Q&A with NYTimes Bestselling Author Anna Banks About JOYRIDE

 

22718685By Cindy L. Rodriguez

The latest novel by Anna Banks, the New York Times Bestselling Author of the The Syrena Legacy series: OF POSEIDON (2012) OF TRITON (2013) OF NEPTUNE (2014), releases today. JOYRIDE, a contemporary with a Mexican-American main character, is a change for Banks, but you’ll see that she was ready to cleanse her fantasy palette and that the seeds for this particular story were planted years ago.

First, here is a description of the book:

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

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

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

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

CINDY: This is a genre shift for you after the very successful Syrena Legacy Trilogy. What sparked you to shift gears and write contemporary fiction?

ANNA: Before we begin, I just want to say it is my pleasure and an honor to be here today. Thank you so much for thinking of me. I enjoy your website and am very supportive of its goals and focuses.

JOYRIDE was sort of a palette cleanser between fantasy worlds. I was ready to write a standalone for once, and Carly’s story kept haunting me at night. To be honest, writing something in the real world was more of a challenge because I had stricter boundaries to abide by, and my characters had only their natural abilities to use to get them out of situations. But it was also a pleasure to have those boundaries, because writing characters who had to use their natural resources, to me, made them stronger and more realistic.

CINDY: And while we’re talking genre, JOYRIDE really is a mix of realistic, romance, and thriller. Was this intentional while you were plotting? Did you want to have some twists that are not always typical with a straight contemporary, or is that just where the story went as you were planning?

ANNA: While I was writing JOYRIDE, I didn’t realize I was writing so many twists in it. To me, it seemed like the natural way things would have to go. Of course, I’ve never written contemporary before (and if I’m being honest I don’t read much of it either), so I wasn’t aware there were sort of “rules” to writing a straight contemporary. Now I realize I’ve written this steroidal hybrid, and I hope contemporary readers can move past that and embrace it. Pretty please? :.)

CINDY: Let’s talk about craft for a bit next. You have a dual narrative, but you use a first-person point of view for Carly and a close third-person for Arden. As both a reader and writer, I’m always curious about these kinds of decisions. Why did you decide on this format instead of a dual first-person?

ANNA: This is me recognizing a weakness I have in writing. I can write a strong female heroine in first person, but for the hero, I need to take a step back and put some distance between myself and him, to distinguish my voice from his voice. I don’t want readers as familiar with my hero and his most inner feelings and thoughts in the way writing in first person would give them access to. In fact, I considered writing JOYRIDE from only Carly’s perspective, but Arden was just too funny to put behind stage.

CINDY: The topic of immigration and deportation are complex, often contentious, social and political issues. What made you want to write about the life of a Mexican-American girl whose parents were deported? What kind of research did you have to do? Was it difficult to write outside of your cultural experience?

ANNA: Living in the Florida panhandle, I live and work and play among many Mexican immigrants—both documented and undocumented. When I was a teenager in particular, I worked at a restaurant where there were some undocumented immigrants, and as we became friends, they told me their stories. They told me their anxiety about being deported, about missing their family, about the fear of being separated from the family they’ve established in the United States. It really left an impression on me. As a teen, I wondered what I would do if my parents were deported, if I was here all alone. I guess Carly was planted in my head all those years ago and I didn’t even know it.

I didn’t have much research to do, because I learned it first hand from my friends and coworkers. That you didn’t want to get pulled over because instead of a speeding ticket, you’d get deported. That you didn’t want to attract attention to yourself. That you sent money home as often as you could. That there were people they called coyotes who helped them cross the border and desert, who demanded large sums of money to help them get set up in the United States. That when you cross the border, you cross with what you can carry, and that’s it.

I’m white, and so writing outside my own cultural experience was terrifying. I wanted to do it respectfully and realistically, because I deeply respect the work ethic and the family values of immigrants, and I wanted to share their plight with the world. But sometimes in writing it, I did wonder if it was my place to do so. But I had a story to tell, and I felt it was an important one, so I kept going.

CINDY: Do you plan to write more contemporary YA? Any projects in the works that you can tell us about?

ANNA: Right now I’m working on an Egyptian based fantasy called NEMESIS and its sequel, ALLY. It’s about a princess who possesses the power to create energy who escapes her father, who wishes to weaponzie it, only to be captured by an enemy kingdom where she discovers her powers could be used to fight a terrible plague.

I write when I have a story to tell, and usually my muse takes me across a lot of different genres. As for writing contemporary again—sure, why not? But I have to have a story to tell. If I find myself wanting to add time travel or wormholes in the contemporary, I’d better just set it aside. :.)

Book Review: Super Cilantro Girl by Juan Felipe Herrera

 

1016493By Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: What happens when a small girl suddenly starts turning green, as green as a cilantro leaf, and grows to be fifty feet tall? She becomes Super Cilantro Girl, and can overcome all obstacles, that’s what! Esmeralda Sinfronteras is the winning super-hero in this effervescent tale about a child who flies huge distances and scales tall walls in order to rescue her mom. Award-winning writer Juan Felipe Herrera taps into the wellsprings of his imagination to address and transform the concerns many first-generation children have about national borders and immigrant status. Honorio Robledo Tapia has created brilliant images and landscapes that will delight all children.

MY TWO CENTS: Upon learning that her mother has been detained at the border, Esmeralda Sinfronteras transforms into a superhero to rescue her mother from ICE. She uses the power of cilantro to grow taller than a house, with hair longer than a bus, and skin so green it could have only come from cilantro. Super Cilantro Girl flies to the border, climbs the dark and dreary detention center to her mother’s window, and simply picks her up and puts her in her pocket and they fly home.  The ICE agents are so mesmerized by the power of cilantro that they do not notice or prevent Super Cilantro Girl from rescuing her mother.  The next morning, Esmeralda makes a huge discovery about her and her mother.

Author Juan Felipe Herrera and illustrator Honorario Robledo Tapia have created a magnificent children’s book about the transformative power of imagination. Esmeralda is emblematic of the many children who have been separated from their families due to unjust and xenophobic immigration laws. Herrera and Tapia go beyond common debates about immigration to give a face and a voice to the children impacted. Esmeralda gains the power and courage she needs to confront ICE from the environment around her. Her grandmother and the land serve as vessels for alternative knowledge that guide Esmeralda through her journey. Furthermore, Herrera’s and Tapia’s reclamation of the color green juxtaposes Esmeralda’s power with the cultural and social power of the “green card.”  In Esmeralda’s imagination, her power is much stronger than anything ICE or a green card could ever have.

There are several ways to read race, gender, and class into this story in order to come up with a thorough analysis of how immigration impacts Latina/o children and their families. What I appreciate most about Herrera’s children’s book is that hope and empowerment are central to the narrative. Giving Esmeralda superpowers reveals the possibility for change that manifests from a child’s imagination. Super Cilantro Girl encourages children to dream, hope, and fight for their rights even if it means going against an entire state apparatus like ICE.

TEACHING TIPS: Super Cilantro Girl can be taught thematically by focusing on issues of (im)migration.  The story’s emphasis on alternative healing methods is resonant of Gloria Anzaldua’s Prietita and the Ghost Woman and Friends from the Other Side. All three texts pay particular attention to holistic healing methods that include using nature as a resource. This is especially important because it allows the children protagonists to gain empowerment from their environments—much in the same way that Esmeralda finds power in cilantro.

Focusing on the superhero theme presents an opportunity to connect art activities with reading. Yuyi Morales’s Niño Wrestles the World prompted the creation of Niño masks to accompany the story—something similar can be done with Herrera’s Super Cilantro Girl.  The relationship between social justice and superheroes in this story can be addressed by asking students to draw and imagine their own superhero. Students can imagine what a superhero in or from their community might look like or students can find inspiration from their community to create a superhero. Xavier Garza’s Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid is another excellent example of a child protagonist using his culture and community to be heroic.

There are several Latino kid’s books that focus on lucha libre that will pair wonderfully with Super Cilantro Girl. Lucha libre connects superhero-like characters with fantasy and reality and that can generate a powerful conversation about superheroes in our communities and culture as well as how children and youth can be their own heroes. Morales’s Niño Wrestles the World and Xavier Garza’s Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask are a few examples that tell stories about children and luchadores.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Super Cilantro Girl,  visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.orgindiebound.orggoodreads.comamazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.

 

headshotSonia Alejandra Rodríguez has been an avid reader since childhood. Her literary world was first transformed when she read Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Última as a high school student and then again as a college freshman when she was given a copy of Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. Sonia’s academic life and activism are committed to making diverse literature available to children and youth of color. Sonia received her B.A. in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of California, Riverside, where she focuses her dissertation on healing processes in Latina/o Children’s and Young Adult Literature.

Guest Post: The Universality of Being an Outsider

 

by Jacqueline Jules

1956Family

Jacqueline Jules’ family in 1956

In my small Virginia town, like many places in the 1960s south, the first question people asked upon meeting was “What church do you go to?”

As a child, I remember fielding that question from parents of new friends and hearing my mother answer it in grocery stores.

“We’re Jewish,” I would explain politely. “We go to a synagogue.”

The response was generally a startled one. People would stare like I was a new species at the zoo.

“Oh my! I don’t think I’ve ever met a Jewish person before!”

From there, I’d often have to answer a series of questions about my “Jewish Church.”

I had been taught from a young age that I represented my religion. If I was impolite, all Jews would be considered rude. I had to be on my best behavior at all times so that others would not have a reason to dislike Jewish people. On many occasions, I also had to explain why Jews didn’t believe in Jesus and why I wasn’t terrified of going to hell. And the questions were just as likely to come from adults as other children.

Growing up, Christmas and Easter were never seasons of joy for me. They were times when the questions intensified. Why didn’t I celebrate Christmas? Didn’t the Jews kill Jesus? I learned early on that the Christmas spirit did not extend to Jewish children.

To add to my stranger status, my parents were not Southern born. Mom was a Northerner from Rochester, New York. Dad was from Switzerland and spoke with a thick German accent. He came to the US after World War II and was not a citizen when I was born. His name was Otto. In small-town Southern culture, having foreign roots set my family apart even in our tiny Jewish community.

So feelings of being “different” are quite familiar to me. I know what it is like to be the child of an immigrant. To be embarrassed in public when people ask your father to repeat something three times because they can’t understand what he is saying. To hear a parent talk of a homeland missed deeply. To long for relatives abroad who were only a part of our lives through letters and very occasional visits. To feel alone, apart from others who are comfortable in their skin and their surroundings.

Years later, when I took a position as a librarian in an elementary school with a large immigrant population, I identified with my students immediately. I had watched my own father struggle with the English language, which he learned in adulthood, at age 32. To his credit, he became quite fluent, but he still made some mistakes with grammar and pronunciation. Misunderstandings occurred in family conversations when my father did not understand a nuance or a cultural reference. Or we didn’t understand the perspective he was coming from. He didn’t approve of everything American. I recall what fun he made of sliced white bread which he compared to eating a sponge, and how excited he was when we found bakeries that sold French bread. And I remember how much my father hated turkey. He thought it tasted dry and he insisted my mother serve lamb or duck on Thanksgiving. I also remember that he didn’t care for pumpkin pie. In his mind, pies should be filled with fruit, gooseberries in particular.

The first Thanksgiving I taught at Timber Lane Elementary, a Title I school in Fairfax County, Virginia, I noticed right away that my immigrant students were not interested in my Thanksgiving lessons. Up until then, my story times had been received warmly. Seeing that my English-language learners enjoyed repetitive songs and choruses, I had quickly adopted them into my curriculum. My students had enjoyed songs about animals, the seasons, the five senses, etc. Why did they hate my turkey songs?

DuckforTurkeyDaybyJJulesA student gently explained: “We don’t have that kind of Thanksgiving dinner in my house.” Suddenly, I stopped being a teacher and returned to my own childhood, where I had been informed that turkey and pumpkin pie were the correct meal choices. These memories led to my first book with Albert Whitman Publishers, Duck for Turkey Day, about young Tuyet, who is worried that her Vietnamese-American family is breaking the rules for Thanksgiving. While the emotions of this book belong to my own childhood, they were deeply shared by the kids I taught. Making my characters Vietnamese-American gave me the opportunity to show how much I identified with my students, along with the universality of the problem. It also made my story current. My experiences as a Jewish child of a German-Swiss in the 1960s south are historical now. While I have shared my Jewish heritage in many of my books, I don’t want everything I write to be limited to my own particular, and not necessarily, universal experiences. Growing up as an outsider myself has naturally made me empathetic to other minorities in America. And it has made me downright indignant that so few children’s books reflect the lives of children who are not white, Christian, and middle-class.

All too often, books with non-majority characters portray their lives as a situation requiring great explanation. As a young Jewish mother in the 1980s, I was annoyed that most Jewish holiday books described traditions in such detail, they read like nonfiction. Not every Christmas story describes the Nativity. Most Easter stories are about bunnies, not the Resurrection. Why can’t Jewish children have light-hearted picture books that celebrate the joy of their culture, too?

ZapatowithStickerAnd why can’t children of color have books, particularly easy readers, where they see themselves enjoying life? Why is minority status always the problem in a story rather than just one facet of a particular person’s existence? In my Zapato Power books, a chapter book series about a boy with super-powered purple sneakers, the main character, Freddie Ramos, is Latino. He lives an urban apartment life in a close-knit immigrant community, just like most of the students I taught. But that is not the plot of his stories. Freddie is mostly concerned with how he will solve mysteries and be a hero with his super speed. And in my new series, Sofia Martinez, my main character is a spirited Latina who wants more attention from her large, loving family. I taught many Sofias. Her family eats tamales at Christmas. She uses Spanish phrases in her conversations. And she deserves to learn to read with books that show her family life as fun and normal, not a particular ethnic challenge to be overcome.SofiaMartinezFamilyAdventure

Many authors say they write the books they would have liked to see as a child. I do that. But I also write stories I wish I had been able to give my students when I taught—books that show it is okay to be who you are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

JJulesWebPic

Jacqueline Jules is the award-winning author of 30 books, including No English, Duck for Turkey Day, Zapato Power, Never Say a Mean Word Again, and the recently released Sofia Martinez series. After  many years as a librarian and teacher, she now works full-time as an author and poet at her home in Northern Virginia. Find her on Facebook and at her official author site.

 

 

 

 

“A poet, América knows, belongs everywhere”: Healing & Latin@ Children’s Literature

By Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez

As a child what I desired most was to be rescued from the violence I experienced at home. I was undocumented and domestic violence was far too common. While I now know that these are real experiences for many Latino homes, these were secrets that I walked around with for fear that my family would be separated if I said anything. Retrospectively, what I probably needed, aside from the violence to stop, was to understand why the violence was happening in the first place. There was nothing or no one around to explain my feelings of anxiety, fear, and/or self-hate around the violence I witnessed and then internalized. At the time, shows like “Boy Meets World,” “Saved by the Bell,” and “Full House” only reaffirmed for me that my family was different, did not belong, or that there was something wrong us. I was reading a lot, too, but I only got more and more frustrated that the books I read did not speak to my reality. I was obsessed with Beverly Cleary’s Ramona because she was everything I wanted to be—free, adventurous, and happy. And while characters like Ramona fueled my imagination they explained nothing about the violence I endured.

My investment in Latina/o children’s and young adult literature stems from my desire to explain why violence is more prevalent in certain communities than it is in others. But it is also driven by what I have seen is the genre’s potential to provide paths toward healing for Latina/o children and young adults. Recent conversations about the need for diversity in children’s literature have discussed at length the impact that being or not being represented in books can have on a child’s self-esteem and where they see themselves positioned in society. These conversations have made visible the discrimination within publishing industries and the ways that children of color stand to lose the most. Diversity is important to my project simply because stories about children of color can save their lives.

696056I was first introduced to Luis J. Rodriguez’s América is Her Name as a graduate student and it was the first children’s book I read with a Latina protagonist. I was a taken aback that a kid’s book actually talked about immigration and included scenes of violence. Mainstream children’s literature is no stranger to violence, gruesomeness, monsters, and the like; however, it is out of the ordinary to see a story about immigration, gang violence, and abuse at home that does not depend on stereotypes or is read as ethnography. América Soliz, the protagonist, is a recent immigrant from Oaxaca, Mexico to Pilsen, Illinois— one of Chicago’s predominantly Mexican communities— who struggles to find a voice in a place that seeks to silence her. Throughout the text, the reader is privy to the discrimination she faces in the classroom, the violence in her community, and the patriarchal oppression in her home. What I found most powerful about the book was that América is given a tool to challenge the oppressions around her. Poetry becomes her outlet, and it allows her to process the violence she witnesses and experiences. In this way, the violence does not overwhelm her, but instead, she is able to find strength despite it. Rodriguez’s book opened a new world of children’s books for me, and it allowed me to see this genre as having the potential to create social change.

One of the biggest personal challenges that América faces is feeling like she does not belong. As an undocumented student in an ESL classroom, her fear is reaffirmed by her teachers:

Yesterday as [América] passed Miss Gable and Miss Williams in the hallway, she heard Miss Gable whisper, “She’s an illegal.” How can that be—how can anyone be illegal! She is Mixteco, an ancient tribe that was here before the Spanish, before the blue-eyed, even before this government that now calls her “illegal.” How can a girl called América not belong in America? (n.p)

América’s genuine question signals a history of systemic oppression demarcating who gets to belong and who is excluded from the American imaginary. By tracing her indigenous roots, América seeks to challenge who can lay claim to the land her teachers wish to erase her from. Upon first reading Rodríguez’s book, I found América’s question rather painful. Even though América is a child, her teachers have no qualms about criminalizing and excluding her. At nine years old, there is very little that América can do to challenge her teachers’ ignorance and discrimination; however, the tension in the classroom shifts when Mr. Aponte, a Puerto Rican poet, visits America’s class. Mr. Aponte encourages the class to write poetry about what they know and in whatever language they feel comfortable. América writes about Oaxaca and shares her poetry with her family. Eventually, her mother and younger siblings take part in writing. At the end of the book, Ms. Gable gives América a high mark on one of her poems, which brings great joy to América and her family.

While América remains undocumented at the end of the story, she finds that her poetry gives her a sense of belonging that she did not feel at the beginning. She says: “A real poet. That sounds good to the Mixteca girl, who some people say doesn’t belong here. A poet, América knows, belongs everywhere” (n.p.). Writing has given America a way to challenge and transform the oppressions around her. Her poetry serves as a voice and power that she lacked and has since shared with her family. When I teach this book, I am very careful about talking about the conclusion as the “happy ending.” Instead, I encourage my students to read this moment as part of América’s healing process. Leaving the book with the assumption that everything works out for América is a disservice to the book and those like it. The fears and perils of immigration do not go away because América learned to write poetry. Instead, what she has learned is a set of skills that will help her express how immigration impacts her identity and will help her challenge a system that seeks to exclude her. Reading the ending as a moment in a much larger healing process instead of a resolution further allows me to demonstrate how Latina/o kids lit can transform the lives of Latina/o children and young adults.

If a book like América is Her Name had been available to me as a child, I can imagine it having made a real difference. Feeling excluded or not belonging is a very common theme within traditional coming-of-age stories. However, those feelings become rationalized as “growing pains” or generalized as “everyone feels left out,” or they become a lesson on “not everyone is going to like you.” These motifs often learned in mainstream coming of age stories and in common (mis)understandings of American childhood do not capture América’s experience. América is excluded for specific political and historical reasons. If she were a real child, she will probably be excluded her entire life because she is an (im)migrant. Even if she were to gain legal citizenship, someone will someday ask her “where are you from?” and assume that she does not belong. When I talk about Latina/o children’s books as having the potential to heal, I mean it in reference to these specific moments of exclusion and violence that unfortunately are a reality for Latina/o children. How do we teach our children to answer questions like “where are you from?” or to respond to comments like “you don’t look American”? How do we make them feel like they belong when the world around them may be telling them otherwise? Latina/o children’s literature does not have all of the answers but it is creating conversations on the topics that still require much attention.

Other Latina/o children’s books with immigration as a theme:

52390  1006426  2235722  465967  8101398  1266138  580207  2195327

headshotSonia Alejandra Rodríguez has been an avid reader since childhood. Her literary world was first transformed when she read Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless me, Última as a high school student and then again as a college freshman when she was given a copy of Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. Sonia’s academic life and activism are committed to making diverse literature available to children and youth of color. Sonia received her B.A. in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of California, Riverside, where she focuses her dissertation on healing processes in Latina/o Children’s and Young Adult Literature.

Book Review: Yes! We Are Latinos by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy

Reviewed by Lila Quintero Weaver

Yes We Are LatinosDESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: Juanita lives in New York and is Mexican. Felipe lives in Chicago and is Panamanian, Venezuelan, and black. Michiko lives in Los Angeles and is Peruvian and Japanese. Each of them is also Latino.

Thirteen young Latinos and Latinas living in America are introduced in this book celebrating the rich diversity of the Latino and Latina experience in the United States. Free-verse fictional narratives from the perspective of each youth provide specific stories and circumstances for the reader to better understand the Latino people’s quest for identity. Each profile is followed by nonfiction prose that further clarifies the character’s background and history, touching upon important events in the history of the Latino American people, such as the Spanish Civil War, immigration to the US, and the internment of Latinos with Japanese ancestry during World War II.

Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy’s informational yet heartwarming text provides a resource for young Latino readers to see themselves, while also encouraging non-Latino children to understand the breadth and depth of the contributions made by Latinos in the US. Caldecott Medalist David Diaz’s hand-cut illustrations are bold and striking, perfectly complementing the vibrant stories in the book.

Yes! We Are Latinos stands alone in its presentation of the broad spectrum of Latino culture and will appeal to readers of fiction and nonfiction.

MY TWO CENTS:  Yes! We are Latinos belongs on every essential reading list of Latino children’s literature, as is often true of books co-authored by the acclaimed duo of Alma Flor Ada and Isabel Campoy. No single work can cover every expression of Latino life in the United States, yet this book for middle-grade readers provides a generous glimpse of historical, cultural, ethnic, and linguistic aspects of the community. The authors’ approach pairs thirteen character vignettes, written as monologues in free verse, with matching expository sections of historical and cultural information. Collectively, the alternating sections deliver vivid, easily digestible insights into what is meant by Latino. There is no single Latino identity, the characters seem to say, and each of us is worthy of your attention.

The authors’ commitment to showing a wide representation of Latino life comes through in the vignettes. The featured characters reflect a generous range of ethnic and regional groups, some of which speak no Spanish, mirroring the fact that many Latinos come from bicultural and transnational families. In one vignette, we meet Susana, a Sephardic girl who lives in San Francisco. In another, we’re introduced to Dominican-born Santiago, who now calls Detroit home.

Sometimes young Latin@s would love nothing better than to break away from traditions they consider too confining. The story of Gladys, a Puerto Rican living in Philadelphia, is the best example of this. She watches the preparations for her sister’s quinceañera, expecting that before long her mother will want to start planning Gladys’s “quinces.” But Gladys’s dreams are pulling her in another direction, toward college.

Julio is from a farm migrant family originating in Teotitlán del Valle, a village in Oaxaca, Mexico. Like other members of his original indigenous community, Julio speaks Zapotec. When his family moves to Stockton, California, he must navigate two foreign languages, English and Spanish, in order to function in a primarily Spanish-speaking Chicano community, within a mainstream American setting. He’s adjusting to life in the new country, but still looks back on his homeland with longing and pride, recalling the beautiful and prized tapestries that Teotitlán’s weaving looms are known for.

In one pair of monologues, two Latinas with Asian backgrounds form a friendship. Lili is a Guatemalan of Chinese descent, whereas Mikito’s heritage is Japanese and Peruvian. The families of both girls passed through multiple immigration journeys. In the educational follow-up, we learn about waves of Asian immigrants that landed on the shores of South and Central American countries and the descendants of these immigrants who eventually drifted northward. The section on Japanese Latinos reveals a troubling detail of American history: Wartime internment camps built to contain Japanese Americans also held Japanese families who were deported at the urging of the United States by the Latin American countries where they resided. In these internment camps, Japanese Latinos often found themselves socially isolated, since they spoke only Spanish and few others in the camp could communicate with them.

The factual sections that follow the monologues highlight each character’s nation of origin. In Santiago’s case, it’s the Dominican Republic. A brief review of the island-nation’s history includes important facts about the Trujillo dictatorship, although the achievements of outstanding Dominicans receive greater attention. These include acclaimed novelists Julia Alvarez and Junot Díaz, haute-couture fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, and professional baseball players David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.

Spot illustrations by Caldecott medalist and Pura Belpré winner David Díaz add a striking, black-and-white counterpoint to the text. His signature style, evident in the dozens of children’s books that he has illustrated, often features silhouetted figures in profile, with elongated, almond-shaped eyes that suggest indigenous art from the Americas, tastefully adapted for contemporary young readers.

Outmoded characterizations of Latino life give everyone the same background, the same history, the same traditions and tastes. This book’s emphasis counteracts generalizations and brings forward Latinos’ complexity. In each vignette, the authors touch on multiple elements, including the scattered geographic settings where the characters live, the varied occupations their parents work in, and the traditions their families celebrate. Yes! We Are Latinos offers an important and long overdue contribution to children’s literature.

TEACHING TIPSYes! We Are Latinos is the work of educators and seems custom-made for later elementary and middle school classrooms. The poetic narratives bring life to the informational sections, which in turn invite further exploration of the countries and histories they feature. Teachers may want to assign students paired sections to expand upon through written reports or artistic responses. For example, students could design posters depicting specific Latino cultures. Another idea is to have students compose poetic vignettes of imaginary characters reflecting geographic regions not covered in the book.

ESL instructors are likely to appreciate the book’s short, digestible sections, which contain not only interesting stories, but also broad vocabulary.

Older readers may want to dive into Cristina Henriquez’s recent novel, The Book of Unknown Americans, reviewed here by Ashley Hope Pérez.

For additional resources:

Alma Flor AdaALMA FLOR ADA

A native of Cuba, Alma Flor Ada is an award-winning author, poet, storyteller and scholar of literature. She has published more than 200 books for children, many of them in partnership with Isabel Campoy.

In this interview, Alma Flor Ada discusses the development of Yes! We Are Latinos and other topics, including poetry and bilingualism.

 

Isabel CampoyISABEL CAMPOY

Isabel Campoy is a Spanish storyteller, poet, playwright, songwriter and educator in literacy and language acquisition. She is fluent in multiple languages and her work in the field of publishing includes translation. She is an award-winning author and a frequent writing partner of Alma Flor Ada.

 

 

Video visits with the authors:

Alma Flor on literacy, stories, family connections, teaching, and writing books:

Isabel discusses stories and recites lines in Spanish:

Isabel talks about her life and work:

 

 

 

Book Review: Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario

By Lila Quintero Weaver

Enrique's JourneyPUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION: Based on the Los Angeles Times newspaper series that won two Pulitzer Prizes, this astonishing story puts a human face on the ongoing debate about immigration reform in the United States. Now a beloved classic, this page-turner about the power of family is a popular text in classrooms and a touchstone for communities across the country to engage in meaningful discussions about this essential American subject.

Enrique’s Journey recounts the unforgettable quest of a Honduran boy looking for his mother, eleven years after she is forced to leave her starving family to find work in the United States. Braving unimaginable peril, often clinging to the sides and tops of freight trains, Enrique travels through hostile worlds full of thugs, bandits, and corrupt cops. But he pushes forward, relying on his wit, courage, hope, and the kindness of strangers.

MY TWO CENTS: The best creative non-fiction takes you straight down into the messy, contradictory, gut-wrenching heart of a subject, and awakens your appreciation for its complexity. By every measure, Enrique’s Journey is such a book. It’s the riveting epic of a Honduran teenager driven to escape intolerable conditions and fueled by the hope of crossing the border into the United States. The original version was published in 2007 as adult nonfiction. This edition, adapted for readers as young as the seventh grade, was released in 2013. It also updates the story. (Young-reader adaptations are a growing trend in nonfiction publishing.)

As Enrique launches his eighth attempt to reach the United States by means of train hopping, the risks are clearer than ever to him: death, dismemberment, robbery, extortion, and sexual victimization. But the way he sees it, staying in Honduras presents its own bleak and terrifying future. Gangs and violence are rampant, poverty is entrenched, and opportunities for work and self-betterment are virtually nonexistent. Worst of all, Enrique’s mother, Lourdes, has been absent from his life for an achingly long time. A single mother with no dependable means of support, she left for the United States when Enrique was five, entrusting her two children into the care of relatives. Enrique’s sister has weathered the eleven-year separation reasonably well, but it takes a heavy toll on the young boy. During his teen years in Honduras, he spirals down into serious drug use and antisocial behavior. As his life grows ever more troubled, Enrique imagines that reuniting with his mother will repair the hole in his heart.

In this vivid and comprehensive account, Sonia Nazario retraces Enrique’s eighth attempt, following his 1,800-mile route through the heart of Mexico, an odyssey lasting 47 days. She expands the picture to cover conditions facing others on a similar migratory path. The chapters are embedded with fascinating micro stories of places and people who assist, deter, or exploit the thousands of Central Americans flowing northward through Mexico on train roofs and other modes of transportation. The narrative captures the flavor of distinct geographic zones. The most notorious stretch is Chiapas, in extreme southern Mexico. Chiapas is dense with gangs, bandits, immigration patrols, and unsympathetic residents who look down on the migrants as the “stinking undocumented.” In this region, migrants are easy targets of crime, since as a rule, they’re too fearful to report it, and in many cases, the police collude with the criminals. At one point, gang members chase Enrique along the top of a moving train. After they catch and beat him, he jumps off the train and sustains a serious injury.

Migrants like Enrique also encounter good-hearted people, who are typically quite poor themselves. Some of them make it a regular practice to toss food and water to migrants clinging to the roofs of passing trains. Some even open their homes to strangers with nowhere to shelter between train departures. There are agencies and churches that offer assistance, including a few that give the severely injured a place to heal. These accounts of compassion touched me to the core. I was also moved by the camaraderie that develops among train riders, who often sacrificially share with strangers whatever small comfort they can—blankets, food, water. Although they pool resources, exchange information, and organize lookout duty so others can sleep, individual migrants often find themselves in terrifying circumstances beyond the reach of kind, but equally vulnerable, strangers.

When Enrique arrives at the border with Texas, he’s finally able to call his mother, yet his ordeal is far from over. After many complications and long delays, Enrique makes a perilous crossing. There is no fairy-tale reunion. His anger over the heartbreaking separation spills out in words and self-destructive actions. Gradually, things get better as Enrique matures, finds work, and begins to seek legal status.

For kids who like dystopian stories, here’s a true-to-life dystopia to check against those from fantasy. This book is not light reading, nor is it meant to be. Most young readers will endure the gritty parts if only to find out what happens to Enrique, who, like teens everywhere, holds a mix of dreams and demons. Some readers may have a hard time getting past the controversies that swirl around undocumented immigrants, but the slant of this book is not toward proposing policy or resolving debates. By concentrating on the story of one boy from a broken society—a boy whose resilience and courage seem at times superhuman in the face of nearly insurmountable odds—Sonia Nazario brings deep human dimension to a thorny issue of our times.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: In the official website for Enrique’s Journey, under the tab Educator Resources, teachers can locate extensive lesson plans and activities across the disciplines, along with a list of recommended movies and documentaries. The publisher has also released a Spanish edition, La Travesía de Enrique, and the site includes lessons geared toward students of Spanish.

Sonia Nazario has been a frequent guest on television and radio shows, including On Point, with Tom Ashbrook. Her views were featured in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.

Enrique’s Journey is being used as a text across America. This report focuses on the book’s impact in college classrooms.

Which Way Home is one of the movies on the publisher’s recommended list. Here is a radio piece about it.

In 2014 the number of unaccompanied children and youth attempting to cross our southern border reached crisis proportions, demonstrating the need to understand what drives Enrique and thousands more like him to make the journey.

Sonia NazarioSONIA NAZARIO is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years in the industry. Enrique’s Journey is her first book-length project. Her official bio can be read here.