Review: The Sarai Books by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown, illus. by Christine Almeda

 

Review by Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez

In the past year I have been immersed in numerous early readers and transitional chapter books as part of a research project that examines representations of Latinx characters in these kinds of texts. The Sarai book series has been one of my favorites to read!

While the short format of early readers and chapter books can sometimes limit how much character development and details authors can offer, the Sarai books don’t fall short on these aspects. Sarai is free spirited, caring, creative, confident, and as a reader I got to know her personality (and her sisters’ personalities as well) through her interactions with others and her many ventures.

The following are reviews for books 2, 3, and 4 of the series. Read our review of Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome (Sarai Book #1). All books in the series are now available in Spanish as Saraí #1: Saraí y el Significado de lo Genial, Saraí #2: Saraí en Primer Plano, Saraí #3: Saraí Salva la música, and Saraí #4: Saraí y la Feria Alrededor del Mundo.

 

Sarai in the Spotlight (Sarai Book #2)

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: When Sarai’s best friend suddenly moves away, Sarai has to navigate school – and the unfriendly girls in the cafeteria – all by herself. Then, new girl Christina moves to town and the teacher volunteers Sarai to show her around. But Sarai thinks Christina is not at all like her–she never wants to play at recess, she’s always got her head in a notebook, and she’s so shy! But when Christina writes Sarai a spoken-word poem for her to recite at the class talent show, Sarai learns that sometimes winning teams are made from unlikely pairs!

MY TWO CENTS: Sarai’s awesomeness continues in this second installment of the series. Her affirmation of being awesome continues in this book, especially when she shares with her family that some of the girls in her class bother her during recess (38). This demonstration of confidence continues when she stands up for herself during an incident with the same group of girls, doing so without putting anyone down. And that is the beauty of Sarai’s proclamations of confidence: they highlight how awesome she is and feels without making anyone else feel bad about themselves. Further, she also shows a little bit of self-doubt, which is to be expected of a child growing up. She is finding herself and becoming her own person.

This book focuses on how Sarai deals with her best friend moving away and then how she slowly befriends the new girl, Christina. They don’t have many things in common yet, which makes Sarai miss her friend Isa. However, Sarai is respectful about their differences and open to learning more about her new friend. As a result, they collaborate for the school’s talent show, creating together a wonderful performance.

Sarai’s blossoming friendship with Christina is as delightful to witness as her relationship with her sisters, Josie and Lucía. As she explains, they might sometimes fight and disagree, but they all stick up for each other. Each sister has a distinct personality, and we learn little bits about them throughout the story. For example, we learn that Lucía has a little bit of a temper, (11), and is also very empathetic: “Lucía used to have her own cafeteria card, but she kept buying food for everyone who she thought didn’t have enough money to eat…” (16). We also continue to learn about Josie, who attends a different school from her sisters, wears cochlear implants, and communicates through a combination of signs and words. The sisters — along with their cousins Juju, Javier, and Jade — are part of the Super Awesome Sister-Cousin Fun Club, where they come up with awesome ideas.

With so many fun activities happening in Sarai in the Spotlight (like the kids’ game of Rainbow Art Paint Tag) and all the relatable experiences Sarai goes through, readers will definitely enjoy this second book in the series.

TEACHING TIPS: Because this book introduces a new character, there is a good use of descriptions that help readers get to know her. In addition, readers learn more about Sarai, her sister, and her friend Isa. Teachers, then, can use the book to teach about character development through descriptions. Students can create profiles for the different characters in the book and then they could create and develop their own characters.

 

Sarai Saves the Music (Sarai Book #3)

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: They’re cutting funding at Sarai’s school and her band program is the first to go. That is totally not okay with Sarai. She decides to organize a benefit concert to raise money! When she and her bandmates promote the concert on their video channel, it catches the attention of Sarai’s favorite singer, Sparkles Sanchez! Can Sarai save the music?

MY TWO CENTS: I have to admit that, while I enjoyed all four books in the Sarai series,  this one is my absolute favorite! In the third installment of the series, we witness how Sarai and Christina’s friendship continues to grow, as they support and empower one another. When some of the girls at school keep teasing Sarai, Christina suggests that they are jealous because Sarai is “so smart, and because you’re you!” (11).  Equally helpful are Sarai’s neighbors and family, who continue to support the kids’ many ventures. This is particularly evident when everyone bands together to help Sarai help save her school’s music program.

It is this aspect that makes this book especially poignant. For one, it depicts the precarious state of the U.S. education system, where programs are being cut and teachers are losing their jobs. When Ms. Cruz — Sarai’s music teacher– shares the news with the class that the school district is cutting the funds for elementary music programs, students are understandably upset. More so, they are worried about what this means for their teacher. When Sarai asks Ms. Cruz if she will lose her job, the teacher can’t help but cry. This takes Sarai and the students aback, as they have “never seen a teacher cry before” and they “feel worried” (36). I truly appreciate the honesty from both Ms. Cruz and the students that is depicted here. Often, teachers are not encouraged to show vulnerability, even when their livelihood might be in danger, so Ms. Cruz’s moment of honesty with her students allows them to understand her situation better– and in turn, readers can better understand the realities many of their own schools and their own educators might be facing.

“Isn’t there anything we can do? Fundraise? Protest? Sign petitions?” Sarai asks, as the students try to figure out what they can do to save the music program and Ms. Cruz’s job (36). Sarai, always having something up her sleeve, mobilizes her classmates, her family, and her community to effect some change. Through her new venture, Sarai’s Garage Chat, a TV show she records with her sisters and cousins from their own garage, Sarai and her classmates are able to spread the word about the benefit concert they are organizing. It is important to note that Sarai takes action and mobilizes, but she creates a community and involves them. It is not a solo project. Everything is motivated and planned by the kids, and the adults are there to support them. One of the most moving moments in this book takes place when students are recording their plea to the community to attend their benefit and donate to the music program: each child made an argument about why music programs are so crucial.

In addition to its depiction of activism and empathy, this book continues showing readers all the awesome personalities in Sarai’s group of friends and family. There is something with which readers can connect– whether it is the games and fun ideas Sarai and her family come up with or her obsession with Stephanie Sparkles Sanchez (who gave me major Selena Quintanilla vibes and I loved it!). Through her contagious upbeat personality, Sarai is following her musical idol’s advice to “Spread the Sparkle!”

TEACHING TIPS: Teachers can use this early chapter book to discuss how the students in Sarai’s school worked together to try to solve a problem and could ask students to identify an issue in their school or community they would like to address. They could propose ideas and consider what steps they would need to take toward making improvements. Teachers can also use this book to focus on argument writing; as each student in Sarai’s class makes an argument for saving the music program, they put into practice appeals to logic and emotion.

 

Sarai and the Around the World Fair (Sarai Book #4)

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: When Sarai outgrows her bike, she worries she’ll never get to travel anywhere. But when Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary hosts their first Around the World Fair, Sarai learns that with a little imagination you can go anywhere you want!

MY TWO CENTS: In this fourth installment there is no “big problem” that Sarai needs to or wants to solve. Rather, we continue to see her character development, getting to know her and her family. Mainly, Sarai’s empathy and understanding of her family’s needs come through again. This time, she has been eyeing a bicycle, yet Sarai understands her parents’ financial struggles and doesn’t ask for expensive things, including the new bike she really wants. Her inventive and resourceful Tata — her grandfather — however, decides to fix an old bike for Sarai. And though she is reluctant at first, not sure what the end product would be, Sarai ultimately enjoys helping her Tata fix the old bike and appreciates how great it turns out to be.

I found her reluctance to be relatable and so important to include. She is such a positive and upbeat character, and a wonderful role model for children, but I also appreciated that we get to see Sarai upset. Seeing a range of emotions (like frustrations and being upset) can be helpful for young readers, and it is especially important to show them that it is okay to feel upset and then demonstrate how they can deal with their different emotions. After Sarai has some time to work through her frustrations with Tata and the old bike he is trying to fix, she apologizes to him, and Tata apologizes to her as well.  This exchange not only shows that she is human– experiencing and expressing a range of emotions– but it also shows that adults need to understand what children are experiencing and show them they matter.

At school, Sarai must decide what country to research and present at the Around the World Fair. Embracing her parents’ two countries — Peru and Costa Rica — she would love to feature both. She decides to do some “research to make an informed decision” (42). Funny as she is, Sarai, after doing some research, tells her friend Christina that one day, when they are “really old, like twenty” they could travel to Ireland, Peru, and Costa Rica, where their families are from. In the end, Sarai is able to present on her chosen country (I won’t tell you which one). At the end of the book, readers will find a recipe and a step-by-step guide for making empanadas, like the ones she shares at the fair.

This fourth, and hopefully not the last, book in the series is truly delightful!

 

Sarai GonzalezABOUT THE AUTHORS: Sarai Gonzalez became an overnight sensation after appearing in Bomba Estero’s, “Soy Yo,” a music video about embracing yourself and loving your flaws. The video garnered over 75million views and The New York Times called Sarai a Latina icon. Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome is the first book in her new chapter book series inspired by her life. Sarai is now 13 years old and lives in New Jersey with her family.

 

monica6Monica Brown is the award-winning author of super awesome books for children, including the Lola Levine chapter book series, Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/no combina, Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos, and Waiting for the Biblioburro. She is a professor of English at Northern Arizona University, specializing in Latinx and African American Literature. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, with her husband and her dogs, Lola and Finn. Visit her at www.monicabrown.net.

 

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ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Christine Almeda is a Filipino-American freelance illustrator from NJ / NYC. She graduated from Montclair State University, earning a BFA and an Award for Excellence in Animation & Illustration, focusing on children’s media. She believes in the power of storytelling and that art has the ability to make life a little more beautiful. You can learn more about her work at https://www.christinealmeda.com/about.

 

 

 

headshotABOUT THE REVIEWER: Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez is an Assistant Professor of English (Children’s Literature) at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.  Her teaching and research are in the areas of children’s literature (particularly Latinx literature), girlhood studies, and children’s cultures. Her published work has focused on girlhood as represented in literature and Puerto Rican girls’ identity formation with Barbie dolls. She has presented research on Latinx children’s books at various conferences and has served on children’s book award committees such as the 2017 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the 2018 Pura Belpré Award. Currently, she is part of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s “A Baker’s Dozen” committee.

 

 

Book Review: Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome by Sarai Gonzalez & Monica Brown, illus. by Christine Almeda

 

Review by Cris Rhodes

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Fourth grader Sarai Gonzalez can do anything. She can bake, dance, and run her own cupcake business. But when Sarai’s grandparents are forced to move, even Sarai’s not sure what to do. So she hatches a super awesome plan with her younger sisters and cousin to buy back the house. But houses are more expensive than she ever thought, her sisters won’t listen, and she’s running out of time. Will Sarai find a way to save the day?

Inspired by the life of viral video sensation and social activist Sarai Gonzalez with the help of award-winning children’s book author Monica Brown.

MY TWO CENTS: Like many, I was enchanted by the star of Bomba Estéreo’s 2013 viral hit “Soy Yo.” Sarai Gonzalez, with her glasses, funky hair, and can-do attitude was instantly memorable for her message of self-acceptance. Gonzalez’s quirky persona resonated, in part, because she represents a Latinidad not often proliferated in contemporary media. Sarai’s unique brand of relentless optimism, captured so artfully in the “Soy Yo” music video, is magnified in the early reader Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome, written by Gonzalez and award-winning author Monica Brown, illustrated by Christine Almeda. Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome is lovely in a multitude of ways. From Gonzalez and Brown’s conversational and jovial tone to Almeda’s illustrations (both in the margins and via two-page spreads throughout the text). And, albeit brief, this book is captivating.

 

 

For a young readership, Sarai’s opening affirmation “YOU ARE AWESOME” is as much a declaration for Sarai as it is for the readers she invites along with her as she embarks on an entrepreneurial mission to save her grandparents’ house (2). Bolstered by her endless supply of creative problem-solving, Sarai recruits her sisters to help make cupcakes and sell lemonade (limonada) and “delicious purple-corn-ade” (chica morada) to raise money when her grandparents’ rental home goes up for sale (78). Young readers will be captivated by Sarai’s agency and her ability to think quickly and take charge. Even so, her contributions to her family are fully within her capabilities as a ten-year-old and, as such, are completely believable. The ultimate result of her efforts is equally realistic and conveys to young readers that even in failure, success and growth can be found.

Gonzalez and Brown ultimately weave a tale that shares its abundance of hope with a readership who needs it. In a time when Latinx children are victimized by current political ideologies, seeing Sarai take charge and resist provides a necessary counterstory. What’s more, Sarai’s story of perseverance and hope is universal. In many places throughout this book, being Latinx is incidental to the plot. It’s a great joy to read a book like this. So often, being Latinx (though Sarai is careful to explain her family history, her mother is Peruvian and father is Costa Rican, while she and her sisters are from the U.S.—meaning that she and her family “are really, truly Americans—North, South and Central!” [7]), is the catalyst for problems. But Sarai’s grandparents’ ethnic and cultural identities are unrelated to their rental house being sold. As such, this text doesn’t paint one’s Latinidad as something to overcome, but rather something to be embraced, as Sarai uses her bilingualism to sell her baked goods and other treats to a wider customer base.

For young readers who need an extra boost of confidence, Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome delivers. Mingled with Almeda’s illustrations, which add just the right amount of pizzazz to an already bright narrative, Gonzalez and Brown’s prose is engaging while also being accessible to young readers just beginning to look for chaptered books. Sarai’s story will captivate readers, just as Sarai’s dance moves and bespectacled gaze did in “Soy Yo.”

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Sarai GonzalezThirteen-year-old, Sarai Gonzalez became an overnight sensation after appearing in Bomba Estereo’s “Soy Yo,” a music video about embracing yourself and loving your flaws. The video has garnered over 50 million views and the New York Times called Sarai a Latina icon. Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome is the first book in the new chapter book series inspired by her life. Sarai lives in New Jersey with her family.

 

monica6

Monica Brown, Ph.D., is the award-winning author of Waiting for the Biblioburro/Esperando al BiblioburroMarisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/no combina, and the Lola Levine chapter book series, including Lola Levine is Not MeanLola Levine, Drama Queen, and Lola Levine and the Ballet Scheme. Her books have garnered starred reviews, the Americas Award, two Pura Belpré Author Honors, and the prestigious Rockefeller Fellowship on Chicano Cultural Literacy. She lives in Arizona with her family and teaches at Northern Arizona University. Find out more at www.monicabrown.net.

 

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATORChristine Almeda is a Filipino-American freelance illustrator from NJ / NYC. She graduated from Montclair State University, earning a BFA and an Award for Excellence in Animation & Illustration, focusing on children’s media. She believes in the power of storytelling and that art has the ability to make life a little more beautiful.

Click here for an introduction to illustrator Christine Almeda, which includes a look inside Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome.

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Cris Rhodes is a lecturer in the English department at Sam Houston State University. She recently completed a Ph.D. in English with an emphasis on Latinx children’s literature. Her research explores the intersections between childhood activism and Latinx identities.

Book Review: Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown, illus. by John Parra

Review by Maria Ramos Chertok

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos, written by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra, is based on the life of one of the world’s most influential painters, Frida Kahlo, and the animals that inspired her art and life. The fascinating Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is remembered for her self-portraits, her dramatic works featuring bold and vibrant colors. Her work brought attention to Mexican and indigenous culture, and she is also renowned for her works celebrating the female form. Brown’s story recounts Frida’s beloved pets–two monkeys, a parrot, three dogs, two turkeys, an eagle, a black cat, and a fawn–and playfully considers how Frida embodied many wonderful characteristics of each animal.

MY TWO CENTS: Any story for children that involves a positive relationship with animals is captivating, and this story certainly is. It shows how animals played a supportive and nurturing role in Frieda’s life and also how they became her artistic muse. I enjoyed learning the names of her animals and about how she responded to the stresses of having to be bedridden at two separate times in her life by using imagination, creativity, and art to liberate her mind, find enjoyment, and express herself.

This book was published in both English and Spanish. Given that I like to read to my children in both languages, I often prefer having both languages accessible in one book. And, I can see the value in marketing to distinct audiences.  I experienced the Spanish language version as more layered and nuanced and that may be because Spanish is my second language, so I had to work harder and focus more to read it and, therefore, got more out of it.

The earth-toned illustrations by John Parra are a great accompaniment to the text and drew me into the story with ease, bringing the animals and characters to life.

At the end of the book, there is an Author’s Note that provides background information on Frieda and more information about her paintings and career as an artist. The book references Frieda’s close relationship with her father, who is described in the Author’s Note as German Hungarian. Throughout her life, Frieda described her father as Jewish, but neither the book, nor the Author’s Note mention this, which piqued my curiosity since, as a Latina Jew, that had been one of the things that drew me to Frieda Kahlo. In doing a small bit of research, it appears that a 2005 book traced her paternal lineage and concluded that she was from Lutheran stock. Yet, it wasn’t completely clear to me if that included a thorough examination of her paternal grandmother, Henriette Kaufman’s lineage. Regardless, it remains curious as to why Frieda talked about her father as Jewish. Various commentators have opinions on this issue. I did learn that she changed the spelling of her name to include the “e” during World War II, so that the spelling would more closely resemble frieden which is the German word for peace.

TEACHING TIPS: The first thing that came to mind when I read this book was the image of all young readers demanding that their parents buy them a monkey! From a teaching perspective, this presents a wonderful opportunity to discuss the history of animal rights, the distinction between domesticated and wild animals, and the importance of animals being in a habitat that promotes their long-term survival. While Frieda loved all her animals, her “domestication” of a fawn and a pair of monkeys should be stressed as something unique and not to be emulated, especially because any naturally wild animal that becomes domesticated is typically not able to return to the wild successfully.

I see a second opportunity to engage in a classroom discussion about support animals (Emotional Support Dogs/ESDs, Mental Health/Psychiatric Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs, Guide Dogs for the visually impaired/blind) and how animals are used in various ways to help people.

In the U.S., it is estimated that 44% of all households have a dog and 35% have a cat. This statistic could be used to launch a conversation about why people have pets and what role pets play in our lives. For older children, this discussion can lead to the role that zoos play in society and a debate about the pros and cons of zoos.

Some 2017 resources include the film A Dog’s Purpose (for children/teens). For teachers, reading the book The Zookeeper’s Wife or seeing the 2017 movie adds an interesting angle to zoos. The new release The Dogs of Avalon (August 2017) expands the conversation about animal rights and justice.

Another route to explore is Mexican art and the role that both Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera (who is referenced in the book) played in shaping the field through their contributions as painters. As a creative activity, it might be fun for children to do self-portraits with pets they have and/or with animals they like (the latter for children who don’t have pets).

WHERE TO GET IT: To find Frida and Her Animalitos, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Click here for a Coloring Activity Sheet.

Click here for a Discussion Guide.

Click on the image below to see the book trailer!

 

monica6ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Monica Brown, Ph.D., is the award-winning author of Waiting for the Biblioburro/Esperando al Biblioburro, Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/no combina, and the Lola Levine chapter book series, including Lola Levine is Not Mean, Lola Levine, Drama Queen, and Lola Levine and the Ballet Scheme. Her books have garnered starred reviews, the Americas Award, two Pura Belpré Author Honors, and the prestigious Rockefeller Fellowship on Chicano Cultural Literacy. She lives in Arizona with her family and teaches at Northern Arizona University. Find out more at www.monicabrown.net.

 

Parra paintbrushABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: John Parra is an award-winning illustrator, designer, teacher, and fine art painter. His children’s books have earned many awards including, the SCBWI Golden Kite Award, ALA’s Pura Belpré Honors, The Christopher’s Award, the International Latino Book Award, and many more. In 2015, John was invited by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to present a special event about his work and career in art and illustration and in 2017 John’s art will be seen on six new Forever Postal Stamps from USPS titled: Delicioso. He currently lives with his wife Maria in Queens, New York. John graduated from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Visit him on the web http: //www.johnparraart.com/home.htm, or follow him on twitter @johnparraart.

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Maria is a writer, workshop leader and coach who facilitates The Butterfly Series, a writing and creative arts workshop for women who want to explore what’s next in their life journey.  In December 2016, she won 1st place in the 2016 Intergenerational Story Contest for her piece, Family Recipes Should Never be Lost.  Her work has appeared in the Apogee Journal, Entropy Magazine, and A Quiet Courage.   Her piece Meet me by the River will be published in Deborah Santana’s forthcoming anthology All the Women in my Family Sing (Jan 2018) http://nothingbutthetruth.com/all-the-women-in-my-family-sing/.  She is a trainer with Rockwood Leadership Institute www.rockwoodleadership.org and a member of the Bay Area chapter of Write on Mamas.  For more information, visit her website at www.mariaramoschertok.com

 

CLICK HERE TO ENTER OUR GIVEAWAY. YOU COULD WIN FRIDA AND HER ANIMALITOS IN ENGLISH OR SPANISH! 

 

Book Reviews: Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean & The Rooster Would Not Be Quiet

 

Reviews by Dora M. Guzmán

The following books are examples of what to do when confronted with a problem. Both texts demonstrate the power of teamwork and sharing our voice with love and joy.

LOLA LEVINE MEETS JELLY AND BEAN

Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: The Levines are finally getting a pet–a furry one that is. They are excited about adopting a kitty they name Jelly, but they don’t get very far in the process when Ben starts sneezing. Oh no, he’s allergic! Lola is devastated and sets out to find Jelly a good home. Luckily, Lola is rewarded with a very happy (and still furry) ending. With Lola’s trademark humor, we can expect a few mishaps, many funny moments, and a cute new pet all wrapped in one adorable book.

MY TWO CENTS: This realistic fiction chapter book is the definition of a bicultural family that loves to spend time with each other and solve everyday problems! Lola Levine has a younger brother named Ben. She is your typical older sister who is always looking out for her brother. Lola and Ben are adopting a kitten! But before they can get a cat, they have to do some research on what a cat needs and even start building a cat play structure, or as the family calls it “a cat castle”. Once their new cat, Jelly, is home, Ben and Lola discover that Ben is allergic to cats! The ending of this realistic and humorous book is a true reflection of how a family solves a problem and works together for one goal. An amazing series to add to your diverse classroom library!

Monica Brown created an excellent bicultural character when she started the Lola Levine series. The sibling relationship between Lola and Ben is so apparent and loving, as well as the other relationships within the family. Lola Levine is a great role model for all as she navigates her childhood throughout this great series!

TEACHING TIPS: Teachers can use this early chapter book or components of it to model narrative writing, especially how to focus on small moments or details. Teachers can also use this book to focus on character analysis of either Lola or Ben as well as teaching story elements and making connections.

WHERE TO GET IT: To find Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

monica6ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Monica Brown, Ph.D. is the author of many award-winning books for children, including Waiting for the BiblioburroMarisol McDonald Doesn’t MatchMarisol McDonald no combina The Lola Levine series including: Lola Levine is Not Mean!Lola Levine, Drama QueenLola Levine and the Ballet Scheme, and Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean. Find Monica on Facebook at Monica Brown, Children’s Author, on twitter @monicabrownbks, or online at www.monicabrown.net.

 

 

 

Image resultABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Angela Dominguez was born in Mexico City, grew up in the great state of Texas, and lived in San Francisco. She’s the author and illustrator of picture books such as Let’s Go, Hugo!; Santiago Stays; Knit Together, and Maria Had a Little Llama, which was an American Library Association Pura Pelpré Honor Book for Illustration. She now writes and creates in her studio in Brooklyn, New York.

 

 

THE ROOSTER WOULD NOT BE QUIET!

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: La Paz is a happy, but noisy village. A little peace and quiet would make it just right. So the villagers elect the bossy Don Pepe as their mayor. Before long, singing of any kind is outlawed. Even the teakettle is afraid to whistle
But there is one noisy rooster who doesn’t give two mangos about this mayor’s silly rules. Instead, he does what roosters were born to do.
He sings:
“Kee-kee-ree-KEE ”
Carmen Deedy’s masterfully crafted allegory and Eugene Yelchin’s bright, whimsical mixed-media paintings celebrate the spirit of freedom — and the courage of those who are born to sing at any cost.

MY TWO CENTS: There is a town, La Paz, that loves to sing and make all types of noise! However, there is a new mayor in town and with new leaders come new rules. The new mayor, Don Pepe, establishes a law of absolutely no singing or noise EVER! Well, a few days later, there is a rooster who moves into town and what roosters do best is sing in the morning. The mayor is shocked that someone would disobey the new noise ordinance and does everything in his power to enforce his law. Little to the mayor’s knowledge, the town sides with the Rooster and dethrones the mayor. The little town is back to what it was meant to be- joyful, noisy, and proud of it!

A hilarious bilingual story with a strong message for all to hear! The illustrations are vivid and significantly engage the reader as they are pulled into the plot of what is going to happen next.

TEACHING TIPS: Teachers can use this text to teach predicting, character analysis of the townspeople, the Rooster, and/or Don Pepe, as well as teaching readers about the progression of a problem and solution. Teachers can highlight the theme of what it means to have a voice and stand up for your community. Teachers can also use this book as a writing mentor text to model onomatopoeia, transition words, and dialogue.

WHERE TO GET IT: To find The Rooster Would Not Be Quiet, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carmen Agra Deedy is an internationally known author of children’s literature, a storyteller and radio contributor. Born in Havana, Cuba, she immigrated to the United States with her family in 1963 after the Cuban Revolution. Deedy grew up in Decatur, Georgia and currently lives in Atlanta and has three daughters. She has also written books like 14 Cows in America and Martina The Beautiful Cockroach.

 

 

 

Image resultABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Russian-born artist Eugene Yelchin graduated from the Leningrad Institute of Theater Arts. During his studies, he designed sets and costumes for dramas, comedies and ballets. He also co-founded a children’s theatre in Siberia. Despite obstacles, Eugene traveled to the United States to share his expertise and talent as an artist. His work has appeared in magazines and newspapers and advertising campaigns, TV commercials, and animated films. His novel Breaking Stalin’s Nose was awarded a Newbery Honor in 2012. His website is http://eugeneyelchinbooks.com/index.html

 

 

 

img_0160ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-3 and also teaches an undergraduate college course in Children’s Literature. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never ending “to read” pile!

Book Review: Side by Side/Lado a Lado by Monica Brown, illustrated by Joe Cepeda

 

Reviewed by Maria Ramos-Chertok

Side by Side/Lado a Lado CoverDESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: Every day, thousands of farmworkers harvested the food that ended up on kitchen tables all over the country. But at the end of the day, when the workers sat down to eat, there were only beans on their own tables. Then Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez teamed up. Together they motivated the workers to fight for their rights and, in the process, changed history.

Award-winning author Monica Brown and acclaimed illustrator Joe Cepeda join together to create this stunning tribute to two of the most influential people of the twentieth century.

MY TWO CENTS: Growing up, my mother told us we had to boycott grapes. At that time, I only understood farmworkers were treated badly and Cesar Chavez was helping them. Years later, I’ve found a bilingual children’s book that would have helped me understand, not only the history of the farmworker movement, but who Cesar Chavez was and how he and Dolores Huerta worked together to inspire a national consciousness about the treatment of farmworkers. I love that this book introduces Dolores and Cesar as children and connects their early life experiences to the decisions they made as they grew up. I value the discussion of poverty, which the author introduces by explaining that Cesar’s family ended up working as migrant farmworkers after they lost their home. Given the shame and confusion children are apt to feel when their family faces eviction and/or loss of a home, the book offers an important perspective on family displacement by following Cesar throughout the loss, showing how it impacted his life as an activist for human dignity. It also does a good job of showing how a teacher, Dolores Huerta, became a social justice leader, adding a texture and dimension to those in the teaching profession that students might not otherwise get an opportunity to witness.

The illustrations by Jose Cepeda really welcome readers into the story and younger children will be engaged visually. His illustrations are lively and are reminiscent of comic book characters.

I learned several things about the early lives of Caesar and Dolores that enriched my understanding of them as people and about the farmworker movement, so while the book is focused on ages four to eight, I suspect adults will learn something new as well.

Given that I longed for bilingual children’s books when my two sons were growing up, I only wish I had known about this book earlier. I applaud our local library for having a copy on display and bringing it to my attention.

TEACHING TIPS: The story offers educators the chance to engage their students in discussions about social justice. While there are many ways to talk about how and why people have to fight for human rights, this book offers a slice of American history that has resonance with contemporary issues related to the working and living conditions of the people who grow and pick our fruits and vegetables. Teachers might even bring in some fruit or veggies and ask children to think about how it ended up at the supermarket or fruit stand. Making a connection between planting, cultivating, growing, harvesting, marketing, and shipping and the human beings behind each step could be a valuable lesson on introductory economics.

There’s a deeper issue that surfaces in the book about “Why people do things that hurt other people?” (or why would a person do something that hurts another person?). Pre-school and elementary school aged children would already have a frame of reference for exploring the motivations and psychology behind this universal question. Along these lines, I offer one cautionary note related to the issue of how the landowners and bosses are portrayed. The author writes that “mean bosses sprayed the plants with poisons that made the farmworkers sick.” I understand the need to provide accessible language and concepts for four to eight year olds, as well as the desire to avoid delving into profit margins, racism, immigration, landowners versus farmworkers and economic class. Yet, there may well be children in one class/school/community who come from both farmworker families and farm owning families. As such, I think it is important to explore the term “mean” and work to avoid polarized thinking/labels. I’d recommend focusing young children on what motivates someone who’s being “mean” and the consequences of mean treatment:

  • What makes people act in a mean way?
  • Why are people mean to some and not to others?
  • What happens when you are on the receiving end of someone who is mean?
  • What if the person being mean has power over you (e.g. boss, police officer, parent)?

Children know about these issues first-hand, and I’d suspect they’d have amazing insights.

I also see Side by Side being used to talk about work and career. So many adults ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, and that pressure can make kids feel like they have to provide an acceptable response. This book provides insights into how your calling can find you. It also shows how one’s chosen profession, teacher in Dolores’s Huerta’s case, can morph, grow, expand and change over time.

The book offers a wonderful opportunity to explore friendship. By highlighting the platonic partnership and bond between a man and woman working toward a common vision, it shows a model of what two people can do when they unite. The idea of strength in numbers or working in pairs can be explored by asking students about the benefits of working with someone else on a school project or a sports team.

The book can also be used to discuss feminism. Many people think about Cesar Chavez’s connection to the farmworker movement. This book highlights Dolores Huerta’s work as a bold and fearless leader in her own right. She is an important role model for girls, displaying courage, skills to inspire and mobilize, and political savvy. For lessons that focus on women in American History, she would be a great person to showcase.

Finally, because so much of the telling of history has to do with who is telling the story, Side by Side provides a perspective on history that departs from the dominant culture’s narrative on landowning, California’s natural agricultural bounty, modernization, and unionization.

I’d recommend reading the Note for Parents and Teachers at the back of the book to gain more context and facts about Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.

WHERE TO GET IT: To find Side by Side / Lado a Lado, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

 monica6ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Monica Brown, Ph.D. is the author of many award-winning books for children, including Waiting for the BiblioburroMarisol McDonald Doesn’t MatchMarisol McDonald no combina The Lola Levine series including: Lola Levine is Not Mean!Lola Levine, Drama QueenLola Levine and the Ballet Scheme, and Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean. Find Monica on Facebook at Monica Brown, Children’s Author, on twitter @monicabrownbks, or online at www.monicabrown.net.

For other posts about Monica Brown, click here and here.

 

second_pic_4x6_72ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Joe Cepeda is an award-winning illustrator of children’s books who also works in magazine illustration. He lives in California and serves as president of the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles. For more information, visit his website.

 

 

Joe Cepeda did a two-part interview with us about his work. To read those posts, click here and then here.

 

Extra: A movie about Dolores Huerta released on September 1, 2017. Here is the official trailer:

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Maria is a writer, workshop leader and coach who facilitates The Butterfly Series, a writing and creative arts workshop for women who want to explore what’s next in their life journey. In December 2016, she won 1st place in the 2016 Intergenerational Story Contest for her piece, Family Recipes Should Never be Lost. Her work has appeared in the Apogee Journal, Entropy Magazine, and A Quiet Courage.  Her piece Meet me by the River will be published in Deborah Santana’s forthcoming anthology All the Women in my Family Sing (Jan 2018) http://nothingbutthetruth.com/all-the-women-in-my-family-sing/.  She is a trainer with Rockwood Leadership Institute www.rockwoodleadership.org and a member of the Bay Area chapter of Write on Mamas. For more information, visit her website at www.mariaramoschertok.com

Viva Smart, Bold Girls, and Viva Lola!: A Guest Post by Author Monica Brown

 


Lola Levine Is Not Mean! CoverBy Monica Brown

Why write a chapter book series?

I love this age of reader and I love this age. It really is an honor and a delight to write an #ownvoice chapter book series because my books might be the very first “novels” a child will be read, and the first read on their own! There are plots, subplots, world creation, and all those things that go into any novel. It’s a challenging genre to write in, but it’s an important one, because chapter books can establish a true love of reading. It is also one that has had a paucity of diverse main characters, and even fewer authors of color. While most librarians will know exactly who Junie B. Jones and Judy Moody are, we just don’t have multicultural chapter books with that reach and readership, and we desperately need them.

I’m very proud of the books my amazing illustrator Angela Dominguez and I created with this series! Picture books, middle-grade, and YA get a lot of literary attention–chapter books much less so. When I Lola Levine Coverdecided to write a chapter books series, my agent told me it would be a challenge to publish because there are fewer houses that publish them and a series is a big investment. Against all odds, Angela and I did it, and our books are among the first, if not the first, Latina-authored and illustrated chapter book series.

When I was in second grade, I would have loved to meet a rough and tumble girl like Lola Levine. You see, I spent a fair bit of time on the bench at recess! Apparently I talked a lot in class, played tag a little too competitively, and jumped in puddles on purpose. I do remember that my mother was called more than once to bring me dry shoes. In fiction, as in life, rascals and rebels might have more fun, but I learned to channel that mischievousness into creative outlets and team sports, not to mention a great deal of humor. Like Lola, I was also a child of two cultures, and I know first hand that mixed-race children, like myself and my daughters, are sometimes described as “half” this or “half” that, instead of beautifully whole. Lola Levine isn’t a fraction; she is made up of multitudes! As a Lola Levine and the Ballet Scheme Covermother, a teacher, and a writer who meets thousands of children each year, I’ve also observed the way girls (and boys) who don’t quite “fit in” can experience social exclusion, teasing, and even bullying.

These are some of the reasons I created the chapter book series focusing on this irrepressible character of Lola Levine, who is boldly, fiercely, herself. Lola teaches us that girls can be competitive and loud and funny, but sensitive and nurturing, too. This series is also covering new territory. For example, in the upcoming Lola Levine and the Vacation Dream (Book 5), Lola goes to Peru with her family and visits her beloved Tia Lola. She stays in the house her mother grew up in and learns about her own complex history and Peru’s. This may be the first chapter book that addresses themes of indigenous identity and colonization in Peru.

As a writer, I’ve been inspired by director Guillermo del Toro, famous for the film Pan’s Labyrinth, who in relationship to art, imagination, and childhood once noted that there is “a particular moment that we all go through when we are asked to stop believing and stop choosing who we are and become who Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean Covereverybody else tells us to be.” He goes on to say, “we should not obey . . . imagination should not comply.” There is such a freedom in being oneself, and that is a gift I bestow on my character Lola.  It was a dream and a pleasure to create a smart, diverse, multicultural character who each day chooses to be herself, and whose imagination certainly does not comply! Viva smart, bold girls, and viva Lola!

Interested in more Chapter Books featuring Latina Characters?  In her recent blog on “Latina Girl Power! Chapter Books with Latina Characters,” librarian Mary Ann Schuer highlights Lola and other chapter books featuring Latina characters.

 

 

To the left is Monica Brown as a young soccer player; to the right is her daughter, JuJu, the original “Lola.”

monicasoccer  julessoccers

 

monica6Monica Brown, Ph.D. is the author of many award-winning books for children, including Waiting for the BiblioburroMarisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/ Marisol McDonald no combina The Lola Levine series including: Lola Levine is Not Mean!Lola Levine, Drama Queen; Lola Levine and the Ballet Scheme, and Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean. Find Monica on Facebook at Monica Brown, Children’s Author, on twitter @monicabrownbks, or online at www.monicabrown.net.