Hurricane Maria Anniversary Auction to Support Latinx Youth

 

A year ago today, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, killing more than 3,000 people and leaving everyone on the island without power for months. The anniversary of the hurricane hitting the island coincides with both National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15) and back to school time.

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We all know that teachers in certain areas are woefully underfunded and that Latinx children are often years behind their peers because of a lack of resources. Therefore, Latinxs in Kid Lit is organizing an auction to benefit people working directly with Latinx youth both on the island and the mainland. We will buy books and supplies for three youth groups on the island, and we will try to fund as many Donors Choose projects that will benefit Latinx students.

Our own Sujei Lugo has been working directly with the three programs listed below. She says, “A goal of these collaborations is to acquire books, art supplies, and materials to support their work. These projects are also a pillar to youth and the community’s reading and informational interests and provide emotional, recreational, and educational support. Many students in these areas are also homeschoolers due to the massive school closures, and parents, community activists, and retired educators are working together to support children’s education.”

Here are descriptions of the projects in Puerto Rico that we will help with whatever money we raise.

33553600_10216125610396942_4440778016905232384_nEnvironmental Educational Program & Creative Art Therapy, Camp Tabonuco (Jayuya, Puerto Rico)

This is a collaboration with Rosaura Rodríguez, Puerto Rican artist and educator. Rosaura works with youth by providing workshops on creating art therapy and autobiographical illustrated narratives. She also works with and is the co-founder of an environmental educational program, Camp Tabonuco, that fosters youth leadership and collaboration through sustainable agriculture, art education and environmental literacy.

La Torre Community Library/Center (Sabana Grande, Puerto Rico)

A collaboration with Angelo Rivera, Puerto Rican educator and activist from Sujei’s hometown of Sabana Grande. The only elementary public school in the rural community of La Torre was recently closed due to the Department of Education of Puerto Rico post-Hurricane María school closures, abandonment, and privatization plans. The community doesn’t have access to the school, but were able to claim the school’s sports complex and rooms to create a community library. Angelo and several community members created a non-profit organization named COSECHA (Centro, Oportunidades, Servicios, Educativos, Comunitarios, Hermandad, Artes–translates to Center, Opportunities, Services, Educational, Communities, Kinship, Arts) to help coordinate and manage community activities, programs, and a library.

La Maleta Cuentera

A collaboration with Isamar Abreu Gómez, Puerto Rican librarian, activist, theatre performer, and storyteller. La Maleta Cuentera (Storytelling Travel Bag) is a social justice literacy project created post-Hurricane María, that intersects children’s literature, activism, and children’s experiences with their natural and social environments. She “travels” to schools and communities to share stories and activities with children, and showcase that the travel bag, not only is used to migrate to other places, but also to transport stories and experiences.

 

 

What to do:

Click onto the tab HURRICANE MARIA ANNIVERSARY AUCTION 2018 in the main menu of our website. Under that tab, you will see a page link for each of the items being offered in the auction. In the comments section, leave your name, email, and your bid. We will contact you after the auction if you are the winner. We will leave the auction open for one week, ending Thursday, September 27, 2018. Shipping of books will be limited to the continental U.S. and its territories.

Here are the items up for bid:

Author Francisco X. Stork is offering to read a full middle grade or young adult novel and provide a one-page critique.

Author Meg Medina is offering a signed copy of three of her books–a young adult, a middle grade, and a picture book. She is offering a copy of Burn Baby Burn, Merci Suárez Changes Gears, and Mango, Abuela, and Me.

Author Zoraida Córdova is offering a signed copy of each of her young adult novels: the Vicious Deep trilogy in paperback and the first two books in the Brooklyn Bruja series in hardcover.

Author Pablo Cartaya is offering a signed, personalized copy of each of his middle grade novels: The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, a Pura Belpré Honor Book, and Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish. He is also offering a 30-minute Skype session!

Author Mia García is offering a signed copy of her young adult novel, Even if the Sky Falls, and a 50-page manuscript critique of a middle grade or young adult novel.

Author Jenny Torres Sanchez is offering a signed copy of her latest young adult novel, The Fall of Innocence. She is also offering a 25-page critique of a middle grade or young adult novel.

Author Lilliam Rivera is offering signed copies of her young adult novels, The Education of Margot Sanchez and Dealing in Dreams (releases 3/19). She is also offering a tote bag and a query letter critique.

Author Christina Soontornvat is offering signed copies of her middle grade novels, The Changelings and In a Dark Land: A Changelings Story. She is also offering to critique the first 10 pages of a middle grade novel or a full picture book manuscript.

Author Anna-Marie McLemore is offering signed copies of her first three young adult novels, The Weight of Feathers, When the Moon Was Ours, and Wild Beauty.

Author Traci Sorell is offering to critique a full fiction or nonfiction picture book manuscript.

Author Kristina Pérez is offering to critique 50 pages of a young adult manuscript.

Author-illustrator Carolyn Dee Flores is offering two signed copies of The Amazing Watercolor Fish, a piece of artwork from the book, and a 30-minute Skype school visit.

Author Cindy L. Rodriguez is offering a signed copy of When Reason Breaks and Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Personal Struggles. She is also offering bookmarks and will make a personal donation, matching the highest bid, up to $500.

Author-artist Lila Quintero Weaver is offering a signed copy of her middle grade novel, My Year in the Middle, related swag, and a piece of original art from her graphic memoir, Darkroom: My Life In Black and White.

Author Diana Rodriguez Wallach is offering a signed copy of three of her books and a bookmark. The titles are Amor and Summer Secrets, Proof of Lies, and Lies that Bind.

Author Karen Bao is offering a signed copy of each of her books in The Dove Chronicles trilogy. The titles are: Dove Arising, Dove Exiled, Dove Alight.

Author Ashley Hope Pérez is offering a signed, personalized copy of each of her YA novels: Out of Darkness, a Printz Honor Book, as well as The Knife and the Butterfly, and What Can’t Wait.

Author Claudia Guadalupe Martinez is offering a sensitivity read of a manuscript with Xicanx or Latinx content. The winner will work out the details with Claudia.

Author Sofia Quintero is offering an ebook bundle of five books, all by Puerto Rican authors.

Author Monica Brown is offering a signed set of the Lola Levine chapter books (#1-6), illustrated by Angela Dominguez.

Illustrator Rafael López is offering a signed print and a signed book. To honor the 1-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, Rafael painted a portrait of Chef José Andrés (who he had the pleasure of meeting) as an homage to his work of serving food to millions of people in Puerto Rico. Rafael will send a signed print and signed copy of his newest book, We’ve Got the Whole World In Our Hands/Tenemos el mundo eterno en las manos, published by Scholastic.

Seven-Book Middle Grade Prize Pack: Authors Diana López, Darlene P. Campos, Celia C. PérezTami Charles, Aida Salazar, Yamile Saied Méndez, and Jennifer Cervantes are offering signed copies of their  books. The titles are: Lucky Luna, Summer Camp is Cancelled, The First Rule of Punk, Definitely Daphne, The Moon Within, Blizzard Besties, and The Storm Runner.

Six-Book Picture Book Prize Pack: Author Yamile Saied Méndez is offering two of her favorite picture books: Dreamers by Yuyi Morales and The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López. Illustrator Elisa Chavarri is offering a signed copy of Rainbow Weaver/Tejedora del Arcoiris. Author-Illustrator Robert Liu-Trujillo is offering a signed copy of Furqan’s First Flat Top, and author-illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal is offering a signed copy of Alma and How She Got Her Name in English and Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre in Spanish.

Linda Camacho, a literary agent with Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency, is offering a query letter critique.

Adriana Domínguez, a literary agent with Full Circle Literary, is offering a query letter critique plus a critique of five pages of a middle grade or young adult novel or a full critique of a picture book.

Stefanie Sanchez Von Borstel, literary agent and co-founder of Full Circle Literary, is offering a critique of a full picture book manuscript or the first 25 pages of a middle grade manuscript, plus a 20-minute conversation about the project.

Author-illustrator Lulu Delacre is offering two watercolor illustrations from the Rafi and Rosie series (coquí siblings from Puerto Rico) along with an autographed set of the Plunge Into Reading series; three titles in the series are published in English and Spanish.

**Note: Guadalupe Garcia McCall is donating three signed copies of All the Stars Denied directly to the programs in need. Ismée Williams is donating copies of Water in May.

Thank you in advance to everyone who bids and shares information about our auction. Thank you for supporting Latinx youth!

 

 

Guest Post by Author NoNieqa Ramos: I Don’t Eat Mangoes or Oye Mi Canto!–Gloria Estefan

 

By NoNieqa Ramos

“What are you?” I can’t express how many times I’ve been asked this exact question by white girls. No joke. What preempted this comment, you ask? Perhaps I was wearing some sort of costume? Perhaps it was dark? Try again. It was because I was speaking in grammatically correct sentences and making allusions to books. Me. The same person who wore baggy pants, hoodies, bright red lipstick, had giant Dep-gelled hair, and dropped the F bomb.

I mean “word to your moms, I came to drop bombs. I got more lyrics than the bible got psalms.”- House of Pain

Just sayin. But really who was I? Who am I as a person of color?

To Puerto Ricans on the island, I’m gringa city. And they are right. How can I understand what it is like for the President of the United States to throw me paper-freakin-towels when I’m dealing with the spill of a hurricane?

That being said, my great-grandmother came from the mountains of Puerto Rico and brought my great-aunts to the Bronx. To every POC I ever knew, I was 100 percent Boricua from my knock-off Timberlands to my hoopie earrings. To the principal at my high school who called me Ms. Ramirez, and responded to my correction with “same thing,” I was everyone and nobody.  To the white girls at my high school, I was definitely not a virgin. For every book that I read as a kid, I didn’t exist.

Image result for like water for chocolate bookEven with the books I finally did find in GRAD SCHOOL, like “Like Water for Chocolate” or ANYTHING by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I still didn’t see myself. I grew up on rice and Goya oh Boya!–beans from a can–seasoned with jarred Sofrito, Recaito, sprinkled with Sazon.

My single-dad didn’t have time to do all these romantic things to food that books like Isabel Allende described– like soaking the beans overnight–not getting them from a can–slicing up fresh avocado–in my childhood only white people getting their buzz on with Margaritas ate guacamole. You know how expensive avocadoes are?

Yet, there was never a time when the radio wasn’t blaring with meringue, salsa, free-style music by TKA (Maria! The most beautiful sound I ever heard…), Jodeci, Gloria Estefan and the like. There was never a time when my dad wasn’t telling me if I didn’t get 99s, I was gonna end up cleaning floors for a living–like every brown person represented in all of the movies I had ever seen.

When I looked in the mirror, everybody else’s image of what a Puerto Rican is supposed to be crowded in with my image of self. When I was sixteen, we moved out of the Bronx and into a white suburb of NJ. One day our white neighbors called my stepmother Rosie in alarm. She should call the police. “A black man” was on our property.

My stepmother had white skin and blonde hair, but she spent half her life in PR. In fact, she was the reason I grew up hearing Spanish. She was 100 percent Puerto Rican and 100 percent sure the “black man” on our lawn was my dad trimming the hedges. My dad.

100 percent used to this type of shit. 100 percent used to being called gringo by other Puerto Ricans for not speaking the Spanish he was forced to unlearn as a child. 100 percent representing the black and brown in our gene pool with his gorgeous face and fabulous mustache.

Who am I as a POC? On those surveys, I answer, race human. Ethnicity, Taino. Yes, Taino. Not white. I don’t identify with the oppressors who slaughtered my people. I’m not the image that people want to project into my mirror, but that person in the mirror combing her bushy hair, dancing to old-school Eddie Palmieri. Getting ready to sit myself and my daughter down to learn Spanish from our tutors who come every Sunday to help us reclaim the language that should have been our own in the first damn place. So, quien soy yo?

Soy un maestra. Soy un autor. Soy un madre y un esposo. So un activista. Soy una Boricua. Lo entiendes, holmes?

The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary Cover

CLICK HERE  for our review of The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary.

CLICK HERE  for another guest post from NoNieqa.

 

 

NoNieqa Ramos spent her childhood in the Bronx, where she started her own publishing company and sold books for twenty-five cents until the nuns shut her down. With the support of her single father and her tias, she earned dual master’s degrees in creative writing and education at the University of Notre Dame. As a teacher, she has dedicated herself to bringing gifted-and-talented education to minority students and expanding access to literature, music, and theater for all children. A frequent foster parent, NoNieqa lives in Ashburn, Virginia, with her family. She can be found on Twitter at @NoNiLRamos.

 

 

Book Review & Giveaway: The Meaning of Consuelo by Judith Ortiz Cofer

 

Judith Ortiz Cofer was the first author to win the Pura Belpré Award for her first young adult book An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio. On December 30, 2016, she passed away at the young age of 64, due to cancer. This week, we celebrate her life and work with reviews of four of her books and a giveaway. Please scroll to the end of this post to enter!

Reviewed by Toni Margarita Plummer

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOKLa nina seria, the serious child. That’s how Consuelo’s mother has cast her pensive, book-loving daughter, while Consuelo’s younger sister Mili, is seen as vivacious—a ray of tropical sunshine. Two daughters: one dark, one light; one to offer comfort and consolation, the other to charm and delight. But something is not right in this Puerto Rican family.

Set in the 1950s, a time when American influence is diluting Puerto Rico’s rich island culture, Consuelo watches her own family’s downward spiral. It is Consuelo who notices as her beautiful sister Mili’s vivaciousness turns into mysterious bouts of hysteria and her playful invented language shift into an incomprehensible and chilling “language of birds.” Ultimately Consuelo must choose: Will she fulfill the expectations of her family—offering consolation as their tragedy unfolds? Or will she risk becoming la fulana, the outsider, like the harlequin figure of her neighbor, Mario/Maria Sereno, who flaunts his tight red pedal pushers and empty brassiere as he refuses the traditional macho role of his culture.

This affecting novel is a lively celebration of Puerto Rico as well as an archetypal story of loss, the loss each of us experiences on our journey from the island of childhood to the uncharted territory of adulthood.

MY TWO CENTS: The Meaning of Consuelo is Judith Ortiz Cofer’s first young adult novel. It won the 2003 Américas Award and was included on the New York Public Library’s “Books for the Teen Age 2004 List.”

It is set in the 1950s, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The time period is evoked in the conservative social views and in the unquestioning obedience children are expected to give to their parents. Mami is described as speaking like the Pope, with infallibility. Also evoking the 50s is the consumerism of household appliances meant to make life simpler. There is a passage about the family’s vacuum cleaner. Papi, in his enthusiasm for new gadgets, buys it from a door-to-door salesman, even though their house of ceramic tiles has no need of it. Mami uses it anyway, on a small rug, to please him. The senselessness of this is both funny and sad.

The novel begins when Consuelo is eight and ends when she is a teenager. The first character we meet is actually the neighbor Maria Sereno, who was born as Mario. Maria is an outrageous, highly sexual, and thoroughly enjoyable character. He (the book refers to Maria as “he”) embodies the term fulano, which is a major theme of the novel. The women hire Maria to do their nails, but only if their husbands are away, and he must use the back door. They ignore him in public. This is confusing to Consuelo and her sister Mili, who don’t yet understand the dualities of adults. Maria is not a major character in the story, in that he only appears now and then. But his outsider status is illustrative of the closed-mindedness of the community. When at the end of the book we glimpse a ray of hope for Maria, we find hope for this whole world.

Consuelo is the designated caretaker for Mili, who is four years younger. Mili, a “Puerto Rican Shirley Temple,” is a lively, imaginative character and we understand why the family is protective of her. Mili lives in her own world, is often unaware of her surroundings, and can wander off. Her behavior becomes more and more concerning and we feel the real pain of her parents, who don’t know what is wrong or how to care for her. When they are told she may have psychological problems, Papi doesn’t want to discuss the possibility. Ortiz Cofer hints throughout at a coming tragedia, which is tied to Mili. This builds an ominous feeling, a feeling which is justified when, indeed, a tragedy strikes this fragile family. Consuelo has been typecast as the doting daughter, the responsible one, the one who will sacrifice herself. But that is not the life she chose and she risks becoming a fulana herself as she tries to assert her independence.

Her cousin Patricio is another fulano. He is Consuelo’s only playmate, aside from her sister. They play with puppets Patricio makes. I loved reading about how they enact scenes at the hotel where Papi works, some puppets playing the roles of annoyed American tourists. The family begins to shun Patricio when they discover he is gay. When his father takes him to New York for a fresh start, we are happy to see him escape this stifling atmosphere. But Consuelo grieves at being left behind.

Her home life is not harmonious. Papi craves an American lifestyle, but Mami does not share his admiration for all things American. Abuelo, Mami’s father, is an outspoken critic of the U.S. and vigilant about maintaining the culture of the island. Consuelo immerses herself in his library, which is filled with Puerto Rican literature and history. The Americanization of the island looms like a threat or a promise, depending on your viewpoint, as does Papi’s desire to move the family to New York.

This novel has a more literary tone than some of Judith Ortiz Cofer’s other young adult books. It’s marked by both elegance and solemnity. There is a great sense of loss here. The loss of a way of life, and the loss of a family. This is my favorite of her books and the one I would most recommend to adults. Engrossing, suspenseful, and devastating, Consuelo’s story is both an immersion into one Puerto Rican family and a timeless coming-of-age tale.

WHERE TO GET IT: To find The Meaning of Consuelo, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

judith ortiz coferABOUT THE AUTHOR: Judith Ortiz Cofer is an award-winning author known for her stories about coming-of-age experiences in the barrio and her writings about the cultural conflicts of immigrants. She is the author of many distinguished titles for young adults such as An Island Like You, Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood, and The Line in the Sun. She was the Regents’ and Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. In 2010, she was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.

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toni margarita plummerABOUT THE REVIEWER: Toni Margarita Plummer is a Macondo Fellow, a winner of the Miguel Mármol Prize, and the author of the story collection The Bolero of Andi Rowe. She hails from South El Monte, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles, and worked as an acquiring editor at a major publisher for more than ten years. Toni now freelance edits and lives in the Hudson Valley with her family. Visit her website at ToniMargaritaPlummer.Wordpress.com.

 

We will be giving away a copy of each of the Judith Ortiz Cofer books reviewed here this week to one lucky winner! The titles are: Call Me MaríaIf I Could Fly, and The Meaning of Consuelo and the picture book A Bailar/Let’s Dance.

 

ENTER HERE TO WIN FOUR JUDITH ORTIZ COFER BOOKS!

Book Review & Giveaway: If I Could Fly by Judith Ortiz Cofer

 

Judith Ortiz Cofer was the first author to win the Pura Belpré Award for her first young adult book An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio. On December 30, 2016, she passed away at the young age of 64, due to cancer. This week, we celebrate her life and work with reviews of four of her books and a giveaway. Please scroll to the end of this post to enter!

Reviewed by Toni Margarita Plummer

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Fifteen-year-old Doris is used to taking care of herself. Her musician parents have always spent more time singing in nightclubs than watching after her. But when her ailing mother goes home to Puerto Rico to get well and pursue a singing career there, and her father finds a new girlfriend, Doris is more alone than she’s ever been. Disconnected from her family and her best friends, who are intertwined in terrifying relationships with a violent classmate, Doris finds refuge in taking care of homing pigeons on her apartment building’s roof. As Doris tries to make sense of it all, she learns that, just like the pigeons, she might have to fly far distances before she finds out where she belongs.

MY TWO CENTS: If I Could Fly is the sequel to Judith Ortiz Cofer’s award-winning YA short story collection An Island Like You. Readers of the first book will remember invisible-feeling Doris, her artistic friend Arturo, her self-described “dangerous” friend Yolanda, and her musician parents. The title comes from something her mother says when frustrated with her father: Si yo tuviera alas. Literally, if I had wings.

Doris proves herself the worthy heroine of a novel. Her bewilderment and sorrow over her mother’s unexplained departure immediately makes her sympathetic. Her strength makes her admirable. Papi doesn’t know how to relate to her and is often busy managing two bands. Doris can deal with that, but what is less tolerable is when the singer who replaces Mami also ends up spending a lot of time in their apartment and tries to play mother. There are problems at school, too. Arturo is bullied by a member of the neighborhood gang. This escalates into two violent crimes committed by Doris’s classmates, but Ortiz Cofer doesn’t handle these in a preachy way. She seems to understand that troubled teenagers sometimes do stupid, even hateful, things and does not demonize the guilty parties. If one is looking for a lesson, readers can relate to having friends with problems. It is best to treat these friends with compassion, but also to remove yourself from dangerous situations.

Between the drama at school and with her parents, the apartment rooftop is the one place where Doris can find peace. There she spends time with Doña Iris, an elderly woman who thinks Doris possesses facultades, or clairvoyance. Together they examine the shiny things that Martha, the lead pigeon, brings back to the coop. It is lovely to see how Doris relates to the much older woman, and the comfort they give each other. (Doris’s grandmother in Puerto Rico is another memorable, sassier, older woman character.) In the part titles, Ortiz Cofer uses quotes from Derek Goodwin’s book Pigeons and Doves of the World to describe bird behavior. City pigeons aren’t normally thought of as that interesting or beautiful, but this information makes you appreciate them in a new way and enriches Doris’s story with potent metaphors about home and flight. Doris is torn. Should she stay in New Jersey with her mostly absent father or go to Puerto Rico to live with Mami? And does Mami even want her? She has the chance to visit Puerto Rico and imagine a life there. What’s clear is that, with her parents living in different places, life is never going to be simple.

Judith Ortiz Cofer writes an emotional, thought-provoking story about a girl grappling with the disintegration of her parents’ marriage, a strange but well-meaning potential stepparent, and her mother’s scary health issues. No less daunting is the fear that her mother is choosing her singing career over her. Amid the bad are bright spots, like a passionate drama teacher who urges Doris and her classmates to reimagine West Side Story. Embracing her creative abilities and imagination is what saves Doris, and this story will especially resonate with creative types who face similar obstacles.

WHERE TO GET IT: To find If I Could Fly, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes and Noble.

judith ortiz coferABOUT THE AUTHOR: Judith Ortiz Cofer is an award-winning author known for her stories about coming-of-age experiences in the barrio and her writings about the cultural conflicts of immigrants. She is the author of many distinguished titles for young adults such as An Island Like You, Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood, and The Line in the Sun. She was the Regents’ and Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. In 2010, she was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.

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toni margarita plummerABOUT THE REVIEWER: Toni Margarita Plummer is a Macondo Fellow, a winner of the Miguel Mármol Prize, and the author of the story collection The Bolero of Andi Rowe. She hails from South El Monte, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles, and worked as an acquiring editor at a major publisher for more than ten years. Toni now freelance edits and lives in the Hudson Valley with her family. Visit her website at ToniMargaritaPlummer.Wordpress.com.

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We will be giving away a copy of each of the Judith Ortiz Cofer books reviewed here this week to one lucky winner! The titles are: Call Me MaríaIf I Could Fly, and The Meaning of Consuelo and the picture book A Bailar/Let’s Dance.

ENTER HERE TO WIN FOUR JUDITH ORTIZ COFER BOOKS!

 

Book Review & Giveaway: Call Me María by Judith Ortiz Cofer

 

Judith Ortiz Cofer was the first author to win the Pura Belpré Award for her first young adult book An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio. On December 30, 2016, she passed away at the young age of 64, due to cancer. This week, we celebrate her life and work with reviews of four of her books and a giveaway. Please scroll to the end of this post to enter!

Reviewed by Toni Margarita Plummer

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: María is a girl caught between two worlds: Puerto Rico, where she was born, and New York, where she now lives in a basement apartment in the barrio. While her mother remains on the island, María lives with her father, the super of their building. As she struggles to lose her island accent, Mara does her best to find her place within the unfamiliar culture of the barrio. Finally, with the Spanglish of the barrio people ringing in her ears, she finds the poet within herself.

In lush prose and spare, evocative poetry, Pura Belpré Award-winner Judith Ortiz Cofer weaves a powerful and emotionally satisfying novel, bursting with life and hope.

MY TWO CENTS: Meet María Alegre and María Triste. She is María Alegre when as a young girl she makes her mother laugh by insisting they play Celia Cruz and dance mambo. María Triste emerges as it becomes clearer that Papi’s unrelenting depression means he will move back to New York City, his hometown. María’s mother, an English teacher and island girl, will not leave Puerto Rico, and María makes the decision to follow her father, with the plan of one day attending a good American university. As the cover states, this is a novel in letters, poems, and prose, and so María’s story unfolds through letters to and from Mamí, in poems María writes, and in short chapters about her friends, school, and life in a basement apartment in New York City, so different from the life she knew on the beaches of Puerto Rico. The vignette structure could draw comparisons to The House on Mango Street, and also like that book, this offers a portrait of a neighborhood that is burgeoning with life but also tinged by sadness.

María’s resilience is impressive. Despite her loneliness and strange new surroundings, she cooks and cleans for Papí and helps him manage the tenants’ concerns. The assembly of characters is vivid. There’s her wild best friend Whoopee Dominguez, or Whoopee the Magnificent, the sweet-talking Papi-lindo who lives on the fifth floor, Uma and her single mother from India who want Puerto Rican husbands and are practicing their salsa steps, and Mr. Golden, María’s English teacher who recognizes her gift with poetry. Papí, El Súper in a blue uniform, takes up guitar and plays old Puerto Rican songs for his tenants, eliciting a nostalgia for an island that many of them have never even seen. The question of whether he and Mamí will reunite does hang in the air for awhile. But we know that María will be strong enough to carry on and even flourish if that never happens. She is a keen observer of the world and people around her, and it’s a joy to see how her lessons at school ignite her imagination.

Heartbreaking, whimsical, and inventive, this is a beautiful novel which succeeds on many grounds. It’s funny and fast-moving, but boasts true emotional depth. Call Me María is just one example of Judith Ortiz Cofer’s amazing ability to capture the life of young Puerto Ricans in the barrio.

WHERE TO GET IT: To find Call Me María, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

judith ortiz coferABOUT THE AUTHOR: Judith Ortiz Cofer is an award-winning author known for her stories about coming-of-age experiences in the barrio and her writings about the cultural conflicts of immigrants. She is the author of many distinguished titles for young adults such as An Island Like You, Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood, and The Line in the Sun. She was the Regents’ and Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. In 2010, she was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.

 

 

toni margarita plummerABOUT THE REVIEWER: Toni Margarita Plummer is a Macondo Fellow, a winner of the Miguel Mármol Prize, and the author of the story collection The Bolero of Andi Rowe. She hails from South El Monte, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles, and worked as an acquiring editor for more than ten years at a major publisher. Toni now freelance edits and lives in the Hudson Valley with her family. Visit her website at ToniMargaritaPlummer.Wordpress.com.

 

We will be giving away a copy of each of the Judith Ortiz Cofer books reviewed here this week to one lucky winner! The titles are: Call Me María, If I Could Fly, and The Meaning of Consuelo and the picture book A Bailar/Let’s Dance.

 

ENTER HERE TO WIN FOUR JUDITH ORTIZ COFER BOOKS!

How Do I Keep My History? How Do I Honor It? A Guest Post by Author Mia García

 

By Mia García

Okay, here’s the thing, I’m a rambler. I tend to talk in circles until I figure out what I need to say, which usually boils down to a sentence.

So bear with me if you can – if not I totally understand; I’m sure there are many things you could be watching on Netflix right now. I’ve been thinking a lot about stress and fear, particularly in relation to family and history, which sounds horrible and insulting, but it will make sense. At least I hope so.

For years, I’ve been that person who wanted to do that Ancestry DNA thing, but never had the time or the money or the motivation (most likely these last two). Plus as a Puerto Rican born and raised in PR, I’ve always been taught that my ancestry boiled down to Spanish, African, and Taíno. (Which is a crazy simplification of the diversity of people who lived on the island, which include the above and Chinese, Irish, Scottish, French, German…Okay, I should stop here before I go into a full history of the island and this parenthesis gets crazy long.)

But in terms of actual knowledge, I only know a little bit about my Spanish side, like which city my great-grandparents came from and a whole lot of nothing about the rest of it, which after the test (I finally did it!) turns out to be about eight different things, half of which made my parents go: “Where did that come from?”

For those interested, it included Spanish, African, Italian, Native American, Middle Eastern, Great Britain, and a few small traces in Caucasus and Ireland. My parents’ “WTF?” reactions came from the Great Britain, Caucasus, Middle East, and Ireland revelations.

The test itself didn’t cause the anxious thoughts, but rather sparked interest in my past. The fear and stress came from the links to my past that are slowly disappearing. It’s sad to think about the family history and stories I know nothing about and will, most likely, never know anything about because as time passes there are fewer connections to it.

Not long ago, my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, which after a few years of paralyzing sadness made me realize that I needed to safeguard as many of his memories as I could. And recently, I almost lost my mom due to a serious medical issue, but we were blessed enough to get the news we needed in time. Because of these events, I re-ignited my plan to sit my parents and family members down to talk about, well, anything they can remember while I record them on my computer (this is something that truly annoys my mother because I never give her enough time to fix her hair and make-up, but I digress), which doesn’t always happen, which then leads to the stress, the worry, and fear.

Even If the Sky Falls CoverHow much do we lose with each generation? What will I remember for my children? (I don’t have any at the moment, but that doesn’t stop my mind from going there.) But that’s only where it starts, because it’s not only about how do I keep this history, but how do I honor it? Then I start spiraling into thoughts about my book. A sweet romance about a Puerto Rican in New Orleans hanging out with a musician for a night…but maybe it should’ve been a book about my parent’s history? What have I done to represent and document my family, my people, or my culture?

I should’ve done it all in one book. Clearly, I am a failure.

And there it is.

That tangle of thoughts that many of us face each time we pick up a pen and write our stories, trying to capture every moment that has made up our lives (but not too much, because then it’s a memoir, right?), holding on tightly to the past because if we don’t who will do it? Wondering if it’s okay to just tell a story about a young Puerto Rican girl falling in love without a history lesson or maybe just a small one. Feeling like your culture flows in your veins, but you haven’t quite honored it yet…

I realize now this is not just a blog post but a conversation. That I don’t want to talk into the void, but I want to hear from my fellow Latinx community. So if you are reading this, I want to hear from you!

Have you had similar thoughts? Do you feel like you need to represent every part of your culture when you write? Tell me about yourself, your family, the stories you write!

What do you think?

If you are a Latinx creator and want to discuss the “tangle of thoughts that many of us face each time we pick up a pen and write our stories,” please email us at latinosinkidlit@gmail.com with your blog post idea. We’d love to keep this conversation going.

 

5pv_6utvxrzzwbjesfqoku0ic1kqe1dzq1c5cnsydmyM. García was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She moved to New York where she studied creative writing at The New School, worked in publishing, and now lives under a pile of to-be-read books. Her debut novel, Even If the Sky Falls, from Katherine Tegen books (an imprint of Harper Collins) is out now. Visit her at MGarciaBooks.com