Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors Part 4: Pablo Cartaya

 

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

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

Today, we highlight Pablo Cartaya.

Pablo Cartaya is the author of the acclaimed middle-grade novel, The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora (Viking, 2017); Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish (Viking, 2018); and two forthcoming titles in 2019 and 2020 also to be published by VikingHe is a Publisher’s Weekly “Flying Start” and has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly. For his performance recording the audiobook of his novel, Pablo received an Earphone Award from Audiofile Magazine and a Publisher’s Weekly Audiobooks starred review. He is the co-author of the picture book, Tina Cocolina: Queen of the Cupcakes (Random House, 2010), a contributor to the literary magazine, Miami Rail; the Spanish language editorial, Suburbano Ediciones; and a translator for the poetry chapbook, Cinco Poemas/Five Poems based on the work of poet Hyam Plutzik. Pablo visits schools and universities throughout the US and currently serves as faculty at Sierra Nevada College’s MFA in Creative Writing. www.pablocartaya.com / Twitter: @phcartaya

Pablo Cartaya

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

A. I’ve been a storyteller since I was a little kid performing originally written shows in my living room every time my parents had someone over for dinner. During cena I would quietly (sometimes not so quietly) go over story ideas that would lead to epic performances en la sala while the guests and my parents ate dessert and sipped cafécito on the sofa. My parents always encouraged that creative spirit. In many ways, Mami and Papi were my first inspirations. Since those early days I’ve always had stories swirling around my imagination. These stories have taken many forms over the years: writing plays, teleplays, telenovelas, picture books, nonfiction, poetry (sometimes really bad poetry), and then one fateful day in graduate school, the voice of a fourteen year old Cuban American kid named Arturo made his way into my consciousness. It was the first time I let the character in the story do the talking. What I found was a kid who was like me and who had dared to dream himself into the narrative. The process of discovering Arturo’s world has been one of the great joys of my creative life. In a way, The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora is a lifetime in the making of becoming the writer I am today.

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

A. I don’t actually choose to write middle grade novels. It’s more like a bunch of thirteen and fourteen year olds make the loudest noise in my sub consciousness. I believe writing is an act of submission to the fictive state. Allowing a story or a character to take hold and dictate the terms of what, when, where, and how the narrative will go. As the writer I give in and let the character tell me what he or she wants to talk about. It’s frightening at times but there is something about that act of discovery that is exciting and enlightening. A character usually pops into my head and a scene plays out. For example, in my next novel, Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish, I imagined this really tall, brooding fourteen year old trying to convince his little brother who has Down syndrome to take a bath. From there, I started asking these characters questions and they revealed parts of their lives they wanted to tell. After that it’s all about revising, revising, and more revising to get to the heart of the character’s story.

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

A. Ah! This question is always the hardest! How do you pick a favorite child? You can’t do it! Okay I’ll name some but they are by no means a final list! We’ll just call it a fluid favorite, okay? As a kid I devoured everything Jules Verne – Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is one of my all time favorites although I don’t know if it qualifies as distinctly middle grade. I also think it’s important to recognize the great work contemporary middle grade authors are writing. Jason Reynolds is doing some pretty incredible work. I just finished Patina and it’s awesome. Celía Perez has a kick butt middle grade out called The First Rule of Punk, Rita Williams Garcia’s Clayton Bird Goes Underground is fantastic. I happen to adore R.J. Palacio because Wonder was the first novel my daughter read from beginning to end and it made her a lover of books. There are so many! Make me stop! Make me stop! I see a great mix of characters and stories out there and I’m excited for what’s to come from these and many other brilliant authors in the field.

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

A. Don’t be afraid to fail. You are not perfect nor should you try to be. Find your voice and hold onto it for dear life. Is that too much advice? Would my thirteen-year-old self just ignore me? Probably.

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

A. They are sneaky deep. It’s the time where wonder, adventure, occasional failure, and the possibilities of happiness coexist to create a sense of hope for the future. It’s also a place where kids get to be kids and goof off from time to time. I like that mix.

 

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photo by Saryna A. JonesCindy L. Rodriguez was a newspaper reporter for The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe before becoming a public school teacher. She is now a reading specialist at a Connecticut middle school. Cindy is a U.S.-born Latina of Puerto Rican and Brazilian descent. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU. Her debut contemporary YA novel, When Reason Breaks, released with Bloomsbury Children’s Books (2015). She will have an essay in Life Inside My Mind, which releases 4/10/2018 with Simon Pulse. She can also be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

2018 Titles By/For/About Latinx!!

 

 

AHHHH! we’re so excited about 2018! You will be, too, once you see the list below. Get your To-Be-Read lists out….Here are the 70+ titles we know about that are releasing in 2018 that are by/for/about Latinx . We plan to review as many of these as we can, so please check the site often or follow the blog for updates.  The coming year brings new books from so many of our favorite creators along with exciting debuts from Anna Meriano, NoNieqa Ramos, Mark Oshiro, Kristina Pérez, Juleah del Rosario, and Elizabeth Acevedo, among others. The books are listed by the publishing date. Please let us know in the comments if we are missing any!

HAPPY READING!

 

LOVE, SUGAR, MAGIC: A DASH OF TROUBLE by Anna Meriano, illus by Mirelle Ortega (Walden Pond Press, January 2, 2018). Middle Grade. Leonora Logrono’s family owns the most beloved bakery in Rose Hill, Texas, spending their days conjuring delicious cookies and cakes for any occasion. And no occasion is more important than the annual Dia de los Muertos festival. Leo hopes that this might be the year that she gets to help prepare for the big celebration–but, once again, she is told she’s too young. Sneaking out of school and down to the bakery, she discovers that her mother, aunt, and four older sisters have in fact been keeping a big secret: they’re brujas–witches of Mexican ancestry–who pour a little bit of sweet magic into everything that they bake. Leo knows that she has magical ability as well and is more determined than ever to join the family business–even if she can’t let her mama and hermanas know about it yet. And when her best friend, Caroline, has a problem that needs solving, Leo has the perfect opportunity to try out her craft. It’s just one little spell, after all…what could possibly go wrong? OUR REVIEW: Coming Soon

 

 

35356379LOVE by Matt de la Peña, illus by Loren Long (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, January 9, 2018). Picture Book. In this heartfelt celebration of love, Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña and bestselling illustrator Loren Long depict the many ways we experience this universal bond, which carries us from the day we are born throughout the years of our childhood and beyond. With a lyrical text that’s soothing and inspiring, this tender tale is a needed comfort and a new classic that will resonate with readers of every age.

 

 

 

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say CoverSTELLA DIAZ HAS SOMETHING TO SAY by Angela Dominguez (Roaring Brook Press, January 16, 2018). Middle Grade. Stella Diaz loves marine animals, especially her beta fish, Pancho. But Stella Diaz is not a beta fish. Beta fish like to be alone, while Stella loves spending time with her mom and brother and her best friend Jenny. Trouble is, Jenny is in another class this year, and Stella feels very lonely. When a new boy arrives in Stella’s class, she really wants to be his friend, but sometimes Stella accidentally speaks Spanish instead of English and pronounces words wrong, which makes her turn roja. Plus, she has to speak in front of her whole class for a big presentation at school. But she better get over her fears soon, because Stella Diaz has something to say.

 

 

35566709STORMSPEAKER (Spirit Animals: Fall of the Beasts #7) by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (Scholastic, January 30, 2018). Middle Grade.

 

 

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lolalevine_no es malaLOLA LEVINE ¡NO ES MALA! by Monica Brown, illus bu Angela Dominguez (Little Brown/Scholastic, January 2018). Chapter Book. The first in the award-winning chapter book series, Lola Levine is Not Mean, is now available in a Spanish edition from Scholastic book clubs.

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THE DISTURBED GIRL’S DICTIONARY by NoNieqa Ramos (Carolrhoda Books, February 1, 2018). Young Adult. Macy’s school officially classifies her as “disturbed,” but Macy isn’t interested in how others define her. She’s got more pressing problems: her mom can’t move off the couch, her dad’s in prison, her brother’s been kidnapped by Child Protective Services, and now her best friend isn’t speaking to her. Writing in a dictionary format, Macy explains the world in her own terms–complete with gritty characters and outrageous endeavors. With an honesty that’s both hilarious and fearsome, slowly Macy reveals why she acts out, why she can’t tell her incarcerated father that her mom’s cheating on him, and why her best friend needs protection . . . the kind of protection that involves Macy’s machete.

OUR REVIEW: latinosinkidlit.com/2018/01/25/book-review-the-disturbed-girls-dictionary-by-nonieqa-ramos/

 

 

27414411PITCH DARK by Courtney Alameda (Feiwel & Friends, February 20, 2018). Young Adult. Lost to time, Tuck Morgan and his crew have slept in stasis aboard the USS John Muir for centuries. Their ship harbors a chunk of Earth, which unbeknownst to them, is the last hope for the failing human race. Laura Cruz is a shipraider searching the galaxy for the history that was scattered to the stars. Once her family locates the John Muir and its precious cargo, they are certain human civilization is saved. When Tuck’s and Laura’s worlds collide–literally–the two teens must outwit their enemies, evade brutal monsters that kill with sound, and work together to save the John Muir . . . and the whole human race.

OUR REVIEW: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/02/05/book-review-pitch-dark-by-courtney-alameda/

 

 

 

FLIGHT SEASON by Marie Marquardt (Wednesday Books, February 20, 2018). Young Adult/New Adult. Back when they were still strangers, TJ Carvalho witnessed the only moment in Vivi Flannigan’s life when she lost control entirely. Now, TJ can’t seem to erase that moment from his mind, no matter how hard he tries. Vivi doesn’t remember any of it, but she’s determined to leave it far behind. And she will. But when Vivi returns home from her first year away at college, her big plans and TJ’s ambition to become a nurse land them both on the heart ward of a university hospital, facing them with a long and painful summer together – three months of glorified babysitting for Angel, the problem patient on the hall. Sure, Angel may be suffering from a life-threatening heart infection, but that doesn’t make him any less of a pain. As it turns out, though, Angel Solis has a thing or two to teach them about all those big plans, and the incredible moments when love gets in their way. Written in alternating first person from the perspectives of all three characters, Flight Season is a story about discovering what’s really worth holding onto, learning how to let go of the rest, and that one crazy summer that changes your life forever.

 

 

 

THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Harper Teen, March 6, 2018). Young Adult. Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers–especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems. Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent. OUR REVIEW: Coming soon.

 

 

34921589LIES THAT BIND by Diana Rodriguez Wallach (Entangled Teen, March 6, 2018). Young Adult. Still reeling from everything she learned while searching for her sister in Italy, Anastasia Phoenix is ready to call it quits with spies. Then she and her friends learn that Marcus’s—her kinda boyfriend—brother, Antonio, has also gone missing. Luckily, they track down Antonio in a fiery festival in England, only to learn he has been working for the enemy, Department D, the whole time. But Antonio wants out. And so does Anastasia. But before any of them can leave espionage and their parents’ crimes behind them, a close friend turns up dead. No one is safe, not while Department D still exists. So Anastasia and her friends embark on a dangerous plan to bring down an entire criminal empire, using every Dresden Kid they can find. As their world becomes surrounded by spies, and the children of spies, Anastasia starts to question who she can really trust, including her best friends.

 

 

THE FLYING GIRL: How Aída de Acosta Learned to Soar by Margarita Engle, illus by Sara Palacios (Antheneum Books for Young Readers, March 6, 2018). Picture Book. On a lively street in the lovely city of Paris, a girl named Aída glanced up and was dazzled by the sight of an airship. Oh, how she wished she could soar through the sky like that. The inventor of the airship, Alberto, invited Aída to ride with him, but she didn’t want to be a passenger. She wanted to be the pilot. Aída was just a teenager, and no woman or girl had ever flown before. She didn’t let that stop her, though. All she needed was courage and a chance to try.

 

 

 

THE FIELD by Baptiste Paul and debut illustrator Jacqueline Alcantara (NorthSouth Books, March 6, 2018). Picture Book.
When a tropical rain storm threatens a game of pick-up futbol in an island community, is the soccer game over? Based on the author’s experiences growing up in St. Lucia. In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews calls Paul and Alcantara’s excellent picture book debut, “irresistible fun”.

 

 

 

 

ISLANDBORN by Junot Díaz, illus by Leo Espinosa (Dial Books, March 13, 2018). Picture BookEvery kid in Lola’s school was from somewhere else. Hers was a school of faraway places. So when Lola’s teacher asks the students to draw a picture of where their families immigrated from, all the kids are excited. Except Lola. She can’t remember The Island–she left when she was just a baby. But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories–joyous, fantastical, heartbreaking, and frightening–Lola’s imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to The Island. As she draws closer to the heart of her family’s story, Lola comes to understand the truth of her abuela’s words: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.” OUR REVIEW: Coming soon.

 

 

HOW ARE YOU? / CÓMO ESTÁS? by Angela Dominguez (Henry Holt & Company, March 13, 2018). Picture Book. When two giraffe friends find a baby ostrich, they have some questions. Is baby ostrich hungry? Shy? Tired? Ostrich says no. So how does she feel? Friendship awaits in this book about feelings, expressed both in English and in Spanish.

 

 

 

JABBERWALKING by Juan Felipe Herrera (Candlewick Press, March 13, 2018). Middle Grade. U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera is sharing secrets: how to turn your wonder at the world around you into weird, wild, incandescent poetry. Can you walk and talk at the same time? How about Jabberwalk? Can you write and draw and walk and journal all at the same time? If not, you’re in luck: exuberant, blue-cheesy cilantro man Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States, is here to teach you everything he knows about being a real-life, bonified, Jabberwalking poet Jabberwalkers write and speak for themselves and others no matter where their feet may take them — to Jabberwalk is to be a poet on the move. And there’s no stopping once you’re a Jabberwalker, writing fast, fast, fast, scribble-poem-burbles-on-the-run. Scribble what you see Scribble what you hear It’s all out there — vamonos. OUR REVIEW: Coming soon.

 

 

JOAN PROCTOR, DRAGON DOCTOR: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez, illus by Felicita Sala. (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, March 13, 2018). Picture Book. While other girls played with dolls, Joan preferred the company of reptiles. She carried her favorite lizard with her everywhere–she even brought a crocodile to school. When Joan grew older, she became the Curator of Reptiles at the British Museum. She went on to design the Reptile House at the London Zoo, including a home for the rumored-to-be-vicious komodo dragons. There, just like when she was a little girl, Joan hosted children’s tea parties–with her komodo dragon as the guest of honor. With a lively text and vibrant illustrations, scientist and writer Patricia Valdez and illustrator Felicita Sala bring to life Joan Procter’s inspiring story of passion and determination.

 

 

Moonstruck, Vol. 1 TPMOONSTRUCK by Grace Ellis, illus by Shae Beagle (Image Comics, March 21, 2018). Comics. Werewolf barista Julie and her new girlfriend go on a date to a close-up magic show, but all heck breaks loose when the magician casts a horrible spell on their friend Chet. Now it’s up to the team of mythical pals to stop the illicit illusionist before it’s too late. The first chapter of the brand-new, all-ages, magical, coffee-laden adventure from Lumberjanes creator Grace Ellis and talented newcomer Shae Beagle.

 

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SCI-FU by Yehudi Mercado (Oni Press, March 13, 2018). Comics. Hip-hop, sci-fi and kung fu all hit the turntables for the mash-up mix of the year Cartoonist/force of nature Yehudi Mercado (Pantalones, TXRocket Salvage) sets his sights on 1980s Brooklyn and Wax, a young mix-master who scratches the perfect beat and accidentally summons a UFO that transports his family, best friend, and current crush to the robot-dominated planet of Discopia. Now Wax and his crew must master the intergalactic musical martial art of Sci-Fu to fight the power and save Earth. Word to your mother. OUR REVIEW: Coming soon.

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.35825129EL VERANO DE LAS MARIPOSAS by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, translated by David Bowles (Tu Books, March 27, 2018). Young Adult. Odilia and her four sisters rival the mythical Odysseus in cleverness and courage as they embark on their own hero’s journey. After finding a drowned man floating in their secret swimming hole along the Rio Grande, the sisters trek across the border to bring the body to the man’s family in Mexico. But returning home turns into an odyssey of their own. Outsmarting mythical creatures, and with the supernatural aid of spectral La Llorona via a magical earring, Odilia and her little sisters make their way along a road of trials to make it to their long-lost grandmother’s house. Along the way, they must defeat a witch and her Evil Trinity: a wily warlock, a coven of vicious half-human barn owls, and the bloodthirsty chupacabras that prey on livestock. Can these fantastic trials prepare Odilia and her sisters for what happens when they face their final test, returning home to the real world, where goddesses and ghosts can no longer help them? Now in Spanish, the award-winning El verano de las mariposas (Summer of the Mariposas) is not just a magical Mexican American retelling of The Odyssey, it is a celebration of sisterhood and maternal love.

 

 

ME, FRIDA, & THE SECRET OF THE PEACOCK RING by Angela Cervantes (Scholastic Press, March 27, 2018). Middle Grade. A room locked for fifty years. A valuable peacock ring. A mysterious brother-sister duo. Paloma Marquez is traveling to Mexico City, birthplace of her deceased father, for the very first time. She’s hoping that spending time in Mexico will help her unlock memories of the too-brief time they spent together. While in Mexico, Paloma meets Lizzie and Gael, who present her with an irresistible challenge: The siblings want her to help them find a valuable ring that once belonged to beloved Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Finding the ring means a big reward — and the thanks of all Mexico. What better way to honor her father than returning a priceless piece of jewelry that once belonged to his favorite artist. But the brother and sister have a secret. Do they really want to return the ring, or are they after something else entirely? OUR REVIEW: Coming soon.

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QUIZÁS ALGO HERMOSO by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, illustrated by Rafael López (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 27, 2018) Picture BookThe Tomâs Rivera Award-winning picture book MAYBE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL is now available in a Spanish hardcover edition! OUR REVIEW: Coming soon.
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FEATHERED SERPENT, DARK HEART: MYTHS OF MEXICO by David Bowles (Cinco Puntos Press, April 2018). The stories in Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky trace the history of the world from its beginnings in the dreams of the dual god, Ometeotl, to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in Mexico and the fall of the great city Tenochtitlan. In the course of that history, we learn about the Creator Twins–Feathered Serpent and Dark Heart of Sky–and how they built the world on a leviathan’s back; of the shape-shifting nahualli; and the aluxes, elfish beings known to help out the occasional wanderer. And finally, we read Aztec tales about the arrival of the blonde strangers from across the sea, the strangers who seek to upend the rule of Motecuhzoma and destroy the very stories we are reading.
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THE DRAGON SLAYER: Folktales from Latin America by Jaime Hernandez (Toon Books, April 3, 2018). Graphic Novel. How would a kitchen maid fare against a seven-headed dragon? What happens when a woman marries a mouse? And what can a young man learn from a thousand leaf cutter ants? Jaime Hernandez asks these questions and more as he transforms beloved myths into bold, stunning, and utterly contemporary comics. Guided by the classic works of F. Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada, Hernandez’s first book for young readers brings the sights and stories of Latin America to a new generation of graphic-novel fans around the world. OUR REVIEW: Coming soon.

 

 

MARIO AND THE HOLE IN THE SKY: How a Chemist Saved Our Planet by Elizabeth Rusch. (Charlesbridge Publishing, April 3, 2018). Picture Book. Mexican American scientist Mario Molina is a modern-day hero who helped solve the ozone crisis of the 1980s. Growing up in Mexico City, Mario was a curious boy who studied hidden worlds through a microscope. As a young man in California, he discovered that CFCs, used in millions of refrigerators and spray cans, were tearing a hole in the earth’s protective ozone layer. Mario knew the world had to be warned–and quickly. Today Mario is a Nobel laureate and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His inspiring story gives hope in the fight against global warming. Also available in Spanish (Mario y el agujero en el cielo: Como un quimico salvo nuestro planet).

 

 

31328342FUTURE LOST by Elizabeth Briggs. (Albert Whitman & Company, April 3, 2018). Young Adult. It’s been a year since Elena and Adam were first recruited by Aether Corporation and six months since they destroyed the accelerator, finally putting an end to Project Chronos and their involvement with Aether. Now they’re trying to move on with their lives. Elena’s in college and Adam is working on making genicote, his cure for cancer, safe for the public. But genicote has become a dangerous fixation for Adam. He’ll do anything to figure it out, and when he goes missing, Elena realizes that he’s done the unthinkable: he went to Aether for help with the cure. To Elena’s horror, she discovers that Aether has created a new accelerator. Adam betrayed her trust and has traveled into the future to find the fix for his cure, but he didn’t come back when he was supposed to. Desperate to find him, Elena decides to risk future shock and time travels once more. This future is nothing like they’ve seen before. Someone has weaponized Adam’s cure and created a dangerous pandemic, leading to the destruction of civilization. If Elena can’t find Adam and stop this, everyone is at risk. And someone will do anything to keep her from succeeding.

 

 

ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAME written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (Candlewick Press, April 10, 2018). Picture BookWhat’s in a name? For one little girl, her very long name tells the vibrant story of where she came from – and who she may one day be. In her author-illustrator debut, Juana Martinez-Neal opens a treasure box of discovery for children who may be curious about their own origin stories and names. Simultaneous Spanish hardcover edition, ALMA Y CÓMO OBTUVO SU NOMBRE. OUR REVIEW: Coming soon.

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ALPHABET BOATS by Samantha R. Vamos, illus by Ryan O’Rourke (Charlesbridge Publishing, April 17, 2018). Picture Book. Discover twenty-six types of vessels, from the more common–canoe and motorboat–to the unusual–umiak and Q-boat. Just like in Alphabet Trucks and Alphabet Trains, colorful art includes the letters of the alphabet hidden (and not-so-hidden) in supporting roles in the illustrations.

 

 

 

SWEET SHAPES by Juana Medina (Viking Books for Young Readers, April 24, 2018). Picture Book. In this delicious forest, the bears are made of rectangular brownies, the goldfinches are triangles of lemon tart, and the butterflies are oval jelly beans. What child could resist learning shapes from such delectable creatures as these? Collage artist Juana Medina has outdone herself with this array of tooth-achingly sweet animal desserts that come in all shapes and sizes.

 

 

 

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LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE BICENTENNIAL BONANZA by Jill Diamond, illus by Lesley Vamos (FSG/MacKids, April 24, 2018). Middle Grade. BFFs Lou Lou Bombay and Peacock Pearl are busy preparing for the Bicentennial Bonanza, their city’s two-hundredth birthday bash! And this year, the party will take place in their beloved neighborhood of El Corazón. With a baking contest, talent show, and a new gazebo planned, the community can’t wait to celebrate the founders (and historical BFFs), Diego Soto and Giles Wonderwood. But when Vice-Mayor Andy Argyle claims the festivities belong to Verde Valley, using a mysterious diary as evidence, Lou Lou and Pea smell trouble. Will the friends be able to uncover the secrets of their city’s founding, and bring the Bonanza back to El Corazón?

 

 

 

36580712DEAD WEIGHT: MURDER AT CAMP BLOOM by Terry Blas, Molly Muldoon, Matthew Seely (Oni Press, April 24, 2018). Comics. Deep in the Oregon wilderness sits Camp Bloom, a weight-loss camp where “overweight” teens can “get in shape.” Jesse would rather be anywhere else, but her parents are forcing her to go. Noah isn’t sure if he wants to be there, but it’s too late to turn back. Tony is heartbroken at the thought of giving up his phone and internet. And Kate… well, she likes the hikes, at least. As far as these four teens are concerned, it’s just another boring summer. Until one night, when Jesse and Noah witness a beloved counselor’s murder. The body’s gone by the next morning, but a blurry photo leads to one clue–the murderer is one of the camp’s staff members. But which one? As Jesse, Noah, Kate, and Tony investigate, they quickly discover that everyone’s got their secrets… and one of them would kill to keep theirs hidden.

 

 

35068505ALLIED: RUINED #3 by Amy Tintera (HarperTeen, May 1, 2018). Young Adult. Emelina Flores and her sister, Olivia, were determined to bring peace to the people of Ruina. But as the war for liberation raged on, what triumph and freedom meant to Em and Olivia slowly changed. As Olivia’s violence and thirst for vengeance became her only ambition, Em was left to pick up the pieces. But it’s not only Em who is upset by Olivia’s increased violence. Other members of the Ruined army are beginning to see the cracks, and soon a small group of them defects from Olivia’s army and joins Em instead. The two sisters are soon pitted against each other in an epic battle for the kingdom and the future, and only one will win.

 

 

LA FRONTERA / THE BORDER: El Viaje Con Papa / My Journey with Papa by Alfredo Alva and Deborah Mills , illus by Claudia Navarro (Barefoot Books, May 1, 2018). Picture Book. Join a young boy and his father on a daring journey from Mexico to Texas to find a new life. They’ll need all the resilience and courage they can muster to safely cross the border/ la frontera and to make a home for themselves in a new land.

 

 

 

36373350JAZZ OWLS: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots by Margarita Engle, illus. by Rudy Gutierrez (Antheneum Books for Young Readers, May 8, 2018). Young Adult. Thousands of young Navy sailors are pouring into Los Angeles on their way to the front lines of World War II. They are teenagers, scared, longing to feel alive before they have to face the horrors of battle. Hot jazz music spiced with cool salsa rhythms calls them to dance with the local Mexican American girls, who jitterbug all night before working all day in the canneries. Proud to do their part for the war effort, these Jazz Owl girls are happy to dance with the sailors–until the blazing summer night when racial violence leads to murder. Suddenly the young white sailors are attacking these girls’ brothers and boyfriends. The cool, loose zoot suits they wear are supposedly the reason for the violence–when in reality these boys are viciously beaten and arrested simply because of the color of their skin.

 

 

35707056UNDEAD GIRL GANG by Lily Anderson (Razorbill, May 8, 2018). Young Adult. Meet teenage Wiccan Mila Flores, who truly could not care less what you think about her Doc Martens, her attitude, or her weight because she knows that, no matter what, her BFF Riley is right by her side. So when Riley and Fairmont Academy mean girls June Phelan-Park and Dayton Nesseth die under suspicious circumstances, Mila refuses to believe everyone’s explanation that her BFF was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient grimoire, Mila does the unthinkable to uncover the truth: she brings the girls back to life. Unfortunately, Riley, June, and Dayton have no recollection of their murders. But they do have unfinished business to attend to. Now, with only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer…before the killer strikes again.

 

 

ALL OF THIS IS TRUE by Lygia Day Peñaflor (HarperTeen, May 15, 2018). Young Adult. In this genre-defying page-turner from Lygia Day Penaflor, four teens befriend their favorite YA novelist, only to find their deepest, darkest secrets in the pages of her next book–with devastating consequences. Miri Tan loved the book Undertow like it was a living being. So when she and her friends went to a book signing to hear the author, Fatima Ro, they concocted a plan to get close to her. Soleil Johnston wanted to be a writer herself one day. When she and her friends started hanging out with her favorite author, Fatima Ro, she couldn’t believe their luck–especially when Jonah Nicholls started hanging out with them, too. Penny Panzarella was more than the materialist party girl everyone at the Graham School thought she was–and she was willing to share all her secrets with Fatima Ro to prove it. Jonah Nicholls had more to hide than any of them. And now that Fatima’s next book is out in the world, he’s the one who is paying the price. Perfect for fans of One of Us Is Lying–and told as a series of interviews, journal entries, and even pages from the book within the book–this gripping story of a fictional scandal will keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

 

 

  feather-weight_400¡LA CELEBRACIÓN! by Susan M. Elya, illustrated by Ana Aranda (Lee & Low Books, May 15, 2018) Picture BookIt’s a sunny summer day. Come join the crowd headed for the parade. Marvel at the people riding motorcycles, bicycles, tricycles, and unicycles. Duck out of the way as firefighters spray water on hot spectators. Clap to the music as bands of musicians playing clarinetes, saxophones, flautas, trumpets, and drums march by. Feast on lemonade, watermelon, tacos, and ice cream. Wave to the corn princess as her float passes by. Then take cover when a quick rain shower comes, followed by a bright rainbow. Back in the town plaza as night falls, marvel at the sparkling fireworks that end the day’s festivities. Pop, pop, pop Bon, bon, bon With engaging text and imaginative, whimsical illustrations, this story is the perfect way to enjoy a summer day–and learn some Spanish, too.

 

 

author2ALL THE STARS DENIED by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Tu Books, July 15, 2018). Young Adult. In the heart of the Great Depression, Rancho Las Moras, like everywhere else in Texas, is gripped by the drought of the Dust Bowl, and resentment is building among white farmers against Mexican Americans. All around town, signs go up proclaiming “No Dogs or Mexicans” and “No Mexicans Allowed.” When Estrella organizes a protest against the treatment of tejanos in their town of Monteseco, Texas, her whole family becomes a target of “repatriation” efforts to send Mexicans “back to Mexico”–whether they were ever Mexican citizens or not. Dumped across the border and separated from half her family, Estrella must figure out a way to survive and care for her mother and baby brother. How can she reunite with her father and grandparents and convince her country of birth that she deserves to return home? There are no easy answers in the first YA book to tackle this hidden history.

 

 

36142487ANGER IS A GIFT by Mark Oshiro (Tor Teen, May 22, 2018). Young Adult. Six years ago, Moss Jefferies’ father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media’s vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks. Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. Despite their youth, the students decide to organize and push back against the administration. When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.

 

 

Virginia Sánchez KorrolTHE SEASON OF REBELS AND ROSES by Virginia Sánchez-Korrol (Piñata Books, May 31, 2018). Young Adult. At an assembly of liberals in Ponce, Puerto Rico, in 1887, Inocencia Martínez eagerly looks for Sotero Figueroa, a journalist and independence movement activist whose politics and handsome visage she finds extremely exciting. She is so intent on keeping him in her sights that, when he stops to speak to someone, she almost runs right into him! Inocencia, the daughter of a Spanish bureaucrat, was 18 when she first heard Figueroa speak about freedom from colonial repression and an independent Puerto Rico. Hearing the speakers at the assembly, some who advocate for total independence from Spain and others who favor a plan that would give Puerto Rico a voice in the Spanish government, fuels her dreams of becoming a leader in the movement. When Sotero requests permission to visit, Inocencia’s parents are initially horrified that a mulatto, someone of African descent, wants to court their daughter. Ultimately, just before the couple’s seditious activities force them into exile, her parents give approval for their marriage. While living in New York City, Inocencia starts her own women s group to aid the revolutionaries, following in the footsteps of her mentor, Doña Lola Rodríguez Tió. Ranging from Puerto Rico to Cuba and the United States, this engaging novel for teens follows historical figures that were instrumental in the fight for self-determination in Puerto Rico.

 

 

Image result for gloria velasquezFORGIVING MOSES (Roosevelt High School) by Gloria Velásquez (Piñata Books, May 31, 2018). Young Adult. Moses Vargas hates his life. He has been forced to move four times in as many years, and he’s tired of starting at another school, having everyone stare at him and trying to make new friends. Most of all, he doesn’t want to have to deal with questions about his father an inmate in the California Department of Corrections. When Moses discovers that someone has been sending out text messages with a photo of him and his father in a prison uniform, he ends up in a fight and then suspended for three days. School counselor Ray Gutiérrez agrees to reach out to Moses. He realizes that several boys at Roosevelt High School are dealing with absentee fathers, putting them at risk for failure or dropping out. With permission from the principal, Mr. Gutiérrez starts an after-school support program called Círculos. Moses grudgingly attends the sessions that draw on indigenous and cultural roots to empower the boys. Realizing he is not the only one with a problematic home life and the new friendship of a pretty classmate whose father is also in prison helps Moses to begin talking about his anger and embarrassment. But will he really be able to overcome his resentment towards his father? The tenth installment in Velásquez s acclaimed Roosevelt High School Series that focuses on social issues relevant to teens, Forgiving Moses addresses the painful issue of children, particularly brown and black youth, whose fathers are not present in their lives.

 

 

BRUJA BORN (Brooklyn Brujas #2) by Zoraida Córdova (Sourcebooks Fire, June 1, 2018). Young Adult. Lula must let go of the ghosts of her past to face the actual living dead of her present. Lula Mortiz may be a bruja with healing powers, but after her family’s battle in Los Lagos, she feels broken in a way she can’t seem to fix. Then tragedy strikes when a bus crash leaves her friends and her boyfriend, Maks, dead. Desperate to reclaim normalcy, Lula invokes a dark spell to bring Maks back. It isn’t until she hears that all of the bodies from the crash have gone missing that she realizes something is wrong. Lula has unwittlingly raised an army of casi muertos—creatures between the living and dead—and they’re hungry for freedom…which they can only achieve if Lula dies.

 

 

 

31179006SWEET BLACK WAVES by Kristina Pérez (Imprint, June 5, 2018). Young Adult. Two proud kingdoms stand on opposite shores, with only a bloody history between them. As best friend and lady-in-waiting to the princess, Branwen is guided by two principles: devotion to her homeland and hatred for the raiders who killed her parents. When she unknowingly saves the life of her enemy, he awakens her ancient healing magic and opens her heart. Branwen begins to dream of peace, but the princess she serves is not so easily convinced. Fighting for what’s right, even as her powers grow beyond her control, will set Branwen against both her best friend and the only man she’s ever loved. Inspired by the star-crossed tale of Tristan and Eseult, this is the story of the legend’s true heroine: Branwen.

 

 

FLOR AND MIRANDA STEAL THE SHOW by Jennifer Torres (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, June 12, 2018). Middle Grade. Miranda is the lead singer in her family’s musical band, Miranda y Los Reyes. Her family has worked hard performing at festivals and quinceaneras. Now, they have a shot at the main stage. How will Miranda make it a performance to remember? Flor’s family runs the petting zoo at Mr. Barsetti’s carnival. When she accidentally overhears Mr. Barsetti and Miranda’s dad talk about cutting the zoo to accommodate Miranda y Los Reyes’s main stage salary, she knows she has to take action. Will she have the heart for sabotage once she and Miranda actually start to become friends?

 

 

THERE’S NO BASE LIKE HOME by Jessica Mendoza, Alana Mendoza Dusan, illustrated by Ruth McNally Barshaw (Tu Books, June 19, 2018). Middle Grade. This is going to be eleven-year-old Sophia Maria Garcia’s best year ever: she’s going out for the same softball team on which her high-school softball star sister played at her age, and she’s starting middle school. New school, new Sophia. But all does not go according to plan. Sophia does not make the Waves softball team, and making friends at her new school does not go well. Maybe Sophia isn’t the pitcher she thought she might be. And her best friend is drifting away, getting interested in boys and losing interest in Sophia. As the middle school blues set in, Sophia must reach deep down and find a little UMPH–the difference between being good and being great–to figure out her own place, on the field and off.

 

 

Image resultTHE FALL OF INNOCENCE by Jenny Torres Sanchez (Philomel, June 2018). Young Adult. An un-coming-of-age story that charts the devolution of 16-year-old Emilia DeJesus when she learns that the police arrested the wrong man for attacking her seven years prior, that the real perpetrator is still out there, and that beauty can be found in all lost things.

 

 

 

 

35705700THE HIDDEN CITY by David Bowles (Garza Twins #3) (IFWG Publishing, July 2018). Middle Grade. Distressed by new threats, the Garza family take a summer trip to the mountains of La Chinantla in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. While Johnny and Carol grapple with a pair of budding romances, the twins’ parents are take captive by a group of forest elementals and renegade sisimites, talking apes whose ancestors survived the destruction at the end of the Second Age. Now the shapeshifting heroes will have to find a legendary city hidden deep in the cloud forests to forge new alliances, face foes both new and old, and save the ones they love.

 

 

LENA’S SHOES ARE NERVOUS by Keith Calabrese, illustrated by Juana Medina. (Atheneum Books, July 3, 2018). Picture Book.  In the tradition of School’s First Day of School, debut author Keith Calabrese and Pura Belpre Award winner Juana Medina share a sweet, universal story about a clever little girl whose shoes are nervous about the first day of school.Today is a big day Today, Lena starts kindergarten. She is very excited. But there’s just one problem…Lena’s shoes are nervous.Lena doesn’t want to miss out on her first day of school, but she can’t go without her favorite shoes How can she convince them to be brave?

 

 

MY YEAR IN THE MIDDLE by Lila Quintero Weaver (Candlewick Press, July 10, 2018). Middle Grade. Sixth-grader Lu Olivera just wants to keep her head down and get along with everyone in her class. Trouble is, Lu’s old friends have been changing lately — acting boy crazy and making snide remarks about Lu’s newfound talent for running track. Lu’s secret hope for a new friend is fellow runner Belinda Gresham, but in 1970 Red Grove, Alabama, blacks and whites don’t mix. As segregationist ex-governor George Wallace ramps up his campaign against the current governor, Albert Brewer, growing tensions in the state — and in the classroom — mean that Lu can’t stay neutral about the racial divide at school. Will she find the gumption to stand up for what’s right and to choose friends who do the same?

 

 

A GIFT FROM ABUELA by Cecilia Ruiz (Candlewick, August 7, 2018). Picture Book. The first time Abuela holds Nina, her heart overflows with tenderness. And as Nina grows up, she and Abuela spend plenty of time together. Abuela can’t help thinking how much she’d like to give Nina a very special treat, so she saves a little bit of her money every week — a few pesos here, a few pesos there. When the world turns upside down, Abuela’s dream of a surprise for Nina seems impossible. Luckily, time spent together — and the love Abuela and Nina have for each other — could turn out to be the very best gift of all. With a soft and subtle hand, author-illustrator Cecilia Ruiz draws from her own history to share a deeply personal tale about remembering what’s most important when life starts to get in the way.

 

 

 

MARCUS VEGA DOESN’T SPEAK SPANISH by Pablo Cartaya (Viking Books, August 21, 2018). Middle Grade. Marcus Vega is six feet tall, 180 pounds, and the owner of a premature mustache. When you look like this and you’re only in the eighth grade, you’re both a threat and a target. Marcus knows what classmates and teachers see when they look at him: a monster. But appearances are deceiving. At home, Marcus is a devoted brother. And he finds ways to earn cash to contribute to his family’s rainy day fund. His mom works long hours and his dad walked out ten years ago—someone has to pick up the slack. After a fight at school leaves him facing suspension, Marcus and his family decide to hit the reset button and regroup for a week in Puerto Rico. Marcus is more interested in finding his father, though, who is somewhere on the island. Through a series of misadventures that take Marcus all over Puerto Rico in search of the elusive Mr. Vega, Marcus meets a colorful cast of characters who show him the many faces of fatherhood. And he even learns a bit of Spanish along the way.

 

 

My favorite chairImage result for rafael lopezTHE DAY YOU BEGIN by Jacqueline Woodson, illus by Rafael López (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, August 28, 2018). Picture BookThere are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look, talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. It’s not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it. Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael López’s dazzling art reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes-and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. And that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share stories, others will be happy to meet us halfway.

 

 

35398632LUCKY LUNA by Diana López (Scholastic, August 28, 2018). Middle GradeIn LUCKY LUNA, Diana López returns to her contemporary, realistic CONFETTI GIRL roots, and introduces us to a funny and mischievous girl named Luna Ramos whose primas are always getting her in trouble. Or is it the other way around? Laughs and hijinks abound in this young middle grade novel about a girl and her many cousins in small-town Texas.

 

 

 

 

34966353STORM RUNNER by Jennifer Cervantes (Rick Riordan Presents, September 18, 2018). Middle Grade. A 13-year-old boy must save the world by unraveling an ancient Mayan prophecy. Zane must not only grapple with a family history that connects him to the Mayan gods, but with newly acquired knowledge that his ancestry may have something to do with a leg deformity that requires he use a cane — not the greatest reality for a middle schooler.

 

 

 

Image result for patrick flores scottAMERICAN ROAD TRIP by Patrick Flores-Scott (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt & Co., September 18, 2018). Young Adult. A YA novel about Teodoro “T” Avila, a 17-year old whose family is affected by the economy and the Iraq War, but when he falls for college-bound Wendy, he fights to overcome family chaos and turn his life around.

 

 

MERCI SUAREZ CHANGES GEARS by Meg Medina (Candlewick, September 2018). Middle Grade. Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. At home, Merc’s grandfaterh and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately–forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing at all. No one in her family will tell Merci anything, so she’s left to her own worries. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school–and the steadfast connection that family defines family.

 

 

Image result for mary louise sanchezTHE WIND CALLED MY NAME by Mary Louise Sanchez (Tu Books, June 3, 2018). Middle Grade. Some days, ten-year-old Margarita Sandoval feels as if the wind might blow her away. The country has been gripped by the Great Depression, so times are hard everywhere. Then she has to leave her familia and compadres in New Mexico–especially her beloved Abuelita–to move to Fort Steele, Wyoming, where her father has taken a job on the railroad. When Margarita meets Evangeline, she’s excited to have a friend her own age . . . but it seems like Evangeline, and everyone else in town, doesn’t understand or appreciate the Sandovals’ Hispanic heritage, or Margarita’s father’s efforts to organize the rail workers in a union. How can Margarita keep her friend, find a place in Fort Steele, and yet remain true to herself?

 

 

                                                       Photo by Margot Wood.Image result for becky albertalliWHAT IF IT’S US by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli (HarperTeen, October 2, 2018). Young AdultWhat If It’s Us opens as Arthur and Ben meet at the post office as Ben is shipping his ex-boyfriend’s things back to him. They subsequently endure the frustration of knowing there was a missed connection, before the universe pushes them back together again in a series of failed “first” dates.

 

 

BLANCA & ROJA by 2017 Stonewall Honor recipient Anna-Marie McLemore (Feiwel and Friends, October 9, 2018). Young Adult. A magical realist Snow-White & Rose-Red meets Swan Lake, in which two sisters become rivals in a game that will turn the losing girl into a swan.
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BRIEF CHRONICLE OF ANOTHER STUPID HEARTBREAK by Adi Alsaid (Harlequin Teen, summer 2018). Young Adult. The novel follows a teen relationship columnist as she struggles with writers’ block in the wake of a devastating breakup, and her decision to chronicle the planned breakup of another couple in the summer after they graduate from high school.

 

 

 

20171227a_CarolynDeeFlores_TheAmazingWatercolorFish_FrontCover_50PercentTHE AMAZING WATERCOLOR FISH by Carolyn Dee Flores (Arte Público Press/Piñata, summer 2018). A rhyming picture book about two lonely fish, separated by a wall of books, who communicate by creating incredible worlds in watercolor. The book will be bilingual and rhyme in both Spanish and English, with Spanish translation (literary interpretation) by former Texas Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla.

 

 

Courtney Author Photos2013_117.jpgSEVEN DEADLY SHADOWS by Courtney Alameda and Valynne E. Maetani (HarperTeen, summer 2018). Set in modern-day Japan, 17-year-old Kira, who is the victim of bullying at her school, finds solace working in her grandfather’s Shinto shrine. After realizing that she can see and commune with demons, Kira – with her younger sister in tow – partners with seven “death gods,” or “Shinigami” in Japanese, to save Kyoto from destruction.

 

 

SARAI AND THE MEANING OF AWESOME by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown (Scholastic, September 2018). Middle Grade. The first book in the fictional middle grade series based on Sarai’s life, Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome, features Sarai using her creativity and entrepreneurial skills to help her community and family. The first and second books in the series will be published in September, co-authored by award-winning author Monica Brown and Sarai Gonzalez, the fierce and confident 12-year-old star of the hugely successful music video “Soy Yo” by Bomba Estéreo, who became a viral star and the face behind #SoyYo, the movemebt celebrating independent girls around the world.

 

33110891CARMELA FULL OF WISHES by Matt de la Peña, illus. by Christian Robinson (Penguin Young Readers, October 9, 2018). Picture Book. When Carmela wakes up on her birthday, her wish has already come true–she’s finally old enough to join her big brother as he does the family errands. Together, they walk through their neighborhood, past the crowded bus stop, the fenced-off repair shop, and the panaderia, until they arrive at the laundromat, where Carmela finds a lone dandelion growing in the pavement. But before she can blow its white fluff away, her brother tells her she has to make a wish. If only she can think of just the right wish to make.

 

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WE’VE GOT THE WHOLE WORLD IN OUR HANDS by Rafael López (Scholastic, October 2018Picture book. Award-winning illustrator Rafael López brings new life with his adaptation of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” saluting the lives of all young people. The rhythmic verse and repetitive emphasis on “we” and “our” encourages inclusive communities and the celebration of unity and diverse friendships all around the world. Simultaneous Spanish hardcover edition, TENEMOS EL MUNDO ETERNO EN LAS MANOS.
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37483184ARE YOU READY TO HATCH AN UNUSUAL CHICKEN? (Unusual Chickens #2) by Kelly Jones, illus. by Katie Kath (Knopf Books for Young Readers, November 2018). Sophie’s flock of magic chickens grows in this funny follow-up to Kelly Jones’s exceptional debut: Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer. Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown is finally settling into her new home and her new role as keeper of some highly unusual chickens–chickens with secret superpowers! But the arrival of two new magical chickens and some unusual eggs to be incubated and hatched, plus an impending inspection from the Unusual Poultry Committee, has Sophie feeling pretty stressed out. Her older cousin Lupe is coming to stay with Sophie’s family for a while — but will Lupe think chickens are cool, too? Not to mention Sophie’s first day at her new school is coming right up! In this wildly funny and quirky novel told in letters and lists and quizzes, Sophie learns that sometime even an exceptional poultry farmer can use some help.

 

 

Image result for sonia sotomayorImage resultTURNING PAGES: MY LIFE STORY by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (Philomel, fall 2018). A picture book autobiography, illustrated by Lulu Delacre, in which Justice Sotomayor follows the path of her life as it relates to the books she read along the way. Also, THE BELOVED WORLD OF SONIA SOTOMAYOR (Delacorte, fall 2018), a middle grade adaptation of her bestselling memoir, My Beloved World.

 

SOMEONE LIKE ME: How One Undocumented Girl Fought for Her American Dream by Julissa Arce. (Little, Brown, fall 2018). Young Adult.  An adaptation of the 2016 adult memoir MY (UNDERGROUND) AMERICAN DREAM. This YA adaptation chronicles Arce’s childhood in Mexico separated from her parents and her struggle to belong in America while growing up as an undocumented student in Texas.
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GALÁPAGOS GIRL by Marsha Diane Arnold, illus by Pura Belpré Honor recipient Angela Dominguez. (Lee & Low, fall 2018). Picture Book. About a girl who lives on one of the Galápagos islands, and the various species of the island that provide her with friendship and inspiration.
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PATH TO THE STARS: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist by Sylvia Acevedo. A middle grade memoir is a personal account of how Acevedo overcame childhood poverty through her involvement with the Girl Scouts and Head Start, to become one of the first Latinas to receive a post-graduate degree in engineering from Stanford University. The book will be published simultaneously in English and Spanish by Clarion Books/HMH in fall 2018.

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THE VAST WONDER OF THE WORLD by Mélina Mangal, illus by Luisa Uribe. (Lerner/Millbrook Press, fall 2018). Picture Book. About the life and accomplishments of Ernest Everett Just, an African-American research biologist.
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SEÑORITA MARIPOSA by Latin Grammy Award-winning children’s musician Mister G (Ben Gundersheimer), illus by Mexican artist Marcos Almada Rivero (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018). A picture book celebrating butterfly migration as witnessed by American and Mexican children.
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Matt MendezWHEN WE WERE FEARLESS by Matt Mendez (Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, fall 2018). Young Adult. The novel tells the story of two high school friends growing up in a barrio community in El Paso, Texas.
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THE RESOLUTIONS by Mia Garcia (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books, fall 2018). Young Adult. The book follows four friends who assign each other New Year’s resolutions to try to change the course of their disastrous lives.
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ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES by Jorge Lacera and Megan Lacera (Lee & Low, fall 2018). The story follows Mo Romero, a young zombie who convinces his zombie parents to try (and love!) vegetables.

 

 

 

Zara Gonzalez HoangSurishtha SehgalKabir SehgalTHREAD OF LOVE by Kabir & Surishtha Sehgal, illus by Zara Gonzalez Hoang (Beach Lane Books/S&S, fall 2018). The picture book is a sibling-love and Indian-holiday story told to the tune of the classic song “Frére Jacques.”

 

Image result for margarita engle haku finds a homeHAKU FINDS A HOME by Margarita Engle with Amish Karanjit and Nicole Karanjit, illusustrated by Ruth Jeyaveeran (Lerner, fall 2018). Picture Book.

 

 

 

 ANA MARIA REYES DOES NOT LIVE IN A CASTLE by Hilda Burgos (Tu Books, fall 2018). Middle Grade. About 11-year-old Anamay, who is upset to discover that she will be getting a new sibling until she travels to her parents’ native Dominican Republic and learns that family and community are more important than material possessions.

Book Review: Evangelina Takes Flight

 

Review by Cris Rhodes

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: It’s the summer of 1911 in northern Mexico, and thirteen-year-old Evangelina and her family have learned that the rumors of soldiers in the region are true. Her father decides they must leave their home to avoid the violence of the revolution. The trip north to a small town on the U.S. side of the border is filled with fear and anxiety for the family as they worry about loved ones left behind and the uncertain future ahead.

Life in Texas is confusing, though the signs in shop windows that say “No Mexicans” and some people’s reactions to them are all-too clear. At school, she encounters the same puzzling resentment. The teacher wants to give the Mexican children lessons on basic hygiene! And one girl in particular delights in taunting the foreign-born students. Why can’t people understand that—even though she’s only starting to learn English—she’s just like them?

With the help and encouragement of the town’s doctor and the attentions of a handsome boy, Evangelina begins to imagine a new future for herself. But will the locals who resent her and the other new immigrants allow her to reach for and follow her dreams?

MY TWO CENTS: Diana J. Noble’s Evangelina Takes Flight is timely to a startling degree. As a work of historical fiction, Noble’s portrayal of upheaval in Mexico caused by the Mexican Revolution and Pancho Villa’s raids on farming villages remains relevant to this day. In confronting the racism and xenophobia rampant at the border, where shops display signs declaring “’No Dogs! No Negroes! No Mexicans! No Perros! No Negros! No Mexicanos!’,” Evangelina’s story parallels contemporary struggles for racial equality (92). As racial tensions build both in the text and in real life, Evangelina’s stand to keep her school desegregated feels remarkably current, and in its demonstration of child activism, Evangelina Takes Flight holds up a powerful example.

Though Noble doesn’t spend much time explaining the political situation of Mexico during the early twentieth century, the book doesn’t suffer from this lack of context. Indeed, told from the first-person point of view of Evangelina, the text should not offer details outside of her awareness. The book begins mere days after Porfirio Díaz was ousted as president of Mexico, an event that certainly would not have reached the secluded rancho where Evangelina lives, let alone Evangelina herself. Yet, as we journey along with the tenacious and imaginative Evangelina from her fictional Mexican town of Mariposa to the United States to escape the violence wrought by Villa, Noble invites the reader to watch Evangelina grow and mature. She might not be able to foment resistance in her native Mexico, but she certainly can in the United States, and eventually does when called upon to stand up for her right to an education.

Though Evangelina is still a child, at least by modern conceptions of childhood (she turns fourteen during the course of the book), she is entrusted with great responsibility, much of it in the field of medicine—leading her to dream of one day becoming a nurse or even a doctor. While this dream defies the limitations put upon her by her race and her gender, Evangelina does cling to some, perhaps stereotypical, tenets of Mexican femininity. She’s excited for her upcoming quinceañera, and she longs for the attention of boys—one boy, in particular: Selim. Evangelina’s blossoming relationship with Selim is doubly interesting because he is Lebanese—a fact that would likely cause some waves among her traditional Mexican family. Though Noble keeps their relationship chaste, the potential of an interracial relationship adds intrigue, and I wish there was more to it. Understandably, however, Evangelina and Selim’s feelings for each other are overshadowed by an upcoming town hall meeting, which will decide if foreign-born students will be allowed to attend school with their white peers.

Though Evangelina Takes Flight confronts historical (and contemporary) racism with aplomb, it still contains some troubling tropes about marginalized peoples, namely the White Savior figure. Evangelina has multiple encounters with the local doctor, Russell Taylor, whose compassion transcends race. Unlike his neighbors, Dr. Taylor is more than willing to help the Mexicans and goes out of his way to treat Evangelina’s Aunt Cristina when she gives birth to twin sons, one of whom is stillborn. Because of his position as the town doctor, Dr. Taylor holds sway with those who seek to segregate the school. He attempts to act as a mediator between the Mexican families and white townspeople, who are led by the mean-spirited Frank Silver. But Dr. Taylor’s intercession strays into White Savior territory when he is the one who discovers a secret that discredits Silver. After revealing Silver’s secret, Dr. Taylor parades Evangelina in front of the crowd at the town hall meeting, ostensibly to demonstrate her intelligence and humanity; but in a moment such as this, she actually becomes less of a humanized figure and more of a token. Additionally, it is not her own words that sway the townspeople to keep the school unified, but her ability to quote from the Bible, in English, that persuades them. While it is possible to read Evangelina as a key activist figure in spite of Dr. Taylor’s intervention, his role in this scene is a little disappointing, coming as it does in a text that otherwise offers so much in regards to racial equality.

Regardless, this book resonated with me on multiple levels. Evangelina’s struggle for independence, respect, and acquiring her own voice is something that many young Latinas, myself included, face today. Noble’s poetic yet accessible prose allows the reader to slip into Evangelina’s world and understand that problems can be overcome with perseverance and bravery. Though the book is at times slow moving and the plot is occasionally sparse, I would argue that such components allow the industrious reader to dive deep and think critically about Evangelina’s circumstances. However, these characteristics may also make this book difficult for reluctant readers. As a result, though this book is marketed as a middle grade novel, it may be more appropriate for experienced or older readers. Even if some parts were troublesome, I still found Evangelina an intriguing and captivating read,. Ultimately, for those looking for a book that faces contemporary issues through the lens of historical fiction, Evangelina Takes Flight certainly fits the bill.

TEACHING TIPS: Evangelina Takes Flight would pair well with other books about school de/segregation or child activists, such as Duncan Tonatiuh’s Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Méndez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation   or Innosanto Nagara’s A is for Activist. In addition, because of its historical setting, Evangelina would also be useful in teaching about the Mexican Revolution, the history of Texas, or historical race relations in the United States.

Evangelina Takes Flight offers lessons on metaphor and imagery, especially in its use of the butterfly as a symbol of resilience. When Evangelina’s grandfather tells her the story of the migratory butterflies for which her hometown of Mariposa is named, she starts to see the butterfly as an image of strength. Students could be guided to find passages where butterflies are mentioned to see how Noble constructs this extended metaphor. Students may also be encouraged to deconstruct the representations of butterflies on the cover of the book in a discussion about visual rhetoric.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Diana J. Noble was born in Laredo, Texas, and grew up immersed in both Mexican and American cultures. Her young adult novel, Evangelina Takes Flight, is based loosely on her paternal grandmother’s life, but has stories of other relatives and memories from her own childhood woven into every page. It’s received high praise from Kirkus Reviews, Forward Reviews (5 stars), Booklist Online and was recently named a Junior Library Guild selection. [Condensed bio is from the author’s website.]

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Cris Rhodes is a doctoral student at Texas A&M University – Commerce. She received a M.A. in English with an emphasis in borderlands literature and culture from Texas A&M – Corpus Christi, and a B.A. in English with a minor in children’s literature from Longwood University in her home state of Virginia. Cris recently completed a Master’s thesis project on the construction of identity in Chicana young adult literature.

 

Book Review: The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez

 

Review by Lettycia Terrones, MLIS, PhD Student

Malú and the D.I.Y. (with a little help from the Elders) Aesthetic of Punk Rock Girls

There is a scene half-way through Celia C. Pérez’s brilliant middle-grade novel The First Rule of Punk that pulls so powerfully at the heartstrings of all those who have ever struggled with forming their identity as a minoritized person in the U.S. Having just wrapped up the first practice session of her newly formed punk band, The Co-Co’s, Malú (María Luisa O’Neill-Morales), the novel’s protagonist, learns an important lesson about what it means to be “Mexican.” It’s a lesson that not only connects Malú to her cultural heritage in a way that is authentic, it also invites her to self-fashion an identity that encompasses all parts of her, especially her punk rock parts! The lesson comes at the hands of Mrs. Hidalgo, the mother of Joe (José Hidalgo) who is Malú’s friend-in-punk, fellow seventh-grader at José Guadalupe Posada Middle School, and the guitarist of her band. And, it’s a lesson that complements those imparted by the many teachers guiding Malú to incorporate the complexity of seemingly disparate parts that make up who she is.

Before leaving the Hidalgo basement, which serves as the band’s practice space, Mrs. Hidalgo asks Malú to pull out a vinyl copy of Attitudes by The Brat. Putting needle to the Image result for Attitudes by The Bratrecord, Malú listens to the first bars of “Swift Moves” the EP’s opening song and asks in wonder, “Who is she?” To which Mrs. Hidalgo replies, “That’s Teresa Covarrubias.” And, so begins a history lesson for the ages. By introducing Malú to Teresa Covarrubias, the legendary singer of The Brat—the best punk band ever to harken from East L.A. —Mrs. Hidaldo, in a true punk rock move, being that she’s one herself, reclaims the cultural lineages that are so often erased and suppressed by dominant narratives, by affirming to Malú: “And they’re Chicanos, Mexican Americans … Like us.” (Pérez 162). Mrs. Hidalgo opens a door and illuminates for Malú something so beautiful and lucent about our culture. She designates this beauty as being uniquely part of a Chicanx experience and sensibility. So that in this moment, Malú’s prior knowledge and understanding of the punk narrative expands to include her in it as a Mexican American girl. She too belongs to this lineage of Mexicanas and Chicanas that made their own rules, which as Malú will go on to learn, indeed is the first rule of punk (Pérez 310).

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Joan Elliott-Said a.k.a. Poly-Styrene

This “like us,” this cultural resonance, this CORAZONADA to our heritage as Chicanx people in the U.S. is exactly the attitude and voice that can only come from one who has experienced what it’s like to live in the liminal spaces where as you’re neither from here nor from there. Pérez, herself of bicultural Cuban and Mexican heritage, indeed speaks to this experiential knowledge, saying in a recent interview in The Chicago Tribune that it wasn’t until college when she read Pocho by José Antonio Villareal that she recognized her own experience reflected in the pages of literature for youth (Stevens). Pérez in The First Rule of Punk speaks to the same imperatives that Marianne Joan Elliott-Said a.k.a. Poly-Styrene, another legendary woman of color, punk rock innovator, and singer of the classic British punk band X-Ray Spex, expressed when she sang following lyrics: “When you look in the mirror/ Do you see yourself/ Do you see yourself/ On the T.V. screen/ Do you see yourself/ In the magazine” (“Identity” X-Ray Spex).

Pérez holds up a mirror to all the weirdo outsiders, all the underrepresented youth who are made to not fit in, and shows them a story that reflects and honors their truth. She takes on the complexities and messiness of culture and identity construction, doing justice to this tough work of self-fashioning by presenting to us the diverse ingredients that combine in such a way to produce a beautifully vibrant, brave, and rad punk rock twelve-year-old girl, Malú. Most importantly, Pérez shows us the significance of our elders, our teachers who assume different roles in guiding us, and guiding Malú, to always “stand up for what she believes in, what comes from here,” her/our corazón (Pérez 190).

Malú is a second-generation, avid reader, and bicultural kid (Mexican on her mom’s side, Punk on her dad’s side), who has to contend with starting a new school in a new town, making new friends, and dealing with her mom’s fussing over her non-señorita fashion style. She moves to Chicago with her mother who (in the type of first-generation aspirational splendor so integral to our Chicanx cultural capital that many of us will surely recognize) will begin a two-year visiting professorship. Malú dances away her last night in Gainesville to The Smith’s Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want with her dad, an old punk rocker who owns Spins and Needles, a records store. She brings with her handy zine supplies to chase away the homesick blues, creating zines and surrendering her anxieties to her worry dolls.

On the first day of school, Malú puts on her best punk rock fashion armor: green jeans, Blondie tee, trenzas, silver-sequined Chucks in homage to the OG Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, and some real heavy black eyeliner and dark lipstick, yeah! Of course, she gets called out. First, by her mom who tells her she looks like a Nosferatu(!), and then by the popular Selena Ramirez, her nemesis, who calls her weird, and then by the school policy, which lands Malú in the auditorium full of all the other kids who also stick out. Pérez captures the sticky reality of socialization where school serves as an agent of assimilation. She renders this moment with a tender humor that grateful adult eyes can point to when dealing with our children who will also likely experience this rite of passage. Malú resists being boxed in. She doesn’t want to assimilate. She doesn’t want to be “normal,” and neither does her friend Joe, whose bright blue hair and Henry Huggins steelo communicates an affinity with Malú’s punk aesthetic.

Thus, Pérez sets the stage. Malú, and her Yellow-Brick-Road crew comprised of Joe, Benny (trumpet player for the youth mariachi group), and Ellie (burgeoning activist and college-bound), are all Posada Middle School kids brought together by Malú’s vision and verve to start a punk band to debut at the school’s upcoming anniversary fiesta and talent show. Rejected, some would say censored, for not fitting into Principal Rivera’s definition of traditional Mexican family-friendly fun that she intends for the fiesta, The Co-Co’s decide to put on their own Do-It-Yourself talent show. Dubbed Alterna-Fiesta, The Co-Co’s plan to feature themselves and all the other students rejected from the school showcase for not fitting the mold.

Image result for the plugz

The Plugz

Image result for Ritchie Valens

Ritchie Valens

The self-reliance of D.I.Y. ethos, however, does not overshadow the importance of collectivism and solidarity that supports Malú’s response and agency toward expression. Again, she has her elders to thank. Mrs. Hidalgo helps set up the Alterna-Fiesta stage, which they improvised outside the school directly following the “official” talent show. Señora Oralia, Joe’s grandmother and Mrs. Hidalgo’s mom, turns Malú on to the power of Lola Beltrán, whose rendition of “Cielito Lindo” Malú transforms into a punked-out version in the tradition of Chicanx musical culture—from Ritchie Valens to The Plugz—that fuses traditional Mexican songs with rock and roll. Even Malú’s mom, who often projects her notions of what Malú should look and be like, is also the source of an important lesson. She teaches Malú about her abuelo Refugio Morales who came to the U.S. as a Bracero, and about her abuela Aurelia González de Morales who migrated to the U.S. at sixteen years old. She helps Malú see her grandparents’ experiences reflected in her own day-to-day life in Chicago.

Malú recognizes her family’s story of migration in the lives of her peers at Posada Middle School who might be recent immigrants. She reflects upon today’s workers, whose hands, like those of her grandfather, pick the strawberries she sees in the supermarket. Through zine-making, Malú makes sense of her world. She synthesizes the new information she’s learned about her family history to create new knowledge, as documented by her zine: “Braceros like my abuelo worked with their arms … and their hands manos (Abuelo’s tools). I work with my hands, too. Not in a hard way like Abuelo. But we both create (my tools) … scissors, paper, glue stick, markers, stack of old magazines, copy machine” (Pérez 116-117). Through the creative process of making zines, Malú weaves herself into her family’s tapestry of lived experiences, values, and character that are collectively shaped by her family. Malú’s Bracero zine exemplifies what Chicana artist Carmen Lomas Garza describes as the resilient function of art, which works to heal the wounds of discrimination and racism faced by Mexican Americans—a history that is also part of Malú cultural DNA (Garza 19). Her Bracero zine is an act of resilience through art. It reflects a creative process tied to collective memory. Indeed, she calls upon herself, and by extension, her reader, to remember. For it is the act of remembering and honoring who and where we come from that enables us to integrate and construct our present lives.

Malú’s family tapestry also includes her father, who despite being geographically far away, is firmly present throughout Malú’s journey. Malú seeks his counsel after Selena calls her a coconut, i.e. brown on the outside, white on the inside. Selena, the popular girl at Posada Middle School, embodies all of the right “Mexican” elements that Malú does not. She’s dances zapateado competitively, speaks Spanish with ease, and dresses like a señorita. Confused and hurt by Selena’s insult, Malú, being the daughter of a true punk rocker, flips the insult around and turns it into the name of her band, The Co-Co’s. The move, like her father said, is subversive. And it’s transformative as it addresses how divisions happen within our culture where demarcations of who is “down” or more “Mexican” often mimic the very stereotypes that we fight against. And it’s her father’s guidance to always be herself that equips her to resist the identity boxes that try to confine her. Malú, through the course of this story, figures out her identity by shaping, combining, fashioning—even dying her hair green in homage to the Quetzal—and harmonizing all the parts of herself to create an identity that fits her just right.

The First Rule of Punk is outstanding in its ability to show authentically how children deal with the complexities and intersections of cultural identity. It reminds us of what Ghiso et al. interrogate in their study of intergroup histories as rendered in children’s literature. As children’s literature invites young people to use its narrative sites to engage the intellect in imagination and contemplation, the researchers ask, “whether younger students have the opportunity to transact with books that represent and raise questions about shared experiences and cooperation across social, cultural, and linguistic boundaries” (Ghiso et al. 15). The First Rule of Punk responds affirmatively to this question in its resplendent example of our connected cultures and collective experiences. Malú, in making whole all the parts that comprise her identity, models for us, the reader, our own interbeing, our own interconnection. It’s like she’s asking us: “Wanna be in my band?” I know I do! Do you?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: (from her website): Inspired by punk and her love of writing, Celia C. Pérez has been making zines for longer than some of you have been alive. Her favorite zine supplies are her long-arm stapler, glue sticks, animal clip art (to which she likes adding speech bubbles), and watercolor pencils. She still listens to punk music, and she’ll never stop picking cilantro out of her food at restaurants. Her zines and writing have been featured in The Horn Book MagazineLatinaEl AndarVenus Zine, and NPR’s Talk of the Nation and Along for the Ride. Celia is the daughter of a Mexican mother and a Cuban father. Originally from Miami, Florida, she now lives in Chicago with her family and works as a community college librarian. She owns two sets of worry dolls because you can never have too many. The First Rule of Punk is her first book for young readers.

To read a Q & A with the author, click here

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Lettycia Terrones is a doctoral student in the Department of Information Sciences at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she researches Chicanx picturebooks as sites of love and resilient resistance. She’s from East L.A. Boyle Heights.

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

The Brat. Attitudes. Fatima Records, 1980.

Pérez, Célia. C. The First Rule of Punk. New York, Viking, 2017.

Garza, Carmen Lomas. Pedacito De Mi Corazón. Austin, Laguna Gloria Art Museum, 1991.

Ghiso, Maria Paula, Gerald Campano, and Ted Hall. “Braided Histories and Experiences in Literature for Children and Adolescents.” Journal of Children’s Literature, vol. 38, no.2, 2012, pp. 14-22.

Stevens, Heidi. “Chicago Librarian Captures Punk Aesthetic, Latino Culture in New Kids’ Book.” Chicago Tribune, 23 August 2017. chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/stevens/ct-life-stevens-wednesday-first-rule-of-punk-0823-story.html . Accessed 25 August 2017.

X-Ray Spex. “Identity.” Germfree Adolescents, EMI, 1978.

Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors Part 2: Celia C. Pérez

 

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

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

Today, we highlight Celia C. Pérez.

Inspired by punk and her love of writing, Celia C. Pérez has been making zines for longer than some of you have been alive. Her favorite zine supplies are her long-arm stapler, glue sticks, animal clip art (to which she likes adding speech bubbles), and watercolor pencils. She still listens to punk music, and she’ll never stop picking cilantro out of her food at restaurants. Her zines and writing have been featured in The Horn Book MagazineLatinaEl AndarVenus Zine, and NPR’s Talk of the Nation and Along for the Ride. Celia is the daughter of a Mexican mother and a Cuban father. Originally from Miami, Florida, she now lives in Chicago with her family and works as a community college librarian. She owns two sets of worry dolls because you can never have too many. The First Rule of Punk is her first book for young readers.

Celia C. Pérez

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

A. I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember. I think for me it just went hand in hand with being a reader. The earliest memory I have of writing something and realizing writing might be something I was good at was when I was in the third grade. All the third graders had to write an essay about what our school meant to us. One essay would be picked and that student would get to read it at our graduation. Mine was chosen. I don’t have the essay anymore and it’s been so long that I can’t remember what Comstock meant to me, but I do remember that it was the first time I felt like perhaps my writing held some power. And as someone who grew up a quiet, shy child of immigrant parents, it really was that sense of power it gave me that kept me writing throughout my life.

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

A. I love middle grade books above all others! My fondest memories of my life as a reader start in the later years of elementary school so I have a soft spot for middle grade. I think that age range that middle grade covers (eight or nine to twelve) is such a vibrant and varied period of life. It’s this time of life when kids are teetering between childhood and adolescence and all the contrasts and clashing emotions that are part of those stages. They’re often still full of wonder and curiosity and innocence but also full of difficult questions and realizations about the world around them that aren’t always pleasant. There’s just so much to discover and explore there.

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

A. I love the Pacy Lin books by Grace Lin (Year of the RatYear of the Dog, and Dumpling Days); When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead; Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle; Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Oldies that are dear to my heart are Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth by E.L. Konigsburg. I love Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (and will always associate dumbwaiters and egg creams with her), but I remember especially enjoying Nobody’s Family Is Going to Change. Although, to be honest, I feel like that’s a book I would probably have to reread because she’s a white woman writing an African American family. I also have a soft spot for my earliest favorites like Witch’s Sister by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, and the Anastasia Krupnik books by Lois Lowry. I’m always afraid I’m leaving something out, and I likely am.

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

A. Oh, boy. I have a lot of advice for my middle grade self but let’s start with these:

Keep everything you write even if you think it’s terrible. You’ll be happy you did.

Your voice is worth listening to. Don’t be afraid to express yourself.

You’re a good athlete. Stop reading during P.E. and play!

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

A. Middle grade novels are important because more than any other type of book I believe they give young readers the keys to discovering their place in the world.

 

Come back on Thursday to see our review of THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK!

 

photo by Saryna A. JonesCindy L. Rodriguez was a newspaper reporter for The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe before becoming a public school teacher. She is now a reading specialist at a Connecticut middle school. Cindy is a U.S.-born Latina of Puerto Rican and Brazilian descent. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU. Her debut contemporary YA novel, When Reason Breaks, released with Bloomsbury Children’s Books (2015). She will have an essay in Life Inside My Mind, which releases 4/10/2018 with Simon Pulse. She can also be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors Part 1: Margarita Engle

 

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

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

Today, we highlight Margarita Engle, a Cuban-American author who is one of the most prolific and decorated writers in Kid Lit.

Margarita Engle

Margarita Headshot

Margarita Engle is the 2017-2019 national Young People’s Poet Laureate, and the first Latino to receive that honor. She is the Cuban-American author of many verse novels, including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner, and The Lightning Dreamer, a PEN USA Award recipient. Her verse memoir, Enchanted Air, received the Pura Belpré Award, Golden Kite Award, Walter Dean Myers Honor, Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, and Arnold Adoff Poetry Award, among others. Drum Dream Girl received the Charlotte Zolotow Award for best picture book text.

Margarita was born in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during childhood summers with relatives. She was trained as an agronomist and botanist. She lives in central California with her husband.

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

A. I have been writing poetry since I was a small child, so I think my passion for composing verses grew naturally from loving to read. It was not something I consciously decided to try, just something I did the way I ate, slept, and breathed. As a teenager, I did make a conscious decision to try writing fiction, and I began to dream of someday writing a book about the history of Cuba. That finally happened, but not until I was in my 50s. The Poet Slave of Cuba was published in 2006, and The Surrender Tree in 2008, launching a long series of verse novels about Cuban history. By then, I had already published a great deal of poetry, technical botanical and agricultural articles, and a couple of adult novels about modern Cuba, but I have never been happier than when I write for children.

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

A. Most of my middle grade novels tend toward the tween end of the age range, perhaps because I was eleven in 1962, at the time of the Missile Crisis. Losing the right to travel to Cuba was a traumatic, surrealistic experience. I believe that a part of myself was frozen at that age, and did not thaw until 1991, when I was finally able to start visiting again. Now, I love to write for children who crave adventure, and still believe in the wonder of nature, children who are not yet embarrassed to love their families, even though they dream of independence.

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

A. There are so many! How can I choose? I’ll try, with apologies to all the fantastic authors I’m leaving out. Some of my favorite middle grade books are actually memoirs, rather than fiction. I love Alma Flor Ada’s Island Treasures, Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, and Marilyn Nelson’s How I Discovered Poetry. For fiction, most of my favorite middle grade novels are written in verse: Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai, Under the Mesquite, by Guadalupe García McCall, and Words With Wings by Nikki Grimes. I love books that travel to other countries, so I’ll sneak in Solo by Kwame Alexander and A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman, even though they lean toward YA. If I had to choose one middle grade prose novel, it would be the very poetic Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan.

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

A. Don’t be so self-critical. It’s okay to be a bookworm. Stop trying to please everyone else. Just be yourself.

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

A. Middle grade novels are important because that is the age when children are imaginative, wonder-filled, curious, and open to learning about the whole world.

 

Margarita’s newest verse novel about Cuba is Forest World, and her newest picture books are All the Way to Havana, and Miguel’s Brave Knight, Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote.

Books forthcoming in 2018 include The Flying Girl, How Aída de Acosta learned to Soar, and Jazz Owls, a Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots.

                                                                                                        

 

 

photo by Saryna A. Jones

photo by
Saryna A. Jones

Cindy L. Rodriguez was a newspaper reporter for The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe before becoming a public school teacher. She is now a reading specialist at a Connecticut middle school. Cindy is a U.S.-born Latina of Puerto Rican and Brazilian descent. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU. Her debut contemporary YA novel, When Reason Breaks, released with Bloomsbury Children’s Books (2015). She will have an essay in Life Inside My Mind, which releases 4/10/2018 with Simon Pulse. She can also be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.