Book Review: Five Midnights by Ann Dávila Cardinal

 

Review by Mimi Rankin

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Five friends cursed. Five deadly fates. Five nights of retribución.

If Lupe Dávila and Javier Utierre can survive each other’s company, together they can solve a series of grisly murders sweeping though Puerto Rico. But the clues lead them out of the real world and into the realm of myths and legends. And if they want to catch the killer, they’ll have to step into the shadows to see what’s lurking there—murderer, or monster?

MY TWO CENTS: As soon as I read about Five Midnights by Ann Dávila Cardinal (Tor Teen), I was determined to get my hands on a copy. YA horror-crime set in Puerto Rico? Everything about this called my name.

Lupe Dávila is a “Gringa Rican” spending her summer in Puerto Rico, leaving her alcoholic dad in Vermont to explore his homeland on her own for the first time. The niece of the police chief, Lupe finds herself attempting to solve a mysterious murder case when it seems like her missing cousin, Izzy, might be the next victim. One of Izzy’s oldest friends, Javier, is trying to make peace with himself and his sobriety, but when his old pals, Los Congregitos, keep being murdered in gruesome and inexpiable ways, all on their 18th birthdays, he fears as his own draws near. Can Javier and Lupe track down a vicious murderer before it’s too late?

First things first: I could not put this book down. I seriously considered taking a personal day from work to finish it (I tweeted this and both Cardinal and Tor Teen told me I was allowed to). The book combines mythology, crime, and a stark look at addiction, all set in the greater San Juan, Puerto Rico area. Each page sparked a new question in the best way possible. Is El Cuco real? What’s the deal with the ominous abuelita? I was pulled into the stories and backgrounds of the various characters and could not inhale the book quickly enough. The last few chapters felt slightly rushed, but there is so much action and detail packed into the climax, the racing could have just been from my own heartbeat.

One of Cardinal’s greatest strengths came through her characters. In particular, Marisol was one of the most fascinating and complex characters I’ve encountered in YA literature. She is bold and electric and passionate about her country and community. There is a sincere depth to her, and I would love nothing more than to see her succeed. Another character who I truly felt like I was getting to know as a human being was Javier. His struggle and battle with his addiction, his relationship with Padre Sebastian, and even his relationship with his family, all felt whole. The text even went as far to explain the socioeconomic misunderstanding of addiction; a favorite line is “My dad is a g—d—n lawyer.”

The world that Cardinal has created in San Juan was so tangible, painting both the stunning aspects of the city like the Spanish blue bricks of Old San Juan and the harsh realities of an island struggling to come back from a devastating hurricane and a corrupt government. Five Midnights invites readers to the captivating supernatural realm of an island just as mystifying with the resilience and heart of its people. I fully plan to champion Tor Teen to pick up a sequel—there is more havoc for El Cuco to cause and more stories to be told from Puerto Rico.

Photo by Carlos Cardinal - 2018ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ann Dávila Cardinal is a novelist and Director of Recruitment for Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA). She has a B.A. in Latino Studies from Norwich University, an M.A. in sociology from UI&U and an MFA in Writing from VCFA. She also helped create VCFA’s winter Writing residency in Puerto Rico.

Ann’s first novel, Sister Chicas was released from New American Library in 2006. Her next novel, a horror YA work titled Five Midnights, was released by Tor Teen on June 4, 2019.

Her stories have appeared in several anthologies, including A Cup of Comfort for Mothers and Sons (2005) and Women Writing the Weird (2012) and she contributed to the Encyclopedia Latina: History, Culture, And Society in the United States edited by Ilan Stavans. Her essays have appeared in American ScholarVermont WomanAARP, and Latina Magazines. Ann lives in Vermont, needle-felts tiny reading creatures, and cycles four seasons a year.

 

 

 

file-2ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Mimi Rankin received her Master’s Degree with distinction in Children’s Literature from the University of Reading. Her thesis, on which she received a rating of First, centered around claims to cultural authenticity and representation in Hispanic Children’s Literature. She currently works in the publishing industry as a marketing manager. Her reviews do not reflect the opinions of her employer.

A Conversation with Lauren Castillo, illustrator of Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Cecilia Cackley: This is your twenty-first picture book! You’ve written three of them yourself, but you’ve also worked with a wide range of collaborators. How do you feel like your process has evolved as an artist?

Lauren Castillo: It feels like I’m choosing a different medium for each project, but somehow it ends up looking like the same type of art to others. Imagine for instance, doesn’t look too different from Nana in the City, but to me, I definitely worked in a lot of different ways to make the art. For example, because this book had so many landscapes, I really wanted to embrace that imperfect, texture-y feeling in a more abstract way. I wanted to have a looser style, so I used something that I had been playing around with in workshops with children—printmaking by painting on foam. It’s really fun because you don’t know what you’re going to end up with until you run the print. That’s kind of the beauty of printmaking, that nothing is going to be exact and precise. I think my art, over the years, felt like I was tightening up and it felt a little too crafted. I think it was because my drawing wasn’t as strong at first, so it gave this energetic, free feeling to the work and I liked that. I’ve been trying to figure out ways to trick myself into loosening up. For this book it was helpful to use this type of printmaking for the backgrounds. I would paint on the foam and then flip it over and stamp it on the paper. I work in a much smaller scale so when it’s enlarged it gets even more texture. With each book I need to use different types of materials to keep things interesting.

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CC: Is this your first non-fiction picture book about a living person?

LC: Yes.

CC: How was the research process different than for, say, your book about E.B. White?

LC: It was very different! I did not interact at all with Juan directly. I sent some questions through the publisher Candlewick because it was a poem and it was non-descriptive in terms of the locations and the years and that sort of thing. I had this vision for it so I didn’t want to know too many details but I wanted to gauge the era, the decade and the locations that he was speaking about. I had looked at some photographs of him and most were current so I decided, although I probably could have gotten some childhood photos of him, to do my own version of him and what I imagined he looked like when he was younger. So the character development was done without photo reference. But they gave me some locations to work with so I could get photos from the computer for those. It was a lot freer than working on E.B. White’s life, for example, because that was very descriptive and specific, even down to the animals that were in the barn.

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CC: Would you say this is the most poetic text you’ve ever worked on?

LC:  Probably. I would definitely call some of the other books I’ve worked on poetic, or poems but this feels most definitely like it was pulled out of a poetry book and it’s gorgeous. The first time I read it I thought “Well, I have to illustrate this!”

CC: Tell us a little about your own Latinx family background.

LC: My dad’s father is Cuban, and my mom’s mom is Puerto Rican.

CC: Is this the first book by another Latinx author that you’ve worked on?

LC: It is, which I was very excited about. I grew up asking a lot of questions about my grandparents’ lives and their parents’ lives, coming to the United States, and it seemed like I was more interested in my background and culture than a lot of my friends. I did a lot of reports as a kid, interviewing my grandparents. I would be curious to see how connected to my art Juan Felipe was, if there was anything that reminded him of his own life or if I took liberties that were very different. It would be interesting to have a conversation about it.

CC:  Do you think that you’ll ever make any work connected with your own family history?

LC:  My Puerto Rican great-grandfather was a musician, and when he moved to New York, his family lived in the Spanish Harlem area. My grandmother told me stories about when she was young and he had a band that would play around different venues in Spanish Harlem. So when I moved to New York for graduate school, we had to do a book project, and I decided I wanted to do a visual journalism project about this really old music store in Spanish Harlem called Casa Latina. I went there and asked them if I could spend a month coming in and out of their store and do drawings, so basically I did this whole visual journalism project that I turned into a book about the people in the store and how they interacted with each other and their customers. I would have conversations with them and take notes, so it was kind of like a diary, but it included drawings from the shop and portraits of people that work there, and I called it Casa Latina. I’ve wanted to turn that into a picture book at some point because when I was going to the store I had it in my mind that although that store wasn’t around then, that’s the same neighborhood that my great-grandfather was spending a lot of time in and playing music in. So I got really invested in that area, and for a while, I’ve been keeping some drafts of stories that I want to do, some ideas to turn that project into a picture book. So yes, I definitely want to do a project that connects to that Puerto Rican background.

CC: What are you working on now?

LC: At the moment I’m working on a very unusual project for me, which is completely imagined, because so far, my three picture books have all come from some sort of life experience, and so I’m working on this early chapter book. It’s about the hedgehog character that I had drawn that kept popping up in my sketchbook, and it’s all animals and one human character, and it’s very much a made up story. And also it’s a long format book, which is a lot of fun since I don’t have a lot experience with that!

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MORE ABOUT LAUREN CASILLO: Lauren studied illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art and received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She is the author and illustrator of the 2015 Caldecott Honor winning book, Nana in the City, as well as The Troublemaker and Melvin and the Boy. Lauren has also illustrated several critically acclaimed picture books, including Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley, Yard Sale by Eve Bunting, and City Cat by Kate Banks. She currently draws and dreams in Harrisburg, PA. You can find out more about her at http://www.laurencastillo.com/

 

 

cecilia-02-originalCecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc

 

A Studio Visit with Illustrator Zara Gonzalez Hoang

 

By Cecilia Cackley

Zara Gonzalez Hoang is an illustrator who is just beginning her career in children’s literature. She created the art for the picture book Thread of Love by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal and recently sold her book A New Kind of Wild which is inspired by her father’s experience moving from Puerto Rico to the United States as a child. We met at her studio in Falls Church, VA to talk about her journey to becoming an illustrator.

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Cecilia Cackley: Tell me a little about your path to becoming an artist

Zara Gonzalez Hoang: When I was little my dad was really artistic and he used to draw with us. Some of my favorite memories are of me and my dad just laying on the floor in the porch or something and just drawing horses. My mom was a teacher so we always had paper and pens and I just always drew as a kid. And I think, too, everybody has things in their growing up that are probably not all that fantastically awesome and for me drawing was my escape. I would go hide in my room and draw and make up all these different worlds. I really liked to combine animals into new animals. My favorite was the “horseger”—it was a horse and a tiger which were my two favorite animals.

I’ve always been doing art, but I never considered doing it seriously. I went to college and took art classes but I also studied computer science and that was the practical side of me. There’s always been these two parts of me, the very logical side and the creative side. I’ve always been drawn to computers, and I’ve always been drawn to art. I majored in art, but then I worked doing network administration and web design—merging art and computers in a way. I didn’t start seriously drawing until the iPhone came out and I started a company with some friends making apps for kids and I illustrated them.

I never wanted to do kids books, it’s so weird! And it’s because I was afraid. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to be consistent, that it was too much work, that I just wasn’t good enough. After I had my son, and I was reading all these picture books, I came back to this place I really loved that I thought I couldn’t have anymore. I always looked at picture books and wanted to buy them, but I always thought, I don’t have any kids, I can’t buy them, which is such a silly thing. There’s no reason why you can’t have these things you want just because you’re not a child. It doesn’t mean they’re any less beautiful or valid. I’ve always been someone who hid that part of me. I always hid my sketchbooks. It was such a personal part of myself that I felt I couldn’t flaunt it.

It wasn’t until I had my son that I felt like I really had permission to do this. I was looking for something to do with more meaning, and I realized–or my sister realized for me–that I have this gift for art and for writing. So I started putting together my portfolio for children’s books, and then I started going to SCBWI conferences, and I realized that everyone there was just like me: super nerdy about books and picture books! My friends talked me into submitting my work to agents, and I got a super awesome agent who I love. When I queried agents, I queried them as an illustrator who wanted to write, and I sent my portfolio but not any writing. The reason I knew she was the right agent for me was that she read my story A New Kind of Wild, and she told me how to make it better, and we spent the next year working on it to get it to a place where we could send it out. I feel like I finally came back to where I was supposed to be.

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CC: You started out working digitally, but in your studio, you showed me more traditional media like pen, ink, and watercolor. How has that process gone?

ZGH: When I did Thread of Love, I didn’t think I’d want to do anything the traditional way. I didn’t think I was any good at it. I liked digital, I liked the control of it. So when I got the manuscript of Thread of Love, that was how I was going to do it. I could see the color palette as soon as I read the manuscript. I don’t know if it’s my background in graphic design or what, but I saw the color palette first. It wasn’t until after that project that I started moving into more traditional media. Two things happened. One, I started thinking about the things that I liked and the illustrators and artists who I love the most work traditionally. There seemed to be a disconnect for me between what I did and what I liked, and I wanted to bring that closer.

When I started writing A New Kind of Wild, it had originally been digital to me, and that’s how I submitted my dummy, but I wanted to do it traditionally because in my mind that’s how it was. So I was doing all these studies of my characters traditionally and posting them on Instagram. My editor was creeping on me, and she saw them and she asked me if I would consider doing it traditionally. It was like she was seeing into my mind or my heart because that’s what I wanted, but I didn’t feel comfortable enough to say what I wanted. I’m not at the point of making the art yet, so it may end up being digital, but it may end up being a hybrid mix. And that’s fine because I have a lot of comfort with the ability to erase mistakes digitally.

I’m a perfectionist in some ways. I don’t like the mistakes and even when I’m working traditionally because I’m using watercolor and colored pencil and ink, the things I love about watercolor I also hate. If you have a big swatch of color, you’re going to see the way the water moves in that swatch of color and those imperfections are the things that make it interesting.  I’m constantly fighting with myself to be okay with the imperfect, but I want to try and embrace it because the reality is, life isn’t perfect. I think there’s more emotion and interest in things that are loose rather than tight.

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CC: Thread of Love is about a very specific Indian holiday, Rashka Bandhan. What was the research process like for that?

ZGH: I am not Indian, so I had to do a lot of research to make sure I got things right. It’s something that was constantly on my mind while I was working on the book. Since I’m not of that culture, I worked really had to get it right. I checked out all the books I could from the library about the holiday, and I relied a lot on the authors telling me that I was portraying things correctly.  I also talked to friends who are Indian and who celebrate Rashka Bandhan. I wanted to make sure my illustrations depicted Raksha Bandhan accurately, especially since it is a holiday that is not one that I celebrate.

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CC: A New Kind of Wild is inspired by your own family history, so what has the research process been like for that?

ZGH: I wrote this book without thinking that it was about my dad’s story—it wasn’t until I was reworking the book that I realized that was the story I was telling. My dad passed away, and he’s not here for me to ask him, so a lot of the stuff I’m relying on is memories of the stories he told me about him growing up. My dad grew up in Puerto Rico with his grandmother until he was ten or twelve, when his mom was in New York. So, in the book, there’s a page where he’s leaving his grandmother. Pieces of my dad’s story are woven through like that. When we went back to Puerto Rico, we went to my dad’s house that he grew up in, so there will probably be some of that place in the book.

CC: What are some goals you have for where you want your career to go as a writer and illustrator?

ZGH: I think where I want to go does involve being a writer, so it means telling my own stories, and that’s both on the Latinx side and also on my other side because I’m half Puerto Rican and half Russian/Polish/Belaruski because my mom’s family came from a place where the borders kept shifting. I want to tell stories about people who are mixed. I have all these ideas for stories about things that are interesting about being from two cultures. I’m also Jewish and I think I’m the only Jewish person I know who had a big pork roast on Hanukkah sometimes because Hanukkah and Christmas fell on the same day and we always had a big pernil and arroz con gandules. I want to write more about that experience. There aren’t really a lot of stories that talk about what it’s like to be part of a family where you eat pho and also matzo balls. It can be confusing to be in the middle of everything. I want to start telling stories about my reality and the reality of kids that are mixed growing up. I don’t really feel that there are books out there that are telling those stories in a way that shows all the fantastic things about having multiple cultures.

CC: What advice do you have for other Latinx artists who are just starting out?

ZGH: The only real advice I have is to find other people that are doing it and try to make friends. One of the best things I ever did was meet someone who created a critique group that let me in. Having people to talk to who understand what you’re going through is priceless; even if nobody’s published, just having somebody to say keep going. It’s hard to talk to people who aren’t trying to be in publishing because they don’t understand how weird this industry is. There’s no rhyme or reason, it’s just persistence and luck. The advice is keep going and find people to share the experience with.

 

 

cecilia-02-originalCecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc

 

 

Book Review: Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya

 

Reviewed by Mimi Rankin

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Marcus Vega is six feet tall, 180 pounds, and the owner of a premature mustache. When you look like this and you’re only in the eighth grade, you’re both a threat and a target.

After a fight at school leaves Marcus facing suspension, Marcus’s mom decides it’s time for a change of environment. She takes Marcus and his younger brother to Puerto Rico to spend a week with relative they don’t remember or have never met. But Marcus can’t focus knowing that his father— who walked out of their lives ten years ago—is somewhere on the island.

So begins Marcus’s incredible journey, a series of misadventures that take him all over Puerto Rico in search of his elusive namesake. Marcus doesn’t know if he’ll ever find his father, but what he ultimately discovers changes his life. And he even learns a bit of Spanish along the way.

MY TWO CENTS: What immediately drew me to this book was the title. So much discussion of “Latinx Children’s Literature” centers around bilingualism or dual-language published titles, but this title adds a very compelling commentary to those claims. Marcus Vega is 14 years old, 180 pounds, and six feet tall. This stellar combination makes some kids fear him and some taunt him. When he is nearly suspended after a fight in which he was defending his younger brother, Charlie, who has Down Syndrome, Marcus’s mom agrees that going to Puerto Rico, where the boys were born and where Marcus’s estranged dad allegedly still lives, for spring break may be just what the family needs. Suddenly embraced by a family he never knew he had, Marcus begins to learn that you can get to know yourself by knowing where you’re from.

Written in the first-person perspective of Marcus, the writing felt occasionally flat, however I’ve never been a 14-year-old boy, so I can’t authentically comment on the voice. Although I felt some parts of the plot were a bit hurried, I found myself bawling on an airplane as I finished this book. I so wholly connected with Marcus and his feeling of wondering if “where” he’s from determines who he is. Cartaya explores Latinx identity in a way that may not be recognizable to many children identifying as Latinx in some capacity. However, it was certainly a familiar feeling to this reviewer. Between not growing up speaking Spanish (only hearing it consistently at my maternal grandparents’ home) and being slapped with a Scottish surname, I was never confident in defining my being “Puerto Rican.” In reading Cartaya’s novel, I no longer felt that imposter syndrome of identifying as a Hispanic woman because I’m not terribly fluent in Spanish. Identity politics are a complicated matter and Cartaya beautifully explores a side of Latinx identity through the eyes of a young boy who has been abandoned by his connection to his Puerto Rican identity.

Cartaya introduces readers to life in Puerto Rico as Marcus is introduced to it. Arriving in Old San Juan, Marcus meets uncles and cousins he had never heard of, let alone remembered, from his very early childhood living in Puerto Rico. He is welcomed unquestionably and unconditionally. The extended family ventures to more rural areas of the island, seemingly all in search of Marcus and Charlie’s father. An interesting approach to this story was the character of Marcus’s mom, Melissa. Melissa, who is not claimed as Puerto Rican herself, spent a significant amount of time in Puerto Rico when she was younger and this is where she met her sons’ father. Melissa is revealed to be fluent in Spanish and has a close relationship with her ex-husband’s family, despite not having spoken to them in years. The character of Melissa could present some interesting conversations on the “adoption” of culture and language, and I would be interested in discussing this further. Tackling everything from bullying, economic prejudice, cultural identity theory, separated parents, parental abandonment, and coming of age, this book needs to be a cornerstone of MG literature, particularly in the #ownvoices world.

 

51b2e-1486517321949ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pablo Cartaya is an award-winning author whose books have been reviewed by The New York Times, featured in The Washington Post, received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal, as well as been among the Best Books of the Year for Amazon, Chicago Public Library, NYPL, and several state award lists. He Is the author of the critically acclaimed middle grade novels The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora (a 2018 Pura Belpré Honor Book) and Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish. His next novel, Each Tiny Spark will debut on the new Kokila Penguin/Random House Imprint, which focuses on publishing diverse books for children and young adults. He teaches at Sierra Nevada College’s MFA program in Writing and visits schools and colleges around the country. Pablo is proudly bilingual en español y ingles. @phcartaya

 

 

file-2ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Mimi Rankin received her Master’s Degree with distinction in Children’s Literature from the University of Reading. Her thesis, on which she received a rating of First, centered around claims to cultural authenticity and representation in Hispanic Children’s Literature. She currently works in the publishing industry as a marketing manager for over 20 international children’s publishers. Her reviews do not reflect the opinions of her employer or clients. She currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

 

Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors Part 10: Emma Otheguy

 

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

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

Today, we highlight Emma Otheguy.

Emma Otheguy is the author of the bilingual picture book Martí’s Song for Freedom (Lee & Low, 2017) about Cuban poet and national hero José Martí as well as the forthcoming novel Silver Meadows Summer (Knopf, 2019). Martí’s Song for Freedom received five starred reviews, from School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Shelf Awareness. Martí was also named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, and the New York Public Library, and was the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2018 Children’s and Young Adult Book Award in Intermediate Nonfiction.

Emma attended Swarthmore College, where she studied children’s literature with Donna Jo Napoli and graduated with Honors. Later, she worked in farm-based education, at a children’s bookstore, and as a Spanish teacher. She holds a Ph.D. in History from New York University, where she focused on Spain and colonial Latin America. Emma has held fellowships and grants from the Mellon Foundation, the American Historical Association, the Council of Library and Information Resources, and Humanities New York. Emma lives in New York City.

Silver Meadows Summer is her debut middle grade novel.

IT RELEASES TOMORROW!

 

Here is the publisher’s description: Eleven-year-old Carolina’s summer–and life as she knows it–is upended when Papi loses his job, and she and her family must move from Puerto Rico to her Tía Cuca and Uncle Porter’s house in upstate New York. Now Carolina must attend Silver Meadows camp, where her bossy older cousin Gabriela rules the social scene.

Just as Carolina worries she’ll have to spend the entire summer in Gabriela’s shadow, she makes a friend of her own in Jennifer, a fellow artist. Carolina gets another welcome surprise when she stumbles upon a long-abandoned cottage in the woods near the campsite and immediately sees its potential as a creative haven for making art. There, with Jennifer, Carolina begins to reclaim the parts of the life she loved in Puerto Rico and forget about how her relationship with Mami has changed and how distant Papi has become.

But when the future of Silver Meadows and the cottage is thrown into jeopardy, Carolina and–to everyone’s surprise–Gabriela come up with a plan to save them. Will it work?

 

Emma Otheguy

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

A. I was inspired by my parents, who read me Latin American poetry and picture books, and by my elementary school teachers, who made time for free writing and independent reading every single day. The journals I kept in elementary school were never graded or marked up, they were a private space that we were given as students to write whatever we wanted. The same was true of independent reading time (or DEAR as we called it, and some schools still do it today). Time and space for reading and writing during the school day made all the difference for me and helped me develop my own literary tastes, stamina in both reading and writing, and a true love for these activities that allowed my inner life to blossom in school. If I could give elementary and middle schoolers one gift, it would be access to print books and time to read them in school.

Q. Why did you decide to write a middle grade novel?

A. Even before I wrote Martí’s Song for Freedom, I was interested in connections between the Caribbean and New York State. Writing about José Martí gave me space to explore one of those connections, but I needed fiction to fully delve into what it is to belong to both the Caribbean and the northeast of the United States. Carolina, the protagonist of Silver Meadows Summer, comes from a Cuban-American family that lives in Puerto Rico until their move to the Hudson Valley in upstate New York. Through Carolina, I was able to return to my memories of my grandmother’s house in Puerto Rico, my love of the Hudson Valley, the relationship between Cuba and Puerto Rico, and the dynamics of many cousins living under one roof.

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

A. Lots! A few of the middle-grade novels that you might find echoes of in Silver Meadows Summer include The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright, Mandy by Julie Edwards, and Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. All books that feature a child’s relationship with nature and the landscape around them, and their desires to make sweet homes for themselves in new or challenging environments.

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

A. Figure out what being a Latina means to you and embrace that. Society is always telling children who they should be, and I think that Latinas often experience that pressure times two—the pressure to fit in with peers, and the pressure to be a certain ideal type of Latina. But the reality is that Latinidad is something we each carry inside of us, an identity that encompasses as many types as there are individuals.

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

A. Middle grade novels are important because they guide children through growing up, which is the most important transition of our lives. Ursula K. Le Guin said that narrative is change, and if that is true, then middle-grade novels are the definition of great narrative, the reflection of the moment in life when we become ourselves. I think that it’s not only narrative that is change—hope is also change, the hope embodied in the changes that children effect in our society when they become adults, and therefore, in their evolution as they grow. So in a nutshell, I think middle-grade novels are important because they represent change, and hope, and because the best narratives I have ever read are middle-grade novels.

 

 

photo by Saryna A. Jones

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

 

Book Review: Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré / Sembrando Historias: Pura Belpré bibliotecaria y narradora de cuentos

 

  Planting in Spanish

Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Follow la vida y el legado of Pura Belpré, the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City.

When she came to America in 1921, Pura carried the cuentos folkloricos of her Puerto Rican homeland. Finding a new home at the New York Public Library as a bilingual assistant, she turned her popular retellings into libros and spread seeds across the land. Today, these seeds have grown into a lush landscape as generations of children and storytellers continue to share her tales and celebrate Pura’s legacy.

This portrait of the influential librarian, author, and puppeteer reminds us of the power of storytelling and the extraordinary woman who opened doors and championed bilingual literature.

MY TWO CENTS: Another bilingual favorite to add to the informational biography shelf! Pura Belpré is widely known for the book award created in her honor through the American Library Association. Every year, the Pura Belpré Award is one that recognizes Latinx authors and illustrators that reflect the Latinx culture in their picture books or novels.

Pura Belpré had seeds of determination and passion that followed her from Puerto Rico. That same blessing led her to work in a library and share her stories with children, however, she quickly discovered that many of her own stories, reflective of her Puerto Rican culture, were not readily available to the community. Therefore, she begins to share her stories with children and then begins to write down all her stories for others to read. Soon after, she is telling her stories all around the world. This biographical account of Pura’s life story and life’s work is nothing short of inspirational. Pura unequivocally shares her passion for storytelling to all so that her stories and culture are not lost. Despite losing her best friend and husband, she returns to the library scene while also inspiring others, and sees her seeds of storytelling and Latinx culture, come to fruition.

The sentence structures are concise but impactful as they tell the story, almost in a poetic form, of inspiration and passion as Pura moves to a role within the library. The reader is mesmerized in her storytelling and how certain words stand out with the use of a brushstroke. Words and phrases in Spanish are realistically embraced within the narrative structure, so much that it flows and might go unnoticed. The sharp, bold, multicolored background brings life to the determining force behind Pura’s life and purpose with books and libraries. The illustrator perfectly captures the authenticity of the story through its detailed illustrations and placement of characters and scenes. The illustrations dance around the entire page, which keeps the reader involved as the story progresses. Certain illustrations, like the simple flowers and musical notes, follow Pura as she shares her stories across the pages. The additional final pages also provide extensive references to text and film for further research in Pura’s lifework, as well as Latinx culture, especially the Puerto Rican culture.

Overall, a perfect addition, in both English and Spanish, to your biography shelf, especially highlighting the power of small, yet meaningful actions and how it evolves into a movement across Latinx and book cultures.

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

  • Teaching descriptive vocabulary words and phrases
  • Focus on character traits, especially traits describing Pura throughout the story
  • Focus on the illustrator’s purpose of using certain colors or placement of illustrations to convey meaning
  • This book can also be combined in a biographical unit of inspirational storytellers or librarians.
  • Students can also be invited to research more of Pura Belpré’s lifework, as well as the impact of the Pura Belpré award on books.

To learn more about the Pura Belpré Medal and find the latest winners and honors, check out the ALA’s Pura Belpré Award home page.

Anika Denise Author Hi-res PhotoABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anika Aldamuy Denise first heard the stories of Pura Belpré from her titi Rose, who, like Pura’s family, enjoyed sharing the treasured folklore of Puerto Rico. Today, Anika is the celebrated author of several picture books, including Starring Carmen!, Lights, Camera, Carmen!, and Monster Trucks. She lives with her husband and three daughters in Rhode Island. Other new titles coming in 2019 include The Best Part of Middle illustrated by Christopher Denise, and The Love Letter illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins.Visit her online at www.anikadenise.com.

 

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Paola Escobar grew up traveling from town to town in Colombia. From a very young age she liked to draw the stories her grandmother Clara told about her ancestors, the countryside, and animals. Today, Paola is an illustrator who is passionate about telling stories of her own, having published with SM Spain, Planeta, Norma, and more. She lives very happily in Bogota, Colombia, with her husband and their dog, Flora. Follow her on Instagram here!

 

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