Reading RoundUp: 10 Children’s and YA Books with Diverse Latinx Perspectives

 

Vamos a Leer¡Buenos días a todos y todas!

As mentioned in Keira’s Sobre Septiembre post, this month’s Reading Roundup is related to the theme of Hispanic Heritage Month. To guide the direction of this month’s book list, I decided that it was imperative for me to determine what I believe Hispanx/Latinx heritage to be. Initially the task seemed easy enough, as I have certainly carved out an understanding of how I define my own Chicana/Latina heritage. Yet, as I attempted to make connections on a grand scale, I found myself unable. I felt as though I were distilling the vibrancy of an entire collective of people down to a single ingredient, a generalization, and a superficiality.

How does one meaningfully capture the range of cultural practices, traditions, languages, religions, geography, race, and ethnicity – just to name a few – of those who identify as Latinx? How could I be so bold to answer for others the deeply personal question of how they define their heritage? I am only able to define my own.

After much thought, I decided that the best way to view the tapestry of “Hispanx/Latinx heritage” was to hang it up, step back, and explore each pictorial design individually. For that reason, this month’s list will be focused on literature that possesses strong and individual narratives; where the author’s experiences, values, and diversity can seep through the text, allowing their unique Latinidad to be known.

Some of the narratives are rooted in reality, as in Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White. Others are teeming with imagination and the fantastical, as in The Jumbies. Others still may be representative of someone’s reality, somewhere, as in ¡Sí! Somos Latinos/Yes! We are Latinos, or even Niño Wrestles the World.

I invite you to explore and articulate how you define your own unique heritage, or ask your students about theirs. Is the way you define your heritage different from that of your family? Is there literature that represents you? What would be an important element of your heritage that you would want to share with others?

I hope that you enjoy these books as I did and that the diversity within the Latinx experience abounds from their pages!

Mis saludos,

Colleen

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-1442408920
Age Level: 12 and up

Description (from GoodReads):

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

My thoughts:

What I appreciate so much about Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, is that it moves beyond looking at just one aspect of a person, such as their heritage, and instead it emphasizes the layered identities that we each possess. As you might gather from Katrina’s awesome review, the book is just a beautiful read in and of itself, but it’s included here specifically because it reminds us to recognize and honor the intersectionality of what makes us whole.

If you haven’t done so already, please take a look at the Educator’s Guide for Aristotle and Dante, for suggestions on how to use this book in the classroom.

Calling the Doves/El canto de las palomas
Written by Juan Felipe Herrera
Illustrated by Elly Simmons
Published by Children’s Book Press
ISBN: 0892391669
Age level: 9 –10

Description (from GoodReads)

Calling the Doves is poet Juan Felipe Herrera’s story of his migrant farmworker childhood. In delightful and lyrical language, he recreates the joy of eating breakfast under the open sky, listening to Mexican songs in the little trailer house his father built, and celebrating with other families at a fiesta in the mountains. He remembers his mother s songs and poetry, and his father’s stories and his calling the doves. For Juan Felipe, the farmworker road was also the beginning of his personal road to becoming a writer.

My thoughts:

I found Calling the Doves/El canto de las palomas to be much more than a story about growing up as a migrant farmworker. Rather, it read as a tender reflection of family and home. Herrera’s warmth in his descriptions imparts a sense of security to his readers, allowing for a different story about growing up in the fields. I admire the way he reshapes how home, safety, and communities are traditionally defined. To me, this makes for a special book; one that allows us to appreciate our vastly different experiences, challenge us to not weigh those against someone else’s, and honor the connections to home that shape us all.

Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White
Written and Illustrated by Lila Quintero Weaver
Published by The University of Alabama Press
ISBN: 978-0817357146

Description (from GoodReads):

Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White is an arresting and moving personal story about childhood, race, and identity in the American South, rendered in stunning illustrations by the author, Lila Quintero Weaver. In 1961, when Lila was five, she and her family emigrated from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Marion, Alabama, in the heart of Alabama’s Black Belt. As educated, middle-class Latino immigrants in a region that was defined by segregation, the Quinteros occupied a privileged vantage from which to view the racially charged culture they inhabited. Weaver and her family were firsthand witnesses to key moments in the civil rights movement. But Darkroom is her personal story as well: chronicling what it was like being a Latina girl in the Jim Crow South, struggling to understand both a foreign country and the horrors of our nation’s race relations. Weaver, who was neither black nor white, observed very early on the inequalities in the American culture, with its blonde and blue-eyed feminine ideal. Throughout her life, Lila has struggled to find her place in this society and fought against the discrimination around her.

My thoughts:

This graphic novel memoir is a striking look into the life of an Argentinian immigrant girl’s experience growing up during Alabama’s tumultuous struggle for civil rights. The graphic illustrations are beautiful and the text well-written. The story provides readers with the unique perspective of a young immigrant attempting to reckon with multiple worlds, including the differences between her public and private life, and the context of growing up in the racially divided South. At the same time, it is also the story of an Argentinean-American woman reflecting on her complicated and enduring relationship with Argentina. I was pulled into this book immediately and read it quickly. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

If you’re hungry for a more in-depth review on this book, which is Lila Quintero Weaver’s first, please read Katrina’s thoughtful and comprehensive post. There, you will also find links to others’ thoughts and reviews.

Happy reading!

Eight Days: A Story of Haiti
Written by Edwidge Danticat
Illustrated by Alix Delinois
Published by Orchard Books
ISBN: 978-0-545-27849-2
Age level: 5 – 8

Description (from GoodReads):

From National Book Award nominee Edwidge Danticat comes a timely, brilliantly crafted story of hope and imagination–a powerful tribute to Haiti and children around the world!

Hope comes alive in this heartfelt and deeply resonating story.

While Junior is trapped for 8 days beneath his collapsed house after an earthquake, he uses his imagination for comfort. Drawing on beautiful, everyday-life memories, Junior paints a sparkling picture of Haiti for each of those days–flying kites with his best friend or racing his sister around St. Marc’s Square–helping him through the tragedy until he is finally rescued.

Love and hope dance across each page–granting us a way to talk about resilience as a family, a classroom, or a friend.

My thoughts:

After reading the first page of Eight Days: A Story of Haiti, I was thrust into recalling the 2010, magnitude-7 earthquake that devastated Haiti. Reminded of what I saw on the news and what I imagined to be taking place in those initial moments after the earthquake, I felt a hesitancy of moving forward with the book. What if it were too heavy for this month’s theme of celebrating Latino diversity? But as I read on, I realized the story is not about an earthquake and not about being trapped. Rather, I discovered, it is a story about the will of the human spirit, the resilience of body and mind, the love of community, family, and, of course, play.

I was very moved by this book and included it in the list because it fits my criteria of offering a “strong narrative.” It truly is “a story of Haiti,” and I genuinely can’t think of another time that a title felt so exact. Junior’s days are packed with imagery that invites readers to experience Haiti through the eyes of child; and it is filled with laughter, silliness, and enjoyment. I encourage you to pay attention to the smiles on the faces that Delinois illustrates so beautifully!

¡Que disfrute!

Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck
Written by Margarita Engle
Published by Henry Holt and Company, LLC
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9240-0
Age level: 12 to Young Adult (19+)

Description (from GoodReads):

Quebrado has been traded from pirate ship to ship in the Caribbean Sea for as long as he can remember. The sailors he toils under call him el quebrado–half islander, half outsider, a broken one. Now the pirate captain Bernardino de Talavera uses Quebrado as a translator to help navigate the worlds and words between his mother’s Taíno Indian language and his father’s Spanish.

But when a hurricane sinks the ship and most of its crew, it is Quebrado who escapes to safety. He learns how to live on land again, among people who treat him well. And it is he who must decide the fate of his former captors.

My thoughts:

I should start by saying that I loved this book! I was enchanted by the musicality of the way it is written and how captivating the story is. Despite the simplicity of the novel-in-verse format, the characters are well-developed. I was struck by the way Engle gave such dimension to her protagonists and enjoyed reading how their multiple identities both crashed against one another as well as fused. Hurricane Dancers is a lot of things: a recounting of historical events and simultaneously a story of love, of conquest, and of redemption. I found this to be an authentic way of viewing the history of Latin America: each character possessing a unique identity, a distinct way of life. Their stories intertwine to create the diverse landscape of what many think of as Latinx culture.

I am really looking forward to exploring more of Engle’s writing. I think you will, too!

The Jumbies
Written by Tracey Baptiste
Published by Algonquin Young Readers
ISBN: 9781616204143
Age level: 9 – 12

Description (from GoodReads):

Corinne La Mer isn’t afraid of anything. Not scorpions, not the boys who tease her, and certainly not jumbies. They’re just tricksters parents make up to frighten their children. Then one night Corinne chases an agouti all the way into the forbidden forest. Those shining yellow eyes that followed her to the edge of the trees, they couldn’t belong to a jumbie. Or could they?

When Corinne spots a beautiful stranger speaking to the town witch at the market the next day, she knows something unexpected is about to happen. And when this same beauty, called Severine, turns up at Corinne’s house, cooking dinner for Corinne’s father, Corinne is sure that danger is in the air. She soon finds out that bewitching her father, Pierre, is only 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 learn to use ancient magic she didn’t know she possessed to stop Severine and save her island home.

My thoughts:

The Jumbies is a YA novel inspired by the Haitian folktale, The Magic Orange Tree. It’s a fun, engaging, and fast-paced read. In contrast to the other books on the list, it does not overtly declare its relation to Hispanx/Latinx heritage. Instead, the connection is much more subtle, revealing itself in the tropical landscape, the animals, the fruits and vegetables, and the bustling of a small island town. I enjoyed reading about the self-assured, courageous, and confident Corinne Le Mer, who creates unlikely alliances and friendships, and dares to delve into the unknown. I was also pleasantly surprised to read about the origin and meaning of the “jumbies!” Elizabeth Bird writes in her review on School Library Journal that the origin of the jumbies prompts us “…to take a closer look at colonization, rebellion, and what it truly takes to share the burden of tolerating the ‘other.’” This important aspect in the story certainly opens the doors to use this book to explore topics related to the “other.”

Hopefully you, your children, and students will enjoy the suspense and (at times) hair-raising tale of The Jumbies as much as I did!

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald no combina
Written by Monica Brown
Illustrated by Sara Palacios
Translated by Adriana Domínguez
Published by Children’s Book Press
ISBN: 0892392355
Age level: 5 – 7

Description (from GoodReads):

Marisol McDonald has flaming red hair and nut-brown skin. Polka dots and stripes are her favorite combination. She prefers peanut butter and jelly burritos in her lunch box. And don’t even think of asking her to choose one or the other activity at recess–she’ll just be a soccer playing pirate princess, thank you very much. To Marisol McDonald, these seemingly mismatched things make perfect sense together.

Unfortunately, they don’t always make sense to everyone else. Other people wrinkle their nose in confusion at Marisol–can’t she just be one or the other? Try as she might, in a world where everyone tries to put this biracial, Peruvian-Scottish-American girl into a box, Marisol McDonald doesn’t match. And that’s just fine with her.

My thoughts:

This book is for anyone who feels or has felt different. Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match is a celebration of all the things that make us unique! Both playfully and thoughtfully, Brown addresses the pressure to fit into the conventional despite there being nothing conventional about us. It is an excellent lesson for adults and children alike about the importance of being authentic selves. Serving as a springboard for identifying, respecting, and rejoicing in our differences, this is an important book to have in the classroom.

If you’re itching to learn more about this wonderful book, please check out Lorraine’s thoughtful comments. Katrina also links to some great articles about on multiculturalism, diversity, and difference in children’s literature.

Have fun!

Maya’s Blanket/La manta de Maya
Written by Monica Brown
Illustrated by David Diaz
Translated by Adriana Domínguez
Published by Children’s Book Press
Age Level: 5-7

Description (from GoodReads):

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 thoughts:

I really enjoyed this book. The story itself is endearing and the artwork enchanting. I found myself wanting to do what Maya was doing! In addition to this being a wonderful story, this book also serves as a celebration of the multicultural elements that come together within many families. It also reminds us that, long after the tangible objects fade, culture, heritage, and family remain. For those interested in learning more, Alice wrote an excellent review of Maya’s Blanket/La manta de Maya. I invite you to (re)read it, as she offers a marvelous – and green – perspective of the book. You will also find links in her post for “green” activities!

Niño Wrestles the World
Written by Yuyi Morales
Illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Published by Roaring Brook Press
ISBN: 1596436042
Age Level: PreK – grade 3

Description (from Scholastic):

No opponent is too big a challenge for the cunning skills of Niño — popsicle eater, toy lover, somersault expert, and world champion lucha libre competitor! Dressed in a traditional wresting costume (mask and underwear), energetic and imaginative Niño is ready to take all comers and has no trouble fending off monstrous opponents. But when his little sisters awaken from their naps, he is in for a no-holds-barred wrestling match that will truly test his skills.

My thoughts:

I loved this book!

As both the author and illustrator, Morales takes her readers on a fast-paced ride through Mexico via the imagination of Niño, el luchador. I especially enjoyed how within this seemingly simple story of child’s play, we are invited to merrily engage with some very significant aspects of Mexico, including: one of Guanajuato’s most well-recognized citizens; an artifact from an ancient civilization; una gran leyenda; and more. The book also contains many, less obvious references to Mexico and favored Hispanx/Latinx pastimes. Certainly, it would be a fun activity to uncover these hidden gems with a young reader. Adult readers alike can relish in the cleverness with which Niño takes on his competitors! This book was so much fun! The pace, flow, and sounds of the text only added to making it such a delight to read!

Yes! We are Latinos/¡Sí! Somos Latinos
Written by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy
Illustrated by David Díaz
Published by Charlesbridge
ISBN: 9781580893831
Age level: 9-12

Description (from GoodReads):

Juanita lives in New York and is Mexican. Felipe lives in Chicago and is Panamanian, Venezuelan, and black. Michiko lives in Los Angeles and is Peruvian and Japanese. Each of them is also Latino.

Thirteen young Latinos and Latinas living in America are introduced in this book celebrating the rich diversity of the Latino and Latina experience in the United States. Free-verse fictional narratives from the perspective of each youth provide specific stories and circumstances for the reader to better understand the Latino people’s quest for identity. Each profile is followed by nonfiction prose that further clarifies the character’s background and history, touching upon important events in the history of the Latino American people, such as the Spanish Civil War, immigration to the US, and the internment of Latinos with Japanese ancestry during World War II.

My thoughts:

This book genuinely represents the scope of diversity (multicultural, multilingual, multiracial, and multiethnic) present in the Latinx/Hispanx community. Written as a series of vignettes, it focuses on the experiences of fictional, self-identifying Latinx persons. The poems are well composed and easy to read. While I enjoyed reading the narratives, for me, the richness in this book comes from the non-fiction prose. These provide a historical context, and almost a genesis, for the way these “multi-identities” have been formed. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book and find it to be a very valuable tool because of this.

There are endless possibilities for how to explore Latinx heritage with this book! In addition to a list of resources for parents and teacher, the author and illustrator have also created a comprehensive website dedicated to utilizing this book in the classroom! It appears that a Spanish version of the website is forthcoming. For more thoughts from Vamos a Leer, check out Neoshia’s ¡Mirá, Look! post.

Lastly, know that this book comes in separate Spanish and English versions.

Happy learning!

 

 

 

 

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8 thoughts on “Reading RoundUp: 10 Children’s and YA Books with Diverse Latinx Perspectives

  1. I definitely have to get Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald no combina. My kiddos are redheads of multiracial ancestry (South Asian/Irish mostly).

    Thanks for this list!

    • Hi A.M.B! I’m glad that you enjoyed the list. And yes, you must get Marisol Doesn’t Match – it is a wonderful book and it sounds like your kiddos may be able to relate.

      Best,
      Colleen

  2. Pingback: En la Clase: Super Cilantro Girl/La Superniña del Cilantro | Vamos a Leer

  3. Pingback: Voces: Affirmation and Validation in the Aftermath of the Election | Vamos a Leer

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