Celebrating 25 Years of the Pura Belpré Award: Book Talk About Esquivel!: Space-Age Sound Artist by Susan Wood, illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

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The Pura Belpré Award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latinx writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

We have been marking the award’s 25th anniversary in different ways on the blog. Today, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez talk about Esquivel!: Space-Age Sound Artist by Susan Wood, illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. The book won the 2017 Pura Belpré Illustration Honor Award.

Cover for Esquivel!  Space-Age Sound Artist

ABOUT THE BOOK: Gorgeously illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh, this lively biography follows Juan Garcia Esquivel from Mexico to New York City. Juan grew up to the sounds of mariachi bands; he loved music and became a musical explorer. Defying convention, he created music that made people laugh and planted images in their minds. His musical dreams brought him from Mexico to America and gained him worldwide renown. Juan’s space-age lounge music—popular in the fifties and sixties—has found a new generation of listeners. This account honors Esquivel as one of the great composers of the 20th century.

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You can find our book talks on our new YouTube channel!

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Sonia 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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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. Her published work has focused on girlhood as represented in literature and Puerto Rican girls’ identity formation with Barbie dolls. She has presented research on Latinx children’s books at various conferences and has served on children’s book award committees such as the 2017 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the 2018 Pura Belpré Award. Currently, she is part of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s “A Baker’s Dozen” committee.

Book Review: Indivisible by Daniel Aleman

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Reviewed by María Dolores Águila

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Mateo Garcia and his younger sister, Sophie, have been taught to fear one word for as long as they can remember: deportation. Over the past few years, however, the fear that their undocumented immigrant parents could be sent back to Mexico started to fade. Ma and Pa have been in the United States for so long, they have American-born children, and they’re hard workers and good neighbors. When Mateo returns from school one day to find that his parents have been taken by ICE, he realizes that his family’s worst nightmare has become a reality. With his parents’ fate and his own future hanging in the balance, Mateo must figure out who he is and what he is capable of, even as he’s forced to question what it means to be an American.

Daniel Aleman’s Indivisible is a remarkable story — both powerful in its explorations of immigration in America and deeply intimate in its portrait of a teen boy driven by his fierce, protective love for his parents and his sister.

MY TWO CENTS:  I read this book in one sitting. I couldn’t put it down because I had to find out what was going to happen to Mateo and Sophie. Daniel Aleman does an amazing job of pulling the reader deeper and deeper into Mateo’s world with every turn of the page.

“Ma is always telling me how I feel too much.” 

This is the opening line of the novel, and it does an excellent job of encapsulating who Mateo is and helps the reader understand Mateo’s point of view. When things are heavy, they drag him down. When things are good, he’s floating on air. 

Within the first ten pages, the stakes of the story become apparent. Mateo’s working at his parent’s bodega, Adela’s Corner Store, stacking tortillas, when an ICE Agent comes and asks about his father. As the cashier informs the ICE Agent that Mateo’s father is not there, Mateo watches in horror, cycling through emotions – shock, fear, and ultimately numbness.

For a few days, the Garcia family is in limbo, constantly looking over their shoulder, while they wait to see what’s going to happen. When will they come back? And why is ICE looking for Mateo’s father anyway? Enough time passes and the family writes the incident off as a fluke, and Mateo goes back to focusing on his SAT and GPA so he can go to NYU and pursue his Broadway dreams. 

The next day, he’s hit with the worst news possible: his parents were arrested by ICE while he was at school. 

Mateo’s world is flipped upside down, and as a reader, I was devastated when he had to tell Sophie the news. Mateo finds himself as the head of household, having to take care of his parent’s bodega, their apartment, and his little sister. He turns inward, and keeps what happened to himself, not even telling his best friends Adam and Kimmie what has transpired.

It’s heart wrenching to read about the impacts on a family ripped apart by ICE, and readers will empathize with Mateo’s struggle to keep his emotions contained and act like nothing happened. When things can’t get any worse, we learn that CPS is looking for Mateo and Sophie. In a desperate bid to keep his sister with him, Mateo contacts his Uncle Jorge, who’s really a family friend, and asks to stay with him until his parents have their court hearing. 

While Uncle Jorge is happy to have Mateo and Sophie stay at his apartment, his wife Amy, who just had a baby, is not thrilled. Pressure builds as they struggle to cohabitate and learn that his parents’ court hearing did not go in their favor. They have been deported and find themselves back in Mexico after building a life in the United States for the last twenty years. 

It’s another blow. Mateo had been hoping against hope that things would go back to normal, but it’s clear now that things will never be the same. Sophie takes the news worse than Mateo does. She is crushed by the turn of events and falls into a deep depression.

Meanwhile, Mateo’s parents struggle to find jobs, housing, and a way to support themselves. They want the kids to stay in the United States and finish their schooling, but Sophie is desperate to be reunited with their parents. Mateo doesn’t know how he is supposed to continue to take care of the bodega, their apartment, and Sophie while pursuing his dreams now that he knows his parents are not coming back anytime soon.

This further complicates the situation with Uncle Jorge, where a temporary stay has turned indefinite, escalating the tension in the household and things begin to unravel. 

Daniel slowly realizes that he cannot do it by himself, and he reluctantly opens up to his friends about what’s happened. To his surprise, they rally around him, supporting him in ways he never expected.

Mateo’s story ends on an unexpected, yet bittersweet note, tinged with sadness, but still full of hope. 

“And no matter how hard they tried to separate us, how much the distance hurt, or how it nearly broke us, we are really, truly indivisible.”

Daniel Aleman’s Indivisible masterfully weaves a raw and heartfelt story that dares the reader to look away from the aftermath of what happens when ICE tears apart a family. Aleman challenges readers to examine their own biases when it comes to immigration and the myth of the “good immigrant”. At the core of this story, we discover how love allows perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and propels us through it. In between these moments of deep despair, there is also levity, in the form of a sweet queer romance with someone who Mateo never expected and other tiny bits of joy with his best friends, that give the reader reprieve. The themes of this text — immigration, mixed status families, citizenship, family, love, hope, and friends — easily lead to complex discussions for book clubs and classrooms. Fans of We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sánchez, I’m Not You’re Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sánchez, and Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez will enjoy reading this book.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his website): Daniel Aleman was born and raised in Mexico City. A graduate of McGill University, he is passionate about books, coffee, and dogs. After spending time in Montreal and the New York City area, he now lives in Toronto, where he is on a never-ending search for the best tacos in the city. He is the debut author of Indivisible, a young adult novel available now from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: María Dolores Águila is a Chicana writer based in San Diego, California. She writes picture books, middle grade and young adult novels celebrating and exploring the nuances of Chicanx culture and identity. She’s also a moderator of Kidlit Latinx, a writing group dedicated to supporting and amplifying Latinx voices in Children’s Literature. She has a forthcoming picture book coming in 2023. She is represented by Lindsay Auld of Writers House Literary Agency. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter

Celebrating 25 Years of the Pura Belpré Award: A Conversation with Guadalupe García McCall and Yamile Saied Méndez

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

The Pura Belpré Award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latinx writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

We have been marking the award’s 25th anniversary in different ways on the blog. Today, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Cecilia Cackley talk with Guadalupe García McCall and Yamile Saied Méndez.

Photo by Michael Mercado Smith

Guadalupe García McCall is a young adult novelist, educator, poet, and speaker. Born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, she immigrated with her close-knit family to Eagle Pass, Texas (the setting for most of her poems and some of her novels) when she was six years old.

Guadalupe is the author of Under the Mesquite (MG, Lee & Low Books, 2011), an autobiographical novel in verse based on her family’s difficult times, struggling with loss and grief during her teenage years. Her second novel, Summer of the Mariposas (MG, Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, 2012), is a magical retelling of the Odyssey starring five Mexican-American sisters and featuring monsters and legendary characters from Mexican mythology.

Guadalupe’s third novel, Shame the Stars (YA, Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, 2016), is a historical reimagining of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set during the tumultuous times at the turn of the century known as La Matanza (the slaughter/genocide). Her latest book, All the Stars Denied (YA, Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, 2018) is a companion novel to Shame the Stars and illustrates the struggles of the del Toro family 16 years later, during the 1930’s repatriation of more than a million Mexican and Mexican-Americans, 600,000 of which were US citizens.

Guadalupe’s fifth novel, The Keeper, a MG Horror/Mystery about a boy who receives increasingly threatening letters from a stranger who calls himself “the Keeper” will be available from Harper Collins on January 25, 2022, and her sixth novel, Echoes of Grace, a YA gothic set on the US/Mexico borderlands which explores the nature of sisterhood, family secrets, sexual crimes against women, and femicide is forthcoming from Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, in the Fall of 2022.

Guadalupe travels all over the country speaking to students and adults on topics of importance to the Latine community. She is an advocate for literacy and diverse books. In her travels, she is always looking for a good taco place and she never met a chocolate mole sauce she didn’t love! She loves to garden, cook, read, write, walk, and take pictures of nature. Though she keeps a home in Texas, she is currently an Assistant Professor of English at George Fox University and lives with her husband in the Pacific Northwest most of the year.

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YAMILE SAIED MÉNDEZ is a fútbol-obsessed Argentine-American Pura Belpré gold medal winning author. She lives in Utah with her Puerto Rican husband and their five kids, two adorable dogs, and one majestic cat. An inaugural Walter Dean Myers Grant recipient, she’s also a graduate of Voices of Our Nations (VONA) and the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Writing for Children’s and Young Adult program. She writes picture books, middle grade, young adult and adult romance fiction. Yamile is a founding member of Las Musas, the first collective of women and nonbinary Latinx MG and YA authors. She’s represented by Linda Camacho at Gallt & Zacker Literary.

Her novel Furia won the 2021 Pura Belpré Award.

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Sonia 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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Cecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc

Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors: Karla Arenas Valenti

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By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This is 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 Karla Arenas Valenti.

Karla Arenas Valenti is an author of picture books and middle grade novels. She loves writing stories that take readers into unexpected places (emotionally and intellectually), pushing them to explore the boundaries of what they know about themselves and the world around them.  She also loves playing with magical realism, bending the worlds of her stories to create intriguing spaces for readers to explore.

Karla is the creator of the “My Super Science Heroes” series (Sourcebooks), an exploration of key historical figures depicting science as it truly is: an epic adventure with super heroes, super evil, and super science powers! Her picture book, Maria Mariposa (Chronicle) is a bilingual story about a girl who receives a gift from her home in Mexico on her first day of school in the U.S.—and how she finds a way to share the magic of that gift with everyone around her.

Karla’s debut middle grade novel, Loteria (Knopf) takes readers deep into the heart of Mexican culture, mythology, and lore in a story about free will and a simple game of chance with and life-and-death stakes. Karla lives in the Chicagoland area with her husband and three kids, two cats, and hundreds of books.

Here is the publisher’s description of Lotería, Karla’s middle grade debut, which just released on Tuesday!

HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY!!

Cover for Lotería

The turn of a card could change your destiny in this captivating middle grade adventure based on the Lotería card game and perfect for fans of Coco. While searching for her missing cousin, a young girl is transported to a mythical kingdom, becoming entangled in a perilous game of chance.

In the hottest hour of the hottest day of the year, a fateful wind blows into Oaxaca City. It whistles down cobbled streets and rustles the jacaranda trees before slipping into the window of an eleven-year-old girl named Clara. Unbeknownst to her, Clara has been marked for la Lotería.

Life and Death deal the Lotería cards but once a year, and the stakes could not be higher. Every card reveals a new twist in Clara’s fate—a scorpion, an arrow, a blood-red rose. If Life wins, Clara will live to a ripe old age. If Death prevails, she’ll flicker out like a candle. 

But Clara knows none of this. All she knows is that her young cousin Esteban has vanished, and she’ll do whatever it takes to save him, traveling to the mythical Kingdom of Las Pozas, where every action has a price, and every choice has consequences. And though it seems her fate is sealed, Clara just might have what it takes to shatter the game and choose a new path.

Karla Arenas Valenti weaves an adventure steeped in magic and mythology—gorgeously illustrated by Dana Sanmar—exploring the notion of free will in a world where fate holds all the cards.

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Karen Arenas Valenti

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

I have always been a writer. In fact, I have been writing stories since I was in kindergarten. That said, I wasn’t able to truly focus on becoming an Author until about ten years ago. I loved writing, and I knew I had “some” talent. However, I still had a lot to learn about the craft of storytelling and kidlit publishing in general. SCBWI was invaluable in this regard, as was connecting with a community of writers (in my case through Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge).

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

I love writing for middle graders because they are in a wonderful phase of transformation where they are growing into a new self, conscious of how big the world is and how much more meaningful their role can be. This can be at once empowering, but also so terribly intimidating. To put a book in a reader’s hand at this point is to give them a tool of self-discovery that can have a great impact on their lives. I am honored to be a part of that process. I also love writing about middle graders, for they see a world that is at once real but also teeming with magic (magical realism!). This is my tribe.

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

This is a tough question to answer, so perhaps I can answer a slightly different one – favorite 2020 and 2021 MG novels? In no particular order, I loved WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER (Tae Keller), ECHO MOUNTAIN (Lauren Wolk, and also BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA which I am now reading), WOLF FOR A SPELL (Karah Sutton), MAÑANALAND (Pam Muñoz Ryan), RED, WHITE AND WHOLE (Rajani LaRocca), and THE NIGHT DIARY (Veera Hiranandani).

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

You’re right to feel confused and unmoored. This is a time of transition and growth. It will pass, and you will find a new version of yourself. Which is not to say this isn’t the most important thing happening to you right now! It is. You are in the middle of a momentous event: you are becoming.  

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

Middle grade novels are important because they allow readers to journey through experiences that challenge them to grow and evolve in important ways within the confines of a safe space. That safe space is crucial, because it gives readers the confidence to lose themselves and experiment with the new ideas, feelings, and selves that will shape them.

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photo of Cindy L. Rodriguez by Saryna A. Jones

Cindy L. Rodriguez is a former journalist turned teacher and children’s author. She is a middle school reading specialist in Connecticut, where she lives with her family. Cindy is a U.S.-born Latina of Puerto Rican and Brazilian descent. 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 three Jake Maddox books: Volleyball Ace (2020), Drill Team Determination (2021), and Gymnastics Payback (2021). Upcoming books are The Doomed Search for the Lost City of Z (Capstone, 2022), and Three Pockets Full: A story of love, family, and tradition (Cardinal Rule Press, 2022). She can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Book Talk: Areli is a Dreamer by Areli Morales, illus. by Luisa Uribe

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Welcome to another Book Talk, which can be found on our new YouTube channel!

Here, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Dora M. Guzmán talk about ARELI IS A DREAMER by Areli Morales, illustrated by Luisa Uribe. If you want more information about the illustrator, click on this link to read a previous post about her process while creating illustration for THE VAST WONDER OF THE WORLD.

ABOUT THE BOOK: When Areli was just a baby, her mama and papa moved from Mexico to New York with her brother, Alex, to make a better life for the family–and when she was in kindergarten, they sent for her, too.
 
Everything in New York was different. Gone were the Saturdays at Abuela’s house, filled with cousins and sunshine. Instead, things were busy and fast and noisy. Areli’s limited English came out wrong, and schoolmates accused her of being illegal. But with time, America became her home. And she saw it as a land of opportunity, where millions of immigrants who came before her paved their own paths. She knew she would, too.
 
This is a moving story–one that resonates with millions of immigrants who make up the fabric of our country–about one girl living in two worlds, a girl whose DACA application was eventually approved and who is now living her American dream.
 
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an immigration policy that has provided relief to thousands of undocumented children, referred to as “Dreamers,” who came to the United States as children and call this country home.

Click on the link below to watch the book talk and then add your comments below to join the conversation. ENJOY!

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Sonia 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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Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches college courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is currently a doctoral student with a major in Reading, Language, and Literacy. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never-ending “to read” pile!

Guest Post: Margarita Longoria, editor of Living Beyond Borders: Growing Up Mexican in America

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By Margarita Longoria

I want to thank Latinxs in Kid Lit for giving me an opportunity to talk about my anthology Living Beyond Borders: Growing Up Mexican in America with you!

I am Margarita Longoria, and I am the editor of a YA Anthology called Living Beyond Borders: Mexican in America, a mixed media collection of 20 short stories, poems, essays & more from celebrated and award-winning authors that explores the Mexican American experience.

This collection is very special and important to me, and I am honored and humbled to be able to share it with you all August 17, 2021. The idea of this book was born a few years ago, when my news feed was being bombarded with hate speech about Mexican people. I was upset and wanted to lash back. As a former English teacher, a librarian, and a lover of words, I decided the best way to do this should be with words. I felt beautiful words, hopeful words, and truthful words about our culture would counteract all the hateful words that were coming our way. Afterall, words and books bring people together. I am a firm believer that if you do not understand something, you should read about it. People are often misinformed about many serious issues, and, if given the opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes, even through the pages of a book, you can begin to understand others. Before we judge, before we hate, before we form ideas about something we know nothing about, it is important to be informed. Books give you that power. I wanted to give that power to those who needed a window into our community and a mirror to those to be proud of who they are and where they come from. I reached out to several writers in the Mexican American community who agreed to take this journey with me, and I set my sights on a carefully curated anthology that would represent the culture we love. It is a dream come true and a privilege to give this book to you. I hope you enjoy this work of heart.

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The authors represented in the anthology are: Francisco X. Stork, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, David Bowles, Rubén Degollado, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Diana López, Xavier Garza, Trinidad Gonzales, Alex Temblador, Aida Salazar, Guadalupe Ruiz-Flores, Sylvia Sánchez Garza, Dominic Carrillo, Angela Cervantes, Carolyn Dee Flores, René Saldaña Jr., Justine Narro, Daniel García Ordáz, and Anna Meriano.

Justine Narro

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ABOUT THE EDITOR: Margarita Longoria is a lifelong bookworm, book blogger, and an award-winning high school librarian in South Texas. She is the founder of Border Book Bash: Celebrating Teens and Tweens of the Rio Grande Valley and served on state reading committees for the Texas Library Association. She is the editor of LIVING BEYOND BORDERS: GROWING UP MEXICAN IN AMERICA, a mixed-media collection of short stories, personal essays, poetry, and comics, that is a hopeful love letter from the Mexican American community to today’s young readers. She holds a BA and an MA in English and an MLS in Library Science. She is passionate about diverse books, her two sons, coffee, and Mr. Darcy. She grew up in Edinburg, Texas, and lives with her family in the Rio Grande Valley. You can visit Margie online at margiesmustreads.com and follow her on Instagram at @MargiesMustReads.