on the Bus” side by side. Instead, it extends the songs to explore the sounds of all kinds of vehicles—and to track the lively journey of two children on the bus as they make their way to the park. Classroom activities available from Holiday House.

Early Readers/ Chapter Books

Lola Levine is Not MeanLola Levine is Not Mean! by Monica Brown & Angela Dominguez. In this delightful short chapter book, second grader Lola tackles soccer balls, annoying little brothers and runaway guinea pigs. Perfect for fans of school stories, family stories and all-around awesome characters! Check out the starred review Kirkus gave it.

 

 

SofiaMartinezFamilyAdventureSofía Martinez: My Family Adventure by Jacqueline Jules. This series is a lovely addition to the world of early chapter books. Lively main character Sofia keeps herself in the middle of the action in her loving, playful extended family, and her adventures are light and joyful with a touch of mischief. The charming illustrations by Kim Smith will bring giggles to young readers. We reviewed it here.

 

Middle Grade

22749539Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Breaking from traditional narrative, this novel traces the connected stories behind a magical harmonica. Using diverse characters that live in far-flung geographical locations, the story introduces less familiar aspects of well-known historical events: laws regarding children with birth ‘defects’ in 1930’s Germany, conditions for orphans during the Depression in the US, and the segregation of schools in California for children of Mexican descent during World War II. Here’s our review.

 

24612558Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez is a middle-grade fantasy thriller starring Cassie Arroyo, a Cuban-American expatriate living in Italy. After Cassie’s father is struck by a hail of bullets, whisked off to surgery, and then vanishes, she discovers that she, not her father, is the main target of the assassins. She then teams up with Asher and Simone to recapture the Spear of Destiny, a medieval artifact mysteriously linked to Cassie’s family line and the reason that her formerly blasé life at a private school is shattered overnight. Here’s our review.

 

22504701Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. In this highly engaging graphic novel, 12-year-old Astrid Vasquez finds her calling on a roller-derby track. Never mind that she brings no skating abilities to her first day of practice, or that her best friend would rather be at ballet camp. With the help of a savvy coach and teammates, and inspiration from a star jammer on the Rose City Rollers pro team, Astrid locates her derby groove. Check out this review.

 

22639675Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones. Moving from Los Angeles to a farm, Sophie gets quite a surprise when she encounters a cranky chicken with supernatural abilities. It’s easy to love Sophie, the half-Latina main character in this middle grade novel that upgrades the “new girl in town” idea by adding cool, magical chickens and letters from the beyond. Yes, we reviewed it.

 

Young Adult

22609281Barefoot Dogs: Stories* by Antonio Ruiz Camacho, a debut collection of interconnected stories, captures the flawed but fascinating humanity of the extended Arteaga family as they flee Mexico City after the kidnapping of the family patriarch. Even in exile, theirs is a relatively charmed existence. Unlike Latino immigrants driven north by more quotidian hardships, these scattering family members have no difficulty obtaining legal access to Palo Alto, Madrid, Austin, and New York City. They are not, however, wholly unsympathetic, and the particulars of the stories offer a counterweight to assumptions about Mexican immigrant experiences. Several stories, including “It Will Be Awesome Before Spring” and “Okie,” take the perspective of grandchildren in the family. For a full review, click here.

 

24612544Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx by Sonia Manzano. Sonia Manzano is an actor widely recognized for her role as Maria on Sesame Street. This memoir provides generations of readers with an opportunity to experience Sonia’s evolution from a young Latina, a puertorriqueña, in the Bronx into a promising performer. She powerfully reveals struggles to reconcile the love and abuse she witnessed in her family life. Don’t miss our review.

 

23309551Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir, by Margarita Engle. In this personal and deep mirror of her childhood, Engle showcases historical and emotional stories of life between two countries and two cultures. A memoir-in-verse that softly intertwines a love letter to Cuba and life, family, and memories attached to the island. Young readers will get a solid coming-of-age tale of growing up bicultural and the joys and pains found through that journey. Check out this review.

 

19542841More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera. Growing up in the Bronx with rough memories of his father’s suicide, Aaron Soto gets by with the help of a supportive girlfriend and a hardworking mom. But the promise of relief from the memories lures him into considering a radical procedure, and there are other self-discoveries to come. This debut novel offers a unique confrontation of race, class and sexuality. The main character is easy to root for in this ever-so-slightly sci-fi story. Read our full review here.

 

25256386Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez. The 1937 New London, Texas, school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—serves as the backdrop for this riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and destructive forces beyond the control of its teen characters. The novel opens with the explosion, and then flashes back to show how the characters’ lives intersect before the event. Check out our full review.

 

25364635Queer Brown Voices: Personal Narratives of Latina/o LGBT Activism* by Uriel Quesada, Letitia Gomez & Salvador Vidal-Ortiz, interweaves the traditions of testimonio and institutional history in a collection of 14 personal essays and oral histories that demonstrate how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Latina/o activists helped shape the LGBT movements of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. This collection corrects the tendency to overlook the many Latinas/os who were fighting for LGBT causes well before more widely known white leaders, like Harvey Milk, became active. For a full review, click here.

 

22295304Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. Sierra Santiago’s expectations of a normal fun summer in Brooklyn flip upside down when supernatural events intrude: zombies, weeping graffiti murals, Caribbean magic. But Sierra is the kind of heroine who makes plans and follows through, is clear-eyed about the shortcomings of people she loves, and takes charge with attitude. Read more of our review.

 

23395349Show and Prove by Sofia Quintero. The year is 1983. Blend together teenagers, hip-hop, urban plight, and racial tension; mix in summer camp trips and hanging out with friends, and you arrive at Show and Prove. This is a book about negotiating feelings and mistakes and tragedy. It’s a political book, examining identity and racism and bias in a way that never feels forced. For our full review, go here.

 

22609306Signal to Noise* by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This literary fantasy about coming–of-age romance, mixtapes and sorcery is set against the background of Mexico City in two time frames. It relates the intimate story of teenage Meche in 1988 and how she has grown up – and not – in the intervening 20 years. The universal themes of alienation and parental discord are emotions that anyone of any age can relate to. Modern teens may find themselves fascinated by the description of life in Mexico City nearly 30 years ago and discover it’s not so different from their lives today. Yes, we reviewed it.

 

23013839Surviving Santiago by Lyn Miller-Lachman is the continuing story of the Aguilar family from Miller-Lachman’s novel Gringolandia. In this novel, Tina returns to Chile, which continues to be ruled by the Pinochet dictatorship in 1989. Tina falls in love with a local boy named Frankie, who has dangerous political connections and is a threat to her and her father, Marcelo, an important, targeted voice in the democracy movement. Here’s our review.

 

20734002The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore is a 2016 William C. Morris Award finalist for good reason. McLemore’s lyrical prose centers on two traveling performance families, the Corbeaus and Palomas, hated rivals for generations who violently clash whenever they perform in the same town. A dangerous, forbidden romance develops between Lace Paloma and Cluck Corbeau that leads to family secrets revealed and a stunning climax filled with gorgeous magical realism. We will be reviewing the book in February and Anna-Marie will be writing a guest post for us. Check back then! In the meantime, check out this review.

 

22032788When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez. On the surface, Emily and Elizabeth share little in common besides 10th-grade lit class and the study of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. But they’re both hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice and one of them will attempt suicide. Set in New England, this captivating novel delivers a strong portrayal of Latin@s and a cast of satisfyingly complex characters from diverse backgrounds. Check out our full review here.

*Not technically classified as YA, these are adult books which may be of interest to teens.

Q & A with Illustrator Raúl the Third

selfie

Now here’s something different. Pour yourself a cup of Nescafé Suave and welcome to an ear-catching hang-out with two cool artists from the world of Latin@ kid lit. Chances are, you already know and love acclaimed illustrator Raúl Gonzalez, aka Raúl the Third, lauded in review after review for his work in Lowriders in Space, a dynamic graphic novel for kids written by Cathy Camper, released in 2014. (For a partial list of articles about Raúl, Cathy and LRIS, see the bottom of this post.)

Lowriders in Space_FC_HiRes

Raúl’s interviewer is Robert Trujillo, an up-and-coming illustrator based in California, who guest posted for Latin@s in Kid Lit in 2014. Instinct told us that Robert and Raúl would hit it off. How right we were! Today we’re offering Raúl and Robert’s Skyped conversation in audio format. It’s 32 minutes of lively repartee on becoming an artist, breaking into illustration, diversity in kid lit and much more– all laced with a zesty dose of Mexican American culture and comic-book geekiness. We’re betting you’ll find the chat engaging, revealing and funny.

(Teachers and parents, a small caution about some adult language.)

Some readers may not have access to audio playback, so we’re also posting a transcript of the conversation. Click here: Raúl Gonzalez Interview

Whether you listen or read, be sure to scroll down the length of this post for a FEAST of images related to the Q & A.

 

 

blackhole

A spread in Lowriders in Space, penned in Bic ballpoints by Raúl Gonzalez

 

Throughout the interview, Raúl refers to sketches, thumbnails, and overlays that he created for Lowriders in Space. To enlarge the view, click on individual images.

 

page39 revisions     page24

page28      page32

low and slow

DSC01306

The die-cast Impala

 

penicltoinks-lupe

Inking stage

 

More art by Raúl, the fine artist and muralist

born again

Born Again, by Raúl

 

Tufts University

A mural by Raúl at Tufts University

 

The Shape of Your Path crop

“The Shape of Your Path,” by Raúl

 

Photos of Raúl on book tour and at home

library crop

Raul at a library visit

family1

Raúl with his parents

 

family

The artist and his family

 

The Thing cropped

“The Thing,” an early comic creation by Raúl

Raúl and LRIS have been written up EVERYWHERE! Here’s a minuscule sampling of the coverage.

Kirkus–a starred review of Lowriders in Space

School Library Journal, a print interview with Raúl

The Nerdy Book Club, featuring the 2014 Nerdy Awards for Graphic Novels

The Boston Globe, an exhibit by Latino artists at the Fitchburg Art Museum

 

Visit Raúl’s website here. He’s also on Facebook and Twitter. And don’t miss the official trailer for Lowriders in Space!  It’s a co-creation by Raúl, his artist wife, Elaine Bay, and their young son.

Screen Shot Raul and Rob

Raúl, center; Robert, bottom right

 

A huge thanks to our interviewer, Robert Trujillo! We look forward to seeing his art in future publications, including his upcoming book with Arte Público.

photo1 Born and raised in the Bay Area, Robert Trujillo is a visual artist and father who employs illustration, storytelling, and public art to tell tales. These tales manifest in a variety of forms and they reflect the artist’s cultural background, dreams, and political / personal beliefs. He can be found online and on Twitter at @RobertTres.

 

Finally, a special thanks to our audio editor, Caitlin C. Weaver.

 

 

Book Review: Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raúl the Third

Lowriders in Space_FC_HiResBy Lila Quintero Weaver

This book talk is based on an advance review copy. Quotes and details may vary in the final version.

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack and Elirio Malaria love working with cars. You name it, they can fix it. But the team’s favorite cars of all are lowriders—cars that hip and hop, dip and drop, go low and slow, bajito y suavecito. The stars align when a contest for the best car around offers a prize of a trunkful of cash for the best car around—just what the team needs to open their own shop! ¡Ay chihuahua! What will it take to transform a junker into the best car in the universe? Striking, unparalleled art from debut illustrator Raúl the Third recalls ballpoint-pen-and-Sharpie desk-drawn doodles, while the story is sketched with Spanish, inked with science facts, and colored with true friendship. With a glossary at the back to provides definitions for Spanish and science terms, this delightful book will educate and entertain in equal measure.

MY TWO CENTS: Look in the children’s section for graphic novels from the Latino perspective and you’ll find precious few choices. Look there for books about lowriders and your choices will be still slimmer. Here is Lowriders in Space, ready to fill both spots with a joyous, celebratory tale. You don’t need deep knowledge of the lowrider culture to appreciate this middle-grade graphic novel, brought to you by the author-illustrator team of Cathy Camper and Raúl the Third.

Lowriders In Space_Int_3In the opening pages, we meet three animal characters with Spanish names, all of whom work for a car-repair shop. The shop is called Cartinflas, and this is just one of many playful allusions and verbal jokes in this book. (Cartinflas plays on the name of the famous Mexican comic actor, Cantinflas.) Lupe Impala, (a wolf) busts gender stereotypes as a female lead who knows her way around car engines. Her sidekicks, the octopus El Chavo Flapjack and the mosquito Elirio Malaria, each specialize in key aspects of automobile revamping in the lowrider style. Elirio’s fine-tip proboscis doubles as a paintbrush that turns out the sweetest racing stripes and airbrushed scenes you could imagine. El Chavo’s eight tentacles go to work washing, polishing and buffing cars to a high sheen.

The trio dream of going into business for themselves, but where will they find start-up money? A car competition with a hefty cash prize gives them hope, but there are tough challenges to meet. First, they must find a car to work their magic on. They settle for a rusty heap sitting on cinder blocks. Now for car parts. At an abandoned airplane factory, they pick up mini air compressors and a box of rocket equipment. After attaching the parts, they’re in for a surprise when Lupe cranks the engine and it launches the car into the stratosphere. High above the earth, the car gears down into bajito-y-suavecito mode, low and slow: this is the cruising speed that lets low riders see and be seen. While the transformed auto travels outer space, it takes on loads of flash and bling borrowed from stars, asteroids and others elements of the galactic realm.

There’s much to love in this kid-friendly graphic novel. The story arc follows a familiar trajectory: the protagonists meet every challenge successfully and win the sought-after prize. Kid readers will be cheering. But my hat’s off to Cathy Camper for elevating the storyline above the predictable. She does this through original settings and characters, including the lowrider car itself, and with the inventive twists of space travel and comical astronomy. Her text engages the ear with musical language that includes alliteration, onomatopoeia, and bursts of G-rated street slang in English, Spanish, and Spanglish.

Kids will eat up the comics-style art. Every page offers levels of visual puns and charming details that invite readers to study panels closely. The color scheme and the drawings give off a retro historieta vibe, fitting for a story about lowrider culture, which was born in the 1950s and is rooted in the Mexican American community. I’m not familiar with the ballpoint-pen doodle style that Raúl the Third credits as his inspiration, but I dig it!

TEACHING TIPS: The back of the book contains a glossary of Spanish phrases, factual information on the tongue-in-cheek astronomy that appears in the story, and a thumbnail summary of lowrider history.

One bonus of graphic novels is their appeal to devoted bookworms and reluctant readers. Kids seem to instinctively grasp the multiple levels of interaction offered through their blend of text and images. Teachers may want to approach Lowriders in Space—and any graphic novel—in two steps. Read through it once purely for the story. Revisit it at a slower pace to more fully absorb the images. Raúl the Third’s art is rich with details, charming secondary characters, and visual puns that sharp-eyed kids will relish hunting down. These may not be central to the story, but they sure contribute to the fun. For example, it’s one thing to read that there’s a fast-food joint called Sapo Bell in the background of one scene—it’s another to spy the goofy sapo sitting out front. Middle-grade readers are sure to love such hidden gems.

Lowriders in Space encourages kids to celebrate a fun aspect of Mexican American culture that should be respected, not ridiculed or stigmatized. Too often when lowriders appear in popular culture, they’re thrown in for kitsch points. This usually results in stereotyping and negative connotations. Teachers can use this text to combat the lazy disregard involved in stereotypical usage and replace it with the dignity that comes with cross-cultural appreciation.

If you’d like to learn more about lowrider history culture, here are some suggested resources:

“Lowriding: This Culture is About More Than Cars.”

“Low and Slow: The History of Lowriders.” 

Be sure to read Cathy’s guest post on Latin@s in Kid Lit!

Cathy Camper_headshot_photo (c) Jayson Colomby_smCathy Camper is a librarian focusing on outreach to schools and children in grades K-12. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Raúl the Third teaches classes on  drawing and comics for kids at the Museum of Fine Arts and the Institute of Contemporary Art. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.          

   Raul the Third (credit Elaine Bay)

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now for a big treat, the official book trailer for Lowriders in Space!

 

Guest Post by Author Cathy Camper: Lowriders in Space Blast Off!

Cathy Camper_headshot_photo (c) Jayson Colomby_smBy Cathy Camper

Elirio Malaria (a mosquito), Flapjack Octopus and Lupe Impala work at a car dealership six days a week. Lupe’s the mechanic, Flapjack washes and buffs the cars, and Elirio details the cars with his beak. Their dream is to have a garage and a lowrider of their own:

            They’d seen some cars blast by fast,

             And others that could shift and drift,

            But they wanted a car that would go low and slow.

            Bajito y suavecito.

            A universal car contest gives them that opportunity. But not until their car gets customized by outer space! Pinstripes from Saturn, pompom asteroids, and star-capped hubcaps make their car an interstellar phenomena!

That’s how I pitched my graphic novel Lowriders in Space at Pitchapalooza in Portland, Oregon. Back when the book was just a manuscript and a vision in my head, I’d exhausted the list of graphic novel agents, and so winning this contest was like a dream come true. The prize was the advice of The Book Doctors, a husband-wife team who connected my project with an agent and eventually, an editor and publisher.

I’m a writer, artist and a youth services outreach librarian. I wrote Lowriders in Space because as an Arab American, I was fed up with the inability of mainstream comics and books to represent the diversity of kids I see everyday, kids who like me, don’t see themselves in books. When I first sent the script to the book’s artist, Raúl III, who is Latino, he told me, “This is the book I wanted to read as a child,” and he was as excited as I was to create it, and for the same reasons. Our editor at Chronicle Books, Ginee Seo, is Korean American, and she gets it too—like us she wants to give kids a book that meets them where they are.

I’d been working on the book since 2006, and was thrilled when the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign launched in May 2014. We’re hoping that when Lowriders comes out this fall, it kicks a big hole in the wall of racism of kids’ books, welcoming kids of all backgrounds to read it. We hope it encourages publishers to create more books by new authors and illustrators of color, and to inspire kids via reading our book, to become creators, too.

By 2050, one third of the US will live in English-Spanish speaking households—that’s our audience! The book’s also aimed at boys, because the literacy rate of boys is dropping, and like Jon Scieszka (who sponsors the Guys Read website), we want boys to read. We also envision that kids struggling to read, for whatever reasons, might find our book inviting. And it looks like adults are loving it, too, from all the reviews that have been popping up online.

Since I’m not Latina, it was crucial to me that our book was culturally correct. I did tons of research, read books, watched films, went to the Lowrider Magazine’s car show, and interviewed people. I’m also fortunate and forever grateful to have the help of many Latino friends and library co-workers, who read the manuscript, offered suggestions, and helped fine-tune the Spanish. One of the cartoonists I admire most is cartoon journalist Joe Sacco. His ability to go into places of high conflict, like Palestine and the Bosnian war and create detailed drawn and written records out of chaos humbles me. When I heard him speak, he mentioned that one of the things he tries to do is set his ego aside, and put the stories of those he’s writing about, up front. When I wrote Lowriders, I tried my best to emulate this goal, and to fight for, as best I could, what would make the story culturally relevant.

This goal included having the right illustrations. Traditionally in children’s books, the writer doesn’t choose an illustrator for the manuscript (though this is different in comics creation). I was warned along the way, “Choosing your own illustrator may work against you.” However, I felt it was crucial that Raúl illustrate this book, not only because he’s a brilliant artist (and if we’re saying we need more diverse kids books, we also need more diverse creators), but because his art added just the right touch of both cultural relevancy and the retro-nuevo feel the text demanded. Raúl told me that much of the setting and landscape is based on his childhood in El Paso, Texas. When he started sketching Flapjack Octopus, he said he couldn’t help but think of him in his pail as El Chavo del Ocho, sitting in his barrel—and so we changed Flappy’s name and look to reflect that.

Lowriders In Space_Int_2

Just as Raúl was able to make contributions to the text, I sometimes added context to the drawings. For example, it was important to me that our lowriders’ car had the Big Dipper on it. For the lowrider diaspora of Latinos and African Americans whom the book celebrates, the Big Dipper represents the path north, and more broadly, the path to freedom. What better symbol to have on a flying car’s license plate? Our book celebrates the influence of older comics, art, pop culture and car references that Raúl and I both love and wanted to share, including George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, the Hernandez BrothersLove and Rockets, Mad Magazine and Big Daddy Roth’s cars.

And then there’s the science – I love science! My first book Bugs Before Time was about giant prehistoric insects – including a sea scorpion as big as your mom. Why wouldn’t our graphic novel include science, when there really are things as wondrous as flapjack octopuses and braided rings of Saturn? The technology of cars is part of science, too, whether it’s learning how cars are buffed and painted, how air compressors make lowriders hop, or what vulcanizing does to make rubber tires strong.

We think Lowriders is going to read like something brand new, because of the unique, aligned intent of author, illustrator, and publisher and because of the crazy mix of culture, comics, and science our combined imaginations dreamed up. We hope you love it and it makes you laugh, and that you share your excitement with all the kids out there that might love it, too. When Lowriders in Space blasts off this fall, our real destination isn’t the outer galaxies, it’s to land in the hands of kids who deserve to see themselves in what they read, and to be read by everyone else so they experience how rich a culture of color can be.

Cathy Camper is a librarian focusing on outreach to schools and children in grades K-12. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow the book’s Facebook page for more news.

Coming soon on Latin@s in Kid Lit: A book talk on Lowriders in Space with more story details and more peeks at interior pages!