Buenos días a todas y todos! During the rest of this month I will be highlighting some amazing Latinx children’s and young adult literature authors and illustrators by introducing the 2017 award winners of the Américas Award, Pura Belpré and Tomás Rivera, which were awarded this past summer.
Today I will be introducing the Winners, Honorable Mention and Commended titles authors and illustrators for the 2017 Américas Award. As noted on their website, the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) founded this award in 1993 to encourage and commend authors, illustrators and publishers who produce quality children’s and young adult books that portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States, and to provide teachers with recommendations for classroom use. CLASP offers up to two annual book awards, together with a commended list of titles.
I also want to note that the Latin American & Iberian Institute at the University of New Mexico, which works behind the scenes of this blog, is a proud sponsor of the Américas Award. The Américas Award is administered by 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.
The Américas Award also shares resources relevant to current events, new books and the classroom on their Facebook page, which is worth checking out. Without further ado, the following titles were recognized as Winners, Honorable Mentions and Commended Titles by the 2017 Américas Award review committee. We hope they will make it to your classroom bookshelves!
Ada’s Violin written by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016. ISBN: 978-1481-430-951
The Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay has received international attention because of the extraordinary story of the children living in Cateura, home of the main garbage dump for the capital city of Asunciόn and how they became musicians using instruments made of recycled trash. Many of the townspeople work in the landfill earning as little as two dollars a day. Before the arrival of a consultant engineer to the landfill (Favio Chavez, who happened to be a musician), many of the children had no creative outlets and their futures seemed bleak. Ada’s Violin conveys the beautiful story of a young girl, Ada Rios, whose grandmother signs her up to learn how to play the violin through lessons given by Chavez. When there are more children interested in learning about music than there are instruments, Chavez turns to a local carpenter who begins to make instruments from recycled trash. At last, there are enough instruments for the children. Through diligent practice they develop the expertise to perform concerts for the local community. Their orchestra becomes so good, in fact, that they begin to perform in countries around the world. Coupled with magnificent illustrations, the author provides readers a background on the story, and website and videos links that teachers can use for extension activities, including a web address for how readers can help the orchestra. (Grades K-3)
The Only Road written by Alexandra Diaz. Simon & Schuster, 2016. ISBN: 978-1481457507
The Only Road describes the journey of a teenage boy, Jamie, and his cousin Angela traveling from their hometown in Guatemala to the United States. Author Alexandra Diaz illustrates the many obstacles, uncertainties, hopes, fears, and unexpected blessings that shape the teens’ migration in a way that is both honest and sensitive to its intended young adult audience. This is without a doubt an empathy-building novel. Being able to accompany the main characters through their harsh and humbling trek allows the reader to get a glimpse into what tens of thousands of Central American youth have experienced in recent years. The characters themselves also demonstrate a remarkable courage and humility, often observing the sacrifices that were made for them and acknowledging the even more dangerous and devastating hardships faced by others they meet along the way. Yet Jamie and Angela are not one-dimensional by any means; they are teenagers with human emotions, needs and curiosities. They struggle with each other and with themselves. The sensory-rich prose of this novel allows the reader to be right there with the characters—as they travel hidden in the back of a pickup truck, ride on the notorious bestia, sleep on the floor of a safe house and, through it all, keep going. Classroom discussion on important contemporary issues and universal questions is invited through the many moving events of this story, such as: What happens when life forces one to travel “the only road?” This book also contains a Spanish/English glossary and suggestions for further reading for youth and adults. (Grades 7-10)
Malaika’s Costume written by Nadia L. Hohn and illustrated by Irene Luxbacher. Groundwood Books, 2016. ISBN: 978-1554987542
In Nadia Hohn’s touching and timely picture book, we are introduced to Malaika, a young girl living at home with her Grandma in the Caribbean while her mother is working far away in icebox-like Canada to provide a better life for her family. Told in distinctive Caribbean patois, Malaika’s voice genuinely rings out to the reader, as she describes both her excitement about the upcoming Carnival celebrations, and her feelings of sadness and disappointment in missing her mother on this special holiday. Accompanied by colorful collage-style illustrations by Irene Luxbacher that bring Malaika’s island home alive, the reader is introduced to the costumes and characters of Carnival. There are also numerous significant visual details to catch a young reader’s eye, such as drawings presumably from Malaika herself that provide a window into her emotional state throughout the story. Moreover, Luxbacher does a magnificent job of displaying tender emotion in the expressions of Malaika and her Grandma, adding an even deeper richness to the story. We watch Malaika, with her Grandma’s support, transform an old dusty costume into a bright and beautiful peacock costume. In the process, we witness her emerge as a “shiny and proud and strong” version of herself in the Carnival parade. Hohn’s demonstrates a deft, expert touch in handling challenging topics such as family separation and immigration in a way that speaks sincerely to young readers while presenting a tale of vibrant strength, ingenuity and spirit. (Grades K-3)
The Distance Between Us written by Reyna Grande. Aladdin, Simon & Schuster, 2016. ISBN: 978-1481463713
This memoir is the story of Reyna Grande’s journey from childhood in Mexico to becoming an American college graduate and accomplished author. This story beautifully captures what children who are left behind in Mexico experience as they long to be reunited with their parents who–ironically–have left their homeland to make a better life for them. Grande gracefully reflects on the love she had for her father who had left his family to cross over to the U.S., and recalls the ocean of emotions she experienced when she came to learn that her mother, too, was leaving. She candidly describes how she and her siblings were left under the care of her paternal grandmother who was harsh, and treated them as a burden and nuisance rather than the loving grandchildren they were. Holding true to his promise, her father returns nearly eight years later to cross his children into the United States. Grande does not hold back describing the discord in her life living in Los Angeles under the household of a loving, albeit abusive father. Many readers will be able to identify with themes of the book: loving parents who want the best for their children but at costs that are severe; the struggle to fit in at school while being undocumented and not knowing English; and the power of perseverance despite setbacks that are seemingly unfair. This book proves an engaging read. Grande includes a variety of photos of her family and of important milestones which make the memoir all the more enduring. (Grades 5-9)
Burn Baby Burn written by Meg Medina. Candlewick Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-0763674670
Nora Lopez is seventeen during the infamous New York summer of 1977, when the city is besieged by arson, a massive blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam who shoots young women on the streets. Nora’s family life isn’t going so well either: her bullying brother, Hector, is growing more threatening by the day, her mother is helpless and falling behind on the rent, and her father calls only on holidays. All Nora wants is to turn eighteen and be on her own. And while there is a cute new guy who started working with her at the deli, is dating even worth the risk when the killer likes picking off couples who stay out too late? Award-winning author Meg Medina transports us to a time when New York seemed balanced on a knife-edge, with tempers and temperatures running high, to share the story of a young woman who discovers that the greatest dangers are often closer than we like to admit — and the hardest to accept.
Juana & Lucas written by Juana Medina. Candlewick Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-0763672089
Juana loves many things — drawing, eating Brussels sprouts, living in Bogotá, Colombia, and especially her dog, Lucas, the best amigo ever. She does not love wearing her itchy school uniform, solving math problems, or going to dance class. And she especially does not love learning the English. Why is it so important to learn a language that makes so little sense? But when Juana’s abuelos tell her about a special trip they are planning—one that Juana will need to speak English to go on—Juana begins to wonder whether learning the English might be a good use of her time after all. Hilarious, energetic, and utterly relatable, Juana will win over los corazones — the hearts — of readers everywhere in her first adventure, presented by namesake Juana Medina.
Lion Island written by Margarita Engle. Simon & Schuster, 2016. ISBN: 978-1481461122
In this “beautifully written, thought provoking” (School Library Journal, starred review) novel in verse, award-winning author Margarita Engle tells the story of Antonio Chuffat, a young man of African, Chinese, and Cuban descent who becomes a champion for civil rights.
Asia, Africa, Europe—Antonio Chuffat’s ancestors clashed and blended on the beautiful island of Cuba. Yet for most Cubans in the nineteenth century, life is anything but beautiful. The country is fighting for freedom from Spain. Enslaved Africans and near-enslaved Chinese indentured servants are forced to work long, backbreaking hours in the fields.
So Antonio feels lucky to have found a good job as a messenger, where his richly blended cultural background is an asset. Through his work he meets Wing, a young Chinese fruit seller who barely escaped the anti-Asian riots in San Francisco, and his sister Fan, a talented singer. With injustice all around them, the three friends are determined to prove that violence is not the only way to gain liberty.
Lowriders to the Center of the Earth written by Cathy Camper and illustrated by Raúl the Third. Chronicle Books, 2016. ISBN: 978-1452123431
The lovable trio from the acclaimed Lowriders in Space are back! Lupe Impala, Elirio Malaria, and El Chavo Octopus are living their dream at last. They’re the proud owners of their very own garage. But when their beloved cat Genie goes missing, they need to do everything they can to find him. Little do they know the trail will lead them to the realm of Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of the Underworld, who is keeping Genie prisoner! With cool Spanish phrases on every page, a glossary of terms, and an action-packed plot that sneaks in science as well as Aztec lore, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth is a linguistic and visual delight. ¡Que suave!
Mamá the Alien / Mamá la extraterrestre written by René Colato Laínez and illustrated by Laura Lacámara. Children’s Book Press, Lee & Low Books, 2016. ISBN: 978-0892392988
When Mama’s purse falls on the floor, Sofia gets a peek at Mama s old Resident Alien card and comes to the conclusion that Mama might be an alien from outer space. Sofia heads to the library to learn more about aliens. Some are small and some are tall. Some have four fingers on each hand and some have large, round eyes. Their skin can be gray or blue or green. But Mama looks like a human mother! Could she really be an alien? Sofia is still puzzling out this mystery when she sees an alien-looking Mama one night. It turns out Mama is doing a beauty treatment so she will look her best for her citizenship ceremony. That s when Sofia realizes that in English, an alien can be someone from another planet, and it can also be a person from another country. Just like Mama! Filled with imagination and humor, Mama the Alien/Mama la extraterrestre is a lighthearted immigration tale and a celebration of family, no matter where that family comes from. Even if it s outer space!”
Margarito’s Forest / El Bosque de Don Margarito written by Andy Carter and illustrated by Allison Havens. Hard Ball Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-0997979701
Margarito’s Forest is a story of Maya culture and wisdom passed from one generation to the next. This beautifully illustrated bilingual book in English and Spanish, with excerpts in K’iche’, is based on MarIa Guadalupe’s memories of her father, Don Margarito Esteban Alvarez VelAzquez. As the devastating effects of climate change become clear, Don Margarito’s life and the ways of the Maya offer timely wisdom for a planet in peril.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat written by Javaka Steptoe. Hachette Book Group, 2016. ISBN: 978-0316213882
Jean-Michel Basquiat and his unique, collage-style paintings rocketed to fame in the 1980s as a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the art world had ever seen. But before that, he was a little boy who saw art everywhere: in poetry books and museums, in games and in the words that we speak, and in the pulsing energy of New York City. Now, award-winning illustrator Javaka Steptoe’s vivid text and bold artwork echoing Basquiat’s own introduce young readers to the powerful message that art doesn’t always have to be neat or clean–and definitely not inside the lines–to be beautiful.
Rainbow Weaver – Tejedora del arcoirís written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Elisa Chavarri. Children’s Book Press, Lee & Low Books, 2016. ISBN: 978-0892393749
Ixchel wants to follow in the long tradition of weaving on backstrap looms, just as her mother, grandmother, and most Mayan women have done for more than two thousand years. But Ixchel’s mother is too busy preparing her weavings for market. If they bring a good price, they will have money to pay for Ixchel s school and books. And besides, there is not enough extra thread for Ixchel to practice with.
Disappointed, Ixchel first tries weaving with blades of grass, and then with bits of wool, but no one would want to buy the results. As she walks around her village, Ixchel finds it littered with colorful plastic bags. There is nowhere to put all the bags, so they just keep accumulating.
Suddenly, Ixchel has an idea! She collects and washes the plastic bags. Then she cuts each bag into thin strips. Sitting at her loom, Ixchel weaves the plastic strips into a colorful fabric that looks like a beautiful rainbow just like the weavings of Mayan women before her.
Shame the Stars written by Guadalupe García McCall. Lee & Low Books, 2016. ISBN: 978-1620142783
Eighteen-year-old Joaquin del Toro’s future looks bright. With his older brother in the priesthood, he s set to inherit his family’s Texas ranch. He s in love with Dulcena and she s in love with him. But it’s 1915, and trouble has been brewing along the US-Mexico border. On one side, the Mexican Revolution is taking hold; on the other, Texas Rangers fight Tejano insurgents, and ordinary citizens are caught in the middle.
As tensions grow, Joaquin is torn away from Dulcena, whose father s critical reporting on the Rangers in the local newspaper has driven a wedge between their families. Joaquin’s own father insists that the Rangers are their friends, and refuses to take sides in the conflict. But when their family ranch becomes a target, Joaquin must decide how he will stand up for what s right.
Shame the Stars is a rich reimagining of Romeo and Juliet set in Texas during the explosive years of Mexico s revolution. Filled with period detail, captivating romance, and political intrigue, it brings Shakespeare s classic to life in an entirely new way.”
Somos como las nubes / We are Like the Clouds written by Jorge Argueta and illustrated by Alfonso Ruano. Groundwood Books, 2016. ISBN: 978-1554988495
Why are young people leaving their country to walk to the United States to seek a new, safe home? Over 100,000 such children have left Central America. This book of poetry helps us to understand why and what it is like to be them.
This powerful book by award-winning Salvadoran poet Jorge Argueta describes the terrible process that leads young people to undertake the extreme hardships and risks involved in the journey to what they hope will be a new life of safety and opportunity. A refugee from El Salvador’s war in the eighties, Argueta was born to explain the tragic choice confronting young Central Americans today who are saying goodbye to everything they know because they fear for their lives. This book brings home their situation and will help young people who are living in safety to understand those who are not.
Compelling, timely and eloquent, this book is beautifully illustrated by master artist Alfonso Ruano who also illustrated The Composition, considered one of the 100 Greatest Books for Kids by Scholastic’s Parent and Child Magazine.
The Memory of Light written by Francisco X. Stork. Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic, 2016. ISBN: 978-0545474320
When Vicky Cruz wakes up in the Lakeview Hospital Mental Disorders ward, she knows one thing: After her suicide attempt, she shouldn’t be alive. But then she meets Mona, the live wire; Gabriel, the saint; E.M., always angry; and Dr. Desai, a quiet force. With stories and honesty, kindness and hard work, they push her to reconsider her life before Lakeview, and offer her an acceptance she’s never had.
But Vicky’s newfound peace is as fragile as the roses that grow around the hospital. And when a crisis forces the group to split up, sending Vicky back to the life that drove her to suicide, she must try to find her own courage and strength. She may not have them. She doesn’t know.
Inspired in part by the author’s own experience with depression, The Memory of Light is the rare young adult novel that focuses not on the events leading up to a suicide attempt, but the recovery from one — about living when life doesn’t seem worth it, and how we go on anyway.
The Princess and the Warrior written Duncan Tonatiuh. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016. ISBN: 978-1419721304
Award-winning author Duncan Tonatiuh reimagines one of Mexico’s cherished legends. Princess Izta had many wealthy suitors but dismissed them all. When a mere warrior, Popoca, promised to be true to her and stay always by her side, Izta fell in love. The emperor promised Popoca if he could defeat their enemy Jaguar Claw, then Popoca and Izta could wed. When Popoca was near to defeating Jaguar Claw, his opponent sent a messenger to Izta saying Popoca was dead. Izta fell into a deep sleep and, upon his return, even Popoca could not wake her. As promised Popoca stayed by her side. So two volcanoes were formed: Iztaccíhuatl, who continues to sleep, and Popocatépetl, who spews ash and smoke, trying to wake his love.
The School the Aztec Eagles Built written by Dorinda Makanaōnalani Nicholson. Lee & Low Books, 2016. ISBN: 978-1600604409
In May 1942, German U-boats torpedoed two unarmed Mexican oil tankers off the Gulf Coast, forcing Mexico to enter World War II. With the help of United States President Roosevelt, Mexican President Camacho arranged to send one Air Force squadron to fight in the war. Thirty-eight of Mexico’s top pilots, and about two hundred sixty additional military crew were carefully selected to form the 201st Air Force Squadron, also known as the Aztec Eagles. The squadron was the first unit in history to leave Mexico on a fighting mission. To mark this historic event, President Camacho asked the men if they had any last minute requests before they went to war. Sergeant Angel Bocanegra, a former teacher and now squadron ground crewmember, stepped forward and made a request. He asked that a school be built in his small village of Tepoztlan. The School the Aztec Eagles Built tells the exciting story of how a Mexican Air Force squadron and an unknown schoolteacher made their mark in history.