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!

 

Book review: Por ahí viene el huracán: Una aventura de Isa y Mau

 

We don’t often publish reviews or articles exclusively in Spanish, but since the picture book reviewed below is not yet available in English, it seems sensible to direct this post to readers of Spanish. To be clear, we do hope for an eventual English edition. After all, Por ahí viene el huracán is an authentic depiction of a child’s experience of Hurricane María, written and illustrated by Puerto Ricans with close knowledge of what the storm did to their island and their people. We hope it will find expression in multiple languages!

Readers on the mainland may order copies of this edition at Libros787.com. 

Reseña por Sujei Lugo y Lila Quintero Weaver

POR AHÍ VIENE EL HURACÁN: Una aventura de Isa y Mau es escrito por Laura Rexach Olivencia e ilustrado por Mya Pagán. (Editorial Destellos, 2018)

El impacto del Huracán María el pasado septiembre de 2017, marcó fuertemente la vida y experiencias de diversas comunidades en Puerto Rico y la diáspora. Lxs niñxs no estuvieron exentos del impacto psicológico, físico, natural, y social del fenómeno atmosférico y sus vidas y experiencias son igual de válidas. Varias personas se han dado la tarea de documentar y representar el paso e impacto del huracán a través de las letras, la música y el arte. Entre estos tenemos varios libros de literatura infantil y juvenil. Uno de ellos lo es Por ahí viene el huracán escrito por Laura Rexach Olivencia e ilustrado por Mya Pagán.

Aunque el nombre del huracán no es mencionado, detalles dentro de la historia y la fecha de publicación nos pueden indicar que se trata del Huracán María. “El último no vino. Pero dicen que este sí que viene.” Frase que se repetía luego del Huracán Irma y a la llegada del Huracán María.

La historia es contada desde la perspectiva de una niña llamada Isa y sus conversaciones con su gato Mau. Isa espera con ansias la hora de salida ya que al otro día no habría clase debido al posible paso de un huracán. Al llegar a la casa, Isa conversa como su gato Mau sobre la necesidad de prepararse ante el posible impacto del huracán. Toda la familia está trabajando para preparar la casa, sus pertenencias y organizar los suplidos necesarios. Isa observa cómo los vecinos y la comunidad anda de lado a lado comprando materiales, alimentos, artículos de primera necesidad y como todos cargan las mismas cosas, baterías, agua, latas, velas y linternas. La abuela también los acompaña en la casa y todos se quedarán en el mismo cuarto, algo que le emociona a Isa porque cree que es un “pijama party”, sensación que muchos también sentimos durante nuestra niñez.

Tan pronto comienzan los vientos, se va la luz, lo que causa que muchos en la casa despierten por el calor, el ruido del viento o simplemente, ansiedad. Su abuela Lela, como cariñosamente la llama Isa, intenta calmar a la niña pero Isa no logra recuperar el sueño. La familia de Isa tuvo que levantarse para reforzar los paneles en las ventanas debido a los fuertes vientos y lluvia. Los ruidos que se escuchaban eran aterradores, que hasta los adultos del hogar siente miedo, algo que Isa nunca había visto a su padre sentir. ¡Qué eternidad!, expresan. Sentimiento que fue expresado constantemente al describir el huracán. Recuerdo mensajes recibidos y leídos de lo “eterno que se sentía”, “esto no para”, “esto es el día más largo de mi vida”.   

Al otro día el sonido del viento fue disminuyendo y la calma fue regresando. Isa ayuda en la casa secando y controlando el agua que está entrando a la misma. El barrio y los caminos están clausurados por troncos de árboles, postes caídos, puentes derrumbados y pasan seis días atrapados, muy cercano a la realidad vivida en Puerto Rico. Una imagen presenta un camión de la Guardia Nacional o Fuerzas Armadas, y el texto narra cómo un grupo de soldados llegaron a su vecindario a ayudar, algo que no muchas personas vivieron post Huracán María.

El libro ilustrado es bastante certero en plasmar lo que se vivió luego de María, las filas interminables para agua, gasolina, alimentos. El desespero que se vivió y que algunos aún viven. Muchas personas perdieron sus hogares, familiares, trabajos y cotidianidad, que fueron desplazados y se trasladaron a vivir a los Estados Unidos. Isa observa que su amigo Nico, es uno de los miles de niños que tuvieron que mudarse e Isa siente una tristeza sobre algunas de las consecuencias del impacto del huracán.

“Llega el mes de noviembre y la escuela del pueblo sigue cerrada porque aún no llega la electricidad”. Las escuelas fueron unos de los lugares más impactados por María, algunos aún funcionaban como refugio, otros como cocinas y espacios comunitarios, otras sufrieron daños en la infraestructura y otras fueron eventualmente cerradas. Al igual que Isa, muchas familias y comunidades crearon “una nueva rutina diaria.” Isa reflexiona sobre su amigo Nico que tuvo que irse, sobre el cierre de su escuela y como está deseosa que tanto Nico y la escuela vuelvan a su vida. Entre preocupación y esperanza, Isa vuelve a sentir vida en su barrio.

El texto es simple, honesto y captura la esencia de los personajes, el ambiente que reina antes, durante y luego de un fenómeno atmosférico sin ser condescendiente con los lectores. Se puede sentir la voz y experiencia de las personas que realmente pasaron por este desastre natural y proveen una visión auténtica de la historia. Los detalles, el vocabulario, la vestimenta y otras imágenes capturan algunas de las experiencias y realidades puertorriqueñas.

La autora incorpora el uso de onomatopeyas de diversos sonidos como el desagüe en la bañera, la vieja mecedora, el silencio, los martillazos en la pared, los zapatos caminando, el sonido aterrador del viento, los ladridos del perro, los cuchillos para cortar vegetales, el suave cantar de la brisa y el cantar del coquí. A través de las onomatopeyas y las expresiones faciales de los personas, se captura el progreso gradual de las emociones y labores antes, durante y después del paso de un huracán.

El diseño del libro y yuxtaposición del texto, las ilustraciones y los espacios en blanco proveen una cierta calma dentro una historia que puede hacer recordar a algunos lectores los malos recuerdos, emociones y experiencias vividas.  El libro incluye un glosario de palabras que pueden ser nuevas para los pequeños lectores y que están resaltadas en negrillas (bold) dentro del texto a lo largo de la historia.

El arte consiste de ilustraciones sencillas presentadas con aire de inocencia. Pintados de acuarela, los dibujos resaltan, gracias a una gama amplia de colores y tonos. Además se utilizan bordes bien definidos, semejantes en estilo a los de los comics. Aunque se nota que los paisajes naturales suelen inclinarse a lo sobresimplificado, la mayoría de las ilustraciones emparejan a la historia perfectamente.

Más que nada, la ilustradora brilla en sus representaciones de los personajes. Las caras son distintas, como también son los detalles de la ropa, los zapatos, los sombreros, los peinados, las gafas de sol, y otros artículos. Es una fiesta para los ojos. El efecto visual es encantador y sirve bien para entretener a los lectores de cualquier edad.

Una nota de la autora y/o la ilustradora hubiera ayudado a brindar un poco de contexto a la historia y para los lectores no familiarizados con huracanes o el Huracán María. Pero también puede verse como una historia que puede plasmarse y presentarse en relación a otros huracanes, desastres naturales y experiencias.

 

Laura Rexach Olivencia es consultora en filantropía estratégica y combina su perspectiva de madre puertorriqueña con su experiencia en negocios y pasión por la educación para ayuda a adelantar proyectos que inspiran. Vive en San Juan, Puerto Rico con su esposo y tres hijos pequeños.

 

 

 

Mya Pagán es una ilustradora puertorriqueña. Completó un Bachillerato en Lenguas Extranjeras de la UPR de Río Piedras con concentración en francés e italiano. Además de su pasión por los idiomas, siempre le ha encantado dibujar y traducir lo que la rodea y lo que siente a papel. Actualmente trabaja como ilustradora a tiempo completo y ha trabajado con varias agencias.

A Studio Visit with Author-Illustrator Lulu Delacre, one of the most prolific Latinx artists working today

 

By Cecilia Cackley

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“I’ve decided that this is going to be my best decade!” declares Lulu Delacre. She has just turned sixty and after thirty-eight years in the publishing industry, she has written or illustrated over thirty different books for young readers, making her one of the most prolific Latinx artists working today. Her latest book, Turning Pages is an autobiographical picture book by Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor and arguably Delacre’s highest profile collaboration to date.

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Delacre was born in Puerto Rico to Argentine parents who encouraged her love of drawing. After beginning her college career in the Fine Arts department of the University of Puerto Rico, she transferred to L’Ecole Supérieure d’Arts Graphiques in Paris, France. Delacre says she was inspired to apply for the school after learning that a famous Puerto Rican artist had trained there. Her father was skeptical, telling her she wouldn’t get in because of the quality of work required, but she was accepted into the third year of the five year program and eventually received a full scholarship to finish her degree after her family ran into financial hardship. Delacre studied many different artistic disciplines at the school, including typography and print-making, and the course included real-world assignments such as designing a new currency that she remembers as challenging and fun. Some of the more traditional European assignments had amusing results for a student from the Caribbean, she says.

“[For] one of my first assignments we had to illustrate the four seasons, and of course, I was coming from Puerto Rico. So, winter—I did something in pastel pinks and blues and everyone laughed, but of course it was a matter of perspective! I came from an island, I had never witnessed winter before, never in my life.”

Delacre says that she had no idea at that point that you could become a children’s book illustrator. “Books that we got in Puerto Rico were mostly fairy tales from Spain, which didn’t speak to me. The concept of the picture book was entirely foreign to me.” She discovered picture book illustration at an American gallery in Paris which was showing art from the book In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. “That was a revelation. I had no idea before that moment what I wanted to do.” Delacre had been focusing on graphic arts because she wanted to earn a living and recognized, “I was not at the level of a Picasso,” but now she had found the work that would become her passion.

After finishing school, Delacre moved to San Francisco with her husband, who was in the military. She had no contacts, but started knocking on doors and found work doing textbook illustrations and commercial artwork. When her family moved to Massachusetts, she started giving to the children’s section of the public library and taught herself to create picture books by analyzing examples such as Where the Wild Things Are. With no connections in publishing, Delacre had to hustle to break into the industry.

“In order to get into the field, I went to New York. I created two identical portfolios and made twenty-two appointments in five days, stayed at the Y, and by that Friday, I had my first job illustrating for Sesame Street magazine. From there, [I moved to] Simon & Schuster when they had Little Simon. I started illustrating public domain material like these [nursery rhyme] board books.”

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Delacre’s first book to incorporate Latinx culture was inspired by the birth of her daughters, to whom she wanted to introduce to traditional Latin American children’s rhymes.  “I went to the library looking for a book of our folklore, from Latin America, our nursery rhymes, and I couldn’t find anything. Why do American kids get to have these books and kids that come from Spanish speaking countries don’t?” Delacre had recently published the Nathan and Nicholas Alexander books with Scholastic, so she went to her editor there and suggested the book of songs and rhymes that eventually became Arroz con leche, which turns thirty this year and is still in print.

Delacre’s first books with Simon and Scholastic were done in colored pencils, over a thin layer of watercolor to make the process go a little faster. In her home studio in Maryland, she has two large art tables surrounded by materials, including colored pencils, acrylics, watercolors and collage materials. “I do everything the old-fashioned way,” she says. “I like to touch materials. I try to do things that the computers cannot do yet. That’s why I use collage and the textures, pressed leaves—things that the computer doesn’t do or doesn’t do as well.”

Delacre pushes herself to try new art styles and materials for each project she takes on. Salsa Stories has linoleum cuts because the stories are being told by characters who would have been familiar with that style of art in Puerto Rico in the 1950’s. Her book US in Progress pairs short stories with illustrations created from collaged newspaper, pencil drawings on acetate and texture created from tiny holes in rice paper. Olinguito A to Z, a Spanish alphabet book, was based on scientific information about the different animals who live in the Ecuadorian cloud forest. The different species were painted in flat colors, a graphic version of each animal that reaches back to Delacre’s work as a graphic designer. The background paper for each spread was created from actual leaves from the cloud forest. She also created the typography for the letters that appear on each page. “I created the letters because I wanted them to fit in a square to mirror the shape of the book. I wanted to show the kids what the mist looked like. In the cloud forest, you would see everything through the mist, so to reveal the true colors of the species, I gathered the mist in the squares surrounding the letters.”

Delacre’s most exciting recent project is the picture book autobiography Turning Pages by United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She explains that the process of getting the assignment was a bit unusual. “I got an email from [editor] Jill Santopolo asking if I had an agent, and I said not any more, and so she goes, “I need to talk to you, can I call you tomorrow?” and I said sure and gave her my number. I get a call the next day and she begins by saying, “I have a somewhat secret project that needs to be fast tracked and we want you for it.” And then she explains about the project and I pause, it’s sinking in and I said “Why me?” I had never worked for this publisher, and I had never worked with her. And she answers, “’Because she chose you,’ meaning the justice. This is very rare—this is the very first time that the author handpicks me.” Delacre goes on to explain that Sotomayor was given a stack of picture books to look at when selecting an illustrator and that one of the reasons she chose Delacre was because the justice wanted the illustrations to be lifelike. “I know that one thing that was very important to her was to portray her mamá and her abuelita as close as possible to reality.” Sotomayor also appreciated that Delacre has a strong relationship with the island of Puerto Rico. Although the book mostly takes place in urban settings such as the Bronx, Delacre began each oil wash with a layer of green sap oil, because Sotomayor wanted the island to be present in the illustrations. The original artwork from Turning Pages can be seen in the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University through March 17, 2019.

Delacre says that her advice to Latinx illustrators trying to break into publishing is “Follow your heart. Tell the story that you really have within you and you really must tell. Don’t feel like you have to be like someone else. Just be yourself.” Delacre points out that unlike other children’s book illustrators such as Tomie DePaola, she doesn’t have a specific, recognizable art style. “In the beginning of my career, I thought it was a flaw because I understood if I didn’t have a certain style, I wasn’t as recognizable name wise. But I can’t be that way because I get bored doing the same thing over and over again. I have to push myself to try new things because each project is about learning for me. What can I do with this that I haven’t done before?” She is talking about using mono prints for her next project, in black and white, a major departure from her usual paint and colored pencils. “Now it’s like I don’t have to prove anything. You know, this is going to be my best decade and after that who knows? Maybe I’m not going to do another book. I’ll be creating, but something different. Every single project I do is really to reach a community that perhaps wasn’t finding their image in books. I’m always trying to create what is needed.”

 

 

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

 

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!