Book Review: Merci Suárez Can’t Dance by Meg Medina

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Reviewed by Cris Rhodes

BOOK DESCRIPTION: Seventh grade is going to be a real trial for Merci Suárez. For science she’s got no-nonsense Mr. Ellis, who expects her to be as smart as her brother, Roli. She’s been assigned to co-manage the tiny school store with Wilson Bellevue, a boy she barely knows, but whom she might actually like. And she’s tangling again with classmate Edna Santos, who is bossier and more obnoxious than ever now that she is in charge of the annual Heart Ball.

One thing is for sure, though: Merci Suárez can’t dance—not at the Heart Ball or anywhere else. Dancing makes her almost as queasy as love does, especially now that Tía Inés, her merengue-teaching aunt, has a new man in her life. Unfortunately, Merci can’t seem to avoid love or dance for very long. She used to talk about everything with her grandfather, Lolo, but with his Alzheimer’s getting worse each day, whom can she trust to help her make sense of all the new things happening in her life? The Suárez family is back in a touching, funny story about growing up and discovering love’s many forms, including how we learn to love and believe in ourselves.

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MY TWO CENTS: In this follow-up to her Newbery Award-winning Merci Suárez Changes Gears, Meg Medina once more dives back into Merci’s world, this time exploring her confusion and awkwardness of a first crush. Whereas the first book follows Merci as she learns that her beloved grandfather, Lolo, has Alzheimer’s, this book has a far lighter primary plot. Certainly Lolo’s diagnosis still impacts Merci, especially because Lolo’s capabilities have dwindled and Merci now must fulfill a caretaking role for him; yet, the book doesn’t dwell so much on Lolo as it does Merci herself. This shift is important. In the first book, Merci feels betrayal that the adults in her life withheld information from her. In Merci Suárez Can’t Dance, Merci is suddenly the one who must decide how much to tell others or what to protect them from. 

Now in the 7th grade, Merci is on the cusp of teenagerhood and all of the mixed-up feelings that go with it. While Merci’s group of friends are all seemingly growing up around her, Merci still enjoys the things of her childhood—riding her bike, playing soccer with her dad and his workmates, and visiting with her grandparents. Even when she is given the responsibility of running her school’s mini-store alongside her new friend Wilson, she clings to her stable childhood pleasures. Nevertheless, Merci has to grow up. Throughout the book, Merci is confronted with a number of events that require her to adopt a more mature mentality and leave her childhood thinking behind. While I won’t go into detail about these events, lest I give any spoilers, the new realities that Merci must navigate feel real and relatable, if maybe a little jumbled because of the amount of subplots. Having read the book over the course of several days, I did find myself losing track sometimes, but earlier subplots that seem unrelated at the time do factor into the ultimate climax of the book.

Fans of Merci Suárez Changes Gears will enjoy the continuation of her story in Merci Suárez Can’t Dance. Merci remains the compelling, loveable, and flawed character from the first book and the realism with which Medina brings Merci to life is astounding. Like all children, Merci makes mistakes and has to account for them. But she also triumphs, and we celebrate her victories.

Like Medina’s other books, Merci Suárez Can’t Dance is an engaging read. I will say, I did enjoy the first book better—possibly because Merci was still new to me and her struggle to accept her grandfather’s diagnosis was a more heart-tugging story. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy this book—I certainly did! —it just did not match the emotional appeal of the first in the series. However, I don’t necessarily think that’s something that should keep readers away from continuing on Merci’s journey. This book felt like a transition, a shift for Merci and for us as readers—especially so, given that this is the second book in a trilogy. Merci Suárez Plays It Cool, the final book in the series, is slated for release in September 2022. 

All in all, Merci’s growth, as explored in Merci Suárez Can’t Dance, is impactful and, for readers equally going through the transition from childhood to adolescence (or any change in life), will resonate. Meg Medina has a particular talent for rendering real life emotions and experiences in fiction and I will always pick up any new book of hers. Merci’s voice is one that is much needed for young readers, especially those experiencing tumultuous times.

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by Sonya Sones

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): Meg Medina is a Newbery award-winning and New York Times best-selling author who writes picture books, as well as middle grade and young adult fiction. Her works have been called “heartbreaking,” “lyrical” and “must haves for every collection.” Her titles include:

  • She Persisted: Sonia Sotomayor, with Chelsea Clinton;
  • Merci Suárez Can’t Dance, one of the 50 most anticipated novels of 2021, according to Kirkus;
  • Evelyn del Rey is Moving Away / Evelyn del Rey se muda, 2020 Jumpstart’s Read for the Record Selection, winner of the Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children’s Literature, and 2021 Crystal Kite Award;
  • Merci Suárez Changes Gears,  2019 John Newbery Medal winner, and 2019 Charlotte Huck Honor Book;
  • Burn Baby Burn, long-listed for the 2016 National Book Award,  short-listed for the Kirkus Prize, and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize;
  • Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, winner of the 2014 Pura Belpré Author Award;
  • The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind, a 2012 Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year;
  • Mango, Abuela, and Me, a 2016 Pura Belpré Author Honor Book; and
  • Tía Isa Wants a Car, winner of the 2012 Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award.

When she’s not writing, Meg serves on the Advisory Committee for We Need Diverse Books, the grassroots organization working to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people. She also works on community projects that support girls, Latinx youth, and/or literacy. She is a board member of the Library of Congress Literacy Awards, a faculty member of Hamline University’s Masters of Fine Arts in Children’s Literature. Meg lives with her family in Richmond, Virginia.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Cris Rhodes is an assistant professor of English at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. She teaches courses of writing, culturally diverse literature, and ethnic literatures. In addition to teaching, Cris’s scholarship focuses on Latinx youth and their literature or related media. She also has a particular scholarly interest in activism and the ways that young Latinxs advocate for themselves and their communities.

April 2022 Latinx Releases!

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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.

In addition to listing 2022 titles by/for/about Latinx on our master list, we will remind readers of what’s releasing each month.

CONGRATULATIONS to these Latinx creators. Let’s celebrate these April book babies!

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Cover for Before the World Wakes

BEFORE THE WORLD WAKES by Estelle Laure, illustrated by Paola Zakimi (Two Lions, April 1, 2022). Picture Book. When everything is still gentle and quiet-ish and the stars say good morning at the same time they say good night, a brother and sister venture outside. They marvel at the dance of the snails and the birdsong that surrounds them. And then they join in, reveling in the early morning–and their time together before the rest of the world wakes.

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Cover for Does My Body Offend You?

DOES MY BODY OFFEND YOU? by Mayra Cuevas and Marie Marquardt. (Knopf Books for Young Readers, April 5, 2022.) Young Adult. Malena Rosario is starting to believe that catastrophes come in threes. First, Hurricane María destroyed her home, taking her unbreakable spirit with it. Second, she and her mother are now stuck in Florida, which is nothing like her beloved Puerto Rico. And third, when she goes to school bra-less after a bad sunburn and is humiliated by the school administration into covering up, she feels like she has no choice but to comply.
 
Ruby McAllister has a reputation as her school’s outspoken feminist rebel. But back in Seattle, she lived under her sister’s shadow. Now her sister is teaching in underprivileged communities, and she’s in a Florida high school, unsure of what to do with her future, or if she’s even capable of making a difference in the world. So when Ruby notices the new girl is being forced to cover up her chest, she is not willing to keep quiet about it.
 
Neither Malena nor Ruby expected to be the leaders of the school’s dress code rebellion. But the girls will have to face their own insecurities, biases, and privileges, and the ups and downs in their newfound friendship, if they want to stand up for their ideals and––ultimately––for themselves.

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Cover for Flock

FLOCK by Sara Cassidy, illustrated by Geraldo Valério (Groundwood Books, April 5, 2022). Picture Book. Lunch turns into bird food when a little girl starts feeding birds at the bus stop. First, a pigeon she names Serious comes pecking, and then Fancy and Sleepy gather to gobble up the offerings. But what happens when more and more birds want to join in on the feast? And what are all these fantastical birds doing in the city, anyway?

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Cover for Heartbreak Symphony

HEARTBREAK SYMPHONY by Laekan Zea Kemp. (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, April 5, 2022). Young Adult. Aarón Medrano has been haunted by the onstage persona of his favorite DJ ever since his mother passed away. He seems to know all of Aarón’s deepest fears, like that his brain doesn’t work the way it should and that’s why his brother and father seem to be pushing him away. He thinks his ticket out is a scholarship to the prestigious Acadia School of Music. That is, if he can avoid blowing his audition.

Mia Villanueva has a haunting of her own and it’s the only family heirloom her parents left her: doubt. It’s the reason she can’t overcome her stage fright or believe that her music is worth making. Even though her trumpet teacher tells her she has a gift, she’s not sure if she’ll ever figure out how to use it or if she’s even deserving of it in the first place.

When Aarón and Mia cross paths, Aarón sees a chance to get close to the girl he’s had a crush on for years and to finally feel connected to someone since losing his mother. Mia sees a chance to hold herself accountable by making them both face their fears, and hopefully make their dreams come true. But soon they’ll realize there’s something much scarier than getting up on stage—falling in love with a broken heart.

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HIGH SPIRITS by Camille Gomera-Tavarez (Levine Querido, April 5, 2022). Middle GradeHigh Spirits is a collection of eleven interconnected short stories from the Dominican diaspora, from debut author Camille Gomera-Tavarez. It is a book centered on one extended family – the Beléns – across multiple generations. It is set in the fictional small town of Hidalpa – and Santo Domingo and Paterson and San Juan and Washington Heights too. It is told in a style both utterly real and distinctly magical – and its stories explore machismo, mental health, family, and identity.

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Cover for Can't Be Tamed (Horse Country #1)

HORSE COUNTRY: Can’t Be Tamed (Horse Country #1) by Yamile Saied Méndez (Scholastic, April 5, 2022). Middle Grade. Welcome to Paradise Ranch, where everyone can get a second chance. Carolina Aguasvivas grew up on Paradise Ranch, which she knows down to every last pony. But things are sure to change when the new owner’s daughter, Chelsie Sánchez, sweeps in with an attitude and a feisty Thoroughbred named Velvet. The mare is skittish, headstrong, and hurt — and Carolina is determined to ride her.

Chelsie, who considers herself too good to clean stalls, certainly doesn’t seem like a real horse girl. Caro knows she’s the only one who can help Velvet recover, and she’s ready to prove it — no matter what it takes.

The girls may discover they have more in common than they think… including a passion for bringing the healing power of horses to every kid.

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Cover for I Am!

I AM!: A Book of Reminders by Juana Medina (Versify, April 5, 2022). Picture Book.

I am strong.
I am confident.
I am funny.

The words and pictures in this book are here to remind the reader how wonderful they are! Focusing on helping to build emotional literacy, self-esteem, and self-worth as well as improving communication skills, this new series is the perfect read aloud for kids and adults of any age!

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Cover for Nobody Likes Mermaids

NOBODY LIKES MERMAIDS by Karen Kilpatrick, illustrated by Germán Blanco (Genius Cat Books, April 5, 2022). Picture Book. When a seahorse tries to convince a group of sea creatures why nobody likes mermaids, will it be the seahorse who learns something in the end? Come along on this imaginative, laugh out loud adventure and learn why nobody likes mermaids (hint: it’s because everybody loves them ).

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Cover for The Do-Over

THE DO-OVER by Jennifer Torres (Scholastic, April 5, 2022). Middle Grade. The Mendoza sisters need a do-over!

Raquel and Lucinda used to be inseparable. But ever since their parents split, Raquel has been acting like editor-in-chief of their lives. To avoid her overbearing sister, Lucinda spends most of her time with her headphones on, practicing her skating routine.

Then a pandemic hits, and the sisters are forced to spend the lockdown at their dad’s ranch house. Suddenly Raquel sees a chance to get back everything they’ve lost. If they can convince their mom to come along, maybe they can get their parents to fall in love again and give their family a second chance, a do-over.

But at the ranch, they get a not-so-welcome surprise: their dad’s new girlfriend and her daughter are already living there! Lucinda finds she actually likes them, which only makes Raquel more desperate to get rid of them. And as her Raquel’s schemes get more and more out of hand, Lucinda starts to wonder what they are really fighting for. Is trying to bring the Mendoza family back together really just tearing them further apart?

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SCOUT’S HONOR by Lily Anderson ( Henry Holt and Co., April 5, 2022). Young Adult. Sixteen-year-old Prudence Perry is a legacy Ladybird Scout, born to a family of hunters sworn to protect humans from mulligrubs—interdimensional parasites who feast on human emotions like sadness and anger. Masquerading as a prim and proper ladies’ social organization, the Ladybirds brew poisons masked as teas and use knitting needles as daggers, at least until they graduate to axes and swords.

Three years ago, Prue’s best friend was killed during a hunt, so she kissed the Scouts goodbye, preferring the company of her punkish friends lovingly dubbed the Criminal Element much to her mother and Tía Lo’s disappointment. However, unable to move on from her guilt and trauma, Prue devises a risky plan to infiltrate the Ladybirds in order to swipe the Tea of Forgetting, a restricted tincture laced with a powerful amnesia spell.

But old monster-slaying habits die hard and Prue finds herself falling back into the fold, growing close with the junior scouts that she trains to fight the creatures she can’t face. When her town is hit with a mysterious wave of demons, Prue knows it’s time to confront the most powerful monster of all: her past.

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Cover for Witchlings

WITCHLINGS by Claribel A. Ortega (Scholastic Press, April 5, 2022). Middle Grade. Every year, in the magical town of Ravenskill, Witchlings who participate in the Black Moon Ceremony are placed into covens and come into their powers as full-fledged witches.

And twelve-year-old Seven Salazar can’t wait to be placed in the most powerful coven with her best friend! But on the night of the ceremony, in front of the entire town, Seven isn’t placed in one of the five covens. She’s a Spare!

Spare covens have fewer witches, are less powerful, and are looked down on by everyone. Even worse, when Seven and the other two Spares perform the magic circle to seal their coven and cement themselves as sisters, it doesn’t work! They’re stuck as Witchlings—and will never be able to perform powerful magic.

Seven invokes her only option: the impossible task. The three Spares will be assigned an impossible task: If they work together and succeed at it, their coven will be sealed and they’ll gain their full powers. If they fail… Well, the last coven to make the attempt ended up being turned into toads. Forever.

But maybe friendship can be the most powerful magic of all…

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Cover for A Good Thing Happened Today

A GOOD THING HAPPENED TODAY by Michelle Figueroa, illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki (HarperCollins, April 12, 2022). Picture Book.

A good thing happened today. Hooray! Did you hear?

Good things are happening every day, and everywhere!

A rhythmic collection of happiness and hope inspired by real-life good news, this book reminds us that there are positive things happening every day and we can all be a part of it.

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Cover for A Perfect Fit

A PERFECT FIT: How Lena “Lane” Bryant Changed the Shape of Fashion (Clarion Books, April 12, 2022). Picture Book. Lena came to America with nothing but a dream—and an exceptional ability to drape and snip and stitch. She never used a pattern or a tape measure, but every dress she sewed turned out to be a perfect fit.

Then, one day, a customer presented her with a new challenge. Could she design a stylish, comfortable gown for a body shape that did not meet the current standards of fashion?

Lena took the challenge. Under the company name Lane Bryant, she became famous for flattering and modish clothing designed for all different shapes and sizes. The world of fashion would never be the same.

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Cover for Sometimes, All I Need Is Me

SOMETIMES, ALL I NEED IS ME by Juliana Perdomo (Candlewick, April 12, 2022). Picture Book.

I love listening to music, especially samba!
It feels like my heart follows the beat.

Meet a young girl who loves her cozy home. It smells like cinnamon tea and feels like warm pajamas. But even when she’s away from home, and everything is different, she finds a way to become her own home, where she feels calm. At night, when it’s too dark and her feet are cold, her room can be a little scary. But she creates her own light when she closes her eyes and thinks of the sun.

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Cover for Alicia and the Hurricane / Alicia Y El Huracán

ALICIA AND THE HURRICANE: A Story of Puerto Rico/ALICIA Y EL HURICÁN: Un cuento de Puerto Rico by Lesléa Newmanillustrated by Elizabeth Erazo Baez, translated by Georgina Lazaro (Children’s Book Press, April 19, 2022). Picture Book. After snuggling into bed each night, Alicia listens for the big voices of the tiny coquíes that live all around Puerto Rico and sing her to sleep. Ko-kee, ko-kee, the little frogs call. Ko-kee, ko-kee.

One day a terrible hurricane comes to Puerto Rico, and Alicia and her family take refuge in a shelter. At bedtime Alicia hears grown-ups snoring and babies crying, wind howling and rain pounding. But even though she listens hard, she cannot hear the song of the coquíes. Are the little tree frogs safe? And what will Alicia and her family find at home when the storm is over?

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Cover for Flirting with Fate

FLIRTING WITH FATE by J.C. Cervantes (Razorbill, April 19, 2022). Young Adult. Ava Granados will never forgive herself for being late to her beloved nana’s deathbed. But due to a flash flood that left Ava in a fender bender with a mysterious boy, she missed her grandmother’s mystical blessing—one that has been passed between the women of her family upon death for generations. 
 
Then Nana’s ghost appears with a challenge from beyond the grave. As it turns out, Nana did give Ava a blessing, but it missed its target, landing with the boy from the night of the storm instead. Was it fate? Ava refuses to believe so. With the help of her sisters and Nana’s rather bumbling spiritual guide, she’s determined to reclaim her share of the family magic and set Nana free.
 
For guarded Ava, befriending some random boy is the last thing she wants to do. She’s gotten along just fine protecting her heart—keeping people at a distance is a great way to ensure no one ever hurts you. But as Ava embarks on her mission to retrieve the lost blessing, she starts to wonder if getting close to thunderstorm boy is worth the risk.

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Cover for Jagged Little Pill

JAGGED LITTLE PILL: The Novel by Eric Smith with Alanis Morissette, Diablo Cody, and Glen Ballard (Amulet Books, April 26, 2022). Young AdultJagged Little Pill: The Novel follows the intertwining lives of five teens whose world is changed forever after the events at a party.

Adopted Frankie struggles to see eye-to-eye with her mother—who would rather ignore a problem and preserve their “perfect” life than stand up for what’s right. Jo just wants her mom to accept her queer identity—and is totally crushed when Frankie, the only person who really gets her, finds herself infatuated with someone new. Phoenix tries to find his place at the new school and balance wanting to spend time with Frankie but knowing he also has to help out with his sick sister at home. Bella wants to enjoy the end of high school and just head off to college without a hitch. Everyone expects Frankie’s brother Nick to be the golden boy, but even though he just got into his dream school, he’s not even sure he’s a good person. Each of their stories intersects when Bella is sexually assaulted at a party, and it looks like the perpetrator might get away with it.

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Cover for Joy Ride

JOYRIDE by Sherry Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Ana Ramírez González (Candlewick, April 26, 2022). Picture Book.

Needing something to fill up her summer days, Joy seeks out her granddad, who also likes to tinker, for something to do. Together they find the perfect project: sprucing up an old bike for Joy. From hardware stores to garage sales, the two find everything they need to transform this bike, little by little, into something that’s truly one of a kind. Ornamented with sparkles, a basket, and a brand-new bell, the bike is finally ready for Joy to ride it all over the neighborhood, filling the air with her own kind of music that exudes JOY.

But when a few kids take notice of Joy’s bike, and not in a good way, Joy makes an impulsive decision that ruins the dazzling bike she and Granddad worked so hard on. Joy realizes quickly, however, that trying to fit in can be boring, and it doesn’t make her feel JOY. Just maybe, with a heartfelt apology and Granddad’s help, she can get back on track to being true to herself. This touching story, told by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Ana Ramírez González, addresses the moments of uncertainty when trying to fit in with the crowd, and exclaims the joyful exuberance of self-expression.

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March 2022 Latinx Releases!

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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.

In addition to listing 2022 titles by/for/about Latinx on our master list, we will remind readers of what’s releasing each month.

CONGRATULATIONS to these Latinx creators. Let’s celebrate these March book babies!

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Cover for Latinitas (Spanish edition)

LATINITAS: Una celebración de 40 soñadoras audaces by Juliet Menéndez (Henry Holt and Co., March 1, 2022). Descubre cómo cuarenta latinas influyentes se convirtieron en las mujeres que hoy celebramos. En esta colección de biografías cortas de personajes de toda América Latina y de Estados Unidos, Juliet Menéndez explora los primeros pasitos con los que estas latinitas iniciaron su camino. Con hermosas ilustraciones, hechas a mano, Menéndez pone en relieve el poder que tienen los sueños de la infancia.

Desde la jueza de la Corte Suprema Sonia Sotomayor hasta la cantante Selena Quintanilla y la primera ingeniera de realidad virtual de la NASA, Evelyn Miralles, este libro aborda figuras que servirán de inspiración a futuras artistas, científicas, activistas y más. Ellas hicieron realidad sus sueños ¡y hasta puede que te alienten a alcanzar los tuyos!

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Cover for Nobody Likes the Easter Bunny

NOBODY LIKES THE EASTER BUNNY by Karen Kilpatrick, illustrated by Germán Blanco (Genius Cat Books, March 1, 2022). Picture Book. When a chick tries to convince a group of kids why nobody likes the Easter Bunny, will it be the chick who learns something in the end? Come along on this imaginative, laugh-out-loud adventure and learn why nobody likes the Easter Bunny (hint: it’s because everybody loves him ).

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Cover for Red Panda & Moon Bear (Book 2)

RED PANDA & MOON BEAR: The Curse of the Evil Eye (Book 2) by Jarod Roselló (Top Shelf Productions, March 1, 2022). Middle Grade Graphic Novel. When an evil curse descends upon the city of Martí, it’s up to Red Panda and Moon Bear to put a stop to it… but it won’t be easy! First, they’ll have to solve weird mysteries, fend off new monsters, and uncover the secret history of their neighborhood. With their trusty dog companions and some magical new friends by their side, Red Panda and Moon Bear must find a way to defeat Mal de Ojo — The Evil Eye — and keep it from ruining the lives of everyone they love!

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Cover for Catalina Incognito

CATALINA INCOGNITO by Jennifer Torres, illustrated by Gladys Jose (Aladdin, March 8, 2022). Chapter Book. Catalina Castaneda is not persnickety, even though that’s what her parents and sister, Coco, like to think. Catalina just likes things the way she likes them—perfect.

That’s why it’s very hard to hide her disappointment when her glamorous Tía Abuela, a famous telenovela actress, gives her an old sewing kit for her eighth birthday. However, Catalina soon discovers the sewing kit isn’t as boring as she thinks—it’s magic, turning ordinary clothing into magical disguises.

When Tía Abuela’s most famous costume has rhinestones stolen from it where it’s being displayed at the local library, Catalina gets to work on creating the perfect disfraz (disguise) to track down the thief. But, as Tía Abuela warned her, the magic is only as strong as her stiches, and Catalina doesn’t always have the patience for practice…

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Cover for The New Friend Fix (Catalina Incognito #2)

THE NEW FRIEND FIX (Catalina Incognito #2) by Jennifer Torres, illustrated by Gladys Jose (Aladdin, March 8, 2022). Chapter Book. Catalina is excited to find out a new student, Esmeralda, has joined her third-grade class at Valle Grande Elementary School. But despite Catalina’s attempts to introduce herself, Esme won’t talk to anyone but her own cousin, Jazmín. Could Jazmín be keeping Esme from making new friends?

According to Catalina’s frenemy Pablo, it’s just like what happened to the secret princess in the telenovela hit The Hidden Crown! With Tía Abuela’s magical sewing kit, Catalina sets out to create a disguise to unravel the mystery.

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Cover for Pablo Neruda

PABLO NERUDA: Poet of the People (bilingual edition) by Monica Brown, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Henry Holt & Co., March 8, 2022). Picture Book. A new Spanish and English bilingual edition of the stunning picture book biography of Pablo Neruda, one of the world’s most enduring and popular poets, from the acclaimed Monica Brown.

Había una vez un niño llamado Neftalí, quien amaba las cosas salvajes locamente y las cosas tranquilas serenamente. Desde el momento en que aprendió a hablar, se rodeó de palabras. Neftalí descubrió la magia oculta entre las páginas de los libros.

Cuando tenía dieciséis años, comenzó a publicar sus poemas bajo el nombre Pablo Neruda. Pablo escribió poemas sobre las cosas que amaba: obras creadas por sus amigos artistas, objetos hallados en los mercados y elementos de la naturaleza. Escribió sobre la gente de Chile y su lucha por salir adelante. Porque sobre todas las cosas y sobre todas las palabras, Pablo Neruda amaba a la gente.

Once there was a little boy named Neftalí who loved wild things wildly and quiet things quietly. From the moment he could talk, he surrounded himself with words, seeking comfort and inspiration from the magic he discovered between the pages of books.

When he was sixteen, he began publishing his writing as Pablo Neruda. Pablo wrote poems about the things he loved—things made by his friends in the café, things found at the marketplace, and things he saw in nature. He wrote about the people of Chile and their stories of struggle. Because above all things and above all words, Pablo Neruda loved people.

With a new translation of Monica Brown’s lyrical text and Julia Paschkis’ gorgeous art, which celebrates multiple languages, this new edition will introduce the youngest of readers—of English, Spanish, and both—to the legacy of one of history’s most iconic talents.

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Cover for The Lost Dreamer

THE LOST DREAMER by Lizz Huerta (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR, March 1, 2022). Young Adult. Indir is a Dreamer, descended from a long line of seers; able to see beyond reality, she carries the rare gift of Dreaming truth. But when the beloved king dies, his son has no respect for this time-honored tradition. King Alcan wants an opportunity to bring the Dreamers to a permanent end—an opportunity Indir will give him if he discovers the two secrets she is struggling to keep. As violent change shakes Indir’s world to its core, she is forced to make an impossible choice: fight for her home or fight to survive.

Saya is a seer, but not a Dreamer—she has never been formally trained. Her mother exploits her daughter’s gift, passing it off as her own as they travel from village to village, never staying in one place too long. Almost as if they’re running from something. Almost as if they’re being hunted. When Saya loses the necklace she’s worn since birth, she discovers that seeing isn’t her only gift—and begins to suspect that everything she knows about her life has been a carefully-constructed lie. As she comes to distrust the only family she’s ever known, Saya will do what she’s never done before, go where she’s never been, and risk it all in the search of answers.

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Cover for Hello, Puddle!

HELLO, PUDDLE! by Anita Sanchez, illustrated by Luisa Uribe (Clarion Books, March 8, 2022). Picture Book. A normal everyday puddle may not seem very special. But for a mother turtle, it might be the perfect place to lay her eggs. For a squirrel, it might be the only spot to cool off and get a drink when the sun is shining down in July. And for any child, it can be a window into the elegant, complex natural world right outside their window.

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Cover for How to Hear the Universe

HOW TO HEAR THE UNIVERSE: Gaby González and the Search for Einstein’s Ripples in Space-Time by Patricia Valdez, illustrated by Sara Palacios. (Knopf Books for Young Readers, March 8, 2022). Picture Book. In 1916, Albert Einstein had a theory. He thought that somewhere out in the universe, there were collisions in space. These collisions could cause little sound waves in the fabric of space-time that might carry many secrets of the distant universe. But it was only a theory. He could not prove it in his lifetime.

Many years later, an immigrant scientist named Gabriela Gonzalez asked the same questions. Armed with modern technology, she joined a team of physicists who set out to prove Einstein’s theory. At first, there was nothing. But then… they heard a sound. Gabriela and her team examined, and measured, and re-measured until they were sure.

Completing the work that Albert Einstein had begun 100 years earlier, Gonzalez broke ground for new space-time research.

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Cover for Lakelore

LAKELORE by Anna-Maria McLemore (Feiwel & Friends, March 8, 2022). Young Adult. Everyone who lives near the lake knows the stories about the world underneath it, an ethereal landscape rumored to be half-air, half-water. But Bastián Silvano and Lore Garcia are the only ones who’ve been there. Bastián grew up both above the lake and in the otherworldly space beneath it. Lore’s only seen the world under the lake once, but that one encounter changed their life and their fate.

Then the lines between air and water begin to blur. The world under the lake drifts above the surface. If Bastián and Lore don’t want it bringing their secrets to the surface with it, they have to stop it, and to do that, they have to work together. There’s just one problem: Bastián and Lore haven’t spoken in seven years, and working together means trusting each other with the very things they’re trying to hide.

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Cover for Falling Short

FALLING SHORT by Ernesto Cisneros (Quill Tree Books, March 15, 2022). Middle Grade. Isaac and Marco already know sixth grade is going to change their lives. But it won’t change things at home—not without each other’s help.

This year, star basketball player Isaac plans on finally keeping up with his schoolwork. Better grades will surely stop Isaac’s parents from arguing all the time. Meanwhile, straight-A Marco vows on finally winning his father’s approval by earning a spot on the school’s basketball team.

But will their friendship and support for each other be enough to keep the two boys from falling short?

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Cover for Isla to Island

ISLA TO ISLAND by Alexis Castellanos (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, March 15, 2022). Graphic Novel. Marisol loves her colorful island home. Cuba is vibrant with flowers and food and people…but things are changing. The home Marisol loves is no longer safe—and then it’s no longer her home at all. Her parents are sending her to the United States. Alone.

Nothing about Marisol’s new life in cold, gray Brooklyn feels like home—not the language, school, or even her foster parents. But Marisol starts to realize that home isn’t always a place. And finding her way can be as simple as staying true to herself.

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Cover for Just Try One Bite

JUST TRY ONE BITE by Adam Mansbach and Camila Alves McConaughey, illustrated by Mike Boldt (Dial Books, March 22, 2022). Picture Book. These three kids are determined to get their parents to put down the ice cream, cake, and chicken fried steak to just try one bite of healthy whole foods. But it’s harder than it looks when these over-the-top gagging, picky parents refuse to give things like broccoli and kale a chance. Kids will love the jaunty rhyme that’s begging to be read aloud and the opportunity to be way smarter—and healthier—than their parents.

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PRUETT AND SOO by Nancy Viau, illustrated by Jorge Lacera. (Two Lions, March 22, 2022). Picture Book. Pruett is from Planet Monochrome, where everything is black, white, or gray; everyone follows the rules and walks in straight lines; and they never, ever ask or answer questions. But then Soo arrives from Planet Prismatic. She’s bursting with brilliant colors She zigs and zags all over the place When she asks Pruett questions, he finds he wants to reply…and his whole world starts to change.

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Cover for Goldie's Guide to Grandchilding

GOLDIE’S GUIDE TO GRANDCHILDING by Clint McElroy, illustrated by Eliza Kinkz. (First Second, March 29, 2022). Picture Book. Little Goldie is an expert on grandchilding. She knows that grandparents are special creatures who thrive in a structured environment, need plenty of opportunities for imaginative play, love having dance parties, and will never turn down a cuddle. When it comes to the care and feeding of her beloved Grandpa, Goldie knows her stuff. And, as readers will discover, Grandpa knows a thing or two about grandchildren, too.

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Cover for I'll Go and Come Back

I’LL GO AND COME BACK by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Sara Palacios. (Candlewick, March 29, 2022). Picture Book. When Jyoti visits her grandmother halfway around the world, she is overwhelmed by the differences between India and home. At first she feels lonely and out of place, but soon, despite a language barrier, she and Sita Pati are able to understand each other. They form a bond—looking at books together, making designs with colored sand, shopping at the market, playing games, eating chapatis, and sipping warm milk with saffron to bring sweet dreams. When it’s time to part, Jyoti doesn’t want to leave, but then she remembers that in Tamil, people don’t say goodbye, they say “I’ll go and come back.” Sure enough, the two reunite the next summer when Pati visits Jyoti in America, and it’s Jyoti’s turn to make her grandmother feel welcome. Can they create some special memories that will last until the next time they see each other?

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Cover for My Nap, Mi Siesta

MY NAP, MY SIESTA: A Coco Rocho Book (World of Vamos!) by Raúl the Third. (Versify, March 29, 2022). Board book.

In my bed. En mi cama.
Near my dog. Cerca de mi perro.
With my stuffed animals. Con mi peluches.

Explore all the places Coco Rocho finds to sleep in this bilingual board book by Pura Belpré Honor–winning Raúl the Third. Sweet dreams! ¡Suenos dulces!

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Cover for My Party, Mi Fiesta

MY PARTY, MI FIESTA: A Coco Rocho Book (World of Vamos!) by Raúl the Third. (Versify, March 29, 2022). Board book. Throwing a party is always fun, especially when it’s in both English and Spanish! In this new board book by Pura Belpré Honor–winning Raúl the Third, young readers are introduced to Spanish vocabulary through all the fun of a party.

Friends, cake, music—amigos, pastel, musica—join Coco Rocho and all his companions at this joyful fiesta!

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February 2022 Latinx Releases!

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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.

In addition to listing 2022 titles by/for/about Latinx on our master list, we will remind readers of what’s releasing each month.

CONGRATULATIONS to these Latinx creators. Let’s celebrate these February book babies!

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Cover for Murder of Crows (Lethal Lit, Novel #1)

MURDER OF CROWS (Lethal Lit Novel #1) by K. Ancrum (Scholastic Inc., February 1, 2022). Young Adult. Lethal Lit follows Tig Torres, a Cuban American teen detective, in her hometown of Hollow Falls. In season one of the hit podcast, Tig used her smarts and fearlessness to track down the infamous “Lit Killer,” a serial killer who staged his murders after death scenes from famous books. But there’s no rest for courageous, mystery-solving teens in a place like Hollow Falls, and though the Lit Killer is now behind bars, his protégé, Tig’s classmate and crush Oly, has disappeared!

And that’s not the only game afoot. Tig has caught the attention of the town’s local armchair detective group, the Murder of Crows. They’re obsessed with Hollow Falls’ dark past and fixated on a dangerous search for the missing body of the town’s founder. There are rumors about what’s buried with the body that could be life-changing for whoever finds it, and with a mission like that underway, it’s not long before a member of the Murder of Crows turns up dead.

Tig, along with her friends Max and Wyn, steps in to help, but the stakes are getting higher and the hunt more deadly. Someone’s willing to kill to keep the town’s secrets buried, and if Tig’s not careful, she’ll be the Murder of Crows’ next victim.

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Cover for The Supernatural Society

THE SUPERNATURAL SOCIETY by Rex Ogle. (Inkyard Press, February 1, 2022). Middle Grade. Will Hunter thought his life couldn’t get any worse: His parents just got divorced, his best (and only) friend now is his dog, Fitz, and his mom moved them from New York City to the middle-of-nowhere town called East Emerson.

But Will was wrong–things are about to get way worse. Because East Emerson is filled with a whole lot of monsters, and he’s the only person who can see them.

When all the town pets (including Fitz) go missing, Will suspects there’s something sinister going on. So he joins forces with outcast Ivy and super-smart Linus to uncover the ancient secrets of East Emerson. Besides, nothing bad could happen when three sixth graders team up against monsters, magic, myths, and mad science . . . right?

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Cover for Lulu and Milagro's Search for Clarity

LULU & MILAGROS SEARCH FOR CLARITY by Angela Velez (Balzer + Bray, February 8, 2022). Young Adult. Overachiever Luz “Lulu” Zavala has straight As, perfect attendance, and a solid ten-year plan. First up: nail her interview for a dream internship at Stanford, the last stop on her school’s cross-country college road trip. The only flaw in her plan is Clara, her oldest sister, who went off to college and sparked a massive fight with their overprotective Peruvian mom, who is now convinced that out-of-state-college will destroy their family. If Lulu can’t fix whatever went wrong between them, the whole trip—and her future—will be a waste.

Middle sister Milagro wants nothing to do with college or a nerdy class field trip. Then a spot opens up on the trip just as her own spring break plans (Operation Don’t Die a Virgin) are thwarted, and she hops on the bus with her glittery lipsticks, more concerned about getting back at her ex than she is about schools or any family drama. But the trip opens her eyes about possibilities she’d never imagined for herself. Maybe she is more than the boy-crazy girl everyone seems to think she is.

On a journey from Baltimore all the way to San Francisco, Lulu and Milagro will become begrudging partners as they unpack weighty family expectations, uncover Clara’s secrets, and maybe even discover the true meaning of sisterhood.

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Cover for No Filter and Other Lies

NO FILTER AND OTHER LIES by Crystal Maldonado. (Holiday House, February 8, 2022). Young Adult. Twenty one-year-old Max Monroe has it all: beauty, friends, and a glittering life filled with adventure. With tons of followers on Instagram, her picture-perfect existence seems eminently enviable.

Except it’s all fake.

Max is actually 16-year-old Kat Sanchez, a quiet and sarcastic teenager living in drab Bakersfield, California. Nothing glamorous in her existence—just sprawl, bad house parties, a crap school year, and the awkwardness of dealing with her best friend Hari’s unrequited love.

But while Kat’s life is far from perfect, she thrives as Max: doling out advice, sharing beautiful photos, networking with famous influencers, even making a real friend in a follower named Elena. The closer Elena and “Max” get—texting, Snapping, and even calling—the more Kat feels she has to keep up the façade.

But when one of Max’s posts goes ultra-viral and gets back to the very person she’s been stealing photos from, her entire world – real and fake — comes crashing down around her. She has to figure out a way to get herself out of the huge web of lies she’s created without hurting the people she loves.

But it might already be too late.

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Cover for Ophelia After All

OPHELIA AFTER ALL by Racquel Marie (Feiwel & Friends, February 8, 2022). Young Adult. Ophelia Rojas knows what she likes: her best friends, Cuban food, rose-gardening, and boys – way too many boys. Her friends and parents make fun of her endless stream of crushes, but Ophelia is a romantic at heart. She couldn’t change, even if she wanted to.

So when she finds herself thinking more about cute, quiet Talia Sanchez than the loss of a perfect prom with her ex-boyfriend, seeds of doubt take root in Ophelia’s firm image of herself. Add to that the impending end of high school and the fracturing of her once-solid friend group, and things are spiraling a little out of control. But the course of love—and sexuality—never did run smooth. As her secrets begin to unravel, Ophelia must make a choice between clinging to the fantasy version of herself she’s always imagined or upending everyone’s expectations to rediscover who she really is, after all.

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Cover for With Lots of Love

WITH LOTS OF LOVE by Jenny Torres Sanchez, illustrated by Andre Ceolin. (Viking Books for Young Readers, February 8, 2022). Picture Book. Rocio has grown up in Central America, but now she and her family are moving to the United States. Rocio does her best to adjust to a new way of living, but there are many things she misses from her old life—Abuela’s cooking, Abuela’s piñata creations, Abuela’s warm hugs, and of course, Abuela herself most of all. But Abuela finds a way to send Rocio something special just in time for her birthday—a gift wrapped with lots of love—and that fills Rocio to the brim.

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Cover for Beauty Woke

BEAUTY WOKE by NoNieqa Ramos, illustrated by Paola Escobar (Versify, February 15, 2022). Picture Book. Beauty is a Puerto Rican girl loved and admired by her family and community. At first, she’s awake to their beauty, and her own—a proud Boricua of Taíno and African descent. But as she grows older, she sees how people who look like her are treated badly, and she forgets what makes her special. So her community bands together to help remind her of her beautiful heritage.

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Cover for Oona and the Shark

OONA AND THE SHARK by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Raissa Figueroa (Katherine Tegen Books, February 15, 2022). Picture Book. Oona loves to share her inventions with her friends. They’re big and bold and LOUD—just like her! But there’s one underwater creature who doesn’t seem to enjoy Oona’s company, or her creations.

Stanley the shark! He doesn’t care for her squeaky unicorn. And he’s far too busy for the Sea Horse Carousel. And oh GOODNESS! Oona’s latest hopping, chopping, and popping inventions just make him angry.

Oona may not know what Stanley likes, but she does know what he doesn’t. And maybe that’s a good place to start. Because mermaids never stop trying…not when there’s a friend out there to make.

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Cover for Reclaim the Stars

RECLAIM THE STARS: 17 Tales Across Realms & Space Edited by Zoraida Córdova (Wednesday Books, February 15, 2022). Young Adult Anthology. From stories that take you to the stars, to stories that span into other times and realms, to stories set in the magical now, RECLAIM THE STARS takes the Latin American diaspora to places fantastical and out of this world.

Follow princesses warring in space, haunting ghost stories in Argentina, mermaids off the coast of the Caribbean, swamps that whisper secrets, and many more realms explored and unexplored, this stunning collection of seventeen short stories breaks borders and realms to prove that stories are truly universal.

Reclaim the Stars features both bestselling and acclaimed authors as well as two new voices in the genres: Vita Ayala, David Bowles, J.C. Cervantes, Zoraida Córdova, Sara Faring, Romina Garber, Isabel Ibañez, Anna-Marie McLemore, Yamile Saied Méndez, Nina Moreno, Circe Moskowitz, Maya Motayne, Linda Raquel Nieves Pérez, Daniel José Older, Claribel A. Ortega, Mark Oshiro and Lilliam Rivera.

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Cover for Rima's Rebellion

RIMA’S REBELLION: Courage in a Time of Tyranny by Margarita Engle (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, February 15, 2022). Young Adult. Rima loves to ride horses alongside her abuela and Las Mambisas, the fierce women veterans who fought during Cuba’s wars for independence. Feminists from many backgrounds have gathered in voting clubs to demand suffrage and equality for women, but not everybody wants equality for all—especially not for someone like Rima. In 1920s Cuba, illegitimate children like her are bullied and shunned.

Rima dreams of a day when she is free from fear and shame, the way she feels when she’s riding with Las Mambisas. As she seeks her way, Rima forges unexpected friendships with others who long for freedom, especially a handsome young artist named Maceo. Through turbulent times, hope soars, and with it…love.

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Cover for Climb On!

CLIMB ON! by Baptiste Paul, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara (NorthSouth Books, February 22, 2022). Picture Book. When a young child reminds her dad about the hike they planned, her father is hesitant —To the tippy top? It’s a great day to watch futbol (soccer). But as the two climb on, her enthusiasm is contagious. Filled with setbacks, surprises, and stunning views, this warm and humorous story highlights in vivid colors the bonding power of a shared experience. A list of creatures at the end prompts a second look for keen-eyed readers to make discoveries of their own.

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Cover for I'll Always Come Back to You

I’LL ALWAYS COME BACK TO YOU by Carmen Tafolla, illustrated by Grace Zong (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, February 22, 2022). Picture Book. What happens when someone you love heads out the door? A mother goes out to deliver letters around the world, and her daughter stays behind. Mom might have to cross mountains, fight bears, or scare away pirates before she comes back. Her daughter might have to wait with Gramma or a friend at home. But whether their time apart has been long or short, boring or exciting, the family will soon be together again.

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Cover for Pauli Murray

PAULI MURRAY: The Life of Pioneering Feminist & Civil Rights Activist by Terry Catasús JenningsRosita Stevens-Holsey (Yellow Jacket, February 22, 2022). Nonfiction biography for middle grade. Pauli Murray was a thorn in the side of white America demanding justice and equal treatment for all. She was a queer civil rights and women’s rights activist before any movement advocated for either–the brilliant mind that, in 1944, conceptualized the arguments that would win Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka; and in 1964, the arguments that won women equality in the workplace.

Throughout her life, she fought for the oppressed, not only through changing laws, but by using her powerful prose to influence those who could affect change. She lived by her convictions and challenged authority to demand fairness and justice regardless of the personal consequences. Without seeking acknowledgment, glory, or financial gain for what she did, Pauli Murray fought in the trenches for many of the rights we take for granted. Her goal was human rights and the dignity of life for all.

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Cover for The Turning Pointe

THE TURNING POINTE by Vanessa L. Torres (Knopf Books for Young Readers, February 22, 2022). Young Adult. When sixteen-year-old Rosa Dominguez pirouettes, she is poetry in pointe shoes. And as the daughter of a tyrant ballet Master, Rosa seems destined to become the star principal dancer of her studio. But Rosa would do anything for one hour in the dance studio upstairs where Prince, the Purple One himself, is in the house.

After her father announces their upcoming auditions for a concert with Prince, Rosa is more determined than ever to succeed. Then Nikki–the cross-dressing, funky boy who works in the dance shop–leaps into her life. Weighed down by family expectations, Rosa is at a crossroads, desperate to escape so she can show everyone what she can do when freed of her pointe shoes. Now is her chance to break away from a life in tulle, grooving to that unmistakable Minneapolis sound reverberating through every bone in her body.

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¡Felicidades! to the 2022 ALA Youth Media Award Winners and Honor Books

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Congratulations Graduates - West Chester University

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators who were honored at the American Library Association’s Midwinter conference! Here are the honored tiles by Latinx creators. Click on each book for more information from Indiebound.

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John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature:

Winner

Cover for The Last Cuentista

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The Pura Belpré Awards honor Latinx writers and illustrators whose children’s books best portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience.

The Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Winner:

Cover for ¡vamos! Let's Cross The Bridge (World of ¡Vamos!)

Honor Books:

Cover for Boogie Boogie, Y’all
Cover for Bright Star
Cover for De aquí como el coquí
Cover for May Your Life Be Deliciosa

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The Pura Belpré Children’s Author Award Winner:

Cover for The Last Cuentista

Honor Books:

Cover for Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna
Cover for Child of the Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua
Cover for De aquí como el coquí

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The Pura Belpré Young Adult Author Award Winner:

Cover for How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe

Honor Books:

Cover for Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun
Cover for Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet
Cover for Where I Belong

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The Coretta Scott King Awards recognize African American authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children and young adults.

(Author) Honor Book:

Cover for The People Remember

(Illustrator) Honor Books:

Cover for We Wait for the Sun
Cover for Soul Food Sunday

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The Schneider Family Book Award for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience:

Honor Book (middle grades):

Cover for Stuntboy, in the Meantime

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The Mildred L. Batchelder Award for an outstanding book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States:

Honor Book:

Cover for The Sea-Ringed World

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The Odyssey Award for the best audiobooks produced for children and young adults, available in English in the United States:

Winner:

Cover for Boogie Boogie, Y’all

Honor Audiobook:

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The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished beginning reader book:

Honor Book:

Cover for I Hop (I Like to Read)

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Researching and Writing Historical Fiction with Gloria Amescua and Alda P. Dobbs

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Interview by Romy Natalia Goldberg

This past fall brought the publication of two fascinating books set during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), BAREFOOT DREAMS OF PETRA LUNA, a historical middle grade novel by Alda P. Dobbs (Sourcebooks Young Readers, September, 2021) and CHILD OF THE FLOWER-SONG PEOPLE: LUZ JIMÉNEZ, DAUGHTER OF THE NAHUA, a picture book biography written by Gloria Amescua and illustrated by award winning illustrator, Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams Books for Young Readers, August, 2021). Both Texas-based authors took the time out of their busy debut schedules to talk to us about their processes for researching and writing children’s books based on historic events and real people. 

Romy Natalia Goldberg: Both your main characters, Petra and Luz, learn of their indigenous ancestor’s beliefs through their grandparents, who, in turn, learned from their own grandparents. Can you talk a little about researching beliefs and traditions, especially those that were predominantly passed down orally?

Alda P. Dobbs: First, I’d like to thank you, Natalia, for interviewing me. It’s an honor! A lot of the beliefs and traditions in the story were handed down orally by elders in my family. Others, I had to research. I found myself reading many books on curanderismo and stories that were recorded by Spanish priests who interviewed indigenous people during colonial times. Everything was so fascinating it was hard to choose what to include in the book while not bogging down the story.

Gloria Amescua: Thankfully, one of the important contributions Luz Jiménez made was to listen to and remember the mythologies and other stories that were passed down orally. The book Life and Death in Milpa Alta: A Nahuatl Chronicle of Diaz and Zapata (translated and edited by Fernando Horcasitas, from the Nahuatl Recollections of Doña Luz Jiménez) was one of my most important resources. Luz told Horcasitas what is in this book over time in Nahuatl. It included not only her childhood and things that she and the Nahua people of Milpa Alta experienced, their traditions and daily life, but also the stories that had been passed down orally. Horcasitas wrote it down phonetically. Milpa Alta hosted the First Aztec Congress, which mainly determined what written Nahuatl should look like in 1940.

What advice can you give for researching historical events? Anything you wish you’d known at the start of this process? 

Alda P. Dobbs: This is a great one! I wished I hadn’t been so shy and had asked librarians for help. I spent a lot of time trying to do the research on my own, which wasn’t bad, but I probably reinvented the wheel a couple of times. Having a physics and engineering background, I approached historical research as I would science, and I’ve learned that there’s a better and more efficient way. I would have saved myself time and frustration had I approached a librarian sooner.

Gloria Amescua: I wish I’d been more organized about gathering my information. My main advice is to make sure you get your sources down for everything. You may or may not use what you have read or taken notes on, but be sure to document everything. I keep meaning to learn about one of the several online organizers, but I haven’t yet. My advice is do better than I did. It will keep you from going back to find sources.

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Sanborn Map Company. San Antonio 1911 Vol 1, map, 1911; New York. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth549759/: accessed October 15, 2021), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

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Alda, I’ve heard you mention the importance of maps in your research before. Can you talk a little more about your source for maps and how they figured into your writing process? 

Maps were essential in my research. I used Sanborn maps, which are old insurance maps made in the 19th and 20th centuries that detail the types of buildings, their structure and use. I crossed referenced these maps with modern Google “street view” maps that allow me to see where the building once stood, or if I’m lucky enough, I could still see the same old building standing. I also used vintage photographs that allowed me to dig deeper into the research and find out where the photograph was taken. All these resources allow me to recreate a map that shows where my character lives, works, goes to school, shops, etc. I used Sanborn maps to recreate an old map of San Antonio, Texas that took up my entire office wall but gave me a sense of my character’s life there in 1913. 

What is your system for keeping information organized, easy to access, and backed up? 

Alda P. Dobbs: For my research, I kept both electronic files and physical divider tabs that were labeled with the following titles: photographs, maps, newspaper articles, academic papers, books, and of course, miscellaneous. I also kept a journal where I’d write everything down from research notes, to notes I’d take when speaking to librarians or historians. In my journal, I also jotted down ideas for scenes or dialogue or just plain brainstorming. I always backed up all my electronic files using a SSD hard drive.

Gloria Amescua: I wish I had a great system to tell you about. What I did was to create computer files that made sense to me. For instance, I have folders for my revisions by year. Other folders are for the language Nahuatl and images in which Luz appears with lists of all the artwork information and links. I copied articles from the internet as well as their links. Early on, I learned the hard way, since I had a certain link I had a difficult time finding again to an exposition featuring Luz in Mexico City. I used colored flags in my books.

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Alda shared a series of photos that inspired and informed PETRA LUNA on her social media platforms

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The internet has made research infinitely easier, but examining physical documents and visiting locations firsthand is still a part of the research process. I’m curious which parts of your research happened online and which was more useful or necessary “in real life.”

Alda P. Dobbs: I’d say both online research and “in-person” visits were essential for me. Almost every setting in my book took place in a location I had visited before, so I knew the way the terrain looked, the way it smelled and sounded. The old photographs, which many of them I found online, were essential in adding details to settings or constructing characters. 

Gloria Amescua: I didn’t get to visit any places in my book in real life. I would love to visit Milpa Alta and go back to Mexico City to see the murals I saw long ago that included Luz before I knew about her. Of course, without finding a pamphlet at the University of Texas in Austin that was about Luz Jiménez, I wouldn’t have known about her amazing life. The internet was definitely important because I found articles and images for Luz. I also wouldn’t have found my real resources, the books I used, including the one with Luz’s actual words. Through the internet, I also found Dr. Kelly McDonough, Professor of Native American and Indigenous studies at UT, who shared resources. She also introduced me to Luz’s grandson, Jesús Villanueva. Although we have yet to meet in person, Jesús and I corresponded through email. He was invaluable to me as he answered questions and shared booklets he was involved with writing about his grandmother and was part of my book launch!

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Jesús Villanueva, grandson of Luz Jiménez, participating in Gloria Amescua’s virtual book launch via The Writing Barn

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Gloria, Writing about real people, especially when there are living relatives involved, seems like an intimidating part of the biography process. Can you tell us a little about what it was like to approach and work with Luz’s grandson?  

Gloria Amescua: It was somewhat intimidating at first since it was my first book. I told him my qualifications as a poet, teacher, and studies in children’s literature, so he would know I was serious. Dr. Kelly McDonough, who volunteered to introduce us, is Jesús’ friend. They have worked together on projects, and I’m thankful for that gift of an introduction. Jesús Villanueva was as gracious as he could be and shared resources with me. He has few recollections of his grandmother since she passed away when he was very young, so his dedication has been to learn as much as he could. He has promoted her legacy through writing and presentations. He shared these with me. If I were to do it again, I would have kept in touch with him more frequently about the progress or lack of progress in the publishing journey since it took almost eight years.

Is there any one instance when you thought “Thank goodness for the internet!” or “Thank goodness I saw this in person!”? How did that experience improve your story and writing process?

Alda P. Dobbs: Yes, to both! My husband often traveled for work, and it was during the times when my kids napped or slept at night when I found myself doing most of my online searches. I’m also grateful to have met Mr. Tim Blevins, a librarian at the Pikes Peak Library system. He’s the one who introduced me to many wonderful research tools just when I was about to give up!   

Gloria Amescua: I’m sure it would have been next to impossible for me to write this story without the internet. I was able to find many of the images of Luz in art that I included in the text as part of what Luz learned as a child, weaving, twisting yarn with her toes, grinding corn, etc. It helped me weave details in the story early on that are echoed in the images of her as a model for artists as an adult. I love that it comes full circle.

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Double spread illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh for CHILD OF THE FLOWER-SONG PEOPLE: LUZ JIMÉNEZ, DAUGHTER OF THE NAHUA

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The Mexican Revolution brings chaos and fear to the lives of your main characters. Featuring trauma in a children’s book is a delicate matter, made even more challenging when you’re dealing with real events. How did you choose to address the topic and why? What do you hope readers will take away from seeing Petra and Luz navigate the challenges they face? 

Alda P. Dobbs: I chose to write about the Mexican Revolution because it’s a topic that’s close to me and it’s also one I’d never seen presented in children’s literature. The conflict itself is very complicated and in it, women and children played many different roles. It was a difficult subject to write about for young readers but thankfully, there are many brilliant, wonderful books who tackle trauma masterfully, like Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars and Avi’s Crispin, to name a few. 

Gloria Amescua: The Mexican Revolution changed Luz Jiménez’s life drastically. Her father and the other men were killed, their village destroyed, her education ended so that Luz and her remaining family had to find a way to survive in a new environment. I had to tell about it and not dwell on the hardships but move on quickly to how Luz overcame her struggles, how she found a new way of being herself, proud of being Nahua. The revolution created a powerful change in artists and how they wanted to honor the indigenous people and make art available to everyone in murals as well as paintings, photographs, statues. I hope readers will see how Luz’s strength was believing in herself despite the hardships she had to overcome. She realized her dream of being a teacher in a way she never expected. 

What books served as mentor texts for you? Along the same line, are there any authors or illustrators whose methods you found inspiring? 

Alda P. Dobbs: I named a couple of books in the previous answer, but other books that helped with structure, pacing, and dialogue were Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games book series and Kate Dicamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie

Gloria Amescua: I read many, many picture book biographies. I examined every aspect of each of them. A few include Bethany Hegedus and Arun Ghandhi’s Grandfather Ghandi and Be the Change, Melissa Sweet’s Balloons Over Broadway, Duncan Tonatiuh’s Separate is Never Equal and Monica Brown’s Pablo Neruda and Waiting for the Biblioburro. I returned to these over and over as well as many others. They inspired me as I worked on mine, as I worked on structure, language, organization, etc. I especially loved the illustrations and the emotions expressed in the Ghandi books, the Mixtec style in Separate is Never Equal, and Pablo Neruda, where the illustrations include a river of words in trees, leaves, everywhere in English and Spanish. I wanted my book to be as beautiful and important as these books. 

Can you talk a little about what learning to read and write symbolizes to your characters, and by extension, what writing and sharing their stories means to you?

Gloria Amescua: Luz wanted to learn to read and teach future generations of “professors, priests, lawyers.” It was a way she could not only improve her life but also that of others. I am honored to share Luz Jiménez’s story because she brought to light the intelligence, beauty, and strength of the Nahua. I admire her resilience and pride in her culture. My writing this book means now many more people will know her and her contributions, her legacy. I hope it will lead readers to learn about other indigenous people as well.   

Alda P. Dobbs: Wow, what a great question! During the decade of the Mexican Revolution, in the 1910’s, only 20% of the Mexican population could read and write. My ancestors were part of the 80% who were illiterate. My grandmother, however, was determined to learn to read and write, and despite never having stepped inside a school, she taught herself how to read and write by the time she was twelve. I wanted to create a character with the same courage and determination my grandmother displayed throughout her life.

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS: 

Gloria Amescua (Ah MES qua) has been a writer since she was a child, writing poems and stories throughout her life. She loves books that reach a young person’s heart, head, or funny bone and strives to do just that in her writing. She is an educator, poet, and children’s book writer. Abrams Books for Young Readers published her picture book biography in verse, Child of the Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua, August 17, 2021. Duncan Tonatiuh is the illustrator. An earlier version won the 2016 Lee and Low New Voices Honor Award. A variety of literary journals and anthologies have published Gloria’s poetry. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published one of her poems in their national textbook literature series.  Gloria received both her B. A. and M. Ed. degrees from the University of Texas at Austin.  The grandmother of two amazing granddaughters, Gloria believes in children, pets, and possibilities.

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Alda P. Dobbs is the author of the novel Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. She was born in a small town in northern Mexico but moved to San Antonio, Texas as a child. Alda studied physics and worked as an engineer before pursuing her love of storytelling. She’s as passionate about connecting children to their past, their communities, different cultures and nature as she is about writing. Alda lives with her husband and two children outside Houston, Texas.

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Image of Romy Natalia Goldberg

Romy Natalia Goldberg is a Paraguayan-American travel and kid lit author with a love for stories about culture and communication. Her guidebook to Paraguay, Other Places Travel Guide to Paraguay, was published in 2012 and 2017 and led to work with “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” and The Guardian. She is an active SCBWI member and co-runs Kidlit Latinx, a Facebook support group for Latinx children’s book authors and illustrators.