How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

Cover image for How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe.

How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland (9781534448667)

Moon has always lived in the shadow of her beautiful sister, Star. Now Star is a Fotogram influencer, making enough money to have bought their family a new house. Their mother is ecstatic with Star but has always had problems showing any sort of love to Moon. Star has been offered a seat on a tour bus of influencers traveling the nation for the summer, and Moon is sent along as her photographer, a role she has played for years. Moon will also be the tour’s “merch girl,” manning the booth that sells items for the influencers to all their fans. Moon has been planning her escape to college after the summer and pockets her money for the meal plan to help pay for board at college, deciding to live off peanut butter and grilled cheese on the bus. But she hadn’t planned on Santiago, an impossibly gorgeous guy who is the grumpy and rude brother of the owner of Fotogram. He’s also the other person doing merch sales. It’s hate at first sight, at least until Santiago starts to share his talent with food and Moon starts to question everything that her mother has ever told her.

Incredible writing, a fresh plot and lots of character growth make this teen novel a pure joy to read. Gilliland has real skill with dialogue, making all of the conversations seem natural and realistic but also clever and sharp-witted. Throughout the book there are wonderful slow reveals of information, such as how Moon actually got her scar (she did not fall out of a tree). The nature of Moon’s relationship with her sister and mother is honest and painful, each moment scalpel sharp and devastating, even when Moon herself doesn’t realize how bad it is.

Moon is a magnificent Latina protagonist. She is not waif-thin nor muscular, moving through her life with wobbly and jiggly bits that she struggles to love. She is herself a gifted earth artist and someone with a deep and meaningful connection to nature. One that often leaves her covered in insects like luna moths, ladybugs and dragonflies, something her mother considers a curse. Moon is complex, acerbic, funny and immensely vulnerable, just like the novel itself.

One of the best of the year, this is a book to fall for. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

A Song of Frutas by Margarita Engle

Cover image for A Song of Frutas.

A Song of Frutas by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Sara Palacios (9781534444898)

A little girl tells of visiting her Abuelo in Cuba. When she is there, she helps him sell fruit from his small cart on the street. Together they sing the names of the fruits they have for sale, walking in beat to the song and shaking their hands like maracas. Their voices reach up the tall buildings around them and some people purchase fruit using a basket they lower down on a rope. There are other vendors on the street shouting or singing about their wares too, and that’s when Abuelo has to sing even louder to be heard. It’s most special to visit Abuelo at the new year when everyone wants to purchase 12 grapes per person to have good luck when they eat them at midnight. If only visiting Cuba was simpler and they could go more often!

Engle is an award-winning author of books for all ages of children. This picture book uses a mix of English and Spanish called Spanglish that is used both in the United States and Cuba. The songs that the girl and her grandfather sing together are done in rhyme while the rest of the picture book displays Engle’s skills with verse in a different way. Her paragraphs of free verse still play with rhythm and form, inviting readers to experience Cuba and their lively street vendors.

Palacios’ illustrations are bright and merry. They show the dynamic urban Cuban street scene that is full of colorful buildings and equally colorful people. The illustrations share that same inherent happiness as the words.

Bright and energetic, this picture book offers a glimpse of Cuba. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Bird House by Blanca Gomez

Cover image for Bird House.

Bird House by Blanca Gomez (9781419744082)

One day when out on a snowy walk, a little girl and her abuela found an injured bird. They brought it home and took care of it. As it healed, they kept it in a cage and also let it fly around their living room. The bird was just as fantastic as everything else is at Abuela’s house. When the bird was better, they released it out the window. It flew off over the city until they couldn’t see it any longer. Winter turned to spring. The little bird returned to their balcony. The little girl wanted to keep it, but instead they decided that the bird could visit them whenever it liked.

Told in simple sentences, this picture book is beautifully quiet and thoughtful. Readers will enjoy the discovery of the bird and the care that the pair take with getting it better. There is sadness as the bird has to be set free and then a joy when it returns. Without being heavy handed, this picture book explores how we can help nature without needing to own it or change it.

The illustrations capture the warmth of Abuela’s home and the rich connection she has with her granddaughter. The two spend lots of time together, reading and gardening, just being with one another on the pages.

Quiet and simple. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Your Mama by NoNieqa Ramos

Cover image for Your Mama.

Your Mama by NoNieqa Ramos, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara (9781328631886)

This picture book cleverly riffs on the “Yo Mama” jokes. Each set of pages starts with a full joke, including “Your Mama so sweet, she could be a bakery” and “Your Mama so strong, she like a marine.” Then the story takes over and explains how this little girl’s mother is all that and more. Examples like her high heels shoes that no one else can walk in, being public library VIPs, and making the perfect costumes. This mother loves road trips, good jokes, and makeup. She stands up against injustice, has friends everywhere, and loves her daughter more than she will ever know.

The humor at the center of the book, taking often negative “Yo Mama” jokes and turning them on their head is a real pleasure. The Latinx protagonists are both strong women with the text slowing with English and Spanish. It’s a pleasure to see a fully realized mother, who is modern, focused and still able to be a great Mama. This woman has real dimension on the page, allowing readers to see their own amazing mothers here too.

The art in this book shows the warm love between mother and daughter, from bouncing on couch cushions, to living room performances, to being out and about together. The setting is urban and friendly, the streets bustling with friends and relatives. From her long curly hair to her high heeled shoes, this is a mother with plenty of attitude and self confidence to share with her daughter.

A celebration of Mamas both sweet and spicy. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Versify.

Pura Belpré Awards

Presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

ILLUSTRATION AWARD

HONOR BOOK

Sharuko: El Arqueólogo Peruano Julio C. Tello / Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello by Elisa Chavarri, written by Monica Brown

WINNER

¡Vamos!: Let’s Go Eat by Raúl Gonzalez

TEXT FOR CHILDREN AWARD

HONOR BOOKS

The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez by Adrianna Cuevas

Lupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera

WINNER

Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

YOUNG ADULT

HONOR BOOKS

Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera

We Are Not from Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

WINNER

Furia by Yamile Saied Mendez

Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar

Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar

Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar (9781338343809)

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.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic Press. 

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez (9781536207040)

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.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

2020 Américas Awards

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:

WINNERS

Beast Rider by Tony Johnston and Maria Elena Fontanot De Rhoads

Between Us and Abuela by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Sara Palacios

HONORABLE MENTIONS

The Moon Within by Aida Salazar

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña

The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel

Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros (9780062881687)

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.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.