Book Review: Todos Iguales: Un Corrido de Lemon Grove/ All Equal: A Ballad of Lemon Grove by Christy Hale

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Reviewed by Sanjuana Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Roberto Àlvarez loved school. Along with other Mexican American children, he attended the Lemon Grove School, where all students—Mexican American and Anglo—studied together as  equals.

In the summer of 1930, the Mexican families learned of a plan to segregate their children in a small, inferior school. Refusing to let this happen, the parents organized. They filed a lawsuit against the school board, with twelve-year-old Roberto as the plaintiff. On March 12, 1931, the judge announced his ruling, supporting the children’s right to equal education. The Mexican American students were immediately reinstated in the Lemon Grove School to learn as equals once again.

With captivating illustrations inspired by vintage citrus crate labels, Christy Hale brings to life the little-known story of the first successful school desegregation case in the United States. It stands as an empowering case in the United States. It stands as an empowering testament to an immigrant community and its tenacity in the fight for educational equity.

MY TWO CENTS: I first learned about this case when I was a PhD student at Georgia State University in a sociology of education course. I remember feeling cheated when I realized that I had not learned about this important piece of American history. This book details the story of the first school desegregation case in the U.S. and does so in a way that children can understand the injustice that the families faced and the courage that it took to challenge school segregation.

The book begins by telling the reader about Roberto Álvarez, a Mexican American 12 year old who attends school in Lemon Grove. Roberto and all the other Mexican children attended the same school as the White children. During the summer of 1930, the families learned that a new school was being built for the Mexican students. When the students returned to school in January of 1931, the principal did not allow the students to enter the school and told them “move aside and let the Anglo students go to class… You do not belong here” (n.p.).

The parents organized. They met with the Mexican consul who believed that “the new school was just a pretext to segregate all the Mexican American children and give them an inferior education” (n.p). The parents filed a lawsuit against the school board and began to raise money for the legal expenses. Roberto Álvarez was named as the plaintiff in the case of Roberto Álvarez v. the Boards of Trustees of Lemon Grove School District. Roberto testified in court and the judge ruled that the school district could not separate all the Mexican American students. All of the students returned to their school the following Monday.

The illustrations in this book are colorful, bold, and bright. One of the features that I noticed in the illustrations was the beautiful way in which the author/illustrator included details such as women’s trenzas, mandiles (aprons), and features of the community in which the children lived. Hale was also able to capture the different emotions that the children experienced. She captured the joy of playing outside and also how scared the children felt as they were being taken to a new school. An author’s note also explains how the illustrations are based on vintage California citrus labels.

One of the obvious characteristics of this book is how it privileges the Spanish translation of the texts. Very few books place the Spanish translation first on the page. The back matter provides extensive detail about the case including what occurred before, during the case, and after. It includes the names of all the children who were included in the court case and gives detailed information about Roberto Ricardo Álvarez, the main character in the story.

This books begins by honoring the “corrido” on which this book is based on: “Un Corrido de Lemon Grove.” A “corrido” is a traditional Mexican story song. This particular corrido details the story of the community in Lemon Grove (details about corridos are included in the back matter). The two pages that feature the corrido grant permission for photocopying. This book could be used a mentor text for students who want to write their own corrido. This is a book that should also be a part of any text set that includes civil rights topics. The case set the stage for Brown v Board and it should be a topic that is introduced to students.

TEACHER RESOURCES: A video titled The Lemon Grove Incident tells about the court case. This was produced by PBS.

Zinn Education Project: Lemon Grove Incident- This page includes a description of the incident as well as a list of teaching resources.

Lee and Low provides a teacher guide for this book.

Lee and Low Blog Post- “How One Teacher Used Todos Iguales to Inspire Social Justice”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR (from her website): When I was little, I knew I shouldn’t make marks in books, so instead, I drew on tiny pieces of paper and tucked my “illustrations” alongside the words. At age ten, I decided to become a writer and illustrator. Back then, my best friend and I acted out the books we loved. Our favorite was Harriet the Spy. Dressed in disguises, we roamed the neighborhood investigating and jotting down our observations in our secret notebooks, just like Harriet. Back at spy headquarters we shared our discoveries with each other. Soon we began writing and illustrating our own stories every day after school.

I have created books as long as I can remember. I studied calligraphy, bookbinding, letterpress and all other means of printing, typography, design, and illustration.

After earning a B.A. in Fine Arts and a Masters in Teaching at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, I worked as an art educator for several years. Then I decided to pursue my childhood dream by relocating to Brooklyn, New York to study design and illustration at Pratt Institute.

I taught at the New York Center for Book Arts and as an adjunct professor in the Communication Design department at Pratt Institute while working in children’s book publishing as a designer and art director. During this period, I also began illustrating and have since worked on over 30 books—writing some of those too.

After many years in New York, I moved to Northern California where I continue to work as a writer, illustrator, designer, art director, and as an educator—offering programs at museums, schools, and libraries. I teach an online course in Writing for Picture Books through the illustration department at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Sanjuana C. Rodriguez is an Assistant Professor of Literacy and Reading Education in the Elementary and Early Childhood Department at Kennesaw State University. Her research interests include the early literacy development of culturally and linguistically diverse students, early writing development, literacy development of students who are emergent bilinguals, and Latinx children’s literature. She has published in journals such as Journal of Language and Literacy Education, Language Arts, and Language Arts Journal of Michigan.

Book Review: My Year in the Middle by Lila Quintero Weaver

 

Review by Corina Isabel Villena-Aldama, with Frederick Luis Aldama

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK:  In a racially polarized classroom in 1970 Alabama, Lu’s talent for running track makes her a new best friend — and tests her mettle as she navigates the school’s social cliques.

Miss Garrett’s classroom is like every other at our school. White kids sit on one side and black kids on the other. I’m one of the few middle-rowers who split the difference.

Sixth-grader Lu Olivera just wants to keep her head down and get along with everyone in her class. Trouble is, Lu’s old friends have been changing lately — acting boy crazy and making snide remarks about Lu’s newfound talent for running track. Lu’s secret hope for a new friend is fellow runner Belinda Gresham, but in 1970 Red Grove, Alabama, blacks and whites don’t mix. As segregationist ex-governor George Wallace ramps up his campaign against the current governor, Albert Brewer, growing tensions in the state — and in the classroom — mean that Lu can’t stay neutral about the racial divide at school. Will she find the gumption to stand up for what’s right and to choose friends who do the same?

MY TWO CENTS: Lila Quintero Weaver’s My Year in the Middle (2018) might be set in 1970 and in an Alabama where racial lines continue to be drawn—and resisted and fought—but there’s much that speaks to a 12-year-old like myself. There’s the hallway chatter; catching those competitive sideways looks in gym; feeling those butterflies in the tummy when completing a math sum or a free write, knowing that your fave teacher will be grading it; avoiding those kids—the ones that push others around with looks and words—and occasionally with shoves; seeing in the cafeteria a sea that divides 6th from 7th and 7th from 8th graders; being the target of darting eyes of jealousy; getting caught sneaking a text—today’s way for us to pass notes.

Lila illustrated each chapter heading with a piece of emblematic spot art. Here’s a preparatory sketch for Chapter 46, used by permission of the author.

Quintero Weaver has a real ear and eye for description: the rotating sound of dialing an old phone as well as hand-drawn art of newspapers from the day. She breathes life into the main character Lu during this ‘70s period and southern region of the US. Quintero Weaver has an equally sharp ear for turns of phrases from this time and place, also adding to the realism of the story: “I don’t say a dadgum word”; “pretend not to give a plug nickel”; “boocoodles of people.”  Quintero Weaver is so good at conveying just how it feels for a middle-schooler like me to have someone come along and crush your hopes and dreams: “There I was, believing I was somebody, but now all kinds of darts are zigzagging back and forth inside my head” (24). And, Quintero Weaver really knows how to write about how someone like me struggles with being different. We see this with the food that Lu’s parents prepare (empanadas, for instance), the way her hair stands like “porcupine quills” (37), and the deep feeling of not wanting to stick out as a Latina in a world filled with hate. At one point in the novel, we learn that Lu’s mamá warns the older sister to be quiet about her progressive political views during a time of terrible racism and racial segregation. There are many times when those of us who are made to feel different—whether in the way we speak or look—are afraid to shout too loud.

A preparatory sketch for the spot art that appears in Chapter 26. Used by permission of the author.

As a middle-schooler in 2018, I can say that Lila Quintero Weaver has her work cut out for her. Why? Like many of my friends, we tend to reach for those high-octane novels like Divergent or fantasy novels like the Red Queen. When I first saw the novel with its stark black and white cover, I didn’t think I’d like it. It seemed like it might be boring. Once I began reading, I couldn’t put it down—and I understood why the cover had to be made up of those two big blocks: white and black, with a little girl caught in the middle. I can say that in the end, Lila Quintero Weaver pulls it off. She weaves together a story that I connected to. I can’t tell you how different I feel growing up in Columbus and attending a school where I am the only brown Mexipina kid. Much like other authors who choose not to go the action-suspense way (some of my faves include The War that Saved My Life and Red Umbrella), Quintero Weaver creates an engaging story that really shows what it feels like to grow up different—and this still applies to today. My Year in the Middle keeps you glued all the way till the end.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORLila Quintero Weaver is the author of My Year in the Middle, a middle-grade novel published in 2018 by Candlewick Press. She’s also the writer-illustrator of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & WhiteDarkroom recounts Lila’s experiences as a child immigrant from Argentina to Alabama during the tumultuous 1960s. The Spanish edition is now available, under the title Cuarto oscuro: Recuerdos en blanco y negro. Learn more about Lila on her website, and follow her on Twitter and Goodreads. To see background and educational material related to My Year in the Middle, visit this page.

 

 

IMG_7640ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Corina Isabel Villena-Aldama is a 7th grader at Jones Middle School in Columbus, Ohio, who likes to write and read fiction, watch movies, and do back handsprings. When it’s nice weather she likes to walk her two Shih-Tzus, bike to the local library, or swim at the local pool.