Guest Post by Angela Cervantes: Piñata Busters and Trailblazers

IMG_0149We’ve all met piñata busters and trailblazers. These are the extraordinary people who take on immense challenges to pave the way for others to succeed. These folks are determined, ready-to-bust-through-obstacle-types who put the “P” in perseverance and the “G” in ganas.

In my second middle grade novel, Allie, First At Last (3/29/16; Scholastic Inc.) ten-year old Alyssa Velasco wants desperately to make her mark and be a trailblazer like the rest of her family—a highly motivated group of trophy-winners and “first-evers.” However, in her determination to win something, she steamrolls through anyone she believes is trying to compete with her, including her ex-best friend, Sara, and new buddy, Victor Garcia.

Allie, First At Last (1)In short, Allie has no clue what it means to be a true trailblazer or piñata buster, but by the end of the book, she finds out the hard way.

I was inspired to write this book because I grew up in a close-knit, proud, Mexican-American community where we celebrated the accomplishments of people like Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman to go to space (1993 Discovery mission); Henry Cisneros, the first Mexican-American mayor of San Antonio (Yay, Texas!); Tom Flores, the first Hispanic NFL head coach to win the Super Bowl (Go Raiders!).

Being raised in this community, I have always been inspired by the stories of individuals who, regardless of the obstacles before them, like racism, sexism, and poverty, could deliver a strong smack to the status quo and negative stereotypes.

As I wrote Allie, First At Last, I relished researching other Hispanic and non- Hispanic “piñata busters.” I couldn’t feature all of the piñata busters I wanted in my novel, but here are just a few I mention:

  • Katie Jurado – First Mexican actress to be nominated for an Academy Award in an acting category (1954)
  • Sonia Sotomayor- First Latina Supreme Court Justice (2009)
  • Gwendolyn Brooks –  The first African-American person to win a Pulitzer prize (1950)
  • Junko Tabei- First woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest (1975)
  • Billy Mills – First American to win the 10,000m at the Olympics (1964)

The thing about piñata busters/trailblazers is that sometimes we look for them in Hollywood films, Wikipedia, or our history books, but the truth is we don’t have to look that far. They’re all around us.

In Allie, First At Last, Allie’s new friend, Victor Garcia, is a true trailblazer. He is not concerned about a trophy shelf or being famous; he is simply trying to be the first in his family to graduate from high school and go to college someday. The obstacles in front of him are clear: his family is poor, and he will depend on scholarships to afford college. He is a child of immigrants and will be navigating the path to college by himself.

Regardless of the hurdles, Victor enters the game willingly and with one sole purpose: to gash a hole in the obstacles (the piñata) so that his younger siblings and entire family get the sweet rewards.

How many of us have been in Victor’s shoes or know of someone who has been the first in his/her family to go to college? Graduate from college? Start a business? Become a teacher? Publish a children’s book?

For me, Allie, First at Last, is a story celebrating generations of piñata busters and trailblazers.

I wrote it because I couldn’t get Allie Velasco out of my head. She had something to say, so I wrote it for her and for all the kids out there dealing with competition and finding their place in the world. I hope Allie’s story inspires children to explore trailblazers in their own families who have opened a path for them to reach their dreams. I hope they, just like Allie, decide that in their young lives, they won’t close doors behind them, but leave them wide open for others to enter, too.  And I hope, like Allie, they understand that, “true trailblazers are motivated not by glory, but by love for friends, family, and country.”

angela at libraryAngela Cervantes is a native of Kansas. Her achievements are manifold and include earning an MBA, co-founding an all-female poets group, teaching high school, and writing two middle-grade novels, Gaby, Lost and Found, and Allie, First at Last. To learn more, visit her website here.






Cover Reveal: MOVING TARGET by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

We’re really excited to reveal the cover for Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s latest middle grade novel, Moving Target, which will be out with Scholastic in September.

Here’s the description:

Cassie Arroyo, an American studying in Rome, has her world ripped apart when someone tries to kill her father, an art history professor at an Italian university. Is she their next target?

Cassie sets out to uncover what is happening, only to learn that she is a member of an ancient bloodline that enables her to use the Spear of Destiny–a legendary object that can alter the future. Now running from a secret organization intent on killing those from her bloodline, Cassie must—with the help of some friends—decipher the clues that will lead her to the Spear because her life, and the fate of the world, depend on it.

Christina Diaz Gonzalez has created a fast-paced thrill-ride of a book, rich with riddles and myth, that young readers will not want to put down.

Sounds awesome, right?

Before we get to the big reveal, here’s some information about the author, who has two other wonderful middle grade novels.

About the author:

Christina GonzalezChristina Diaz Gonzalez is the award-winning author of two historical fiction novels, THE RED UMBRELLA and A THUNDEROUS WHISPER. Her upcoming book, MOVING TARGET (to be released by Scholastic in September 2015) is a high-stakes, action/adventure story featuring a strong, twelve year-old, Latina girl who discovers she is part of ancient bloodline that can control destiny. Christina’s books have received numerous honors and recognitions including the American Library Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults, the Florida Book Award, the Nebraska Book Award, a Notable Social Studies Book and the International Reading Association’s Teacher’s Choice Award. Reviewers from publications such as Publisher’s Weekly, The Miami Herald, School Library Journal and The Washington Post have called her novels engrossing, compelling and inspirational.

Christina’s reaction to the cover:

When I first saw the cover for Moving Target, I was simply floored as to how perfect it was for the book. I seriously love it! The incredibly talented Iacopo Bruno has captured the look and feel of my characters in the best possible way. I am so excited to finally show it off to the world!

Are you ready?






Here’s the cover!







Moving Target


GORGEOUS! We’ll be talking with Christina more about her new novel as it gets closer to release. So, stay tuned…

Scholastic Highlights Books that Celebrate The Day of the Dead! / ¡El Dia de los Muertos!

By Concetta Gleason and Roany Molina
of the Editorial and Creative teams for Club Leo

While Hispanic Heritage Month has come to an end, it’s now time for the Day of the Dead! / ¡El Dia de los Muertos!, a significant holiday in Latin America, but most primarily celebrated in Mexico. The holiday is gaining popularity in North America and takes place over two days (November 1 and 2). It is seen as a time when the veils between the worlds of the living and dead diminish as families and friends celebrate their memories of the dearly departed.

Below are some books that explore this holiday’s unique traditions and beliefs: 

El Libro de la Vida (The Book of Life Movie Novelization) and La Travesía del Héroe (A Hero’s Journey) are fun new twists  on El Dia de los Muertos that help children learn about and celebrate the holiday. Both books are based on the upcoming movie The Book of Life, which follows the adventures of the fearless Manolo. The movie is set during the two-day celebration for the Day of the Dead. The holiday is a time to not only honor those who have passed but also appreciate the importance of life. Many people believe that during this celebration their loved ones return to visit. Families even set out offerings such as food, flowers, and games that the dead enjoyed when they were living. The Book of Life novelization and picture book allow readers to get a better understanding of the culture and tradition in an entertaining way. These books are also available in English.


La difunta Familia Díaz (The Dead Family Díaz) is a playful and humorous tale that explores the friendship of two young boys—
one living and one dead—that  changes both their (un)dead lives…and leads to some great pranks on their older siblings! The illustrations are bold and beautiful representations of ancient traditions merging with the modern, living world. La difunta Familia Díaz (The Dead Family Díaz) is also available in the Colección Herencia Hispana / Hispanic Heritage Collection.




El festival de las calaveras / The Festival of Bones expresses the joy and enthusiasm of this holiday. Gorgeous graphic illustrations of the skeletons actually dancing highlight the bilingual text, and the book includes a history of the holiday and fun activities for children.





Usborne: Motivos mexicanos para colorear (Usborne: Mexican Patterns to Color) is an activity book that explores the rich artistic history of Mexican culture with fun facts and appealing figurines to color. Special attention is paid to the Day of the Dead’s sugar skulls and costumes.






You can find all of these books online now!

Club Leo en Español supports your classroom with fun and affordable books that connect children’s home language and learning. Our books include amazing series, original titles, and winners of the Pura Belpré Award, which celebrates the remarkable contributions of artists who give voice to the Latino community through children’s literature.

Club Leo en Español apoya tu salón de clases con libros divertidos y asequibles que conectan la lengua materna y el aprendizaje de los niños. Nuestra colección incluye increíbles series, títulos originales y ganadores del Premio Pura Belpré, que celebra los extraordinarios aportes de artistas que dan voz a la comunidad latina a través de la literatura infantil.

Scholastic Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month With Some Favorite Books

By Roany Molina

Hispanic Heritage Month officially kicked off Monday – September 15th – and lasts until October 15th. To celebrate, we compiled some of our favorite characters and stories from all over Latin America in a Colección Herencia Hispana / Hispanic Heritage Collection. Each book is rich with beautiful language, stories, myths, art, and foods.


Award winning author and illustrator Yuyi Morales does it again with her captivating children’s book, Niño Wrestles the World. Niño, the unstoppable masked child wrestler, contends against a series of abnormal opponents. Niño defeats them all with ease, but it isn’t until the clock chimes that he is faced with his most difficult challenge, Las Hermanitas (the little sisters). Morales is able to incorporate traditional Mexican beliefs and relate them to the country’s famous form of wrestling, commonly known as Lucha Libre, which requires wrestlers to mask their face to protect their identity. Her vibrant illustrations keep true to the classic pop-art style associated with Lucha Libre on posters and trading cards.  Mixed with the engrossing text, the combination of both storyline and artwork engages any reader. The tale is exciting and uses basic vocabulary for its young readers to follow along. From the uncommon opponents to the energetic fearlessness of Niño, Niño Wrestles the World depicts the story of an intelligent entertaining little boy who is able to teach its readers common Spanish words and phrases. Winning the Pura Belpré Award (2014), Yuyi Morales taps into both her creative power as an author and illustrator to create this delightful story.


Sabores De América is a new way to learn and look at the foods we eat. Written by Ana María Pavez and Constanza Recart, Sabores , originally published in Chile, has been distributed all over the world and is the winner of the Skipping Stone Award and the White Ravens Award (2010). The text is appealing to reader’s grades 4 and up but the book is an amazingly useful as a reference for readers of all ages. The book’s sophisticated water color art work, designed by Isabel Hojas, makes it friendly and relatable to a younger audience. This non-fiction book can also be used as an excellent classroom resource for any teacher looking to inspire cultural curiosity in the classroom. Students will learn about Latin America’s contribution to the world through the use of intriguing historical facts and recipes. A glossary about Mesoamerican culture and a map of the region are included.


The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred makes vocabulary building fun with its tribute to the nursery rhyme, “The House That Jack Built.” Written by Samantha R. Vamos and illustrated by Rafael López, each page engages the audience into wanting to help the farm maiden stir the cazuela (stewpot). Once she begins the task, all the farm animals desire to contribute in some way. Whether, it’s the cow that produces the milk or the donkey that give the duck a ride to the market to buy sugar, each animal participates in creating the final tasty dish. The cooking process becomes a festive event when everyone begins to sing and dance. Distracted by the joy of the party, the animals and the farm maiden forget to keep an eye on the cazuela and it begins to bubble over. Who will be the one to notice? Vamos and López’s combined efforts creates a delicious educational cultural celebration. An added bonus is the Arroz Con Leche recipe, better known as Rice Pudding, towards the final pages of the book. The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred, is an enjoyable read that can get any tummy rumbling.


La difunta familia Diaz by P.J. Bracegirdle and illustrated by Polly Bernatene is a playful and humorous tale that explores the two side of Día de los Muertos – the living and the dead. The story revolves around Angelito, a sweet little boy – a dead little boy— living happily with his dead family. They have a well-kept home strewn with family portraits, a skeleton dog, and their whole neighborhood is “dead” – the birds, butterflies, the flowers on the dining room table, and the moon in the sky. In short, the afterlife is good. However, Angelito is anxious about Día de los Muertos and all the horrors of the living! However, an unexpected friendship will soon alter his point of view.  La difunta familia Diaz’s is a fantastic book that lightheartedly introduce children to this famous holiday.


In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, finish the following sentence and you could win a FREE Hispanic Heritage Poster and 25 Spanish and bilingual books.  “In Latin America, I would like to travel to ____ and taste ____.”  Click HERE and then post your answer in the comments. You have until Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 11:59pm EST to post your answer. Remember, your answer must include the answer to the question “In Latin America, I would like to travel to ____ and taste ____.”  For the official rules, click here.

Stay tuned for more exciting Hispanic Heritage Special Features from Club Leo en Español throughout the next 30 days!

Club Leo en Español supports your classroom with fun and affordable books that connect children’s home language and learning. Our books include amazing series, original titles, and winners of the Pura Belpré Award, which celebrates the remarkable contributions of artists who give voice to the Latino community through children’s literature.

Club Leo en Español apoya tu salón de clases con libros divertidos y asequibles que conectan la lengua materna y el aprendizaje de los niños. Nuestra colección incluye increíbles series, títulos originales y ganadores del Premio Pura Belpré, que celebra los extraordinarios aportes de artistas que dan voz a la comunidad latina a través de la literatura infantil.

Soccer Mania Sweeps Scholastic as World Cup Plays Out in Brazil

By Concetta Gleason
Editorial & Creative Coordinator for Scholastic’s Club Leo

The original post can be found here on Scholastic’s site.

The World Cup kicked off Thursday, June 12, and Club Leo en Español has been cheering on our favorite teams ever since. Safe to say, soccer mania has swept Scholastic! The World Cup is the largest fútbol (aka soccer, in North America) competition in the world. Every four years a different country has the honor of hosting the games. This year, the World Cup is being hosted by Brazil. It’s the first time in almost 30 years that the games will be played in Latin America. Brazil is a soccer haven, having won the Cup a total of four times thus far. In fact, Pelé— arguably fútbol’s greatest star—hails from Brazil. Pelé is the only player to have been a world champion three times. He won in 1958, 1962, and 1970.

The World Cup is a global phenomenon and Club Leo en Español is showcasing the bilingual book Soccermania/Futbolmanía to celebrate the games. Soccermania/Futbolmanía is a great resource for learning about wild antics and fun back stories from the history of the World Cup and the game of fútbol. Some of these facts need to be read to believed! Let’s take a sneak peek at some info from the book.

Fun and Wacky Facts About Fútbol:

1. The first World Cup was played in Uruguay in 1930. At the time, different countries had different rules for the game and some of FIFA’s universal rules were still in flux. The finalists, Uruguay and Argentina, couldn’t agree on what type of ball to use. As a compromise the first half was played with an Argentinean ball and the second half with a Uruguayan ball. (Uruguay won!)

2. How many soccer balls are made every year around the world? A hundred million!

3. While fútbol may have officially started in the United Kingdom in the mid-1800s,  many ancient cultures played sports that resemble the game:

  • China played a game called cuju during the Han Dynasty.
  • Greece played a game called episkyros more than 2,000 years ago.
  • The Roman Empire played a game called harpastum more than 1,500 years ago.
  • Japan played a game called kemari 1,400 years ago.

4. The Nike Corporation makes fútbol attire and memorabilia out of plastic bottles. It takes eight bottles to make a shirt and five bottles to make a pair of shorts.

Check out Soccermania/Futbolmanía to learn more interesting and surprising facts! Below are some more exciting resources for fútbol fans, old and new:

La historia de los Mundiales (History of the World Cup)

Pelé, King of Soccer/Pelé, el rey del fútbol

Enjoy the World Cup, and let’s honor the sport’s ability to unify people around the world by living up to the 2014 slogan: “All in one rhythm.”

Author’s Note: Club Leo en Español supports your classroom with fun and affordable books that connect children’s home language and learning. Our books include amazing series, original titles, and winners of the Pura Belpré Award, which celebrates the remarkable contributions of artists who give voice to the Latino community through children’s literature.

Club Leo en Español apoya tu salón de clases con libros divertidos y asequibles que conectan la lengua materna y el aprendizaje de los niños. Nuestra colección incluye increíbles series, títulos originales y ganadores del Premio Pura Belpré, que celebra los extraordinarios aportes de artistas que dan voz a la comunidad latina a través de la literatura infantil.

Book Review: Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

Gaby Lost and FoundDESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: When Gaby Ramirez Howard starts volunteering at the local animal shelter, she takes special pride in writing adoption advertisements. Her flyers help the dogs and cats there find their forever homes: places where they’ll be loved and cared for, no matter what.

Gaby is in need of a forever home herself. Her mother has recently been deported to Honduras and Gaby doesn’t know where to turn. Meanwhile, Gaby’s favorite shelter cat, Feather, needs a new place to live. Gaby would love to adopt her–but if Gaby doesn’t have a place that feels like home to her, how can she help Feather?

MY TWO CENTS: I’m a sucker for stray animals and have more than once scooped up a roaming dog and delivered him to a non-kill animal shelter. So, Angela Cervantes had me from Chapter 1, which places the protagonist Gaby up a tree trying to rescue a cat. From this point on, Cervantes presents Gaby’s story with a great mix of heart-wrenching moments and humor. Some parts of the book are light and soooo middle school–I know; I teach in one–while other parts deal with the more serious issue of deportation and the effects on children when a parent is gone.

Since her mother has been deported to Honduras, Gaby must live with her father, who is ill-equipped to raise a sixth-grade girl. Gaby would much rather live with her best friend Alma and her family. Better yet would be if her mom were able to come back home, but this trip is expensive and dangerous.

Cervantes parallels Gaby’s situation with the sixth-grade class community project at the Furry Friends Animal Shelter. Both the animals and Gaby have less than ideal living arrangements are in need of new permanent homes. During the community service project, Gaby has the special job of writing descriptions of the animals on fliers that will be displayed around town and on the shelter’s website.

Eventually, Gaby writes a flier for herself. In part it reads:

Gaby Ramirez Howard: …Three months ago, my mom was deported, and now I live with my father, who looks at me like I’m just another job he wants to quit. I’m seeking a home where I can invite my best friend over and have a warm breakfast a couple times a week. Waffles and scrambled eggs are my favorite!

GAH! My heart, Angela Cervantes!!

In between the chapters that caused me to clutch my heart and give my daughter random hugs, I literally laughed out loud. Scenes with the four friends–Gaby, Alma, Enrique, and Marcos–are hysterical. In one, Alma, who is trying to train a spirited shelter dog named Spike, tests the commands on the boys. “Back! Down! Sit and stay!” In another scene, three firefighters arrive at the shelter to adopt a dog for the firehouse. Alma says to the other girls, “Let’s go see what’s smoking,” and then the girls nickname each of the cute firefighters: Hottie, Smokey, and Sizzler. Very funny.

If you are a middle school teacher, librarian, or parent, you should have a copy of this book on your shelf. To make it easy for you, Angela Cervantes is giving away a signed copy of Gaby, Lost and Found, along with a poster and T-shirt. Click on the Rafflecopter link here to enter.

TEACHING TIPS: Gaby, Lost and Found could be used in a Language Arts or social studies classroom. In Language Arts, students could track the plot and make predictions along the way about how Gaby’s situation will be resolved. Students could also be creative and write “fliers” for any number of people or things: their siblings, pets, themselves. A social studies could easily use the novel in a unit about the history of immigration in the United States. Ideally, after reading non-fiction texts, students could read a novel-length book–either fiction or narrative nonfiction–that centers on immigration. In addition to Gaby, Lost and Found, teachers could offer books about people from other countries so that students could compare/contrast immigrant experiences.


Angela Cervantes

AUTHORAngela Cervantes was born and raised in Kansas, with most of her childhood spent in Topeka in the Mexican-American community of Oakland. Angela has a degree in English and an MBA, and she is the co-founder of Las Poetas, a Chicana poetry group that has developed into the Latino Writers Collective. In 2005, her short story, “Pork Chop Sandwiches,” was published in Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul. In  2007, she won third place for Creative Nonfiction in the Missouri Review’s audio competition for her story “House of Women” and Kansas City Voices’ Best of Prose Award for her short story, “Ten Hail Marys.” In 2008, she was recognized as one of Kansas City’s Emerging Writers by the Kansas City Star Magazine.

Gaby, Lost and Found is her first novel.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Gaby, Lost and Found visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out,,,,, and Scholastic.