Hello, dear readers!
It’s not often that I get the chance to contribute TWICE to the blog in one week, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to chime in on the conversation about diversifying Women’s History Month. I’ve been humming to myself over here in the office as I’ve been digging into children’s and young adult literature focused on women’s history – and Hispanic women’s contributions to history, in particular. While there are beautiful books by and about women peppered throughout the blog and in our previous Reading RoundUp posts, for this month I had the pleasure of finding and compiling books based on real life heroines. These are books that highlight the groundbreaking, earth-shattering contributions and hard work of Hispanic/Latina/Chicana and indigenous women in the United States, Cuba, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guatemala, Paraguay, and Chile. Sometimes their work was an act of personal triumph; at other times, it revolutionized society. Their achievements break barriers in music, labor rights, school segregation, literature, and art. Across the spectrum, their stories are absolutely worthwhile.
As a caveat, I should add that I haven’t personally read all of the books on this list — like The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande, When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago, and Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood — but they’re stellar publications if others’ reviews are anything to go by. If you should add them to your bookshelf, please let us know what you think. They’re certainly on our TBR list now.
Side note: The descriptions provided below are all reprinted from the publishers’ information.
Without further ado, here are 15 children’s and YA books that we hope will expand your classroom and home discussions about Women’s History Month!
p.s. Remember that Teaching for Change is offering a discount in their TFC non-profit, indie bookstore in honor of Women’s History Month. Just use the code Women2017 at checkout!
The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba by Margarita Engle
The freedom to roam is something that women and girls in Cuba do not have. Yet when Fredrika Bremer visits from Sweden in 1851 to learn about the people of this magical island, she is accompanied by Cecilia, a young slave who longs for her lost home in Africa. Soon Elena, the wealthy daughter of the house, sneaks out to join them. As the three women explore the lush countryside, they form a bond that breaks the barriers of language and culture. In this quietly powerful new book, award-winning poet Margarita Engle paints a portrait of early women’s rights pioneer Fredrika Bremer and the journey to Cuba that transformed her life.
Born in an Andean village in Ecuador, Virginia lives with her large family in a small, earthen-walled dwelling. In her village of indígenas, it is not uncommon to work in the fields all day, even as a child, or to be called a longa tonta—stupid Indian—by members of the ruling class of mestizos, or Spanish descendants. When seven-year-old Virginia is taken from her village to be a servant to a mestizo couple, she has no idea what the future holds. In this poignant novel based on a true story, acclaimed author Laura Resau has collaborated with María Virginia Farinango to recount one girl’s unforgettable journey to self-discovery. Virginia’s story will speak to anyone who has ever struggled to find his or her place in the world. It will make you laugh and cry, and ultimately, it will fill you with hope.
The Distance Between Us: A Memoir by Reyna Grande
From an award-winning novelist and motivational speaker, an eye-opening memoir about life before and after illegally immigrating from Mexico to the United States. Born in Mexico and raised by her grandparents after her parents left to find work in the U.S., at nine years old, Reyna enters the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant to live with her father. Filled with hope, she quickly realizes that life in America is far from perfect. Her father isn’t the man she dreamed about all those years in Mexico. His big dreams for his children are what gets them across the border, but his alcoholism and rage undermine all his hard work and good intentions. Reyna finds solace from a violent home in books and writing, inspired by the Latina voices she reads. After an explosive altercation, Reyna breaks away, going on to become the first person in her family to obtain a higher education, earning a college degree and then an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. At a time when immigration politics are at a boiling point in America, Reyna Grande is an important public voice for Mexican Americans and immigrants of every origin. The Distance Between Us has the power to change minds and hearts.
When I Was Puerto Rican: A Memoir by Esmeralda Santiago
Esmeralda Santiago’s story begins in rural Puerto Rico, where her childhood was full of both tenderness and domestic strife, tropical sounds and sights as well as poverty. Growing up, she learned the proper way to eat a guava, the sound of tree frogs in the mango groves at night, the taste of the delectable sausage called morcilla, and the formula for ushering a dead baby’s soul to heaven. As she enters school we see the clash, both hilarious and fierce, of Puerto Rican and Yankee culture. When her mother, Mami, a force of nature, takes off to New York with her seven, soon to be eleven children, Esmeralda, the oldest, must learn new rules, a new language, and eventually take on a new identity. In this first volume of her much-praised, bestselling trilogy, Santiago brilliantly recreates the idyllic landscape and tumultuous family life of her earliest years and her tremendous journey from the barrio to Brooklyn, from translating for her mother at the welfare office to high honors at Harvard.
Like a tiny bird in a big city, Frida Kahlo feels lost and lonely when she arrives in San Francisco with her husband, the famous artist Diego Rivera. It is the first time she has left her home in Mexico. And Frida wants to be a painter too. But as Frida begins to explore San Francisco on her own, she discovers more than the beauty, diversity, and exuberance of America. She finds the inspiration she needs to become one of the most celebrated artists of all time. Me, Frida is an exhilarating true story that encourages children to believe in themselves so they can make their own dreams soar.
That’s Not Fair: Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice / ¡No es justo! La lucha de Emma Tenayuca por la justicia illustrated by Terry Ybáñez and written/translated by Carmen Tafolla and Sharyl Teneyuca
(see also: Alice’s review of That’s Not Fair)
In the 1920s and 1930s, the pecan shellers of San Antonio, Texas, were some of the lowest-paid workers in the nation. They were all Mexican-Americans, who had fled the revolution in their home country. Pecan shellers worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week, for as little as six cents a pound. In addition, they had to work in dusty, closed rooms. This made many of them ill. And then, in 1938, their wages were cut in half. They needed someone to be a voice for them, someone both brave and caring. They needed a hero. A young woman, barely twenty-one, answered their call. Her name was Emma. But Emma Tenayuca was not born a hero of the poor. That’s Not Fair! / ¡No Es Justo! tells how the seeds of Emma’s awareness and activism were sown when she was very young.. This story of courage and compassion shows how each of us, no matter how young, can help to make the world more fair for everyone.
Everyone knows the flamboyant, larger-than-life Celia Cruz, the extraordinary salsa singer who passed away in 2003, leaving millions of fans brokenhearted. indeed, there was a magical vibrancy to the Cuban salsa singer. to hear her voice or to see her perform was to feel her life-affirming energy deep within you. relish the sizzling sights and sounds of her legacy in this glimpse into Celia’s childhood and her inspiring rise to worldwide fame and recognition as the Queen of salsa. Her inspirational life story is sure to sweeten your soul.
So promised Juana Inés, a little girl who loved words, on her first day of school. When she was three years old, Juana Inés followed her sister to school and peeked in the window, then begged the teacher to be allowed to stay so she could learn how to read. Soon she was making up stories, songs, and poems–she loved learning and she loved reading. And she couldn’t wait to have her own collection of books! Eventually, Juana went on to become Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a nun, and she devoted her life to writing and learning and words. Though she died in 1695, Sor Juana Inés is still considered one of the most brilliant writers in Mexico’s history: her poetry is recited by schoolchildren throughout Mexico and is studied at schools and universities around the world. Here is the story of her life, an incredible one full of knowledge, achievement, and inspiration, lovingly told by the renowned children’s book author Pat Mora and gorgeously illustrated by Beatriz Vidal.
The Girl from Chimel written by Rigoberta Menchú and illustrated by Domi
Nobel Peace Prize winner and Mayan activist Rigoberta Menchú brings the world of her earliest childhood vividly to life in this colorful book. Before the war in Guatemala and despite the hardships that the Mayan people endured, life in the Mayan villages of the hdrumighlands had a beauty and integrity. This was forever changed by the conflict and brutal genocide that was to come. Menchú’s stories of her grandparents and parents, of the natural world that surrounded her, and her retelling of the stories that she was told present a rich, humorous, and engaging portrait of that lost world. Domi draws on the Mayan landscape and rich craftwork to create the stunning illustrations that complement this engaging story.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López
(see also: Alice’s review of Drum Dream Girl)
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.
Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay written by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
From award-winning author Susan Hood and illustrator Sally Wern Comport comes the extraordinary true tale of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, an orchestra made up of children playing instruments built from recycled trash. Ada Ríos grew up in Cateura, a small town in Paraguay built on a landfill. She dreamed of playing the violin, but with little money for anything but the bare essentials, it was never an option…until a music teacher named Favio Chávez arrived. He wanted to give the children of Cateura something special, so he made them instruments out of materials found in the trash. It was a crazy idea, but one that would leave Ada—and her town—forever changed. Now, the Recycled Orchestra plays venues around the world, spreading their message of hope and innovation.
Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
(see also: Américas Award Educator’s Guide to Separate is Never Equal)
Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.
Gabriela Mistral loved words and sounds and stories. Born in Chile, she would grow to become the first Nobel Prize-winning Latina woman in the world. As a poet and a teacher, she inspired children across many countries to let their voices be heard. This beautifully crafted story, where words literally come to life, is told with the rhythm and melody of a poem. The second in Luna Rising’s bilingual storybook biography series. My Name is Gabriela/Me llamo Gabriela is a beautiful tribute to a woman who taught us the power of words and the importance of following our dreams. The story of Gabriela Mistral will continue to inspire children everywhere.
Dolores Huerta: A Hero of Migrant Workers written by Sarah Warren and illustrated by Robert Casilla
Dolores is a teacher, a mother, and a friend. She wants to know why her students are too hungry to listen, why they don’t have shoes to wear to school. Dolores is a warrior, an organizer, and a peacemaker. When she finds out that the farm workers in her community are poorly paid and working under dangerous conditions, she stands up for their rights. This is the story of Dolores Huerta and the extraordinary battle she waged to ensure fair and safe work places for migrant workers. The powerful text, paired with Robert Casilla’s vibrant watercolor-and-pastel illustrations, brings Dolores’s amazing journey to life. A timeline, additional reading, articles, websites, and resources for teachers are included.
The Storyteller’s Candle / La velita de los cuentos written by Lucia González and Lulu Delacre
(see also: Alice’s review of The Storyteller’s Candle)
It is the winter of 1929, and cousins Hildamar and Santiago have just moved to enormous, chilly New York from their native Puerto Rico. As Three Kings’ Day approaches, Hildamar and Santiago mourn the loss of their sunny home and wonder about their future in their adopted city. But when a storyteller and librarian named Pura Belpré arrives in their classroom, the children begin to understand just what a library can mean to a community. In this fitting tribute to a remarkable woman, Lucía González and Lulu Delacre have captured the truly astounding effect that Belpré had on the city of New York.