Betita’s father has always told her that they are descendants of the Aztecs who came from Atzlan, which is now the southwestern United States. They are cranes who have returned home. Living in Los Angeles, Betita goes to school while her parents work long hours. But then one day, her father is taken by ICE and deported to Mexico. Betita and her mother make the long car ride to the border to see him, but find themselves arrested and put into a detention camp. Forced to sleep on the concrete floor, eat moldy food, and succumb to the monotony and cruelty of the camp, Betita almost loses herself. But she rises, inspired by the women and children around her, to insist that they have rights even when she has no one with her anymore.
Salazar uses verse to tell the story of Betita and her family. The early part of the book is almost dreamy as the family creates their new life in Los Angeles together. But the book turns and twists into a razor-like call for dignity and legal help for those both deported and those held in camps. The conditions of the camp are horrible, the indignity and casual cruelty heaped upon them is almost soul crushing. It’s difficult to read and even more difficult to accept that this is the United States doing these things to children and families.
Salazar gives her young heroine a voice in the book, a playfulness and creativity that lets her create her own toys, form connections with other children. She also has the ability to write and to lead others to write their own stories too. That powerful ability is what allows the characters to rise above and insist upon being seen.
An important and powerful call to see Latinx people held in border camps as humans first and always. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Evelyn and Daniela are best friends. Evelyn tries to act like today is just like any other day, but it’s not. Daniela goes across the street to find a big truck getting filled with boxes and their furniture. The two climb the stairs two at a time, the way they always do. They go past Evelyn’s neighbors who they know so well, into the apartment which is a twin of where Daniela lives across the street. The furniture is all packed and just a few boxes are left, so the girls play in an empty box until it is time for Evelyn to go. In the empty apartment they spin together, then discover stickers to share. A heart pressed to a cheek to seal the promise of a future visit together. Then it is time to go, knowing they will always be best friends.
Medina proves here that she can write just as beautifully for preschoolers and elementary age as she does for older readers. Focusing on the long goodbye, this picture book shows how farewells can be done with smiles and promises. Medina invites us into their shared imaginative play, the joy of big empty boxes, the pleasure of hiding from adults together, and finally the sadness of goodbyes. The twinning of the two girls with their similar apartments and attitudes works so well here, showing their connection in a physical way.
Sanchez’s art is glorious. Full of the deepest of colors, saturated reds and oranges, cool blues and greens. They are paired with textures of wallpaper, cardboard corrugations, red bricks, and floorboards. This is an entire world of apartments and friendship.
A great picture book with an empowering final page. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
The Américas Awards are awarded by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs 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” as well as to provide recommended titles for classroom use. Here are the 2020 awards that were announced in May:
Beast Rider by Tony Johnston and Maria Elena Fontanot De Rhoads
Efren’s family works hard all day to provide for him and his younger twin siblings, Mia and Max. Efren’s mother, Ama, really holds the family together, creating delicious meals from leftovers every day. He thinks of her as “Soperwoman” because of the delicious sopes she makes. When Ama is seized by ICE and deported, it falls to Efren to watch his younger siblings, getting them ready in the morning, to bed at night, and trying to distract them from missing Ama. Efren’s father is working two jobs and not sleeping at all, just to send money to his mother in order to get her back into the U.S. As Efren’s school work and friendships start to suffer from the pressure he is under and his worry for his entire family, he looks for ways to make sure that his little brother and sister still feel loved, the way his mother would want them to.
Cisneros has created an ownvoices novel for middle graders that grapples with the state of immigration in the United States. The book is timely, speaking directly to situations that children across our country face every day if their parents are undocumented. The level of fear and dread that ICE has for these families, the danger of being deported, and the risks of returning to their families is all captured here,
Efren is a marvelous protagonist. He is smart and has a huge heart as well as an astounding amount of patience towards his little brother and sister. Living in real poverty, his only wish is for his family to be whole, not for a phone, a bigger TV or anything but having his mother back.
A gripping and rich look at the impact of current immigration policies on children of undocumented families. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Inspired by her grandson’s picture of Super Octo, his grandmother decides to make octopus stew. So the two set off for the fish market where she gets the biggest octopus in the store. The boy gets a warning about octopi on his phone, but she won’t listen to him. She starts the water and gets out the biggest pot when they get home. As the two sit together in the living room, a strange noise comes from the kitchen. The octopus is now so big that it has blown the lid off the pot! It grabs grandmother and holds on to her. Now it’s up to her grandson to figure out how to get an octopus to let go!
Velasquez has won both a Pura Belpre and a Coretta Scott King John Steptoe Award. Here, he writes a layered story that has a gatefold in the middle where the entire story is revealed to be just that, a tale being told. Cleverly, the book can be read both ways either as a story being shared aloud or as a full-on monster tale. However you choose to read it, the book has brisk pacing and plenty of action. It features a Latinx family with Spanish words and phrases sprinkled throughout the text.
The illustrations offer a dynamic superhero feel that works well, since the main character is a superhero fan. The action is captured with plenty of drama and the size of the octopus is enough to pose quite the threat.
Grab this picture book and squeeze it tight! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
The author of As the Crow Flies returns with a queer western story that tells a different tale from the traditional male-focused guns-blazing westerns. This is the story of Flor, also known as the Ghost Hawk, a Latinx woman who steals from stagecoaches with the help of her trained hawk. On one of her heists, she takes a woman hostage looking for a ransom payout. But it turns out that Grace is not wealthy and many don’t understand that she is transgender. The two of them start talking and realize that Grace may be the key to one of Ghost Hawk’s biggest treasures, stealing some crucial documents from some rich confederates. Grace has a perfect Georgia accent, so all they need are some great dresses and plenty of courage.
I fell so hard for this thin graphic novel. I want to have the second book immediately so that I can continue to explore the West with these two amazing women. Gillman’s story is rich and masterful. She offers such empathy to her queer characters, many who are also secondary characters in the story and also pays homage to people of color in the West too. Her notes at the end of the book offer historical details for what she shows on the page, giving context to her characters.
Daisy loves to ride with her father on his motorcycle. After he finishes his work in construction, he always has time for an evening ride with her. They ride like a comet on the hot asphalt, zigzagging through the streets. Together they rumble through their Southern California town and visit all of the sites that Daisy loves. There is Joy’s Market where they see their librarian shopping. Murals on the walls tell the story of their history as Mexican-Americans. They plan to stop for a sweet treat, but the store has closed. They pass her grandparent’s home with happy waves and a plan to visit tomorrow. Their ride ends with a visit to her father’s workplace and then a curving race around Grand Boulevard. They return home to find that the owner of the closed shop has is running a food cart instead.
Quintero’s text is lush and beautiful. It’s remarkable for a picture book to use language the way that she does, yet she manages it without leaving small children behind. It is particularly evident in the places where Daisy’s imagination soars. As Daisy pictures them as a comet flying, Quintero’s prose flies alongside her imagination lifting it with colors, and sentences like “We become a spectacular celestial thing soaring on asphalt.” What more could a reader want?
The illustrations are a true celebration of the community Daisy and her Papi right through. The murals are shown in bright colors, the city itself bathed in the heat and sunshine of a summer day. Perspectives are done playfully at times with chasing dogs and narrow streets.
A summer treat of a book, this one is worth the ride. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
The award-winning author returns with a companion book to her memoir Enchanted Air. In this book, Engle writes in verse about her time in high school. Margarita thinks often of her time in her childhood spent in Cuba, but now that world is entire inaccessible to her and her family. As she attends high school in Los Angeles, Margarita dreams of traveling the world. She is also involved in the unrest of the 1960s as the issues of war, peace, civil rights, and freedom cause protests. Engle finishes high school and goes on to find her own winding path through college on her own terms. It is a memoir filled with hope, longing for peace, and a discovery of personal identity.
Engle is the national Young People’s Poet Laureate, a well-deserved honor given her body of work for children and teens. This second memoir takes a long look at the 1960s in America and the tensions between war and peace. She doesn’t shrink away from topics such as drug use. Her own path to a college degree will also help young people who may be wondering whether they have to go to Ivy League schools to succeed. The joy of finding teachers who are passionate and supportive eclipses the need for the school to be acclaimed.
As always Engle’s writing is exceptional. Here with the personal lens, it is all the more powerful and moving. There are poems that are intensely personal and others that take a less immediate and more philosophical view. The play of the two together allows the book to give a real look at her time growing up and the times of her youth.
Another amazing read by Engle, a poet to be celebrated. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
The deep impact and life of librarian Pura Belpre is shown in this picture book biography. The first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City, Pura entered the job with a deep understanding of her native folklore and the power of storytelling with children. But the shelves of the library did not have any of the Puerto Rican tales. So Pura sets off to fix that as well as demonstrating ways to tell stories using puppets. Soon her first book is published and she can use it when she travels to different library branches to share her stories. Pura gets married to a musician and the two of them travel to different cities to perform his music and her stories. When her husband dies, Pura returns to New York City to discover that the stories she planted years ago have germinated something bigger.
Denise writes with a tone of wonder as she tells of this librarian who created her own way to tell the stories she loved. The text is infused with Spanish in a way that allows for comprehension and also clearly ties this book to its Puerto Rican subject. The text reads like poetry, gamboling across the page filled with activity and Pura’s own decisiveness.
The illustrations are rich and vibrant. They depict the library, Pura’s storytelling with children, and the subject matter of her stories. Filled with textures and deep colors, the illustrations pay close attention to the time period of the book and yet have a playful lightness to them as well.
A strong picture book biography of a remarkable librarian. Appropriate for ages 5-8.