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

Book Review: Tito Puente: Mambo King / Rey del Mambo by Monica Brown

Tito Puente, Mambo King/Tito Puente, Rey del MamboBy Sujei Lugo

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Meet Tito Puente, the King of Mambo. Tum Tica! From musical prodigy on the streets of Harlem to five-time Grammy Award winner, Tito’s life was full of rhythm. Drums and claves, saxophones and tambourines were all part of the fun. Tac Tic! Monica Brown and Rafael López, the award-winning creators of the Pura Belpré Honor Book My Name is Celia/Me Llamo Celia, team up once again for another spectacular collaboration in this upbeat tribute to a musical legend.

MY TWO CENTS: Brown was presented with the challenge of summarizing Tito Puente’s life and music career in a picture book, and with the collaboration of Rafael López and his lovely illustrations, she succeeded wonderfully. What makes this picture book stand out is how beautifully words (English and Spanish) and images resonate with Tito’s sounds. The illustrations here are so vivid that you can almost see movements and listen to the sounds that are evoked. Brown and López effectively capture the beat and feeling of Tito Puente’s music throughout every page.

The book starts with an image of a boy and girl peeking through a curtain, as if we are about to start a show. This is where we are welcomed to Tito’s story from his childhood in El Barrio to his Grammy award-winning years. López’s colorful and vibrant images, along with Brown’s words and onomatopoeia, show us how music was constantly present in Tito’s life. These same images and words also construct a fond view of Latino life and music in NYC during Tito’s life.

Brown and López give us a very entertaining book that also manages to educate us about Tito’s life and the importance of music education. It is important to remember that Tito Puente was a product of music education and a supporter of music programs in schools. He even successfully worked toward the creation of the Tito Puente Educational Foundation that offers scholarships to children interested in learning music. This is an issue that is relevant when arts and music programs are constantly facing budget cuts. Being in tune with Puente’s life (and other great musicians and singers) helps to inspire us to support arts and music education, thus this picture book also serves as a great tool to familiarize with the power of music and arts as an important aspect of the learning process.

Tito Puente: Mambo King/Rey del Mambo is the second collaboration between Monica Brown and Rafael López. Published in March 2013, the book was selected by various Best of 2013 lists such as: Latinas for Latino Lit’s Remarkable Latino Children’s Literature of 2013, School Library Journal’s Top 10 Latino-themed Books of 2013, and Center for the Study Multicultural Children’s Literature Best Multicultural Books of 2013. Here is the wonderful bilingual trailer for this picture book:

TEACHING TIPS: This is a bilingual picture book (ages 4-7) that works well for early readers, but is a perfect one to read aloud. Parents, grandparents, family members, friends, or guardians can read in English, Spanish, or both, while teaching words and sounds to their young ones. School and public librarians can also use this book during storytime, and they can incorporate Tito’s songs and beats as the closing songs.

Going along with Tito Puente’s sense of collaboration with music, teachers (pre-school-2 grade) can also collaborate in school with this book. Language Arts, English, and Spanish teachers can read this book to their students, while teaching new words (in English and Spanish), onomatopoeia, and Tito’s life (the book includes a short biography). Art teachers can encourage and help students to create different musical instruments that are mentioned in the book. Music teachers can use the basic musical notation of a rumba for timbales, bongo, and congas that is available at the end of the book to teach some beats to the students.


AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR: (information comes from HarperCollins Publishers, Monica Brown’s website, Rafael López Books’ website, and Rafael López’ website.

Monica Brown is the author of many award-winning children’s books and an English Professor at Northern Arizona University, specializing in U.S. Latino Literature and Multicultural Literature. She has a BA in English from University of California, Santa Barbara, an MA in English from Boston College and a PhD in English from The Ohio State University. In addition to children’s books, Monica Brown also writes and publishes scholarly work with a Latin@ focus. She is a recipient of the prestigious Rockefeller Fellowship on Chicano Cultural Literacies from the Center for Chicano Studies at the University of California.

Brown has stated that her Peruvian-American heritage and her desire to share Latin@ stories are the inspiration for her books. Her first book of the Marisol McDonald series, Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald No Combina is the winner of the Tejas Star Book Award (2012-13), the International Latino Book Award (2012) and a Pura Belpré Honor for Illustration (2012). Other of her numerous awards are: the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature (2005) for her picture book My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/Me Llamo Celia: La Vida de Celia Cruz; the Pura Belpré Award (2008) for My Name is Gabito: The Life of Gabriel Garcia Márquez/Me Llamo Gabito: The Life of Gabriel Garcia Márquez; and the International Latino Book Award (2006) for My Name is Gabriela: The Life of Gabriel Mistral/Me Llamo Gabriela: La Vida de Gabriela Mistral

Rafael López is a Mexican award-winning illustrator and artist, whose work is influenced by his cultural heritage, colors of Mexican street life, and Mexican surrealism. In addition to children’s books, López has illustrated posters, United States Postal Service stamps such as the Latin Music Legends series, and he has launched street art projects to revitalize urban neighborhoods, such as the Urban Art Trail Project.

He is the recipient of various Pura Belpré Honor for Illustration awards for books such as: My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/Me Llamo Celia: La Vida de Celia Cruz (2006), Book Fiesta!: Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day/ Celebremos El Día de los Niños/El Día de Los Libros (2010) and The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred (2012). He also received two Américas Awards for Children’s and Young Adult Literature for My Name is Celia (2006) and ¡Yum! ¡Mmmm! ¡Qué Rico! Americas’ Sproutings (2007).

For More Information about Tito Puente: Mambo King / Rey del Mambo (2013), visit your local library or bookstore. Also, check out, ,,,  &