February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Kick-butt Pura Belpré Winners for Día de los niños/Children’s Day | Libro por libro

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Yuyi Morales from Niño Wrestles the World (Roaring Brook Pr.)

Yuyi Morales from Niño Wrestles the World (Roaring Brook Pr.)

The 2014 Pura Belpré award winners were announced on January 27 at the American Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia. 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,” the awards were given to books about, to put it mildly, “Latino kids who kick butt.” I was particularly pleased that the 2014 illustrator medal was awarded to my pick for the best Latino-themed book of 2013, Yuyi Morales’s Niño Wrestles the World (Roaring Brook Pr.) Several of following dynamic titles have earned Pura Belpré honors and feature Latino and Latina kids who overcome great obstacles.

These books can also be incorporated in “Día de los niños/Día de los libros” (Children’s Day/Book Day) programs. Día, founded by acclaimed author Pat Mora in 1997, celebrates children and literacy on April 30. The following picks will enrich your collection and offer engaging ways to reach your Latino or Spanish-speaking community through book clubs, displays, or bilingual storytimes.


Belpré Author

MEDINA, Meg. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Candlewick. 2013. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9780763658595.

Gr 7 Up –The title character, whom the protagonist, Piedad “Piddy” Sanchez barely knows, wants to kick her butt. Piddy has no idea why the bully wants to hurt her. Along with the imminent threat of a beatdown, the teen is also struggling with her relationship with her mother and questions about her absent father. Medina’s timely novel shows teens that they have options when responding to acts of violence and peer pressure. Perhaps the strongest aspect of this book is the way in which Medina evokes the atmosphere of a loving Latino home. She creates a lively portrait of a single mother and daughter who are trying to survive contemporary urban life with the help of extended “family,” including Piddy’s mom’s best friend, Lila, and a cast of characters at the beauty salon where the girl works part-time. There is a sense that Yaqui’s animosity toward Piddy may be because the aspiring vet is not “Latina” enough—she’s too white, too educated. One of the story’s undercurrents is the notion of what it means to actually be “Latino.”

CANALES, Viola. El Gusano de Tequila. KingCake Pr. 2012. pap. $13.50. ISBN 9780982939505.

––––. The Tequila Worm. Random/Wendy Lamb. 2005. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780375840890.

Gr 5-8 –Another young adult novel that explores the diversity of the Latino experience is The Tequila Worm. This 2006 Pura Belpré award-winning book is now available in a Spanish translation. Like Yaqui, Viola Canales’s title is steeped with the rich traditions of Latino family life. In Sofia, readers discover another young Latina protagonist who is trying to find her identity in a multicultural world. Sofia struggles to decide if she should leave the insular and safe environment of her extended family to attend a boarding school. While this main character isn’t dealing with a physical predicament, her dilemma is wrenching, nonetheless. Her family has a strong hold upon her, but Sofia knows that if she is to succeed, she’s going to have to get an education.

DE LA PEÑA, Matt. The Living. Delacorte. 2013. RTE $17.99. ISBN 9780385741200.

Gr 9 Up –Shy, a young Latino from a town near the California-Mexico border, has obtained a job as a cabin boy aboard a cruise ship and sends the money home to his family. While this story features characters who just happen to be Latino, the book is infused with Spanish phrases and references to the culture. Shy has to call on all of his inner resources and integrity to help the panicked passengers of the sinking vessel. He ends up on a life raft with a girl who couldn’t be more different than him: a rich, spoiled white kid. She also happens to be the daughter of the villain of the piece, a scientist who has unleashed a plague on the United States in order to profit from selling the antidote. Talk about culture clash. Readers will want to check out the sequel promised for this fall, hoping to see Shy kick some corrupt businessman butt.

On his website, commenting about his 2014 Pura Belpré Honor, de la Peña says that while he is considered a Latino author by the mainstream, if readers look closely, they will find that the mixed-race protagonists in his books are all “grappling with what it means to not feel ‘Mexican enough.’ Many of them feel whitewashed and removed from their families”.

ACTIVITY IDEA: Perfect for book clubs and discussion groups with teens, these titles would serve as excellent springboards for discussions about racial identity. They point out the diversity of language and culture that exists within the Spanish-speaking world—which might surprise many looking in from the outside.

ENGLE, Margarita. The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist. Houghton Harcourt. 2013. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-80743-0.

Gr 6-10 –Previously reviewed in this column, Engle’s novel in verse about Cuban abolitionist, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, recently nabbed a Pura Belpré Honor. Better known as Tula, the book’s subject was a feminist, rejected an arranged marriage when she was just 14, and generally railed against tyranny and injustice. Oh, and she wrote poetry as well.

ACTIVITY IDEA: This title could be used as a writing prompt in programs for middle graders and young teens. Kids will be inspired by Tula’s verses and could be encouraged to write poetry that reflects their own cultural experience, the injustices that they see around them, the impact of racism—implicit or explicit—and their own ethnic identity.

TONATIUH, Duncan. Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale. illus. by Duncan Tonatiuh. Abrams. 2013. RTE $16.95. ISBN 9781419705830.

K-Gr 2– Tonatiuh has brilliantly taken the very sensitive topic of illegal immigration and created an allegorical animal tale that could pass for a tale handed down through the oral tradition. The other absolutely inspired conceit is the fact that Pancho Rabbit’s traveling companion is a real Coyote, which lends all sorts of relevance and irony to the story, since the often-corrupt characters who lead actual immigrants to the border for a fee are known as coyotes. And of course, once Pancho has shared all of his food with Coyote, the villain wants to eat the rabbit. The long-eared protagonist goes on to vanquish some Coyote derrière. This is a classic hero’s journey, with the child, in this case, leaving home in search of a parent. The excellence of the text and the illustrations were acknowledged by the Pura Belpré committee, who named this an author and illustrator Honor book.

ACTIVITY IDEA: For a themed storytime, pair this title with other books about the immigrant experience. Some recommended books include: My Diary from Here to There/Mi diario de aqui hasta allá by Amada Irma Pérez (Children’s Book Pr., 2002); The Dream on Blanca’s Wall/El sueño pegado en la pared de Blanca: Poems in English and Spanish/Poemas en ingles y español by Jane Medina (Wordsong, 2004); From North to South/De norte al sur by Rene Colano Lainez (Children’s Book Pr., 2010); My Name is Jorge: On Both Sides of the River by Jane Medina (Wordsong, 1999).

Pura Belpré Illustrator

All of the 2014 Pura Belpré winners for illustration were previously mentioned in Libro por libro and would make for terrific bilingual or Latino-themed storytimes. Perfect for Día family literacy events, these picture books can be shared as part of a program, a display, or a curated list. For each winner, there are also suggested titles that would complement them in any event for young readers.

MORALES, Yuyi. Niño Wrestles the World. illus. by author. Roaring Brook Pr. 2013. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9781596436046.

K-Gr 2– With the exception of his little sisters, underpants-clad Niño is very adept at conquering his contenders in the lucha libre ring. Taking on popular icons of the Mexican culture in playful wrestling matches, the little boy and his hijinks make perfect fodder for a giggle-filled storytime. Niño presents an excellent opportunity to introduce children to important characters in Latino culture.

ACTIVITY IDEA: This vibrant title will pair well with picture books about La Llorona, the weeping woman, one of Niño’s opponents. Try Prietita and the Ghost Woman/Prietita y la llorona by Gloria E. Anzaldúa (Children’s Book Pr., 2001); La Llorona, the Weeping Woman: An Hispanic Legend told in English and Spanish, by Joe Hayes (Children’s Book Pr., 2004); Maya’s Children: The Story of La Llorona by Rudolfo Anaya (Hyperion, 1997).

BROWN, Monica. Tito Puente: Mambo King/Rey del Mambo. illus. by Rafael López. HarperCollins/Rayo. 2013. RTE $17.99. ISBN 9780061227837.

K-Gr 2– From Spanish Harlem to the Grammy’s, the larger-than-life Latin Jazz icon overcame obstacles and inspired many.

ACTIVITY IDEA: This picture-book biography on the Puerto Rican percussionist is just the thing for a music-themed storytime. The energetic illustrations and the onomatopoeic text are in perfect harmony, making this title an ideal pick for an entertaining read aloud. The author/illustrator pair’s other picture book biography of a musician, My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz (Luna Rising, 2004), would also be a sound match.

DOMINGUEZ, Angela. Maria Had a Little Llama/María tenía una llamita. Holt. 2013. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-805-09333-9.

K-Gr 2– This charming work presents the culture of Peru, a country rarely seen in Latino children’s literature, while riffing off the classic tale of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

ACTIVITY IDEA: It presents a great opportunity to do a storytime with Latino versions of familiar songs and Mother Goose rhymes. Add Señor Pancho Had a Rancho by Rene Colato Lainez (Holiday House, 2013) to complete the fun-filled program.

This article was published in School Library Journal's March 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Tim Wadham About Tim Wadham

Tim Wadham (wadhambooks@gmail.com) is a library administrator and the author of Wordplay for Kids (ALA Editions, 2015).

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