¡Felicidades! to the 2017 ALA Youth Media Award Winners and Honor Books

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Congratulations to the authors and illustrators who were honored at the American Library Association’s Midwinter conference! The Caldecott Medal and Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Award went to Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. It’s a heartfelt and vibrant picture book biography about the childhood and life of Puerto Rican-Haitian American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The newest Pura Belpré Awards went to Juana Medina for her book Juana and Lucas and Raúl the Third for his illustrations in Lowriders: to the Center of the Earth.

Click here for an inside look at Juana Medina’s studio.

And click here for more information about Juana, the author-illustrator.

But, wait…there’s more….

Click here for a review of the first Lowriders book.

And click here for a super-cool audio interview of Raúl by author-illustrator Robert Trujillo.

Here are the winners and honor books by/for/about Latinxs. Click on the covers for more information:

The Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children and the Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award went to:


Pura Belpré Award (Author) honoring Latino authors whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience:



Honor book:


Pura Belpré Award (Illustrator) honoring a Latino writer and illustrator whose children’s books best portray, affirm, and celebrate the Latino cultural experience.


Image result for lowriders to the center of the earth

Honor Books:

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Andrew Carnegie Medal for excellence in children’s video


Stonewall Award Honor Books included:


Alex Awards for the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences. The list included:



Celebrating Pura Belpré Winners: Spotlight on Rafael López


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

hires-cover-fiesta  Drum Dream GirlLeading up to the event, we will be highlighting the winners of the narrative and illustration awards. Today’s spotlight is on Rafael López, the winner of the 2010 Pura Belpré Illustration Award for Book Fiesta! Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day, Celebremos El dia de lo niños/El día de los libros, written by Pat Mora, and the 2016 Pura Belpré Illustration Award for Drum Dream Girl, written by Margarita Engle. We featured Drum Dream Girl in a book talk and in a special report about a library event.

Tito book  Cazuela  Celia

Rafael also received a Pura Belpré Illustration Honor three times: In 2014, for Tito Puente: Mambo King/Rey de Mambo, written by Monica Brown; in 2012, for The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred, written by Samantha R. Vamos; in 2006, for My Name is Celia/Me Llamo Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/ La Vida de Celia Cruz, written by Monica Brown.

Book Fiesta!

Illustration Review by Lila Quintero Weaver

Book Fiesta! Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day/ Celebremos El día de los niños/El Día de los libros, written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Rafael López, is a gem of a picture book that offers its wonders in two languages, English and Spanish.

Book Fiesta! exuberantly proclaims the joys of reading and introduces the concept of Día, an annual celebration of literature for children, founded by Pat Mora in 1996, and observed through special events by many libraries nationwide.

What Mexican painter, muralist, and illustrator Rafael López brings to a picture book must be seen and not just read about. His mastery as an illustrator extends to every aspect of the art: a strong concept, dynamic design, brilliant execution, and irresistible charm. It’s no wonder that the Pura Belpré committee recognized his work. Let’s take a closer look.


Used by permission from HarperCollins Children’s Books.

You don’t have to be an artist to appreciate López’s expert techniques, including his winning combination of hard-edged shapes and saturated colors, delivered through heavily textured paint and splashy accents, and supported by a golden undertone that unifies all of the spreads. In the pages above, a huge, friendly sun smiles down on the children, accompanied by a trotting elephant. Such charm!


Used by permission from HarperCollins Children’s Books.

López champions diversity in his illustrations. Here, a parade of children follows a Chinese dragon whose tail doubles as a banner, announcing Día to one and all. Note the diversity represented in the races of the children. One child pulls a wagon full of books bearing titles in English and Spanish.


Used by permission from HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Outside the library, even the stone lion looks pleased to take part in Día. The children relaxing on the marble beast are immersed in their books. In the background, a boy in a wheelchair eagerly makes his way to the library—another evidence of the illustrator’s awareness of diverse representation.


Used by permission from HarperCollins Children’s Books.

López amplifies Pat Mora’s words through many inventive means. Here, in a depiction of the glorious adventures made possible by reading, a hot-air balloon floats over a mountainous backdrop, complete with a smoking volcano. The pilot is a giraffe in old-fashioned aviator goggles. Elsewhere, books transport children by other means: on an airplane, a train, an automobile, a rowboat, on the back of an elephant, and even in a submarine. Simply put, stories hold the power to magically ferry readers to far-away places and imaginary lands. López brings this virtual travel to life through an enthralling variety of presentations and an engaging level of detail.


Used by permission from HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Reading in bed—what better way is there to top off a busy day? In a color-drenched scene, López presents two children indulging in this lovely pastime. One child, floating on a bed of clouds, has already fallen asleep, while the other is midway through a yawn. Her bed is supported by the curve of a crescent moon. López’s trademark brushwork fills the sky with vivid sunset hues that transition to the deep violet of late evening. It’s all grounded by rolling hills, painted in shades of teal, a color appropriate to the dying light. In the distance, the windows of buildings twinkle with warmly lit interiors, while cutout stars punctuate the heavens. Dreamy.

The richness of each spread in Book Fiesta! invites long looks and repeated views that reward readers with the new discoveries. Every page turn reveals a refreshing surprise, backgrounded by a palette that spans the rainbow. Thanks to Pat Mora’s wonderful vision and Rafael López’s dynamic illustrations, this picture book offers a perennial delight to readers of all ages.

Book Fiesta! Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day; Celebremos el día de los niños/el día de lo libros. Text copyright ©2009 Pat Mora. Illustration copyright ©2009 Rafael López. Images used by permission of HarperCollins Children’s Books.

RafaelAbout the illustrator:

Raised in Mexico City, Rafael López makes his home part of the year in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, as well as in San Diego, California. He credits Mexican surrealism as a major artistic influence. Besides his Pura Belpré medals and honors, Rafael is also a double recipient of the Américas Award. For more about his work, including poster illustrations and a mural project in San Diego that is the subject of a new picture book, Maybe Something Beautiful, visit his official website.


  • Lead children in an imagination exercise based on the reading spots depicted in Book Fiesta. What are some places that you can take a book to? What are some places that a book takes you to? Ask students to include real-life and imaginary destinations.
  •  Devise a book parade, featuring wagons loaded with books, masks or disguises based on favorite characters, and banners heralding Día, or another book-related holiday or theme.
  • Invite children to create illustrations based on López’s style. This can include painted backdrops and cutout figures, with an emphasis on strong shapes and bright colors.

Watch Rafael López’s thank you video for his most recent Pura Belpré medal, for Drum Dream Girl:


¡Felicidades! to the ALA Youth Media Award Winners and Honor Books

WOW! What a great year for Latin@-themed books and books written/illustrated by Latin@s! I’m sure many of us reacted this way as the results of the ALA Youth Media Awards came in Monday. Matt de la Peña and Christopher Robinson’s Last Stop on Market Street took home the Newbery Medal and was named an Honor book for the Caldecott and Coretta Scott King awards.


A HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to all of the winners and honor books.

Here are the winners and honor books by/for/about Latin@s. Click on the covers for more information:

John Newbery Medal for most outstanding contribution to children’s literature:


Newbery Honor Books:

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Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults. The Honor Books included:


Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children. The Caldecott Honor Books included:


Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Honor Books included:


Pura Belpré Award (Illustrator) honoring a Latino writer and illustrator whose children’s books best portray, affirm, and celebrate the Latino cultural experience.



Honor Books:

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Pura Belpré Award (Author) honoring Latino authors whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience:



Honor books:

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Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children.



Finalist for the William C. Morris Award for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens:


Finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults:


Odyssey Award for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States. The Odyssey Honor Recording was:


Alex Awards for the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences. The list included:


Congratulations to the ALA Youth Media Awards Winners and Honorees

A huge CONGRATULATIONS to the Latin@ authors and  books that were recognized at this year’s ALA Youth Media Awards.


Here are the winners and honor books:

Pura Belpré Award (Illustrator) honoring a Latino writer and illustrator whose children’s books best portray, affirm, and celebrate the Latino cultural experience.



Honor Books:

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Pura Belpré Award (Author) honoring Latino authors whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience:


Honor Book:


William C. Morris Award for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens:


Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children. The Caldecott Honor Books included:

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 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children. The Sibert Honor Books included:


2016 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award recognizing an author, critic, librarian, historian or teacher of children’s literature, who then presents a lecture at a winning host site.

Winner: Pat Mora: “Pioneering author and literacy advocate Pat Mora has written more than three dozen books for young people that represent the Mexican American experience.”

SLJ’s Shelley Diaz Predicts the 2015 Pura Belpré Medal Contenders

By Shelley M. Diaz

As we approach the Youth Media Awards announcements on February 2—deemed by many as the “Oscars of the Kid Lit World”—Mock Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, and even Geisel lists abound. A longtime tradition, the creation of these compilations of possible contenders are often debated in libraries and schools and among children’s literature fans.

But what about the Pura Belpré Medal? I haven’t seen any mention of possible winners for the award that honors children’s books written/illustrated by Latino(a)s that celebrate the Latino cultural experience. In a year that brought the need for diverse titles to the forefront of the publishing world, this conversation has been sorely absent.

Established in 1996, the award has been presented annually since 2008 by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, an ALA affiliate. It is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library.

So with less than one month to go until the shiny medals are placed on stellar books for kids and teens, I’d love to open up that conversation now.

First, here’s a short overview of the criteria that librarians on the committee (members of REFORMA and ALSC) will consider when naming the recipients of the 2015 awards (found in the Pura Belpré Award Manual).

  1. Two medals shall be awarded annually at the Annual Conference of the American Library Association, one to a Latino author of an outstanding children’s book and one to a Latino illustrator for creating an outstanding children’s picture book. Each of these must be an original work that portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience.
  2. The award-winning books must be published in the United States or Puerto Rico during the preceding year.
  3. Recipients of the Pura Belpré medal must be residents or citizens of the United States or Puerto Rico.
  4. Fiction and nonfiction books for children published in Spanish, English, or bilingual formats are eligible.

More specifics:

  1. A “children’s book” shall be a book for which children are a potential audience. The book must display respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.
  2. Particular attention will be paid to cultural authenticity.
  3. “Resident” specifies that author has established and maintained residence in the United States, or Puerto Rico, as distinct from being a casual or occasional visitor.

After perusing the Latinas 4 Latino Lit blog’s selections of Best Latino Children’s books and taking part in School Library Journal’s Top Latino Books of 2014 curation, here are some of the titles I think have huge Pura Belpré potential this year. Please feel free to disagree with me and add some of your own possible contenders.

Award for Narrative:

20702546Winner: Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero; published by Cinco Puntos Press.

Reasons why I think it will win: Never mind the starred reviews in SLJ, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and VOYA. Or the fact that it’s an SLJ and Kirkus Best Book of 2014. It’s also an SLJ Top Latino Book of 2014. And it has garnered the honor of being a finalist for the YALSA Morris Award, an award that recognizes outstanding debut YA novels.

Quintero’s book celebrates the multidimensionality of being a Latina. Never quite fitting in the mold of “American” or “Latina,” Gabi speaks to the generation of young women who have grown up speaking Spanglish, mostly poor, and inhabiting the in-between spaces of two cultures. The writing is stellar, honest, and lyrical.

It’s certainly at the brink of the age limit (14), but I’m hoping that the committee continues the trend of recognizing contemporary titles, such as Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and Matt de la Peña’s The Living. This work has obviously struck a chord with librarians, and I think all readers carry a piece of Gabi with them.  (I am unapologetically gushing.)

SLJ Interview with Isabel Quintero
My SLJ review of Gabi.
TLT Toolbox review of Gabi.


18405521Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh; published by Abrams.

Reasons why I think it will be honored: Tonatiuh is a past honoree for his Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale, and his work continues to bring light to important issues in Latino culture in a kid-friendly, accessible way.  It’s an SLJ and Kirkus Best Book of 2014, an SLJ Top Latino Book of the year, and a JLG selection. Plus, Sylvia Mendez’s fight against desegregation is just as relevant to the current social justice issues occurring in our country as it was 50 years ago.

Fuse 8 Blog review of Separate Is Never Equal.

18667844Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes by Juan Felipe Herrera; published by Dial.

Reasons why I think it will be honored: It’s on the SLJ Top Latino of 2014 list and received an SLJ star. This collection of essays by the California Poet Laureate is lyrical, revelatory, and truly underrated. While it hasn’t garnered that much attention from the other trade journals, I do believe that these vignettes wonderfully shed light on many Hispanic historical figures that are not often celebrated. He’s also received an Honor in the past (for Laughing out Loud, I Fly in 2000), so he’s definitely not a stranger to the Pura Belpré.

Los Angeles Review of Books: Daniel Olivas interviews Juan Felipe Herrera
My review for SLJ

22107707Water Rolls, Water Rises: El agua rueda, el agua sube by Pat Mora; Children’s Book Press.

Reasons Why I think it might be honored: Mora isn’t a stranger to the Pura Belpré either. An influential Mexican American author, she’s also the founder of Día de los Niños, Día de los libros. She’s been honored in the past (for Doña Flor, in 2006), and I think she’s due for another this year. Her Water Rolls, Water Rises is a poetry text that truly rises to the top with its structure, message, and imagery-filled narrative. It’s a Kirkus Best Book and a 2014 Cybils Finalist. The work also received positive reviews in SLJ and PW.

Other Possible Contenders: These two books have flown a bit under the radar, but they both tell often overlooked sides of the immigration narrative. Who knows? Perhaps these underdogs might run off with a shiny sticker come Midwinter?

I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín; published by S. & S./Atheneum.
Booklist star; positive reviews in SLJ, PW, Kirkus.

The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu; published by Running Press.
JLG selection, SLJ Top Latino of 2014; positive reviews from SLJ, Kirkus, VOYA, Booklist, BCCB, PW.

Award for Illustration:

20759593Winner: Draw! By Raúl Colón; published by S. & S/Paula Wiseman Bks.

Reasons why I think it will win: Probably one of the most celebrated—but equally underrated—titles of the year. How is it that not enough people are talking about this book? It’s my belief that Colón should win every year (or at least that he and Yuyi Morales should take turns).

The practically wordless picture book follows a boy who escapes the confines of his room (where he’s been resting because of a sickness) through the power of his imagination and a sketchbook. This beautifully illustrated autobiographical artist’s journey celebrates fancy and adventure, and Colón’s choice of two palettes to depict the before and after is ingenious.

New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2014
SLJ Best Book
SLJ Top Latino
Starred review from Booklist, SLJ, PW, Kirkus, Horn Book
SLJ Interview with Raul Colón


18405521Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

Reasons Why I think it might be honored: Tonatiuh has won a Pura Belpré recognition multiple times, in the narrative and illustration categories, and even both at once (just last year, actually). His unique art draws inspiration from the pre-Columbian codices, giving his work added significance to Latino culture. While questions of his eligibility have often been raised, he is a resident of Mexico AND the United States, so his books fair game. Especially relevant in Separate Is Never Equal, is his depiction of different “colored” Mexican American characters. Though Sylvia Mendez and her cousins were part of the same family, her lighter-skinned cousins were able to “pass” as white. This nuanced portrayal of history shines in Tonatiuh’s groundbreaking work. Robin Smith has an interesting discussion on his art on the Horn Book website that is worth reading.

20518948Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales, photos by Tim O’Meara; published by Roaring Brook Press/Neal Porter Bks.

Reasons why I think it might be honored: Stunning. Gorgeous. Ingenious. I’m marveled at how Morales’s work continues to grow and evolve. Last year’s Pura Belpré Medalist, her Niño Wrestles the World, was a winning, kid-friendly romp through Mexican American culture. Viva Frida is more contemplative and evocative, but no less charming and illuminating. The writing is spare in English and Spanish, and gives an almost dreamlike quality to this exploration of the iconic artist. There are countless works on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, but this title introduces not only the artist, but her work and joie de vivre. The detailed puppets and backdrops created by Morales showcase her overwhelming talent.  And if you’re not wowed yet, check out this video of the illustrator’s art process. Fascinating!

One quibble, though: Would O’Meara be considered a co-illustrator of this work? Would that then make it ineligible because he isn’t Latino?

“Illustrator may include co-illustrators. In the case where the co-illustrator is not of Latino heritage, the book is ineligible for consideration.”

That’s for the Committee to ultimately decide.

SLJ Best Book; SLJ Top Latino
Starred in SLJ, PW, Horn Book
Lolly Robinson points out what makes this title a Caldecott Contender

18654384Dalia’s Wondrous Hair/El cabello maravilloso de Dalia by Laura Lacámara; published by Arte Publico/Piñata Bks.

Reasons why I think it might be honored: This bilingual picture book might be a dark horse, but it has received several recognitions (SLJ Top Latino of 2014, starred Kirkus, positive review in PW) and boasts an all-female cast that is refreshing and culturally relevant. Hair plays a big role in Latino society and race issues, and it’s celebrated in this family-centered, whimsical tale. Lacámara’s illustrations take a life of their own and wondrously depict Cuban island life with authenticity and effervescence.

Possible Contender:

20980944Lowriders in Space illustrated by Raúl the Third, written by Cathy Camper; published by Chronicle.

Reasons why I think it might be honored: This fun, graphic novel pushes the boundaries of what is considered a “picture book,” but the Committee might be feeling adventurous.

“A ‘children’s picture book,’ as distinguished from other books with illustrations, is one that essentially provides the child with a visual experience. A picture book has a collective unity of story line, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which the book is comprised.”

A few have noted some irregularity in the text and the Spanish translation, but since the honor is for a book’s art, I’ll focus on Raúl Gonzalez’s comic book-style street art-type illustrations.  Gonzalez used black, blue, and red BIC pens to create the images, and he’s captured a facet of Latino life that is not often showcased in children’s books. His innovative take on visual storytelling is brave, honest, and much-needed.

Interview with Raúl the Third on “Good Comics 4 Kids”
New York Times review
Starred in Kirkus, PW

If only it were eligible:

18405509Migrant Illustrated by Javier Martínez Pedro, written by José Manuel Mateo; published by Abrams.
Kirkus-Best Picture Book that Celebrates Diversity
Starred review in PW, Kirkus

This breathtaking work about a Mexican boy’s journey to the United States with his family is complemented by one long, black-and-white illustration reminiscent of pre-Columbian codices, packaged as an accordion-style foldout frieze. The timely tale was originally published in Mexico, and so isn’t eligible for the Pura Belpré. If only!

“Children’s books ‘published in the United States or Puerto Rico,’ means that books originally published in other countries are not eligible.

The “Seven Impossible Things” blog has a peek at the full image, so please feel free to lament along with me.

So what do you think? Am I on target? Were there any of your favorites I missed?


Guest Post: Margarita Engle’s Passion for Writing About Hope and Forgotten Heroes

By Margarita Engle

Recently, I was asked what “legacy” I hope to leave by writing. Legacy is an intimidating word, but at least one portion of the answer is fairly simple. I love writing about independent thinkers who have been forgotten by history. These lost heroes might have been celebrated in their own times, or they may have worked in such obscurity that their names are unknown. Many are famous in their countries of origin, but have never been introduced to readers in the U.S.

Just a few years ago, any library search for children’s books about Latinos would have revealed little more than a series of shamefully inaccurate works glorifying brutal conquistadores. During the interim, excellent biographies of César Chávez and Sonia Sotomayor have been added, along with a handful of beautiful picture books about artists, writers, and musicians.

Surrende TreeThe work of reclaiming lost heroes has barely begun. My own approach is not strictly biographical because I love writing verse novels, and I also love writing first person interpretations of historical events. I often mix historical figures with fictional characters. In other words, I feel free to explore, experiment, and imagine. It’s a process that feels like time travel. Diaries, letters, and journals are my most important research materials, because they contain the emotional essence of history, along with the meticulous details of daily life. When I wrote The Poet Slave of Cuba, I was fortunate to have access to Juan Francisco Manzano’s autobiographical notes, which had been smuggled off the island by British abolitionists. For The Surrender Tree, I could not find anything written by Rosa la Bayamesa or any of Cuba’s other courageous wartime nurses, so I read the diaries of rebel soldiers, as well as interviews with reconcentration camp survivors. The Lightning Dreamer is based on the poetry and prose of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, who wrote a groundbreaking interracial romance novel that was published more than a decade before Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Not only was Sab far more daring, it was also more influential in Europe and Latin America. So why don’t North Americans know Avellaneda’s name? Does it make sense to learn only about our own little corners of the world?

Hope is at the heart of every topic I choose. I love to write about people I admire. In general, I admire them because they were independent thinkers, far ahead of their times, or because their courage took the form of kindness. I don’t see history as a series of wars, with dates of battles to memorize and names of generals who are automatically assumed to be heroic. My heroes are the ordinary people who made hopeful choices in times that must have seemed hopeless. Tropical Secrets and Silver People are examples of topics so huge—the Holocaust, and construction of the Panama Canal—that I chose to write primarily in the voices of fictional composite characters, rather than individual historical figures. For Hurricane Dancers, the absence of first person indigenous Cuban accounts of the Conquest forced me to rely on a combination of legends, imagination, and the diaries of priests. I read the journals of conquistadores with skepticism, because they were written with a specific agenda—trying to make themselves look heroic, so that they could apply for additional funds from the Spanish Crown.

final Silver People cover-1Lightning Dreamer notable-1

Not all of my books are verse novels, and not all are for young adults. One of my favorite challenges is writing picture books about people who are not considered “famous enough” for biographical works. This limitation has actually helped me present my historical picture book manuscripts simply as inspiring stories, instead of struggling to make the subjects seem more famous than they are. Some are not famous at all, simply because Latinos, other minorities, and women, have generally been omitted from earlier historical writings. Sadly, recent history books tend to copy the earlier ones. The result is an entire segment of classroom curricula and pleasure reading with no representation of forgotten groups.

At present, I have several biographical picture books already in the publishing pipeline, and several that are still searching for publishers. None of them are about easily recognized names, if you live in the U.S. Thankfully, with the help of wonderful editors and fantastic illustrators, I hope that these picture books will inspire young readers. Drum Dream Girl (Harcourt, 2015) is being illustrated by the amazing Rafael López, whose gorgeous art will help illuminate the life of a ten-year-old Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke the island’s taboo against female drummers. The Sky Painter (Two Lions, 2015) will have beautiful, scientifically accurate illustrations by Aliona Bereghici, to show how a boy of Puerto Rican origin became the world’s greatest bird artist, by allowing birds to live, instead of following Audubon’s tradition of killing and posing them.

If children have heard Latin jazz or visited New York’s Natural History Museum, they’ve heard and seen the results of Millo Castro’s courage and Louis Agassiz Fuertes’ kindness, even though they are unlikely to have seen those names in a library or classroom. I firmly believe that it is time to make room for books about the lives of people who should be famous, rather than limiting young readers to books about people who are already famous.

No discussion of biographical writing is complete without the subject of autobiography. Writing a childhood memoir has been the greatest challenge of my life. It is strictly nonfiction—no imagining, only remembering. Certain memories are excruciatingly painful. I love recalling childhood trips to visit my extended family in Cuba, but I dread remembering the October 1962 Missile Crisis that ended those journeys. Enchanted Air, a Cold War Memoir (Atheneum, 2015) combines the two. Positive and negative. Joy and sorrow. Despair and hope. With a powerful cover illustration by one of the world’s greatest artists, Edel Rodríguez, this memoir already feels like my life’s work. It is a book that helps me reclaim the separated half of my family, and along with them, the half of my identity that was almost destroyed by politicians.

Writing about lives is a process of exploration, so even though the memoir feels like my life’s work, I’ve already found other people I hope to depict in verse novels and picture books. I’ve returned to the research stage, reading history, and deciding which parts of history have not yet been honestly portrayed.


Margarita-HavanaMargarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of many young adult verse novels, including The Surrender Tree, which received the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino/a. Her books have also received multiple Pura Belpré Awards and Honors, as well as three Américas Awards and the Jane Addams Peace Award. Margarita’s newest verse novel is Silver People, Voices From the Panama Canal, and her newest picture book is Tiny Rabbit’s Big WishShe lives in central California, where she enjoys hiding in the forest to help train her husband’s wilderness search and rescue dogs. For more information, visit her author site and enjoy interviews by Caroline Starr Rose  and Robyn Hood Black.