I’ve gotten into a groove (of sorts) when it comes to my middle grade reading; I’ve been reading one upcoming book and one from my TBR, trying to keep both lists copasetic. I had to read Angela Dominguez’s latest two Stella Díaz books back to back because I enjoyed them so much! I wrote about the first Stella book, Stella Díaz Has Something to Say, when I read it in 2018 (and revisited in a book bundles post this past June), and finally read the next two. Stella is such a great young heroine for middle graders; read on and see for yourself.
A little boy named Ramón and his cucuy – a bogeyman of sorts in Mexican folklore – are restless and can’t sleep the night before Ramón starts at a new school. They’ve moved to a new town and both are nervous, talking about how they miss their old home. Gradually, Ramón begins to comfort El Cucuy, reassuring him that things will be better. By reassuring El Cucuy, Ramón learns to comfort himself and find his inner strength to embrace his new beginning. With Spanish words sprinkled throughout, and colorful cultural touches throughout the artwork, this is an adorable look into Latinx culture via a gentle story about overcoming fears. El Cucuy is a cute, wide-eyed grey monster with a little black cloak; Ramón is a boy with light-brown skin. Details in the spreads infuse the story with a Latinx cultural background, from the vibrant colors in his bedding, to the artwork on his walls, to the visions of his former home. A definite add to your collections.
I’ve been bundling again, and Macmillan was kind enough to give me some book bundling ideas from their imprints. This bundle is a mix of intermediate chapter books and graphic novels, and I think this will be a super popular mix.
I read the first Jasmine Toguchi book back in 2017 and loved this fresh new face on my chapter book shelves! Since then, there have been three more Jasmine Toguchi books, and I know my library kids enjoy Jasmine as much as I did. In her first book, 8-year-old Jasmine really wants to be part of the mochi-making process when her grandmother flies in from Japan, but she’s not 10 yet, so her family says, “no way”. But Jasmine is set on building up her arm strength to be able to heft that mochi hammer. An author’s note and microwave mochi recipe at the end introduce readers to Japanese culture, and Jasmine is a spunky, smart young heroine that readers can immediately feel close to; she could be a friend at school or from the neighborhood. Black and white illustrations throughout are playful and let us into Jasmine’s world.
Author Debbi Michiko Florence’s website is amazing, from the adorable and colorful mochi at the top of the page, to the printable activities tied to each of her books, to her colorful and blog, always loaded with photos and updates.
Newbery Medalist Katherine Applegate and illustrator Charlie Alder join together to create an adorable story of two dogs. Doggo is a family dog who has his routines, like taking naps, walking the family’s daughter, and snuggling little family members. He has calming pursuits, like watching TV, even skateboarding, but it’s a pretty routine life, even if he does wistfully remember his younger, wilder days. When the family decides to get a new puppy, Doggo’s world is turned upside down! Pupper wants to talk ALL NIGHT. He is silly and lazy and… he’s a puppy! When Pupper gets sent to charm school, he returns home a different, more sedate Pupper, which gets Doggo thinking… he misses that wacky little Pupper. He quietly takes the pup out for a night of fun, where the two can let their wild sides out with no damage: or charm school. A sweet story of friendship and enjoying childhood, Doggo and Pupper is a story early graphic novel readers will love. Cat, the family cat, is there to add wisdom to the story, and Doggo has sage advice about puppies at the end of the story; good advice for anyone considering a Pupper of their own. Colorful collage and digital artwork are adorable, and the story is organized into easily readable chapters that give kids a place to pause.
Doggo and Pupper has a starred review from Booklist.
Childhood best friends Dan and Jason give kids a new graphic novel series about the hilarity of friendship. Blue is a worm, Barry is a frog, and Pancakes is a giant bunny, who live in the same house and get into the wackiest of situations. In this first graphic novel, Barry is just about to finish his tower of waffles when Pancakes insists they hit the beach. When Barry and Pancakes start playing with Blue’s collector beach ball, a giant whale eats it and sends the trio off into a silly adventure that will have every reader giggling uncontrollably (at least, my 8 year old did). The facial expressions, the frenetic pace of the action, and the “what next?” moments all make this the graphic novel kids will be asking for this summer. Reading takes you everywhere? It sure does here, as the trio goes from home, to the beach, to the inside of a whale, a rowboat, a UFO, the inside of a volcano, and more! If you asked one of your library kids to make up an adventure right on the spot, I guarantee you they’d come up with something very close to Blue, Barry and Pancakes. Endpapers show off other items in Blue’s collection, which makes me wonder what we’ll see in future adventures…
This is the first in a planned trilogy – the second one is due out in a matter of DAYS (stay tuned). Visit Dan and Jason’s website to see more about their projects, including Blue, Barry and Pancakes.
I read the first Stella Diaz book in 2018 and thoroughly enjoyed spending time with this shy second grader who had to find her voice. Stella Diaz loves fish and learning about the oceans and ocean life; she loves spending time with her mom and brother, and loves spending time with her best friend Jenny. She’s also incredibly shy and can’t find the words she wants to use, so she tends to stay quiet, afraid she’ll speak Spanish instead of English, or pronounce her words wrong. Either way, she’s made fun of by the class Mean Girl, but when her teacher assigns presentations that means Stella will have to speak in front of the class, she works to defeat her fears and find her voice. It’s a wonderful story about friendship, making new friends, and facing challenges. It’s infused with Mexican culture and Spanish language, inspired by the author’s own story of growing up Mexican-American, and features black and white illustrations throughout. There are two additional Stella Diaz books now, with a third coming next year – I’ve got books 2 and 3 on my desk right now, so keep an eye on this space for more.
How are you feeling about the book bundles talking? Too much? Not enough? Less description, more visual? I’d love to hear what you think!
This collection of biographies shines a light on 40 Latinx women from Latin America and the U.S. who have made outstanding contributions across the board: activists and advocates, educators, musicians, scientists, artists, politicians, and so many more. Some names will be familiar: Pura Belpré, Frida Kahlo, and Sonia Sotomayor are all here, as are names that will be new to many readers, like Rosa Peña de González, who built schools for girls in Paraguay; playwright and congresswoman Gumercinda Páez, who helped draft Panama’s new constitution in 1941, with an eye to Afro-Latinx rights and women’s rights; and Wanda Díaz-Merced, a blind astrophysicist who turned data points into rhythm and sound in order to create a “symphony of sounds for the stars, planets, and asteroids”. The women are outstanding, and this collection of stories should be the tip of the iceberg for more research. Hand-painted illustrations have beautiful folk art feel. Endpapers feature additional artwork with flowers representing each of the countries represented in the book. An inspiring collection with comprehensive back matter that includes brief looks at an additional 10 Latin women and full sources.
Latinitas has a starred review from Kirkus. Get a free activity kit and read a Q&A with author-illustrator Juliet Menéndez. Visit Juliet Menéndez’s author website to see more of her gorgeous artwork and more information about her books.
I have been reading a metric ton of graphic novels over the last year. I mean, I’ve been reading comics and graphic novels forever, but I found them comforting this past year in a whole new way. When my mind couldn’t focus on words and putting thoughts together, graphic novels were there to guide me through, with artwork and words coming together for storytelling. And there are such great books coming out now! My Kiddo and I are reading them together (most of the time… there are some that aren’t appropriate for him just yet) and sharing laughs and talking about big things, little things, lots of things. Here are a few of the books I’ve read over the last couple of weeks: these are a little less appropriate for littles, much better for teens and young adults.
In 1942, a group of students joined together to oppose Hitler and the Nazi Party. They questioned the system and distributed leaflets encouraging their fellow Germans to do the same. The White Rose engaged in passive resistance in a time where speaking against the government carried a death penalty; by the time the short-lived movement came to a halt in 1943 when the core members were arrested and sentenced to death by guillotine by the Nazis, their actions set a resistance in motion. Freiheit! chronicles the story of the key members of the White Rose: siblings Sophie and Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst. The narrative was tough to follow at moments; more of a collection of memories than a cohesive, linear narrative. That way of storytelling works for some, so keep that in mind when considering it for your library. The moody, often murky artwork gives heavy atmosphere to the pacing.
If you’re interested in further reading on the White Rose, the National WW2 Museum has an article on Sophie Scholl, the Jewish Virtual Library has an essay on the group, as does Smithsonian Magazine. There are lesson plans on the resistance available online: ELT-Resourceful has a lesson plan on Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, geared toward ESOL students; Study.com has study aids, and A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust has a detailed lesson plan for grades 6-12 complete with Sunshine State Standards.
Based on the screenplay from a 2019 film, Windows on the World is, on the surface, a story about a young man searching for his father in the aftermath of 9/11; upon reading, you realize that it’s also a blistering commentary on America and its treatment of undocumented people. Fernando is a young man living with his family in Mexico, watching September 11th unfold on TV; for his family, the terror hits hard: Balthazar, Fernando’s father and the family patriarch, works at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. Fernando’s mother refuses to believe he’s a casualty of the attack, a belief seemingly confirmed when she swears she sees him on a newsreel, escaping the Towers. Fernando heads to New York to learn his father’s fate, but discovers a very different America: He must pay coyotes – predatory smugglers who take immigrants across the US/Mexico border – to sneak him into the country. When he arrives in New York, he discovers that his father, undocumented, working in the States and sending money back to Mexico to support his family, has disappeared into the morass of people. Because he was undocumented, he isn’t on any of the employee lists, as he didn’t “officially” work in the Towers. Fernando has no money and no place to stay, so he takes to the streets, encountering racism and danger as he desperately tries to locate his father. A strong commentary on how America, as Solrad magazine states, went from “9/11 to Build The Wall”, Windows on the World is a hard, necessary, relevant look at racism in America. Content warnings for younger readers.
Windows on the World has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.
Garth Stein, better known as the author of The Art of Racing in the Rain and co-creator of the TV series Stumptown, released his first graphic novel; number one of a planned trilogy. James Tucker is a young man who’s different: he’s a genetically modified science project, created in a lab, and he’s a cross between a human and a goat, a species called The Cloven. Tuck just wants a normal life, but he’s on the run and searching for answers. Flashbacks flesh out Tuck’s story and the story of the Cloven project, which reminded me of the Weapon X program that created Wolverine’s offspring, X-23/Laura Kinney. Artwork makes great use of moody lighting and shadows to help tell the story. A skillfull mix of science fiction and thriller, teens will love this book and want to see where Tuck’s story takes him.
Not all heroes wear capes. Ignacio Anaya was born in Northern Mexico in 1895, and raised by a foster mother who made him delicious quesadillas. He grew up and became well-respected in the restaurant industry, handling everything from waiting tables to greeting guests and making sure everyone was well taken care of and happy. When a famous foodie asked him for “something different” one night in 1940, Ignacio – called “Nacho” for short – searched the kitchen until he noticed a bowl of fried corn tortillas. Thinking of his foster mother’s delicious quesadillas, he put his own spin on them, by melting cheddar cheese on them, topping each with a piece of pickled jalapeño pepper, and serving them up as “Nacho’s Special”. And, my friends, a legend was born.
Nacho’s Nachos tells Ignacio’s story, from the beginnings at his foster mother’s table through to his fame as the creator of a dish that appealed to everyone, everywhere, including actors and presidents; even allowing him to open a restaurant of his own. Ignacio’s original recipe is included in the back matter, along with an afterword on his life. There are sources and an author’s note addressing the somewhat tall tales that have arisen about Nacho’s life. Sandra Nickel creates a wonderfully inspirational biography, and Oliver Dominguez’s mixed media artwork is realistic and has gorgeous earth colors alongside colorful nightlife scenes. A fantastic addition to picture book biographies.
Warm up some cheddar cheese, have some nachos, and celebrate the life of Nacho Anaya today! Check out the National Nachos Day website for recipes and the history of the celebration.
There’s a great professional development/learning opportunity coming up in December: The Latinx KidLit Book Festival is free, virtual, and takes place on December 4th and 5th!
The author list is a dream: Elizabeth Acevedo, Eric Velasquez, Francisco Stork, Gabby Rivera, Raúl the Third, and SO MANY MORE. My head is spinning. Zoraida Cordova is also attending, so I’ll be sitting here, in front of my computer, clutching my Brooklyn Brujas books and squealing.
Fill out the Librarian/Educator information form and get on this mailing list. There are also links to Educator Resources for a variety of children’s books by Latinx authors and illustrators further down on the Educator Resources pages – don’t miss these.
The panels look fantastic. I particularly want to see the one on Picture Books in the Age of Activism, and the Fantasy, Myths, and Legends also looks amazing.
Made for readers and educators alike, try to catch this festival. We need to support these authors, illustrators, and publishers!
I’ve been reading a LOT of graphic novels during this quarantine. They relax me, and I know my graphic novels sections (both kids and teens) see a l lot of action, so I always want to make sure I’ve got the best stuff on my shelves for them – and that I know what I’m talking about when I hand books to readers. Let’s see what’s up:
These are adorable meditations on new parenthood by Lucy Knisley, whose graphic novel Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos let us peek into the world of her pregnancy with her baby, known as Pal. Go to Sleep is a book of sketches Lucy Knisley created during Pal’s first year, and they are moments that every parent and caregiver will recognize, from diaper “blowouts” (oh, so many diaper blowouts) and breastfeeding through teething to tummy time and those moments where we can’t wait to get some alone time… only to spend that time gazing at our sleepy little one, and waiting for them to wake up and do it all again. Black and white, filled with love and humor, Go to Sleep (I Miss You) is perfect for your parenting bookshelves (and for older siblings, as my eldest reminds me).
Tara Smith is a girl who live with a lot of rules: her parents demand it. Two of their biggest rules? No friends her own age, and always keep her bracelet on. One day, though, Tara’s routine gets thrown into a tizzy, and she loses her bracelet; that’s when the trouble begins. Things get even crazier when she seemingly bursts into flame in the middle of school! Tara learns that she’s not human at all: she’s an alien, and captured by the government, sent off to a school where she can’t put her human classmates in danger, and that’s where she learns the truth about herself. She’s an alien, and her parents – also aliens – likely kidnapped her at a young age. Now, she’s surrounded by other alien students, not all of whom are exactly friendly toward her race. An exciting start to a new middle grade-middle school graphic novel series, School for Extraterrestrial Girls is written by Eisner award nominee Jeremy Whitley, who you may know from his Princeless series and Marvel’s The Unstoppable Wasp. Don’t miss this first volume, which has some nice social commentary set within a very cool sci-fi story.
A strong story about sports and teen relationships, A Map to the Sun starts with Ren and Luna, two girls who meet on the beach during their middle school summer break. Luna disappears without saying goodbye when she suddenly moves, but returns two years later, expecting to pick up where she and Ren left off. But Ren is hurt, angry, and full off mistrust, especially since her older sister’s issues have made life nearly unbearable for her. A new teacher decides to form a women’s basketball team at the high school, bringing Luna, Ren, and a group of other girls who are tagged as the misfits in school. As they practice and improve, we get glimpses into each of their lives and see how succeeding in one arena changes how they react and are perceived in other spaces in their lives. The color palette is bright and beachy; lots of oranges, yellows, and purples, but some of the coloring made it difficult for me to tell characters apart (I read an ARC; this will likely be tightened up in the finished book). The story is strong, and highly recommended for teens and a solid choice for realistic fiction readers. A Map to the Sun has a starred review from Shelf Awareness.
Teenager Kiku travels to San Francisco with her mother to look for the place her grandmother, Ernestina, lived before she and her parents were sent to an internment camp during World War II. Kiku’s mother wants to learn more about her mother’s life pre-camp; Ernestine wasn’t given to talking about it often. As Kiku traipses alongside her, she finds herself being transported back in time, living alongside her grandmother as she, too, becomes a displaced person living in two Japanese internment camps. Powerfully written and beautifully illustrated, Displacement tells the story of the Japanese-Americans who were forced out of their homes and their established lives and stripped of their civil liberties. Kiku – and we – learn things from observing the day-to-day life in camp like human rights abuses that are quickly hushed up and the acts of resistance some engaged in, like the “No-Nos”, who answered “No” to two controversial questions on a loyalty questionnaire the Army had all incarcerated citizens answer. A tribute to the power of memory and, sadly, the power of intergenerational trauma, Displacement belongs with George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy and Art Spiegelman’s Maus in the canon of great graphic novels that belong on every reading list and every shelf.
I finally got to read Sal and Gabi Break the Universe for the 2019 Cybils earlier this year, and WOW. I loved it all: the Cuban-American characters and cultural references; the great storytelling and witty dialogue; the wild magic-meets-science; the overwhelming power of family, in all its forms, that comes through the story. When I had the chance to read an advanced reader copy of the sequel, Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe, I jumped for it!
You had to know, if you read the first book, that Sal and Gabi’s second adventure is even more fun than the first. Avoiding spoilers, I’ll just say that events in Break the Universe have reverberations in Fix the Universe. Sal’s calamity physicist father and Dad: The Final Frontier, one of Gabi’s dads, have been working on a machine that can fix the wormholes Sal creates. This causes some problems, as a rogue alternate Gabi arrives on the scene to warn Sal about. Meanwhile, bully Yasmany has gone missing from school, adding another mystery for the two to solve. American Stepmom, the Gabi-Dads, and Principal Torres are all back, joined by Rogue Gabi and a self-aware bathroom. There’s more non-stop action, hilarious dialogue and more creativity from the Culeco Academy crew as they work to put on a school show in the middle of everything. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
This adorable companion to 2011’s The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred is another bilingual, cumulative story. A girl heads to the market while the farm maiden and her friends pull together a piñata for a surprise celebration! Like Cazuela, The Piñata That the Farm Maiden Hung features Spanish words in bold font, with words identifiable using context clues, and the illustrations are colorful and bright, with friendly, soft character faces and festive touches like papel picado pennants and a bright piñata. Back matter includes the lyrics to “The Piñata Song/La Canción de la Piñata”, instructions on making your own piñata, a glossary, and list of Spanish translations. Charlesbridge offers the piñata instructions available for free download on their website.
This is a cute companion to The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred, and a fun addition to storytime. It begs for a felt board storytelling, so make a trip to the craft store!