The school year is nearly over, and with it comes thoughts of sun, fun, and summer reading. When I was on the front lines doing school outreach visits to promote our public library’s program, my pitch was always: “Summer is the time when you can read what you want to read, not what you have to read.” With that in mind, here is some middle-grade fiction and poetry that is perfect to suggest to young bilingual readers who are looking for something to read for pleasure. And what could be more fun than kids with superpowers or talking mummies? What about scary stories or poems to share around a campfire on dark summer nights? All of these books are quick, easy reads with lots of appeal.
Kids with Superpowers
MONTIJO, Rhode. Gum Girl! Chews Your Destiny. Bk. 1. illus. by author. Disney/Hyperion. June 2013. Tr $14.99. ISBN 978-1-4231-5740-3.
Gr 1-5–This is a fantasy adventure story with appealing graphic-novel type illustrations. The protagonist just happened to be a young Latina named Gabby Gomez. Spanish words and phrases are scattered throughout the story, but there are no other distinctly Latino cultural references. And I love it. Such a book recognizes a character’s cultural identity, but at the same time speaks to universally understood experiences of childhood. Gabby Gomez loves to chew gum, so much so that after having to use peanut butter to get gum out of her hair, her mother lays down the law: that there will be no more. On the way to school, Gabby finds one last piece of gum in her pocket and uses it to blow a huge bubble. When the bubble hits the power lines it turns Gabby into Gum Girl. “Now I AM gum!” Gabby realizes, and she learns that with her sticky superpower she can help fight crime. She also discovers that the can reverse the effect and become a normal girl again with peanut butter. As Gum Girl, she saves a plane that is going to crash because of a broken wing. As the story ends, she realizes that she has to find a way to tell her mother about her experiences, and readers learn that a villain is waiting in the wings. Kids who read this will definitely be looking forward to future adventures.
JULES, Jacqueline. Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Makes a Splash. Bk. 4. illus. by Miguel Benítez. Albert Whitman. 2012. Tr $14.99. ISBN 978-0-8075-9485-8.
Gr 1-4–Freddie Ramos has special shoes that give him “Zapato Power,” which is the ability to run faster than a train. In this fourth volume in the series, Freddie gets his powerful shoes stuck on some gum on the sidewalk, while at the same time he tries to retrieve a lost wallet that he sees lying there. He retrieves the wallet but it is almost immediately stolen by the Girl on the Green Bike, whose name readers later learn is Erika. Freddie has to use his superpowers to get the wallet back and then return it to its owner, but things don’t quite work out as planned. Then his white backpack, with his special zapatos in it, goes missing, and Erika is immediately the suspect. She is also suspected of leaving sticky wads of purple gum all over the park. The resolution is satisfying, and carries with it a subtle message about being nonjudgmental. This is a great book to pair with Gum Girl–Gabby is the gum hero, and Erika the gum bully. This book also makes for a great read-aloud, with opportunities for audience participation. The other books in the series include Freddie Ramos Takes Off (2010), Freddie Ramos Springs into Action (2010), and Freddie Ramos Zooms to the Rescue (2011).
PILKEY, Dav. El capitán calzoncillos y el terrorífico retorno de cacapipí. tr. from English by Nuria Molinero. illus. by author. Scholastic en Español. 2012. pap. $5.99. ISBN 978-0-545-48870-9.
Gr 2-5–Given the superhero theme, who can resist this translation of Capitan Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers? Molinero definitely shares Pilkey’s wacky sense of humor as evidenced by the fact that “cacapipí” can be literally translated as “poop and pee,” which works perfectly as an alternative Spanish name for the aforementioned Tippy. The thoughtfulness of the translation extends all the way to the illustrated comic-book sequences, which maintain the kids’ handwritten typography, and even George and Harold’s (Jorge and Berto’s, in this case) misspellings of commonly used words. This humorous title, along with the translations of all the other “Captain Underpants” books, is a must for Spanish-language collections, and demonstrates that bodily function references cross all cultural boundaries.
Here are a couple of backlist titles that would work great paired with the two newer titles reviewed above.
SANDOVAL, Jaime Alfonso. Confidencias de un superhéroe. illus by Jazmín Velasco. Ediciones Castillo. 2001. ISBN 970-20-0180-3.
Gr 4-6–What kid wouldn’t want to be a superhero like Batman or Superman or Ant Man? Ten-year-old Paco Godínez is about to find out being in a comic book isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. When he unexpectedly receives a superhero outfit with an accompanying instruction manual, he becomes Capitán Matraca, hero of his village San Bartolo Chico, and sets out to save cats and old ladies in danger. Paco’s first-person narration of his experiences as a superhero is marvelously funny and entertaining, as he learns that exciting as it might be, the superhero life is not for him. Among his adventures are a tussle with Mutant Vegetables that threaten the end of the world and all humanity, and the extermination of all civilizations. The artwork adds to the already high kid appeal. This is one of those lesser-known gems that should be known better; a highly imaginative book that is recommended for all collections.
GARZA, Xavier. Maximilian and the Mystery of the Guardian Angel: A Bilingual Lucha Libre Thriller. tr. by Luis Humberto Crosthwaite & Carla González Campos. illus. by author. Cinco Puntos. 2011. Tr $12.95. ISBN 978-1-933693-98-9.
Gr 4-6–Garza has made a career of Lucha Libre stories, and nobody does them better. With their costumes, and the masks that conceal their true identities, Lucha Libre wrestlers are the real superheroes of Mexico. Maximilian’s hero is a wrestler known as the Guardian Angel. When the he comes to San Antonio to wrestle, Maximilian is beside himself. What he doesn’t know is how learning the Guardian Angel’s true identity will change his life and that of his family. Full of magical realistic touches that are one of the hallmarks of Latino literature, this book is an irresistable combination of action and mystery.
Scary Stories and Poems
GANGES, Montse. Pequeño Coco. illus. by Imapla. (Primeros Lectores Series). Editorial Bam bú. 2009. pap. $7.95. ISBN 978-84-8343-037-8.
K-Gr 3–There was a time when Big Coco (read: bogeyman) would terrorize bad children, but ever since parents began telling their children that he would visit them if they misbehaved he’s been retired. Big Coco and his wife and son, Little Coco, have sequestered themselves in their deep dark cave, far away from the light of the sun. For his eighth birthday, Little Coco asks that his parents allow him to go to the outside world for just one afternoon. But when he emerges into the light, it is not what he had imagined it would be. First, no one pays any attention to him. Through encounters with a witch who calls herself The Cat Woman and a little girl named Mimí, Little Coco learns more about the human world than he ever expected, and whether he has what it takes to assume Big Coco’s job. This book is an excellent choice coming out of Spain that I would really like to see get into the hands of U.S. Spanish-speaking readers.
LUNA, James. A Mummy in Her Backpack/Una momia en su mochila. tr. by Gabriela Baeza Ventura. illus by Ted Dawson and Giovanni Mora. Piñata. 2012. pap. $9.95. ISBN 978-1-55885-756-8.
Gr 1-3–Luna is an elementary school teacher and he speaks directly to the sensibilities of younger elementary school-age kids. When Flor returns from a trip to Guanajuato, Mexico, she discovers that a mummy named Rafa from the museum she visited has hitched a ride. Rafa is anxious to see the United States, but since he was born in 1884, everything is new to him, and he marvels at electricity and technology. When Rafa discovers that it’s almost time for the Day of the Dead, he realizes that he needs to go back home. Flor and her friend are then challenged to find a way to get Rafa back to Mexico, which they are able to do with the help of an understanding school custodian. The publisher has done a nice job with the illustrations and design of this “flip-the-book-over-to-read-it-in-another-language” edition. This short story will appeal to readers in either language.
MARTÍNEZ, Carmen Gil. ¡Qué miedo! illus. by Isabel Riera. Ediciones Aljibe. 2010. pap $13.80. ISBN 978-84-4970-0644-6.
Gr 2-4–This is a selection of scary poems about characters like Vampire Romero, the Monster in the Closet, Akila the Mummy and the Teresa the Witch. The illustrations are fun and whimsical, so they aren’t too scary. There are also riddles and incantations or spells at the end. All of the poems are great to read aloud, with fun rhymes and clever wordplay. With its appealing cover and short length, this is the sort of book that will be constantly checked out, no matter the season.
HAYES, Joe. Ghost Fever/Mal de fantasma. illus. by Mona Pennypacker. tr. by author. Cinco Puntos. 2004. Tr $14.95. ISBN 978-0-938317-83-8; pap. $8.95. ISBN 978-1-933693-03-3.
Gr 4-6–Unlike some of Hayes’s other work, this book is one stand-alone story, presented bilingually, with the Spanish and English on the same page. The storyteller’s voice is its strongest asset: “This one happened way back in the 1950’s in Duston, Arizona, which is the town I grew up in.” Cole Cash is a shop owner in the community, who also makes money renting houses that are “across the tracks.” But there is one empty house that he probably shouldn’t have bought. Finally there is a taker, and when 14 year-old Elena moves in with her dad, she soon meets the ghost of one of the previous owners of the house, a young girl named Mariana Mendoza, who died in a tragic accident after stealing money from her parents for her quinceñera dress. After this encounter Elena comes down with a high fever and it’s up to her abuela to make things right. Luckily, her grandmother knows how to deal with ghosts.
Tim Wadham is the director of the City of Puyallup Public Library in Washington State. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.