“The school the Aztec Eagles built: A tribute to Mexico’s World War II air fighters” Dorinda Makanaonalani Nicholson

Rated 5 stars ***** Lee & Low. 2016. 40 p. (Includes “Author’s Note,” “Glossary and Pronunciation Guide,” “Author’s Sources,” and “Quotation Sources.”)

theschooltheazteceaglesbuiltThough not directly involved in World War II, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor Mexico aided the United States with shipments of oil and war materials. As retaliation for these shipments, German U-boats torpedoed two of their ships. Mexico entered the war on May 28th, and volunteered its best air force pilots to assist the United States.

No military unit in Mexico’s history had ever left the country to fight, but Air Fighter Squadron 201 became the first to do so. Nicknamed the Aztec Eagles, the almost 300 pilots and support crew set off for the United States to be trained. When their training was completed, they went on to support General MacArthur in his Philippines campaign.

Through period photographs, interviews, and careful research Nicholson tells the story of the courageous men of the Aztec Eagles. Her inspiration for their story was the unusual request from one of the support crewmembers, Sergeant Angel Bocanegra a former teacher, who asked the President of Mexico to build a school in his small village of Tepoztlán. The school still stands in their honor, and this book also honors those brave men who fought on behalf of both the United States and Mexico.

Highly recommended for ages 10-14.

“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.


“River of Angels” Alejandro Morales

Rated 5 stars ***** 2014. Arté Publico Press. 267 pp. Includes Author’s Note.

RiverOfAngelsAlex is invited to the Los Angeles Central Library to hear a famous author. Uncomfortable with the crowd Alex decides to explore, and is enthralled by photos from the 1930’s showing the construction of the city’s bridges. Lost in the faces of the Mexican workers, the present fades away and is replaced with the past world of the city of Los Angeles where Abelardo Ríos and his wife Toypurina live at their home bordering El Río de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de la Porciúncula (the Los Angeles River) in 1882.

Abelardo learned the ways of the river from his family, the local Indians and from years living at the water’s edge. After forming a successful business with his sons Otchoo and Sol ferrying visitors across the river, the impending growth of the city later led them to form the Sun Construction Company. At the time Otchoo’s name was changed to Oakley Rivers to avoid confusion over mispronunciation of his name.

In time Oakley married a wealthy banker’s wife and has a son. Raised among wealthy whites, Albert eventually falls in love with Louise Keller from a rival construction firm. She challenges him to think about his heritage and, as Albert truly understands for the first time that he is part Mexican, he soon discovers his heritage is a stumbling block to narrow-minded whites intent on keeping Mexicans and other racial groups from becoming successful. As Albert and Louise’s lives become inextricably mixed with hatred and prejudice, the love of family, friends and neighbors keep them from drowning in the depths of despair.

As Morales tells this epochal story of the union of families from different racial backgrounds, he incorporates Lizard people myths from the original Yangna Indian tribe and some fantastical elements, along with the trials, tribulations and successes of the Mexican, Chinese and African immigrants. Also included are historical accounts of events in Los Angeles, the United States and the world.

Readers learn of the many ways in which Mexicans helped create the Los Angeles of today, and gain insights into the sting of racism that, unfortunately, continues to this present time. I was not happy with the way some in the Keller family ignored the racial problem from an extended family member but I could see how Morales may have wanted to show that many people today turn a blind eye to racism, hoping it will go away if it’s ignored.

A copy of “River of Angels” should be in every public and academic library.

Recommended for Adult readers.

“Confessions of a Book Burner: Personal Essays and Stories” Lucha Corpi

Rated 3 stars *** 2014. Arte Publico Press. 242 pp.

ConfessionsOfABookBurnerLucha Corpi, formally known as Luz del Carmen Corpi de Hernandez, is a 72-year-old Chicana poet, mother, wrestler of life and dreams, author of Chicana crime fiction, and a civil rights advocate. Through “Confessions of a Book Burner,” Lucha crafts an impelling look at the hopes, fears and dreams that led to her becoming an established Chicana poet.

Through the use of flashbacks and the present time, Lucha describes the childhood she spent with her family and extended family in her beloved Mexican village of Jáltipan de Morelos, Veracruz and in San Luis Potosí where she moved when she was 8 years old. Storytelling, instrumental to learning family history in many Mexican homes, is used by Lucha to craft her own story and bring it to life for her readers. Descriptions of village life, holiday and familial customs as well the beauty of nature play large roles in her recollections.

Lucha discusses the meaning of dreams, debates whether or not the color of one’s skin defines a person, how one discovers their own destiny, and the role clairvoyance played in her life. She also recounts events in Berkeley and Oakland California during the 1960’s and 1970’s in which she participated, which weave an historical narrative of the Chicano fight for equal rights in education and in their work lives.

“Confessions of a Book Burner” is a must-have for students of Chicano history, lovers of poetry, and those interested in seeing how an immigrant from Mexico changed her world.

Recommended for Adult readers.



“In too Deep” Coert Voorhees

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). Published July 9, 2013. Hyperion (Disney Book Group). 322 pp.

InTooDeepFinally! A romantic teen novel with a great historical/action/adventure plot with a scuba diving twist. Loved it!

Annie is a scuba diving pro, even though she’s only 15 years old. It’s rough being the only kid on scholarship at a school for the rich and famous, but she has great friends and loves working with her mom in their scuba shop. Her dad teaches history at the school, and instilled a love in her for the ocean and sunken treasures.

When she goes to Mexico for a school trip with her teacher Mr. Alvarez, Josh (her major crush) and several other students, she learns more about the missing Golden Jaguar of Hernan Cortes. Despite a school presentation she’d done on it, nothing prepared her for the knowledge that Mr. Alvarez was actually a treasure hunter who knew how to find it.

Annie finds an important clue leading to its whereabouts, but almost gets killed for it because another treasure hunter wants the Jaguar for himself, and will stop at nothing to get it. Annie and Josh team up to stay in the hunt, but time is running out. Will they find the Golden Jaguar before the bad guys do?

Teens aged 14 and older will enjoy this romantic, historical adventure too, while also learning a lot about scuba diving.

“Summer of the Mariposas” Guadalupe Garcia McCall

ARC (Advanced Reading Copy). On sale October 1, 2012. Tu Books (Lee & Low). 352 pp.

Guadalupe Garcia McCall is a new author, recently winning the Pura Belpré and was a finalist for the William C. Morris Awards for her debut novel “Under the Mesquite.” I absolutely loved that book, and was excited to receive the ARC for her newest book in the mail from Lee & Low.

According to the book jacket summary, “Summer of the Mariposas” is supposed to be a Mexican American retelling of The Odyssey.” However, since I’d never read “The Odyssey,” any symbolism relating to it was completely lost on me. Thus, any reader who has not read this ancient Greek poem should not feel as if they are “missing out” on anything, but should do as I did and read the book for its own merits.

Ever since their father abandoned them over a year ago, Odilia and her four sisters have felt a void in their lives. Their mother has buried herself in her work, and the girls are left to fend for themselves. To give themselves a sense of togetherness, they created a type of 3 Musketeers pact, in which they stick together through good and bad as the Cinco Hermanitas (Five Sisters.) When they find a dead man in their favorite swimming hole near the U.S./Mexico border, it is decided that they need to bring the man home to his family in Mexico for a proper burial, find the grandmother they haven’t seen in 10 years, and figure out what happened to their father.

Thus begins the fantastical elements of “Summer of the Mariposas,” in which the girls meet all sorts of folkloric Mexican characters like La Llorona (who becomes their guide,) Chupacabra and others in their magical journey through Mexico to return the dead man to his family, meet their grandmother, and return home again. As they successfully make it through trial after trial, the sisters learn the true meanings of love and compassion, not only for each other, but for those around them. Their faith in the miracles performed by the Aztec goddess Tonantzin sustains them throughout their journey, uplifts them when they learn the truth about their father, and allows them to blossom with new life – just like the mariposas (butterflies) that surround them throughout their journey.

“Summer of the Mariposas” is filled with references to the ancient Aztec culture, allowing readers to gain insight into Mexican legends, its culture, and its people. The Author’s Note and Glossary give more information to middle and high school readers who will enjoy the adventures in “Summer of the Mariposas.”