Mexican Folk Art Transport in English and Spanish

Author: Cynthia Weill

Wooden Sculptures by: Martín Melchor, Augustín Tinoco Cruz, Avelino Pérez, and Maximino Santiago

Age: 3-6 Years

Language: English, Spanish

Region: Oaxaca, Mexico

Vámonos is the seventh installment of Cynthia Weill’s collaboration with Mexican folk artists to create children’s books in English and Spanish that showcase Mexican folk art. In lieu of the illustrations most of us are accustomed to that animate children’s literature, the First Concepts in Mexican Folk Art series utilizes photographs of Mexican folk art, introducing these vibrant works and type of artistry to the next generation. This installment introduces young readers to various modes of transportation through the hand carved wooden sculptures created and shared by Oaxacan folk artists on an imagined voyage to the library. As a potential learning or teaching resource, this bilingual book serves as a clever way to encourage young readers to exercise their language skills, whether learning English or Spanish. This series also does a great deal to promote folk art more generally, an art form that is often overlooked in contemporary conversations of artistry. In the bilingual 2-page spread of each section of this voyage, each work is shot from different angles, adding a sense of movement while showcasing more of the artist’s work in the process. Moreover, the vibrant and colorful paintings that cover each work appear like a potent embroidery, capturing the imagination and emboldening this adventure for young readers. The library serves as the meeting ground for these works, figures, and ideas, inviting children to consider embarking on their own journey.

Additional Resources:

Author´s Website https://www.cynthiaweill.net/

Teaching Resources https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?aid=10429

If Your Babysitter is a Bruja

Author: Ana Siquiera

Illustrated by Irena Freitas

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Language: Spanglish

Location: Unknown, likely magical

Ages: 4 +

Ana Siquiera’s If Your Babysitter is a Bruja offers an essential survival guide to the young reader who may find themselves in such unfortunate circumstances as to be under the spell of a magical babysitter in their life. In what begins as a battle of wits between the Babysitter Bruja and her unwilling ward, our young narrator soon sees that her Bruja is not such a bad witch after all. After escape attempts and tricks and even the occasional sweet, our narrator becomes a little brujita in training. After accepting each other, they spend the spooky night sharing traditions, potions, and laughter. Eventually, this cherished Bruja must leave, but not before inspiring the next generation of brujitas to come. 

Nor would this voyage be possible without the whimsical illustrations of Irena Freitas, whose bold colors and sudden perspective shifts across these adventures can keep even the most strong-willed of young readers captivated. We whole-heartedly recommend keeping this guidebook on hand for the All Hallows holiday season; it serves as a great reminder of the magical threads of everyday life most visible on certain spooky nights. 

Additional Resources: 

Spooky Eyeball Recipe with the Authors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r08Fxo3YPRA

Additional teaching resources: https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?a=1&tid=82549

Ordinary Girls

Written by: Jaquira Diaz

Published by: Workman Publishing (2019)

Region: North America, Puerto Rico

Ages: Adult

Ordinary GirlsWinner of a Whiting Award in Nonfiction, Winner of a Florida Book Awards Gold Medal, and a 2020 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist, is a gripping memoir on gender, sexuality, race and poverty by Jaquira Diaz. Diaz’s memoir illustrates the intersectionality of these different categories in her coming of age stories. Ordinary girls is equal parts heart-wrenching and hopeful, chock full of grit and resistance. From abuse to addiction you will be rooting for Diaz, the whole way. Ordinary Girls is a must read.

Additional Resources:

Author’s Website

Author Interview w/ Steve Inskeep of NPR

Lola Out Loud

By: Jennifer Torres

Illustrations By: Sara Palacios

Published by: Little, Brown and Company

This endearing story imagined by the childhood of Dolores Huerta shares Torres’s vision of how the young activist and her family made community and ran their Hotel Delano through everyday acts of resistance. In the process, we see how this young leader already carries the passion that will inspire and change the lives of thousands through the United Farm Workers strike she will help lead alongside Cesar Chaves years later. This story, beautifully illustrated by Sara Palacios, depicts the story of a young girl emboldened enough to do something about the people she interacts with on a daily basis, using her voice–what her grandfather identifies as “seven tongues all fighting to be heard”– to bring the community together and make a difference when and where they can. While this story is imagined, it is not so far-fetched, and serves as an inspiration to the young future leaders who will read it. While calling attention to the impact that Dolores Huerta made on so many peoples’ lives, it also provides an inspiration to encourage readers not to confine themselves to the parameters life and society may seek to place upon them. In this case, the leap from school teacher to activist is not such a large jump, and is based on the everyday acts of resistance that remain a constant throughout Huerta’s life and can be seen demonstrated in the actions of Huerta’s family and broader community.

Additional Resources:

Teaching Tips at https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/PR6084_Lola-Out-Loud_Teaching-Tips_FINAL.pdf?_ga=2.24801212.76234935.1677173193-120932917.1677173193

Discussion by the Author: https://www.lbyr.com/titles/jennifer-torres/lola-out-loud/9780316530125/

What’s Mine and Yours

By: Naima Coster

Grand Central Publishing (2021)

Age: Adult

Region: North America

What’s Mine and Yours details the interweaving of two working-class families brought together through the integration of the city and county school systems in Piedmont, North Carolina. The intergenerational story of love and loss covers addiction to reproductive rights, racism, and politics. The novel investigates the challenges of inheriting or disinheriting a parent’s legacy and how we forge our own paths in the world. It documents the hardships of parenting and the limits of its power. What’s Mine and Yours is a powerful family saga that captures the trials and tribulations of the families we choose and the family we’re born into.

Additional Resources:

I Didn’t Consider My Marriage Interracial. But I Wasn’t Being Totally Honest With Myself” By Naima Coster for Time

Naima Coster’s Website

Vamos a Leer Book Review of Naima Coster’s Halsey Street

Tía Fortuna’s New Home: A Jewish Cuban Journey

Written By: Ruth Behar (Pura Belpré Award Winner, cultural anthropologist, poet, memoirist, and fiction author)

Illustrated By: Devon Holzwarth

Published By: Alfred A. Knopf, 2022

Age: 4+

Location: Cuba and Miami

Language: Spanglish; Also available in Spanish

Ruth Behar’s new book, Tía Fortuna’s New Home, tells the story of young Estrella’s experience witnessing the love and loss involved in the migrations in the life of her Tía Fortuna. Told through the eyes of Estrella, we learn this is not Tía Fortuna’s first time being forced to leave her home. Rather, it is a recurring reality throughout her family history, of forced migration due to religious persecution, due to conflict, and due to greed and hate. Despite such difficult realities, above all else this is a story of strength. Tía Fortuna shows Estrella how to carry traditions and home within herself, to cherish the memories, and demonstrates the difficulty and power in enjoying what exists today in spite of the fear or knowledge that what you cherish may not be there tomorrow. This story serves as a reminder to us how communities can thrive in the face of continued struggle, and how home and kindness can be made in many places. Holzwarth’s illustrations give life to this resistant beauty and hope, creating a magical world in which this family’s Cuban, Sephardic legacy traces its way through home, life, and journeys. In the end we see how these legacies are passed onto Estrella, who must decide how to take up and choose to remember the challenges and beauty for herself. 

As Behar explains in her author’s notes, the story presented in this book is based on very real historical and present realities. It is a reminder of the power of history to erase or take responsibility for the future. Behar’s story speaks to the present, extending the conversation to all of us to think critically about how we respond in the face of such realities. 

“People of Sephardic heritage need to hear these stories to find out who they are, but so do all who wish to take part in the beautiful diversity that is the soul of our humanity”.

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

Feathered Serpent and the Fire Suns: A Mesoamerican Creation Myth

Author: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher: Harry N. Abrams

Ages: 5+

Region: Mesoamerica

Language: English with Nahuatl words and translations.

Feather Serpent and the Fire Suns shares author Duncan Tonatiuh’s imagined journey of Quetzalcoátl in a well-known Mesoamerican creation myth. Quetzalcoátl must travel across the nine regions to reach Mictlán, the Underworld, to gather the god’s sacred bones and create the fifth tonatiuh (sun) to give the creation of  humanity a final chance of success. The God of Knowledge, aided by his intelligence, creativity, and his helpful friend and spirit guide Xólotl, struggles his way through the realms to gather the sacred bones. Through struggle, bravery, and teamwork, Quetzalcoátl finds success at the end of his journey, bringing life to the fifth and final tonatiuh.

The author-illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh’s illustrations are a crucial aspect of this text that bring the story to life. More than anything, Quetzaloátl’s imagined journey to Mictlán is an arduous voyage–Tonatiuh does not depict an easy journey. The themes in this book are not light. They depict hardship, but they also imagine how the figures we look up to may face these hardships and overcome them. Notably, Tonatiuh does not shy away from darker themes of fear, difficulty, and pain. The colors utilized throughout the presentation of Tonatiuh’s detailed and captivating images shift as this difficult journey progresses, reflecting the dark tonalities of the increasing challenges our protagonist encounters on his journey. While this journey is often frightful, there is always a presence of light or a helpful being at our protagonist’s side, demonstrating that help can always be found. This is not a store of strict independence, but of learning to depend on oneself, using the tools you have at one’s disposal creatively, and of both helping and depending on others to achieve a higher goal. Crucially, our heroic protagonist and god Quetzaloátl is not infallible–he injures himself along the way and ultimately makes a final act of sacrifice to obtain his goal. Sacrifice and determination are two prominent themes throughout this book, teaching our young readers that life is not easy, but that it is beautiful despite darkness, worthwhile, and that they can achieve their dreams in spite of challenges so long as they help and reach out to others when they are in need. 

Aside from being an award-winning and captivating illustrator, the author includes an author’s note with further context, an informative and contextualizing addition we should see more of in children’s literature more broadly. Like many of Tonatiuh’s other works that we continue to love and appreciate for young readers, at the end of the book Tonatiuh provides an enlightening glossary and pronunciation guide of the Nahuatl terms utilized throughout Quetzalcoátl’s journey that invites young readers to continue speaking, sharing, and learning the Nahuatl language. In addition, Tonatiuh clarifies to young readers and parents that his primary purpose in crafting this work is to introduce curious readers to the “mythology of Mesoamerica and to introduce young readers to this tradition”. The Book, Feather Serpent and the Fire Suns, is based on an Aztec creation myth, and Tonatiuh alerts the readers of both the histories he has borrowed from as well as what creative liberties he has taken in the process. Crucially, Tonatiuh “imagin(ed) how Quetzalcoátl would have confronted the arduous journey through the regions of Mictlán”. The text ultimately presents an artistically beautiful, accessible, and welcoming presentation of this Mesoamerican creation myth to audiences who may have varying levels of knowledge and experience with the Nahuatl language and Mesoamerican culture. Moreover, it is a text many curious minds, young readers and mature readers alike, can learn from together.

Additional Resources:

Podcast and Talk with the author: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhWdsbIq1H4

Teaching Books.net Lesson Planning Resource: https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?tid=71822

Santiago’s Road Home / La Travesía de Santiago

By: Alexandra Diaz

Published by: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Age: YA

Region: Mexico and USA

Main Themes: immigration, family, community, detention centers, overcoming adversity, US immigration policy

Temas principales: inmigración, familia, comunidad, centros de detención, superación de la adversidad, política de inmigración de EE.UU.

Alexandra Diaz brings us another impactful story about immigration to the United States from Latin America. Diaz’s story follows the journey of Santiago Garcia Reyes, an orphaned teen whose family mistreats him and continues to sluff him off to other relatives until he runs out of options. When his aunt Tía Roberta kicks him out and demands he return to his abuela’s, Santiago decides he would rather fend for himself than suffer under the roof at La Malvada’s. After a few days of sleeping in abandoned houses and scrounging around for food, Santi runs into a mother and her daughter outside of a food truck. The connection is immediate between Santiago and María and becomes even deeper with María’s daughter Alegría. Once Santiago learns of their plan to travel north and cross the border to the United States, he is determined to accompany them on their journey and prove he is a worthy companion.

The trio sets off together becoming family along the way. Their bond only strengthens as they face several hardships throughout their path north. Once they cross the border, María is close to death and Santi and Alegría are sent to a detention center in New Mexico, separated once they arrive. Santiago struggles in the detention center as he feels abandoned yet again and he is treated like a criminal with no rights or comforts while under custody. He finds solace in the teacher and the lunch lady at the detention facility, making connections that give him strength in the unlikeliest places. While Santi lives for months in the facility slowly deflating each day, María is working hard to get him released and reunited with his surrogate family. Even if Santi had given up hope for a better future, those whose lives he touched never give up on him.

Santiago’s Road Home offers us yet another account of the realities of life in Mexico for many children, teenagers, and young adults. We understand the motivations to seek a better life in the United States. What is unique about this book in particular is the setting. Many of the stories I have read about immigration center on the before and after of crossing the border. Alexandra Diaz on the other hand, illustrates life in the detention centers where minors are held contrary to the United Nations standards on detention duration and treatment of those held at such facilities. While this story is a work of fiction it does reflect the realities of detention centers and gives the reader a sense of what the people held there think, feel, and how they are treated. This would be a great book for middle school to high school students. The back matter of the book includes a comprehensive list of discussion question, a glossary, references, and a list of books for further reading.

Alexandra Diaz nos trae otra impactante historia sobre la inmigración a Estados Unidos desde América Latina. La historia de Díaz sigue el viaje de Santiago García Reyes, un adolescente huérfano cuya familia lo maltrata y continúa vendiéndolo a otros parientes hasta que se queda sin opciones. Cuando su tía Tía Roberta le echa de casa y le exige que vuelva con su abuela, Santiago decide que prefiere valerse por sí mismo que sufrir bajo el techo de La Malvada. Tras unos días durmiendo en casas abandonadas y buscando comida, Santiago se encuentra con una madre y su hija en la puerta de un camión de comida. La conexión es inmediata entre Santiago y María y se hace aún más profunda con Alegría, la hija de María. Una vez que Santiago se entera de su plan de viajar al norte y cruzar la frontera con Estados Unidos, está decidido a acompañarlas en su viaje y demostrar que es un compañero digno.

El trío emprende el viaje convirtiéndose en familia. Su vínculo se fortalece a medida que se enfrentan a diversas dificultades en su camino hacia el norte. Una vez que cruzan la frontera, María está al borde de la muerte y Santi y Alegría son enviados a un centro de detención en Nuevo México, donde son separados una vez que llegan. Santiago lucha en el centro de detención al sentirse abandonado una vez más y es tratado como un criminal sin derechos ni comodidades mientras está bajo custodia. Encuentra consuelo en la maestra y en la señora del almuerzo del centro de detención, haciendo conexiones que le dan fuerza en los lugares más insospechados. Mientras Santi vive durante meses en el centro desinflándose poco a poco cada día, María trabaja duro para conseguir que lo liberen y se reúna con su familia sustituta. Aunque Santi haya perdido la esperanza de un futuro mejor, aquellos cuyas vidas tocó nunca se rinden con él.

El camino de Santiago a casa nos ofrece otro relato de las realidades de la vida en México para muchos niños, adolescentes y jóvenes. Comprendemos las motivaciones para buscar una vida mejor en Estados Unidos. Lo que hace único a este libro en particular es el escenario. Muchas de las historias que he leído sobre inmigración se centran en el antes y el después de cruzar la frontera. Alexandra Díaz, en cambio, ilustra la vida en los centros de detención donde se recluye a los menores, en contra de las normas de las Naciones Unidas sobre la duración de la detención y el trato que reciben los retenidos en tales instalaciones. Aunque esta historia es una obra de ficción, refleja la realidad de los centros de detención y da al lector una idea de lo que piensan, sienten y cómo son tratadas las personas allí retenidas. Es un libro ideal para estudiantes de secundaria y bachillerato. La contraportada del libro incluye una lista exhaustiva de preguntas para debatir, un glosario, referencias y una lista de libros de lectura complementaria.

Additional Resources:

Related Vamos a Leer Book Reviews:

Beast Rider By María Elena Fontanot de Rhoads  and Tony Johnston

The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande

El Viaje / The Journey by Francesca Sanna

Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight by Duncan Tonatiuh

For All / Para Todos Educator Curriculum Guide with lesson plans and activities

Publisher’s Website


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