Originally posted on Latinxs in Kid Lit on March 29, 2021
Reviewed by Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Dr. Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez
Originally posted on Latinxs in Kid Lit on March 29, 2021
Reviewed by Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Dr. Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez
Originally posted on Latinxs in Kid Lit on November 2, 2020
Reviewed by Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Cousins Malia, Ivan, and Dante are visiting their aunt Lucy for the summer. But on their way to Gulf City’s water park, they get lost on 13th Street. Only it’s not a street at all. It’s a strange world filled with dangerous beasts! Will the cousins find their way back to Aunt Lucy’s?
MY TWO CENTS: This early chapter book is full of adventure, mystery, fun, humor, and family love! Writer David Bowles and illustrator Shane Clester present the first of many adventures that cousins Malia, Ivan, and Dante will have on the mysterious 13th street. In a short 87-page book, readers are able to learn a lot about each cousin’s personality–Malia is the leader, Ivan is the visionary, and Dante is the gamer–and how they each contribute when facing the Bad-Breath Bats.
I truly enjoyed this first book in the series, so much that once I finished it, I immediately ordered books 2-4. In addition to keeping readers engaged through friendly (and some not-so-friendly) characters and an intriguing story, the book engages readers through a series of “checkpoints.” For instance, the last page of each chapter depicts a progress bar with numbers that indicate which chapters the reader has completed. The last page of some chapters also includes a character from the story speaking to the readers and celebrating how far the reader has made it thus far. To further engage readers, the book includes a series of activities to “Think! Feel! and Act!” after having completed the story.
Bowles and Clester have created a fun and interactive story that has set the tone for a delightful series. After reading this book, young readers will be eager to continue following the cousins’ adventures.
TEACHING TIPS: Teachers can use this early chapter book to foster independent reading. Specific components of the story can be used to model descriptive writing – for example how Bowles is able to help the reader smell the bats’ bad breath just through words. Teachers can also use the book to teach about setting and brief yet effective character development.
Check out this and other books in the series, published by Harper Collins, here.
Originally posted on Latinxs in Kid Lit on April 16, 2020
Reviewed by Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Selena Quintanilla’s music career began at the age of nine when she started singing in her family’s band. She went from using a hairbrush as a microphone to traveling from town to town to play gigs. But Selena faced a challenge: People said that she would never make it in Tejano music, which was dominated by male performers. Selena was determined to prove them wrong.
Born and raised in Texas, Selena didn’t know how to speak Spanish, but with the help of her dad, she learned to sing it. With songs written and composed by her older brother and the fun dance steps Selena created, her band, Selena Y Los Dinos, rose to stardom! A true trailblazer, her success in Tejano music and her crossover into mainstream American music opened the door for other Latinx entertainers, and she became an inspiration for Latina girls everywhere.
MY TWO CENTS: As a middle-grader, Selena was my idol! I wish I had found her music earlier, but it was perhaps a year or so before her death. When the news broke, I was devastated and found solace in listening to her music and learning about her as much as possible. To this day, her music is a big part of my life. I had her CDs and her doll, I learned her songs and movements, and sometimes I even made up my own choreography. I approached this book, then, not only as a reviewer of children’s books but also as a lifelong fan of Selena.
How does one introduce to children the life of such an important icon of Latinx music whose life ended so tragically and so soon? Queen of Tejano Music: Selena tells the story of Selena Quintanilla, from her childhood in Lake Jackson, Texas to her successful career as a trailblazing singer and fashion designer. Presented in twenty short vignettes, López perfectly presents enough details on each page without overwhelming the reader with too much text.
Selena Quintanilla was born on an Easter Sunday, on April 16, 1971 to Marcella and Abraham Quintanilla, who, as a young man, had dreams of a music career. Selena “had been singing almost since she could talk” and soon after her parents realized she had perfect pitch. With her brother A.B. on guitars and her sister Suzette on the drums, music became a family affair. Through the years, the family band performed anywhere they could, and after a few years, Selena y Los Dinos was born. Through this history of Selena’s life and music career, López reminds readers of the challenges she faced: overcoming the language barrier, stepping into a male-dominated music landscape, and her father’s initial opposition to Selena’s romantic relationship with Chris Pérez.
This biographical account of Selena’s life and work is inspirational. Along with some of the obstacles that Selena encountered, the author highlights so many of the singer’s achievements that paved the way for women in music. At age fifteen, Selena won a Tejano Music Award for Female Vocalist of the Year, an accolade she continued receiving for years, along with other ones. She later received a Grammy Award for Best Mexican American Album. Yet, her success was not only measured in awards. López writes about Selena as a philanthropist, fashion designer, entrepreneur, and caring human who loved her family.
The narrative part of the book does not explicitly mention Selena’s death. Rather, this information is offered on the back pages of the book. I debated whether this part of Selena’s story should have been included in the main narrative or not. Yet, I thought it was handled gracefully. By writing the main text in past tense, López alludes to her passing and then offers more information about it after the last vignette. At this point, readers are presented with a timeline that begins with Selena’s birth in 1971 and ends in 1997, when the movie Selena starring Jennifer Lopez opened in theaters. Following the timeline, the book presents “A Little More About…,” a section with short pieces of information about Tex-Mex Music, Quinceañeras, and Corpus Christi, among others, as well as more details about Selena, including her tragic death. One observation to make here is the section titled “Hispanics or Latinos” seems to present the terms as synonyms: “Tejanos are part of a larger group of Americans, called Hispanics or Latinos, who have Spanish-speaking ancestors.” While many Latinxs are also Hispanic, there are some differences that could have been easily explained there. Nevertheless, the information is accessible, clear, and easy to understand.
The colorful illustrations are as vibrant as Selena’s smile and capture the singer’s bubbly personality. Paola Escobar creates a medley of double-page spreads and illustrated vignettes that depict in more detail specific moments in Selena’s life and specific aspects of her culture. One page depicts five moments as if they were Polaroid pictures, inviting the reader perhaps to think of her song “Fotos y Recuerdos” (pictures and memories). I noticed that on almost every page or spread, a flower is illustrated, whether it is a print fabric, picture, real flower, or even a pin. Details such as this one are just an example of how Escobar’s illustrations enhance and complement López’s writing to create an engaging work of art.
There have been several books and media about Selena’s life, in addition to musical tributes, fan-made merchandise, anniversary albums, and makeup lines, to name a few. In October 17, 2017, Google honored her with a doodle, as part of the launch of a virtual exhibit on Google Arts & Culture. Joining these tributes, Queen of Tejano Music: Selena is a celebration of the singer’s life—her music, her fashion, her memory, and her legacy, still alive and strong 25 years after her passing. A perfect addition to any picture book collection!
Originally posted on Latinxs in Kid Lit on February 6, 2020
Reviewed by Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: What’s that terrible smell? Plug your nose! Run! Something smells…rotten! But rotten isn’t always bad. If nothing ever rotted, nothing could live. Decomposition seems like the last stop on the food chain, but it’s just the beginning. When dead things rot, they give life to a host of other creatures. So who are these decomposers? Sharks and vultures feast on animal carcasses. Worms, maggots, and dung beetles devour decaying plant and animal matter. Decomposition is happening everywhere: oceans, forests, in your backyard—even between your teeth! It’s nature’s way of creating energy for all living things. So unplug your nose! Open this book to uncover the dirty rotten truth about one of nature’s most fascinating processes.
MY TWO CENTS: Who knew learning about dung beetles, worms, vultures, mummies, and numerous other “rotten” things could be so much fun?! In this informative book, Anita Sanchez provides so many facts about decomposition. I learned, for instance, about the different kinds of dung beetles and how they create their homes out of dung. It’s fascinating! I also learned about the decomposition process of a tree log and why it doesn’t smell terrible (even though one would think anything rotten would smell badly). The book also touches on items that do not decompose and the dangers they pose for nature. Speaking about plastic, it explains that “landfills are overflowing with plastic that’s sitting there, not decomposing. But even worse is the plastic that doesn’t make it into a landfill” (65).
Eighty-three pages of information can seem like a lot for a young reader, but Sanchez’s writing paired with the engaging and colorful illustrations by Gilbert Ford truly provide a fun learning experience. The book is divided into eight chapters, each one focusing on a different decomposer. Each chapter has a variety of sections that provide focused information on the specific topic, using stories, humorous snapshots, and creative illustrations. Some of my favorite recurring sections were “Decomposer Selfie,” which provides short bits of information about an animal or organism, and “Rot It Yourself,” which offers brief experiment directions. There is much to enjoy in this book! It would make a great addition to any library.
TEACHING TIPS: The book naturally lends itself to a science classroom (especially upper elementary and middle grades). There are experiments students can perform and which do not require too many materials. In addition, students can use the bibliography that is included at the end of the book to perform further research on a specific topic, animal, organism, etc. presented in the book.
In addition, this book is a wonderful model for various approaches to informational or non-fiction writing. Because it uses narratives, short blurbs, longer texts, descriptions, comparisons, process analysis, and images, among others, students can learn about and develop their own skills for writing non-fiction.
Originally posted on Latinxs in Kid Lit on January 9, 2020
Reviewed by Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez
In the past year I have been immersed in numerous early readers and transitional chapter books as part of a research project that examines representations of Latinx characters in these kinds of texts. The Sarai book series has been one of my favorites to read!
While the short format of early readers and chapter books can sometimes limit how much character development and details authors can offer, the Sarai books don’t fall short on these aspects. Sarai is free spirited, caring, creative, confident, and as a reader I got to know her personality (and her sisters’ personalities as well) through her interactions with others and her many ventures.
The following are reviews for books 2, 3, and 4 of the series. Read our review of Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome (Sarai Book #1). All books in the series are now available in Spanish as Saraí #1: Saraí y el Significado de lo Genial, Saraí #2: Saraí en Primer Plano, Saraí #3: Saraí Salva la música, and Saraí #4: Saraí y la Feria Alrededor del Mundo.
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: When Sarai’s best friend suddenly moves away, Sarai has to navigate school – and the unfriendly girls in the cafeteria – all by herself. Then, new girl Christina moves to town and the teacher volunteers Sarai to show her around. But Sarai thinks Christina is not at all like her–she never wants to play at recess, she’s always got her head in a notebook, and she’s so shy! But when Christina writes Sarai a spoken-word poem for her to recite at the class talent show, Sarai learns that sometimes winning teams are made from unlikely pairs!
MY TWO CENTS: Sarai’s awesomeness continues in this second installment of the series. Her affirmation of being awesome continues in this book, especially when she shares with her family that some of the girls in her class bother her during recess (38). This demonstration of confidence continues when she stands up for herself during an incident with the same group of girls, doing so without putting anyone down. And that is the beauty of Sarai’s proclamations of confidence: they highlight how awesome she is and feels without making anyone else feel bad about themselves. Further, she also shows a little bit of self-doubt, which is to be expected of a child growing up. She is finding herself and becoming her own person.
This book focuses on how Sarai deals with her best friend moving away and then how she slowly befriends the new girl, Christina. They don’t have many things in common yet, which makes Sarai miss her friend Isa. However, Sarai is respectful about their differences and open to learning more about her new friend. As a result, they collaborate for the school’s talent show, creating together a wonderful performance.
Sarai’s blossoming friendship with Christina is as delightful to witness as her relationship with her sisters, Josie and Lucía. As she explains, they might sometimes fight and disagree, but they all stick up for each other. Each sister has a distinct personality, and we learn little bits about them throughout the story. For example, we learn that Lucía has a little bit of a temper, (11), and is also very empathetic: “Lucía used to have her own cafeteria card, but she kept buying food for everyone who she thought didn’t have enough money to eat…” (16). We also continue to learn about Josie, who attends a different school from her sisters, wears cochlear implants, and communicates through a combination of signs and words. The sisters — along with their cousins Juju, Javier, and Jade — are part of the Super Awesome Sister-Cousin Fun Club, where they come up with awesome ideas.
With so many fun activities happening in Sarai in the Spotlight (like the kids’ game of Rainbow Art Paint Tag) and all the relatable experiences Sarai goes through, readers will definitely enjoy this second book in the series.
TEACHING TIPS: Because this book introduces a new character, there is a good use of descriptions that help readers get to know her. In addition, readers learn more about Sarai, her sister, and her friend Isa. Teachers, then, can use the book to teach about character development through descriptions. Students can create profiles for the different characters in the book and then they could create and develop their own characters.
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: They’re cutting funding at Sarai’s school and her band program is the first to go. That is totally not okay with Sarai. She decides to organize a benefit concert to raise money! When she and her bandmates promote the concert on their video channel, it catches the attention of Sarai’s favorite singer, Sparkles Sanchez! Can Sarai save the music?
MY TWO CENTS: I have to admit that, while I enjoyed all four books in the Sarai series, this one is my absolute favorite! In the third installment of the series, we witness how Sarai and Christina’s friendship continues to grow, as they support and empower one another. When some of the girls at school keep teasing Sarai, Christina suggests that they are jealous because Sarai is “so smart, and because you’re you!” (11). Equally helpful are Sarai’s neighbors and family, who continue to support the kids’ many ventures. This is particularly evident when everyone bands together to help Sarai help save her school’s music program.
It is this aspect that makes this book especially poignant. For one, it depicts the precarious state of the U.S. education system, where programs are being cut and teachers are losing their jobs. When Ms. Cruz — Sarai’s music teacher– shares the news with the class that the school district is cutting the funds for elementary music programs, students are understandably upset. More so, they are worried about what this means for their teacher. When Sarai asks Ms. Cruz if she will lose her job, the teacher can’t help but cry. This takes Sarai and the students aback, as they have “never seen a teacher cry before” and they “feel worried” (36). I truly appreciate the honesty from both Ms. Cruz and the students that is depicted here. Often, teachers are not encouraged to show vulnerability, even when their livelihood might be in danger, so Ms. Cruz’s moment of honesty with her students allows them to understand her situation better– and in turn, readers can better understand the realities many of their own schools and their own educators might be facing.
“Isn’t there anything we can do? Fundraise? Protest? Sign petitions?” Sarai asks, as the students try to figure out what they can do to save the music program and Ms. Cruz’s job (36). Sarai, always having something up her sleeve, mobilizes her classmates, her family, and her community to effect some change. Through her new venture, Sarai’s Garage Chat, a TV show she records with her sisters and cousins from their own garage, Sarai and her classmates are able to spread the word about the benefit concert they are organizing. It is important to note that Sarai takes action and mobilizes, but she creates a community and involves them. It is not a solo project. Everything is motivated and planned by the kids, and the adults are there to support them. One of the most moving moments in this book takes place when students are recording their plea to the community to attend their benefit and donate to the music program: each child made an argument about why music programs are so crucial.
In addition to its depiction of activism and empathy, this book continues showing readers all the awesome personalities in Sarai’s group of friends and family. There is something with which readers can connect– whether it is the games and fun ideas Sarai and her family come up with or her obsession with Stephanie Sparkles Sanchez (who gave me major Selena Quintanilla vibes and I loved it!). Through her contagious upbeat personality, Sarai is following her musical idol’s advice to “Spread the Sparkle!”
TEACHING TIPS: Teachers can use this early chapter book to discuss how the students in Sarai’s school worked together to try to solve a problem and could ask students to identify an issue in their school or community they would like to address. They could propose ideas and consider what steps they would need to take toward making improvements. Teachers can also use this book to focus on argument writing; as each student in Sarai’s class makes an argument for saving the music program, they put into practice appeals to logic and emotion.
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: When Sarai outgrows her bike, she worries she’ll never get to travel anywhere. But when Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary hosts their first Around the World Fair, Sarai learns that with a little imagination you can go anywhere you want!
MY TWO CENTS: In this fourth installment there is no “big problem” that Sarai needs to or wants to solve. Rather, we continue to see her character development, getting to know her and her family. Mainly, Sarai’s empathy and understanding of her family’s needs come through again. This time, she has been eyeing a bicycle, yet Sarai understands her parents’ financial struggles and doesn’t ask for expensive things, including the new bike she really wants. Her inventive and resourceful Tata — her grandfather — however, decides to fix an old bike for Sarai. And though she is reluctant at first, not sure what the end product would be, Sarai ultimately enjoys helping her Tata fix the old bike and appreciates how great it turns out to be.
I found her reluctance to be relatable and so important to include. She is such a positive and upbeat character, and a wonderful role model for children, but I also appreciated that we get to see Sarai upset. Seeing a range of emotions (like frustrations and being upset) can be helpful for young readers, and it is especially important to show them that it is okay to feel upset and then demonstrate how they can deal with their different emotions. After Sarai has some time to work through her frustrations with Tata and the old bike he is trying to fix, she apologizes to him, and Tata apologizes to her as well. This exchange not only shows that she is human– experiencing and expressing a range of emotions– but it also shows that adults need to understand what children are experiencing and show them they matter.
At school, Sarai must decide what country to research and present at the Around the World Fair. Embracing her parents’ two countries — Peru and Costa Rica — she would love to feature both. She decides to do some “research to make an informed decision” (42). Funny as she is, Sarai, after doing some research, tells her friend Christina that one day, when they are “really old, like twenty” they could travel to Ireland, Peru, and Costa Rica, where their families are from. In the end, Sarai is able to present on her chosen country (I won’t tell you which one). At the end of the book, readers will find a recipe and a step-by-step guide for making empanadas, like the ones she shares at the fair.
This fourth, and hopefully not the last, book in the series is truly delightful!
Originally posted on Latinxs in Kid Lit on October 17, 2019
Reviewed by Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez
Review by Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: When Daisy Ramona zooms around her neighborhood with Papi on his motorcycle, she sees the people and places she’s always known: the tortillería!, Abuelita’s church!, Franky, the barking Labradoodle! She also sees a community that is changing around her. But as Daisy and her papi reach the homestretch, the purple, blue, and gold sky glowing behind them, she knows that some things, like the love from her papi and family, will never change. With vivid illustrations and text bursting with heart, My Papi Has a Motorcycle is a young girl’s love letter to her hardworking dad and to the feeling of home we always carry with us.
The book is also available in Spanish as Mi papi tiene una moto.
MY TWO CENTS: Through this book, Quintero writes a love letter to her father “who showed [her] different ways of experiencing home” and a love letter to Corona, California, “a city that will always be a part of [her]” (Author’s note). The book begins with Daisy reading a book as she waits for her father to come home and take her on a ride around the city on his motorcycle. A wonderful feast to the eyes on this first page is the intertextuality that illustrator Zeke Peña provides: the book Daisy is reading is Lowriders to the Center of the Earth (written by Cathy Camper and illustrated by Raul the Third). It is a small, yet delightful, nod for readers who are familiar with the book series.
As the duo sets off on their journey, they pass many sights that are staples of Daisy’s city. There’s her Abuela’s church, Joy’s Market – where Mami buys Daisy’s gummy bears –, Rocket Repair, and Don Rudy’s Raspados – Daisy’s favorite place for shaved ice, which seems to have closed down. This is a point of concern for Daisy, who notices how disappointed her father is and affirms that she will not be the only one who misses the place. It comes as a happy surprise for her, then, when at the end of her journey that evening Don Rudy comes by with shaved ice, now in a small and portable cart.
Not only does the reader go on a tour of these places that Daisy enjoys, but we also get a glimpse into her life, her family’s life, her neighborhood, and some of the important history about the city. Passing by the murals painted around, Daisy explains their importance: “We roar past murals that tell our history – of citrus groves and immigrants who worked them, and of the famous road race that took place on Grand Boulevard a hundred years ago.”
As they race their way through Grand Boulevard, Daisy imagines being part of the races, the crowd cheering her on. The way Quintero weaves some of the history with Daisy’s daily life and imagination is brilliant, as readers are able to see the city through her eyes – lovingly and full of admiration – and at the same time they learn some of its history, as Daisy learns it, too.
In her author’s note, Quintero explains how the story was inspired by her own childhood in Corona, California. Through her words and Peña’s illustrations, she wanted to honor the immigrant workers, like her grandfather, who did the majority of the hard labor that helped establish the city, and a lot of the U.S. She explains that while the murals [Zeke Peña] created were imagined, the history they depicted was real.” These details, such as the city holding the road race on what is now known as Grand Boulevard, or the fact that Corona was known as the “Lemon Capital of the World” because of all the citrus that was cultivated there, were all present in the journey Daisy takes the reader.
There is so much heart in this book! It is clear how much Daisy loves and admires her papi, whose voice – she says – touches everything, even when everything around them is noisy. It doesn’t matter what else is going on, her father is central in her life. She admires his work as a carpenter, a job that he has had since he first arrived to the country, showing the reader not only his hard work, but how much she appreciates him for spending this sacred time with her even when he comes home really tired.
The language is very literary and the descriptions are vivid. One of my favorite combinations of vivid descriptions in the text and detailed imagery in the illustrations comes from a spread where Daisy describes how she and her dad take off on the motorcycle. She says the shiny blue metal up the motorcycle glows in the sun, making the sky blue and purple and gold. This rich imagery is further enhanced by Peña’s mix of colors and his placement of the duo at the center of a pool of gold, as if they were riding right into the sun. Peña’s use of comics elements like speech bubbles or onomatopoeic graphics like “VROOOOOOOM” when the motorcycle is revving up are a perfect fit for Quintero’s words.
Daisy and her papi’s motorcycle ride around the city is more than just a ride; it is really her life. And no matter how far she goes from the city or how many changes it undergoes, it will always be a part of her. This really shows how important this place is for her and how much of her identity is tied to it. Quintero closes the narrative with Daisy enjoying her shaved ice, sitting with her papi. Lovingly, Daisy thinks about her town and “all the changes it’s been through,” and finds comfort in knowing that in her little house with her family “there are things that will always stay the same.” “Mañana we fly again,” her dad assures her.
TEACHING TIPS: This book makes for a wonderful read aloud for all ages. It would be a strong mentor text for writing, and teachers could focus on:
In addition, the book’s detailed illustrations can be great for teaching or developing visual literacy, asking students to explore how the illustrations support the text.
For older readers, the questions Quintero poses in her author’s note can be used for teaching this book. Who are the people who build our cities and form our communities? Who are the people who get streets named after them, and who are the people who lay the asphalt? These could become the basis of individual or collective research projects for students to learn more about their communities.