As someone who loves learning about--and from--cultures and communities, I couldn't pass up a chance to blog about my favorite children's and YA books that focus on Hispanic heritage. Starting as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 under the Johnson administration and expanded to a 30 day celebration by proclamation from President Reagan, Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the history and cultures of South America, Central America,Spanish-speaking Caribbean nations, and Spain from September 15-October 15 (September 15-16 marks the anniversaries of independence for many Hispanic countries).
Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia is the remarkable story behind Luis Soriano's determination to enrich rural Colombian children's lives with books. It's an inviting and sobering look at the lack of access to books and education that many children face.
Although there are many children's books about Cesar Chavez, Cesar, si se puede!=Yes, We Can is one of the most eye-opening and comprehensive titles available. Told through free verse, this collection of poems is illuminating and revealing (the included historical essay also enriches the poetry).
Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin was my first introduction to Duncan Tonatiuh's incomparable artwork, which is inspired by pre-Columbian/Mixtec art from the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Puebla. Admittedly, it took me a bit to warm to it, but I now look forward to each new Tonatiuh title with great anticipation. Dear Primo follows the lives of two cousins who live very different lives in the United States and Mexico. Although their everyday experiences are unique, they are eager to meet each other and are united by their friendship.
As a fan of Margarita Engle's historical free verse novels set in Cuba (and her unforgettable Mountain Dog), it's hard to choose just one favorite from her work. Enchanted Air just might be it; her revealing memoir about her childhood in Los Angeles during the Cuban Missile Crisis is a much-needed addition to historical literature for children and young adults. Torn between two cultures (and fearful for her family back in Cuba), this is also a fantastic coming-of-age memoir that many readers will relate to and appreciate.
Pam Munoz Ryan's moving tale of a young Mexican girl and her mother working in Depression-era labor camps has become a modern classic, with many classrooms incorporating it into their history lessons. If you've already read Esperanza Rising, then you definitely need to read Ryan's other titles. Just try to choose a favorite!
Russell Freedman's astonishing body of work covers a multitude of subjects (his latest on the anti-Nazi resistance movement known as the White Rose Society is a must-read); through In the Days of the Vaqueros: America's First True Cowboys, readers learn that Mexican ranch hands instructed American cowboys on herding and roping techniques; the American cowboys also copied their outfits, tools, and even their slang. (Some Tex-Mex foods, such as burritos, are thought to have originated with the vaqueros, although there are other origin stories for the burrito.)
Told in the "This is the house that Jack built" storytelling style, The Pot That Juan Built introducers readers to Mexican potter Juan Quezada, whose pottery is reminiscent of the Casas Grandes people in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
Now that Sonia Manzano has retired from Sesame Street (she was known as "Maria" to long-time fans!), I'm hoping that this means that she will create more outstanding stories for young readers. The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano chronicles the life of a Puerto Rican neighborhood in 1969's Spanish Harlem, through the eyes of a fourteen year old girl wanting to join the neighborhood's activist movement, despite the wishes of her grandmother. Inspired by Manzano's childhood, this is a sensitively and engagingly written novel of both a girl and community in transition.
If Jonah Winter continues his You Never Heard Of? series, I hope he includes one about Roberto Clemente (Lou Gehrig would also be a great addition). We need more appealing and noteworthy books about this Puerto-Rican born baseball player who died much too soon; Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates is a beautifully written and illustrated biography of the first Latin American/Caribbean player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (and member of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve) who spent his off-season time working to uplift communities in need (his plane crashed when he was on his way to assist Nicaraguan earthquake survivors).
Although most people are aware of Brown vs. Board of Education, fewer people have heard of the 1946 Mendez vs. Westminster case, which ended legally mandated segregated education in California. When Sylvia Mendez was denied entrance into a "whites only" school, the Mendez family and the local Hispanic family organized efforts to bring a lawsuit to the federal district court. Read Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation for its heartrending yet inspiring overview of this little-known but crucial part of civil rights history.
If mature and lyrical YA novels are your thing, you definitely need to read Under the Mesquite. Aspiring poet Lupita must take on more household and child care responsibilities while her mother undergoes cancer treatment; this is a deeply felt coming-of-age story set in difficult circumstances; if you've never read anything by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, you need to fix that soon (cannot wait for Shame the Stars!)
Summer weather seems to be stubbornly holding on, so it's still a perfect time to read What Can You Do With a Paleta? Children in a Mexican neighborhood find all sorts of things to do with a paleta (a popsicle), including making masterpieces (!) as well as making tough decisions (always a difficult decision when faced with the prospect of many flavors!). This is a fun and upbeat read aloud (as is What Can You Do With a Rebozo?) for preschool and kindergarten children.
To learn more about Hispanic Heritage Month, visit the official site for information on 2016 events (click the individual links for updated information).
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library