“Martí’s song for freedom: Martí y sus versos por la libertad” Emma Otheguy

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Children’s Book Press (Lee & Low). Includes “Afterword,” “Author’s Note,” and a “Selected Bibliography.”

Marti'sSongForFreedomJosé Martí (1853-1895) was born when Spain ruled Cuba with an iron fist. Slave labor on sugar plantations allowed the rich to become richer, oppressing natives of all races. Determined to free his people José advocated for freedom from Spain, which led to imprisonment and deportation. Despite being away from the island he loved, José continued his fight to abolish slavery from his new home in New York through poetry and speeches. Ultimately he gave his life for his country, remembered for the words he left behind which deeply illustrated his love for freedom and justice for all.

Otheguy’s well-researched bilingual picture book tells the story of Cuba’s greatest poet and patriot, as Vidal’s simply drawn, yet colorful paintings, illustrate his struggle in a clear, straightforward manner. It will appeal to older elementary readers, especially those in grades 3-6, and may well be a contender for the upcoming Pura Belpré award. If it wins or places, remember that you read it here first.

Recommended for ages 8-11.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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“The cholo tree” Daniel Chacón

Rated 3 stars *** 2017. Arte Público Press. 248 pp.

TheCholoTreeFourteen-year-old Victor is an aspiring artist and cook in his low income, gang filled neighborhood and, like most kids his age, doesn’t like school. He was very close to his father who was killed when Victor was very young, and holds his mother at an emotional distance. Though not a cholo (gang member) she believes he is one, and doesn’t trust him.

Victor doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life and is reluctant to choose a path, despite direction from a teacher he trusts and a very smart girlfriend who gives him some inspiration. As he aimlessly wanders through the life he’s chosen for himself, Victor has to sort through layers of experiences to decide if he already is a cholo. Does he want to be a cholo, or does he want to break free of the mold he created for himself in order to live the way he was meant to live?

Don Quixote-type fantasies intermingled with Victor’s hazy memories of his father, along with stories of his life, are pieced together to show four years of his struggles to discover who he is and what he wants to be. Though I wasn’t a big fan of the book, I did enjoy the author’s portrayal of Iliana as a strong, independent woman. She knew what she wanted, and went for it full speed ahead, the complete opposite of Victor. She didn’t let feelings get in the way of her future, and I admire her for having a goal and sticking to it.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Evangelina takes flight” Diana J. Noble

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Arte Público Press. 195 p.

EvangelinaTakesFlightEvangelina lived with her parents, brothers, sisters and grandfather on her father’s ranch in Mariposa Mexico, which had been in the family for generations. She was looking forward to turning 15 in a year and a half so she could also celebrate her quinceañera, like her big sister. Everything about her life seemed to be going well, until the politics of 1911 turned everything upside down.

Due to the fighting that had begun with the Revolution, Pancho Villa and his soldiers roamed the countryside, robbing and killing villagers, Evangelina’s parents decide it’s too risky to stay in Mexico, so Evangelina had to leave her home and everything she loved, including her grandfather. It took days to travel to a small border town in Texas to live with her aunt but once there, the family found out they weren’t welcomed because they were Mexican.

Through the trials and tribulations she endured at school and at the hands of prejudiced villagers, Evangelina gained the courage to spread her wings and fly free as a butterfly, despite those who wanted her to crawl at their feet like a caterpillar.

I enjoyed learning about the Mexican Revolution from the eyes of a family who was living it. It was sad to read how Mexicans were treated in Texas and other states, even though they had been part of Mexico before the Mexican-American War. When settlers from the United States moved into these new states and took over land previously owned by Mexico, it was the Mexicans (the original inhabitants) who lost the rights to their ancestral homelands – just as what had happened to the Native Americans.

Attitudes towards Mexicans and other foreigners are, unfortunately, still alive today. Despite having to flee their homes due to war, gangs and other types of violence, many are not met with acceptance when they arrive in the United States. I loved what Evangelina said on page 111 when she asked, “Why do people in town glare at us so hatefully if they’ve never even met us? What would they do if the war was in Texas and their sons and daughters and fathers and sisters were being kidnapped and killed?” 

I have to get on a soapbox to say that people need to put themselves into the shoes of others, and stop being judgmental. As I’ve said time and again no one is an original American except for Native Americans, so think about where YOU would be now if your ancestors were kept out of the country the way you’re trying so hard to keep others out.” Think about it really hard.

Highly recommended for ages 12-16.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

“Deep in the shadows: Undercover in the ruthless world of human smuggling” Hipólito Acosta

Rated 3 stars *** 2017. Arte Público Press. 319 p. (Includes photographs and an Appendix).

DeepInTheShadowsHipólito Acosta grew up in a tiny Texas town and, in 1975, was hired by the U.S. Border Patrol. After working locally for a little while he was assigned to Chicago, becoming one of the first Hispanic agents to work undercover for the agency. There, either single handedly or with fellow agents, he infiltrated gangs and cartels to root out drug dealers, human smugglers, and sellers of false identity papers. Later in his career, assigned to work in higher leadership roles in the Philippines and Mexico, he continued to set the bar high in his single-minded pursuit of justice.

In simple, understated narrative Acosta details his innovative, yet very dangerous experiences working to uphold his oath to protect our country’s borders. His memoir is loaded with names, dates, and facts, which can be overwhelming at times. It would have been nice if an alphabetical glossary or timeline, with associated page numbers, was included to help readers better associate the details of his career.

Recommended for Adults.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“In the country we love: My family divided” Diane Guerrero

Rated 5 stars ***** 2016. Henry Holt and Co. 247 p.

InTheCountryWe LoveWanting a better life for their young son, and unable to make a living in Colombia, Diane’s parents obtained a four-year visitor visa and left for the United States. A few years later, Diane was born. Knowing they’d overstayed their visas her parents worked hard at various menial labor jobs, paying people who promised to help with citizenship papers but who ran off with their hard earned money.

Though Diane’s older brother became increasingly disillusioned at the lack of job prospects due to his immigration status, her parents were hopeful. They were sure that if they didn’t get into trouble, stayed below the radar, and kept paying the “lawyer” who’d promised to help, that they’d become legal citizens.

When Diane was fourteen years old, her parents were arrested by ICE for being in the country illegally and deported to Colombia. Left alone, and forgotten by the government, Diane had to figure out how to live without her family. “In the country we love” is the story of people who helped her survive, and the long road of pain and sorrow she endured on her way to becoming a famous television star.

According to the Migration Policy Institute 2016 study, “5 million children under the age 18 have at least one parent who is in the United States illegally. Out of that number, 79 percent are U.S. citizens.” Guerrero puts a face to one of those children. Her story is a must read.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“Burn baby burn” Meg Medina

Rated 2 stars ** 2016. Candlewick Press. 300 p. Includes “Author’s note.”

BurnBabyBurnDuring the summer of 1977 New York City experienced worsening poverty and crime, a massive blackout in all 5 boroughs, a stifling heat wave, and unrelenting fear brought on by the Son of Sam murders. Against this tumultuous background, Medina places the story of seventeen-year-old Nora Lopez.

Her father lives comfortably with his new wife and son in a well-furnished apartment in the City, forgetting about Nora, her mother, and younger brother Hector in their rundown Queens neighborhood where Hector has become a thief and drug addict. Often violent towards his sister and mother, neither wants to admit he’s out of control. On top of everything else her mother lost her job, putting them in danger of eviction. Nora suffers through the lack of food and money, as well as Hector’s abuse and crimes, in silence. Desperate to turn eighteen so she could leave it all behind, she turns a blind eye to everything. However will running away solve her problems or make them worse?

I had a hard time getting through this book, as the plot seemed to drag. I also kept getting annoyed at the poor decisions Nora and her mom continued to make regarding Hector. The book had many historical references to the period. Though some were interesting, it seemed to have too many. In general, “Burn baby burn” failed to ignite a bigger spark of interest in me.

I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

“Mama and Papa have a store” AND “La tienda de mamá y papá” written and illustrated by Amelia Lau Carling

Rated 4 stars **** Lee & Low. 2016. (First published in 1998 by Dial.)

mamaandpaphaveastorelatiendademamaypapaLee & Low republished these out-of-print editions in both English and Spanish.

In 1938, the author’s parents fled their village in China before the Japanese invaded at the advent of World War II. Settling in Guatemala City, they raised their six children in the back of a grocery store, which sold all sorts of sundries.

Through detailed watercolor drawings, the author shares her memories of a typical day spent playing in the store with her brothers and sisters, meeting Mayan Indians who came from their faraway village to buy colorful thread, and interacting with Guatemalan and Chinese patrons. By the end of the book, readers will have a clear idea of what it was like for a hardworking Chinese immigrant family to make their way in a new world.

I would have preferred to have both the Spanish and English versions in a single book, rather than in two different books, as it would’ve been easier for children learning each language to see the opposite language as they practiced.

Recommended for ages 6-10.