Book Review: Freedom, We Sing by Amyra León and Molly Mendoza

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Review by Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez, PhD & Ingrid Campos

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: As powerful as it is beautiful, Freedom, We Sing is a lyrical picture book designed to inspire and give hope to readers around the world. Molly Mendoza’s immersive, lush illustrations invite kids to ponder singer/songwriter Amyra León’s poem about what it means to be free. It’s the perfect book for parents who want a way to gently start the conversation with their kids about finding hope in these very tense times we are living in.

OUR TWO CENTS: Amyra León’s Freedom, We Sing (2020) is a lyric poem told between a Black mother and her child as they contemplate the meaning of freedom. They ask questions about freedom like “Is it a place?/ Is it a thought?/ Can it be stolen?/ Can it be bought?” Questioning what freedom is, where it is, and who can access it are tremendously important questions for children and adults alike to ask and analyze. In this book, the idea of freedom is threaded to the experiences of others: “Mama tells me that/ there are children/ with hearts like mine/ beat beat beating in their chests/  With different skin colors/ hair, languages, and interests/ they learn to walk and talk/ and dance and scream/  Just like me or anybody.” While there are differences amongst people that could, and have, created forms of oppression limiting one’s freedoms, León also reminds readers that inside our chest are similar beating hearts.

The purpose of freedom for all is not to ignore each other’s differences but to embrace them while also highlighting our similarities. León and Mendoza also represent the very real oppressions that can impact one’s freedom. In one spread, Mendoza illustrates refugees of different skin tones walking together toward freedom. León writes: “Mama tells me that/ There are mothers/ With hearts like ours/ Beat beat beating/ In their chest/ Running from war/ With whatever is left/ Doing everything/ They can to protect/ Their children/ And their breath.” Again, León and Mendoza highlight differences and similarities as means of coming together rather than finding ways to other one another. 

The mother and the child give readers a poetic definition of freedom: “Mama tells me/ Breath is Freedom/ A sweet release/ The right to be/ A universal sign of life and peace.” In these lines, freedom is tied to breathing, to existing, to life. Freedom is as essential as breathing. Freedom can be seen as an individual act because, for the most part, we are responsible for our own breathing. However, León and Mendoza align the idea of freedom as breathing to the idea of community. On the page spread with “Breath is Freedom,” Mendoza has illustrated a diverse group of people with their eyes closed, drawn to look like they’re inhaling. Their faces look peaceful and some of them smile. Throughout the story, León repeats the words “inhale” and “exhale” to describe many things, such as people breathing, but also as trees, and the relationship between the sun and the moon. The repetition of the phrase forces readers to pause and take a deep breath. The relationship of breath and freedom can also be linked to Climate Change. There are several depictions of nature in the book, such as birds, trees, and flowers that suggest that breathing clean air should be a freedom that should also be protected.  

Molly Mendoza’s illustrations are vibrant and magical. There are several depictions of movement in her illustrations. In the first pages, the mother and her child are dancing and twirling and strokes of yellows and oranges mimic their movements behind them. In the pages depicting large groups of diverse people marching, there are also bold strokes of color signaling their direction or standing in for a sort of path to guide them. The pages with “inhale” and “exhale” also demonstrate movement by showing contraction and expansion. In one page, for example, a beautiful tree with yellow, green, and blue leaves stands tall and packed in with the word “inhale” to the left of the tree. On the other page, the same tree, now bare showing all its branches, is surrounded by an explosion of color and shapes with the word “exhale” underneath.

Additionally, Mendoza uses the idea of differences and similarities to visually depict the message of the book. Contrasting concepts such as the colors blues, yellows and oranges, the sun and the moon, and the expression to inhale and exhale can be found throughout the book. One scene, for example, shows the mother and her child sitting next to each other with a sun above the mother and a moon above the child. The word “Inhale” rests above the moon. In the next page, the mother and the child hug and above them the sun and moon have come together to create a new shape. Below them is the word “Exhale.” Readers will certainly have fun looking at all of Mendoza’s brilliant art. 

Freedom, We Sing presents an always relevant conversation about the meaning of freedom. León’s poem examines how freedom is all around us and within us and something we can give to ourselves. León also points to the ways that people around the world are fighting for their freedoms, even if it means having to leave one’s home behind. Mendoza’s artwork is a visual representation of what freedom looks like–from the tiniest flower to the vastness of the universe. With this book, León and Mendoza remind readers that freedom starts with breathing—inhale and exhale.

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Photo by Maria Marrone

ABOUT THE WRITER (from her website): Amyra is a musician, playwright, author, and activist. Her work fuses music and poetry through powerfully transparent performances focusing on social inequalities and communal healing whilst celebrating love, blackness, and womanhood.

She has performed throughout the United States and Europe collaborating with the likes of The Apollo, BAM, BBC, Roundhouse, Amnesty International and more.

Amyra composed Una Mujer Derramada in collaboration with Sivan Eldar commissioned by and performed with Lisbon’s Gulbenkian Orchestra, the Montpellier National Opera, and the Paris Chamber Orchestra. She is the inaugural recipient of the Battersea Arts Centre Phoenix Award which led to the 2019 London premiere of her debut play VASELINE.

She is the author of Concrete Kids (Penguin 2020), Freedom We Sing (Flying Eye Books 2020) and Darling (Walker, Candlewick 2022) . Her musical debut, Something Melancholy, led to sharing stages with Common, Robert Glasper, Nikki Giovanni and more. Amyra’s debut album, WITNESS, is set to release this summer.

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© Maddie Maschger

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR (from her website): Molly Mendoza is an illustrator currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is captivated by the relationships that she has built with friends, family, and foes alike over the course of her life. Molly sets out to emulate those relationships through her chaotic yet rhythmic style to make some dang-good drawings.

Alongside personal/observational narrative, Molly enjoys making images of  space travel, plants, ladies and small dogs. Frequently she can be found working on editorial projects, making comics/zines, and eating hot dogs. Molly is a BFA graduate from the Pacific Northwest College of Art and recipient the RockStar Games Award from the 2015 SOI Student Competition — she continues to work hard and remain a pretty cool lady.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWERSSonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Ingrid Campos is a 19-year-old college student interested in Latinx Literature. After graduating from LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) this year with an associates in Writing and Literature, she will continue her studies at Queens College to earn her Bachelors in English Education 7-12 . Ingrid was born and raised in Queens, New York. As a Mexican-American living in Queens and graduating from the public school system, Ingrid is inspired to become a high school teacher. One of her main goals is to center academic curriculums around more diversity and inclusivity towards Black and Brown students.

Book Review: Pelo Bueno/Good Hair by Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, illustrated by Brittany Gordón Pabón

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Presented by Sujei Lugo

As a children’s librarian at a public library system in the U.S., and in a neighborhood with a high percentage of Latinxs (mainly Dominicans & Puerto Ricans) and Spanish-speakers, I’m oftentimes being asked for children’s literature in Spanish, de allá. Allá being our islands and archipelago in the Caribbean that we want our children, and ourselves, to feel connected to in different ways including children’s books. Yes, it is a challenge to acquire books from Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and limited vendor options and collection development policies that present more restrictions and barriers that opportunities to expand our collections don’t make this endeavor easy.  It is usually through my trips to Puerto Rico and with the help of outside funds and grants that I’m able to get children’s books in Spanish directly from local bookstores, authors, and illustrators in Puerto Rico. I wonder about the experiences and challenges of fellow library workers and educators to get relevant and important children’s literature in Spanish into the hands of our children. Barriers aside, it is important to also highlight, promote, and support Puerto Rican children’s authors and illustrators that are creating, working, and surviving in Puerto Rico. Here at Latinxs in Kid Lit, we will try to continue to review and showcase children’s literature written in Spanish (sometimes available in English) from Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries. 

Today we are highlighting a review of the picture book Pelo Bueno, written by renowned AfroBoricua author Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, and illustrated by Brittany Gordón Pabón. The review is written by two fellow Puerto Rican librarians, Mercy Delgado Cordero & Jeanmary Lugo González, who don’t only give their insights about the book, but also discuss their participation in an activity where Pelo Bueno was used as a conversation piece about racism in Puerto Rico, afroamor & afroreparación. This is our second review written in Spanish.

Resumen:

La abuela Petronila demuestra todo el amor que siente por su nieta, al contarle historias familiares. También brinda lecciones sobre la defensa del cabello natural. Este es un cuento que resalta las raíces de la afropuertorriquenidad y que infunde orgullo para que crezca la autoestima en nuestros nietos y nietas, hijos e hijas.

Reseña por Mercy Delgado Cordero y Jeanmary Lugo González

Pelo bueno es un cuento infantil que busca combatir el racismo desde la afroreparación concientizando sobre el llevar el pelo natural como símbolo de respeto, identidad, autoestima, orgullo, cuidado y valoración. Este hermoso y cálido cuento, en voz de su autora, es un llamado al afroamor y a la afroreparación.

Consideramos este cuento uno de justicia racial empoderado por dos personajes femeninos afrodescendientes. La portada del libro y los colores de las ilustraciones son de tonalidades verde, negro y marrón, proporcionando un contraste de la naturaleza (lo natural) con la piel evidentemente negra. Los dos personajes del cuento son femeninos, personajes que cuestionan sus propias realidades incluyendo sus semejanzas. El cuento es narrado por una niña que es evidentemente negra, quien describe la relación con su abuela como una de amor, comprensión, sabiduría y diversión. La relación de los personajes es semejante a la de la autora con su abuela, llamada Petronila. Por eso en cada página podemos sentir esa cercanía y ese sentimiento de amor, cuidado y protección. 

La portada del libro nos presenta una persona mayor, por sus codos arrugados, peinando el afro de una niña con rostro sonriente. Los colores presentados en la portada los vamos encontrando en las otras páginas del libro ilustrado por Brittany Gordon Pabón.

Me gusta cuando la abuela Petronila peina mis caracolitos. Así le dice ella a mi pelo rizado rizadito“, es la primera línea del cuento. El acto de peinar y ser peinado es una conexión de amor, cuidado, respeto, confianza, y cuando se tiene el pelo bueno, también es un asunto de conocimiento, sabiduría y ancestralidad. La abuela Petronila, personaje femenino evidentemente negra, representa la sabiduría y el amor. Desde el comienzo de la narración se expone la relación de la abuela con su nieta. La importancia de la herencia, lo heredado como símbolo de unión y fuerza.

Acto seguido, se ve a la niña buscando refugio en su abuela, el conflicto: la burla por su pelo en la escuela. En la conversación de la niña con su Abuela, podemos ver como la pequeña ha sufrido de bullying o acoso escolar, recibiendo comentarios de sus compañeros refiriéndose a su cabello como “pelo malo” o Afro. Agresiones racistas que están institucionalizadas y enraizadas en el imaginario de la sociedad puertorriqueña. Petronila con la sabiduría de los abuelos, le pregunta con suspicacia si su pelo había hecho algo malo, y la invita a ignorar a quienes la molestan, pero sobre todo comienza a detallarle las maravillas de su pelo bueno y todas sus posibilidades. En forma de un divertido juego se peinan, hacen trenzas, ponen turbantes, y va explicándole toda la magia, la alegría y los misterios que esconde cada peinado, con referentes históricos de la cultura afropuertorriqueña.

Pelo Bueno es una invitación desde la ternura a desaprender el tan mentado “Pelo malo” con el que nos criamos las afrorizadas. Es deconstruir la frase más utilizada por años, llamar al pelo afro “pelo malo”. Cuestionando entonces por qué es malo, si no ha hecho daño a nadie. “Tu pelo no es malo, tu pelo no es travieso, tu pelo no es desobediente. Tu pelo no se porta mal, no miente, no ofende, no humilla, no se burla. Por eso tu pelo no puede ser malo. Tu pelo no ha hecho nada malo” (p.10).

Es una historia que infunde valores de respeto, autoamor, aceptación y orgullo ancestral. Es por esas razones una herramienta social poderosa para educar desde la sensibilidad y la fantasía, la magia y la alegría, que nos evoca un momento especial entre abuela y nieta. Entretiene, pero a la vez, es puro aprendizaje de lo que significa ser afrodescendiente, con los referentes históricos a los que alude la autora. Por ejemplo, cuando le comenta que se puede hacer trenzas, le dice: “Recuerda que las trenzas para nuestras abuelas eran muy importantes. Con las trenzas se dibujaban mapas de escape cuando nuestras ancestras eran esclavizadas” (p. 12). Las historia de nuestros afros, es la historia de una raza cimarrona que lleva siglos luchando por su libertad, justicia y respeto, y este cuento lo trabaja desde la ternura y cuidado del cabello. 

Pero es sin duda el momento de la historia en el que la niña le devuelve el cariño, las atenciones y lo aprendido, haciéndole lo mismo a su abuela en su pelo rizado rizadito, blanco, blanquito. Un mensaje de que este libro cumplirá su misión, cuando tras disfrutarlo y aprender del afroamor, compartamos ese conocimiento con los demás sobre el respeto al cabello natural. 

El hecho de que la niña no tenga nombre permite que cualquiera pueda verse reflejado en ella, identificarse, ponerse en su lugar. Este aspecto es clave y convierte al libro en uno único en su clase en cuanto a la pertenencia que debe apelar la literatura infantil. Poder vernos representados en un libro, ver a personajes similares al lector, le hace sentir parte del mundo. Convirtiéndose entonces en una herramienta para la justicia racial que buscamos apelar en nuestra sociedad.  

El libro de Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro logra conectar con quien lo lee, es imposible no recordar nuestras afrovivencias en cada página, reconocerse en ellas e ir sanando en cada palabra, con la carga emocional y de poder ancestral que recoge, con las memorias de las agresiones racistas sufridas. Sobre todo para quienes comienzan un proceso de aceptación a su cabello natural, este hermoso y sonoro libro les da un empujoncito. Pelo bueno es un viaje a la aceptación de lo afro, al conocer sus orígenes y enaltecer el orgullo de la negritud, es un proceso de fortalecimiento interior desde la significancia de la experiencia de cada lector. Es un mensaje de respeto al otro y su diversidad racial y cultural, es la respuesta a una búsqueda de redención personal produciendo un sentimiento por conocer y enorgullecernos de nuestra historia, de nuestros ancestros. Este es un libro infantil, con una historia que trasciende edades y generaciones. Lo puede leer un niño o una niña de 6 años, como una joven adulta de 38 años, y ahogarse en un llanto tierno y nostálgico. Son todas posibilidades que evoca esta lectura. 

Por esta razón en Puerto Rico se ha utilizado este libro como herramienta educativa y afroreparativa, para hacer actividades, foros, conversatorios, entrevistas, lecturas en voz alta. Ocupa un lugar privilegiado en salones de belleza de cabello afrorizado y poco a poco va llegando a los salones, bibliotecas y hogares puertorriqueños. 

TEACHING TIPS

Este libro puede ser utilizado en las clases de español e inglés ya que recientemente fue traducido al inglés. Además en tópicos de:

  • inclusión y diversidad
  • historia y afrodescendencia
  • autoestima 
  • bullying
  • cuidado del cabello natural

Se puede leer en grupo y desarrollar un diálogo afroreparativo con discusiones sobre la autoestima, sanación y aceptación. Una posible actividad es ir leyendo el cuento en voz alta e ir recreando los peinados que le hace la abuela a la niña. También, es importante resaltar para los educadores la campaña #ennegrecetuprontuario con la que la autora promueve que se incluyan en los currículos recursos sobre afrodescendencia y afrodescendientes. Mientras que el llamado a los bibliotecarios debe ser que #ennegrezcansuscolecciones. Pero, además de la adquisición del mismo, las bibliotecas lo pueden incluir en los clubes de lectura y llevar a cabo diversas actividades creativas, para grandes y chicos.

Un ejemplo de una actividad es la realizada por la Biblioteca de la Universidad de Puerto Rico en Bayamón el 23 de abril de 2020: “Pelo Bueno: Lectura y conversatorio sobre el cuento infantil que busca combatir el racismo desde la afroreparación”. En la misma, celebrada durante la Semana de la Biblioteca, que este año su lema era Encuentra tu lugar, se leyó en voz alta el cuento y luego se dio paso a un conversatorio con 15 afrorizados. Un diálogo desde el corazón sobre lo que les evocó la lectura del cuento Pelo bueno desde su experiencia personal y desde sus diversas trincheras como educadores, bibliotecarios, profesores, estilistas de pelo rizado, influencers del movimiento afropuertorriqueño, chef y artistas. Un cuento infantil desde la perspectiva de 15 adultos emocionados por los recuerdos que les evocaba escuchar el relato. Risas y lágrimas fueron testigos de un hermoso evento de amor y afroreparación. Dando lugar al lema de Encuentra tu lugar que es lo que busca el cuento infantil, ofrecernos un lugar común para vernos y encontrarnos, ir sanando.

El libro se puede adquirir a través de Libros 787, Aparicio Distributors, Inc., Librería Norberto González, Librería Mágica Por medio de Amazon puedes adquirir las versiones en español e inglés. Además de Barnes & Nobles.

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Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro es directora del Departamento de Estudios Afropuertorriqueños, proyecto performático de Escritura Creativa que responde a la convocatoria promulgada por la UNESCO de celebrar el Decenio Internacional de los Afrodescendientes. Dirige la Cátedra de Mujeres Negras Ancestrales con sede en EDP University en San Juan, Puerto Rico y ha sido invitada por la ONU al Programa “Remembering Slavery” para hablar de mujeres, esclavitud y creatividad en 2015, y presentar el Proyecto de la Cátedra en Harvard University en 2017.

La autora es madre de una preciosa hija de nombre Aurora, en quien se ha inspirado para escribir poemas, cuentos cortos y novelas. El blog virtual de la autora en internet se titula Boreales, y ha sido provocado por las hermosas luces boreales y australes que se pueden ver desde el Polo Norte y el Polo Sur, también en claro homenaje a su unigénita. Sus escritos promueven maravillosas lecciones que denuncian la justicia social y la igualdad entre todos los seres humanos. También visibilizan apasionados enfoques sobre la discusión de la afroidentidad y la derogación del racismo. 

Esta activista a la que le encanta escribir sobre las lanchas de su pueblo natal, Cataño, ha ganado los siguientes galardones: Premio Nacional del Instituto de Literatura Puertorriqueña en 2008, Premio Nacional de Cuento PEN Club de Puerto Rico en 2013, y Premio del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña en 2012 y 2015. Fue elegida como una de las escritoras más importantes de América Latina en 2007 durante la iniciativa Bogotá 39 y ha sido elegida Escritora del Año en Puerto Rico en 2016. Ha publicado los libros infantiles y juveniles: Thiago y la aventura del huracán. (Editorial EDP University, 2018) Las Reyas Magas (Editorial EDP University, 2017) Negrita linda como yo: versos dedicados a la vida de la Maestra Celestina Cordero (Cátedra de Mujeres Ancestrales, 2017) Oscarita: la niña que quiere ser como Oscar López Rivera (Cátedra de Mujeres Ancestrales, 2016) María Calabó (Cátedra de Mujeres Ancestrales, 2016) Las caras lindas (Editorial EDP University, 2016) Capitán Cataño y las trenzas mágicas (Editorial EDP University, 2015) Thiago y la aventura de los túneles de San Germán (Editorial EDP University, 2015) Mis dos mamás me miman (Editorial Boreales, 2011) La linda señora tortuga (Ediciones Santillana, 2017).

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Mercy Delgado Cordero: La Dra. Mercy Delgado Cordero es una apasionada bibliotecaria con 12 años de experiencia en el contexto universitario, tanto público como privado. Es la encargada de la Colección Puertorriqueña y el Archivo Histórico de la Biblioteca de la Universidad de Puerto Rico en Bayamón. También es profesora del programa graduado de Bibliotecología en Cambridge College. Pero sobre todo se considera una líder cultural. Ha dedicado su vida académica y profesional a estudiar y trabajar con libros y por los libros. Tiene la convicción que la lectura y la educación tienen un poder único de transformación social y personal, que nos asegurará tener un mejor País. Tiene un bachillerato en Literatura Comparada e Historia del Arte, un postgrado en Edición y Artes Editoriales, una maestría en Ciencias de la Información-Bibliotecología y un doctorado en Liderazgo de Organizaciones Educativas; todos de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras.

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Jeanmary Lugo González: Bibliotecaria profesional puertorriqueña. Cuenta un bachilletaro en Literatura Comparada y un grado de maestría de la Escuela Graduada de Ciencias y Tecnologías de la Información ambas de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras.  Comenzó su carrera profesional como bibliotecaria auxiliar en la Biblioteca Gerardo Sellés Solá de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras. Actualmente trabaja en la Colección Puertorriqueña de la misma institución. Desea continuar desarrollándose como bibliotecaria académica con interés en las destrezas de información y la promoción de programas, servicios y colecciones.

Book Review: ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat by Raúl the Third with color by Elaine Bay

Review by Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez, PhD and Ingrid Campos

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: In this new Vamos! title, Let’s Go Eat, Little Lobo is excited to take in a show with wrestling star El Toro in his bustling border town. After getting lunch orders from The Bull and his friends to help prepare for the event, Little Lobo takes readers on a tour of food trucks that sell his favorite foods, like quesadillas with red peppers and Mexican-Korean tacos. Peppered with easy-to-remember Latin-American Spanish vocabulary, this glorious celebration of food is sure to leave every reader hungry for lunch!

OUR TWO CENTS: ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat by Raúl the Third with color by Elaine Bay centers Little Lobo, his dog Bernabé, and his rooster friend, Kooky Dooky. Little Lobo takes his delivery services to El Coliseo to meet Luchador star, El Toro, who asks Little Lobo to get lunch orders for him and all of his famished wrestling friends before the big show that night. Little Lobo, Bernabé, and Kooky Dooky visit different food trucks and food stands in the area to find some of their favorite Mexican dishes such as tacos, tamales, churros, aguas frescas, and many more delicious treats. 

¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat is crowded with fun, humorous characters from cover to cover: from a snake with a sombrero slithering up a utility pole, to a tortoise driving a “Tortas Tortuga” truck with “despacito” blazoned across the side, to “Armor Dillo,” a luchador armadillo covered in armor, and so much more. The illustrations are also action-packed, mimicking the high energy of any good lucha match. The cars speed by leaving zig-zag “vroom” behind. The floor retumba like waves at the rumble of the luchadors’ hungry tummies. Puffs of smoke or exhaust rise as Little Lobo dashes from one place to the next. Elaine’s color choices bring the book to life–resembling Little Lobo’s lively neighborhood. Additionally, readers will find many words for different types of foods, animals, and actions as part of the illustrations. On one spread, when Little Lobo first meets all the luchadores, their names are drawn to match their styles, like the “L” in “Lizarda” is as long as their tongue. On another page, when Little Lobo goes to pick up dessert, there are so many options that the words fill up half the page: “Flan,” “arroz con leche,” “churros,” and more. Raúl and Elaine give every inch of the pages something new for readers to find with every read.

¡Vamos! is also an extraordinary book for showcasing bilingualism in Spanish and English. Some of the speech bubbles offer immediate translation of the Spanish words and phrases: “Un poquito de esto. Un poquito de lo otro. A little of this. A little of that.” Other speech bubbles or words in the illustrations don’t offer direct translations; instead, the illustrations serve as context for translation. An example of this is when Little Lobo sits to watch the lucha, and the vendor shouts, “¡Cacahuates! ¡Palomitas! ¡Soda!” There’s no direct translation on the page but instead the reader can see the vendor toss a bag of peanuts at Little Lobo. On other pages, the English and Spanish serve as a call and response. When Little Lobo and Bernabé make it to El Coliseo for the first time, Little Lobo asks, “¡¿Qué es eso?!” and one of the luchadores responds with, “That’s our bellies. We are very hungry.” Additionally, there’s a food glossary at the end of the book, which readers can refer to if they are unfamiliar with the words. The author also encourages readers to use a Spanish-English dictionary to look up words not found in the glossary, which is a significant way to encourage proactiveness and agency in young readers. 

The heart of this story is not only Mexican food but also love and respect for street food vendors. Raúl does an excellent job at representing the diversity of street food, the types of kitchens where the food is made, and kinds of characters who make the food. After getting the long list of food orders from the luchadores, Little Lobo, Bernabé, and Kooky Dooky head outside to shop from the different food vendors. The narration reads, “A food truck is a kitchen on wheels. Food of all kinds can be prepared there. Some food sellers used modified bikes or wagons.” There are also food sellers selling out of a cooler and from a box around their neck. Additionally, in ¡Vamos!, Raúl shows that street food vendors are an important staple of any community and demonstrates how street food vendors support one another. For example, at one point in the story, Little Lobo notices: “At the elotero, the corn boils in the giant tub right on the cart. Macho gives all his husks to Tammy. She uses them to wrap her tamales.” Here, the vendors support one another by sharing supplies to create food that’ll feed a community, but the example also demonstrates how conservation is an innate part of many Latinx cultures; nothing goes to waste. 

By capturing the diversity and beauty of Mexican food and street food vendors, Raúl challenges negative stereotypes that currently may exist around both of these cultures. At a time when street vendors are under constant policing and harassment, a book like ¡Vamos! is essential reading to expand young peoples’ understanding of culinary practices and respect for those who make the food and for those who deliver it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR: (From his website) Raúl The Third is an award-winning illustrator, author, and artist living in Boston. His work centers around the contemporary Mexican-American experience and his memories of growing up in El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Lowriders in Space was nominated for a Texas BlueBonnet award in 2016-2017 and Raúl was awarded the prestigious Pura Belpré Award for Illustration by the American Library Association for Lowriders to the Center of the Earth. He was also a contributor to the SpongeBob Comics series.

¡Vamos! Let’s Go to The Market! is Raúl’s first authorial project, which he wrote and illustrated, and is colored by Elaine Bay.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWERSSonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Ingrid Campos is a 19-year-old college student interested in Latinx Literature. After graduating from LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) this year with an associates in Writing and Literature, she will continue her studies at Queens College to earn her Bachelors in English Education 7-12 . Ingrid was born and raised in Queens, New York. As a Mexican-American living in Queens and graduating from the public school system, Ingrid is inspired to become a high school teacher. One of her main goals is to center academic curriculums around more diversity and inclusivity towards Black and Brown students.

Book Review: Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle, illus. by Rafeal López

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Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: As a little girl, Teresa Carreño loved to let her hands dance across the beautiful keys of the piano. If she felt sad, music cheered her, and when she was happy, the piano helped her share that joy. Soon she was writing her own songs and performing in grand cathedrals.

Then a revolution in Venezuela drove her family to flee to the United States. Teresa felt lonely in this unfamiliar place, where few of the people she met spoke Spanish. Worst of all, there was fighting in her new home, too- a Civil War.

Still, Teresa kept playing, and soon she grew famous as the talented Piano Girl who could play anything from a folk song to a sonata. So famous, in fact, that President Abraham Lincoln wanted her to play at the White House! Yet with the country torn apart by war, could Teresa’s music bring comfort to those who needed it the most?

MY TWO CENTS: Dancing Hands is a biographical picture book about María Teresa Carreño Garcia de Sena that embraces creativity, family, and music during turmoil in Venezuela and the United States. Teresa, also known as Piano Girl, learns early on that music is an art for others to enjoy in the moment and in their hearts. Despite inevitable conflict in both her home country, Venezuela, and her new home, the United States, music becomes her refuge. Playing the piano calms the storms, brings together her family, and inspires other artists, and even the president in office, Abraham Lincoln.

While the text is in English only, the language used to describe Teresa’s talent is filled with poetic and descriptive language. It moves the reader through a narrative timeline of events and emotions. The illustrations are phenomenal and invoke more emotions as the reader learns about Teresa’s life changes. The use of acrylic paint and its textured shades contrast against the sharp lines and fierce colors that spread across each page. Each page has strategically placed colors and imagery placement to convey the story’s mood. Still, Teresa’s life experiences and talents remain front and center, with her connection to her music and cultures highlighted. My favorite moment in her story is when, as a young child, Teresa inspired other musicians to come and create music. It shows how far and wide her inspiration reached even at a young age!

TEACHING TIPS: Many of these teaching moments can be implemented in a K-5 setting, with a focus on the grades 3 and up.

  • Writing Mentor Text
    • Descriptive language: The author provides a plethora of metaphors and descriptive language that can serve as models for student writing when used to describe objects, moments, and feelings.
    • Mini lesson on adjectives and verbs
  • Addition to a biography unit or music unit
    • The historical note at the end of the book can serve as a catalyst for further research into the life of María Teresa Carreño Garcia de Sena. Student researchers can also find out more about her music and how it added to the arts during and after her time.
    • In music class, students can learn more about her compositions, as well as listen to her music compositions to add to their study.
  • Author and illustrator study
    • Pair this text with other picture books written by Margarita Engle and compare her writing style as well as the characters.
    • Pair this text with other picture books illustrated by Rafael López and compare his artistic style.

Listen to María Teresa Carreño Garcia de Sena’s composition called La Falsa Nota played by another pianist.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of many acclaimed books, including two other collaborations with Rafael López, Bravo! and Drum Dream Girl, as well as The Flying Girl; All the Way to Havana; Miguel’s Brave Knight; The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor book; Jazz Owls; The Poet Slave of Cuba; and her memoirs Enchanted Air and Soaring Earth. She lives in central California. Visit her at margaritaengle.com Follow her on Twitter: @margaritapoet

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ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Rafael López was born and raised in Mexico, a place that has always influenced the vivid colors and shapes in his artwork. He now creates community-based mural projects around the world and illustrates acclaimed children’s books, including The Day You Begin, Bravo!, Drum Dream Girl, We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands, and Book Fiesta! Rafael divides his time between Mexico and California. Visit him at  https://rafaellopez.com/

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is also a current doctoral student in NLU’s  EdD Teaching and Learning Program with an emphasis on Reading, Language, and Literacy.  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!

Q&A with Writer Cynthia Harmony about her WNDB Mentorship

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Cynthia Harmony is one of ten creators awarded a year-long mentorship through We Need Diverse Books. Here’s some information about the program from their website:

“The We Need Diverse Books Mentorship Program has now awarded over 50 mentorships, producing a total of 88 industry professionals and upcoming voices who have participated in one-on-one relationships since the first round of applications were received in 2015. Some of the program’s former mentees have gone on to sign with prominent industry agents, publish multiple works, or secure a debut book contract.”

Here, Cynthia is interviewed by Romy Natalia Goldberg about her experience so far:

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Q: First of all, congratulations on having been selected for the 2020 We Need Diverse Books mentorship program. Do you mind sharing where you were in your publishing journey when you applied for the WNDB mentorship?

A: Thank you Romy! I signed with my agent the summer of 2019 and I was on sub with my first story that Fall. I had applied the year before and didn’t get it. A bit before the deadline, I reread their reply. It said I had been chosen as a finalist, and they encouraged me to try again. So, I asked Natascha, my agent, and she was encouraging as well. Teresa Robeson, who is also represented by my agent, was a mentee a few years before and sold her MS. It made perfect sense.

Q: What drew you to the WNDB mentorship? 

A: I had been following WNDB since Miranda Paul shared their goals on a webinar a few years ago. A mentorship that considered my perspective as #ownvoices was crucial to me. It was my ultimate goal because it’s a unique, tailored opportunity to grow as a writer. And this is one of the few year-long opportunities out there.

Q: Your mentorship is with picture book author Rob Sanders, who is known for being an excellent writing instructor. What is it like to learn from him? 

A: Yes! I’m very lucky because he is not only a great writer, but also a great teacher. He’s said he’s not interested in editing people’s work, but in teaching them how to be better writers. He has kindly and respectfully considered my strengths and style. Then offered guidance from broad research to specific suggestions, to reimagine my stories and take them to the next level. 

Q: Any big a-ha moments or was it more of a slow and steady learning process?

A: A bit of both. Exploring different POV-narrators with specific mentor texts that I may have not considered on my own, was an a-ha moment that opened up that possibility. Tackling a parallel structure was more of a slow process. I also tend to be vague and poetic, so he has helped me tighten structure and language for younger readers.

Q: Any tips you’d like to share with fellow writers on how to make the most of mentorship opportunities?

A: At the beginning, Rob asked me many questions about my expectations and preferences for communication. I think that helped both of us picture how we would work together. I would suggest having that conversation and asking questions early on. I know he’s extremely busy with multiple book releases, writing classes and being a teacher, but I reach out, sending him revisions for whenever there’s a window. He has been great at getting back to me, and I think we’ve have covered a lot so far.  

Q: How has your mentorship changed the way you view yourself as a writer and your place in the industry?

A: It has given me the confidence to try new things and I know I’m bringing these experiences with me when I revise new stories, a sharper eye or ear (rhythm) for what works. I don’t think it has changed my place in the industry; I just know I’m extremely fortunate for this experience and hope to pay it forward one day.

Q: Please tell us more about your writing! What themes do you like to explore and what types of books are you working on?

A: My books are mostly lyrical with lots of heart. I love stories that pull your heartstrings, but also offer hope. I always bring in my culture with themes I deeply care about. But I also want to explore my range and work on a character driven story before this year ends. Humor is a bit of challenge, so I know I’ll need some help.

Q: And of course, when will we be able to see your books on the shelves? Anything you’re allowed to share with us yet?

A: My early readers and chapter books for the educational market come out next year. For picture books, I’m not allowed to say yet, but I’ll be able to share good news soon!

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Cynthia Harmony is an educational psychologist originally from Mexico City. She has lived in Playa del Carmen, Madrid, Salamanca Spain, and now calls the desert of Arizona home. She’s created exhibits and bilingual learning materials for children and science museums. She has published textbooks and writes picture books, chapter books, and early readers. She’s a translator member of The American Literary Translators Association and was awarded the 2020 We Need Diverse Books PB Mentorship. When not writing, Cynthia can be found in a museum with her kids, dancing to a Latin beat, daydreaming of tacos, or planning her next family trip.

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

12 Afro-Latinx Kid Lit Creators You Can Support Right Now

 

Today, we would like to spotlight 12 Afro-Latinx creators in Kid Lit because:

  • the Kid Lit publishing world is overwhelmingly white,
  • the Latinx creators who do get published are largely white or white-passing,
  • racism, anti-blackness, and colorism are systemic plagues in Latinx communities, in addition to our communities at large,
  • and, as a result of all of the above, Afro-Latinx creators do not get the regular attention and respect they deserve.

We stand with the Black community and will use our blog to amplify the voices and work of Black creators more often. Many of us are also educators who are working within the K-12, higher education, and library systems to combat racism, shrink the achievement gap, and best serve our Black students and other students of color. We will continue to do this work.

Below, you will find information about the creators, links to their websites, and links to any past posts from our site. If you click on the book covers, you will go to IndieBound.org, where you can put money behind your support by buying books!

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Elizabeth Acevedo

From her website: Elizabeth Acevedo is a New York Times bestselling author of The Poet X and With the Fire on High. Her critically-acclaimed debut novel, The Poet X, won the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. She is also the recipient of the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction, the CILIP Carnegie Medal, and the Boston Globe-Hornbook Award. Additionally, she was honored with the 2019 Pure Belpré Author Award for celebrating, affirming, and portraying Latinx culture and experience.

Our review of THE POET X: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/03/08/book-review-the-poet-x-by-elizabeth-acevedo/

   

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Lily Anderson  Headshot - credit Chris Duffey.jpgLily Anderson:

From her website: I’m Lily, the curly haired gal in the pictures. I’m a writer from the slice of suburbs between Sacramento and San Francisco that could never get it together enough to be the Bay Area. After spending my childhood searching for books about mixed race kids who talk too fast and care too much, I decided to start writing my own.

My books are about snarky girls and emotional intelligence and sometimes monsters. As a woman of Afro-Puerto Rican decent, representing a diverse world isn’t a trend for me—it’s my greatest joy.

Our review of UNDEAD GIRL GANG: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/11/19/book-review-undead-girl-gang-by-lily-anderson/

   

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TransientVeronica Chambers

From her website: Veronica Chambers is a prolific author, best known for her critically acclaimed memoir, Mama’s Girl which has been course adopted by hundreds of high schools and colleges throughout the country. The New Yorker called Mama’s Girl, “a troubling testament to grit and mother love… one of the finest and most evenhanded in the genre in recent years.” Born in Panama and raised in Brooklyn, her work often reflects her Afro-Latina heritage.

She coauthored the award-winning memoir Yes Chef with chef Marcus Samuelsson as well as Samuelsson’s young adult memoir Make It Messy, and has collaborated on four New York Times bestsellers, most recently 32 Yolks, which she cowrote with chef Eric Ripert. She has been a senior editor at the New York Times MagazineNewsweek, and Glamour. Born in Panama and raised in Brooklyn, she writes often about her Afro-Latina heritage. She speaks, reads, and writes Spanish, but she is truly fluent in Spanglish. She is currently a JSK Knight fellow at Stanford University.

Our review of THE GO-BETWEEN: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/02/08/book-review-the-go-between-by-veronica-chambers/

        

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PictureTami Charles

From her website: Former teacher. Wannabe chef. Tami Charles writes books for children and young adults. Her middle grade novel, Like Vanessa, earned Top 10 spots on the Indies Introduce and Spring Kids’ Next lists, three starred reviews, and a Junior Library Guild selection. Here recent titles include a humorous middle grade, Definitely Daphne, picture book, Freedom Soup, and YA novel, Becoming Beatriz. When Tami isn’t writing, she can be found presenting at schools both statewide and abroad. (Or sneaking in a nap…because sleep is LIFE!)

Our Q&A with Tami Charles: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2019/10/03/spotlight-on-middle-grade-authors-part-12-tami-charles/

         

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Robert Liu-Trujillo

From his website: Robert Liu-Trujillo is a life long Bay Area resident. Born in Oakland California, he’s the child of student activists who watched lots of science fiction and took him to many demonstrations. Always drawing, Rob grew up to be an artist falling in love with graffiti, fine art, illustration, murals, and children’s books. In that order, sort of. Through storytelling he’s been able to scratch the surface of so many untold stories. Rob is the author and illustrator of Furqan’s First Flat Top. He’s a dad of a teenage boy and a brand new baby girl. He loves ice cream and his wife who laughs big and corrects his grammar every chance she gets. Down with the system and soggy french fries!

Rob is a co-founder of The Trust Your Struggle Collective, a contributor to The Social Justice Childrens Bk Holiday Fair, The Bull Horn BlogRad Dad,  Muphoric Sounds, and the founder of Come Bien Books.

Our review of FURQAN’S FIRST FLAT TOP: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2016/12/15/libros-latinxs-furqans-first-flat-topel-primer-corte-de-mesita-de-furqan/

Our review of ONE OF A KIND LIKE ME: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2017/05/04/book-review-one-of-a-kind-like-meunico-como-yo-written-by-laurin-mayeno-illustrated-by-robert-liu-trujillo/

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IMG_5888Torrey Maldonado

From his website: What do you get from teaching nearly 20 years in a middle school in the Brooklyn community that you’re from & you’re an author? Gripping relatable novels and real-life inspiration. Voted a “Top 10 Latino Author” & best Middle Grade & Young Adult novelist for African Americans, Torrey Maldonado was spotlighted as a top teacher by NYC’s former Chancellor. Maldonado is the author of the ALA “Quick Pick”, Secret Saturdays, that is praised for its current-feel & timeless themes. His newest MG novel, Tight, is a coming of age tale about choosing your own path. Learn more at torreymaldonado.com

Our review of TIGHT: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/09/06/book-review-tight-by-torrey-maldonado/

Our Q&A with the Torrey Maldonado: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/09/04/spotlight-on-middle-grade-authors-part-6-torrey-maldonado/

   

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☆ Poet, Author, Editor, Lecturer, Scholar, ActivistTony Medina

From his website: Tony Medina is the author/editor of seventeen books for adults and young readers. Medina has taught English at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus and Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY and has earned an MA and PhD in English from Binghamton University, SUNY. The first Professor of Creative Writing at Howard University in Washington, DC, Medina’s latest books are I and I, Bob Marley (Lee & Low Books, 2009), My Old Man Was Always on the Lam (NYQ Books, 2010), finalist for The Paterson Poetry Prize, Broke on Ice (Willow Books/Aquarius Press, 2011), An Onion of Wars (Third World Press, 2012), The President Looks Like Me (Just Us Books, 2013) and Broke Baroque (2Leaf Press, 2013).

   

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Yesenia_HeadShotYesenia Moises

From her website: Bronx native, Afro-Latina, and illustrator on Monique Fields’ debut picture book Honeysmoke: A Story About Finding Your Color, Yesenia is a freelance toy designer and illustrator. Her work has been featured on various media outlets such as SyFy and NBC News. On the toy side of things, she worked with Mattel and Spin Master and has even dabbled in comics here and there with Action Lab and Image. She enjoys creating colorful and whimsical illustrations that depict people of marginalized backgrounds in worlds where even ordinary life can be vibrant and full of wonder. In a time where the world can be a scary place, she wants it to be filled with big hair, bright colors, and lots of sazón from the heart!

Her author-illustrator debut, Stella’s Stellar Hair, is set to release in January 2021.

Our Q&A with Yesenia Moises: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/12/06/spotlight-on-latina-illustrators-lulu-delacre-cecilia-ruiz-yesenia-moises/

 

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MaikaMouliteandMaritzaMouliteMaika Moulite and Maritza Moulite

From their website: Maika Moulite is a Miami native and daughter of Haitian immigrants. She earned a bachelor’s in marketing from Florida State University and an MBA from the University of Miami. When she’s not using her digital prowess to help nonprofits and major organizations tell their stories online, she’s writing stories of her own. She also blogs at Daily Ellement, a lifestyle website featuring everything from diverse inspirational women to career guidance. She’s the oldest of four sisters and loves Young Adult fantasy, fierce female leads, and laughing.

Maritza Moulite graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s in women’s studies and the University of Southern California with a master’s in journalism. She’s worked in various capacities for NBC News, CNN, and USA TODAY. An admirer of Michelle Obama, Maritza is a perpetual student and blogs at Daily Ellement as well. Her favorite song is “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire.

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Image may contain: one or more people and closeupSofia Quintero

Sofia Quintero is a writer, activist, educator, speaker, and comedienne. She is also the author of Show and Prove, Efrain’s Secret, and has written several hip-hop novels under the pen name Black Artemis. This self-proclaimed “Ivy League homegirl” graduated from Columbia and lives in the Bronx.

Our review of SHOW AND PROVE: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2015/06/18/libros-latins-show-and-prove/

 

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Eric VelasquezEric Velasquez

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.

He is the illustrator of thirty books. Click here for a list of his work on his website.

Our review of GRANDMA’S GIFT: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2016/06/02/celebrating-pura-belpre-winners-spotlight-on-grandmas-gift-by-eric-velasquez/

Our review of GRANDMA’S RECORDS: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2014/02/13/libros-latinos-grandmas-records/

                 

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Ibi Zoboi

From her website: Ibi Zoboi was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her novel American Street was a National Book Award finalist and a New York Times Notable Book. She is also the author of Pride and My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, a New York Times bestseller, and Punching the Air with co-author and Exonerated Five member, Yusef Salaam. She is the editor of the anthology Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America. Raised in New York City, she now lives in New Jersey with her husband and their three children.