May 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Making Storytime and Curriculum Connections to 2015 Pura Belpré Award Winners


A scene from 2015 Pura Belpré illustrator honor book Little Roja Riding Hood. Illustration by Susan Guevara.

A scene from 2015 Pura Belpré illustrator honor book Little Roja Riding Hood. Illustration by Susan Guevara.

The Youth Media Awards announcements on February 2, during the American Library Association’s (ALA) Midwinter Meeting, were in many ways historic. Diversity was in full view, graphic novels came into their own, and for the first time, a Latina illustrator—Yuyi Morales—was honored both as a Pura Belpré Medalist and a Caldecott Honor recipient. This was a huge step forward in terms of people of color getting recognized for their distinguished work on its own merits, divorced entirely from their ethnicity, or the themes of their book. ¡Viva, Yuyi!

This year’s Pura Belpré winners and honor books provide the ideal opportunity to get to know these authors and illustrators better, look back at some of their previous children’s books, and use these distinguished titles in a library or classroom setting.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I was the chair of the 2015 Pura Belpré committee. Now that the committee’s choices are public, I can speak for myself about this year’s winners. The following represents my opinion, and my opinion only, and should not be construed as representing the opinions of any of the other members of the (absolutely fabulous, I should point out) committee.

Pura Belpré Author


SLJ1503-Libro-Agosin-I-Lived-On-Butterfly-HillAGOSÍN, Marjorie. I Lived on Butterfly Hill. illus. by Lee White. S. & S./Atheneum. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781416953449.
Gr 5-8– Agosín is a Chilean American writer whose work is probably not familiar to many. That is understandable, since I Lived on Butterfly Hill is Agosín’s first book for young readers. The author has been honored by the United Nations, and the Chilean government awarded her with the Gabriela Mistral Medal of Honor for Life Achievement in 2002. Her work deserves attention.
This middle grade historical novel is narrated by preteen protagonist Celeste Marconi, who observes the growing tensions as warships enter the Valparaíso harbor in the early 1970s. From Celeste’s perspective, this is certainly an ominous event, but she does not fully realize the full portent of the vessels’ arrival until her parents, who are doctors, must go into hiding to escape retaliation by the new dictatorship. The protagonist then travels from Chile to Maine to stay safely with her Aunt Graciela for the duration. Celeste eventually returns to Chile and her family, and her journey, which takes place over several years, feels epic.
It is not often that young readers in this country, especially Latino readers, get such a lovely picture of South American culture. The fact that the story takes Celeste from Chile to Maine also serves to illustrate cultural differences with an eye toward acceptance and understanding. The character’s culture shock will resonate with anyone who is an immigrant, or who has been forced, for whatever reason, to leave the place they call home.

CURRICULUM CONNECTION: This book can be incorporated into social studies and history curricula. It can tie in to a historical discussion of dictatorships, military coups, and what happens to so-called “intellectuals” when someone like Augusto Pinochet takes power, as he did in Chile. The title can also be a springboard for talking about immigration issues and fitting in.


SLJ1503-Libro-Herrera_Portraits-of-HispanicHERRERA, Juan Felipe. Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes. illus. by Raúl Colón. Dial. 2014. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780803738096.
Gr 4-8A prime example of how nonfiction can be great literature. Herrera distills the life of each of these heroes into a three-page vignette that somehow manages to convey the essence of the subject without being oversimplified. His sketches often end with a poetic flourish, such as his entry about the Puerto Rican writer Julia de Burgos: “A lyric poet of her beloved Carolina landscapes and rivers, and a heartfelt orator for an independent Puerto Rico, Julia wrote tirelessly. She was her own road, and the road for her land and her people.” The stunning “Sestina for Victoria Leigh Soto” is about an unlikely hero, a teacher who was killed while trying to protect her students in the 2012 tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. Writing about Soto, Herrera states,“Voices sing your inner strength,” but he might have been talking about any of these heroes, well known or more obscure. He could also be describing Colón’s painted portraits of each figure, each displaying a quiet inner strength and resolve that drove these individuals to make a difference in the world.

CURRICULUM CONNECTION: This is exemplary nonfiction. The source notes, bibliography, and recommended reading titles are all top-notch. This is the sort of book that students can easily read for biography assignments. Herrera’s book of poems Laughing Out Loud, I Fly: Poems in English and Spanish (HarperCollins, 1998) was also a Pura Belpré honor book for text. Herrera writes verses about growing up in a world with two cultures and two homes, and how to bridge the confusing gap between the two.

Pura Belpré Illustrator


SLJ1503-Libro-VivaMorales, Yuyi. Viva Frida. illus. by author. photos by Tim O’Meara. Roaring Book/Neal Porter. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781596436039.
Gr 1 Up –This is pure Yuyi, what more can you say? She is a maker in every sense of the word, and this book uses multimedia illustrations that include photographs of puppets that Morales created. The text begins with simple bilingual statements from Frida (“Veo/I see”; “Juego/I play”), and this minimalism sweeps readers along Frida’s journey. Paired with Morales’s illustrations, however, the book becomes something truly magical; the real story happens in the pictures. Frida searches, finds a yellow box, and opens the box to reveal a skeleton marionette, which then takes her into a dream in which she realizes that because she creates art, she lives. In the dream sequence, the art style changes from photographic collage to acrylic paints, and then at the end, back to the puppets. Viva Frida celebrates the creative impulse found in artists and creators.

STORYTIME CONNECTION: There is a lovely YouTube video that shows Morales’s creative process. Share this with kids when exploring this breathtaking picture book.


SLJ1503-Libro-Tonatiuh_Separate-Is-Never-EqualTONATIUH, Duncan. Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation. illus. by author. Abrams. 2014. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781419710544.
Gr 2-5 –Tonatiuh uses composition to highlight the issue of segregation in a powerful and dramatic way. The cover shows three white children on the left, and three Latino children on the right, in the same formation, but with their backs to one another. Their expressions convey mutual distrust. In one of many striking images, the Mendez children look through a fence at a public swimming pool where the white children are swimming. A sign by the pool states “No dogs or Mexicans allowed.” The fence through which the Mendez children are looking is prisonlike and visually creates a strong sense of how discrimination keeps people from full participation in society. Tonatiuh’s illustrations also connect the story of the Mendez family with their heritage and roots with his pre-Columbian, Aztec-inspired art style.

CURRICULUM CONNECTION: Like Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes, this book is a natural for history and social sciences. It should be used when having a classroom discussion on segregation. It would pair naturally with Pam Muñoz Ryan’s new book, Echo (Scholastic, 2015), which has a long section devoted to a fictional California Latino family facing the same struggle. Readers will inevitably want to read Tonatiuh’s acclaimed Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote (Abrams, 2013), also a nuanced exploration of immigration.

SLJ1503-Libro-Parra_Green-Is-a-Chile-PepperTHONG, Roseanne Greenfield. Green Is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors. illus. by John Parra. Chronicle. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452102030.
PreS-Gr 2 –This concept book explores colors through the lens of Latino culture—orange, for example, represents Day of the Dead marigolds, and yellow is the masa used to make tamales. Parra’s paintings illustrate the joy of Latino cultural celebrations and hit all the right notes—in his art readers can see so many cultural influences, such as Mexican murals by Diego Rivera, folk art, as well as the beauty of folkloríco dance costumes.

STORYTIME CONNECTION: This title would also pair well with the duo’s wonderful Round Is a Tortilla (Chronicle, 2013). Check out a sample storytime using Viva Frida and Green Is a Chile Pepper on the “¡Es divertido hablar dos idiomas!” blog.

SLJ1503-Libro-Guevara_Little-Roja-coverELYA , Susan Middleton. Little Roja Riding Hood. illus. by Susan Guevara. Putnam. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399247675.
PreS-Gr 2Little Roja Riding Hood takes the familiar tale and puts it right smack in the middle of a forest that feels like the barrio. The highlight of this book is certainly El Lobo, who looks like a motorcycle dude with his bandana and his skull necklace bling. El Lobo is the latest in Guevara’s long tradition of hip, urban animal characters. Hilarious beyond belief is the artist’s depiction of Grandma’s santo—a statue of St. Jude, Patron Saint of the Impossible, who sports suitably puzzled and angry expressions as Grandma appears to be about to use him to bash El Lobo on the head. Guevara’s illustrations are filled with little amusing details that place this fairy tale in a more modern setting—Grandma is using a laptop in her bed to write romance novels, and there’s a security keypad on the wall in the final spread. Mention should also be made of Elya’s superb rhyming text, which perfectly blends Spanish and English.

STORYTIME CONNECTION: As a read-aloud, this book will certainly rule. Pair with Elya’s Rubia and the Three Osos (Disney-Hyperion, 2010). Be inspired by this “Caperucita Roja” Pinterest page.
The success of Guevara’s latest work brings to mind her illustrations for the delightful “Chato” books done in collaboration with author Gary Soto, Chato’s Kitchen (1997) and Chato and the Party Animals (2004, both Putnam). Originally released in English, there are now Spanish editions available that would work nicely in a program with Little Roja.

This article was published in School Library Journal's March 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Tim Wadham About Tim Wadham

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