Saludos todos, and welcome back to the blog! I’m thrilled to begin writing again for the second year in a row! We’re commencing our blog writing for the school year a bit early, in order to feature some amazing, award-winning books. This is just a small preview of what’s to come later in the semester. Shortly, we will begin our normal blog-writing schedule by bringing you our featured titles for the fall, introducing our new writers and welcoming back old writers, and presenting our themes and events for September.
Before my weekly Mira, Look! book reviews start up again in September, along with all of our other blog features, I’d like to take the next few days to highlight some exceptional Latinx children’s literature book award winners by calling attention to the amazing books that were recognized earlier this summer with the three most relevant and seminal awards: Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, and the Pura Belpré Award.
First, I’d like to acknowledge the winners of the 2016 Américas Award. The Américas Award was founded in 1993 by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Program to honor and celebrate exceptional works of children’s or young adult literature with Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino themes, authors, or protagonists. The books are judged not just for their literary merit and creativity, but also for their classroom use and their potential to fuse intercultural boundaries.
If you’re intrigued, stay in touch with the Américas Award by liking their Facebook page.
The following titles were recognized as Winners, Honorable Mentions, or Commended Titles by the 2016 Américas Award review committee. All merit showing up on your home, library, or classroom bookshelves! Descriptions below are all drawn from the publisher’s information.
Lastly, in the interests of transparency, I should also add that the Latin American & Iberian Institute at the University of New Mexico (the organization behind this blog) is a proud sponsor of the Américas Award. In addition, the Américas Award is administered by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP); coordinated by Tulane University and Vanderbilt University; and supported by Florida International University, University of Florida, University of New Mexico, Stanford University, and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Stay tuned for more award winners, and happy reading!
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan (Scholastic Press, 2015)
Lost and alone in the forbidden Black Forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.
Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives, binding them by an invisible thread of destiny. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. How their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck.
Richly imagined and structurally innovative, Echo pushes the boundaries of form and shows us what is possible in how we tell stories. (Grades 5-9).
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope-Pérez (Carolrhoda Lab, 2015)
“This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?”
New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them. They know the people who enforce them. But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.
Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion the worst school disaster in American history as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people. (Grades 9 and up).
Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh (Harry N. Abrams, 2015)
Funny Bones tells the story of how the amusing calaveras—skeletons performing various everyday or festive activities—came to be. They are the creation of Mexican artist José Guadalupe (Lupe) Posada (1852–1913). In a country that was not known for freedom of speech, he first drew political cartoons, much to the amusement of the local population but not the politicians. He continued to draw cartoons throughout much of his life, but he is best known today for his calavera drawings. They have become synonymous with Mexico’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival. Juxtaposing his own art with that of Lupe’s, author Duncan Tonatiuh brings to light the remarkable life and work of a man whose art is beloved by many but whose name has remained in obscurity. (Grades 3-6).
Growing Up Pedro: How the Martinez Brothers Made it from the Dominican Republic All the Way to the Major Leagues written and illustrated by Matt Tavares (Candlewick Press, 2015)
The love between brothers is key to Matt Tavares’s tale of Dominican pitcher Pedro Martínez, from his days of throwing rocks at mangoes to his years as a major-league star.
Before Pedro Martínez pitched the Red Sox to a World Series championship, before he was named to the All-Star team eight times, before he won the Cy Young three times, he was a kid from a place called Manoguayabo in the Dominican Republic. Pedro loved baseball more than anything, and his older brother Ramon was the best pitcher he’d ever seen. He’d dream of the day he and his brother could play together in the major leagues—and here, Matt Tavares tells the story of how that dream came true. In a fitting homage to a modern day baseball star, the acclaimed author-illustrator examines both Pedro Martínez’s improbable rise to the top of his game and the power that comes from the deep bond between brothers. (Grades 2-4).
A Handful of Stars written by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic Press, 2015)
This powerful middle-grade novel from the Newbery Honor author of RULES explores a friendship between a small-town girl and the daughter of migrant workers.
When Lily’s blind dog, Lucky, slips his collar and runs away across the wide-open blueberry barrens of eastern Maine, it’s Salma Santiago who manages to catch him. Salma, the daughter of migrant workers, is in the small town with her family for the blueberry-picking season.
After their initial chance meeting, Salma and Lily bond over painting bee boxes for Lily’s grandfather, and Salma’s friendship transforms Lily’s summer. But when Salma decides to run in the upcoming Blueberry Queen pageant, they’ll have to face some tough truths about friendship and belonging. Should an outsider like Salma really participate in the pageant-and possibly win?
Set amongst the blueberry barrens and by the sea, this is a gorgeous new novel by Newbery Honor author Cynthia Lord that tackles themes of prejudice and friendship, loss and love. (Grades 4-6).
Dream Things True: A Novel written by Marie Marquardt (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015)
Evan and Alma have spent fifteen years living in the same town, connected in a dozen different ways but also living worlds apart — until the day he jumps into her dad’s truck and slams on the brakes.
The nephew of a senator, Evan seems to have it all – except a functional family. Alma has lived in Georgia since she was two, surrounded by a large (sometimes smothering) Mexican family. They both want out of this town. His one-way ticket is soccer; hers is academic success.
When they fall in love, they fall hard, trying to ignore their differences. Then Immigration and Customs Enforcement begins raids in their town, and Alma knows that she needs to share her secret. But how will she tell her country-club boyfriend that she and almost everyone she’s close to are undocumented immigrants?
What follows is a beautiful, nuanced exploration of the complications of immigration, young love, defying one’s family, and facing a tangled bureaucracy that threatens to completely upend two young lives. This page-turning debut asks tough questions, reminding us that love is more powerful than fear.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015)
Girls cannot be drummers. Long ago on an island filled with music, no one questioned that rule—until the drum dream girl. In her city of drumbeats, she dreamed of pounding tall congas and tapping small bongós. She had to keep quiet. She had to practice in secret. But when at last her dream-bright music was heard, everyone sang and danced and decided that both girls and boys should be free to drum and dream.
Inspired by the childhood of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers, Drum Dream Girl tells an inspiring true story for dreamers everywhere.
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Edel Rodriguez (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015)
In this poetic memoir, which won the Pura Belpré Author Award, was a YALSA Nonfiction Finalist, and was named a Walter Dean Myers Award Honoree, acclaimed author Margarita Engle tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War.
Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not.
Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?
Finding the Music / En pos de la música written by Jennifer Torres and illustrated by Renato Alarcão (Lee & Low Books, 2015)
When Reyna accidentally breaks Abuelito s vihuela a small guitar-like instrument she ventures out into the neighborhood determined to find someone who can help her repair it. No one can fix the vihuela, but along the way Reyna gathers stories and mementos of Abuelito and his music. Still determined, Reyna visits the music store, where the owner gives her a recording of Abuelito s music and promises that they can fix the vihuela together. Reyna realizes how much she s learned about Abuelito, his influence in the community, and the power of his music. She returns to her family s restaurant to share Abuelito s gifts with Mama and is happier still finally to hear the sweet sounds of Abuelito s music for herself. With lively illustrations by Renato Alarcão, the tradition of mariachi music comes to life in this bilingual story. Winner of Lee & Low s New Voices Award, Finding the Music is a heartwarming tale of family, community, and the music that brings them all together.
Island Treasures written by Alma Flor Ada and illustrated by Antonio Martorell and Edel Rodriguez (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015)
The author of My Name Is María Isabel offers an inspiring look at her childhood in Cuba in this collection that includes Where the Flame Trees Bloom, Under the Royal Palms, five new stories, and more.
These true autobiographical tales from renowned Hispanic author and educator Alma Flor Ada are filled with family love and traditions, secrets and deep friendships, and a gorgeous, moving picture of the island of Cuba, where Alma Flor grew up. Told through the eyes of a child, a whole world comes to life in these pages: the blind great-grandmother who never went to school but whose wisdom and generosity overflowed to those around her; the hired hand Samoné, whose love for music overcame all difficulties; the beloved dance teacher who helped sustain young Alma Flor through a miserable year in school; her dear and daring Uncle Medardo, who bravely flew airplanes; and more.
Heartwarming, poignant, and often humorous, this wonderful collection encourages readers to discover the stories in their own lives—and to celebrate the joys and struggles we all share, no matter where or when we grew up. Featuring the classic and award-winning books Where the Flame Trees Bloom and Under the Royal Palms, Island Treasures also includes a new collection, Days at La Quinta Simoni, many new family photographs, and a Spanish-to-English glossary.
Maya’s Blanket / La manta de Maya written by Monica Brown and illustrated by David Diaz (Lee & Low Books, 2015)
Little Maya has a special blanket that Grandma stitched with her own two hands. As Maya grows, her blanket becomes worn and frayed, so with Grandma s help, Maya makes it into a dress. Over time the dress is made into a skirt, a shawl, a scarf, a hair ribbon, and finally, a bookmark. Each item has special, magical, meaning for Maya; it animates her adventures, protects her, or helps her in some way. But when Maya loses her bookmark, she preserves her memories by creating a book about her adventures and love of these items. When Maya grows up, she shares her book Maya s Blanket/La manta de Maya with her own little daughter while snuggled under her own special blanket. Inspired by the traditional Yiddish folk song Hob Ikh Mir a Mantl ( I Had a Little Coat ), this delightful bilingual picture book puts a child-focused, Latino spin on the tale of an item that is made into smaller and smaller items. Maya s Blanket/La manta de Maya charmingly brings to life this celebration creativity, recycling, and enduring family love.”
My Tata’s Remedies / Los remedios de mi tata written by Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford and illustrated by Antonio Castro L (Cinco Puntos Press, 2015)
Aaron has asked his grandfather Tata to teach him about the healing remedies he uses. Tata is a neighbor and family elder. People come to him all the time for his soothing solutions and for his compassionate touch and gentle wisdom. Tata knows how to use herbs, teas, and plants to help each one. His wife, Grandmother Nana, is there too, bringing delicious food and humor to help Tata’s patients heal. An herbal remedies glossary at the end of the book includes useful information about each plant, plus botanically correct drawings.
Salsa: Un poema para cocinar / A Cooking Poem written by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh, and translated by Elisa Amado (Groundwood Books, 2015)
In this new cooking poem, Jorge Argueta brings us a fun and easy recipe for a yummy salsa. A young boy and his sister gather the ingredients and grind them up in a molcajete, just like their ancestors used to do, singing and dancing all the while. The children imagine that their ingredients are different parts of an orchestra — the tomatoes are bongos and kettledrums, the onion, a maraca, the cloves of garlic, trumpets and the cilantro, the conductor. They chop and then grind these ingredients in the molcajete, along with red chili peppers for the “hotness” that is so delicious, finally adding a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of salt. When they are finished, their mother warms tortillas and their father lays out plates, as the whole family, including the cat and dog, dance salsa in mouth-watering anticipation.
Winner of the International Latino Book Award for Guacamole, Jorge Argueta’s text is complemented by the rich, earthy illustrations of Duncan Tonatiuh, winner of the Pura Belpré Award. His interest in honoring the art of the past in contemporary contexts is evident in these wonderful illustrations, which evoke the pre-Columbian Mixtec codex.
The Jumbies written by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin Young Readers, 2015)
Corinne La Mer isn’t afraid of anything. Not scorpions, not the boys who tease her, and certainly not jumbies. She knows that jumbies aren’t real; they’re just creatures parents make up to frighten their children. But on All Hallows’ Eve, Corinne chases an agouti all the way into the forbidden woods. Those shining yellow eyes that follow her to the edge of the trees, they couldn’t belong to a jumbie. Or could they?
Corinne begins to notice odd occurrences after that night. First she spots a beautiful stranger speaking to the town witch at the market. Then this same beauty, called Severine, turns up at Corinne’s house, cooking dinner for her father. Danger is in the air. Sure enough, bewitching Corinne’s father is the first step in Severine’s plan to claim the entire island for the jumbies. Corinne must call on her courage and her friends and ancient magic to stop Severine and to save her island home.
The Lightning Queen written by Laura Resau (Scholastic Press, 2015)
Nothing exciting happens on the Hill of Dust, in the remote mountains of Mexico in the 1950s. There’s no electricity, no plumbing, no cars, just day after day of pasturing goats. And now, without his sister and mother, eleven-year-old Teo’s life feels even more barren. And then one day, the mysterious young Esma, who calls herself the Gypsy Queen of Lightning, rolls into town like a fresh burst of color. Against all odds, her caravan’s Mistress of Destiny predicts that Teo and Esma will be longtime friends. Suddenly, life brims with possibility. With the help of a rescued duck, a three-legged skunk, a blind goat, and other allies, Teo and Esma must overcome obstacles-even death-to fulfill their impossible destiny. Inspired by true stories derived from rural Mexico, The Lightning Queen offers a glimpse of the encounter between two fascinating but marginalized cultures–the Rom and the Mixtec Indians–while telling the heart-warming story of an unlikely friendship that spans generations.
Two White Rabbits written by Jairo Buitrago and illustrated by Rafael Yockteng (Groundwood Books, 2015)
In this moving and timely story, a young child describes what it is like to be a migrant as she and her father travel north toward the U.S. border.
They travel mostly on the roof of a train known as The Beast, but the little girl doesn’t know where they are going. She counts the animals by the road, the clouds in the sky, the stars. Sometimes she sees soldiers. She sleeps, dreaming that she is always on the move, although sometimes they are forced to stop and her father has to earn more money before they can continue their journey.
As many thousands of people, especially children, in Mexico and Central America continue to make the arduous journey to the U.S. border in search of a better life, this is an important book that shows a young migrant’s perspective.