Take Two!: SLJ’s Shelley Diaz Predicts 2016 Pura Belpré Award Winners

 

By Shelley M. Diaz 

While I didn’t correctly predict the top winners in last year’s Pura Belpré Awards, many of the titles mentioned received recognition at the American Library Association’s 2015 Youth Media Awards. I wonder how close I will get this year! We’ll see on January 11 as the children’s literary world waits with baited breath for the announcements of the recipients of the top kid lit awards presented by librarians in the United States.

Results of Mock Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, Coretta Scott King, and Geisel lists have been tallied on the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) blog. An Oregon chapter of REFORMA (National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking) even posted their own Mock Pura Belpré. And the “Latinas 4 Latino Lit” blog posted their top picks in late November.

Before I get to my predictions, let’s recap the criteria for the Pura Belpré Medals:

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.

So without further ado, here are my picks for this year’s winners. If you click on the cover images or the title links, you will be taken to IndieBound for more information:

 

Pura Belpré 2016 Author Award

23309551Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle. illus. by Edel Rodriguez. S. & S./Atheneum.

Reasons why I think it will win: Already a YALSA Nonfiction Finalist, an SLJ Top Latino Book, and the recipient of multiple starred reviews, the latest work by the first Latina to receive a Newbery Honor is truly a tour de force. A memoir in verse detailing her struggles as young person caught between two worlds—Cuba and the U.S.—this title is as compelling and well-written as Engle’s previous Pura Belpré recognized titles. Plus, the Oregon Mock Pura chose this as its winner—and I’m in full agreement.

Honors:

22295304Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks

Probably one of the most celebrated YA titles this year, this urban fantasy with an unapologetic but totally real Afro-Latina is a joy to read and heeds the call for diversity within the sci-fi/fantasy genres. Plus, the celebration of Latino culture is strong in this title, offering an often ignored aspect of our culture—anti-Blackness.

SLJ Q&A: Urban Fantasy Counter-Narrative: Daniel José Older on “Shadowshaper”

 

24612544Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx by Sonia Manzano. Scholastic.

Manzano is no stranger to the Pura Belpré Awards. Her Revolution of Evelyn Serrano took an Honor in 2013. And it’s no secret how much I enjoyed this memoir about her path to Sesame Street, where she played the iconic “Maria.” The lyrical text evokes both the childhood trauma and resilience that made her the role model and award-winning writer and actress she is today. Just try to keep a dry eye. Manzano’s holiday-themed picture book Miracle on 133rd Street could also take a medal this year. The Oregon Mock certainly thinks so.

SLJ Video: Daniel José Older Talks to Sonia Manzano, Sesame Street’s ‘Maria,’ About Her Memoir

 

24795948Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh. illus. by author. Abrams.

I don’t think it’s possible to have a year in which Tonatiuh doesn’t win a Pura recognition. It’s written in the bylaws, I think. (Just kidding. Sort of.)

 

 

Other possible contenders:

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Scholastic. Though only one section of past Author Medalist’s ambitious novel directly celebrates Latino culture, this book has lots of fans in the library world. It might get a nod on January 11.

Mango, Abuela and Me. Candlewick by past Author winner Meg Medina. There’s a parrot and an adorable abuela bridging cultural and linguistic divides. Sounds like a recipe for a winner to me.

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle. illus. by Rafael López. HMH. Wouldn’t it be amazing if Engle takes both the Award and an Honor? This picture book inspired by an Afro-Chinese-Cuban female musician who broke gender barriers is a true gem.

Salsa: Un Poema Para Cocinar/A Cooking Poem. by Jorge Argueta. Illus. by Duncan Tonatiuh. Groundwood. This bilingual text, part of the “Cooking Poem” series is as delectable as the previous entries. Definitely a contender!

Since the committees tend to stay away from upper-end YA, I don’t know if Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not (SohoTeen) or Ashley Hope Pérez’s Out of Darkness (Lerner) will be recognized, but wouldn’t that be nice?

 

 

Pura Belpré 2016 Illustrator Award

22749711Winner: Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle. illus. by Rafael López. HMH.

Reasons why I think it will win: Have you seen this book? It just screams “Caress Me!” The illustrations are majestic and vibrant and López isn’t a stranger to the Pura Belpré either. Once again, no surprise on how much I love it here. But, I’m not the only one! Already on several Best lists, it’s also been garnering some possible Caldecott buzz. The art elevates the already excellent text by incorporating the protagonists’ multicultural background, showcasing the diversity within the Latino people.

 

Honors:

 

24795948Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh. illus. by author. Abrams. A New York Times Best Illustrated book of 2015, this informational book about the artist whose calaveras have become synonymous with Día de los muertos is as gorgeous as it is informative. Tonatiuh doesn’t disappoint—and I’m sure he won’t be disappointed on January 11.

 

 

23282198The Great and Mighty Nikko by Xavier Garza, Cinco Puntos. While Garza was honored in 2012 for narrative, he might just garner some recognition this time around for his fabulous art in this concept book. Riffing off a similar Lucha Libre theme as his past books, this counting tale is just so eye-catching that it might surprise us.

 

Other contenders:

Little Chanclas by José Lozano. illus. by author. Cinco Puntos. The stylized illustrations reminiscent of street art and the infectious and expressive heroine and her penchant for sandals just might charm the committee enough to win some praise.

Mango, Abuela and Me by Meg Medina. Illus. by Angela Dominguez. Candlewick. Dominguez received a nod for her irresistible art in 2014 Maria Had a Little Llama / María Tenía una Llamita and she’s certainly been busy this year with her contribution to the “Lola Levine” chapter books and her own Knight Together. This could certainly be her year!

 

So, those are my picks! What say you? Did I leave anything out?

The Comadres y Compadres Writers Conference Offers Great Panels & Intimate Setting

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

image (1)

Bestselling author Esmeralda Santiago

Once, I attended a large conference for educators, and when I approached the keynote speaker to ask a question, handlers surrounded her and ushered her away. I bring this up because the Comadres y Compadres Writers Conference was the opposite experience. The conference, held at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn on September 27, was an intimate affair, meaning the well-known agents, editors, and authors were *right there* and accessible. Bestselling author Esmeralda Santiago posed for pictures. Meg Medina paused in the hallway to sign books. Conference-goers lunched at small tables with Stacy Whitman from Tu Books and Adriana Dominguez from Full Circle Literary. How cool, right?

The conference, in its third year, was developed by Dominguez, Marcela Landres, and Nora de Hoyos Comstock, the founder of Las Comadres para las Americas to “provide unpublished Latino writers with access to published Latino authors as well as agents and editors who have a proven track record of publishing Latino books.” The one-day event offered panels, one-on-one critiques, a pitch slam, and a lunch-time speech by keynote speaker Esmeralda Santiago, who told her own publishing story and emphasized the discipline needed to be a professional writer. Books of all the presenters were also available from La Casa Azul, a New York City bookstore that specializes in Latino Literature.

image (2)

Author Meg Medina

Here were some of the highlights:

Author Meg Medina, winner of the Pura Belpré Award for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, emphasized the importance of diversity in children’s literature. “We’re looking at a diverse set of kids in the (school) seats, so we need a diverse set of books.” She added that Latin@ books are not only for Latin@s: “Our books matter to all kids of all cultures.”

In terms of craft, Medina told writers to put their efforts into creating great work, not a great platform. The writing comes first. She also said she is not a methodical planner. Instead, she follows her character–she lets the characters speak to her–as she is writing and often asks, “What are you really afraid of? What’s really the problem?” When creating an antagonist, writers should “create a worthy opponent, a layered opponent. Don’t create a stereotype, especially for the bad guy.”

Medina spoke at a later panel with our own Lila Quintero Weaver, author of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White. During that session, moderated by Shelley Diaz, Senior Editor of School Library Journal’s reviews, Lila spoke about her non-traditional publishing route that led her to become an accidental author. Her graphic novel was originally a college project that eventually landed on the desk of the University of Alabama Press editors. Lila said she couldn’t think of a single disappointment in publishing so far and encouraged writers to see the process as an opportunity to grow, not just get published.

image

Meg Medina, Lila Quintero Weaver, and Shelley Diaz

Here are Lila’s thoughts after the conference:

“One of the exceptional values of conferences like Comadres is what they offer over social media alone. You can share a table at lunch, laugh together, chat about life beyond writing, and listen to the same speaker in the same moment. It’s the magic of synergy, which in the case of Latin@s comes with extra simpatico in the sauce! I returned home with a pocketful of business cards, and my Twitter feed lit up with Latin@ conversations on multiple topics. Let’s not forget the opportunity to discover new writers. My Goodreads update will soon reflect that fact. I wasn’t seeking representation or editorial feedback, but those opportunities were present at the conference too, another BIG reason for attending. So yes, my experience boils down to making great connections with Latin@ writers, the kind that endure if you work on them.”

For those seeking representation and editorial feedback, we have good news. Agents and editors said they want more diverse titles, but they said they’ve seen too many memoirs and depressing stories cross their desks. They would, however, like to see more young adult manuscripts with Latin@ protagonists. Nancy Mercado, editorial director at Scholastic said she’d love a Latino Cheaper by the Dozen, and Johanna Castillo, vice president and senior editor at Atria/Simon & Schuster, said she’s hoping to see rich stories about immigrant children raised without their families in the U.S.

Organizers said attendance at this year’s conference doubled from last year, a great sign that the event will be around for years to come.

Click here for another report on the conference, and click here for more  information about Las Comadres.