Book Review: Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School by Kim Baker

 

13170031By Kimberly Mach

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BACK OF THE BOOK:

Dear Parents and Teachers:

This is a work of fiction. There is no Prank and Trick Association at Fountain Point Middle School. And you absolutely will not find instructions on how to log in to a top-secret prank instruction website anywhere on these pages. All we do is make pickles. OK?

Sincerely,

Ben Diaz

President, The League of Pickle Makers

MY TWO CENTS: Now, if the description above won’t get a child to pick up a book, I’m not sure what will.

Kim Baker had me laughing from the first page. The book opens with this line: Can I trust you? She had me hooked right there, with all that the question implies.

There are so many ways to talk about Pickle because it really is a perfect middle-grade novel. Kids will laugh out loud, and they may even go scrambling to create their own prank clubs. Beyond the laughter, they will identify with the ever-changing landscape of middle school friendships. Ben Diaz, the main character, creates a Prank Club, under the guise of a Pickle Makers Club. Due to an earlier incident, Ben does not invite his best friend Oliver into the club. (Oliver’s grandmother is the school principal and Oliver, well, Ben thinks Oliver just can’t be trusted to keep the secret.) Reading it, I found myself wondering what the halls of my school would look like if there were bubbles in the fountains or impromptu parties in the classrooms. Throughout the mayhem, lessons are woven in. Ben learns about himself, his new friends, and just how ‘off’ we can be when we try to label each other, but most of all he learns what kind of friendship he and Oliver really have. Spoiler alert: It’s made of the strong stuff. There are lessons here in action and reaction, consequences and the impact of our decisions, and they are all told masterfully through the eyes and comedy of young Ben Diaz.

As an adult reader, what resonated with me was the very real problem of what isn’t in our history books. For Pioneer Day, Ben and his friends have to present something pickled for the Pioneer Fair. If they don’t, they will lose their funding from the PTA and that will be the end of the Pickle Club and the secret Prank Club.

What to do? Ben turns to his family. They frequently serve escabeche, or pickled vegetables, at their Mexican restaurant. Ben sees that escabeche can be their entry for the fair. Then Ben hesitates. He asks the kind of question that many of our children who do not see themselves reflected on the pages of history books wonder about: Were there Mexican pioneers?

Ben goes on to say: “I’ve never seen any in the pictures. It’s always just a bunch of white guys.” And then later, the realization that, “It doesn’t mean they weren’t there.” Ben begins searching.

The time period for our children is different from that of my youth. In my youth, we may have asked the question, but because of available resources, we probably could not have answered it, at least not in a timely fashion. The internet has allowed people and organizations to post information and share resources in a much more efficient manner. When Ben wonders about pioneers from Mexico, he does not have to go far to find that reliable source. Instead of spending an afternoon at the town hall archives, he can answer it with the click of a button. As an adult, I could not escape the implications of Ben’s memory when he recalls being criticized in kindergarten for using the brown paper to make his Pilgrims for Thanksgiving. There are so many who were skimmed over in the history books, but the information is there if we ask the questions. Step one is teaching our children to ask. Where are the women in this picture? Who worked in the factories? Why does this city have a Spanish name? What happened when native peoples went to reservations? Ben chooses to share an authentic pickling recipe from Mexico. It may not be the pickle recipe people were expecting at the fair, but it is delicious and the scene, of course, is memorable. Trust me, you’ll be cheering for him when he has a conversation with Principal Lebonsky about traditional recipes.

TEACHING TIPS: This book would be an excellent read-aloud in the classroom, appropriate for grades 3-6. It can be enjoyed for the humor and story, or a teacher can choose to take the lessons further.

Language Arts: Life-size character sketches are one extension idea. Brief descriptions of each character are on the front jacket of the book. Many children will see themselves reflected in the personalities and the ethnicities of Ben and his friends. Traits can be filled in as readers follow the story, with life-size versions being presented at the end.

Social Studies: Many upper elementary and early middle school grades study pioneer days as part of their curriculum. Reading Pickle may encourage students to ask the important questions and to look more deeply at the pictures of people in their own state and communities.

The escabeche could be the beginning to a small unit on preserving food both in the past and now. Compare and contrast, how did Native Americans preserve food? When were other methods introduced?  What are traditional foods of the region? How are they preserved today?  The possibilities are endless here.

Enjoy the book. Readers of all ages will love it. When you are done, visit Kim Baker’s website at http://kimbakerbooks.com/ and enjoy her voice and humor there.

Pickle is Kim Baker’s debut novel and has already received five awards including the Louisiana Young Reader’s Choice 2015 nominee, 2014-2015 Texas Blue Bonnet Award Nominee, and the 2013 SCBWI West Crystal Kite award.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Pickle visit your local library or bookstore. Also, check out WorldCat.orgIndieBound.orgGoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Kimberly Mach has been teaching for sixteen years and holds two teaching certificates in elementary and secondary education. Her teaching experience ranges from grades five to twelve, but she currently teaches Language Arts to middle school students. It is a job she loves. The opportunity to share good books with students is one that every teacher should have. She feels privileged to be able to share them on a daily basis.

Mixed Up: Author Kim Baker Navigates a Bicultural Narrative

By Kim Baker

I’m bicultural. My grandparents on my mom’s side eloped and migrated from Mexico to New Mexico where they had babies and my grandpa worked in the coal mines until, lungs destroyed, they moved again to East Los Angeles for better weather. My uncle can tell you about how cramped it was with all the kids in the backseat. Sunshine couldn’t save my grandpa, but most of my family is still around the area. My dad is Anglo and from Texas. His side of the family has been in the states so long, nobody knows for sure from where they originally migrated. So, like lots of people, I’ve got a mixed ethnicity. Culture is a weird thing. It’s shared customs and distinct experiences. I’m ridiculously pale, and I have my husband’s surname so people are often surprised to hear about my Mexican heritage. When people do find out (and I’m pretty open about it), sometimes we play stereotype bingo and they ask questions to see if I meet their preconceived qualifications (Do I have a big family? Yes. Do I like spicy foods? …Yes. Do I listen to mariachi? Please stop.).

I consider myself Latina, and proud. This is me, the grouchy one covering her face in front, with a small portion of my family. My cousin Joey is mortified that I share this picture because he is self-conscious about how much leg he’s showing in those cutoffs.

Maciasfamily

Now I feel guilty about sharing it, so I will also tell you that later that day I threw up an Orange Julius at the mall and tried to hide it under a t-shirt rack. That’s worse than knobby knees.

When I was a lonely kid, books were my escape. I never really saw myself in books until I was older. There’d be bits in stories here and there (e.g. A kid in the book loved horses, and I was a horse nut. Harriet was overly curious about people? Me, too!). And maybe, in part, because of how I didn’t see myself as a whole in books as a kid, I often feel different and separate from those around me. Feeling abnormal in itself is a pretty shared understanding (We’re ALL weirdos!), but having a bicultural identity certainly magnifies the experience. Granted, I was getting most of my books from a Wyoming library that underestimated its Latino population by at least a few, so there were probably more stories out there than I wasn’t finding.

I grew up in Wyoming, where I could count the other non-Anglo kids at my school on one hand. My mom missed her family, missed the sunshine, missed seeing people like her, so we’d drive to East L.A. in the summertime to visit. My grandma and aunts would make all of the foods we couldn’t get in Wyoming and bring my favorite orejas from the panadería. Some of my cousins would tease me about my pale skin (I look just like my dad.), so I’d sit on the porch and watch my also shy uncle tend his jasmine and geraniums while the rest of the family visited inside. You could hear them laughing all the way down the block. We’d go back to Wyoming and I’d ride horses, trudge through snow, and eat American foods. The taco shells and beans in my hometown grocery store were labeled as “Spanish Foods.” I always felt a bit disconnected and different, no matter where I was. My parents split up and I lived with my mom in New Mexico and California. I was in primarily Latino communities, but still stood apart because of my Anglo features. Kids called me gringa and worse. I read more. My school didn’t have a library, the town didn’t have a bookstore, and the public library’s shelves were pretty spare, but I found what I could. I identified with S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders being from the wrong side of the tracks, but found nothing about Mexican-American kids or mixed culture kids. I would have been overjoyed to find Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, A Girl in Pieces as a teen.

13170031The protagonist in my first book, Pickle, is straight up Mexican American. The main character in my next novel is a mixed Latino like me, and writing has been a little bit more of a personal journey. I’ve taken a little longer with it, because I want to do it right. There’s so much I want to include, and I’m still working on how much serves the story. I know that there are other writers out there who balance between environments and depend on cultural code-switching to find their way. And there are kids that are looking for those stories, that need them. Books are touchstones. Identity, displacement, and belonging are important themes in middle grade and YA fiction that can reach all readers. The crazy thing about the loneliness of feeling different from our peers is that it’s probably one of our most communal traits. So, as a writer, I’ll continue to write about Latino kids and put little pieces of myself and my world in there. I implore you to do the same. And putting your truth into stories isn’t necessarily autobiographical. I think the best stories come from combining what you love with what you wish there was a story about.

Every kid should be able to find mirrors on the bookshelves, and it’s especially crucial for those of us who might struggle to fit into their worlds. Let’s put more stories out there, because you can’t always tell who might need them.

 

BakerBWheadshotKim’s debut middle grade novel, Pickle (Macmillan), was a finalist for the 2013 Children’s Choice Awards, Book of the Year (5th and 6th grade), one of Mamiverse’s Top 50 Latino Children’s Books You Should Know, and the recipient of the 2013 SCBWI Crystal Kite West award. She lives with her family in Seattle and can often be found in the woods, despite a chronic fear of bears. Find out more at www.kimbakerbooks.com.

Author Robin Herrera Sees Her Grandma in Herself & Her Storytelling

By Robin Herrera

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

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

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

Robin Herrera  img001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Three Reasons Why I Use Spanish Phrases in My Writing

By Noemi Gamel

 “Motherf—s will read a book that’s one third Elvish, but put two sentences in Spanish and they [white people] think we’re taking over.”
 — Junot Diaz, Professor of Writing at MIT

Junot speaks plainly. This quote was the MIT professor’s response when asked why he used Spanish phrases in his writing. As a Mexican-American writer, whose first language was Spanish but was educated entirely in English, this topic strikes a raw chord with me.

I write in English, even the dialogue that is spoken by primarily Spanish-speaking characters, but I often interject Spanish phrases in my prose. From a strictly technical perspective, I do this because my cognition is in English and my Spanish writing level is poor. To remind the reader that the character speaks Spanish, I interject occasional phrases in Spanish that serve as electric literary language shocks. From a social and emotional perspective, there are three more complex and profound reasons for my use of Spanish phrases in my writing.

1. Because I must.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
— Maya Angelou, Author and Poet

I blend Spanish with English because the language is an indelible part of me. It was my first language. I also use Spanish phrases to reflect the reality of the marriage of both languages in characters that grew up along the Texas-Mexican border, as I did. I may think in English. I may write better in English. Heck, I think I even speak English better than I do Spanish (but please don’t tell my parents!). In spite of the effects of American assimilation, Spanish is the untold story I bear inside of me. The Spanish words flow out of my hands just like carbon dioxide flows out with my breath. It is effortless, inevitable, and life-sustaining.

2. To teach children that speaking a second language is a gift.

“We need to help students and parents cherish and preserve the ethnic and cultural diversity that nourishes and strengthens this community – and this nation.”
— Cesar Chavez, Mexican-American farm worker and activist

I attended an elementary school in the south side of McAllen, Texas. McAllen is a small city less than 10 miles from the border with Mexico. There were maybe two children in my grade level whose parents spoke English at home. Most of the teachers at the school were of Mexican descent. Yet, we were not allowed to speak Spanish at school. The Spanish language was treated as a blemish that had to be obliterated.

Fast forward two decades (OK, maybe three) later, and I am astonished to see how many Texas public schools have dual language programs. My children attended a private Montessori school that included Spanish in the curriculum. Private Spanish immersion schools are popping up everywhere. Finally, the Texas education system has received a clue from the words of Cesar Chavez. The power and value of speaking two languages is fully recognized. Most importantly, educators no longer treat Spanish as a shameful entity. Latino children are given the freedom to be proud of their native language.

I interject Spanish phrases into my writing to reinforce that sentiment. I want Latino children to feel the same pride I felt when I first heard Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita” on the radio. The more these children see their native language in the media, whether it is books, television, or movies, the more that sense of pride and belonging is reinforced. Speaking a language in addition to English is not something to be swept under the rug. They should display it with pride.

3. To share the beauty of the Latino culture.

“A lot of different flowers make a bouquet.”
–Muslim Proverb

Growing up as the daughter of immigrants and living as an expatriate in Costa Rica as an adult has taught me about the intrinsic importance of language in cultural adaptation and acceptance. I use Spanish phrases in my writing to share the beauty of my culture with others. Spanish is just one of the flowers that make up the bouquet of diversity in America that adds to the natural beauty of the people that make up its population.

Spanish is a rhythmic, flowery language filled with metaphors. I often can capture an emotion better with a Spanish term or phrase than I can in English. I hope that when I do that, the reader, especially if they are not Latino, catches a glimpse into the colorful Latino culture.

In the recent months, the lack of diversity in children’s literature has taken the spotlight in part as a result of the formidable efforts of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks team. As a writer, I have felt validated by this group regarding my use of Spanish words and phrases in my writing. I hope other writers follow suit. As a reader, I am excited to think that I may now encounter other languages in the books that I read. There is no reason to be afraid.

NoemiNoemi Gamel was born and raised in south Texas along the Mexican border. She practiced as a physician for eight years before putting her career on hold to write diverse children’s fantasy books and to travel the world with her partner, Chris, and their two children. She wrote The Black Rose and Other Scary Stories That Happened To Me! as an homage to the Mexican folktales of her childhood. The Iris of Issoria, a children’s fantasy novel, will be available October 7, 2014. For more information, visit her at www.NoemiGamel.com or follow her on Twitter at @NoemiGamel.

Pig Park and the Cosmic Race: Diversity and Identity in My New YA Novel

By Claudia Guadalupe Martinez

As a kid, I assumed everyone around me was Mexican. I lived less than a mile from the Texas-Mexico border, so we pretty much were Mexican. This neighborhood inspired my first novel, The Smell of Old Lady Perfume–a world vastly different from the one that surrounds my protagonist, Masi Burciaga, in my new novel Pig Park. Masi’s cast of neighbors runs the gamut from the Nowaks to the Wongs.

2236319Nevertheless, Mexican identity is something I thought very much about as I wrote. Two-thirds of the Latino population in the U.S. was of Mexican descent in the last Census, and I can’t help asking myself what it means to be Mexican these days. I didn’t grow up purposefully Mexi-centric. I was a product of my environment. I’d never had the opportunity to truly interact with non-Mexicans, non-Mexican Latinos, or Mexicans with experiences significantly different from mine until I moved to California for college.

Even then, the diversity I experienced was a somewhat artificial one created by a college admissions team. California was still the Southwest, and my new community and I still shared many experiences. But seriously, since I barely knew how to drive, I can hardly say I experienced L.A.

Chicago would be different. One day, I cashed in my airline miles and set off to visit a friend there. I walked into a coffee shop and stumbled onto a flier for an apartment rental. So began my long-term relationship with the city and neighborhood that would inspire Pig Park.

My new Chicago landlady occasionally referred to my neighborhood as Mexican, but my neighbors included Mexicans, African Americans, Filipinos, Puerto Ricans, and miscellaneous white folks. Everyone just mixed it up.

18528311Mexicans have formed communities in Chicago since the 1850’s. And, while a 2012 Census study from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research named Chicago the most segregated city in America, Chicagoland’s Mexican population is massive enough at 1.4 million that some neighborhood overflow is to be expected. This is how diversity develops naturally. Scholar José Vasconcelos talked about Mexicans as “the cosmic race;” behind it was the idea that we actually have a little bit of everything in us, that we like to mix it up, eventually transcending racial and ethnic categories.

Life happened, as it is wont to do. I eventually got married, moved into a house in a new neighborhood, and became a mom. My husband is of the sort who wouldn’t be caught dead putting ketchup on a hot dog and gladly plays tour guide to visiting family and friends, introducing them to the many surprises of our city. He is a Chicagoan through and through. He is also of Guatemalan and Salvadoran descent. As such, I don’t know if my two-year daughter and my son (who will be born this October) will consider themselves Mexican or not. After all, identity is a fluid thing, partially assumed and partially assigned. My husband and I hope they consider themselves whatever they want, and are never made to feel that they can’t.

I wrote Pig Park recognizing that the world my children will be a part of isn’t exactly one thing, and that this is the type of world many kids are increasingly growing up in.

CGMTZ_photoby neus raffols_color_CROPPEDClaudia Guadalupe Martinez is the author of The Smell of Old Lady Perfume (Cinco Puntos, 2008) and Pig Park (Cinco Puntos, 2014). She grew up in sunny El Paso, Texas, where she learned that letters form words from reading the subtitles of old westerns with her father. She now lives and writes in Chicago.

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!