“Rainbow weaver: Tejedora del arcoíris” Linda Elovitz Marshall; illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

Rated 5 stars ***** Children’s Book Press. 2016. (Includes “Glossary and Pronunciation Guide,” and “Author’s Note.”)

rainbowweaverThis bilingual picture book tells the story of Ixchel, who lives in the mountains above Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. She comes from a long line of Mayan weavers, and wants to weave with her mother to help pay for her schooling. Ixchel is too young to weave, and her mother can’t afford thread for her attempts, so she decides to create her own loom and thread from various materials. Her early results are disappointing but she persists and, through recycling colorful plastic bags littering her village, winds up with an item of beauty.

Scans and photos of actual Mayan weavings are used in Chavarri’s drawings. These works, incorporated into her full-page colorful drawings, beautifully illustrate Ixchel’s story and show how Mayan designs resemble rainbows.

Though Ixchel is fiction, a group of weavers in Guatemala create purses, baskets and more from plastic bags and threads, which they sell through cooperatives in the United States and other countries. In the 1980’s an organization called “Mayan Hands” was formed to help these weavers sell their products. Proceeds from the sale of “Rainbow weaver” will not only help weavers, but also help pay for medical care and for their children to go to school.

Recommended for ages 5-10.

“Shame the Stars” Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Rated 5 stars ***** Tu Books (Lee & Low). 2016. 288 pp. (Includes “Author’s Note”, “Book Recommendations”, “Newspaper Clipping Sources,” and a “Glossary.”)

shamethestarsBefore Texas became a territory and then a state, it was part of Mexico. As happened when European immigrants took control of land occupied by its original inhabitants, the Anglo American colonists who settled in Tejas, Mexico in the early 1800’s decided they wanted the land upon which they had settled, and fought to get it from Mexico. Ultimately the land they conquered became the state of Texas. Just as Native Americans had their lands stolen from them, so too did the Mexicans who had originally lived and farmed their own lands in Tejas for generations.

“Shame the Stars” is set in 1915, and tells the story of Tejano families struggling to understand and survive brutalities inflicted upon them by the Texas Rangers (a group of “lawmen” who randomly killed and raped Mexican Americans, imprisoning them without trial, and stealing their land.)

Joaquín Del Toro and Dulceña Villa are teenagers in love during this tumultuous time in the fictitious city of Monteseco. Though suffering from the devastation brought upon them and others by the Rangers, they refuse to keep their heads bowed low in servitude. They, and many others, determine to make a difference for their people and stand for their rights. “Shame the Stars” is their story.

This book is marketed as a “rich reimagining of Romeo and Juliet,” but I feel this simplistic overview is a disservice to McCall. “Shame the Stars” is so much more than this, as the author’s rich and powerful narrative opens the eyes of her readers to an atrocious chapter in the history of the United States that had been a secret for many years. It is closer to the history of Segregation and the crimes committed by segregationists than it is to Romeo and Juliet.

The “Refusing to Forget” Project, started in 2013, created an exhibit of this time period called “Life and Death on the Border 1910-1920.” It was on view in Austin, Texas from Jan. 23-April 3, and was a visual complement to the events in the book.

I sincerely hope McCall’s excellently written and researched book will win an award of some type at the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards in January, as it deserves a place in every high school and public library. McCall is a previous winner of the Pura Belpré award however, since “Shame the Stars” is intended for a much older audience, my fingers are crossed that it will receive a Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature from YALSA.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older.

I received a copy of this book from Lee & Low in exchange for an honest review.

 

“Sofrito” Phillippe Diederich

Rated 1 star * Ebook. ARC. 2015. Cinco Punto Press.

SofritoFrank Delgado was born in the United States from parents who had fled Castro and the Cuban revolution. All his life he hated his father for being a boring, “typical” American, who didn’t seem to have any interest in life other than work and home, and who seemed to hate anything that had to do with his former homeland.

Frank is part owner of a failing restaurant in New York, (while also failing at relationships and college.) When his business partners convince him to go to a famous restaurant in Cuba to steal a recipe for chicken that had been stolen from his Uncle, Frank discovers that Cuba (and his father) are not what he had thought.

I didn’t find the plot line of “Sofrito” to be believable. I felt the things Frank did to try and get the recipe were very unlikely, his interactions with the secret police were not plausible, and the fact that he fell in love with a prostitute in less than a week was the final nail in “Sofrito’s” coffin. In addition, I am pretty sure Cuban people don’t start every sentence with the curse word “coño.” I lost track of how many times it was said while Frank was in Cuba.

I know this book was more a “take” on the political scene of Cuba and how exiles feel disconnected or connected to the island and its memories, while locals feel very patriotic or hate its leader. However I didn’t like it, as the unrealistic storyline kept me at arm’s length.

Though I wasn’t a fan of “Sofrito,” I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

“Olinguito, from A to Z! /Olinguito, de la A a la Z!” Lulu Delacre

Rated 5 stars ***** 2016. Illustrated by Lulu Delacre. Children’s Book Press (Lee & Low). IncludOlinguitofromAtoZOlinguitoDelaAalaZes descriptive narratives on the Discovery of the Olinguito, The Cloud Forest and The Illustrations. Also includes ways readers can become explorers within the pages of the book as well as through online activities. The book also includes a detailed Glossary of scientific names of plants and animals in the cloud forest, complete with illustrations of each one, a list of More Helpful Words, and a detailed list of the Author’s Sources.

This amazingly detailed, well-researched and beautifully illustrated bilingual picture book for older and younger readers is more than an A to Z book of plants and animals found in the Ecuadorian Andes cloud forest. Used in conjunction with the very detailed Glossary, each page unveils unique and varied life forms found in this fascinating cloud forest.

Readers will learn about unusual creatures such as the tanager, quetzal, barbet and, of course, the olinguito. Not to be outdone, reading about vegetation with interesting sounding names like the Bomarea flower, passiflora, wax palm and epiphytes will also pique their curiosity. Each page contains rich stores of knowledge waiting to be explored. Each of the more than 40 plants and animals in the book have a story to tell, and can easily become extensive research projects for its elementary and middle school readers.

Well known author and illustrator Lulu Delacre has outdone herself with her latest book. I expect “Olinguito, from A to Z! /Olinguito, de la A a la Z!” will create quite a stir at next year’s American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards. I consider it a candidate for the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, as well as for the Pura Belpré Author Award. Remember that you read it first here!

Highly recommended for ages 7-14.

“Maya’s blanket/La manta de Maya” Monica Brown

Rated 5 stars ***** 2015. Illustrated by David Diaz. Children’s Book Press (Lee & Low). Includes a Glossary and Author’s note.

MayasBlanketYoung Maya loves the beautiful blanket Abuelita stitched for her when she was a baby. When the blanket gets old, she and Abuelita make it into a lovely dress. As the years pass by readers see Maya growing up as the blanket changes into many different items, which have their own significance to Maya. What always stays the same is that each newly created item always has the stamp of love placed upon it by Abuelita and Maya.

David Diaz’s bold, colorful, jewel tone, full page illustrations complement Monica Brown’s bilingual picture book about a young girl’s love for her grandmother and her gift. “With her own two hands and Abuelita’s help” is a refrain repeated during each transformation of the blanket, clearly showing their special relationship. As they read, young children will enjoy reciting it and talking about how they can recycle their own special gifts.

Recommended for ages 6-10.

“We never asked for wings” Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. Ballantine Books. Published August 18, 2015.

WeNeverAskedForWingsLetty Espinosa never learned to be a mother to her fifteen-year-old son Alex and six-year-old daughter Luna. Ever since she got pregnant at the young age of 18, she left them with her mother so she could get drunk and go out on the town. When her parents decided to move back to Mexico, Letty is desperate.

Certain her children will come to harm if she’s in charge, Letty realizes she will have to grow up and learn how to be a mother before it’s too late. However getting mixed up with undocumented immigrants, and Alex’s first love crisis, will strain her resolve and make her realize she is not alone in the struggles of motherhood and life.

“We never asked for wings” is a heartfelt look at the struggles of a single mother as well as those of undocumented immigrants. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down.

Highly recommended for Adult readers and mature teens.

“Pink fire trucks: Los camiones de bomberos de color rosado” Gladys Elizabeth Barbieri

Rated 5 stars ***** Big Tent Books. 2013.

PinkFireTrucksThe children are very excited to celebrate Career Day at their school. Gladys wants to be a firefighter when she grows up but feels discouraged by Rudy, a boy in her class, who insists she should “stick to a girl job.” With grace and strength, Gladys proves that girls can do anything boys can do.

“Pink fire trucks” is a bilingual picture book which shows young girls they can break out of the traditional job roles for women, and expand their horizons into careers previously closed to them.

Recommended for ages 6-10.