Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Not all heroines need capes: Blancaflor!

Blancaflor: The Hero with Secret Powers – A Folktale from Latin America, by Nadja Spiegelman/Illustrated by Sergio García Sánchez/Introduction by F. Isabel Campoy, (Sept. 2021, TOON Books), $16.95, ISBN: 9781943145553

Ages 8-12

I love getting a new TOON Book to review, and I love when simultaneously publish Spanish and English versions, so my Corona families can enjoy them together! Blancaflor is a graphic novel retelling of a Latin American fairy tale. Blancaflor is the daughter of an ogre who’s been playing a long game with a not-so-bright prince who accepts a foolish bet. Blancaflor intervenes on the prince’s behalf, quietly saving the day, while the prince thinks he’s just that lucky. Eisner award nominee Nadja Spiegelman (Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure) and artist Sergio García Sánchez breathe new life into this folk tale, giving it a sense of humor and decidedly feminist spin. It also quietly addresses the “invisible labor of women”, and how we rarely take credit for our accomplishments without being nudged. The colorful story is compulsively readable, and Blancaflor is a heroine we can all cheer for as she outsmarts her father and saves the day for her beloved. A note from Nadja Spiegelman expands on the “Girl as Helper in the Hero’s Flight” story that shows up in many folktales worldwide, and the history of the Blancaflor story in Latin American tales. An intro in the beginning touches on how we update fairy tales for the 21st century and offers ideas for storytellers to create their own tales. This is the kind of graphic novel my library kids need.

Blancaflor has been chosen as one of the New York Times Best Children’s Books of 2021, and has a starred review from The Horn Book. It’s the next installment in the Folktales from Latin America series, available in both Spanish and English editions.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Cuentos populares de latinoamérica en español e ingles!

            

The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America/La matadragones: cuentos de latinoamérica, by Jaime Hernandez, (April 2018, TOON Graphics), $16.95, ISBN: 9781943145287 (English)/9781943145300 (Spanish)

Recommended for readers 6+

TOON Graphics has a great collection of folktales from Latin America, simultaneously published in English and Spanish. Three tales starring intelligent female characters make up this volume; as with most folk and fairy tales, each one imparts its own wisdom using the story as a vehicle. The title tale, The Dragon Slayer, sees a young woman betrayed by her two horrible sisters; an act of kindness brings a boon in the form of a magic wand, which leads her to employment at a king’s palace, where she falls in love with a prince, who she must save. Twice. It’s got the best parts of a fairy tale: dragons, magic wands and rings, ogres, and a happily ever after; it’s got a strong, smart young woman who can stand toe to toe with mythical monsters and real-life intolerance, and she saves the day AND gets the boy.

Martina Martinez and Pérez the Mouse stars Ratoncito Pérez, a popular character in Latinx folktales. This version, told by Alma Flor Ada, comes from another book, Tales Our Abuelitas Told”, and is the story of a pretty but shallow young woman, Martina, who marries Pérez after turning down other animal suitors (Martina often shows up as a cockroach in other versions of the tale). When she runs to the store to get salt for a soup, Pérez tries to sneak a taste of onion and falls into the pot! Martina discovers him in the pot and runs sobbing around the village, where birds, a fountain, and a young girl all grieve for her in various ways. It takes a wise old woman to discover that no one has actually tried to save Pérez , and rushes over to put things right again. Always respect your elders, kids! And seriously, use some common sense and try to keep your head in a situation.

Tup and the Ants is a fun little story about the power of being smart and lazy. Tup is the youngest and laziest of three brothers, who marry three sisters. Tup’s in-laws are not thrilled with their lazy son-in-law, so when they send the three brothers out to clear the land for cornfields, they send Tup with less food to show their displeasure. Doesn’t matter: Tup finds a place to snooze, ends up meeeting a group of ants, and trades his food for their labor. This is a sweet little partnership, and pays off as the two not-so-bright brothers are hopelessly out of their league in clearing and planting a cornfield, and Tup builds his own little empire by continuing to trade food for labor. The moral of the story may be a bit ambiguous, since the lazy guy gets the accolades, but there is something to be said for knowing how to get the job done. And, as a later explanation points out, it’s a story that teaches listeners and readers about planning and undertaking a planting season.

A foreword from F. Isabel Campoy explains the power of folktales and the Latin American tradition, and features beautiful Aztec and Mayan pictograms and popular animals, like jaguars, monkeys, and dogs. An afterword goes into more detail about the origins of these three folktales, with photos and illustrations. A section on the oral tradition invites readers to personalize and create their own tales, with prompts to help them along. A strong bibliograpy includes books and online resources that will strengthen diverse folk and fairy tale collections and provide nice online resources for further research.

I absolutely love this introduction to Latin American folktales, and can only hope there’s a volume 2 somewhere down the line. This is such a great addition to folk and fairy tale collections and diverse, culturally rich collections. This would be great for a storytime for school-age kids – it’s such a fun read! – and a storytelling program.

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Add Labyrinth Lost to your TBR NOW.

labyrinthLabyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1), by Zoraida Cordova, (Sept. 2016, Sourcebooks Fire), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492620945

Recommended for ages 13+

Alex lives in Brooklyn with her mom and her sisters. Her dad disappeared a few years ago, and she’s taking it hard, feeling responsible. She’s about to turn 16, so the family is planning her big party. Her Death Day party. Alex and her sisters are Brujas – witches – and they’re the very real thing. But Alex doesn’t want this power. In fact, she suppresses it as much as she can – but keeps that from her family – because she’s afraid of what would happen if she were to let it go. Again.

At her Death Day party, Alex thinks she’s going to cast a spell that would leave her powerless, but something goes haywire, and her entire family vanishes right before her eyes. Now, she’s forced to get help from a Brujo named Nova; they have to travel to the in-between world of Los Lagos to bring her family back, but can Alex even trust Nova? He’s got a lot of secrets and seems to be working from his own playbook.

I loved, loved, LOVED Labyrinth Lost: it’s easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. The story is narrated in Alex’s voice, and she is hilarious. She’s full of snark – “resting witchface” is now a term I need to put into regular rotation – and she wields it like a weapon, guarding herself from the fears that plague her. Unchecked, her power makes her the most powerful witch in her family, and it frightens her, because she’s seen that power loosed once. Zoraida Cordova has a gift for breathing life into her characters; every single character in Labyrinth Lost is amazing. I love the interactions between Alex and her sisters and between Alex and her mother; the Lady and Nova; the characters she meets as she travels through Los Lagos, everyone. Cordova gives us wild fantasy with a realistic tale of a young woman struggling with adolescence. Her adolescence comes with dead relatives, portals to limbo, and witchcraft, but still, adolescence. Steeped in Latin American knowledge and tradition and filled with rich characters, Labyrinth Lost draws you into a world you won’t want to leave. Thankfully, it’s the first in a new series, so hopefully we’ll be visiting with the Brujas again sooner rather than later.

If you haven’t already added this to your YA collections, WHY? If you haven’t picked this up and read it yourself, stop reading this review immediately and go get a copy.

Zoraida Cordova has a great webpage where you can sign up for her newsletter, read interviews and learn more about her books, and follow her on social media.