Saludos todos! This week we are concluding our March theme of women and Women’s History Month with another great read. Last week I featured the Coleccion Antiprincesas, which provides readers with biographies of underrepresented and under-studied historical Latina heroines. This week, however, we are switching gears a bit, focusing more on the courage and determination of young girls in our everyday lives. The book for this week is Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre, written by Tom Luna and illustrated by Laura Alvarez. This wonderful story focuses on a young, female protagonist who has to learn how to navigate her complicated emotions in a difficult situation. Not only does this book show young readers how to cope with separation and heartache, it also counters stereotypes and challenges negative representations of women and girls by portraying a young girl whose empathy and emotional sensibility is not a flaw or a nuisance, but, ultimately, one of her greatest virtues.
This book tells the story of young Camila and her beloved abuelo, Felix, who lives far away in Veracruz, Mexico: “It had been two years since he left San Antonio to return home to Veracruz.” Camila reflects on the bittersweet memories of her grandfather playing his favorite guitar, the requinto, and how he would sing her lullabies when she was a little baby: “He had a deep beautiful voice and played the requinto with an almost angelic touch.” Although the plot following the female protagonist challenges typical, negative representations of women and girls, the character description of the grandfather also challenges expectations of men and boys. The grandfather is sensitive, artistic, loving and participates actively in caring for his grandchild, taking her on outings to the zoo and the park, to name a few, all the while singing or whistling tunes from Veracruz.
Saludos todos! This week we are starting our March theme of women in children’s literature, in celebration of Women’s History Month. Our book for this week is Get to Know Gabriela Mistral, written by Georgina Lazaro Leon and illustrated by Sara Helena Palacios. This bilingual book is part of a series of “Conoce a…/ Get to Know….” books that provide children with biographies of well-known, and sometimes lesser-known, Hispanic heroes.
Gabriela Mistral was a Chilean author and poet and she was the first Latin American author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945. Although Mistral is indeed very well-known within the literary community, outside of the literary community she is often eclipsed by some of her twentieth century male contemporaries, such as Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges. This informative story traces Mistral’s life, both her childhood and her work as a writer, and even introduces readers to some of her lovely poetry, ultimately putting the spotlight on a timeless woman, a Latin American hero and literary icon.
Saludos todos! We are continuing our theme of “unsung heroes” this week with Fire! ¡Fuego! Brave Bomberos!, written by Susan Middleton Elya and illustrated by Dan Santat. This heartwarming and inspiring story celebrates the courageous firemen and women who put their lives at risk every day to keep their neighborhoods safe. As the fire squad rushes to attend to a burning house, and to rescue a gato (cat) from the menacing flames, the entire neighborhood crowds around, cheering and supporting their local firefighters, emphasizing themes of community, camaraderie and support.
As Kirkus Reviews notes in a review of the book, the theme of firefighters is not especially unique among children’s books; however, Elya’s story diversifies this common narrative by interspersing her rhythmic poetic prose with Spanish words. The context clues and illustrations help non-Spanish-speaking students understand the meaning of the Spanish vocabulary, but Elya has also included a glossary at the back of the book to further facilitate a novice reading of the text.
Saludos todos! This week we are concluding the month of March, Women’s History Month, with a sweet, heart-warming tale about a girl, her grandma, and the company of a pet parrot. This week’s book, Mango, Abuela and Me (ages 4-7), written by Meg Medina and illustrated by Angela Dominguez, narrates the beautiful relationship between two generations of women, and the way in which their love and familial bond ultimately surmounts their linguistic and cultural barriers. When the protagonist, Mia’s “far-away Abuela,” comes to live with them in the United States, Mia has to find a way to establish a relationship with her grandmother. Despite Mia’s Spanish not being good enough “to tell her the things an Abuela should know,” and Abuela’s English being “too pequito,” the two find a way to surpass these difficulties and conquer intercultural barriers through love, loyalty, and creativity. While exploring the intercultural challenges that many bicultural children face, this story also celebrates the day-to-day influence of positive, loving women in the lives of young children. Although many of our previous books for this month focused on extolling and celebrating larger-than-life women, this book takes us to a more familiar place: the sweet and simple experiences of an intergenerational family.
The beginning of the story introduces Mia’s Abuela who comes to stay with the family, “leaving behind her sunny house that rested between two snaking rivers.” Although her home country is never named, readers can assume by her knowledge of Spanish that she is from Latin America. Additionally, the description of water and a warm climate may lead readers to assume that she is specifically from the Caribbean. Nonetheless, the lack of specificity enables a variety of readers from a variety of backgrounds to identify with Mia and her “far-away” Abuela. Although, of course, the immigrant experience is different for everyone, this book captures many of the familiar struggles of adapting to a new language and new home. Even I, for example, having a grandmother who lives in France, can identify with this story and the perplexing contradictions of familial closeness and cultural dissonance.
Saludos, todos! This week we are featuring Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López. As some of you may remember, we recently featured Margarita Engle in our Author’s Corner, where we gave you some biographical information, as well as some resources for exploring and teaching some of her works in young adult and children’s literature. In Drum Dream Girl, Engle does not cease to amaze us yet again. With Drum Dream Girl (ages 3-8) we continue our March celebration of Women’s History Month and our theme of women’s rights and experiences in children’s literature, by focusing on the story of a lesser-known historical figure. Through her beautiful poetic prose, Engle tells the biographical tale of a young, Cuban girl who counters gender norms in order to become one of Cuba’s most iconic female drummers.
López’s stunning illustrations complement Engle’s lyrical prose in a culmination of female empowerment and pride. As illustrator López dedicates the book to his “architect mother, Pilo, whose courage opened the ceiling above her dreams,” readers are reminded of the strength and brilliance of older generations of women, paving the way towards freedom and rights for younger generations. This book strongly resonates with the legacy of women’s rights and empowerment throughout history, in the Americas and beyond.
Drum Dream Girl is based on the true story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl living in the 1930s who successfully struggled against the social stigma for female drummers, becoming one of Cuba’s great, historic musicians. Engle narrates the tale through concise, lyrical writing, consistent with her style of fusing poetry and prose: “But everyone/ on the island of music/ in the city of drumbeats/ believed that only boys/ should play drums/ so the drum dream girl/ had to keep dreaming/ quiet/ secret/ drumbeat/ dreams.” This style is both easy for younger readers to follow and digest, and lyrically pleasing for older readers or adults.