The Town of Babylon

Written by: Alejandro Varela

Published by: Penguin RandomHouse 2022

Age: Adult

Region: North America/U.S

Andrés is a first generation child of immigrants from Latin America. Although the book starts in his early forties as a Public Health Professor who begrudgingly returns to his hometown when his father becomes ill, much of the story revolves around Andrés understanding of self and sexuality in his youth. The story is told half in the present and half looking backwards, the reader comes to understand Andrés through the anecdotes of his upbringing as a gay son of immigrants living in a suburban neighborhood of mostly white people at a catholic school. The book grapples with larger systemic racial and economic issues and poignantly details how such larger systemic forces have intimately impacted Andrés family and life. Varela magically weaves together the micro and the macro in this beautiful and heartbreaking coming of age story of resistance and belonging.

Additional Resources:

Author’s Website: https://alejandrovarela.work/

The Latino Book Review: Three Questions for the Author https://www.latinobookreview.com/three-questions-for-alejandro-varela-regarding-his-debut-novel-the-town-of-babylon-by-daniel-a-olivas–latino-book-review.html

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Furia

Author: Yamile Saied Méndez

Publisher: Algonquin, 2020

Awards: A 2021 Pura Belpré Medal Winner

Camila Hassan loves the game of soccer, and she’s good at it too. But in Rosario, Argentina, her brother Pablo is the soccer star. He plays for the hometown professional team Central, while Camila has to sneakily attend her practices and prepare for the SudAmericano cup, her first shot at going pro. Camila navigates life amidst the Ni Uno Menos movement, a movement to stop the violence against women and girls. Not only is she hiding her soccer  dreams from her family but she has to navigate the city with care and vigilance amidst constant threats to her safety because of her gender.  On top of all that Camila’s first love Diego, a famous professional soccer star, is back in town. With so much hanging in the balance, Camila will have to choose what matter’s most. Furia is an excellent coming of age novel that highlights the challenging intersections of gender, soccer, class, and love.

Age Range: High School

Region: South America/Argentina

Additional Resources:

Author’s Website

The National Book Club Discussion Questions https://promo.booksamillion.com/BookClub/DiscussionQuestions/Furia_Discussion_Questions_Book_Club_Kit.pdf

More Information on Rosario, Argentina

Picture from https://www.workman.com/products/furia/paperback

Miguel and the Grand Harmony

Written by: Matt de la Peña

Illustrated by: Ana Ramírez

Disney Press 2017

Ages: 3-7

Region: Mexico

Music is the protagonist in Newburry Medal winner, Matt de la Peña’s, Miguel and the Grand Harmony. The Music is a part of life, and it travels through town on the beat, rhythm, and cacophonies of its makers. The music is stumped however when it reaches Miguel, a boy who loves music but is not allowed to play. The Music cooks up a scheme to bring a guitar into Miguel’s life and inspires him to play, to play whats in his heart. De la Peña highlights the many ways music shows up in our lives, and its connection to happiness.

Discussion Questions:

How did the colors in the book communicate emotion?

Why would playing music upset Mama Coco?

Region: Mexico/North America

Additional Resources:

Coco by Disney Pixar

Matt de la Peña’s Website

More books by Matt de la Peña

The Princess and the Warrior 

(Winner of the Pura Belpré Award)

Written and Illustrated by: Duncan Tonatiuh

Abrams Book for Young Readers 2016

Ages: 3-7

Region: Mexico, North America

The Princess and the Warrior details the love story of, a thoughtful and caring princess, Izta, and a brave military man Popoca.

Although Itza was coveted by suitable men, in her fathers eyes, they were not what Izta wanted. She was not impressed with their lavish gifts. Izta instead fell in love with a brave and caring warrior Popoca, for he offered her something much more valuable than any quetzal feathers or turquoise necklace could, a promise to be by her side, and love her forever.

The love match is not enough for Itza’s father, at least not at first. In order for Popoca to prove himself worthy he must defeat the emperor’s enemy, Jaguar claw, a tlatoani, of a nearby kingdom. Although Popoca bravely takes on the mission, he is unaware of Jaguar Claws cunning. Will Popoca be able to fulfill his promise to Itza or will Jaguar Claw prevent Popoca from uniting with his true love, Itza?

Discussion Questions:

Why do you think Popoca needed to prove himself worthy to the Emperor?

Do Itza and Popoca end up together? Why or why? Explain your answer.

Vocabtlatoani [nahua] – ruler, king

Additional Resources:

More books by Duncan Tonatiuh

The Author’s Website

The Legend of Popocatepetl & Iztaccíhuatl: A Love Story

The Rainbow Weaver/Tejedora del Arcoíris

Written by: Linda Elovitz Marshall

Illustrated by: Elisa Chavarri

Children’s Book Press 2016

Ages: 3-7

Region: Guatemala/Central America

Ixchel lives in the Highlands of Guatemala, and is longing to learn how to weave, like her mother, and grandmother, and many generations of Mayan women before her. Ixchel’s mother uses part of the proceeds that her weaving earns to pay for Ixchels school fees and books. Ixchel not only wants to learn the way of weaving like her ancestors before her, but also wants to help her mom pay for her school and books. Unfortunately, there is not enough thread to spare, and Ixchel can only watch. Frustrated Ixchel sets off to find a different material to weave with, first it is grass, second is wool, but to no avail. Right when Ixchel is about to give up she notices the vibrant colors of the plastic bags on the roads and in the ditches. Putting her creativity to the test Ixchel repurposes the colorful plastic bags into weaving material to be sold at the market, starting a movement that catches on amongst other weavers in the village.

Ixchel vive en las tierras altas de Guatemala, y tiene un gran deseo aprender a tejer, como su madre, abuela y las muchas generaciones de mujeres Maya que vine antes de ella. La madre de Ixchel usa la ganancia de su tejido para pagar para la escuela y los libros de Ixchel. Ixchel quiere aprender a tejer no solo para ser como su antepasadas, before también para ayudar su mama pagar para su escula. Desafortunadamente, no hay suficiente hilo para sobrar, como resultado Ixchel solo puede mirar. Frustrada, Ixchel se desembarca para encontrar otra material para poder tejer, primero usa hierba de pajón, segundo usa lana, pero sin suceso. Al momento que Ixchel se va rendir, se nota los colores vibrantes de las bolsas de plástico en el camino y colgando de las ramas. Usando su creatividad Ixchel se reutiliza las bolsas de plástico en material de tejido para vender en el mercado. Su creatividad se prende entre las otras tejedoras empezando un movimiento en su pueblo.

Additional Resources:

Teacher’s Guide to Rainbow Weaver

Spanish Playground Rainbow Weaver Activities

The Author’s Website

Written in Starlight

Isabel Ibañez (Page Street 2021)

Region: Bolivia/South America

Age: High school

Isabel Ibañez’s second book, Written in Starlight, details the captivating coming of age story of Catalina Quiroga. Catalina, the last royal Illustrian, has been banished to the Yanu Jungle for disobeying the new Queen.

It is pure luck that she runs into Manuel, the son of her old guard, whose been trying to make contact with the Illari the last sixth months. With Manuels survival skills the two team up to try and find the Illari’s golden city to ask for an army to re-conquer the Inkasisa. But something dangerous is afoot in the jungle, beyond the poisonous plants, crocodiles, pumas and the unfriendly Illari. Will Catalina’s powers as a seer help uncover the evil thats lurking in the jungle? And will she be able to win back the throne? Find out in the sequel to Woven in MoonlightWritten in Starlight.

Discussion Questions:

What’s one lesson Catalina learns while in the Jungle?

Describe Catalina’s character development. Give examples.

Additional Resources:

The Author’s Website

Interview with Isabel Ibañez

Red Palms

Cara Haycak (Wendy Lamb Books 2004)

Region: Ecuador/ South America

Age: 12 and up

Benita Mariah, a wealthy young girl from Guayaquil Ecuador, has her world  turned on its axis, when her father tells her and the rest of the family that they’ve lost their fortune as a result of the Great Depression. The Mariah’s are forced to sell all of their things, pack up, and move to the small island of Paita. Her fathers plan is to create a coconut plantation and restore their riches, but Josef doesn’t know the first thing about farming, let alone the culture and customs of life on Paita.

Benita and her father soon begin to clash, Benita has been forced to grow up and no longer believes in her father, as a result of their escalating situation she runs away to the other side of the island with Raul, a local young man who has wooed Benita, much to her fathers chagrin. Benita’s coming of age story is about acting on what she believes is right, even if that means defying the ones she loves most.

Principle Themes:

As a coming of age story its only natural that there exists some child-parental tension. At the beginning of the book Benita and her father have a close relationship for she has blindly put her trust in him, but as Josef continues to obscure the truth, Benita is disillusioned and learns she must find her own way, even if her father disagrees. Religion is another principal theme of the book, the Mariahs are Christians, and the Indigenous people of Paita have their own religion. There is a tension throughout as Josef disparages the Indigenous people for their ways of life, and Benita  learns from and comes to respect the Indigenous people of the Island through her relationship with Raul, despite her fathers racist and disparaging comments. Lastly, Benita’s story is about finding oneself, throughout the book she puts her trust and faith in different people, but this only take her so far, before Benita finds the courage to believe in herself and do what she must to lead a fulfilling and purposeful life.

Additional Resources:

Author’s Bio

Zonia’s Rainforest

Written by Juana Martinez-Neal (Candlewick Press 2021)

Zonia is Asháninka, a member of “the largest Indigenous group living in the Pruvian Amazon, with a poulation estimated at more than 73,000”. Zonia’s Rainforest details all of the friendships she has with the many different animals that live in the verdant and lush rainforest. Towards the end of her day she come across a deforested patch of land, where nothing grows, and none of her friends can be seen, all of the vibrancy and life of the jungle is gone. Zonia answers the rainforest call for help, and encourages the reader that it is a call “we all must answer”.

Discussion Questions:

What call do you think Zonia is being asked to answer?

How can you play a role in protecting rainforests/and stopping deforestation?

What are some things you think Zonia can do to protect her rainforest?

Additional Resources:

The Authors website

The Asháninka Peoples

Zonia’s Rainforest Classroom Activities

Region: The Amazon (South America)

Ages: 3-6

My Day with the Panye

Written by Tami Charles

Illustrated by Sara Palacios

(Candlewick Press 2021)

Who? What? Where?

Fallon is a young girl living in the mountainous region of Haiti. Her story begins with a an eagerness and insatibale desire to carry the Panye. To carry the Panye is a tradition that dates back hundreds of years and is done around the world, it is the act of carrying and holding important items in the Panye on top of the head, as such it is practically a rite of passage for young girls like Fallon. On a visit to the market, wit her mother, Fallon keeps wanting to prove that she is ready to carry the panye without much success, her mother however has some lesson to teach Fallon first. Carrying the Panye is more than a method of transporting important goods it is also about grace and strength, and along the way Fallon learns the meaning of her mothers XX “Pitit, pitit, build your nest.”

Principle Themes:

Fallon, is taught patience throughout My Day with the Panye, she is eager to carry the basket all at once and carry barely contain her excitement, and her mother has to teach her the virtue of taking it one step at a time, “pitit, pitit, build your nest.” A rite of passage is another theme in the book, Fallon is so eager to learn in part because she sees so many other young girls and their mothers’ carrying the Panye so gracefully, yet Fallon learns that she too will be ready in her own time.

Discussion Questions:

Why is it important for Fallon to carry the Panye?

What message do you think “Pitit, pitit, build your nest” is trying to convey?

Can you think of any other rites of passage?

Additional Resources:

Tami Charles’ Website

Candlewick Press Teacher Tips

Region: Caribbean (Haiti)

Age: 3-7

The Grief Keeper

By: Alexandra Villasante published by Penguin Randomhouse (2019)

Who? What? Where?

Marisol and her younger sister, Gabi, are seeking asylum in the United States. The book begins with Marisol’s credible fear interview at an unnamed detention center. The two have fled El Salvador, leaving behind  their family, their home and the lives they once knew in search of refuge. The burden of ensuring Gabi’s safety weighs heavily on Marisol. Marisol fears they won’t be granted asylum, securing their future in the U.S. becomes ever more precarious, that is until she is offered a deal. Marisol must participate in a new experimental study in exchange for asylum. The experiment requires Marisol hold the grief of another, but the study never intended for her to meet the beneficiary. As Marisol navigates the grief of another as well as her own in this new and unfamiliar place, a relationship between her and the beneficiary of the experiment deepens. The Grief Keeper is a story of immigration as much as it is a story of love, and the depths to which Marisol will go to protect the ones she loves most.

Principle Themes

The Grief Keeper explores the many facets of trauma. Trauma impacts the main characters in different ways. At times it drives them a part, and at others it creates a shared bond. Love is a theme as central to the book as trauma. It is Marisol’s love for her sister that drives her to persist despite all that Marisol has already endured. The Grief Keeper explores these themes in tandem, unearthing how love and trauma inform each other.

Additional Resources:

An interview with Alexandra Villasante

Teaching the Grief Keeper

Review of the book by Latinxs in Kid Lit Blog

Region: North America/United States

Age: High School