Celebrating 25 Years of the Pura Belpré Award: A Conversation with Yuyi Morales and Donna Barba Higuera

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

The Pura Belpré Award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latinx writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

We have been marking the award’s 25th anniversary in different ways on the blog. Today, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Cecilia Cackley talk with Yuyi Morales and Donna Barba Higuera.

YUYI MORALES is a Mexican author, illustrator, artist, and puppet maker. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Physical Education from the University of Xalapa, México and used to host her own Spanish-language radio program for children in San Francisco, California. She has won numerous awards for her children’s books, including the Caldecott Honor for Viva Frida and the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award for Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book (2004) and Los Gatos Black on Halloween (2008). Yuyi has also won multiple Pura Belpré Author and Illustrator awards and honors:

  • Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book (2004 illustrator award)
  • Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez (2004 illustrator honor)
  • Los Gatos Black on Halloween (2008 illustrator award)
  • Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book (2009 author honor)
  • Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book (2009 illustrator award)
  • My Abuelita (2010 illustrator honor)
  • Niño Wrestles the World (2014 illustrator award)
  • Viva Frida (2015 illustrator award)
  • Dreamers (2019 illustrator award)

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DONNA BARBA HIGUERA grew up in central California surrounded by agricultural and oil fields. As a child, rather than dealing with the regular dust devils, she preferred spending recess squirreled away in the janitor’s closet with a good book. Her favorite hobbies were calling dial-a-story over and over again, and sneaking into a restricted cemetery to weave her own spooky tales using the crumbling headstones as inspiration. ​

Donna’s Middle Grade and Picture Books are about kids who find themselves in odd or scary situations.​ From language to cultural differences in being biracial, life can become…complicated. So. like Donna, characters tackle more than just the bizarre things that happen to them in their lives.

Donna likes to write about all things funny, but also sad, and creepy, and magical. If you like those things, she hopes you will read her books!

Donna lives in Washington State with her family, three dogs, and two frogs.

Donna’s novel, Lupe Wong Won’t Dance, won a 2021 Pura Belpré Honor Award.

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

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Cecilia 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

Celebrating 25 Years of the Pura Belpré Award: A Conversation with Rebecca Balcárcel and Adrianna Cuevas

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

The Pura Belpré Award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latinx writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

We have been marking the award’s 25th anniversary in different ways on the blog. Today, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Cecilia Cackley talk with Rebecca Balcárcel and Adrianna Cuevas.

Rebecca Balcárcel’s novel, THE OTHER HALF OF HAPPY (2019), is a 2020 Pura Belpré Honor Book, an ALSC Notable Book, and was called “a must-have for all library collections” by School Library Journal. She serves the students of Tarrant County College as Associate Professor of English. Look for her next novel, SHINE ON, LUZ VÉLIZ!, about a girl who codes, May 3, 2022.

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Adrianna Cuevas is a first-generation Cuban-American originally from Miami, Florida. A former Spanish and ESOL teacher, Adrianna currently resides in Austin, Texas with her husband and son. When not working with TOEFL students, wrangling multiple pets including an axolotl, and practicing fencing with her son, she is writing her next middle grade novel. Her novel, The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez won a 2021 Pura Belpré Honor.

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

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Cecilia 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

Celebrating 25 Years of the Pura Belpré Award: A Conversation with Meg Medina and Jenny Torres Sanchez

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

The Pura Belpré Award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latinx writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

We have been marking the award’s 25th anniversary in different ways on the blog. Today, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Cecilia Cackley talk with Meg Medina and Jenny Torres Sanchez.

Photo credit: Sonya Sones
Photo by Sonya Sones

MEG MEDINA is a Newbery award-winning and New York Times best-selling author who writes picture books, as well as middle grade and young adult fiction. Her works have been called “heartbreaking,” “lyrical” and “must haves for every collection.” She lives with her family in Richmond, Va.

Meg won the 2014 Pura Belpré Award for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.

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JENNY TORRES SANCHEZ is a full-time writer and former English teacher. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, but has lived on the border of two worlds her whole life. She lives in Orlando, Florida, with her husband and children.

Jenny won a 2021 Pura Belpré Honor Award for We Are Not From Here.

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

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Cecilia 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

Celebrating 25 Years of the Pura Belpré Award: Book Talk About The Storyteller’s Candle/ La velita de los cuentos by Lucía González, illus. by Lulu Delacre

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

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The Pura Belpré Award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latinx writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

We will be marking the award’s 25th anniversary in different ways on the blog. Today, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Dora M. Guzmán talk about The Storyteller’s Candle by Lucía González, illustrated by Lulu Delacre. The book won a Pura Belpré Honor in 2009. You can find our book talks on our new YouTube channel!

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

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Dora Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches college courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is currently a doctoral student with a major in Reading, Language, and Literacy. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never-ending “to read” pile!

Book Review: The Smoking Mirror by David Bowles

Reviewed by Cris Rhodes

the-smoking-mirror DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Carol and Johnny Garza are 12-year-old twins whose lives in a small Texas town are forever changed by their mother’s unexplained disappearance. Shipped off to relatives in Mexico by their grieving father, the twins learn that their mother is a nagual, a shapeshifter, and that they have inherited her powers. In order to rescue her, they will have to descend into the Aztec underworld and face the dangers that await them.

MY TWO CENTS: David Bowles’s Pura Belpré honor book, The Smoking Mirror, is a fast-paced, masterful journey through Aztec mythology and pre-Columbian Mexican history. Bowles, who was inspired to create a fantasy novel in the tradition of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson that featured a Latinx protagonist, weaves a captivating story of epic proportions, all framed by familial love. (For more from Bowles, see his guest post.) Moreover, though this is a diverse book with two Latinx protagonists, their Mexican heritage is important insofar as it provides the ethos for the setting of the text, but this is not a story about race or ethnicity and it is all the better for that. Bowles instead focuses on the supernatural elements of his source material and the hero journeys of his twin protagonists. The book is a quick read, full of page-turning action, which will intrigue even the most reluctant reader. Additionally, because it has both a male and female protagonist in twins Johnny and Carol, it should appeal to boys and girls. The Smoking Mirror, like many middle-grade books, has shorter chapters that maintain the pace of the narrative and keep readers constantly engaged without seeming overwhelming.

While Johnny and Carol’s journey through Mictlan is riveting, I was most captivated by Bowles’s exploration of their relationship, particularly of their twin connection. As a twin myself, I am always uncertain if an author will be able to capture the unique bond we feel, and Bowles does so in spades. This is not the tired good-twin/bad-twin nonsense that pervades literature and media. Bowles is sure to individualize both Johnny and Carol, and they are depicted as complex characters with strengths and flaws that set them apart from each other; in fact, their differences improve their relationship as the text unfolds. Johnny and Carol begin the story having grown apart following their mother’s mysterious disappearance. But when their father sends them to stay with their family in Monterrey, México, they must rely on each other in a new environment. When they both discover that they are naguales, or shapeshifters with special magic, their bond is cemented and they begin their journey to Mictlan to rescue their mother from Texcatlipoca, the god of destruction. Likewise, as naguales, Johnny and Carol share an intimate psychic connection, which they use to communicate telepathically. Their internal connection comes in handy as they journey through Mictlan, where they must constantly save each other. In these moments, they realize that their differences do not separate them, rather that they are complementary, and by the end of the text, Johnny even tells Carol, “‘you are my balance’” (198).

The backdrop for Johnny and Carol’s quest to save their mother is a richly populated mythological world full of terrifying creatures and powerful deities. By his own admission, Bowles mixes Aztec and Mayan mythologies to create his Mictlan. The result is an expansive, multilayered underworld that rivals Dante’s Inferno. Bowles, a scholar and professor at the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, has also done translation work from multiple languages, including Nahuatl, the language spoken by many Mesoamerican indigenous peoples. It is obvious, then, that Bowles knows his source material. However, my only complaint with this text is the difficulty involved in keeping track of all of the Aztec- and Mayan-inspired beings that Johnny and Carol encounter, due to the similarity and/or complexity of their names. Because I’ve studied pre-Columbian, Central American literature (though certainly not as extensively as Bowles), I consider myself to be familiar with Aztec mythology/history; yet, I was confused in multiple places throughout the text. Bowles does include a thorough glossary and pronunciation guide, which I frequently needed to consult, but for a book that is so fast-paced, this disrupted the reading process. For the uninitiated reader, this could be a barrier to feeling fully immersed in the text.

Ultimately, I was riveted by Johnny and Carol’s impassioned search for their mother. Even when I was confused by the terminology, this book continued to be un-put-down-able. Bowles makes his characters feel real, and I became deeply invested in their story. From the snappy dialogue, infused with Spanish words and phrases, to the intricate world-building, Bowles keeps his reader’s attention from beginning to end. Now I’m itching to get my hands on A Kingdom Beneath the Waves, which was published in 2016, as well as the other three books in the series, forthcoming in 2017, 2019, and 2021.

TEACHING TIPS: Bowles’s website  has a fairly extensive teaching guide for The Smoking Mirror, including information on his Aztec and Mayan source material. This information would be particularly relevant to a social studies or literature unit on mythology, as it broadens the scope of ancient mythologies beyond Greco-Roman perspectives. This book would also suit language arts lessons that explore the hero’s journey or other themes and images in canonical texts like The Odyssey. Students could compare the trajectory of the journey in both texts or examine the character types—hero, mentor, guardian, etc. This question becomes further complicated by Bowles’s twin protagonists: could both Johnny and Carol be the “hero” of the text? Why or why not? Or, for a more creative lesson, students familiar with mythology might be encouraged to create their own mythological world, drawing on preexisting myths and legends, just as Bowles does. Regardless, The Smoking Mirror is a valuable addition to any classroom or school library.

David BowlesABOUT THE AUTHOR: A product of an ethnically diverse family with Latino roots, David Bowles has lived most of his life in the Río Grande Valley of south Texas. A recipient of awards from the American Library Association, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the Texas Associated Press, he has written several books, most notably the Pura Belpré Honoree The Smoking Mirror. His work has also been published in venues such as BorderSenses, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Stupefying Stories, Asymptote, Translation Review, Huizache, Metamorphoses and Rattle.

 

CrisRhodesABOUT THE REVIEWER: Cris Rhodes is a doctoral student at Texas A&M University – Commerce. She received a M.A. in English with an emphasis in borderlands literature and culture from Texas A&M – Corpus Christi, and a B.A. in English with a minor in children’s literature from Longwood University in her home state of Virginia. Cris recently completed a Master’s thesis project on the construction of identity in Chicana young adult literature.

Author David Bowles on his Garza Twins Series and the Pura Belpré Honor

 

By David Bowles

When my three kids were younger, we had a tradition of reading YA fantasy and sci-fi series together. Harry Potter was a big deal for many years, followed by His Dark Materials, Percy Jackson, Hunger Games, and so on. I even read the Twilight series with my oldest daughter, if you can believe it.

This shared reading was fantastic. We shed tears, laughed aloud, and had many deep conversations. One thing we kept coming back to—as Mexican-American fans of speculative fiction—was the lack of people of color in most of the books we read (beyond secondary, less important roles). Typically these series boasted a team of what amounted to Anglo young people facing off against European or Western legendary beings, gods, or dilemmas.

“Wouldn’t it be nice,” we often mused, “to open one of these books and find a Chicana facing off against Aztec deities or Mexican monsters?”

Venting this frustration to writer friends of mine, I was answered by an idea that should have been obvious from the beginning:

“You’re a writer, David. This matters to you. Why not develop such a series yourself?”

It was a no-brainer, clearly. Tan obvio. The trick now was to hit on the right story. I was hasta el cuello en research into Aztec and Maya literature at the time, and it occurred to me that a journey through the nine levels of Mictlan/Xibalba (the Mesoamerican Underworld) would make for a great hero quest. I cast about for the right characters for a while, until I started paying close attention to the fantastic friendship between my youngest son and middle daughter. With a few tweaks to age and interests, they became templates for the Garza twins.

But who were the Garza twins? What was special about them? Why would they travel through the Underworld? The answers became clear to me one morning when I stepped outside to find a dead jackrabbit in my backyard. An image suddenly overlaid the scene in my head: my daughter, asleep in the grass, the jackrabbit between her hands. I knew in that instant that the twins were naguales, shapeshifters, and the rest fell into place.

Once the book was written, it was rejected by many agents and publishers before finding a nice home with the Australian press IFWG Publishing, who treated the project with a good deal of love, even agreeing to allow one of my very talented daughters to design the cover. Reviewers and young readers alike responded positively to The Smoking Mirror, and I was delighted to have added to the body of diverse YA literature.

When the request came for us to submit copies to the Pura Belpré Award, I was floored, truly overwhelmed at the idea that these incredible advocates for Latino books would be reading my novel. Then, months later, I got the call from the committee—they’d selected The Smoking Mirror as one of two Pura Belpré Author Honor Books.

Very seldom am I at a loss for words—ni en inglés ni en español—but I found it hard to catch my breath and thank them profusely. It’s a humbling yet fulfilling sensation, seeing a project you believe so strongly in get this level of recognition, and I am eternally indebted to all the people who believed in Garza Twins at every stage of its development.

28484604Of course, this is only the beginning for me and the twins. Book two, A Kingdom Beneath the Waves, will be out in late April. This time, Johnny and Carol Garza find themselves plunging deeply into the Pacific Ocean to stop a renegade prince of the merfolk and his allies—among them the water elementals the Aztecs called tlaloqueh—from recovering the Shadow Stone, a device that can flood the planet.

Garza Twins will last for five volumes, and Kingdom ratchets up the tension and stakes, introducing cool new characters and laying the foundation for future conflicts. As with The Smoking Mirror, the normal life of the Garza family is explored; the twins grapple with problems facing many modern Latino teens, and the courage and compassion with which they resolve those issues bleed into their supernatural encounters as well. But, as with me in my writing endeavors, they can’t triumph alone. Family and friends are vital to the success of their mission.

You see, I think the biggest myth in our culture, and perhaps the most dangerous, is that of the lone hero. Each of us is part of a greater community, a web of support and lore without which we could not survive. If there is a message at the heart of Garza Twins, I think that’s it.

Unidos podemos. Together, we can.

 

me 6-3-14A product of an ethnically diverse family with Latino roots, David Bowles has lived most of his life in the Río Grande Valley of south Texas. Recipient of awards from the American Library Association, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the Texas Associated Press, he has written several books, most notably the Pura Belpré Honoree The Smoking Mirror. His work has also been published in venues such as BorderSenses, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Stupefying Stories, Asymptote, Translation Review, Huizache, Metamorphoses and Rattle.