Spotlight on Latina Illustrators Part 4: Carolyn Dee Flores, Christina Rodriguez, and Jacqueline Alcántara

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the fourth in a series of posts spotlighting Latina illustrators of picture books. Some of these artists have been creating children’s books for many years, while others will have their first book out this year. They come from many different cultural backgrounds, but all are passionate about connecting with readers through art and story. Please look for their books at bookstores and libraries!

Carolyn Dee Flores

Carolyn Dee Flores grew up around the world and now lives in San Antonio, Texas. She worked as a computer analyst, rock musician and composer prior to becoming an illustrator of children’s books. She illustrated Dale, dale, dale: una fiesta de números/Hit it, hit it, hit it: a fiesta of numbers and Canta, Rana, Canta/ Sing Froggie Sing, which were both named to the Tejas Star Reading list. Her illustrations for the book Daughter of Two Nations won a Skipping Stones Honor Award. Her most recent work can be seen in the book Una Sorpresa para Teresita/ A Surprise for Teresita, published in October 2016 by Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Publico Press.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A:   My Uncle Rey. He was a professional artist. He made me realize it was something you could do. Be an artist for a living.

When I was little, I used to go over to my grandmother’s house and see his drawings and paintings framed on the wall and I would think, “How on earth does someone get that good?” Later, I found out he had gone to art school and become an artist for the Air Force. When he passed away, my aunt gave me his art books. I read every page … over and over and over. That’s when I first learned about Goya and Rembrandt and Velázquez. It meant everything to me.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium. 

A: Oil. Oil. And then oil. I am very excited about a new technique I developed for painting with oil on cardboard. It completely saturates the board until it looks like brushed felt. It also enables me to control the bleed and dry quickly. This is the first time I have been able to get those intense colors that you get with oil paints – in an illustration. I use this process in my new book “A Surprise for Teresita” which comes out this month.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: They are a child’s very first glimpse into all the possibilities of being a human being. Whether it is stepping into the Wizard of Oz, or a Dr. Seuss landscape, or playing with the pigeon in Mo Willems’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus – or going to a playground down the block – the reality for a child is the same. The world is full of color, and rhythm and courageous deeds and breathtaking imagination. Picture books affirm a child’s vision … forever. Nothing could be more important than that!

Dale, Dale, Dale / Hit It, Hit It, Hit It Cover  Canta, Rana, Canta / Sing, Froggie, Sing Cover  

 

Christina Rodriguez

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Christina Rodriguez lives in Rhode Island and has illustrated more than twelve books for children. She is a three time nominee for the Tejas Star Book Award. Among the books she has illustrated are Un día con mis tias/ A Day with my Aunts, Mayte and the Bogeyman, We are Cousins/ Somos primos, The Wishing Tree and Adelita and the Veggie Cousins.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: I became a children’s book illustrator thanks to the adults who steered me in that direction as a child: from my dad who taught me how to draw horses as a child, to my teachers who encouraged my love of art and reading, and finally to my mother for supporting my decision to go to art school at RISD.  Without the continuous support of the role models in my life, I might not be where I am today.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I have two favorite mediums: digital and watercolors. Watercolor painting was one of the first techniques I learned, but I didn’t really get into it until college, when it became a safer alternative to oil paints (the fumes were giving me headaches). Most of my books are done in a mixture of watercolors, watercolor pencils, and gouache -an opaque type of watercolors – that gives me a lot of control in the details and the ability to add depth and texture. I also carry a travel-sized watercolor paint box with my sketchbook everywhere I go.

My other favorite medium is digital: I’ve illustrated a few books completely in Adobe Photoshop, from sketches to finished art. Many book illustrators incorporate digital programs into their workflows at some point, whether it’s resizing sketches, or cleaning up and enhancing finished paintings. I use a Microsoft Surface Pro which makes creating digital illustrations even easier.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: They introduce children to many rich and important concepts at a young age: a love of reading and art, active listening, and critical thinking of complex subjects while in a safe place. Picture books can provide the foundation upon which a rich education can be built.

  Mayte and the Bogeyman/Mayte y El Cuco Cover  We Are Cousins/Somos Primos Cover    Adelita and the Veggie Cousins/Adelita y Las Primas Verduritas Cover

 

Jacqueline Alcántara

photo credit @eyeshotchaJacqueline Alcántara is a freelance author and illustrator who previously taught high school art and photography. She won the inaugural We Need Diverse Books Illustrator Mentorship Award in 2016. Her first book is The Field which will be published in 2018 by NorthSouth Books.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: For as long as I can remember, I loved drawing, cutting, gluing, painting, inventing characters, and writing stories. As a kid, my mom would take me down to the Art Institute’s kids programs, and I still remember the texture of the paper they gave me, and how excited I felt about creating art inside the museum. When I was in high school, my dad took me to Honduras a few times, and each time, we visited with one his best friends who happened to be a fantastic painter and brilliant musician. His name was Carlos Brizzio, and he quickly became the coolest person in the world to me. By the time I finished high school, I knew I wanted to work within “the arts,” even if I hadn’t yet figured out what that meant.

After I graduated from college, I worked as an art teacher, and I decided that I wanted to combine my love of art  and kids, and pursue children’s illustration. Lots of artists have inspired me along the way, but my first loves, beyond Quentin Blake and Chris Van Allsburg, were Dalí, Picasso, and Redon. I still look at a lot of art and visit my favorite paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, but now I’m mostly inspired by silly things that happen throughout the day, serious things that are happening in the world, and all of the beauty that I find in between.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: At this point in time, I’m most in love with markers and gouache. I love gouache because of the opaque/flat feeling of the color. I like that it’s an old medium as well—that it has history and depth. I started using markers recently, when I became interested in fashion illustration. Markers allow you to work fast and consistently, and I love the way they layer on top of one another  to almost look and feel like watercolors, or digital painting. I use Photoshop for almost all of my illustrations to collage, experiment, and play with light, color and composition.

Mixed media is so much fun because you can have a plan for your piece, but so much is still left to chance and experimentation, which is exciting when you’re creating a piece, and so satisfying when it’s complete.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: Along with TV and movies, books are largely responsible for how we formulate our ideas about people, cultures, and especially, ourselves from an early age. The stories and characters we read in picture books represent some  of the first ways in which we begin to explore these things, and those impressions stick with us, whether consciously or subconsciously, for a very long time. Picture books ask questions about our world and ourselves and can provide us with comfort, curiosity, hope and empathy. But my favorite part is  the details, and the magical way in which the words and pictures can tell the same story while saying different things. I also love that children can “read” a picture book even before they are ready to read the text, and how repeated readings help them to discover the details, thought, humor and care that goes into the process of creating them. Picture books are important because they help us to visualize our pasts and futures, as they feed our imagination.

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Books to Look For:

Dale, dale, dale: una fiesta de números/Hit it, hit it, hit it: a fiesta of numbers by Carolyn Dee Flores

Canta, Rana, Canta/ Sing Froggie Sing by Carolyn Dee Flores

Una Sorpresa para Teresita/ A Surprise for Teresita by Carolyn Dee Flores

Un día con mis tias/ A Day with my Aunts illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Mayte and the Bogeyman illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

We are Cousins/ Somos primos illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Adelita and the Veggie Cousins illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

2017 Titles By/For/About Latinx!!

 

Get your To-Be-Read lists out! Here are the 30+ titles we know about that are releasing in 2017 that are by Latinx creators with or without Latinx characters and by non-Latinx creators with Latinx characters. 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 Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Anna-Marie McLemore, Lulu Delacre, Jenny Torres Sanchez, Adam Silvera, Veronica Chambers, Carmen Agra Deedy, Monica Brown, Maragarita Engle, and Diana Rodriguez Wallach. We will also see a few authors crossing genres. Morris Award winner Sofia Quintero will have a new chapter book out, and picture book writer Jennifer Torres will release a debut middle grade novel. The books are listed by the publishing date. Please let us know in the comments if we are missing any!

HAPPY READING!!

 

Because of the Sun CoverBECAUSE OF THE SUN by Jenny Torres Sanchez (Delacorte Press, January 3, 2017). Young Adult. Dani Falls learned to tolerate her existence in suburban Florida with her brash and seemingly unloving mother by embracing the philosophy Why care? It will only hurt. So when her mother is killed in a sudden and violent manner, Dani goes into an even deeper protection mode, total numbness. It’s the only way she can go on. But when Dani chooses The Stranger by Albert Camus as summer reading for school, it feels like fate. The main character’s alienation after his mother’s death mirrors her own. Dani’s life is thrown into further turmoil when she is sent to New Mexico to live with an aunt she never knew she had. The awkwardness between them is palpable. To escape, Dani takes long walks in the merciless heat. One day, she meets Paulo, who understands how much Dani is hurting. Although she is hesitant at first, a mutual trust and affection develop between Dani and Paulo, and Dani begins to heal. And as she and her aunt begin to connect, Dani learns about her mother’s past. Forgiving isn’t easy, but maybe it’s the only way to move forward.

Image result for stef soto taco queenSTEF SOTO, TACO QUEEN by Jennifer Torres (Little, Brown Books, January 3, 2017). Middle Grade. Estefania “Stef” Soto is itching to shake off the onion-and-cilantro embrace of Tia Perla, her family’s taco truck. She wants nothing more than for her dad to get a normal job and for Tia Perla to be put out to pasture. It’s no fun being known as the “Taco Queen” at school. But just when it looks like Stef is going to get exactly what she wants, and her family’s livelihood is threatened, she will have to become the truck’s unlikely champion.

 

 

History Is All You Left Me CoverHISTORY IS ALL YOU LEFT ME by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen, January 17, 2017). Young Adult. Starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, School Library Journal. When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course. To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart. If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life. Young Adult.

25883033THE RADIUS OF US by Marie Marquardt (St. Martin’s Griffin, January 17, 2017). Young Adult. Starred review from School Library Journal. Ninety seconds can change a life — not just daily routine, but who you are as a person. Gretchen Asher knows this, because that’s how long a stranger held her body to the ground. When a car sped toward them and Gretchen’s attacker told her to run, she recognized a surprising terror in his eyes. And now she doesn’t even recognize herself. Ninety seconds can change a life — not just the place you live, but the person others think you are. Phoenix Flores-Flores knows this, because months after setting off toward the U.S. / Mexico border in search of safety for his brother, he finally walked out of detention. But Phoenix didn’t just trade a perilous barrio in El Salvador for a leafy suburb in Atlanta. He became that person — the one his new neighbors crossed the street to avoid. Ninety seconds can change a life — so how will the ninety seconds of Gretchen and Phoenix’s first encounter change theirs? Told in alternating first person points of view, The Radius of Us is a story of love, sacrifice, and the journey from victim to survivor. It offers an intimate glimpse into the causes and devastating impact of Latino gang violence, both in the U.S. and in Central America, and explores the risks that victims take when they try to start over. Most importantly, Marie Marquardt’s The Radius of Us shows how people struggling to overcome trauma can find healing in love.

33276882MORNING STAR HORSE by Margarita Engle. (Horizon Bound Books, January 30, 2017). Middle Grade. Award winning author Margarita Engle brings a tale of history mixed with a touch of fantasy. A young girl stricken with rickets and her mother face the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, the challenges of a new century and innovative teachers. Dreams realized and dreams crushed exploring the freedoms only a magical horse can offer.

 

 

 

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!THE ROOSTER WOULD NOT BE QUIET written by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. (Scholastic, January 31, 2017). Picture Book. Starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus. 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!”

 

30201884ABC PASTA by Juana Medina Rosas (Penguin Young Readers Group, February 7, 2017). Picture Book. Starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal.

A is for angel hair acrobat
M is for Macaroni the Magician
and T is for tortellini trapeze artist.
It’s an ABC circus that’s good enough to eat! Feb 7

 

30363752LOLA LEVINE MEETS JELLY AND BEAN written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Angela Dominguez. (Little, Brown Books, February 7, 2017.) Chapter BookThe 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. LOLA LEVINE AND THE VACATION DREAM will be released April 25, 2017, and LOLA LEVINE AND THE HALLOWEEN SCREAM will be released July 3, 2017.

Image result for education of margot sanchezTHE EDUCATION OF MARGOT SANCHEZ by Lilliam Rivera (Simon & Schuster, February 21, 2017). Young Adult. After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts. With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

29506205FUTURE THREAT by Elizabeth Briggs (Albert Whitman, March 1, 2017). Young Adult. Six months ago Aether Corporation sent Elena, Adam, and three other recruits on a trip to the future where they brought back secret information–but not everyone made it back to the present alive. Now Elena’s dealing with her survivor’s guilt and trying to make her relationship with Adam work. All she knows for sure is that she’s done with time travel and Aether Corporation. But Aether’s not done with her–or Adam, or fellow survivor Chris. The travelers on Aether’s latest mission to the future have gone missing, and Elena and her friends are drafted into the rescue effort. They arrive in a future that’s amazingly advanced, thanks to Aether Corporation’s reverse-engineered technology. The mission has deadly consequences, though, and they return to the future to try to alter the course of events. But the future is different yet again. Now every trip through time reveals new complications, and more lives lost–or never born. Elena and Adam must risk everything–including their relationship–to save their friends.

 Image result for the inexplicable logic of my heartTHE INEXPLICABLE LOGIC OF MY LIFE by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Clarion Books, March 7, 2017). Young Adult. Starred review from Kirkus. Sal used to know his place with his adoptive gay father, their loving Mexican-American family, and his best friend, Samantha. But it’s senior year, and suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and realizing he no longer knows himself. If Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he?

 

 

 

The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra CoverTHE CHUPACABRA ATE THE CANDELABRA by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by debut artist Ana Aranda (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, March 7, 2017). Picture Book. With its hilarious dialogue, trio of bumbling goats, and fantastically zany villain, this unique, laugh-out-loud story based on a legendary monster is sure to crack up kids and grown-ups alike.

 

 

 

28143051PROOF OF LIES: Anastasia Phoenix series by Diana Rodriguez Wallach (Entangled Teen, March 7, 2017). Young Adult. Anastasia Phoenix has always been the odd girl out, whether moving from city to international city with her scientist parents or being the black belt who speaks four languages. And most definitely as the orphan whose sister is missing, presumed dead. She’s the only one who believes Keira is still alive, and when new evidence surfaces, Anastasia sets out to follow the trail―and lands in the middle of a massive conspiracy. Now she isn’t sure who she can trust. At her side is Marcus, the bad boy with a sexy accent who’s as secretive as she is. He may have followed her to Rome to help, but something about him seems too good to be true. Nothing is as it appears, and when everything she’s ever known is revealed to be a lie, Anastasia has to believe in one impossibility. She will find her sister.

 

29102833BRAVO! Poems About Amazing Latinos by Newbery Honor-winner Margarita Engle, illustrated by Pura Belpré Award winner Rafael López (Holt/Macmillan, March 14, 2017). Middle Grade. Spanish language edition also available. Musician, botanist, baseball player, pilot—the Latinos featured in this collection come from many different countries and from many different backgrounds. Celebrate their accomplishments and their contributions to a collective history and a community that continues to evolve and thrive today! Biographical poems include: Aida de Acosta, Arnold Rojas, Baruj Benacerraf, César Chávez, Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, Félix Varela, George Meléndez, José Martí, Juan de Miralles, Juana Briones, Julia de Burgos, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Paulina Pedroso, Pura Belpré, Roberto Clemente, Tito Puente, Ynes Mexia, Tomás Rivera.

31258127LUCIA THE LUCHADORA written by Cynthia Leonor Garza and illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez (POW! March 17, 2017). Picture Book. Lucia zips through the playground in her cape just like the boys, but when they tell her “girls can’t be superheroes,” suddenly she doesn’t feel so mighty. That’s when her beloved abuela reveals a dazzling secret: Lucia comes from a family of luchadoras, the bold and valiant women of the Mexican lucha libre tradition. Cloaked in a flashy new disguise, Lucia returns as a recess sensation! But when she’s confronted with a case of injustice, Lucia must decide if she can stay true to the ways of the luchadora and fight for what is right, even if it means breaking the sacred rule of never revealing the identity behind her mask.

colato-lainez_romeroTELEGRAMS AL CIELO: La infancy de Monsenor Oscar Romero/TELEGRAMS FROM HEAVEN: The Childhood of Archbishop Oscar Romero written by René Colato Laínez; illustrated by Pixote Hunt (Luna’s Press, March 24, 2017). Picture Book. A bilingual picture book biography about Óscar Arnulfo Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador who was assassinated during the Civil War, to published on his Feast Day and anniversary of his assassination.

 

 

31179207VIVA, ROSE! by Susan Krawitz (Holiday House, March 30, 2017). Middle Grade. When fourteen-year-old Rose Solomon’s brother, Abe, left El Paso, he told the family he was heading to Brooklyn. But Rose discovers the truth the day she picks up the newspaper at Pickens General Store and spies a group photograph captioned The Southwestern Scourge of 1915! There stands Abe alongside none other than Pancho Villa and his army! Rose is furious about Abe’s lie; fearful for his safety; and worried about her traditional parents who, despite their strict and observant ways, do not deserve to have an outlaw for a son. Rose knows the only way to set things right is to get Abe home, but her clandestine plan to contact him goes awry when she is kidnapped by Villa’s revolutionaries and taken to his hideaway. Deep in the desert, amidst a richly rendered assortment of freedom-seekers that includes an impassioned young reporter, two sharp-shooting sisters with a secret past, and Dorotea, Villa’s tyrannical young charge, Rose sees no sign of Abe and has no hope of release. But as she learns to lie, hide, and ride like a bandit, Rose discovers the real meaning of freedom and what she’s willing to risk to get hers back.

Lucky Broken Girl CoverLUCKY BROKEN GIRL by Ruth Behar (Nancy Paulsen Books, April 11, 2017). Middle Grade. Based on the author’s childhood in the 1960s, a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl is adjusting to her new life in New York City when her American dream is suddenly derailed. Ruthie Mizrahi and her family recently emigrated from Castro’s Cuba to New York City. Just when she’s finally beginning to gain confidence in her mastery of English and enjoying her reign as her neighborhood’s hopscotch queen, a horrific car accident leaves her in a body cast and confined her to her bed for a long recovery. As Ruthie’s world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grow larger. She comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.

Saint Death CoverSAINT DEATH by Marcus Sedgwick (Roaring Brook Press, April 25, 2017). Young Adult. Anapra is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Mexican city of Juarez – twenty meters outside town lies a fence – and beyond it – America – the dangerous goal of many a migrant. Faustino is one such trying to escape from the gang he’s been working for. He’s dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding and now he’s on the run. He and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they’re as good as dead. Watching over them is Saint Death. Saint Death (or Santissima Muerte) – she of pure bone and charcoal-black eye, she of absolute loyalty and neutral morality, holy patron to rich and poor, to prostitute and narco-lord, criminal and police-chief. A folk saint, a rebel angel, a sinister guardian.

32332948UGLY CAT & PABLO by Isabel Quintero (Scholastic, April 25, 2017). Chapter Book. Ugly Cat is dying for a paleta (ice pop) and his friend Pablo is determined to help him get one by scaring a little girl who is enjoying a coconut paleta in the park. Things go horribly wrong when, instead of being scared, the little girl picks Pablo up and declares that he would make great snack for her pet snake. Oh and there’s also the small problem that Ugly Cat may have inadvertently swallowed Pablo in all of the commotion!

 

 

 

32672758ROOTING FOR RAFAEL ROSALES by Kurits Scaletta. (Albert Whitman & Company, April 25, 2017). Middle Grade. Rafael has dreams. Every chance he gets he plays in the street games trying to build his skills, get noticed by scouts, and someday play Major League Baseball. Maya has worries. The bees are dying all over the world, and the company her father works for is responsible, making products that harm the environment. Follow Rafael and Maya in a story that shifts back and forth in time and place, from Rafael s neighborhood in the Dominican Republic to present-day Minnesota, where Maya and her sister are following Rafael s first year in the minor leagues. In their own ways, Maya and Rafael search for hope, face difficult choices, and learn a secret the same secret that forever changes how they see the world.

STEP UP TO THE PLATE, MARIA SINGH by Uma Krishnaswami (Tu Books, May 1, 2017). Middle GradeNine-year-old Maria Singh longs to play softball in the first-ever girls team forming in Yuba City, California. It’s the spring of 1945, and World War II is dragging on. Miss Newman, Maria’s teacher, is inspired by Babe Ruth and the All-American Girls League to start a girls softball team at their school. Meanwhile, Maria’s parents Papi from India and Mama from Mexico can no longer protect their children from prejudice and from the discriminatory laws of the land. When the family is on the brink of losing their farm, Maria must decide if she has what it takes to step up and find her voice in an unfair world. In this fascinating middle grade novel, award-winning author Uma Krishnaswami sheds light on a little-known chapter of American history set in a community whose families made multicultural choices before the word had been invented.

Image result for it's not like it's a secretIT’S NOT LIKE IT’S A SECRET by Misa Sugiura (HarperTeen, May 9, 2017). Young Adult. Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like that fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself—the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend. When Sana and her family move to California she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for some honesty, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. There are just a few problems: Sana’s new friends don’t trust Jamie’s crowd; Jamie’s friends clearly don’t want her around anyway; and a sweet guy named Caleb seems to have more-than-friendly feelings for her. Meanwhile, her dad’s affair is becoming too obvious to ignore anymore. Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, telling the truth is easy… what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.

30174679GABBY GARCIA’S ULTIMATE PLAYBOOK by Iva-Marie Palmer. (Katherine Tegen Books, May 9, 2017). Middle Grade. If life were a baseball game, all-star pitcher Gabby Garcia would be having her Best. Season. EVER! Until she’s suddenly sent to another school and her winning streak is about to disappear—both on and off the field. But Gabby never gives up! She has a PLAN to keep her champion status intact, and every step of is written out—PLAY by PLAY. How could it not work? This new series written by Iva-Marie Palmer is filled with funny illustrations, sports facts, and blooper-reel moments that will have readers laughing and rooting for more.

 

32673416THE GO-BETWEEN by Veronica Chambers. (Delacorte, May 9, 2017). Young Adult. She is the envy of every teenage girl in Mexico City. Her mother is a glamorous telenovela actress. Her father is the go-to voice-over talent for blockbuster films. Hers is a world of private planes, chauffeurs, paparazzi and gossip columnists. Meet Camilla del Valle Cammi to those who know her best. When Cammi’s mom gets cast in an American television show and the family moves to LA, things change, and quickly. Her mom’s first role is playing a not-so-glamorous maid in a sitcom. Her dad tries to find work but dreams about returning to Mexico. And at the posh, private Polestar Academy, Cammi’s new friends assume she s a scholarship kid, the daughter of a domestic. At first Cammi thinks playing along with the stereotypes will be her way of teaching her new friends a lesson. But the more she lies, the more she wonders: Is she only fooling herself?

25226215THE EPIC FAIL OF ARTURO ZAMORA by Pablo Cartaya (Viking, May 16, 2017). Middle Grade. For Arturo, summertime in Miami means playing basketball until dark, sipping mango smoothies, and keeping cool under banyan trees. And maybe a few shifts as junior lunchtime dishwasher at Abuela’s restaurant. Maybe. But this summer also includes Carmen, a cute girl who moves into Arturo’s apartment complex and turns his stomach into a deep fryer. He almost doesn’t notice the smarmy land developer who rolls into town and threatens to change it. Arturo refuses to let his family and community go down without a fight, and as he schemes with Carmen, Arturo discovers the power of poetry and protest through untold family stories and the work of José Martí.

 

33099907MARTÍ ‘S SONG FOR FREEDOM/Martí y sus versos por la libertad by Emma Otheguy, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal (Lee & Low, May 1, 2017). Debut author Emma Otheguy’s picture book biography of poet and Cuban national hero Jose Martí.  Written in verse, with excerpts from Martí’s seminal work, Versos sencillos, this is a beautiful tribute to a brilliant political writer and courageous fighter of freedom for all men and women.

 

 

32309404 NO GOOD DEED by Goldy Moldavsky. (Scholastic, May 30, 2017). Young Adult. He’s not asking for much. All Gregor Maravilla wants to do is feed all of the starving children on the planet. So when he’s selected to join Camp Save the World, a special summer program for teenage activists from all over the country to champion their cause, Gregor’s sure he’s on the path to becoming Someone Great. But then a prize is announced. It will be awarded at the end of summer to the activist who shows the most promise in their campaign. Gregor’s sure he has the prize in the bag, especially compared to some of the other campers’ campaigns. Like Eat Dirt, a preposterous campaign started by Ashley Woodstone, a famous young actor who most likely doesn’t even deserve to be at the camp. Everywhere Gregor goes, Ashley seems to show up ready to ruin things. Plus, the prize has an unforeseen side effect, turning a quiet summer into cutthroat warfare where campers stop focusing on their own campaigns and start sabotaging everyone else’s.

 

32278040ESTEBAN de LUNA, BABY RESCUER / ESTEBAN de LUNA, RESCATADOR de BEBES! written by Larissa M. Mercado-Lopez, illustrated by Alex Pardo DeLange, and translated by Gabriela Baeza Ventura (Piñata Books, May 31, 2017). Bilingual Picture Book. Esteban loves his long green cape, but there is just one problem–it does not do ANYTHING! But when a doll is left behind at a park, Esteban discovers that while his cape does not have magical powers, he can still use it to be a hero!”

 

32126347AN UNINTERRUPTED VIEW OF THE SKY by Melanie Crowder (Philomel, June 13, 2017). Young Adult. It’s 1999 in Bolivia and Francisco’s life consists of school, soccer, and trying to find space for himself in his family’s cramped yet boisterous home. But when his father is arrested on false charges and sent to prison by a corrupt system that targets the uneducated, the poor, and the indigenous majority, Francisco’s mother abandons hope and her family. Francisco and his sister are left with no choice: They must move into the prison with their father. There, they find a world unlike anything they’ve ever known, where everything—a door, a mattress, protection from other inmates—has its price.Prison life is dirty, dire, and dehumanizing. With their lives upended, Francisco faces an impossible decision: Break up the family and take his sister to their grandparents in the Andean highlands, fleeing the city and the future that was just within his grasp, or remain together in the increasingly dangerous prison. Pulled between two equally undesirable options, Francisco must confront everything he once believed about the world around him and his place within it.

THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK illustrated middle grade debut by Celia C. Pérez (Viking, Penguin, August 22, 2017). There are no shortcuts to surviving your first day at a new school—you can’t fix it with duct tape like you would your Chuck Taylors. On Day One, twelve-year-old Malú (María Luisa, if you want to annoy her) inadvertently upsets Posada Middle’s queen bee, violates the school’s dress code with her punk rock look, and disappoints her college-professor mom in the process. Her dad, who now lives a thousand miles away, says things will get better as long as she remembers the first rule of punk: be yourself.  The real Malú loves rock music, skateboarding, zines, and Soyrizo (hold the cilantro, please). And when she assembles a group of like-minded misfits at school and starts a band, Malú finally begins to feel at home. She’ll do anything to preserve this, which includes standing up to an anti-punk school administration to fight for her right to express herself! From debut author and longtime zine-maker Celia C. Pérez, The First Rule of Punk is a wry and heartfelt exploration of friendship, finding your place, and learning to rock out like no one’s watching. Black and white illustrations and collage art throughout make this a perfect pick for fans of books like Roller Girl and online magazines like Rookie.

31145004SING, DON’T CRY by Angela Dominguez (Henry Holt, Aug. 22, 2017). Picture Book. Once a year, Abuelo comes from Mexico to visit his family. He brings his guitar, his music and his memories. In this story inspired by the life of Apolinar Navarrete Diaz, author Angela Dominguez’s grandfather and a successful mariachi musician, Abuelo and his grandchildren sing through the bad times and the good. Lifting their voices and their spirits, they realize that true happiness comes from singing together.

 

 

US, IN PROGRESS: SHORT STORIES ABOUT YOUNG LATINOS by Lulu Delacre. (HarperCollins, August 29, 2017). Middle GradeIn this book, you will meet many young Latinos living in the United States, from a young girl whose day at her father’s burrito truck surprises her to two sisters working together to change the older sister’s immigration status, and more. Turn the pages to experience life through the eyes of these boys and girls whose families originally hail from many different countries; see their hardships, celebrate their victories, and come away with a better understanding of what it means to be Latino in the U.S. today.

ALL THE WAY TO HAVANA by Maragarita Engle. (Henry Holt and Co., August 29, 2017). Picture Book. A family drives into the city of Havana to celebrate a cousin’s first birthday. Before their journey, the boy helps his papa tune up their old car, Cara Cara, which has been in their family for many years. They drive along the sea wall, along the coast, past other colorful old cars. The sounds of the city are rich the putt putts and honks and bumpety bumps of other cars chorus through the streets. A rich celebration of the culture of the Cuban people, their resourcefulness and innovative spirit, and their joy.

34228241YO SOY MUSLIM: A Father’s Letter to His Daughter by Mark Gonzales, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (Salaam Reads, August 29, 2017). Picture Book.  From Muslim and Latino poet Mark Gonzales comes a touching and lyrical picture book about a parent who encourages their child to find joy and pride in all aspects of their multicultural identity.

Dear little one,
…know you are wondrous.
A child of crescent moons,
a builder of mosques,
a descendant of brilliance,
an ancestor in training.

Written as a letter from a father to his daughter, Yo Soy Muslim is a celebration of social harmony and multicultural identities. The vivid and elegant verse, accompanied by magical and vibrant illustrations, highlights the diversity of the Muslim community as well as Indigenous identity. A literary journey of discovery and wonder, Yo Soy Muslim is sure to inspire adults and children alike.

LA PRINCESA AND THE PEA written by Susan M. Elya, illustrated by LA MADRE GOOSE illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal (Putnam/Penguin, September 5, 2017). Picture BookEl príncipe knows this girl is the one for him, but, as usual, his mother doesn’t agree. The queen has a secret test in mind to see if this girl is really a princesa. But the prince might just have a sneaky plan, too . . . Readers will be enchanted by this Latino twist on the classic story, and captivated by the vibrant art inspired by the culture of Peru.

29220714THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END by Adam Silvera (HarperCollins, September 5, 2017). Young adult. Set in a near-future New York City where a service alerts people on the day they will die, the novel follows teens Mateo and Rufus, who meet using the Last Friend app and are faced with the challenge of living a lifetime on their End Day.

 

 

 

 

28807785FRIDA KAHLO AND HER ANIMALITOS by Monica Brown, illustrated by Pura Belpré Honor winner John Parra (North South Books, September 5, 2017). Monica Brown’s latest picture book biography takes a look at the popular and iconic female artist with a child-friendly view of the many animals that surrounded her art and her life.

 

 

 

33158561WILD BEAUTY by Anna-Marie McLemore (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, September 26, 2017). In Wild Beauty, McLemore introduces a spellbinding setting and two characters who are drawn together by fate—and pulled apart by reality. For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens. The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

29010395 I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER by Erika L. Sánchez (Knopf Books for Young Readers, October 17, 2017). Young AdultPerfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family. But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role. Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed. But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?

imageTHE CLOSEST I’VE COME by Fred Aceves (Harper Collins, November 2017). Marcos Rivas wants to find love. He’s sure as hell not getting it at home where his mom’s racist boyfriend beats him up. Or from his boys, who aren’t exactly the “hug it out” type. Marcos yearns for love, a working cell phone, and maybe a pair of sneakers that aren’t falling apart. But more than anything, Marcos wants to get out of Maesta, his hood—impossible. When Marcos is placed in a new after-school program for troubled teens with potential, he meets Zach, a theater geek whose life seems great on the surface, and Amy, a punk girl who doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. These new friendships inspire Marcos to open up to his Maesta crew, too, and along the way, Marcos starts to think more about his future and what he has to fight for. Marcos ultimately learns that bravery isn’t about acting tough and being macho; it’s about being true to yourself.

TITO THE BONECRUSHER by Melissa Thompson (FSG, Winter 2017). A middle-grade debut about a boy who seeks the help of a pro-wrestler turned action star to rescue his dad from a deportation detention center, in a story about heroes, friendship, and forgiveness.

STARRING CARMEN written by Anika Denise and illustrated by Lorena Alvarez (Abrams 2017) Picture Book. About a big sister who learns to share the spotlight with an adoring (if annoying) little brother.

Educating Children and Young People for Joy and Justice: A Guest Post by Author and Teacher Ann Berlak

img_0265_2

All art in this article is by Daniel Comacho for Joelito’s Big Decision/La gran decisión de Joelito by Ann Berlak.

By Ann Berlak

To prepare children and young people to participate in the construction of a more just and joyful future, we must tell them stories that make the invisible visible and unsettle what is taken for granted.

 “Everything in the mainstream media suggests that popular resistance is ridiculous…unless it is far away, long ago.”

Solnit (2016)

Poverty is increasing worldwide in the face of unimaginable wealth for the very few. Talk of the public good has been almost silenced, public services are rapidly being privatized and the environment degraded, and we have come to take as normal wars without end. Yet, though largely obscured by mainstream media and by schooling at all levels, movements for climate, racial, and economic justice are sweeping the globe.

Given these realities, what stories should we tell young people to prepare them to participate in social transformation?

 Stories that reveal:

  • how the decisions and actions of each of us affect the lives and actions of others, often in hidden ways
  • how differences of power in the hierarchies of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and disability—differences that may be initially invisible– affect how we and others experience our lives differently (empathy)
  • how to connect the dots between everyday injustices and the social forces that create and sustain them—for example, societal dynamics that create the vast extremes of wealth and poverty
  • how ordinary people acting together can create a more just and joyful world
  • that joining with others to create a more just future is a joyful life option for each of us

img_0268-2Aren’t children too young to think about social and political issues? Should we interfere with children’s innocence by prematurely exposing them to the darker sides of life?

Which children are we talking about here? Certainly not those children who already experience despair, who go to bed hungry, whose parents can’t find jobs. Acknowledging these realities means acknowledging the experiences of children and young people who are often marginalized in school and in children’s fiction.

When adults are silent about the social, political, and economic dynamics of society, children internalize the perspectives that dominate public discourse and begin to believe, for example, that people get rich because they are smarter or work harder. They learn to blame “the victim,” and to normalize war, violence, and astounding inequalities.

This is disastrous for privileged children as well as for members of groups that are on the downside of the prevailing power imbalances. Both groups drift toward the belief that this is how things have always been and how they must continue to be, and these convictions become quite resistant to change. As the tree is bent, the tree grows.

joelito-cover-two-boysJoelito’s Big Decision/ La gran decisión de Joelito

For thirty years, I taught prospective elementary school teachers. My primary intention was to challenge them to think about what kind of future they wanted to construct through what they taught. What should schooling in their classrooms be for, beyond preparing children to be “college and career ready”?

After I retired, I went back into classrooms as a guest social-justice teacher. This experience reconfirmed my belief that if given any encouragement at all, children and young people will eagerly engage in dialogue about the social, political, and economic issues that surround and shape them.

I also realized that when adults don’t address these issues, children construct their own explanations for what they see around them, and that they weave these from the dominant ideologies of the society. For example, the children I taught had a variety of explanations for how and why some people get rich: They “won the lottery,” “worked hard at school,” “were really smart.” Of course, many also believed the inverse—that people who are poor do not work hard, or are not smart—even when these beliefs conflicted with their own first-hand experiences.

Eventually, I decided to write a storybook for children that would help teachers and parents spark lively conversations like the ones I had as a social-justice teacher, and elicit looks of surprise that conveyed “ah-ha” experiences that are our rewards as teachers. The result is the bilingual, beautifully illustrated and timely Joelito’s Big Decision/ La gran decisión de Joelito. It’s about a boy, a burger, a friendship, and the fight to raise the minimum wage. The book’s illustrator is Daniel Camacho. José Antonio Galloso provided the translation.

img_0267Our book tells the tale of Joelito, who eats dinner at MacMann’s Burger Restaurant with his family every Friday. The story begins one Friday when he finds his best friend Brandon and Brandon’s parents at the restaurant entrance, holding up signs saying, “Low Pay is Not OK,” and “Fight for 15,” and urging the hungry Joelito not to eat at MacMann’s tonight.

Our book explains the sources of income inequality in a way that young children can understand—Brandon’s dad tells Joelito, “I would have to work for 500 years to earn what Mr. MacMann earns in one year” —and shows that people working together are making history today.

Why don’t parents and teachers talk more about economic inequality with children and young people?

The school curriculum is increasingly controlled by the 1%. This control militates against schools teaching children and young people to question the huge discrepancies of wealth and power. Because the structure of our economy offers most people an uncertain economic future, many parents are preoccupied with their children becoming “college and career ready.” Readiness is often reduced to achieving high scores on standardized tests, while preparing children for active citizenship and critical thinking increasingly falls by the wayside.

img_0264_2Hope

We hope that literary gatekeepers—parents, teachers, caregivers, and librarians will include among the stories that they share with children depictions of ordinary people working together toward a better future. The bookshelves in our classrooms, libraries, and homes are crowded with the tales of solitary heroes and heroines fighting battles in worlds of fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. Stories of contemporary people in the trenches for social change belong on those bookshelves, too.

 

 

 

IMG_0297Author Ann Berlak has been a teacher and teacher educator for over fifty years. She envisions schools as places where children learn to become active, caring participants in the creation of a world that works for everyone. Joelito’s Big Decision/La gran decisión de Joelito was selected for the 2016-2017  California Reads list of teacher recommended books. Keep up with current news about Joelito on Facebook.

Illustrator Daniel Camacho lives and works in Oakland, California. His at-home studio is filled with ongoing projects, and is usually open to visitors upon request. He teaches art to elementary and middle school students and works to promote an awareness of Mexican/Latino culture through his participation with the Oakland Museum of California, the Spanish Speaking Unity Council, local public libraries and other community based organizations. Learn more about Daniel from his official website.

Translator José Antonio Galloso was born in Lima, Peru. He is a writer, photographer, and a bilingual teacher with studies in audiovisual communication, Spanish, and writing. He has published poetry and fiction and his works have been included in several anthologies. His photographic work, which he considers an extension of his writing, has been exhibited and published in different galleries, printed media and online. He has been living in the Bay Area since 2002.

Celebrating Pura Belpré Winners: Spotlight on David Diaz

 

PuraBelpreAwardThe Pura Belpré Awards turns 20 this year! The milestone will be marked on Sunday, June 26, from 1:00-3:00 p.m. during the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. According to the award’s site, the celebration will feature speeches by the 2016 Pura Belpré award-winning authors and illustrators, book signings, light snacks, and entertainment. The event will also feature a silent auction of original artwork by Belpré award-winning illustrators, sales of the new commemorative book The Pura Belpré Award: Twenty Years of Outstanding Latino Children’s Literature, and a presentation by keynote speaker Carmen Agra Deedy.

Leading up to the event, we will be highlighting the winners of the narrative and illustration awards. Today’s spotlight is on David Diaz, the winner of the 2013 Pura Belpré Illustration Medal for Martín de Porres: The Rose in the Desert and Pura Belpré Honors for Illustration for The Pot That Juan Built in 2004, César: ¡Sí, Se Puede! Yes, We Can! in 2006, Diego: Bigger Than Life in 2010, and Me, Frida in 2011.

Review by Marianne Snow Campbell

 DESCRIPTIONS FROM THE PUBLISHERS:

 Martín de Porres: The Rose in the Desert: As the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a former slave, Martín de Porres was born into extreme poverty. Even so, his mother begged the church fathers to allow him into the priesthood. Instead, Martín was accepted as a servant boy. But soon, the young man was performing miracles. Rumors began to fly around the city of a strange mulatto boy with healing hands, who gave first to the people of the barrios. Martín continued to serve in the church, until he was finally received by the Dominican Order, no longer called the worthless son of a slave, but rather a saint and the rose in the desert.

 

Me, Frida: Like a tiny bird in a big city, Frida Kahlo feels lost and lonely when she arrives in San Francisco with her husband, the famous artist Diego Rivera. It is the first time she has left her home in Mexico. And Frida wants to be a painter too.

But as Frida begins to explore San Francisco on her own, she discovers more than the beauty, diversity, and exuberance of America. She finds the inspiration she needs to become one of the most celebrated artists of all time.

Me, Frida is an exhilarating true story that encourages children to believe in themselves so they can make their own dreams soar.

 

Diego: Bigger than LifeDiego: Bigger Than Life: Carmen T. Bernier-Grand’s inspiring free verse and David Diaz’s vivid paintings capture the defining moments and emotions of Rivera’s tumultuous life, including his stormy relationship with artist Frida Kahlo and his passion for his art. Rivera’s energy, physique, love for women, and work were all “bigger than life.” A biography, chronology, glossary, sources, notes, and famous quotations are included.

 

 

 

César: ¡Sí, Se Puede! Yes, We Can!: Born in 1927 in Yuma, Arizona, César Chavez lived the hard-scrabble life of a migrant worker during the Depression. Although his mother wanted him to get an education, César left school after eighth grade to work. He grew to be a charismatic leader and founded the National Farm Workers Association, an organization that fought for basic rights for farm workers. In powerful poems and dramatic stylized illustrations, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand and David Diaz pay tribute to Chavez’s legacy helping migrant workers improve their lives by doing things by themselves for themselves.

 

 

The Pot That Juan Built: Juan Quezada is the premier potter in Mexico. With local materials and the primitive methods of the Casas Grandes people — including using human hair to make brushes and cow manure to feed the flames that fire his pots — Juan creates stunning pots in the traditional style. Each is a work of art unlike any other.
 

This is the pot that Juan built.
These are the flames so sizzling hot
That flickered and flared and fired the pot,
The beautiful pot that Juan built.

The text is written in the form of “The House That Jack Built” and accompanied by a comprehensive afterword with photos and information about Juan’s technique as well as a history of Mata Ortiz, the northern Mexican village where Juan began and continues to work. This celebratory story tells how Juan’s pioneering work has transformed Mata Ortiz from an impoverished village into a prosperous community of world-renowned artists.

With vibrant illustrations by Caldecott Medal winner David Diaz, The Pot that Juan Built is sure to enlighten all who are fascinated by traditional art forms, Mexican culture, and the power of the human spirit to find inspiration from the past.

MY TWO CENTS: A few weeks ago, a friend and I were discussing picture books and the inextricable relationship, or “synergy” as Lawrence R. Sipe (1998) described it, between text and illustrations in children’s literature. We agreed that, although the text and pictures are supposedly inseparable in a well done picture book, we’re each automatically drawn to one over the other. While my friend pays more attention to the text than the illustrations when she first encounters a picture book, I respond in the opposite fashion. Illustrations are my everything – I love nothing more than opening up a beautiful picture book and falling into the art. Few illustrators capture my heart more completely than David Diaz. And it’s clear that past Pura Belpré Award committee members have agreed with me. Diaz has won one medal (Martín de Porres: The Rose in the Desert) and four honors (Me, Frida, Diego: Bigger Than Life, César: ¡Sí se puede! Yes We Can!, and The Pot That Juan Built) for his illustrations, making him one of the most recognized artists in the award’s history.

These books exhibit two different styles. In Diego: Bigger Than Life, César: ¡Sí se puede! Yes We Can!, and The Pot That Juan Built, we see Diaz’s signature, abstract approach to art. He depicts human figures as silhouettes, formed with clean lines, filled with warm colors, and surrounded by geometric patterns. As I sat down to review these books, however, I had to ask myself: If these illustrations accompany biographies, factual accounts of real people’s lives, is it okay to render them in such an abstract manner? Shouldn’t nonfiction illustrations be as realistic and representational as possible to match the factual subject matter? After some thought, I reached the conclusion that these illustrations are a perfect fit for these books.

First of all, they’re stunning. Stark yet lush, they can grab readers’ attention and convince them to pick up a book that they might not otherwise. Some kids might not be incredibly interested in the lives of Diego Rivera, César Chávez, or Juan Quezada, but these images might change their minds and lure them into learning something new. Second, by creating simple silhouettes of these biographies’ subjects, Diaz makes these individuals more generic, anonymous. The result is an invitation to readers to insert themselves into the stories – it’s as if he’s saying, “Look, you can be a great artist or civil rights leader!” Third, by enjoying his creative license, Diaz shows us that all lives are works of art. Even if the illustrations aren’t mirror images of their subjects, they capture glimmers of their spirits. So many beautiful messages contained in one artistic style.

Meanwhile, the style in Martín de Porres: Rose in the Desert and Me, Frida demonstrates a very different aesthetic. Diaz’s illustrations in these books are still vivid, but softer. They’re still powerful, but gentler. Rendered with rich oil pastels and dark outlines, the images of Martín and Frida resemble their subjects more closely. However, Diaz’s love of silhouette and pattern are still very present, linking them to the biographies of Diego, César, and Juan and indicating that, although these diverse individuals led very distinctive lives, they are all connected by their Latinx and Latin American roots.

It’s wonderful that young readers today have access to such artful, beautifully illustrated biographies of all kinds of interesting people. Back in my day, we were mostly limited to dull, dry encyclopedia-style biographies with blurry photographs – very unlikely to entice kids who resist nonfiction. But books like Diaz’s Belpré Award winners joyfully invite readers to experience famous lives not only cognitively but also aesthetically.

(And remember, David Diaz’s work goes beyond biographies. To take a look at an extended bibliography, click here.)

 TEACHING TIPS:

  • Explore the connections between social studies and art with students using these books as a starting point. Students can brainstorm ways to study history using art and create their own illustrated biographies rather than simply telling the story of famous individuals’ lives through text alone. Let them explore different artistic styles and media and choose the style that they believe matches their subject the best.
  • Analyze the illustrations in these books with students. Consider various artistic forms, such as color, line, shade, perspective, size, and shape. How do these elements work together to enhance the story? Also, encourage students to evaluate Diaz’s artistic styles with regard to biography. Do his styles fit the genre? Why or why not?
  • Have students compare and contrast Diaz’s biographies with other illustrated biographies about the same individuals (for example, Yuyi Morales’s Viva Frida!, Duncan Tonatiuh’s Diego Rivera: His World and Ours, and Monica Brown and Joe Cepeda’s Side by Side / Lado a lado: The Story of Dolores Huerta and César Chávez). How do the text and illustrations work together in these various books? Which illustrations are more powerful/interesting/appealing? Why?

David DiazABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Born in New York and raised in southern Florida, David Diaz found joy in drawing at an early age. A supportive high school art teacher helped him nurture his talent by pushing him to enter art contests, and after graduating from the Fort Lauderdale Art Institute, Diaz found work as a graphic designer. However, his love of illustration led him to focus more intently on creating art for children’s books, and he won the Caldecott Medal for Smoky Night (Bunting, 1994) in 1995. Dozens of books and many awards later, Diaz has become one of the most distinguished and recognizable illustrators in the realm of children’s literature. He currently lives in California.

 

 

 

REFERENCE: Sipe, L. R. (1998). How picture books work: A semiotically framed theory of text-picture relationships. Children’s Literature in Education, 29(2), 97-108.

 

MarianneMarianne Snow Campbell is a doctoral student at The University of Georgia, where she researches nonfiction children’s books about Latinx and Latin American topics and teaches an undergraduate course on children’s literature. Before graduate school, she taught pre-K and Kindergarten in Texas, her home state. She misses teaching, loves critters, and can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Celebrating Pura Belpré Winners: Spotlight on Grandma’s Gift by Eric Velasquez

PuraBelpreAward

The Pura Belpré Awards turns 20 this year! The milestone will be marked on Sunday, June 26, from 1:00-3:00 p.m. during the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. According to the award’s site, the celebration will feature speeches by the 2016 Pura Belpré award-winning authors and illustrators, book signings, light snacks, and entertainment. The event will also feature a silent auction of original artwork by Belpré award-winning illustrators, sales of the new commemorative book The Pura Belpré Award: Twenty Years of Outstanding Latino Children’s Literature, and a presentation by keynote speaker Carmen Agra Deedy.

Leading up to the event, we will be highlighting the winners of the narrative and illustration awards. Today’s spotlight is on Eric Velasquez, the winner of the 2011 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award for Grandma’s Gift.


Review by Lila Quintero Weaver

Grandma's GiftDESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Every year, Eric spends his winter break with his grandmother in El Barrio while his parents are at work. There’s much to do to prepare for Christmas, including buying all the ingredients for Grandma’s famous pasteles, a special Puerto Rican holiday dish.

But Eric also has an assignment for school that requires a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see a new painting. Grandma and Eric are nervous about leaving El Barrio but are amazed by the museum and what they see in the painting—a familiar face in a work of art by the great painter Diego Velázquez. That day Eric’s world opens wider, and Grandma knows the perfect gift to start him on his new journey.

In this prequel to Grandma’s Records, Eric Velasquez brings readers back to a special day spent with his grandmother that would change his life forever.

MY TWO CENTS: Eric Velasquez is the award-winning illustrator of more than 25 children’s books, including three that he wrote. In Grandma’s Gift and Grandma’s Records, reviewed here, Eric brings to life childhood moments that illuminate the warm and meaningful relationship he enjoyed with his grandmother, a native of Puerto Rico and resident of El Barrio, a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood in East Harlem.

In a category where such books are woefully rare, both of Velasquez’s Grandma stories represent positive images of Afro-Latinx children and their families.

Although the story in Grandma’s Gift takes place within a few square miles of contemporary New York City, it also casts a spotlight on a long-ago historical figure. Juan de Pareja was an enslaved man of African descent who worked in the studio of 17th-century Spanish master Diego Velázquez and who became a painter in his own right. When Eric was a boy, Velázquez’s luminous portrait of de Pareja was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a price exceeding $5 million.

Grandma’s Gift contains two additional distinguishing aspects: elements of Puerto Rican culture preserved and passed down by the boy’s grandmother, and contrasting views between two physically proximate but culturally distant worlds, represented by El Barrio and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Used by permission from Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc.

Used by permission from Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc.

At the story’s beginning, Eric is leaving school for Christmas break, in the company of his grandmother. His school assignment, to be completed during the holidays, is a visit to the Velázquez exhibit. But first, grandmother and grandson go shopping at La Marqueta, once a central feature of El Barrio, composed of bustling shops tucked under a railroad trestle. At La Marqueta, it’s evident that Eric’s grandmother is a respected and beloved member of the community. Not only do butchers and greengrocers call her by title and name—Doña Carmen—they are also familiar with the high standards she expects from every cut of meat and vegetable she purchases. When the shopping is done, Eric and his grandmother return to her apartment, where she launches an elaborate preparation of traditional Puerto Rican holiday dishes. Here, she is clearly in her element, deftly handling each step of the cooking, filling, and rolling of the pasteles, much to the admiration of young Eric.

Used by permission from Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc.

Used by permission from Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc.

Nearly all of Doña Carmen’s dialogue is parenthetically translated into English, immediately behind her Spanish words. While this solution is not particularly elegant, it reflects the challenge that authors and publishers face in including authentic representations of a Spanish-speaking environment within an English text. The story translates greetings in Spanish by shopkeepers, words of wisdom spoken by the grandmother, and details relevant to the story, such as the names of the root vegetables used in making pasteles: calabaz, yautía, plátanos verdes, guineos verdes, papas.

El Barrio is a place that Eric’s grandmother comfortably navigates day after day. Here, her native tongue predominates, and everyone is a shade of brown. But when she and Eric head for the museum, a short bus ride away, they leave behind that familiar environment and land before the facade of the Metropolitan, cloaked in cultural status and imposing architecture. As Eric notes, there’s no one “from Puerto Rico on the streets and no one was speaking in Spanish.” At this point, Eric becomes her guide in this English-speaking world, translating the signs and captions that they encounter, stepping into a role that second- or third-generation immigrant children often play in their elders’ lives.

Juan de Pareja, by Diego Velázquez

Juan de Pareja, by Diego Velázquez

The highlight of the story arrives when Eric comes face to face with the portrait of Juan de Pareja, hanging in its gilded frame in one of the august exhibition halls of the museum. As a young person of color in the 1970s, he has never seen a member of his own people elevated to such a status: “He seemed so real—much like someone we might see walking around El Barrio. I couldn’t believe that this was a painting in a museum.” Eric is amazed and proud to learn that Juan de Pareja eventually achieved freedom and became a painter in his own right. For Eric, this discovery is a revelation that sparks artistic fire. On Christmas Eve, after everyone enjoys a traditional holiday dinner, Eric sits under the Christmas tree and opens his grandmother’s gift. It’s a sketchbook and a set of colored pencils. He immediately begins to draw a self-portrait. Through this gift, Eric’s grandmother expresses a clear vote of confidence in her grandson’s dreams, underscoring that he, too—a child of El Barrio, an Afro Latino—can follow in the footsteps of Juan de Pareja.

Flight into Egypt, by Juan de Pareja

Flight into Egypt, by Juan de Pareja

This touching, autobiographical story is richly illustrated in Velasquez’s photorealistic style, which authentically depicts settings and brings dimension to each character. Eric imbues his subjects with individually distinct physical characteristics, lending to each an air of nobility. He lovingly paints his grandmother as a lady of dignified bearing and warmth, usually dressed in subdued colors. But he often lavishes this humanizing treatment even on background characters, such as fellow passengers on the train and a nameless guard at the museum. In most of the illustrations, Eric employs a wide and vivid range of hues, but like Diego Velázquez, he sometimes falls back on a deliberately limited palette. When the boy and his grandmother stand before the portrait of Juan de Pareja, the rich browns of the ancient oil painting harmoniously come together with the rich browns of the grandmother’s clothing, as well as the skin tones of all three figures. He puts this deft touch with a monochromatic palette to great effect in the story’s electric moment of revelation, as the child Eric looks on the portrait of Juan de Pareja and grasps a new possibility for his future.

Eric VelasquezABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR: Eric Velasquez is an Afro-Puerto Rican illustrator born in Spanish Harlem. He attended the High School of Art and Design, the School of Visual Arts, and the famous Art Students League in New York City. As a children’s book illustrator, Velasquez has collaborated with many writers, receiving a nomination for the 1999 NAACP Image Award in Children’s Literature and the 1999 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for The Piano Man. For more information, and to view a gallery of his beautiful book covers, visit his official website.

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Learn more about El Barrio from the definitive museum that bears the same name.

After decades of decline, La Marqueta is attempting a comeback. (This article is in Spanish.)

Here, a resident of El Barrio relates her memories of La Marqueta during its heyday.

See the official page for the Juan de Pareja portrait on The Met’s website.

 

Lila Quintero Weaver is the author-illustrator of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Darkroom recounts her family’s immigrant experience in small-town Alabama during the tumultuous 1960s. It is her first major publication. Lila is a graduate of the University of Alabama. She and her husband, Paul, are the parents of three grown children. She can also be found on her own websiteFacebookTwitter and Goodreads.

 

Celebrate Earth Day By Reading Kid Lit Books As An Ecocritic

 

By Marianne Snow Campbell

Earth Day is here again!  It’s a time to honor the natural world that surrounds us, consider how we can take better care of the environment, and take action keep our planet healthy and beautiful. In schools, many teachers and students will join together to read and discuss books with environmentalist lessons – The Lorax, The Great Kapok Tree, a variety of picture books about recycling and picking up litter. Last year, Lila Quintero Weaver shared a beautiful post about books celebrating “Latin@ Heroes of the Planet” and other “Earth Day-friendly books with Latin@ connections.” I love the strong messages that these texts carry and believe that they should play a prominent role in educating children about conservation and ecology.

However, reading literature with overt lessons about the earth isn’t the only method for learning about environmentalism. There’s another, somewhat subtler, approach – ecocriticism. Ecocriticism is a form of literary analysis that investigates how literature depicts nature and, ideally, inspires readers to take action to keep the natural environment healthy. But it’s not just for literature scholars – kids of all ages can be ecocritics, too!

To start an ecocritical analysis, choose a book that depicts nature but isn’t about ecological themes like conservation, recycling, and saving the earth.  For example, I like to use Maya Christina González’s Call Me Tree / Llámame árbol, a poetic, bilingual picture book that celebrates the strength and beauty of trees, as well as humans’ connections with these majestic plants.

Throughout the book, the narrator, a child, embodies nature by pretending to be a tree. They begin as a seed nestled in the earth. Slowly, they sprout from the earth and stretch toward the sky, just like a young sapling. As the child/tree grows, they are joined by other children, who also identify as diverse, strong, leafy forest residents:

“Trees!

More and more trees

Trees and trees

Just like me!

 

¡Árboles!

Más y más árboles

Árboles y árboles

¡Iguales a mí!”

 

To explore a book like Call Me Tree / Llámame árbol with an ecocritical lens, young readers can ponder questions (adapted from Dobie, 2011) that facilitate thinking about nature and readers’ relationship with the earth:

  • How do the author and illustrator depict nature in this text?
  • What is/are the relationship/s between humans and nature in this text?
  • What does this text tell you about nature?
  • Do you agree with this text’s representation of nature?  Why or why not?
  • Does this text make you want to do something to help the environment?  Why or why not? What do you want to do, and how can you accomplish these goals?

Let’s apply those questions to Call Me Tree / Llámame árbol. When I consider these questions in relation to this book, I’m filled with awe and gratitude for the trees that surround me. I love how González depicts trees and humans as equals. In both the text and the illustrations, she presents children and trees as one and the same; people are trees, and trees are people. Nature isn’t a commodity for us to consume. This representation makes me rethink my responsibility for the environment and how I should treat nature as I want to be treated. Trees care for me by cleaning the air, providing shade, and sharing their beauty, so shouldn’t I do more to care for trees? Even though Call Me Tree isn’t about conservation, it certainly makes me want to do my part to respect and sustain the natural world.

Doing ecocriticism can benefit kids in a variety of ways. By analyzing and evaluating representations of nature in texts, they’ll flex their critical thinking muscles. Moreover, ecocriticism’s blending of environmental science and literary studies can help science lovers get more into literature (and vice versa). Also, readers who enjoy expressing themselves creatively can take ecocritical analysis a step further by creating their own nature poetry, art, music, and drama.

 The best news? There are tons of literature by Latinx and Latin American authors that kids can explore with an ecocritical lens. Below are some great books for readers of all ages that feature various types of nature motifs. (Special thanks to Lila Quintero Weaver, Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, Cindy L. Rodriguez, and Cecilia Cackley for their rich contributions to this list of suggested books!)

 

Picture Books

It’s Our Garden (George Ancona)

Kids get their hands dirty and grow food for their community in this nonfiction tale about a school garden.


Prietita and the Ghost Woman / PRIETITA Y LA LLORONA
(Gloria Anzaldúa, Maya Christina Gonzalez)

Prietita wanders the South Texas woods seeking a medicinal plant for her ailing mother.  What will happen when she meets la Llorona?

 

Domitila y el mar (Nina Basich, Teresa Martínez)

After receiving a postcard from her uncle, who’s vacationing at the beach, Domitila can’t get the sea out of her head. (Text in Spanish.)

Domitila

 

Un pueblo lleno de bestias (Francisco Hinojosa, Manuel Monroy)

A group of overprotected children escape their stifling village and create their own community in the desert. (Text in Spanish.)

 

I Know the River Loves Me / Yo sé que el río me ama (Maya Christina Gonzalez)

Can a child and a river be best friends?  Of course!

 

Talking with Mother Earth / Hablando con Madre Tierra (Jorge Argueta, Lucía Angela Pérez)

In this sumptuous collection of poetry, Argueta explores his childhood connections with the earth.

 

Chavela and the Magic Bubble (Monica Brown, Magaly Morales)

Magical bubble gum takes Chavela back in time to visit a grove of sapodilla trees and the people who harvest their chicle in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

 

Middle Grades Books

Silver People: VOICES OF THE PANAMA CANAL (Margarita Engle)

This collection of poems about the construction of the Panama Canal is narrated not only by humans, but also by animals and plants.

 

The Dreamer (Pam Muñoz Ryan)

As an adult, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda often incorporated nature into his work.  This account follows the young Neruda (born Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto) and his encounters with the natural world.

 

Esperanza Rising (Pam Muñoz Ryan)

Forced off of their wealthy ranch in Mexico, Esperanza and her mother immigrate to California to work the land.

 

Where the Flame Trees Bloom (Alma Flor Ada)

Natural imagery permeates Alma Flor Ada’s stories of her childhood in Cuba.

 

My Ocean: A Novel of Cuba (Enrique Pérez Díaz)

Struggling to understand why friends and family are leaving Cuba for the United States, Enrique seeks solace and comfort in the ocean.

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Young Adult Books

I Will Save You (Matt de la Peña)

The beach plays a central role in this mysterious, psychological novel.

 

The Living (Matt de la Peña)

Earthquakes, tsunamis, and disease give readers a different perspective of nature in this intense thriller.

 

Under the Mesquite (Guadalupe García McCall)

Wrestling with her mother’s cancer diagnosis and the responsibility of caring for her siblings, Lupita seeks refuge and resilience in the shade of a tree.

 

The Vicious Deep (Zoraida Córdova)

Nature meets fantasy!  Tristan has always loved the water – a love that begins to make sense when he discovers that he’s heir to an underwater kingdom.

 

Out of Darkness (Ashley Hope Pérez)

The East Texas woods are a place of safety for Naomi and Wash as they cope with violence and racism.

 

 

MarianneMarianne Snow Campbell is a doctoral student at The University of Georgia, where she researches nonfiction children’s books about Latin@ and Latin American topics and teaches an undergraduate course on children’s literature. Before graduate school, she taught pre-K and Kindergarten in Texas, her home state. She misses teaching, loves critters, and can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.