Book Review: Pelo Bueno/Good Hair by Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, illustrated by Brittany Gordón Pabón

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Presented by Sujei Lugo

As a children’s librarian at a public library system in the U.S., and in a neighborhood with a high percentage of Latinxs (mainly Dominicans & Puerto Ricans) and Spanish-speakers, I’m oftentimes being asked for children’s literature in Spanish, de allá. Allá being our islands and archipelago in the Caribbean that we want our children, and ourselves, to feel connected to in different ways including children’s books. Yes, it is a challenge to acquire books from Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and limited vendor options and collection development policies that present more restrictions and barriers that opportunities to expand our collections don’t make this endeavor easy.  It is usually through my trips to Puerto Rico and with the help of outside funds and grants that I’m able to get children’s books in Spanish directly from local bookstores, authors, and illustrators in Puerto Rico. I wonder about the experiences and challenges of fellow library workers and educators to get relevant and important children’s literature in Spanish into the hands of our children. Barriers aside, it is important to also highlight, promote, and support Puerto Rican children’s authors and illustrators that are creating, working, and surviving in Puerto Rico. Here at Latinxs in Kid Lit, we will try to continue to review and showcase children’s literature written in Spanish (sometimes available in English) from Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries. 

Today we are highlighting a review of the picture book Pelo Bueno, written by renowned AfroBoricua author Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, and illustrated by Brittany Gordón Pabón. The review is written by two fellow Puerto Rican librarians, Mercy Delgado Cordero & Jeanmary Lugo González, who don’t only give their insights about the book, but also discuss their participation in an activity where Pelo Bueno was used as a conversation piece about racism in Puerto Rico, afroamor & afroreparación. This is our second review written in Spanish.

Resumen:

La abuela Petronila demuestra todo el amor que siente por su nieta, al contarle historias familiares. También brinda lecciones sobre la defensa del cabello natural. Este es un cuento que resalta las raíces de la afropuertorriquenidad y que infunde orgullo para que crezca la autoestima en nuestros nietos y nietas, hijos e hijas.

Reseña por Mercy Delgado Cordero y Jeanmary Lugo González

Pelo bueno es un cuento infantil que busca combatir el racismo desde la afroreparación concientizando sobre el llevar el pelo natural como símbolo de respeto, identidad, autoestima, orgullo, cuidado y valoración. Este hermoso y cálido cuento, en voz de su autora, es un llamado al afroamor y a la afroreparación.

Consideramos este cuento uno de justicia racial empoderado por dos personajes femeninos afrodescendientes. La portada del libro y los colores de las ilustraciones son de tonalidades verde, negro y marrón, proporcionando un contraste de la naturaleza (lo natural) con la piel evidentemente negra. Los dos personajes del cuento son femeninos, personajes que cuestionan sus propias realidades incluyendo sus semejanzas. El cuento es narrado por una niña que es evidentemente negra, quien describe la relación con su abuela como una de amor, comprensión, sabiduría y diversión. La relación de los personajes es semejante a la de la autora con su abuela, llamada Petronila. Por eso en cada página podemos sentir esa cercanía y ese sentimiento de amor, cuidado y protección. 

La portada del libro nos presenta una persona mayor, por sus codos arrugados, peinando el afro de una niña con rostro sonriente. Los colores presentados en la portada los vamos encontrando en las otras páginas del libro ilustrado por Brittany Gordon Pabón.

Me gusta cuando la abuela Petronila peina mis caracolitos. Así le dice ella a mi pelo rizado rizadito“, es la primera línea del cuento. El acto de peinar y ser peinado es una conexión de amor, cuidado, respeto, confianza, y cuando se tiene el pelo bueno, también es un asunto de conocimiento, sabiduría y ancestralidad. La abuela Petronila, personaje femenino evidentemente negra, representa la sabiduría y el amor. Desde el comienzo de la narración se expone la relación de la abuela con su nieta. La importancia de la herencia, lo heredado como símbolo de unión y fuerza.

Acto seguido, se ve a la niña buscando refugio en su abuela, el conflicto: la burla por su pelo en la escuela. En la conversación de la niña con su Abuela, podemos ver como la pequeña ha sufrido de bullying o acoso escolar, recibiendo comentarios de sus compañeros refiriéndose a su cabello como “pelo malo” o Afro. Agresiones racistas que están institucionalizadas y enraizadas en el imaginario de la sociedad puertorriqueña. Petronila con la sabiduría de los abuelos, le pregunta con suspicacia si su pelo había hecho algo malo, y la invita a ignorar a quienes la molestan, pero sobre todo comienza a detallarle las maravillas de su pelo bueno y todas sus posibilidades. En forma de un divertido juego se peinan, hacen trenzas, ponen turbantes, y va explicándole toda la magia, la alegría y los misterios que esconde cada peinado, con referentes históricos de la cultura afropuertorriqueña.

Pelo Bueno es una invitación desde la ternura a desaprender el tan mentado “Pelo malo” con el que nos criamos las afrorizadas. Es deconstruir la frase más utilizada por años, llamar al pelo afro “pelo malo”. Cuestionando entonces por qué es malo, si no ha hecho daño a nadie. “Tu pelo no es malo, tu pelo no es travieso, tu pelo no es desobediente. Tu pelo no se porta mal, no miente, no ofende, no humilla, no se burla. Por eso tu pelo no puede ser malo. Tu pelo no ha hecho nada malo” (p.10).

Es una historia que infunde valores de respeto, autoamor, aceptación y orgullo ancestral. Es por esas razones una herramienta social poderosa para educar desde la sensibilidad y la fantasía, la magia y la alegría, que nos evoca un momento especial entre abuela y nieta. Entretiene, pero a la vez, es puro aprendizaje de lo que significa ser afrodescendiente, con los referentes históricos a los que alude la autora. Por ejemplo, cuando le comenta que se puede hacer trenzas, le dice: “Recuerda que las trenzas para nuestras abuelas eran muy importantes. Con las trenzas se dibujaban mapas de escape cuando nuestras ancestras eran esclavizadas” (p. 12). Las historia de nuestros afros, es la historia de una raza cimarrona que lleva siglos luchando por su libertad, justicia y respeto, y este cuento lo trabaja desde la ternura y cuidado del cabello. 

Pero es sin duda el momento de la historia en el que la niña le devuelve el cariño, las atenciones y lo aprendido, haciéndole lo mismo a su abuela en su pelo rizado rizadito, blanco, blanquito. Un mensaje de que este libro cumplirá su misión, cuando tras disfrutarlo y aprender del afroamor, compartamos ese conocimiento con los demás sobre el respeto al cabello natural. 

El hecho de que la niña no tenga nombre permite que cualquiera pueda verse reflejado en ella, identificarse, ponerse en su lugar. Este aspecto es clave y convierte al libro en uno único en su clase en cuanto a la pertenencia que debe apelar la literatura infantil. Poder vernos representados en un libro, ver a personajes similares al lector, le hace sentir parte del mundo. Convirtiéndose entonces en una herramienta para la justicia racial que buscamos apelar en nuestra sociedad.  

El libro de Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro logra conectar con quien lo lee, es imposible no recordar nuestras afrovivencias en cada página, reconocerse en ellas e ir sanando en cada palabra, con la carga emocional y de poder ancestral que recoge, con las memorias de las agresiones racistas sufridas. Sobre todo para quienes comienzan un proceso de aceptación a su cabello natural, este hermoso y sonoro libro les da un empujoncito. Pelo bueno es un viaje a la aceptación de lo afro, al conocer sus orígenes y enaltecer el orgullo de la negritud, es un proceso de fortalecimiento interior desde la significancia de la experiencia de cada lector. Es un mensaje de respeto al otro y su diversidad racial y cultural, es la respuesta a una búsqueda de redención personal produciendo un sentimiento por conocer y enorgullecernos de nuestra historia, de nuestros ancestros. Este es un libro infantil, con una historia que trasciende edades y generaciones. Lo puede leer un niño o una niña de 6 años, como una joven adulta de 38 años, y ahogarse en un llanto tierno y nostálgico. Son todas posibilidades que evoca esta lectura. 

Por esta razón en Puerto Rico se ha utilizado este libro como herramienta educativa y afroreparativa, para hacer actividades, foros, conversatorios, entrevistas, lecturas en voz alta. Ocupa un lugar privilegiado en salones de belleza de cabello afrorizado y poco a poco va llegando a los salones, bibliotecas y hogares puertorriqueños. 

TEACHING TIPS

Este libro puede ser utilizado en las clases de español e inglés ya que recientemente fue traducido al inglés. Además en tópicos de:

  • inclusión y diversidad
  • historia y afrodescendencia
  • autoestima 
  • bullying
  • cuidado del cabello natural

Se puede leer en grupo y desarrollar un diálogo afroreparativo con discusiones sobre la autoestima, sanación y aceptación. Una posible actividad es ir leyendo el cuento en voz alta e ir recreando los peinados que le hace la abuela a la niña. También, es importante resaltar para los educadores la campaña #ennegrecetuprontuario con la que la autora promueve que se incluyan en los currículos recursos sobre afrodescendencia y afrodescendientes. Mientras que el llamado a los bibliotecarios debe ser que #ennegrezcansuscolecciones. Pero, además de la adquisición del mismo, las bibliotecas lo pueden incluir en los clubes de lectura y llevar a cabo diversas actividades creativas, para grandes y chicos.

Un ejemplo de una actividad es la realizada por la Biblioteca de la Universidad de Puerto Rico en Bayamón el 23 de abril de 2020: “Pelo Bueno: Lectura y conversatorio sobre el cuento infantil que busca combatir el racismo desde la afroreparación”. En la misma, celebrada durante la Semana de la Biblioteca, que este año su lema era Encuentra tu lugar, se leyó en voz alta el cuento y luego se dio paso a un conversatorio con 15 afrorizados. Un diálogo desde el corazón sobre lo que les evocó la lectura del cuento Pelo bueno desde su experiencia personal y desde sus diversas trincheras como educadores, bibliotecarios, profesores, estilistas de pelo rizado, influencers del movimiento afropuertorriqueño, chef y artistas. Un cuento infantil desde la perspectiva de 15 adultos emocionados por los recuerdos que les evocaba escuchar el relato. Risas y lágrimas fueron testigos de un hermoso evento de amor y afroreparación. Dando lugar al lema de Encuentra tu lugar que es lo que busca el cuento infantil, ofrecernos un lugar común para vernos y encontrarnos, ir sanando.

El libro se puede adquirir a través de Libros 787, Aparicio Distributors, Inc., Librería Norberto González, Librería Mágica Por medio de Amazon puedes adquirir las versiones en español e inglés. Además de Barnes & Nobles.

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Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro es directora del Departamento de Estudios Afropuertorriqueños, proyecto performático de Escritura Creativa que responde a la convocatoria promulgada por la UNESCO de celebrar el Decenio Internacional de los Afrodescendientes. Dirige la Cátedra de Mujeres Negras Ancestrales con sede en EDP University en San Juan, Puerto Rico y ha sido invitada por la ONU al Programa “Remembering Slavery” para hablar de mujeres, esclavitud y creatividad en 2015, y presentar el Proyecto de la Cátedra en Harvard University en 2017.

La autora es madre de una preciosa hija de nombre Aurora, en quien se ha inspirado para escribir poemas, cuentos cortos y novelas. El blog virtual de la autora en internet se titula Boreales, y ha sido provocado por las hermosas luces boreales y australes que se pueden ver desde el Polo Norte y el Polo Sur, también en claro homenaje a su unigénita. Sus escritos promueven maravillosas lecciones que denuncian la justicia social y la igualdad entre todos los seres humanos. También visibilizan apasionados enfoques sobre la discusión de la afroidentidad y la derogación del racismo. 

Esta activista a la que le encanta escribir sobre las lanchas de su pueblo natal, Cataño, ha ganado los siguientes galardones: Premio Nacional del Instituto de Literatura Puertorriqueña en 2008, Premio Nacional de Cuento PEN Club de Puerto Rico en 2013, y Premio del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña en 2012 y 2015. Fue elegida como una de las escritoras más importantes de América Latina en 2007 durante la iniciativa Bogotá 39 y ha sido elegida Escritora del Año en Puerto Rico en 2016. Ha publicado los libros infantiles y juveniles: Thiago y la aventura del huracán. (Editorial EDP University, 2018) Las Reyas Magas (Editorial EDP University, 2017) Negrita linda como yo: versos dedicados a la vida de la Maestra Celestina Cordero (Cátedra de Mujeres Ancestrales, 2017) Oscarita: la niña que quiere ser como Oscar López Rivera (Cátedra de Mujeres Ancestrales, 2016) María Calabó (Cátedra de Mujeres Ancestrales, 2016) Las caras lindas (Editorial EDP University, 2016) Capitán Cataño y las trenzas mágicas (Editorial EDP University, 2015) Thiago y la aventura de los túneles de San Germán (Editorial EDP University, 2015) Mis dos mamás me miman (Editorial Boreales, 2011) La linda señora tortuga (Ediciones Santillana, 2017).

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Mercy Delgado Cordero: La Dra. Mercy Delgado Cordero es una apasionada bibliotecaria con 12 años de experiencia en el contexto universitario, tanto público como privado. Es la encargada de la Colección Puertorriqueña y el Archivo Histórico de la Biblioteca de la Universidad de Puerto Rico en Bayamón. También es profesora del programa graduado de Bibliotecología en Cambridge College. Pero sobre todo se considera una líder cultural. Ha dedicado su vida académica y profesional a estudiar y trabajar con libros y por los libros. Tiene la convicción que la lectura y la educación tienen un poder único de transformación social y personal, que nos asegurará tener un mejor País. Tiene un bachillerato en Literatura Comparada e Historia del Arte, un postgrado en Edición y Artes Editoriales, una maestría en Ciencias de la Información-Bibliotecología y un doctorado en Liderazgo de Organizaciones Educativas; todos de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras.

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Jeanmary Lugo González: Bibliotecaria profesional puertorriqueña. Cuenta un bachilletaro en Literatura Comparada y un grado de maestría de la Escuela Graduada de Ciencias y Tecnologías de la Información ambas de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras.  Comenzó su carrera profesional como bibliotecaria auxiliar en la Biblioteca Gerardo Sellés Solá de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras. Actualmente trabaja en la Colección Puertorriqueña de la misma institución. Desea continuar desarrollándose como bibliotecaria académica con interés en las destrezas de información y la promoción de programas, servicios y colecciones.

Book Review: My Shoes and I: Crossing Three Borders by René Colato Laínez, illus by Fabricio Vanden Broeck

 

Review by Sanjuana Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Young René’s mother has sent him a new pair of shoes from the United States. He loves his new shoes. “They walk everywhere I walk. They jump every time I jump. They run as fast as me. We always cross the finish line at the same time.”

René—with his new shoes—and his father set off on the long journey to meet his mother in the United States. He says goodbye to his friends in El Salvador, and “Uno, dos, tres, my shoes and I are ready to go.” The trip is difficult. They take buses and walk across El Salvador, into Guatemala and then into Mexico. His brand-new shoes lose their shine, turning dirty and gray. They become elephants, pushing against the wind; race cars, fleeing hungry dogs; swim shoes, escaping floods; and submarines, navigating through sticky mud. When holes appear on the soles of his shoes, his father won’t let him give up. “René, my strong boy, we want to be with Mamá.”

Sharing his own experiences, René Colato Laínez’s moving bilingual picture book brings to life the experiences of many young children who make the arduous journey from Central America to the United States in search of a better life.

MY TWO CENTS: This picture book was inspired by the author’s own journey as a child. This book is very similar to his book My Shoes and I (2010), but different in that it is a bilingual book and is the author’s journey as he crossed borders as a child. The English text in this book has been modified, and the Spanish version has been added. The text is simpler and intended for young readers. The book begins when, for Christmas, René receives a pair of shoes from his mother, who lives in the U.S. The book details the journey that René and his father take by focusing on what the shoes go through in traveling across three countries.

The book does not overtly describe the dangers in crossing borders, but there are some instances where hardships are described. One example of this is when René describes having to live in a dark trailer because his father loses his wallet in Mexico City. Another example is when they are crossing the Mexico/U.S. border and René states that the water comes up to this stomach and then to his shoulders. René and his father travel through El Salvador, Mexico, and finally cross the border into the U.S. where his mother is waiting.

The focus on the shoes throughout the book allows the author to tell about the journey, but not go into the arduous, dangerous details. The resiliency of the young boy is shown throughout the book as he continues his journey to be with his mother. In one case, Papá encourages him, “René, my strong boy, we want to be with Mamá. We won’t give up” (n.p.).

This book would be a great addition to a classroom unit about immigration. It specifically focuses on the border crossings and the long journey that families embark on to search for a new life. The book also addresses the desire that families have to be together and the dangers that families endure in search of a better life. The reprint of this book is timely as immigration, border crossings, and the journeys that children embark on continue to be scarce in children’s literature.

The author’s note at the end of the book tells the reader that this story is actually based on his life. René Colato Laínez shares some of the details that inspired him to write the book, such as the fact that this mother sent him a pair of shoes for his journey. The author also shares that, along with his father, they had to leave El Salvador due to the civil war in that country. At the end, René shares that he wrote this book to “tell readers about the hard journey that immigrant children and families face. They are escaping from violence and crime. Their journey is not a choice but a necessity to look for a better place, where they can accomplish their dreams”

INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR: I reached out to the author via social media to see if he would answer some questions about the book. Here are René’s responses to my questions:

This book is very similar to your wonderful book My Shoes and I. How is this one different?

René: My Shoes and I: Crossing Three Borders/ Mis zapatos y yo: Cruzando tres fronteras is a new edition of My Shoes and I. For this edition, the English text has been modified to have a bilingual version. The original text was longer, and, in order to have the English and the Spanish text on the same page, I did some edits. In My Shoes and I, the name of the boy is Mario. In this bilingual edition, I could use my name. The name of the protagonist is René.

Why is it important for you to tell your story?

René: Many children cross borders around the world everyday. They are escaping war, crime, or violence. It is hard to leave a country and your loved ones. As an author who had to cross borders, I want to give voice to the voiceless. I also want to tell readers that their journey is not a choice, but a necessity.

Many teachers shy away from having discussions focused on what are perceived as “difficult” topics. Why is it important for teachers to discuss issues such as immigration in the classroom?

René: In the news, children watch about numbers and politics, but they also need to know about real experiences. I think that children’s books are great for children to see what is beyond their windows and horizons. By telling children about immigration and other hard topics, we can build empathy in our children.

Please share anything else that you would like others to know about your new book?

René: I am so happy that this book is back in print and now it is bilingual. I hope that this book can touch the hearts of many readers.

RESOURCES: 

Teachers can visit the website below for information about the book

https://myshoesandi.weebly.com

PictureABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his website): I am René Colato Laínez, the Salvadoran award winning author of many bilingual/ multicultural children’s books. I have  a master’s degree from  Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for  Children & Young  Adults.

My goal as a writer is to produce good multicultural children’s literature; stories where minority children are portrayed in a positive way, where they can see themselves as heroes, and where they can dream and have hopes for the future. I want to write authentic stories of Latin American children living in the United States. Do you want to know more about me? Please read my long biography.

 

 

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 Reviews: ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market by Raúl the Third and Babymoon by Hayley Barrett, illus by Juana Martinez-Neal

 

Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Richard Scarry’s Busytown gets a Mexican-American makeover in the marketplace of a buzzing border town from Pura Belpré Medal-winning illustrator Raúl the Third.

Bilingual in a new way, this paper over board book teaches readers simple words in Spanish as they experience the bustling life of a border town. Follow Little Lobo and his dog Bernabe as they deliver supplies to a variety of vendors, selling everything from sweets to sombreros, portraits to piñatas, carved masks to comic books!

MY TWO CENTS: Where to begin?! Raúl the Third’s illustrations are unique and like no other. If you’ve read Lowriders in Space then you know what I am referring to. His attention to detail, and similar to a graphic novel format, adds another dimension of following Little Lobo to the market in a town in Mexico.

I learned so much about the daily ins-and-outs of this community through the text, but most of all, its illustrations. The number of illustrations and words reflect a life of the hustle and bustle of the town, while also showing the love of la comunidad. Overall, it’s a fun and rich graphic picture book addition to add to your library. I highly recommend this book as a read-aloud at school and home, and an interactive text to use for students to learn about communities and the different pieces and people that make it thrive!

TEACHING TIPS: Many of these teaching moments can be implemented in a grades K-5 setting.

  • Use as a writing mentor text
    • for describing a small moment in time (a day at the market, shopping with family) or
    • writing about what makes their community a community
    • How the placement and use of illustrations enhance an author’s writing and storytelling
  • Focus on cultural artifacts and items that represent their own culture or are similar to their culture

 

RaulThirdABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR: Raúl the Third was born in El Paso, Texas, and grew up going back and forth between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. He is the Pura Belpré Award-winning illustrator of Lowriders to the Center of the Earth. Raúl lives in Boston, Massachusetts, with his wife, artist Elaine Bay, and son, Raúl the Fourth. Learn more about his work here!

 

 


Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: In a perfect gift for new and expectant parents (and siblings), a gentle story pays tribute to the wonder and emotion of a family’s first quiet days with a newborn.

The house is hushed. The lights are low.
We’re basking in a newborn glow.

Inside the cozy house, a baby has arrived! The world is eager to meet the newcomer, but there will be time enough for that later. Right now, the family is on its babymoon: cocooning, connecting, learning, and muddling through each new concern. While the term “babymoon” is often used to refer to a parents’ getaway before the birth of a child, it was originally coined by midwives to describe days like these: at home with a newborn, with the world held at bay and the wonder of a new family constellation unfolding. Paired with warm and winsome illustrations by Juana Martinez-Neal, Hayley Barrett’s lyrical ode to these tender first days will resonate with new families everywhere.

MY TWO CENTS: A touching story to share with all about the blessing of a baby. The story begins from the outside where a sign is hanging on the door, “See you soon”. The ambiguous message leaves readers to wonder if they are expecting someone soon, if the family is out of town, or if it is a message for visitors. A great moment to stop and give readers an option to infer from the title and the message on the door. The next page reveals a full spread of a family surrounding their new family member–a newborn. Words are weaved in and out of this new world that consists of long embraces, collaborative games, and peaceful smiles.

Juana Martinez-Neal does it again! The way she utilizes her strokes and warm palette adds a softness to all the images that leave readers with a peaceful feeling–the feeling of home. Many readers describe this feeling of a “warm hug” as we journey with this family’s new life, and boy they are not wrong! The family’s pet is also part of this new life, as the reader notices facial expressions and adds a comical and realistic experience for all animal lovers who welcome new babies (we all know that “look”!).

Overall, this is an amazing addition to your school and home library that represents the love that is multiplied in the family. I highly recommend this book as gifts for families expecting babies and a read-aloud for students who are expecting new siblings!

TEACHING TIPS: Many of these teaching moments can be implemented in a grades K-5 setting, with a focus on the primary grades.

  • Teaching descriptive vocabulary words and phrases
  • Lesson on phonemic awareness such as focusing on rhyming words
  • Focus on the illustrator’s purpose of using certain colors or placement of illustrations to convey meaning and book themes
  • Great addition to any family unit in a reading curriculum
  • Mentor text for writing about family life, changes, or life moments.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hayley Barrett is the author of three upcoming picture books, Babymoon (Candlewick 2019), What Miss Mitchell Saw (S&S/Beach Lane, 2019), and Girl Vs. Squirrel  (Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House, 2020). She lives outside of Boston with her husband John. Their two terrific kids have flown the coop.

 

 

Photo of author-illustrator Juana Martinez-NealABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Juana Martinez-Neal is the recipient of the 2018 Pura Belpré Medal for Illustration for La Princesa and the Pea (Putnam/Penguin 2017). Alma and How She Got Her Name (Candlewick 2018), her debut picture book as author-illustrator, was awarded the 2019 Caldecott Honor.

She was named to the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) Honor list in 2014, and was awarded the SCBWI Portfolio Showcase Grand Prize in 2012. She was born in Lima, the capital of Peru, and now lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with her husband and three children.

 

 

img_0160ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is also a current doctoral student in NLU’s EDD Teaching and Learning Program with an emphasis on 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: Luca’s Bridge/El puente de Luca by Mariana Llanos, illus by Anna López Real

 

Review by Sanjuana Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: Luca has never lived outside the U.S., but when his parents receive a letter in the mail, the family must pack up and leave home for a strange land. Together in their car, Luca, his brother Paco, and their parents head across the border to Mexico, where his parents were born. Luca doesn’t understand why he must leave the only home he’s ever known, his friends, and his school. He struggles through lonely and disorienting times–reflected both in Real’s delicate, symbolic illustrations and through Llanos’ description of his dreams–and leans on music, memory, and familial love for support. Luca’s Bridge / El puente de Luca is a story for everyone about immigration, deportation, home, and identity.

MY TWO CENTS: Luca lives in the United States with his parents. One day his parents receive a letter in the mail letting them know that they must leave the U.S. The entire family chooses to stay together and they leave the U.S. to go live in Mexico. Luca has a difficult time understanding why they must leave and he thinks about his friends, his school, and how he doesn’t speak Spanish. When he arrives in Mexico, he sees the small house where they will live and he has a difficult time imagining a life there. Luca uses music to help him cope with his new reality. He plays the trumpet and the entire family dances to the music reminding the readers that there is hope in what may appear to be a hopeless situation.

This bilingual picture books is timely considering the anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States and the realities for many families experiencing family separation due to immigration status. It is particularly important because it addresses the situation of many families who are considered to have mixed-family status, meaning that some in the family are authorized to live in the U.S. (typcially children who are U.S. citizens) and others are not (typcially the parent or parents).

The story begins with the family leaving together and the father telling his sons the following: “Mami and I don’t have the papers we need to stay here… we have to go back to Mexico if we want to stay together.” In the picture book, Luca fears what it means to return to a country that he does not know. He thinks about his friends and even wonders what will happen when he returns to his country since he does not speak Spanish. What makes this books particularly special is that allows the reader to have some insight into the emotional toll that immigration takes on children. The illustrations includes hues of gray and speak to the emotions that Luca is feeling. At one point, when Luca is thinking about how he doesn’t speak Spanish, the books states that “Luca sobbed quietly until he ran out of tears.” Another instance of a strong emotion is when Paco, Luca’s older brother, yells, “They don’t want us here,” when their parents received the letter.

This books sheds a light on the decisions that families must make in situations where the parents are not allowed to stay in the U.S. In the case of Luca’s family, the parents decide that they must stay together. This decision allows the family to stay together, but the sadness of leaving the only home that Luca knows is heartbreaking. This is one of the few picture books that addresses the issue of deportation and the strong sentiments that families experience when forced to make decisions that impact the entire family. The books also sheds light on the emotions that children experience when faced with realities of immigration.

The backmatter includes the author’s note that discusses the difficulties of immigration, describes the process of deportation, and the realities of family separation. The author discloses that she is an immigrant and discusses the need to address immigration in a humane way.

RESOURCES:

Toolkit for Educators from Teaching Tolearnce on supporting immigrant families

https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/fall-2018/toolkit-for-this-is-not-a-drill

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Born in Lima, Peru, to two journalists, Mariana Llanos developed an early passion for writing and studied theater in the prestigious CuatroTablas school in Lima. She has lived in Oklahoma since 2002, where she worked as a teacher in a preschool center. In 2013, Mariana self-published her first book, Tristan Wolf, which won a Finalist in the 2013 Readers’ Favorite Book Award. Since then, she has published seven books independently in English and Spanish and through virtual technology has chatted with students from more than 150 schools around the world to promote literacy.

 

Anna Lopez photo 2ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Anna López Real is a freelance illustrator born in Guadalajara, Mexico. She spent her early years in a small town with a big lake, in a
bilingual home full of books, movies, diverse music and art. She has a degree Graphic Design from Universidad de Guadalajara. Since she was young, she has needed to feel colors, shadows, textures, and shapes with her own hands, which inspired her to use
traditional techniques. She is also the co-founder of a local stationary company. Her favorite place is the beach, and she loves to read and hang out with her family and her cats and dogs. She is passionate about human rights, animal rights and has a great
love for nature.

 

 

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: The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel

 

On Thursday, we posted a Q&A with debut author Rebecca Balcárcel. Today, Mimi Rankin reviews her novel, The Other Half of Happy.

Review by Mimi Rankin

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Quijana is a girl in pieces. One-half Guatemalan, one-half American: When Quijana’s Guatemalan cousins move to town, her dad seems ashamed that she doesn’t know more about her family’s heritage. One-half crush, one-half buddy: When Quijana meets Zuri and Jayden, she knows she’s found true friends. But she can’t help the growing feelings she has for Jayden. One-half kid, one-half grown-up: Quijana spends her nights Skyping with her ailing grandma and trying to figure out what’s going on with her increasingly hard-to-reach brother. In the course of this immersive and beautifully written novel, Quijana must figure out which parts of herself are most important, and which pieces come together to make her whole. This lyrical debut from Rebecca Balcárcel is a heartfelt poetic portrayal of a girl growing up, fitting in, and learning what it means to belong.

MY TWO CENTS: I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of The Other Half of Happy at TLA from Michaela at Chronicle Books (Thank you!). Although a normal Middle Grade length, I breezed through Quijana’s story without noticing time pass. Quijana is delightfully normal in the best way possible, and yet she still feels wholly developed, along with the other characters throughout the book. By the time I reached the end, I knew these characters as fully realized, multidimensional people in my own life.

My bias as an adult reader of children’s lit is that although I can remember being twelve, I am not reading this as a twelve year old, so I am truly not reading in the perspective of a child. Likewise, I am not a mother, so while I can empathize with Quijana’s mom, I also cannot read accurately through a shared lens of a parent. Still, even with this disclaimer, Balcárcel’s writing allowed me to have both pairs of eyes; to step back into that horribly awkward preteen skin and empathize with the adult woman whose world is crashing around her as she’s spinning ten plates at once.

Quijana’s story is a beautiful yet fairly simple story of a twelve-year-old girl. She has crushes, she is figuring out her passions, and she struggles with certain school subjects. But there are so many layers to Quijana’s story that many middle schoolers may resonate with; layers that they may think no one else could possibly understand. From having a sibling with sensory sensitivities and developmental delays, to losing a loved one for the first time, to one of the most poignant parts of the story for this reviewer, understanding what it means to be a third culture kid, Balcárcel combines the personal with the universal into a story that is likely to be felt deeply by preteens far beyond the Latinx community. Quijana loves her father but feels a barrier of culture in her own home; the culture she is growing up in is not that of her father’s upbringing. Finding her own balance of defining her identity on her own terms is something she will have to decipher on her own, and I find that to be a compelling and inspiring piece of this book.

Another favorite moment was Quijana’s solidarity with other Latinx kids at the bus stop; Quijana’s perspective guesses that they are Mexican. She tries to strike up a conversation with the little Spanish she knows only to be ridiculed by another student at the bus stop who is assumed to be non-Latinx. This moment bonds together the Latinx students at the bus stop, Quijana included, although it’s made clear that they are not all Guatemalan as Quijana is. This brings up a fascinating idea of unity among Latinx communities in the US; there is some bond beyond differing cultures based solely in language and the experience of the immigrant, of coming from somewhere else.

“That’s what it’s really like being twelve. Everything rolling toward you.” -Page 1

Balcárcel effortlessly brings huge conversations about cultural identity and disabled children to a very real and very simple discussion: life as a twelve-year-old girl. When you’re twelve, everything seems monumental, even if it may not seem that way in nostalgic hindsight. Thanks to Rebecca Balcárcel and Chronicle Books for a wonderful read that brought me back to middle school!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rebecca Balcárcel authored THE OTHER HALF OF HAPPY, a middle-grade novel from Chronicle Books . Rebecca took her MFA from Bennington Writing Seminars and received their Jane Kenyon Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in journals such as Third Coast and North American Review. Pecan Grove Press of St. Mary’s University published her book of poems, Palabras in Each Fist. Find her on YouTube as the Sixminutescholar. She loves popcorn, her kitty, and teaching her students at Tarrant County College as Associate Professor of English.

 

 

 

file-2ABOUT THE REVIEWERMimi Rankin received her Master’s Degree with distinction in Children’s Literature from the University of Reading. Her thesis, on which she received a rating of First, centered around claims to cultural authenticity and representation in Hispanic Children’s Literature. She currently works in the publishing industry as a marketing manager. Her reviews do not reflect the opinions of her employer.

 

 

 

Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors Part 11: Rebecca Balcárcel

 

We are back from our summer break with lots of great, new interviews, book reviews, and events planned. We start today with a Q&A with middle grade author Rebecca Balcárcel, who is celebrating the recent release of her debut novel The Other Half of Happy.

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This is the 11th in an occasional series about middle grade Latinx authors. We decided to shine a spotlight on middle grade writers and their novels because, often, they are “stuck in the middle”–sandwiched between and overlooked for picture books and young adult novels. The middle grades are a crucial time in child development socially, emotionally, and academically. The books that speak to these young readers tend to have lots of heart and great voices that capture all that is awkward and brilliant about that time.

Today, we highlight Rebecca Balcárcel.

Rebecca Balcárcel authored THE OTHER HALF OF HAPPY, a middle-grade novel from Chronicle Books . Rebecca took her MFA from Bennington Writing Seminars and received their Jane Kenyon Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in journals such as Third Coast and North American Review. Pecan Grove Press of St. Mary’s University published her book of poems, Palabras in Each Fist. Find her on YouTube as the Sixminutescholar. She loves popcorn, her kitty, and teaching her students at Tarrant County College as Associate Professor of English.

The Other Half of Happy is her debut middle grade novel.

It was released August 20, 2019!

 

Here is the publisher’s description:

Quijana is a girl in pieces. One-half Guatemalan, one-half American: When Quijana’s Guatemalan cousins move to town, her dad seems ashamed that she doesn’t know more about her family’s heritage. One-half crush, one-half buddy: When Quijana meets Zuri and Jayden, she knows she’s found true friends. But she can’t help the growing feelings she has for Jayden. One-half kid, one-half grown-up: Quijana spends her nights Skyping with her ailing grandma and trying to figure out what’s going on with her increasingly hard-to-reach brother. In the course of this immersive and beautifully written novel, Quijana must figure out which parts of herself are most important, and which pieces come together to make her whole. This lyrical debut from Rebecca Balcárcel is a heartfelt poetic portrayal of a girl growing up, fitting in, and learning what it means to belong.

 

 

Rebecca Balcárcel

Q. Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

A. Storytellers, books, and teachers! My father is an entertaining storyteller, and I absorbed much from his natural sense of drama and comedic timing. He’ll also suddenly quote a poem with misty eyes and point out the beauty of Spanish sounds. All of this gave me a heightened awareness of language’s power. Books served as my dearest friends throughout childhood. From the magic of picture books before bedtime to full novels, I loved being transported to fictional worlds. I always dreamed of creating that experience for others. I still read to apprentice myself to great authors and learn their craft. And a shout out to my third grade teacher, Miss Valentine, who read Where the Red Fern Grows aloud to us chapter by chapter after lunch. I cried in school, but it was worth it! Later teachers encouraged me to write, and their confidence in me helped me take my writing seriously.

Q: Why did you decide to write a middle grade novel?

A: Can you believe that when I started writing, I didn’t know that this book was middle grade, nor that it was a novel?! Trained as a poet, I started writing prose poems in the voice of a bi-cultural twelve-year-old. She had a lot to say, and in one summer, I created about 40 little scenes. I wasn’t sure, though, if this was an adult looking back or a true MG project. It was my agent who said, “I think this would sing as a middle-grade novel.” I decided to go for it! It took two years of revision and rewriting to turn my stack of poems into a novel. It turns out, I love writing middle grade. That age is a time of deepening self-knowledge and broadening world-knowledge, the pivot point between child and adult. So much of who we are emerges in those years. It’s a psychologically rich moment to write about.

Q. What are some of your favorite middle grade novels?

A. So many! The classics, like Charlotte’s Web and Bridge to Terabithia, still make me cry. But I’m thrilled to be reading many new novels of worth. This year, I’ve especially enjoyed Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn, which has a child with autism like my book does, and the just-released For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama Lockington, whose main character straddles two cultures, as mine does. I’ve sought out Latina writers, and have found an amazing community. Las Musas Books (https://www.lasmusasbooks.com/) is an entire collective of new YA and MG novelists! I’ve also loved Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring by Angela Cervantes and Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres. And let’s not leave out this year’s Newbery winner, Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina. Great books!

Q. If you could give your middle-grade self some advice, what would it be?

A. Don’t be embarrassed by what moves you! If a song or an idea touches your heart or blows your mind (in a good way), keep exploring in that direction. That’s the direction in which you will find kindred spirits, true friends, and your own growth. Ignore the people that pooh-pooh your music, your style, or whatever you geek out on. Fly that freak flag and own your joy!

Q. Finish this sentence: Middle grade novels are important because…

A.  . . . they inspire us to be our best selves!

 

 

photo by Saryna A. JonesCindy L. Rodriguez was a newspaper reporter for The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe before becoming a public school teacher. She is now a reading specialist at a Connecticut middle school. Cindy is a U.S.-born Latina of Puerto Rican and Brazilian descent. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU. Her debut contemporary YA novel, When Reason Breaks (Bloomsbury 2015). She also has an essay in Life Inside My Mind (Simon Pulse 2018). She can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.