Going For It: Q&A with Illustrator Jacqueline Alcántara

 

By Cecilia Cackley

photo credit @eyeshotchaJacqueline Alcántara was featured in a previous round-up of Latina illustrators here on Latinxs in Kid Lit. When I found out she was also the inaugural recipient of a mentorship from the We Need Diverse Books organization, I wanted to find out more about her experience in the program and how it affected her work. Alcántara worked with the illustrator Carolyn Dee Flores (who has also participated in a Latina Illustrators post) as her mentor and recently announced her second book deal. She will illustrate the book Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, which will be released by Candlewick Books in 2019. She will also illustrate The Field by Baptiste Paul, which is scheduled to release with NorthSouth Books in Spring 2018.

How did you hear about the WNDB mentorship and what made you decide to apply?

A friend/illustrator in my critique group forwarded me the email announcing the mentorship. He knew my work included a lot of diverse characters and knew that my interests were in pursuing projects that featured diverse main characters, so thankfully, he assumed I would be a good fit! At that time, I knew that I needed someone to help guide me, give me feedback on my work, grow my network, and help me build confidence. I wasn’t sure if that would be a friend, agent, editor, or mentor but was doing everything I could to find relationships like that. I decided to apply because it was honestly exactly what I was looking for!

What has been the best part about working with your WNDB mentor?

I think the best part of a mentor/mentee relationship is that there’s no other reason you are working together, other than to improve your work and career. Relationships with other people in the industry, i.e. agents, editors, fellow illustrators, etc are wonderful and critical as well, but there are quickly a lot of other factors those people can be thinking about in addition to your work when giving you advice or suggestions. Conversations with my mentor helped not only to allow me to see a path for myself within the industry, but also to see my strengths and weaknesses as an artist. Carolyn is brutally honest, which I love. She has really wonderful instincts and fantastic advice. I believe a lot in instincts and trusting my gut, but working alone and pursing this dream can become really difficult. Carolyn is always reminding me to trust my instincts and to have fun! So I built up a lot of confidence in myself relatively quickly once we started working together. Not only confidence in my actual illustrations, but in goals, ideas, and direction of my career. I also felt a pressure to succeed, now that I had not only Carolyn, but WNDB holding me accountable! When you work for yourself, there is no one to push you or hold you accountable, so it requires a lot of self confidence and motivation. The boost I got from WNDB was great for that, but I also knew I finally had the resources to make it happen!

The next best part of working with my mentor was that fact that Carolyn introduced me to Adriana Domínguez at last winter’s SCBWI conference. Adriana and I continued talking for months after that and I ultimately signed with her and Full Circle Literary over the summer. That was the best possible outcome from the mentorship, and it actually happened! Relatively soon after working with Adriana, I got my first picture book offer. I’m very happy to share that I’m now working on 2 books, one with North South and the second with Candlewick. The first will be released in 2018, and the second in 2019.  I cannot wait for them to come out!

What other artists and writers do you consider your greatest influences (kidlit or not)?

In the kid lit world, my greatest influences are Chris Raschka, Patricia Pollacco, Chris Van Allsburg, and Kadir Nelson. As for traditional artists I’m a bit cliche; Picasso, Matisse, and Redon are some top favorites. Picasso’s sketchbooks are a constant source of inspiration for me. Redon and Matisse, I love their use of color and the imagination they brought into their work. I’ve also been in love with Japanese Ukiyo-e art since I was young. I think a lot of my energy and inspiration also comes from music. I have music on constantly in my studio, different genres depending on what I’m doing, but there’s a lot of electronic, disco/soul, hip hop. My favorite writer (currently) is Neil Gaiman.

You were a high school art teacher at one point. Do you think your students influenced your work, and if so, how?

I taught high school art for a short time before school funding was cut significantly in Illinois. Our department (along with many art departments state-wide) saw massive cuts, so I took the opportunity to push my own artistic career. I will always be influenced by my time teaching (I hope to still have teaching opportunities in the future) and the students I had! Remembering a personality, hairstyle, attitude, or name for character can be inspiration—or remembering a conversation or story a student shared about their life. I left teaching wanting to be a successful working artist, but I also wanted to do work that would directly influence, inspire, and speak to children.

What advice would you give other Latinx artists who might want to apply for the WNDB program?

Be open to everything. Participating in this program has led to so many other relationships and opportunities, and has launched my career. WNDB has really opened the door for a lot of people, beyond those who have received mentorships or grants. They are bringing the issue to the forefront of the industry, and editors and agents are definitely listening and searching for new diverse talented writers and illustrators. It’s been so encouraging. It’s an industry that can seem daunting and a job that seems too good to be true. It takes a lot of patience and time, but it’s really important work, so if you are thinking of pursuing it,  get involved ASAP! It’s much more fun to do with a network of people around you, and SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), WNDB and others are all fantastic ways to do so.

 

Cackley_headshotCecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington, DC, where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.

Spotlight on Latina Illustrators Part 4: Carolyn Dee Flores, Christina Rodriguez, and Jacqueline Alcántara

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the fourth in a series of posts spotlighting Latina illustrators of picture books. Some of these artists have been creating children’s books for many years, while others will have their first book out this year. They come from many different cultural backgrounds, but all are passionate about connecting with readers through art and story. Please look for their books at bookstores and libraries!

Carolyn Dee Flores

Carolyn Dee Flores grew up around the world and now lives in San Antonio, Texas. She worked as a computer analyst, rock musician and composer prior to becoming an illustrator of children’s books. She illustrated Dale, dale, dale: una fiesta de números/Hit it, hit it, hit it: a fiesta of numbers and Canta, Rana, Canta/ Sing Froggie Sing, which were both named to the Tejas Star Reading list. Her illustrations for the book Daughter of Two Nations won a Skipping Stones Honor Award. Her most recent work can be seen in the book Una Sorpresa para Teresita/ A Surprise for Teresita, published in October 2016 by Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Publico Press.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A:   My Uncle Rey. He was a professional artist. He made me realize it was something you could do. Be an artist for a living.

When I was little, I used to go over to my grandmother’s house and see his drawings and paintings framed on the wall and I would think, “How on earth does someone get that good?” Later, I found out he had gone to art school and become an artist for the Air Force. When he passed away, my aunt gave me his art books. I read every page … over and over and over. That’s when I first learned about Goya and Rembrandt and Velázquez. It meant everything to me.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium. 

A: Oil. Oil. And then oil. I am very excited about a new technique I developed for painting with oil on cardboard. It completely saturates the board until it looks like brushed felt. It also enables me to control the bleed and dry quickly. This is the first time I have been able to get those intense colors that you get with oil paints – in an illustration. I use this process in my new book “A Surprise for Teresita” which comes out this month.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: They are a child’s very first glimpse into all the possibilities of being a human being. Whether it is stepping into the Wizard of Oz, or a Dr. Seuss landscape, or playing with the pigeon in Mo Willems’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus – or going to a playground down the block – the reality for a child is the same. The world is full of color, and rhythm and courageous deeds and breathtaking imagination. Picture books affirm a child’s vision … forever. Nothing could be more important than that!

Dale, Dale, Dale / Hit It, Hit It, Hit It Cover  Canta, Rana, Canta / Sing, Froggie, Sing Cover  

 

Christina Rodriguez

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Christina Rodriguez lives in Rhode Island and has illustrated more than twelve books for children. She is a three time nominee for the Tejas Star Book Award. Among the books she has illustrated are Un día con mis tias/ A Day with my Aunts, Mayte and the Bogeyman, We are Cousins/ Somos primos, The Wishing Tree and Adelita and the Veggie Cousins.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: I became a children’s book illustrator thanks to the adults who steered me in that direction as a child: from my dad who taught me how to draw horses as a child, to my teachers who encouraged my love of art and reading, and finally to my mother for supporting my decision to go to art school at RISD.  Without the continuous support of the role models in my life, I might not be where I am today.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I have two favorite mediums: digital and watercolors. Watercolor painting was one of the first techniques I learned, but I didn’t really get into it until college, when it became a safer alternative to oil paints (the fumes were giving me headaches). Most of my books are done in a mixture of watercolors, watercolor pencils, and gouache -an opaque type of watercolors – that gives me a lot of control in the details and the ability to add depth and texture. I also carry a travel-sized watercolor paint box with my sketchbook everywhere I go.

My other favorite medium is digital: I’ve illustrated a few books completely in Adobe Photoshop, from sketches to finished art. Many book illustrators incorporate digital programs into their workflows at some point, whether it’s resizing sketches, or cleaning up and enhancing finished paintings. I use a Microsoft Surface Pro which makes creating digital illustrations even easier.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: They introduce children to many rich and important concepts at a young age: a love of reading and art, active listening, and critical thinking of complex subjects while in a safe place. Picture books can provide the foundation upon which a rich education can be built.

  Mayte and the Bogeyman/Mayte y El Cuco Cover  We Are Cousins/Somos Primos Cover    Adelita and the Veggie Cousins/Adelita y Las Primas Verduritas Cover

 

Jacqueline Alcántara

photo credit @eyeshotchaJacqueline Alcántara is a freelance author and illustrator who previously taught high school art and photography. She won the inaugural We Need Diverse Books Illustrator Mentorship Award in 2016. Her first book is The Field which will be published in 2018 by NorthSouth Books.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: For as long as I can remember, I loved drawing, cutting, gluing, painting, inventing characters, and writing stories. As a kid, my mom would take me down to the Art Institute’s kids programs, and I still remember the texture of the paper they gave me, and how excited I felt about creating art inside the museum. When I was in high school, my dad took me to Honduras a few times, and each time, we visited with one his best friends who happened to be a fantastic painter and brilliant musician. His name was Carlos Brizzio, and he quickly became the coolest person in the world to me. By the time I finished high school, I knew I wanted to work within “the arts,” even if I hadn’t yet figured out what that meant.

After I graduated from college, I worked as an art teacher, and I decided that I wanted to combine my love of art  and kids, and pursue children’s illustration. Lots of artists have inspired me along the way, but my first loves, beyond Quentin Blake and Chris Van Allsburg, were Dalí, Picasso, and Redon. I still look at a lot of art and visit my favorite paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, but now I’m mostly inspired by silly things that happen throughout the day, serious things that are happening in the world, and all of the beauty that I find in between.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: At this point in time, I’m most in love with markers and gouache. I love gouache because of the opaque/flat feeling of the color. I like that it’s an old medium as well—that it has history and depth. I started using markers recently, when I became interested in fashion illustration. Markers allow you to work fast and consistently, and I love the way they layer on top of one another  to almost look and feel like watercolors, or digital painting. I use Photoshop for almost all of my illustrations to collage, experiment, and play with light, color and composition.

Mixed media is so much fun because you can have a plan for your piece, but so much is still left to chance and experimentation, which is exciting when you’re creating a piece, and so satisfying when it’s complete.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: Along with TV and movies, books are largely responsible for how we formulate our ideas about people, cultures, and especially, ourselves from an early age. The stories and characters we read in picture books represent some  of the first ways in which we begin to explore these things, and those impressions stick with us, whether consciously or subconsciously, for a very long time. Picture books ask questions about our world and ourselves and can provide us with comfort, curiosity, hope and empathy. But my favorite part is  the details, and the magical way in which the words and pictures can tell the same story while saying different things. I also love that children can “read” a picture book even before they are ready to read the text, and how repeated readings help them to discover the details, thought, humor and care that goes into the process of creating them. Picture books are important because they help us to visualize our pasts and futures, as they feed our imagination.

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Books to Look For:

Dale, dale, dale: una fiesta de números/Hit it, hit it, hit it: a fiesta of numbers by Carolyn Dee Flores

Canta, Rana, Canta/ Sing Froggie Sing by Carolyn Dee Flores

Una Sorpresa para Teresita/ A Surprise for Teresita by Carolyn Dee Flores

Un día con mis tias/ A Day with my Aunts illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Mayte and the Bogeyman illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

We are Cousins/ Somos primos illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Adelita and the Veggie Cousins illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra: A Cover Reveal!

 

We are excited to participate in the cover reveal of  The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra, an upcoming picture book written by Marc Tyler Nobleman and illustrated by Ana Aranda!

With a title like that, you can tell how much fun kid readers are in for, as this early review makes clear: “A nervous herd of goats tries to convince the legendary chupacabra, a monster that allegedly eats goats, that there are other culinary surprises he may enjoy.”                                –Publishers Weekly.

Here is the book description from Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group:

With its hilarious dialogue, trio of bumbling goats, and fantastically zany villain, this unique, laugh-out-loud story based on a legendary monster is sure to crack up kids and grown-ups alike.  Like most goats, Jayna, Bumsie, and Pep’s greatest fear is being eaten for dinner by the legendary chupacabra—it’s common knowledge that goats are a chupacabra’s favorite food! One night, tired of living in fear, the impetuous goats whip out their trusty candelabra and head off to find the beast and scare it away before it can find them. Little do they know that candelabras are the chupacabra’s third-favorite food . . . and he isn’t about to stop there. This chupacabra has quite the appetite, and the goats are in for a big surprise!

 

Intrigued? So are we. The release date is March 7, 2017. While we patiently wait to see the book in person, let’s feast our eyes on the fabulous cover created by Ana Aranda, a bright new star in the field of children’s illustration, and one we’re proud to claim as a Latinx creator!  You met Aranda in an illustrator round-up we featured earlier this year.

Ana ArandaAna writes: “This cover design was created in watercolor, inks and gouache. I’m so happy to share with everyone the face of an unknown, mysterious and mischievous creature: the chupacabra!”

We look forward to reading the full story and enjoying all of Ana’s adorable illustrations!

 

 

 

Here we go….

Scroll…

Scroll…

Scroll…

Ta da!!

 

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Celebrating Pura Belpré Winners: Spotlight on Author-Illustrator Carmen Lomas Garza

PuraBelpreAwardThe Pura Belpré Awards turns 20 this year! The milestone will be marked on Sunday, June 26, from 1:00-3:00 p.m. during the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. According to the award’s site, the celebration will feature speeches by the 2016 Pura Belpré award-winning authors and illustrators, book signings, light snacks, and entertainment. The event will also feature a silent auction of original artwork by Belpré award-winning illustrators, sales of the new commemorative book The Pura Belpré Award: Twenty Years of Outstanding Latino Children’s Literature, and a presentation by keynote speaker Carmen Agra Deedy.

Leading up to the event, we will be highlighting the winners of the narrative and illustration awards. Today’s spotlight is on Carmen Lomas Garza, the winner of the 2000 Pura Belpré Illustration Medal for Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas and Pura Belpré Honors for Illustration for Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia in 1996 and In My Family / En mi familia in 1998.

Review by Marianne Snow Campbell

DESCRIPTIONS FROM THE PUBLISHERS:

Magic Windows CoverMagic Windows: Through the magic windows of her cut-paper art, Carmen shows us her family, her life as an artist, and the legends of her Aztec past. We look into Carmen’s studio and see her paint a Mexican jarabe tapatío dancer; we glimpse the hummingbirds that cross the US-Mexico border to taste the sweet nectar of the cactus flowers; and we watch Carmen teach her nieces and nephews how to make their own magic windows. Magic Windows is a continuing tribute to family and community as well as a way for Carmen to connect future generations to their ancestors by teaching and sharing with them this traditional folk art.

Check out the book discussion and activity guide created by Lindsay Harris and Haley Rugger with Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo, provided by the University of Alabama School of Library and Informational Studies.

 

Family Pictures is the story of Carmen Lomas Garza’s girlhood in Kingsville, Texas: celebrating birthdays, making tamales, picking cactus, and confiding to her sister her dreams of becoming an artist. These day-to-day experiences are told through fifteen paintings and stories, each focusing on a different aspect of Carmen’s traditional Mexican American culture growing up. The paintings and stories reflect the author’s strong sense of family and community and demonstrate how her mother’s love and hard work helped Carmen achieve her dream. For the hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans, Carmen Lomas Garza offers a book that reflects their lives and cultural traditions. For others, this beautiful work will offer insights into a fascinating life and a rich community. Sandra Cisneros provided the introduction and Pat Mora the afterword for this touchstone of Latino children’s literature. This book is bilingual (English and Spanish).

Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia Cover

 

In My Family / En mi familia: In her eagerly-awaited second book for children, In My Family / En mi familia, internationally-renowned artist Carmen Lomas Garza takes us once again to her hometown of Kingsville, Texas, near the border with Mexico. Through vibrant paintings and warm personal stories, Carmen brings to life more loving memories of growing up in a traditional Mexican American community: eating empanadas, witnessing the blessing on her cousin’s wedding day, and dancing to the conjunto band at the neighborhood restaurant. In My Family / En mi familia is Carmen Lomas Garza’s second book of family pictures, a continuing tribute to the loving family and community that shaped her childhood—and her life.

For effective strategies on incorporating students’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds into social studies curricula, check out the article “Developing Literacy through Culturally Relevant Texts” by Dr. Iliana Alanís in Social Studies and the Young Learner (2007) from the National Council for the Social Studies.  Pair In My Family with the author study guide Carmen Lomas Garza: Chicana Author and Illustrator by Deborah J. Francis, part of The Alma Project, a cultural infusion model by Denver Public Schools.

In My Family Cover

 

MY TWO CENTS: “At the age of thirteen I decided to become a visual artist and pursue every opportunity to advance my knowledge of art in institutions of higher education. The Chicano Movement of the late 1960s inspired the dedication of my creativity to the depiction of special and everyday events in the lives of Mexican Americans based on my memories and experiences in South Texas. I saw the need to create images that would elicit recognition and appreciation among Mexican Americans, both adults and children, while at the same time serve as a source of education for others not familiar with our culture.”

With this artist’s statement, Carmen Lomas Garza sums up everything I appreciate about her autobiographical children’s books. They’re real. They’re confident. They’re hopeful. In all three of her Pura Belpré award winners – Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas, Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia, and In My Family / En mi familia – Garza uses traditional media alongside her own words to represent her memories and celebrate common Mexican American cultural practices. While engaging with these exquisite images and clear, simple (and bilingual!) captions, readers of any cultural background can learn something about life in 1950s Kingsville, Texas and compare and contrast their own experiences with the artist’s.

Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas, which won the Belpré Award in 2000, provides readers with an intricate introduction to the art of papel picado, the traditional Mexican art of paper cutting that began with Mexico’s indigenous communities.

Papel picado decorations for Mexican Independence Day celebrations, Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico. Photo by Alejandro Linares Garcia.

Papel picado decorations for Mexican Independence Day celebrations, Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico. Photo by Alejandro Linares Garcia.

 

While traditional papel picado pieces often feature geometric and/or symbolic designs, Garza’s paper cutouts represent moments from her life: making paper flowers with her family, catching horned frogs, helping her grandfather water his garden.

Detail from Offering for Antonio Lomas / Ofrenda para Antonio Lomas on the back cover of Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas.

Detail from Offering for Antonio Lomas / Ofrenda para Antonio Lomas on the back cover of Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas.

According to Magic Windows’ introduction, Garza learned how to craft traditional papel picado with scissors from her mother and then, after decades of practice, began fashioning the larger, more representational pieces found in this book with a craft knife. I just can’t believe she cut all of these detailed, elaborate works by with her own two hands. Can you imagine the love, patience, and dedication it took to complete them? “These pieces are like magic windows,” she states. “When you look through them, you can see into another world.” What I see is a deep love for her family rendered with absolute care and skill. You can’t get much more magical than that.

In Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia and In My Family / En mi familia, Garza’s Belpré honor winners, we can see that same care and love channeled through a very different artistic medium – painting. Both of these books contain several paintings of the artist’s childhood memories coupled once again with bilingual captions that explain the significance of each work. Page after page treats readers to sumptuous, folk-art-style snapshots of family gatherings, tender moments, and humorous scenes.

Detail from Quinceañera on the back cover of Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia.

Detail from Quinceañera on the back cover of Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia.

I’m just going to put it out there – Carmen Lomas Garza’s books for children are my absolute favorites. 100%, no joke. Their simplicity, honesty, and artistry make them the perfect package for me, and I know there are plenty of kids out there who will appreciate her straightforward, positive, oftentimes funny depictions of her experiences as well. The universal themes of love and family that appear in each magnificent yet humble work of art can hook any child that picks up these books. As Sandra Cisneros says in her introduction to Family Pictures, enjoying Garza’s art is like “pressing our face against the window screens and peeking inside our house. These are family pictures. And it doesn’t matter if your family is from Kingsville or Cairo, Sarajevo or Katmandu. They are your family’s pictures too. Tell me, which one is you?”

Detail from Watermelon / Sandía on the back cover of Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia.

Detail from Watermelon / Sandía on the back cover of Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia.

 

TEACHING TIPS:

  • Carmen Lomas Garza’s books are excellent models for autobiographical writing and art. After reading any of these award-winning books, let students create their own artistic representation of a personal memory (using their choice of medium, if possible) and write an autobiographical story to accompany the art.
  • Explore the rich history and modern practice of creating papel picado with students. Making Magic Windows, Garza’s companion book to Magic Windows, provides plenty of information about this alluring art form as well as step-by-step instructions for young artists. If possible, invite a papel picado artist to your school to share their craft.
  • Do you live in or near Chicago, Austin, El Paso, San Francisco, or Oakland? If so, consider taking your students to an art museum or library collection that features Carmen Lomas Garza’s artwork. You can find her paintings at the National Museum of Mexican Art (Chicago), the University of Texas’s Benson Latin American Collection (Austin), the El Paso Museum of Art, the Mexican Museum (San Francisco), and the Oakland Museum of California. Viewing a full-size, in-person version of a painting from one of Garza’s books can be a powerful experience, and many kids will love connecting their museum visit to books they’ve read. I’ll never forget stumbling upon Las Posadas at the Museum of Mexican Art – it was definitely a highlight of my trip to Chicago.

 

Carmen Lomas GarzaABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR (from her website): Carmen Lomas Garza was born in Kingsville, Texas, in 1948. Inspired by her parent’s activism with the American G.I. Forum, Lomas Garza joined the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. She is a graduate of the Texas Arts & Industry University, Juarez-Lincoln/Antioch Graduate School, and San Francisco State University where she earned her M.A. in 1981. Lomas Garza is a recipient of numerous awards and has exhibited her work in galleries and museums across the United States.

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

 

MarianneMarianne Snow Campbell is a doctoral student at The University of Georgia, where she researches nonfiction children’s books about Latinx 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.

Celebrating Pura Belpré Winners: Spotlight on Doña Flor, illustrated by Raul Colón

PuraBelpreAwardThe Pura Belpré Awards turns 20 this year! The milestone will be marked on Sunday, June 26, from 1:00-3:00 p.m. during the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. According to the award’s site, the celebration will feature speeches by the 2016 Pura Belpré award-winning authors and illustrators, book signings, light snacks, and entertainment. The event will also feature a silent auction of original artwork by Belpré award-winning illustrators, sales of the new commemorative book The Pura Belpré Award: Twenty Years of Outstanding Latino Children’s Literature, and a presentation by keynote speaker Carmen Agra Deedy

Leading up to the event, we will be highlighting the winners of the narrative and illustration awards. Today’s spotlight is on Raul Colón, the winner of the 2006 Pura Belpré Illustration Award for Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart. Colón also received Pura Belpré Illustration Honors for Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes and My Name is Gabito: The Life of Gabriel García Márquez/Me llamo Gabito: la vida de Gabriel García Márquez.

Review by Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: Doña Flor is a giant lady who lives in a tiny village in the American Southwest. Popular with her neighbors, she lets the children use her flowers as trumpets and her leftover tortillas as rafts. Flor loves to read, too, and she can often be found reading aloud to the children.

One day, all the villagers hear a terrifying noise: it sounds like a huge animal bellowing just outside their village. Everyone is afraid, but not Flor. She wants to protect her beloved neighbors, so with the help of her animal friends, she sets off for the highest mesa to find the creature. Soon enough, though, the joke is on Flor and her friends, who come to rescue her, as she discovers the small secret behind that great big noise.

The creators of Tomás and the Library Lady, Pat Mora and Raul Colón, have once again joined together. This time they present a heartwarming and humorous original tall tale—peppered with Spanish words and phrases—about a giant lady with a great big heart.

MY TWO CENTS: Doña Flor, written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Raul Colón, tells the story of a giant woman that sleeps on clouds and makes piles of big tortillas. She protects her village from harm and she must do just that when the villagers inform her that a giant mountain lion threatens their safety. The biography of Raul Colón included on the dust jacket describes his illustrations as “an intriguing combination of watercolor washes, etching, and colored and litho pencils.”

When I look at Colón’s illustrations, the etchings remind me of fingerprints. The loops, the arches, the whorls, and all the lines that we might associate with fingerprints are visible in Colón’s illustrations. I am not familiar with techniques or the technicalities of etching and in saying that the illustrations remind me of fingerprints I do not mean to devalue the art in any way. My favorite illustration in this story is of Doña Flor using her thumb to carve out a riverbed in the village. Doña Flor is in a squatting position with her white skirt covering her thighs, and she has used her thumb to make a squiggly path for the water while the villagers look on. The riverbed has the details I associated with the fingerprints which, in this case, could be Doña Flor’s own prints.

Colón’s illustrations are beautiful, colorful, and magical. That I saw fingerprints when I looked closely at his illustrations speaks to the uniqueness of his art. While Doña Flor wears a blue shirt in most of the illustrations sometimes the shirt looks like it is embroidered and sometimes it looks like a plain T-shirt. The clouds on one page look round and fluffy and in the illustration where she’s made her bed of clouds it appears like she’s left her own fingerprints on the clouds she has gathered. Despite the uniqueness I see in his illustrations, there is certainly a sense of cohesion throughout the story. I’ve decided to focus on the etchings, the lines, and how much they appear like fingerprints because as I examined his illustrations, I also got the thought that our stories are as unique as our fingerprints. Colón’s illustrations in Doña Flor affirmed that for me. I couldn’t help but connect the details I saw in his art to the significance of the Pura Belpré award and the necessity for more Latinx children’s and young adult literature by and for Latinx.

TEACHING TIPS:

  • For younger readers: Ask younger readers to pick their favorite illustration and to pick a part of the image they’d like to recreate. For example, in the illustration with Doña Flor making the river, students can attempt to recreate the river, the clouds, the trees and hills, etc. Ask students to outline their chosen part and to fill it in by dabbing their fingerprints. This will recreate the etching effect they see in the illustrations.
  • For middle grade readers: Discuss with students the effect and affect of etching. Does the etching force the reader to focus in a certain direction or a certain part of the page? How do the illustrations make you feel? For example, in the illustration where Doña Flor hugs the wind the lines of the etchings point in the same direction, making it appear like she is floating away with the wind.
  • For young adult readers: By the end of the story Doña Flor learns that the loud roaring frightening the village is coming from a small puma roaring into a hollow log. Discuss with students the importance of perceptions and misconceptions. How might we connect the villagers’ fear and the puma’s amplified roars to racial/ethnic stereotypes?

 

FullSizeRender (1)Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez’s research focuses on the various roles that healing plays in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. She currently teaches composition and literature at a community college in Chicago. She also teaches poetry to 6th graders and drama to 2nd graders as a teaching artist through a local arts organization. She is working on her middle grade book. Follow Sonia on Instagram @latinxkidlit

Celebrating Pura Belpré Winners: Spotlight on Illustrator Susan Guevara

PuraBelpreAward

The Pura Belpré Awards turns 20 this year! The milestone will be marked on Sunday, June 26, from 1:00-3:00 p.m. during the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. According to the award’s site, the celebration will feature speeches by the 2016 Pura Belpré award-winning authors and illustrators, book signings, light snacks, and entertainment. The event will also feature a silent auction of original artwork by Belpré award-winning illustrators, sales of the new commemorative book The Pura Belpré Award: Twenty Years of Outstanding Latino Children’s Literature, and a presentation by keynote speaker Carmen Agra Deedy

Leading up to the event, we will be highlighting the winners of the narrative and illustration awards. Today’s spotlight is on Susan Guevara, the winner of the 1996 Pura Belpré Illustration Award for Chato’s Kitchen and the 2001 Pura Belpré Illustration Award for Chato and the Party Animals.

Review by Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER:

Chato’s Kitchen: Chato can’t believe his luck. Not only is he the coolest low-riding cat in East L.A., but his brand-new neighbors are the plumpest, juciest, tastiest-looking family of mice to move into the barrio in a long time. So Chato and his best friend, Novio Boy, get out the pots and pans, the tortillas and the beans–everything you’d need for a welcoming feast, except for the main dish, and the guests of honor. Of course, in Chato’s mind they are one and the same thing. But the mice are bringing a surprise guest of their own, who may be more than a cool cat can swallow.

Chato and the Party Animals: Chato, the coolest cat in el barrio, loves to party–but not his best buddy, Novio Boy. Birthday parties always make him blue. “I’m from the pound,” he tells Chato. “I don’t know when I was born. I never knew my mami. I never even had a birthday party, or nothing.”So Chato plans the coolest surprise party for Novio Boy, inviting all of el barrio, and cooking up a storm. But he forgets the most important thing–inviting Novio Boy! Luckily, just as everyone starts remembering all the things they used to love about their long-lost friend, the birthday boy arrives with his own surprise–himself! In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called Chato’s Kitchen “Wickedly funny…Guevara’s cats are delicious send-ups of barrio characters, and Soto’s words glisten with wit. Salud to this magical pairing of talents.”

Chato's Kitchen   854821

MY TWO CENTS: Susan Guevara won the Pura Belpré award for illustration in 1996 and 2001 for her work with Gary Soto in Chato’s Kitchen (1995) and Chato and the Party Animals (2000). Soto introduces readers to the coolest cat in the East Los barrio. In Chato’s Kitchen, Chato plans an elaborate scheme to get some delicious ratoncitos to come over for dinner and serve as the main course. Chato’s plan is foiled when his invited guests bring their friend Chorizo, a low-riding dog, to dinner with them. In Chato and the Party Animals, Chato throws an amazing birthday bash for his best cat friend Novio Boy, who has never had a birthday party of his own because he doesn’t know his date of birth since he’s from the pound. Through her illustrations, Guevara gives life to Soto’s sueve characters.

Guevara’s illustrations depict Chato as the cool cat Soto created him to be. Guevara draws Chato with a green baseball hat worn to the back, a single gold hoop earring, a gold tooth, a thin mustache, and a goatee. Guevara also creates a barrio full of hip vatos, carnales, and homeboys. Novio Boy wears a red wrapped bandana around his head with a seemingly plaid shirt only buttoned at the first button with a white plain shirt underneath. Papá ratoncito wears what appears to be a guayabera and Mamá ratoncito wears a traditional white rebozo with rose appliques. These seemingly minute details give the story a genuine East Los Angeles feel that might resonate with many barrios across the country.

Guevara’s personification of Chato and his friends make it easy for readers to connect with the characters specifically because these characters’ traits resemble that which we might see in our own relatives and neighbors. Pachuco, Chicano, and cholo histories are significant cultural aspects of Mexican/Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles. This is evident in the aesthetics, like fashion, language, and mannerisms, which have been passed on from generation to generation that are characteristic of Mexican/Mexican-American/Chicano culture. That is, Guevara’s illustrations signal an extensive history of Mexican/Mexican-American/Chicano identity in East Los Angeles through the characters’ fashion and gestures. Furthermore, Guevara’s artistic choices to illustrate the characters wearing clothing that have been represented by society as having cultural attributes, that have also been read as criminal, also indicates a history of resistance evident through fashion.

Scholar Catherine Ramirez calls this resistance “style politics[1]” as a way to demonstrate that fashion can serve as tool to challenge oppressive systems. In other words, while the backwards hat, piercings, bandanas, baggy pants, pompadours, etc. have cultural and historical significance and attachment to Mexican/Mexican-American/Chicano people, in this case, these same fashion choices have also been maligned by dominant society to represent criminality, deviancy, and otherness. The prevalence of these fashion statements today despite their negative associations and Soto and Guevara’s representations of these markers in their stories are indicators of resistance against dominant narratives.

Resistance is an evident theme in Guevara’s illustrations. While this resistance may be subtle for readers quickly glancing through the illustrations, they have a great impact once we realize that these moments are there. For example, in Chato’s Kitchen there’s a scene where Chato is illustrated kissing his fruits and vegetables as he prepares dinner for his guests. Guevara makes the bowl holding the food the center of this illustration with Chato on the side. The banana has a sticker that reads “Sangre de Honduras.” Stickers on bananas normally promote the brand or company associated with it. Through this detail on the banana, Guevara points out the violent role the US has played in Central America as made evident by the introduction of banana republics and banana wars.

Another example of resistance in the illustrations is seen in Chato and the Party Animals during the scene when Chato and his friends are looking for Novio Boy to take him to his surprise birthday party. Guevara gives us a bird’s-eye view of a Chato’s barrio and with careful attention the reader can see that there are murals on some of the buildings. One of the buildings has a mural of Che Guevara with the quote “We are not a minority” next to it, a quote that appears in the next scene as Chorizo howls and the quote is seen throughout the sky. Another wall depicts a cat with a cap and gown with the words “Si Se Puede.” There is also a mural of la Virgen de Guadalupe. The tiny murals represented in these books serve as a source of empowerment because they challenge dominant narratives that seek to oppress barrios similar to Chato’s.

Guevara’s illustrations in the Chato books have several layers that might be missed during the first read of the story that are definitely worth returning to and taking the time to notice all the important details. A reader can get lost just looking at Guevara’s illustrations, and that’s certainly a sign of a great artist.

TEACHING TIPS:

  • For younger readers: After having read the story, ask younger readers to choose their favorite illustration. Have them look at the illustration and make a list of all the items and characters they see on the page. This can be done individually, in small groups, or as a class. Have them share their reason for choosing their illustration and their list of items they found. See if anyone notices the ninja turtles in the mercado or if they notice that Baby ratoncito’s stuffed animal is a black cat.
  • For middle grade readers: Ask middle grade readers to choose an illustration and create a new story based on what they see. Encourage them to change the character’s name and his purpose. In illustrations with more than one character, encourage them to create a dialogue or exchange of sorts. Have a discussion with students about the significance of illustration in children’s picture books. Ask them to consider the benefits and challenges of reading stories, like children’s illustrated books, that offer both written and visual perspectives.
  • For young adult readers: Ask young adult readers to discuss Chato and his friend’s fashion sense. Deconstruct stereotypes associated with clothing like the zoot suit, baggy clothes, hoodies, etc. Ask them to contemplate their fashion choices as a form of resistance. Ask them to consider if what they wear or what they post online is a form of resistance. If it is, what are they resisting and how? If it is not, then why? What does resistance look like? Consider asking them if selfies, for example, can be a form of resistance.

[1] Ramirez explores the concept  of “style politics” in her book The Woman in the Zoot Suit: Gender, Nationalism, and the Cultural Politics of Memory (2009) and while she analyzes this form of resistance as it relates to women donning the traditional Pachuco Zoot suit in the 1940s and 1950s, it also has relevance in Soto’s and Guevara’s representation of Chato.

Photo by Norman Mauskopf

Photo by Norman Mauskopf

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR (from her website): Susan Guevara is a visual storyteller. She tells her tales with illustrations, paintings, drawings and sculptures. For 27 years her work as a children’s picture book illustrator has been recognized many times, often for its contribution to literature set in Latino culture. Her recognition includes a 2005 New York Times Ten Best Illustrated books of the Year recipient, a two time Pura Belpré Illustrator Award winner, the first Tomás Rivera Award winner and most recently, a Pura Belpré Honor Award winner for her last book, “Little Roja Riding Hood” by Susan Middleton Elya. Her illustrations for “Chato’s Kitchen” by Gary Soto contributed to the book being recognized as one of the Best 100 Books of the Last 100 Years by the New York Public Library.

 

FullSizeRender (1)Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez’s research focuses on the various roles that healing plays in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. She currently teaches composition and literature at a community college in Chicago. She also teaches poetry to 6th graders and drama to 2nd graders as a teaching artist through a local arts organization. She is working on her middle grade book. Follow Sonia on Instagram @latinxkidlit