April 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Nonfiction Books for Celebrating Hispanic Heritage | Libro por libro

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Historical figures from Juan Felipe Herrera’s Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes, illus. by Raúl Colón.  Clockwise from top left: Julia de Burgos, Roberto Clemente, Sonia Sotomayor, and César Chávez.

Historical figures from Juan Felipe Herrera’s Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes
illus. by Raúl Colón.

Clockwise from top left: Julia de Burgos, Roberto Clemente,
Sonia Sotomayor, and César Chávez.

Starting out as Hispanic Heritage Week
in 1968 and finally becoming enacted into national law in 1988, National Hispanic Heritage month is observed from September 15 to October 15. To celebrate, this installment of Libro por libro features books about Hispanic heroes and works that showcase the Latino culture in the United States. These nonfiction titles, which align with the Common Core State Standards, should be a part of every library’s core collection.

Nonfiction is one of the most challenging topics to cover. So much of the bilingual works for children are designed for the school market—published in series—and the quality is such that I can’t recommend it for purchase for all libraries.

This month’s column is devoted to nonfiction that is appropriately translated and that rises above standard series fare. Interestingly enough, Spanish publishers, such as Alfaguara, are following the U.S. model and producing picture-book biographies for younger readers under a series moniker. They even reissued Monica Brown’s My Name Is Gabito: The Life of Gabriel García Márquez (Luna Rising, 2007), for the first time ever in a full Spanish-language edition.

The following are some worthy informational books that are recommended for all collections serving Spanish-speaking communities. These exemplary titles should be on display not only during Hispanic Heritage Month, but also incorporated into nonfiction bibliographies year-round.


Celebrating Heroes

BRIMNER , Larry Dane. Strike! The Farm Workers Fight for Their Rights. 172p. Calkins Creek. Oct. 2014. RTE $16.95. ISBN 9781590789971.
Gr 6 Up– The best nonfiction for young readers is written by authors who have a deep personal connection with the subject. That is the case with Strike! In a long author’s note, Brimner details how he became invested in the topic as a classroom teacher of migrant children. His book is an excellent overview of the Delano grape strike, which began on September 8, 1965, and lasted more than five years, along with the larger story of the farm workers movement led by César Chávez. The author provides important details, such as how the movement actually began with Filipino, not Latino, workers. He also doesn’t hesitate to discuss the more troubling aspects of Chávez’s life, such as his association with Synanon, a cultlike organization, which alienated many from him and La Causa.

What this book does well is give young people a sense of why it’s important to advocate for social justice, and that much remains to be done in that arena. The text is supplemented with primary source quotes (in Spanish and English), large period photos and political cartoons, and sidebars.

BROWN, Mónica. Conoce a Gabriel García Márquez. tr. from English by Isabel C. Mendoza. illus. by Raúl Colón. 32p (Personajes del Mundo Hispánico). Alfaguara. 2014. pap. $13.95. ISBN 9781631130076.
Gr 2-4 –With the recent passing of García Márquez, the Spanish translation of Brown’s My Name Is Gabito is especially resonant. The text lovingly paints the Latin American author’s story, framing it as a tale of imagination and seeing the magic in the everyday. The narrative evokes the genre of magical realism that García Márquez made famous. Colón’s art expresses the essence of magical realism in a visual way, with several lovely spreads celebrating the power of imagination.
Other picture book biographies in this series featuring important figures in Latin American history include titles about José de San Martín by Adela Basch; Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral by Georgina León; and Miguel de Cervantes and Simón Bolívar by Edna Iturralde. (Ed. note: see SLJ’s review of recent titles in this series on p. 158.)

HAGHENBECK, F. G. Masiosare presenta…Sensacional de héroes. illus. by various artists. 80p. Grupo Editorial Norma. 2010. ISBN 9786079545420. (OP).
Gr 2-5 –A groundbreaking graphic novel about the heroes of the Mexican Revolution. Written by comic book author Haghenbeck, this outstanding volume unites the disparate styles of the country’s most notable comic artists including Agusto Mora, Jorge Mercado, and Sergio Tapia. It shows the universality of the graphic novel format and deftly conveys Mexican history to young readers. The historical figures’ exploits lend themselves to the graphic treatment.

Female revolutionaries are also well represented, including Josefa Ortiz de Domíngez (who gets a shout out in the legendary “Grito de Dolores” event), Dolores Jiménez Y Muro, Carmen Serdán Alatriste, and Juana Belén Gutiérrez de Mendoza. The dynamic images offer plenty of visual interest, and readers of Mexican descent in particular will find this look into their history fascinating.
Activity Idea: This would be the perfect title to use for a Comic Con or comic drawing program. Share the title, and then invite a local comic artist to come teach kids the basics of comic book creation. Participants can then create their own comic about someone who is a hero to them.

HERRERA, Juan Felipe. Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes. illus. by Raúl Colón. 96p. Dial. 2014. RTE $19.99. ISBN 9780803738096.
Gr 4-7 –Poet Herrera’s poignant biographical sketches get to the heart of what made each subject a Latino hero. A wide range of people are profiled, including poet Julia de Burgos; astronaut Ellen Ochoa; the father of Chicano literature, Tomas Rivera; Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; and the man who created what remains one of the most iconic Latino roles ever on television—Desi Arnaz. The work concludes with a poetic “sestina” tribute to Victoria Leigh Soto, a Latina teacher who died saving her students at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. Soto’s inclusion is a lovely touch—a reminder that ordinary people can be heroes in the pursuit of their daily tasks. Each entry is accompanied by a portrait drawn by Colón. The illustrator aptly captures the quiet dignity and dauntless nature of each subject.

LÁZARO, Georgina. Federico García Lorca. illus. by Enrique S. Moreiro. 32p (Cuando los Grandes Eran Pequeños). Lectorum. 2009. RTE $11.99. ISBN 9781933032399.
Gr 4-7 –A 2010 Pura Belpré Honor book for narrative—and rightly so. Just as the last line of the picture book biography likens the sound of García Lorca’s name to music, Lázaro’s verses about the Spanish poet have a melodious quality. This is a rare book that gets it all right—the scansion of the poetry, using the form to tell the story of a poet’s life, and illustrations that bring the world of Spain in the 1920s to vivid life.

Celebrating Culture

Nonfiction also encompasses poetry and folk and fairy tales.
The following are a small selection of the vibrant titles available on the Latino culture.

ALARCÓN, Francisco X. Poems to Dream Together/Poemas para soñar juntos. illus. by Paula Barragán. 32p. Lee & Low. 2005. pap. $8.95. ISBN 9781600606571.
Gr 2-7 –Alarcón has published a number of bilingual poetry books, including the “Magical Cycle of the Seasons” series (Children’s Pr). The theme of this particular collection—dreaming—ties in with the books about Latino heroes featured in this column. The poems encourage readers to follow their own dreams and aspirations to be whatever they wish to be, with the message that they can achieve anything: “let us see ourselves/twenty years from now,” he writes.

Activity idea: Pair Alarcón’s tribute verse to Chávez, “Dreamer of the Fields,” with a reading of the activist’s profile from Herrera’s Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes in a poetry or history unit for second to fifth graders.

ANAYA, Rudolfo. How Chile Came to New Mexico. illus by Nicolás Otero. tr. by Nasario García. 48p. Río Grande. 2014. RTE $24.95. ISBN 9781936744206.
K-Gr 3 –As a follow-up to Anaya’s How Hollyhocks Came to New Mexico (Río Grande, 2012), this new tale is the story of how New Mexico became the state known for its chile peppers where restaurant goers are consistently asked—“Red or Green?”(referring to chile color preference in food orders). He tells the story of Young Eagle who is in love with a young girl named Sage. Like many folk tale heroes, Young Eagle has to carry out a quest to win Sage’s hand. In this case, it is to travel south to the land of the Aztecs to find chile seeds. Young Eagle overcomes many dangers and earns the right to take the seeds back to his people. The book is dedicated to New Mexico’s chile culture. Otero’s illustrations evoke ancient Aztec art and designs, and perfectly complement the narrative.

COLATO LAÍNEZ, René. ¡Jugemos al fútbol y al football!/Let’s play fútbol and Football! illus. by Lancman Ink. 32p. Alfaguara. 2014. RTE $15.95. ISBN 9780882723280.
K-Gr 3 –A timely work, now that soccer, or fútbol, has entered into the greater American consciousness because of the recent World Cup celebration in Brazil. Chris (who loves American football) and Carlos (who enjoys playing fútbol) are new neighbors. When they first attempt to play together, things don’t quite work out because of the two different balls that are used in each game. While the protagonists teach each other the differences between the two sports, they become friends. An afterword explains both games and includes a glossary and websites for further information. The illustrations are appealing and cheerfully depict two boys who are united by a love of play and sports. (Ed. note: see SLJ’s review of this title on p. 100.)

MENARD, Valerie. ¡Celebremos! Las fiestas del México, Cuba y Puerto Rico, y su vigencia en los Estados Unidos. 208p. Random House Español. 2002. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9780609811177. (OP).
Gr 7 Up –In the United States, much of what we know of Latino culture comes from cultural celebrations. Some of them have become more American than Latino. An ideal tool to give context to a wide variety of cultural fiestas, their origin, and their celebration in our country, this useful work clears up basic misconceptions, such as the notion that Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexican independence—which it does not.

The book is organized by the seasons of the year, and covers all of the well-known celebrations, as well as some of the less familiar ones. It also examines festivities that are not calendar-specific, such as quinceañeras, weddings, and birthdays. With its attractive design and format, former editor of Hispanic Magazine Menard’s volume is truly essential reading for Latinos and non-Latinos alike.

This article was published in School Library Journal's September 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).