The Rise in Latino Children’s Literature: A 2015 Accounting
So we need diverse books, which at this point in the proceedings shouldn’t really be news to much of anyone. You know it. I know it. But ascertaining progress can be tricky in these matters. Anyone who works in publishing knows that it takes years and years for books to reach publication. Read through any copy of PW Children’s Bookshelf and you’ll have the enormously satisfying experience of noting all the diverse authors being announced there. Yet it will take some time before their books hit our shelves. What is there for the kiddos in the interim?
To answer this I turned to one of the smaller subsets of children’s literature: books starring Latino characters. In the past this has been a lamentable experience. Most of what was out there got a Pura Belpre nod and that was it. There’s a reason the Pura Belpre used to be every other year, folks. But 2015 has been different. We’re seeing the number of titles going up up up and I like what I see. Please note however that there is still a lot of work to be done. In the grand scheme of what is being published (particularly when we compare the number of books here to the number of Hispanic Americans residing in the States) we’re just beginning.
With that in mind, here are the 2015 books starring Latino and Latino-American characters. I know that there are titles that I have missed. Feel free to chime in with them in the comments.
Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle. Illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Still kicking myself that I didn’t include this in my last Caldecott prediction round-up. There’s time enough. By the way, if you want to play the how-many-books-does-Margarita-Engle-have-out-in-2015 game, now’s the time to start counting. Read the Seven Impossible Things interview with the creators here.
Papa Gave Me a Stick by Janice Levy. Illustrated by Simone Shin
A very simple story about a boy who wants a guitar and the folktale-esque way in which he acquires one. In a lot of ways it had many similarities to the far more serious . . .
Finding the Music / En Pos de la Musica by Jennifer Torres. Illustrated by Renato Alarcao
Again we have a kid obsessed with getting a guitar (and mariachis too, come to think of it). However, this book was far more realistic and for an older readership in general.
Hens for Friends by Sandy De Lisle. Illustrated by Amelia Hansen
In 2015 hens are hot. SLJ recently highlighted three of them, but I’ve seen far far more than that so far. Case in point this sweet little tale. It’s a story about keeping backyard chickens and would pair nicely with fellow 2015 release Millie’s Chickens by Brenda Williams.
Little Chanclas by Jose Lozano
If you want to talk about the publisher who’s been putting out Latino children’s literature with the greatest consistency, you’d be amiss in not pointing to Cinco Punto Press. Each year they’ve a plethora of titles. If the company’s name sounds familiar that may be because of their recent runaway YA hit Gabi, A Girl in Pieces. This year they’ve at least two titles that caught my eye. This and . . .
My Tata’s Remedies / Los remedios de mi tata by Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford. Illustrated by Antonio Castro L.
. . . this. An intergenerational tale, not too different from . . .
Mango, Abuela and Me by Meg Medina. Illustrated by Angela Dominguez
I know at least two women who hiss and growl every time they see a picture book where the grandmother is portrayed in the stereotypical old lady manner. So I love how the abuela here is a very realistically aged woman. The story of how she and her granddaughter overcome their language barriers makes it one of the lovelier books this year.
Salsa: Una Poema Para Cocinar / A Cooking Poem by Jorge Argueta. Illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
I’m fairly certain there are more bilingual picture books out in 2015 that I’m simply blanking on. With Mr. Tonatiuh’s rise in fortunes thanks to his ALA Youth Media Award wins for Separate Is Never Equal, I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more of this fella in the future.
Maya’s Blanket / La Manta de Maya by Monica Brown. Illustrated by David Diaz
Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano. Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
The Sock Thief by Ana Crespo. Illustrated by Nana Gonzalez
Note the boy character. I was happy to see a pretty even split between the boys and the girls in the picture book sphere. Unfortunately that equality takes a bit of a nose dive as we go up in reading levels.
Early Chapter Books
In many ways, this is the area that has seen the most improvement. When it comes to Latino characters in early chapter books, you pretty much have Zapato Power or nothing. This year we’re seeing three new series and one new standalone title. Unfortunately, the gender tilts a little too far in one direction.
Sofia Martinez: My Family Adventure by Jacqueline Jules. Illustrated by Kim Smith
Look at the attitude on that girl! Smith’s art goes a long way towards selling Sofia as a character. You look at this book jacket and you want to know more about her. Fortunately, you’ll have your chance. Future Sofia titles are being produced left, right, and central.
Emma Is On the Air: Big News by Ida Siegal. Illustrated by Karla Pena
This one’s a little different since author Ida Siegal is (at least according to Wikipedia) “an American television journalist news reporter who has been an on-air reporter for NBC New York since January 2003” (you can tell she’s a kind of celebrity because illustrator Karla Pena’s name is nowhere to be found on the cover, at least in this edition). No complaints here, mind you. The more the merrier.
Lola Levine is Not Mean! by Monica Brown
Like Drum Dream Girl, which features a Chinese-African-Cuban heroine, Lola Levine is one of the finer heroines sporting a dual heritage. Peruvian/Jewish, I like this cover particularly since it shows Lola doing what she does best while her brother lies at her side.
The Best Friend Battle by Lindsay Eyre
If you noticed that all the prior books were sporting girls and not boys, that is true. We certainly need more boys in all areas but particularly in our early chapter books and middle grade novels. In this case, Georgie Diaz isn’t the focus of the book. No, the heroine is the girl on the far left, and she’s just trying to hold onto her best friend in spite of the (very platonic) friendship overtures of Georgie.
Middle Grade Novels
Silhouettes are very “in” these days.
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb
Notice, however that when boys are typically pictured on middle grade books their faces are often hidden:
Canned and Crushed by Bibi Belford
Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth by Jeff Anderson
Not that I don’t love chocolate, of course. There are, of course, exceptions to the rules. This gorgeous cover for one . . .
The Amazing Adventures of Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Considering that the boy lives in England, I’m still gonna count it. It’s such a great book, after all. And then there’s this upcoming sequel to Ambassador . . .
Nomad by William Alexander
It’s sort of our only “action” book with a boy, though.
However, I am very pleased to say that we did locate a graphic novel. And perhaps true parity with Caucasian literature comes when every race gets their own distinctively gross book.
Booger Beard by Vincent “Vinny” Navarrete
Switching gears entirely, let’s talk about immigration!
Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco by Judy Rose
Quite possibly one of the best book jackets of the year.
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones. Illustrated by Katie Kath
See? Chickens! They’re everywhere!
Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
I was excited to hear about this fall release from Emily Seife. If we’re talking action adventure then this and one other novel come to mind . . .
Hunters of Chaos by Crystal Velasquez
So the girls are getting the bulk of the action novels in 2015.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
A good example of casual diversity. Astrid’s ethnicity is never the point of the book.
Growing Up Pedro: How the Martinez Brothers Made It from the Dominican Republic All the Way to the Major Leagues by Matt Tavares
Last year I had a devil of a time finding good picture book sports bios. They’re out there, folks and they vary in terms of content. This is one of the winners.
Island Treasures: Growing Up in Cuba by Alma Flor Ada
Brown Girl Dreaming set loose the publisher wheels. I have no doubt Ms. Ada was working on this for years. The time is now perfect to release it. It is, I do believe, a middle grade memoir. Oh, rarest of beasts.
The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist by Margarita Engle. Illustrated by Aliona Bereghici
By my count this is Ms. Engle’s third book out this year. She has an older memoir by the name of Enchanted Air that I’m not including here simply because I don’t cover YA. There may be more in the works.
Women Who Broke the Rules: Sonia Sotomayor by Kathleen Krull
Almost forgot this one. Not the first Sotomayor bio and certainly not the last but perhaps the most fun.
So what have I missed? We’ve an entire season on the horizon. Surely this is just a drop in the ocean, yes?
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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