Book Review: Federico and the Wolf by Rebecca J. Gomez, Illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

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Reviewed by Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez, PhD & Ingrid Campos 

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: With his red hoodie on and his bicycle basket full of food, Federico is ready to visit Abuelo. But on the way, he meets a hungry wolf. And now his grandfather bears a striking resemblance to el lobo. Fortunately, Federico is quick and clever—and just happens to be carrying a spicy surprise! Federico drives the wolf away, and he and Abuelo celebrate with a special salsa. Recipe included.

OUR TWO CENTS: Rebecca J. Gomez’s Federico and the Wolf  is an illustrated book about a young boy named Federico who is sent to the market to pick up ingredients to make pico de gallo with his abuelo. As he travels through a forest-like park, he meets a hungry lobo who wants his food. When Federico says no the lobo comes up with a plan and meets Federico at his abuelo’s shop. The lobo dresses up as Federico’s abuelo and tries to eat him. Using chiles and peppers. Federico is able to ward off the lobo. 

With Federico and the Wolf  Gomez and Chavarri present a retelling of the classic tale, The Little Red Riding Hood. The differences from the classic tale and Gomez’s is that the protagonist is a Mexican-American boy in a modern setting. In this version, Federico is sent to the marketplace to find ingredients such as jalapeños, onions, garlic, limes, and fresh herbs with which to make Pico de Gallo. Instead of the classic red cape, Federico wears a sleeveless red hoodie and his basket is attached to the front of  his bike, which he uses to get to the market and to Abuelo’s shop through a park with a forest feel. Instead of chopping down the wolf with an axe, Federico uses his peppers and chiles to lure the lobo away and rescue his abuelo. There are a few Spanish words sprinkled throughout the story that are simple enough to translate with context clues from the narrative and from the illustrations. However, the book does include a glossary of Spanish words and as an added bonus, a recipe for Pico de Gallo. The differences in this retelling make Federico and the Wolf  a classic in and of itself. 

 Elisa Chavarri’s illustrations include colorful and bold images. One of the most vibrant scenes is the marketplace. There are many details any observant reader can point out, such as guitars, flores, the jars of red and green goods, and other people walking around with their bags. Federico’s bag has a luchador face on it. The market has fruit stands and a churro vendor. What makes the scene more colorful is the papel picado hanging above the market. The illustrations of the lobo are excellently done and are humorous, such as when he dresses up as abuelo and eats the chiles. Chavarri’s detail for facial expressions on the main characters adds another layer of complexity to the story.  From the cover, the wolf looks mischievous and cunning. Federico, on the other hand, has a sly smile that makes him look confident and like he can certainly outwit the lobo. When brave Federico shoves an habanero in the wolf’s mouth, Federico’s hand looks tiny in comparison to the conniving wolf’s enormous teeth. And in the next scene, Federico stands with hands on hips, like a superhero, while the wolf’s wild eyes are red and full of tears, tongue sticking out showing readers just how spicy a habanero can be. Chavarri’s illustrations complement the story perfectly. 

Additionally, Gomez’s use of rhyme makes the story even more entertaining for young readers. Gomez follows an ABCB rhythm which gives the story the classic fairy tale, sing song, feel. The rhyme scheme creates an additional layer of fun for readers. For example, the story opens with:

  Once upon a modern time

a boy named Federico

left to buy ingredients 

to make the perfect pico. 

In this quatrain, or set of four lines, the last word of the second line rhymes with the last word of the fourth line. It might be fun to let younger readers find the rhyme words as they read. For the most part, the entire story is told in the ABCB rhyme pattern, which readers will definitely catch as they follow Federico through the story. 

We find Gomez and Chavarri’s Federico and the Wolf  significantly powerful because it represents a young, brown, Mexican-American boy standing up to the “big, bad wolf” threatening his existence. Just like in the story about Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf in this version can be read as a representation of many social threats in the child’s life. Federico is not afraid, although he is surprised to see the wolf in his abuelo’s clothes, because unknowingly his journey prepared him for this moment of confrontation. Federico uses the ingredients for Pico de Gallo to attack and disempower the wolf. By using these ingredients, Federico depends on his family knowledge and on his heritage to survive and thrive. Readers, young and old, will find themselves cheering for Federico.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rebecca J. Gomez has been writing stories and poems for kids since she was five years old. She also loves to hike, draw, and play games with her husband and their three children. She has co-authored four picture books with Corey Rosen Schwartz. Federico and the Wolf is her first solo picture book.

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ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Elisa Chavarri is a freelance illustrator originally from Lima, Peru. She did much of her growing up in Northern Michigan where she now resides with her husband, 6yr old Lucia, and 3yr old Marcel. Elisa graduated with honors from The Savannah College of Art and Design, where she majored in Classical Animation and minored in Comics.  

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ABOUT THE REVIEWERSSonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Ingrid Campos is a 19-year-old college student interested in Latinx Literature. After graduating from LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) this year with an associates in Writing and Literature, she will continue her studies at Queens College to earn her Bachelors in English Education 7-12 . Ingrid was born and raised in Queens, New York. As a Mexican-American living in Queens and graduating from the public school system, Ingrid is inspired to become a high school teacher. One of her main goals is to center academic curriculums around more diversity and inclusivity towards Black and Brown students.

Book Review: Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

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Review by Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez, PhD & Ingrid Campos

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Efrén Nava’s Amá is his Superwoman—or Soperwoman, named after the delicious Mexican sopes his mother often prepares. Both Amá and Apá work hard all day to provide for the family, making sure Efrén and his younger siblings Max and Mía feel safe and loved.

But Efrén worries about his parents; although he’s American-born, his parents are undocumented. His worst nightmare comes true one day when Amá doesn’t return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, México.

Now more than ever, Efrén must channel his inner Soperboy to help take care of and try to reunite his family.

A glossary of Spanish words is included in the back of the book. 

OUR TWO CENTS: Ernesto Cisneros’ Efrén Divided (2020) centers Efrén Nava, a young Mexican-American boy who lives with his parents and two siblings in Highland, California. In the novel, Amá works as well as takes care of household responsibilities and Apá goes off to work. Efrén refers to Amá as Soperwoman, after her Mexican sopes, for being able to whip up culinary miracles from the very little they have. While Efrén is a U.S Citizen, his parents are undocumented and the possibility of them being deported hangs over Efrén each night his Amá out late working–afraid she might not return. When Amá goes out to interview for a different job she is caught by ICE and is immediately deported to Tijuana, Mexico. Amá’s absence disrupts the family’s routine and Efrén finds himself responsible for his two younger siblings while Apá works countless, sleepless nights to send Amá money for her return. One day on their way to school, Efrén’s best friend, David, decides he wants to run for school president. After Amá gets deported, Efrén is unable to concentrate and unable to meet  his school responsibilities. Efrén embarks on a journey into Mexico where he meets a friendly taxi man, Lalo, who helps him find his way to his mother. While Amá’s return is uncertain, Efrén decides if running for class president against his best friend is the best thing for him. 

With Efrén Divided, Cisneros shines a spotlight on the emotional toll of having a  mixed-status family when the U.S. government is bent on separating families. Efrén hears about families getting separated at the U.S./Mexico border from the news, from his friends, and from people around his neighborhood. ICE has become an ominous presence in his personal life but also in his community: “He’d heard about ICE setting up checkpoints and literally taking people off the street. He’d heard about ICE helicopters scaring people out of their homes and hauling them away. He’d even heard of ICE making stops at Mexican-geared supermarkets and handcuffing anyone who couldn’t prove they belonged. Whether the rumors were true or not, they sounded real enough to worry him” (Cisneros 49). Constantly hearing about ICE coming and taking family members is psychologically taxing, and for children, this type of violence disrupts any sense of safety children may be trying  to create for themselves. Efrén doesn’t know if ICE is, in fact, arresting people, but he knows enough about ICE to be worried anyway. At 12 years old, he knows enough about systemic power and the ways it’s abused to know that he doesn’t need to see ICE separating families to believe it’s happening and to fear it could happen to his family. He is also aware that the issue with citizenship is one of belonging in some sort of American imaginary where only certain people belong. After his mother is deported, Efrén learns more about ICE, raids, and crossing the border from doing online research and from gossip at his local laundromat. There’s a sense that being more informed is empowering to Efrén, but there are moments when all of the information is debilitating because he feels helpless–not just to help his mother but powerless to tackle an entire system.   

After Amá is deported, Efrén undergoes an adultification process–readers will see him take on more adult responsibilities like taking care of his younger siblings, maintaining the household, and becoming his father’s confidant. It’s clear these responsibilities fall on him because he’s the oldest child. Through this process, Efrén has to learn to do everything Amá did for them and he develops greater  empathy  for all of this labor. One of the ways this adultification is evident is in Efrén’s concern over money for food. Apá gives him the little money he can, but when it’s not enough, Apá suggests he use Amá’s stash of quarters for laundry. As a way to stretch out the money as much as he can, he decides to also take food from school: “He leaned up against the closest trash bin and grabbed some of the unopened bags of celery and crackers students had thoughtlessly tossed away” (Cisneros 91). Efrén recognizes the act of taking the food as stealing and as a necessary risk to help his family. This moment is particularly interesting because he’s put in a position that forces him to question what he’s learned about “right and wrong.” It’s wrong to steal, but it would also be wrong to let his younger siblings go hungry. He resolves that “taking the food from the trash bin wasn’t really stealing” (93). He learns more about these adult “gray areas” throughout the novel including when he learns that what Amá plans to do to get back to her family is considered a crime and later when he witnesses families holding one another through a man-made border wall. 

Apá’s decision to let Efrén cross into Tijuana by himself is another example in the novel of  the ways that the current immigration system in the U.S. forces children to grow up. Efrén and his dad need to get Amá the money to live in TIjuana and eventually make her way back to the U.S. Apá is ready to take the risk of crossing the border to deliver the money, knowing full well that, if he gets caught, he will also be separated from his children. Efrén convinces him that another separation will not help, so Efrén is then tasked with taking a large amount of money over the border to give to his mother. The entire section that takes place in Tijuana is both nerve-wracking and tender. Cisneros does an excellent job at building tension and at rewarding the reader with a heartfelt mother/son reunion. But again, Tijuana is a reminder of how Efrén has been forced to act as an adult because the system is set up against his family. What he witnesses in Tijuana also allows for a moment of introspection on what it means to be a U.S. citizen. Readers also see the ways that Efrén’s parents have been disempowered because of the lack of citizenship; even though Efrén sees his parents as superheroes, there’s a system in place created to dehumanize them, and people like them.

Parallel to the storyline of Amá getting deported is also the storyline of the 7th grade class elections. Efrén volunteers as campaign manager for David, who is running against  their classmate, Jennifer. David is white and from a broken family, and he thinks winning the election will give him enough clout to change how his peers view him. On the other hand, Jennifer is running to help children and parents who are undocumented like her. After confiding in one another that they both have mixed-status families Jennifer says, “‘Nos quisieron enterrar, pero no sabían que éramos semillas […] My mom likes to remind me of this every day. She’s right though. That’s why I’m running. Figured I could make a difference, even if just at school” Cisneros 31). The Mexican saying indeed plants itself in Efrén’s mind and grows as the novel progresses, later informing his decision to also run against his best friend for president and to help keep his community informed on immigration issues and their rights. For both Jennifer and Efrén, the school elections become a way to effect changes where they can. The elections and Efrén’s participation show readers that even the smallest form of governing, like class elections, can serve as forms of empowerment for students and for the community at large. Additionally, school elections are an excellent way to discuss power and governing bodies with young people. Jennifer and Efrén demonstrate that power can be used for good rather than using it to exploit those without it. 

We recommend everyone read Efrén Divided. With Efrén, Cisneros has created a sensitive and caring young boy—of which we need more and more representations. Efrén is an intelligent 12-year-old, but what helps him understand his family’s circumstances and the political climate around him is his kindness. While the story focuses on immigration, it’s also about finding self-empowerment while living in a system determined to disenfranchise people. We also particularly liked the focus on the emotional toll that children with citizenship in mixed-status families experience. Cisneros makes clear that the emotional burden is due to a broken immigration system and not, in this case, because of any decisions made by the parents. Throughout the novel, it’s also evident that ICE is terrorizing  communities and, ultimately, traumatizing people. And one of the ways this happens is by not allowing parents to parent their children by forcefully removing the parent from the picture because of citizenship status. With everything impacting his mental health, Efrén still lets hope guide him to fight for a more just system for all. Efrén Divided is a powerful and heartwarming read about a young boy’s desire to bring his family together after being separated by ICE and learning that he has more power than he realized. Cisneros reminds readers that at the end “somos semillitas.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ernesto Cisneros was born and raised in Santa Ana, California, where he still teaches. Efrén Divided is his first book. He holds an English degree from the University of California, Irvine; a teaching credential from California State University, Long Beach; as well as a master of fine arts in creative writing from National University. As an author, he believes in providing today’s youth with an honest depiction of characters with whom they can identify. The real world is filled with amazing people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. His work strives to reflect that. You can visit him online at www.ernestocisneros.com.

Click here for a Q&A we did with Ernesto Cisneros.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWERSSonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Ingrid Campos is a 19-year-old college student interested in Latinx Literature. After graduating from LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) this year with an associates in Writing and Literature, she will continue her studies at Queens College to earn her Bachelors in English Education 7-12 . Ingrid was born and raised in Queens, New York. As a Mexican-American living in Queens and graduating from the public school system, Ingrid is inspired to become a high school teacher. One of her main goals is to center academic curriculums around more diversity and inclusivity towards Black and Brown students.

Book Review: Todos Iguales: Un Corrido de Lemon Grove/ All Equal: A Ballad of Lemon Grove by Christy Hale

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Reviewed by Sanjuana Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Roberto Àlvarez loved school. Along with other Mexican American children, he attended the Lemon Grove School, where all students—Mexican American and Anglo—studied together as  equals.

In the summer of 1930, the Mexican families learned of a plan to segregate their children in a small, inferior school. Refusing to let this happen, the parents organized. They filed a lawsuit against the school board, with twelve-year-old Roberto as the plaintiff. On March 12, 1931, the judge announced his ruling, supporting the children’s right to equal education. The Mexican American students were immediately reinstated in the Lemon Grove School to learn as equals once again.

With captivating illustrations inspired by vintage citrus crate labels, Christy Hale brings to life the little-known story of the first successful school desegregation case in the United States. It stands as an empowering case in the United States. It stands as an empowering testament to an immigrant community and its tenacity in the fight for educational equity.

MY TWO CENTS: I first learned about this case when I was a PhD student at Georgia State University in a sociology of education course. I remember feeling cheated when I realized that I had not learned about this important piece of American history. This book details the story of the first school desegregation case in the U.S. and does so in a way that children can understand the injustice that the families faced and the courage that it took to challenge school segregation.

The book begins by telling the reader about Roberto Álvarez, a Mexican American 12 year old who attends school in Lemon Grove. Roberto and all the other Mexican children attended the same school as the White children. During the summer of 1930, the families learned that a new school was being built for the Mexican students. When the students returned to school in January of 1931, the principal did not allow the students to enter the school and told them “move aside and let the Anglo students go to class… You do not belong here” (n.p.).

The parents organized. They met with the Mexican consul who believed that “the new school was just a pretext to segregate all the Mexican American children and give them an inferior education” (n.p). The parents filed a lawsuit against the school board and began to raise money for the legal expenses. Roberto Álvarez was named as the plaintiff in the case of Roberto Álvarez v. the Boards of Trustees of Lemon Grove School District. Roberto testified in court and the judge ruled that the school district could not separate all the Mexican American students. All of the students returned to their school the following Monday.

The illustrations in this book are colorful, bold, and bright. One of the features that I noticed in the illustrations was the beautiful way in which the author/illustrator included details such as women’s trenzas, mandiles (aprons), and features of the community in which the children lived. Hale was also able to capture the different emotions that the children experienced. She captured the joy of playing outside and also how scared the children felt as they were being taken to a new school. An author’s note also explains how the illustrations are based on vintage California citrus labels.

One of the obvious characteristics of this book is how it privileges the Spanish translation of the texts. Very few books place the Spanish translation first on the page. The back matter provides extensive detail about the case including what occurred before, during the case, and after. It includes the names of all the children who were included in the court case and gives detailed information about Roberto Ricardo Álvarez, the main character in the story.

This books begins by honoring the “corrido” on which this book is based on: “Un Corrido de Lemon Grove.” A “corrido” is a traditional Mexican story song. This particular corrido details the story of the community in Lemon Grove (details about corridos are included in the back matter). The two pages that feature the corrido grant permission for photocopying. This book could be used a mentor text for students who want to write their own corrido. This is a book that should also be a part of any text set that includes civil rights topics. The case set the stage for Brown v Board and it should be a topic that is introduced to students.

TEACHER RESOURCES: A video titled The Lemon Grove Incident tells about the court case. This was produced by PBS.

Zinn Education Project: Lemon Grove Incident- This page includes a description of the incident as well as a list of teaching resources.

Lee and Low provides a teacher guide for this book.

Lee and Low Blog Post- “How One Teacher Used Todos Iguales to Inspire Social Justice”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR (from her website): When I was little, I knew I shouldn’t make marks in books, so instead, I drew on tiny pieces of paper and tucked my “illustrations” alongside the words. At age ten, I decided to become a writer and illustrator. Back then, my best friend and I acted out the books we loved. Our favorite was Harriet the Spy. Dressed in disguises, we roamed the neighborhood investigating and jotting down our observations in our secret notebooks, just like Harriet. Back at spy headquarters we shared our discoveries with each other. Soon we began writing and illustrating our own stories every day after school.

I have created books as long as I can remember. I studied calligraphy, bookbinding, letterpress and all other means of printing, typography, design, and illustration.

After earning a B.A. in Fine Arts and a Masters in Teaching at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, I worked as an art educator for several years. Then I decided to pursue my childhood dream by relocating to Brooklyn, New York to study design and illustration at Pratt Institute.

I taught at the New York Center for Book Arts and as an adjunct professor in the Communication Design department at Pratt Institute while working in children’s book publishing as a designer and art director. During this period, I also began illustrating and have since worked on over 30 books—writing some of those too.

After many years in New York, I moved to Northern California where I continue to work as a writer, illustrator, designer, art director, and as an educator—offering programs at museums, schools, and libraries. I teach an online course in Writing for Picture Books through the illustration department at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Sanjuana C. Rodriguez is an Assistant Professor of Literacy and Reading Education in the Elementary and Early Childhood Department at Kennesaw State University. Her research interests include the early literacy development of culturally and linguistically diverse students, early writing development, literacy development of students who are emergent bilinguals, and Latinx children’s literature. She has published in journals such as Journal of Language and Literacy Education, Language Arts, and Language Arts Journal of Michigan.

Book Review: ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat by Raúl the Third with color by Elaine Bay

Review by Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez, PhD and Ingrid Campos

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: In this new Vamos! title, Let’s Go Eat, Little Lobo is excited to take in a show with wrestling star El Toro in his bustling border town. After getting lunch orders from The Bull and his friends to help prepare for the event, Little Lobo takes readers on a tour of food trucks that sell his favorite foods, like quesadillas with red peppers and Mexican-Korean tacos. Peppered with easy-to-remember Latin-American Spanish vocabulary, this glorious celebration of food is sure to leave every reader hungry for lunch!

OUR TWO CENTS: ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat by Raúl the Third with color by Elaine Bay centers Little Lobo, his dog Bernabé, and his rooster friend, Kooky Dooky. Little Lobo takes his delivery services to El Coliseo to meet Luchador star, El Toro, who asks Little Lobo to get lunch orders for him and all of his famished wrestling friends before the big show that night. Little Lobo, Bernabé, and Kooky Dooky visit different food trucks and food stands in the area to find some of their favorite Mexican dishes such as tacos, tamales, churros, aguas frescas, and many more delicious treats. 

¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat is crowded with fun, humorous characters from cover to cover: from a snake with a sombrero slithering up a utility pole, to a tortoise driving a “Tortas Tortuga” truck with “despacito” blazoned across the side, to “Armor Dillo,” a luchador armadillo covered in armor, and so much more. The illustrations are also action-packed, mimicking the high energy of any good lucha match. The cars speed by leaving zig-zag “vroom” behind. The floor retumba like waves at the rumble of the luchadors’ hungry tummies. Puffs of smoke or exhaust rise as Little Lobo dashes from one place to the next. Elaine’s color choices bring the book to life–resembling Little Lobo’s lively neighborhood. Additionally, readers will find many words for different types of foods, animals, and actions as part of the illustrations. On one spread, when Little Lobo first meets all the luchadores, their names are drawn to match their styles, like the “L” in “Lizarda” is as long as their tongue. On another page, when Little Lobo goes to pick up dessert, there are so many options that the words fill up half the page: “Flan,” “arroz con leche,” “churros,” and more. Raúl and Elaine give every inch of the pages something new for readers to find with every read.

¡Vamos! is also an extraordinary book for showcasing bilingualism in Spanish and English. Some of the speech bubbles offer immediate translation of the Spanish words and phrases: “Un poquito de esto. Un poquito de lo otro. A little of this. A little of that.” Other speech bubbles or words in the illustrations don’t offer direct translations; instead, the illustrations serve as context for translation. An example of this is when Little Lobo sits to watch the lucha, and the vendor shouts, “¡Cacahuates! ¡Palomitas! ¡Soda!” There’s no direct translation on the page but instead the reader can see the vendor toss a bag of peanuts at Little Lobo. On other pages, the English and Spanish serve as a call and response. When Little Lobo and Bernabé make it to El Coliseo for the first time, Little Lobo asks, “¡¿Qué es eso?!” and one of the luchadores responds with, “That’s our bellies. We are very hungry.” Additionally, there’s a food glossary at the end of the book, which readers can refer to if they are unfamiliar with the words. The author also encourages readers to use a Spanish-English dictionary to look up words not found in the glossary, which is a significant way to encourage proactiveness and agency in young readers. 

The heart of this story is not only Mexican food but also love and respect for street food vendors. Raúl does an excellent job at representing the diversity of street food, the types of kitchens where the food is made, and kinds of characters who make the food. After getting the long list of food orders from the luchadores, Little Lobo, Bernabé, and Kooky Dooky head outside to shop from the different food vendors. The narration reads, “A food truck is a kitchen on wheels. Food of all kinds can be prepared there. Some food sellers used modified bikes or wagons.” There are also food sellers selling out of a cooler and from a box around their neck. Additionally, in ¡Vamos!, Raúl shows that street food vendors are an important staple of any community and demonstrates how street food vendors support one another. For example, at one point in the story, Little Lobo notices: “At the elotero, the corn boils in the giant tub right on the cart. Macho gives all his husks to Tammy. She uses them to wrap her tamales.” Here, the vendors support one another by sharing supplies to create food that’ll feed a community, but the example also demonstrates how conservation is an innate part of many Latinx cultures; nothing goes to waste. 

By capturing the diversity and beauty of Mexican food and street food vendors, Raúl challenges negative stereotypes that currently may exist around both of these cultures. At a time when street vendors are under constant policing and harassment, a book like ¡Vamos! is essential reading to expand young peoples’ understanding of culinary practices and respect for those who make the food and for those who deliver it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR: (From his website) Raúl The Third is an award-winning illustrator, author, and artist living in Boston. His work centers around the contemporary Mexican-American experience and his memories of growing up in El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Lowriders in Space was nominated for a Texas BlueBonnet award in 2016-2017 and Raúl was awarded the prestigious Pura Belpré Award for Illustration by the American Library Association for Lowriders to the Center of the Earth. He was also a contributor to the SpongeBob Comics series.

¡Vamos! Let’s Go to The Market! is Raúl’s first authorial project, which he wrote and illustrated, and is colored by Elaine Bay.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWERSSonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Ingrid Campos is a 19-year-old college student interested in Latinx Literature. After graduating from LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) this year with an associates in Writing and Literature, she will continue her studies at Queens College to earn her Bachelors in English Education 7-12 . Ingrid was born and raised in Queens, New York. As a Mexican-American living in Queens and graduating from the public school system, Ingrid is inspired to become a high school teacher. One of her main goals is to center academic curriculums around more diversity and inclusivity towards Black and Brown students.

Book Review: Queen of Tejano Music: Selena by Silvia López, illus. by Paola Escobar

 

Review by Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Selena Quintanilla’s music career began at the age of nine when she started singing in her family’s band. She went from using a hairbrush as a microphone to traveling from town to town to play gigs. But Selena faced a challenge: People said that she would never make it in Tejano music, which was dominated by male performers. Selena was determined to prove them wrong.

Born and raised in Texas, Selena didn’t know how to speak Spanish, but with the help of her dad, she learned to sing it. With songs written and composed by her older brother and the fun dance steps Selena created, her band, Selena Y Los Dinos, rose to stardom! A true trailblazer, her success in Tejano music and her crossover into mainstream American music opened the door for other Latinx entertainers, and she became an inspiration for Latina girls everywhere.

MY TWO CENTS: As a middle-grader, Selena was my idol! I wish I had found her music earlier, but it was perhaps a year or so before her death. When the news broke, I was devastated and found solace in listening to her music and learning about her as much as possible. To this day, her music is a big part of my life. I had her CDs and her doll, I learned her songs and movements, and sometimes I even made up my own choreography. I approached this book, then, not only as a reviewer of children’s books but also as a lifelong fan of Selena.

 How does one introduce to children the life of such an important icon of Latinx music whose life ended so tragically and so soon? Queen of Tejano Music: Selena tells the story of Selena Quintanilla, from her childhood in Lake Jackson, Texas to her successful career as a trailblazing singer and fashion designer. Presented in twenty short vignettes, López perfectly presents enough details on each page without overwhelming the reader with too much text.

Selena Quintanilla was born on an Easter Sunday, on April 16, 1971 to Marcella and Abraham Quintanilla, who, as a young man, had dreams of a music career. Selena “had been singing almost since she could talk” and soon after her parents realized she had perfect pitch. With her brother A.B. on guitars and her sister Suzette on the drums, music became a family affair. Through the years, the family band performed anywhere they could, and after a few years, Selena y Los Dinos was born. Through this history of Selena’s life and music career, López reminds readers of the challenges she faced: overcoming the language barrier, stepping into a male-dominated music landscape, and her father’s initial opposition to Selena’s romantic relationship with Chris Pérez.

This biographical account of Selena’s life and work is inspirational. Along with some of the obstacles that Selena encountered, the author highlights so many of the singer’s achievements that paved the way for women in music. At age fifteen, Selena won a Tejano Music Award for Female Vocalist of the Year, an accolade she continued receiving for years, along with other ones. She later received a Grammy Award for Best Mexican American Album. Yet, her success was not only measured in awards. López writes about Selena as a philanthropist, fashion designer, entrepreneur, and caring human who loved her family.

The narrative part of the book does not explicitly mention Selena’s death. Rather, this information is offered on the back pages of the book. I debated whether this part of Selena’s story should have been included in the main narrative or not. Yet, I thought it was handled gracefully. By writing the main text in past tense, López alludes to her passing and then offers more information about it after the last vignette. At this point, readers are presented with a timeline that begins with Selena’s birth in 1971 and ends in 1997, when the movie Selena starring Jennifer Lopez opened in theaters. Following the timeline, the book presents “A Little More About…,” a section with short pieces of information about Tex-Mex Music, Quinceañeras, and Corpus Christi, among others, as well as more details about Selena, including her tragic death. One observation to make here is the section titled “Hispanics or Latinos” seems to present the terms as synonyms: “Tejanos are part of a larger group of Americans, called Hispanics or Latinos, who have Spanish-speaking ancestors.” While many Latinxs are also Hispanic, there are some differences that could have been easily explained there. Nevertheless, the information is accessible, clear, and easy to understand.

The colorful illustrations are as vibrant as Selena’s smile and capture the singer’s bubbly personality. Paola Escobar creates a medley of double-page spreads and illustrated vignettes that depict in more detail specific moments in Selena’s life and specific aspects of her culture. One page depicts five moments as if they were Polaroid pictures, inviting the reader perhaps to think of her song “Fotos y Recuerdos” (pictures and memories). I noticed that on almost every page or spread, a flower is illustrated, whether it is a print fabric, picture, real flower, or even a pin. Details such as this one are just an example of how Escobar’s illustrations enhance and complement López’s writing to create an engaging work of art.

There have been several books and media about Selena’s life, in addition to musical tributes, fan-made merchandise, anniversary albums, and makeup lines, to name a few. In October 17, 2017, Google honored her with a doodle, as part of the launch of a virtual exhibit on Google Arts & Culture. Joining these tributes, Queen of Tejano Music: Selena is a celebration of the singer’s life—her music, her fashion, her memory, and her legacy, still alive and strong 25 years after her passing. A perfect addition to any picture book collection!

Queen of Tejano Music: Selena releases August 25, 2020 in both English and Spanish.

 

IMG_6548.JPGABOUT THE AUTHOR: (from the dust jacket) A Cuba native raised in Miami, Silvia López holds degrees in English, library science, and educational technology. Her career as a children’s librarian at schools and public libraries spans over three decades. She is a published author of books for children, including biographies and picture books such as Just Right Family: An Adoption Story, and a collaboration with Italian artist Guido Daniele, Handimals: Animals in Art and Nature. Also, her digital book, Zuzuncito: Un Cuento del Pájaro Abeja Cubano, was named Best Children’s Picture eBook of 2017 by the International Society of Latino Authors.

 

Paola Escobar Biography - pickledinkABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Paola Escobar is a Colombian graphic designer and illustrator. She has illustrated books for a variety of publishers in Latin America, Europe, and the United States, as well as for digital and print magazines. Some of her work includes Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, written by Anika Aldamuy Denise, and Little Guides to Great Lives: Anne Frank, written by Isabel Thomas. She is currently drawing and living very happily in Bogotá with her husband and her dog, Flora.

 

 

headshotABOUT THE REVIEWER: Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez is an Assistant Professor of English (Children’s Literature) at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.  Her teaching and research are in the areas of children’s literature (particularly Latinx literature), girlhood studies, and children’s cultures. Currently her research examines representation in transitional chapter books that feature Latinx characters. In addition, she is managing editor of Anansesem: The Caribbean Children’s Literature Magazine. She has presented on Latinx children’s books at various conferences and has served on children’s book award committees such as the 2018 Pura Belpré Award. At present, she is part of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s “A Baker’s Dozen” committee.

 

Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors Part 14: Ernesto Cisneros

 

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This is the 14th in an occasional series about middle grade Latinx authors. We decided to shine a spotlight on middle grade writers and their novels because, often, they are “stuck in the middle”–sandwiched between and overlooked for picture books and young adult novels. The middle grades are a crucial time in child development socially, emotionally, and academically. The books that speak to these young readers tend to have lots of heart and great voices that capture all that is awkward and brilliant about that time.

Today, we highlight Ernesto Cisneros.

Ernesto Cisneros was born and raised in Santa Ana, California, where he still teaches. Efrén Divided is his first book. He holds an English degree from the University of California, Irvine; a teaching credential from California State University, Long Beach; as well as a master of fine arts in creative writing from National University. As an author, he believes in providing today’s youth with an honest depiction of characters with whom they can identify. The real world is filled with amazing people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. His work strives to reflect that. You can visit him online at www.ernestocisneros.com.

 

Here is the publisher’s description:

Efrén Nava’s Amá is his Superwoman—or Soperwoman, named after the delicious Mexican sopes his mother often prepares. Both Amá and Apá work hard all day to provide for the family, making sure Efrén and his younger siblings Max and Mía feel safe and loved.

But Efrén worries about his parents; although he’s American-born, his parents are undocumented. His worst nightmare comes true one day when Amá doesn’t return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, México.

Now more than ever, Efrén must channel his inner Soperboy to help take care of and try to reunite his family.

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Ernesto Cisneros

Q. Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

A long, long time ago, during my senior year in high school, my teacher Sharon Saxton invited Helena Maria Miramontes to speak with our classroom about her anthology, The Moths and Other Short Stories. I was pleasantly surprised to find that someone else saw the world through a similar lens as me—same Latinx lens. Her story made me feel connected, grounded. This was the first time that the idea of being a writer ever entered my mind. It also served as my motivation for writing my first short story—which I am now turning into my very own YA novel, entitled: The Writing on the Wall.

Q. Why do you choose to write middle grade novels?

After giving up on a career writing screenplays, I decided to drop writing altogether and began teaching instead. The itch to write proved to be to powerful. I began writing short stories that served as prompts and writing samples for my students which they began to really enjoy. Before long, my students began pushing me to write. Eventually, I joined SCBWI and met a handful of individuals who helped me find my way.

Q. What are some of your favorite middle grade novels?

There so many fantastic middle grade novels out there, but the ones I turn to every time I need further encouragement are: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli because of they way it deals with serious issues of race, running away, and mental health in a way that’s accessible to young children. There’s also Operation Frog Effect by Sarah Scheerger. I love the way she captures the voices of such diverse characters in an entertaining fashion—makes it all seem so effortless, although I know better.

Q. If you could give your middle-grade self some advice, what would it be?

My advice is to believe in myself and to value my heart. It is easily my most important asset I have because it definitely seeps its way into everything I write.

Q: Please finish this sentence: Middle grade novels are important because…

…they reach children while they are still at work shaping their views of the world. I feel that books can serve as moral compasses that can help instill morals, characters, and empathy—all things the world really needs.

 

 

photo by Saryna A. JonesCindy L. Rodriguez was a newspaper reporter for The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe before becoming a public school teacher. She is now a reading specialist at a Connecticut middle school. Cindy is a U.S.-born Latina of Puerto Rican and Brazilian descent. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU. Her debut contemporary YA novel is When Reason Breaks (Bloomsbury 2015). She also has an essay in Life Inside My Mind (Simon Pulse 2018) and wrote the text for Volleyball Ace, a Jake Maddox book (Capstone 2020). She can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads