You are brave. We believe you. We support you. We care about you.

To those survivors who have recently spoken or written of experiences of sexual harassment and abuse and predatory sexual behavior in the children’s literature community, and to those survivors of sexual harassment and abuse who remain silent: You are brave and we believe you. We support you and we care about you. And we will do all we can to lessen your pain.

We have become aware that we have previously reviewed the work of a well-known illustrator who has been called out for his history of sexual harassment and predation. We have redacted all references to his art in our posted reviews of the books he has illustrated. At the same time, we are maintaining these reviews because we don’t want to negatively impact the authors whose publishers had contracted with this illustrator. 

Here are our reviews of the books in question: 

Along with Latinxs in Kid Lit, we will be attentive to updates on the accusations and fallout as this issue is tackled within the Kid Lit community.

We also encourage everyone to read articles (see links below) that shed light on the issue and to change the ugly and dangerous climate that exists in the world of children’s literature. We need to reclaim and safeguard the networks and encounters through which we navigate and intervene to disrupt the dynamics that feed predatory actions. 

Those who want to take a step in this direction may decide to repost the pledge on Gwenda Bond’s site, which articulates a determination to make conferences safer for everyone. In addition, please read:

We thank Latinxs in Kid Lit ( for calling public attention to this important matter and for their support and camaraderie. 

—De Colores
(published 2/17/18)

Family Poems for Every Day of the Week / Poemas Familiares para cada día de la semana

author: Francisco X. Alarcón
illustrator: Maya Christina González 
Children’s Book Press / Lee & Low, 2017 
Mexican American

We all know that a circle has no beginning and no end. In Family Poems for Every Day of the Week / Poemas Familiares para cada día de la semana, everything is circular, everything is happening at the same time, and everyone is present at every moment. 

Each double-page spread contains an etymology of a particular day of the week. With Spanish predominating and English following, an individual poem stands alone and, at the same time, joins with the others to create a circle with the subliminal message that we are all related.

The life and work of the beloved, openly gay Chicano poet and educator, Francisco X. Alarcón, straddled three cultures. Creating work for children and adults in Nahuatl, Spanish and English, Alarcón passed on too soon—almost at the completion of this, his last book. Here, he returns to visit as a queer child, embodied in the book’s young narrator. Alone or in the company of family and friends, this child traverses the days of the week, displaying varying emotions: boredom, loneliness, thoughtfulness, joy—and, as did Alarcón, awareness of everyone and everything in the many circles of life. 

Although Spanish is a gendered language and Alarcón’s poetry maintains it as such, Maya Christina González's art is gender-expansive and loaded with visual subtext. While each of Alarcón’s poems is rich, brilliant and almost always playful, so is González s art. As she writes in her Illustrator’s Note, the art “tells the story inside the story.”

Rendering her full-bleed double-page spreads in watercolor, gouache and acrylic markers, González uses color as a form of spiritual expression. Her bright palette encompasses both warm and cool colors that dance together on every page, complementing rather than competing with each other. As well, lines are rounded and curved, and everywhere there are circles. In backgrounds, on clothing, in the patterns on the animales, and even on the faces of the elders, they display a connectedness of everything and everyone.

Alarcón’s craft, as always, shines. On each spread he presents two or more poems in Spanish and English. Although he connects them to a particular day of the week, neither is a translation; rather, each has its own internal rhythm that reflects both the dreams and realities of the young narrator. 

For instance, on Monday, there is daydreaming:
este día se llama
igual que la Luna—
por eso quizás
this day is named
after the Moon—
maybe that’s why
al mediodía aún estoy
soñando con la Luna
el lunes
at noon I’m still
daydreaming on the Moon
on Monday
But Monday also brings an impossible wish:
cómo me gustaría
que el lunes se volviera
en domingo otra vez
how I wish Monday
would just turn
back into Sunday
para que mis papacitos
no tuvieron que salir
a trabajar al amanecer
so my dear parents
wouldn’t have to go
out to work at dawn
Family Poems for Every Day of the Week / Poems Familiares para cada día de la semana is both playful and serious, an LGBTQ-friendly children’s book that works with words and images in ways that encourage young readers and listeners—hablantes and English-speakers alike—to embrace who they are and how they see themselves. It’s full of verbal and visual communication that sends messages of love, comfort and belonging to everyone who is part of the great circle. 

There are far too few books for young people like this. One of my all-time favorites is González’s Call Me Tree / Llámame arbol (Children’s Book Press / Lee & Low, 2015). (See De Colores review here: And Family Poems for Every Day of the Week / Poemas Familiares para cada día de la semana is another. It’s highly recommended. 

—Beverly Slapin
(published 2/11/18)

Francisco X. Alarcón: ¡Presente!

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

author: Pablo Cartaya
Penguin / Random House, 2017 
grades 5-up 
Cuban American

At the beginning of the summer, 13-year-old Arturo Zamora is not looking forward to his “promotion” to the position of Junior Lunchtime Dishwasher at his family’s Cuban restaurant in a suburb of Miami, Florida. Not only will he miss his two best friends, away on a family vacation and at summer camp, but dishwasher is also the worst job at La Cocina de la Isla. Still, Arturo is happy to spend the summer with his large family and his beloved Abuela, the restaurant’s co-founder and cook who can no longer work there because of health problems. 
Two things make this summer especially challenging for Arturo. One is Carmen, the “cousin who isn’t a cousin” but the 13-year-old daughter of his mother’s best friend, who recently died of cancer. Carmen and her father live in Spain but are spending the summer with the Zamora family, and Arturo is immediately captivated by her beauty, spunk, and love of poetry. More ominous is the arrival of the developer Wilfrido Pipo, who has planned a luxury condominium with all the amenities—to be built on the site of La Cocina de la Isla and its parking lot. Wilfrido plans dinners, festivals, and other activities to gain the support of the Zamoras’ neighbors and the town council that will ultimately grant or deny a zoning permit for Pipo Place. Instantly, the Zamoras and their beloved restaurant are all alone, for the developer has turned the entire town against them. But this large family, residents of the town for three generations, will not go down without a fight.
The author of several picture books, Pablo Cartaya debuts as a middle grade author with The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, and what a delightful and endearing debut it is! Arturo’s first-person, present-tense narrative voice is authentic and believable, as is his awkwardness around Carmen, the first girl he has truly noticed: (“'Um, are you hot?” I asked. “I mean not hot like hot, but like sweating hotness…from the heat, and, um, you’re in Miami.”). Readers will also enjoy the the smooth use of code-switching in dialogue between English and Spanish as Arturo interacts with his family members and other “cousins.” For example, this exchange between Arturo’s mother and his firebrand aunt:
“Cari, did you read the paper today?” she asked my mom. “I can’t believe there’s another bid for the lot next door! Did you tell Mami?”
“Yes, I read it. And, no, I don’t want to worry her.”
I watched Aunt Tuti pace nervously around the dining room at the restaurant while making a face like she was about to swallow an entire apple.
“Every day this week!” she yelled at the top of her lungs. “He’s stopped by the restaurant every day. He even invited me to lunch. Can you believe it? He. Invited me. To lunch. Engreído. Mentiroso. Ah no, no way. No way!”
“Tuti, cálmate. You’re getting hysterical.”

The characters’ (and author’s) Cuban heritage comes through in the food, the family relationships, and the writings of José Martí, the nineteenth-century poet and patriot who inspires Arturo to stand up for his family against the powerful developer. 
That poem was the result of an extreme emotional situation. It was a one-time thing! I had no desire to ever read in public again. Carmen stared at me and smiled. I wasn’t José Martí—I didn’t have his mojo—but if I could make Carmen smile like that, then I could totally recite my poem again.

The story concludes with pair of favorite recipes and a brief author's note about Martí's life and work. The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora is highly recommended.
—Lyn Miller-Lachmann
(published 2/5/18)
An earlier version of this review first appeared in The Pirate Tree ( We thank The Pirate Tree for permission.

Stella Díaz Has Something to Say

author: Angela Domínguez
illustrator: Angela Domínguez 
Roaring Brook Press, 2018 
grades 3-5 
Mexican American

Third-grader Estrella (Stella) Díaz has a lot of things to say, especially when she’s talking about her interests, which revolve around marine life. As an emerging bilingual child, she sometimes uses Spanish pronunciation for English words or phrases—or, at times, substitutes similar-sounding words. Stella often gets frustrated, and her feelings of inferiority are compounded each time Jessica, the “mean girl,” makes fun of her. And when she has to read aloud, Stella’s stomach gets tied up in knots and she can barely talk at all.

Once a week, Stella takes “speech” lessons, where she is rebuked for using a Spanish word and is taught “to speak properly. This means how all the letters and words are supposed to sound in English,” she tells the reader. “At least that’s what my speech teacher, Ms. Thompson, says.” 

By emphasizing “properly” here, Stella silently calls out her speech teacher’s loaded judgment. Although Ms. Thompson’s insistence may seem like a small thing, this kind of teaching squelches the self-image and creativity of children who are dual-language learners. 

And when Stella discovers her status as a “legal alien,” she pictures “all these spiny, crawly, deadly aliens, the ones people run away from,” which, of course, makes her feel even more that she doesn’t belong. “I wouldn’t be an alien if I were living in Mexico,” she thinks, “I’d be natural there.” If she becomes a citizen, she asks herself, will she finally feel normal?

Born in Mexico City and raised in Chicago, Stella lives with her awesome mom, an executive at a radio station and dynamite cook besides, who speaks Spanglish at home; and her older brother, funny, good-natured, middle-schooler Nick. Evenings after dinner, the three play card games and sometimes dance to salsa music, which is “different from chips and salsa,” Stella explains. Her parents are divorced, and Stella says that her dad, who lives in Colorado, doesn’t know how to be a dad: he doesn’t keep promises, he’s never around, and he doesn’t send money. 

Stella has a best friend, Jenny, who is Vietnamese American. They like each other, in no small part because, as cultural “outsiders,” they have much to share. In some ways, Jenny, who is bolder than Stella, is her alter-ego; and Stella sometimes imagines—after a particularly embarrassing time being harassed by mean-girl Jessica—going back in a Fantastic Time Machine and telling Jessica off or having Jenny talk for her. 

As Stella navigates third grade—culturally and emotionally supported by her mom and extended family; encouraged in developing her artistic talent by her innovative classroom teacher, and acknowledged by the school librarian, who greets her in Spanish—she succeeds in making friends and becomes “professional” at ignoring bullies, creates her first book and a poster for the third grade spelling bee, and makes it to the semifinals. And, in a costume she’s created and standing in front of her handmade submarine, Stella introduces herself as Jacques Cousteau and makes an amazing class presentation on sea life. 

At the end of the day, Stella says:

I grab my cheeks because my face hurts from smiling so much. I just can’t stop! Not only did I speak out loud in front of the whole class, I did it well. Today, I really lived up to my name. I really was an Estrella.

This warm story of family and community encompasses a variety of cultural markers as well as mostly contextualized Spanish words and phrases. It would have been good, though, had Domínguez chosen not to italicize the Spanish. This style should be used only for emphasis

Domínguez’s appealing ink-and-pencil, mostly spot illustrations (and several full-page illustrations as well) provide visual context for youngsters moving from picture book to chapter book, and young readers might also recognize some of them from her previous picture books. In one particularly moving illustration, Stella lies down on her living room rug. Her limbs are spread out and she’s sadly staring into space. She’s emotionally exhausted after yet another day of defending herself from the school bullies. 

Domínguez inserts herself into the story as a children’s book author in a library performance, in which she reads a book she’s written in Spanish and English, and talks about how she dealt with her own language-acquisition challenges—“She read even more and made herself write all the time. Then she decided that’s what she wanted to do when she grew up.” Stella is beyond impressed. “Don’t tell anyone,” she tells her beta fish, Pancho, “but I might want to be an author one day.”

In an Author’s Note that maintains her story’s narrative voice, Domínguez discloses to young readers which parts of Stella Díaz Has Something to Say are based on her own childhood. And she advises them: “Never forget that you’re so much stronger than you realize. You’ll be surprised by what you can accomplish.”

Young readers—especially immigrant children, and those who are struggling with challenges involving language acquisition and fluency and the frustrations of being misunderstood—will easily relate to our young protagonist. So will everyone else. Stella Díaz Has Something to Say is highly recommended. 

Addendum / Update: On page 119 of the ARC (proofreader copy), Stella says, “I can feel my heart beating like war drums in my chest.” To many readers, this may seem like an innocuous comment, but to many others, it’s a hurtful stereotype of Native peoples. I want to thank Angela Domínguez and her editing and publishing team for offering to change this line in the second printing and paperback editions of this book. The change will read, “I can feel my heart pounding like drums in my chest.” It’s a quick and easy, but very important, fix. 

—Beverly Slapin
(published 1/6/18; revised for addendum, 1/11/18;
revised for cover update, 1/15/18)

I Speak English for My Mom

author: Muriel Stanek 
illustrator: Judith Friedman 
Albert Whitman, 1989 
grades 1-5 
Mexican American

“When I was small,” young Lupe Gómez says, “Mom helped me do everything. Now that I’m older, I have to help my mom because I can speak English, and she can’t.” At school, Lupe speaks English. At home, she speaks Spanish with her mom. And outside the home, sometimes she speaks for her mom.

Unlike many picture books about immigration, I Speak English for My Mom is anything but a deficit model of an immigrant family. Before Lupe’s papa died, her mom promised him that she and her young daughter would come to the US where opportunities would be better for them. Lupe has heard this story many times: She and her mom will work hard and she will go to college and get a good job when she grows up.

Although they have to scrape by economically, Mom is far from helpless. She’s raising her daughter in a mixed community where the adults speak Spanish with each other and their bilingual kids code-switch, she works full-time in a garment factory where everyone speaks Spanish, she shops mostly at the local frutería, and cashes her paycheck at the currency exchange next to the factory. Usually, the only times she enlists her daughter to speak for her are at the pharmacy, at the clinic, and at parent-teacher conferences.

Although Lupe’s narration is in English, young readers will easily recognize what is being said in which language. For instance, 

When Mom takes me to the clinic for my checkup, the doctor speaks English. I tell Mom what he says. Once I played a trick on her. “What did the doctor say?” Mom asked. “He said I should eat lots of candy and ice cream.” Mom laughed. She knew I was fooling her.

As do many youngsters with this kind of responsibility, Lupe sometimes feels put-upon; when her mom needs her, however, she’s there. But when the factory where mom works cuts everyone’s pay because “business is not good,” Mom realizes that she needs to look for better prospects. And she knows she will have to learn English to work downtown. After some amount of worry, Mom and her friend, Mrs. Cruz, decide to enroll together in free English classes offered at the local high school.

Unlike Home at Last (, where every Spanish phrase is repeated in English as from a textbook and Mamá’s inability to speak English throws her into an existential crisis, the narration in I Speak English for My Mom is seamless and organic, as are the conversations between Mom and Lupe. When Lupe helps Mom practice her English homework, for instance, the language is simple and stilted, and when they speak Spanish again, the flow is natural: 

 I say to Mom, “How do you do? What is your name?”
Mom answers in English. 
“I am fine, thank you. My name is Rosa Gómez.”
“Where do you live?” I ask.
She says, “I live in Chicago, Illinois.”
“Do you have any children?”
“Yes, I have one daughter. Her name is Lupe.”
“Very good,” I tell her.
“Thank you very much,” she says.

Then we go back to speaking Spanish.
“It takes me a long time to learn a new language,” Mom says.
“But one day you won’t have to speak for me anymore.”
“I think maybe I will miss it,” I tell her.

Friedman’s detailed pencil drawings are emotionally honest, warm and inviting. Most of them depict mother and daughter together—at the pharmacy, at the clinic, at school, and in the kitchen, counting Mom’s meager earnings. And on the cover, rendered in watercolors on a subdued palette, mother and daughter sit on a couch together, holding hands and smiling at each other. What’s not generally illustrated in picture books with this kind of theme is here: older and newer houses on a tree-lined street, a tiled kitchen with a potted plant, patterned wallpaper, curtains on the window, and a vase of flowers on the dresser next to a family photo of mamá, papá, and baby Lupe in Mexico.

On the last page, there is this:

Mom tucks me into bed.
“Buenas noches,” I say to her.
“Good night,” says Mom.

I Speak English for My Mom tells of a warm and loving relationship between a mother and her daughter, living and working in a mixed community in which everyone knows each other. It’s an older book, but still a refreshing addition to a body of literature that portrays the important roles that children in immigrant families—and particularly, in Raza families—assume.

I Speak English for My Mom is highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 1/2/18)

Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre // Alma and How She Got Her Name

author: Juana Martinez-Neal
illustrator: Juana Martinez-Neal 
Candlewick Press, 2018 

Our young protagonist has a long name—Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela. Her name is so long that writing it on the back of a photograph requires her to tape an extra piece of paper to the bottom. “It never fits,” she grumbles to her papi, who decides that this is the perfect time to tell her the stories of her many names—and gives her the emotional room to “decide if it fits.”

In Alma’s search for her identity, Martinez-Neal tells a gentle story of family culture and history and fills it with illustrative detail that will encourage the youngest readers to embark on their own journeys of self- and family discovery. 

Alma’s papi opens their blue family album. Its photos carry everyone’s story and, as Alma learns about her ancestors, she sees the connections between them and herself. In some of the illustrations, Alma steps into a photograph and meets a relative; for instance, lighting a candle with her curandera great-aunt Pura, who turns around and smiles at her. And as she draws or paints a representation of each of her forebears, she happily takes in what is special about that person by adding another name to her own.

The left side of several pages and some double-page spreads as well depict our niñita, in pink-striped overalls, on her adventure; while some pages on the right side depict old photos of the ancestors whose names she carries. Youngsters may ascertain that the pink tones indicate the present, while the blue and blue-gray tones represent the past. As the pages turn, some of the blues—such as a family photo album, the books, an old trunk and its contents—are gifts from her ancestors and move to the contemporary side.

On every page, Alma wears a red mal de ojo bracelet, a charm her great-aunt had tied around her wrist when she was born to keep her safe and connected. As well, a tiny bird, her companion and support—is the first to notice the relatives and continues to interact with them—and is always present to guide her. 

Martinez-Neal’s design employs lots of white space and limits her palette to pinks, blues and blue-grays. For the cool and warm grays on the pages that depict historic photographs of Alma’s ancestors, she used Prismacolor pencils and graphite, then reversed and transferred the art to handmade textured acrylic paper. For the blues and pinks on the pages that depict contemporary scenes, she painted directly onto the paper. As the story progresses, youngsters will discern past and present coming together in Alma’s life. 

In both the English and Spanish versions, everything that Alma sees and labels—including a large map, many countries of which, with her little bird's assistance, she’s connected with the red string of her bracelet—is lettered in Spanish. Since Alma is Peruvian, this makes cultural sense.

Martinez-Neal renders each of Alma’s ancestors’ names in different blue typefaces to highlight what is special about them, and, on one of the last pages, Alma’s own first name tops the list. On the last page is a photograph of a smiling Alma, her little bird happily perched on her head. Alma is cradling a book that she has made; it’s entitled, “My History,” and taped to her photo is a piece of paper on which she’s written the name that belongs to no one else in her family. “That’s my name,” she says, “and it fits me just right! I am Alma, and I have a story to tell.”

In hinting at some things, it’s clear that Martinez-Neal leaves a lot for interpretation, illustrating the family’s continuum without words. For instance, there’s a photo of Alma’s abuela, Sofia, sitting alone. Next to her is a young jasmine-looking plant in a small pot. On the facing page the grown plant, in a blue pot, frames father and daughter, who are sitting together. As such, Martinez-Neal illustrates these familial relationships while providing space for young readers to finish the story in ways that are meaningful to them. 

Youngest readers (and older readers as well) will relate to Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre and Alma and How She Got Her Name, and teachers and librarians will find tons of teachable moments here. Both versions of this loving story are highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 1/1/18)

La Princesa and the Pea

author: Susan Middleton Elya  
illustrator: Juana Martinez-Neal 
Putnam, 2017 
preschool-grade 3 

La Princesa and the Pea is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s popular tale, “The Princess and the Pea,” here set in a Peruvian village. Throughout, Elya uses mostly English with some Spanish. The queen is “la reina,” and she’s got some serious control issues around her son, “el príncipe.” 

Aligning it with the familiar tale, Elya uses a simple and effective rhyme scheme to move the story along. She includes  Spanish words into the rhymes and, perhaps most importantly, the words are not translated on the page. Instead, they are red and there is a glossary at the end of the book, if you need it. I would not go as far to say this is a bilingual book, but I would say it is a book that appreciates the Spanish language.

For me, what elevates this book is Juana Martinez-Neal’s illustrations. Rendered in acrylics, colored pencil and graphite on textured paper, they are gorgeous, intricate, and funny. I mean, really, laugh-out-loud funny.

First, there is la reina. She is not pleased. She wears a red llicila (shawl) with a repeated pattern of little people on it, and a deep red montera (hat) that often hosts her cat, who is equally unimpressed. No woman is ever going to be good enough for her son, and she seems always on the verge of pinching or throwing a shoe (although I may be giving her some of my own abuela’s attributions).

Juana Martinez-Neal has lovingly given us a book that reflects her own Peruvian culture. She includes a vast array of woven patterns, deep reds and oranges throughout. But, most importantly, she provides people who represent a spectrum of Peruvian-ness.

Some of the characters wear chullos (hats with ear flaps) while some women are wearing monteras (wide brimmed hats that form a sort of bowl). The peoples skin tones are all different shades, which shows young readers diversity, even within a single ethnicity. Oh, and the chickens, roosters, and guinea pigs that are in constant motion provide yet another reason to come back to this book over and over again.

So, if and when you are willing to ditch Skippyjon Jones (see in favor of actual Latinx representations, La Princesa and the Pea is recommended.

—Laura Jiménez

An earlier version of this review first appeared in Laura Jiménez's blog, Booktoss ( We thank Laura for permission.

Marta! Big & Small

author: Jen Arena 
illustrator: Angela Domínguez 
Roaring Brook Press 2016 
preschool-grade 2

In this super-sweet Spanish-English picture book of perspectives and opposites, a beyond-adorable little girl—with hair tied back and dressed for action and comfort in a plain white t-shirt, with purple shorts and sneakers and a matching backpack—traverses through a tropical jungle-like scenario, where she is compared to all the creatures she encounters. 

Domínguez’s art, which she begins with pencil sketches on illustration board, on top of which she glues tissue paper and then digitally adds layers of color, are in perfect partnership with the limited text. The book is elegantly designed, with mostly double-page spreads that contain lots of white space.

Rather than the often-used, obnoxiously italicized Spanish words, here the English and Spanish are placed in different fonts that balance each other: the English in an unadorned black sans serif and the Spanish in a playful orange display font. 

The smooth repetition that begins each spread with a particular animal’s perspective of Marta in Spanish, followed by the English (with the adverb “very” inserted between duplicate adjectives, the happy result of which joins the two languages and slows down the reading), is rhythmic and natural—and at the same time, hilariously overdramatic. 

On each double-page spread, Marta and one of her particular characteristics is shown in relationship to a particular animal. On one, for instance, there is a lion roaring, and children will see only the beast’s huge mouth and little Marta, covering her ears. And on four spreads, youngsters will learn that, to a huge snake, Marta could be—(¡Ay, que no!)—“sabrosa. Tasty, very tasty…” But when she outwits the reptile by scampering up a nearby tree, the disappointed snake has to admit that she is “ingeniosa. Clever, very clever.” 

One of the final spreads, in which English predominates, “summarizes” the story in six mini-drawings that show how Marta and each animal are different. Another is a glossary in which the Spanish predominates. It’s headed by, in English, “Marta is” and “Marta meets.” And between these two is a spread in which our young protagonist is at home, in her own little “art studio” of sorts, with all that she needs to create her own story. A butterfly has landed on her finger, and she’s smiling widely.

The balanced mix of Spanish and English here is delightful and unlike many picture books created for young children, Marta! Big & Small contains no explanatory text. It’s a fun read-aloud, perfect for bilingual classrooms of hablantes learning English and English-speakers learning Spanish—or, even better, in an environment where children are encouraged to call out a word or phrase they know or can intuit from the pictures. 

“Marta is una niña…an ordinary girl,” the story begins. And it ends with: “And clever, very clever, like una niña.” Indeed, there is nothing ordinary about this clever story, the art, or the use of language. Marta! Big & Small is highly, highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 12/26/17)