13 colores de la resistencia hondureña / 13 Colores of the Honduran Resistance

author: Melissa Cardoza  
translator: Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle 
 El BeiSMan Press, 2016
grades 9-up 

On March 3, 2016, not long after long-time environmental activist Berta Cáceres Flores publicly denounced the US government for complicity in the 2009 Honduras coup in which the military overthrew the democratically elected government of Mel Zelaya, gunmen burst into her bedroom and assassinated her. In particular, Berta had singled out Hillary Clinton whose brokered “election,” she had charged, had enabled a repressive, militarized regime, carried out on behalf of “international capital.” 

Berta Cáceres Flores continues to speak to readers today in a black-and-white woodcut portrait that graces the cover of 13 colores de la resistencia hondureña / 13 Colores of the Honduran Resistance, 13 short stories and essays in Spanish and English, put together in honor of this courageous woman—“the unwavering warrior who from time immemorial has returned over and over again to lift up her rage, tenderness, voice and imagination against those who oppress, murder, belittle and deny life.” And it’s for all the brave Honduran feminists—Indigenous and Black, lesbians and trans, teens and grannies and many more. They are united by their fierce love for their children and each other, and ultimately for the freedoms they’ve been denied, and for their courage in confronting those they’ve labeled the golpistas—the perpetrators and supporters of the coup.

Originally written in beautiful, poetic Honduran vernacular Spanish by Melissa Cardoza and with a careful idiomatic English translation by Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle—along with 13 black-and-white photos that visually highlight the diversity of the struggle—13 colores documents the resistance of all the abuelas, powerful sisters, and mamas who struggle to feed their children. Each piece begins with a black-and-white photo of Honduran girls and women in struggle, and facing pages show the Spanish on the left and the English on the right, so hablantes and English readers can compare line to line if they wish to. The one flaw here, something common in self-published books, is that it’s riddled with typos and one significant layout issue.

Some of the standouts of image and text are these:

• Armed with only their brooms, rags, and gallons of bleach, a dozen women congregate in the center of the city in Tegucigalpa, doing what they do every day, only this time in the presence of journalists, soldiers and functionaries. This time they are chanting “¡A lavar, a lavar, la vergüenza national!” (“Wash the place, wash away the national disgrace!”) Soon, the pavement, the flags, the soldiers’ uniforms, everything is faded from the bleach.

• When only four feminists show up at a courtroom surrounded by the military, they unfurl a banner painted by artists with color and flowers. It proclaims, as the women chant: “¡Ni golpes de estado, ni golpes a las mujeres!” (“Yes to coup resistors, no to beating sisters!”) Other women who had been pretending to be clients get up and empty the courtroom, and “with their colorful t-shirts, their brilliant faces conquering fear, their voices raised, they moved in close together as they had for centuries in front of all sorts of men…”

On the last pages is another dedication that voices hope for the future:

Cuando a la nieta que aún no ha crecido, su propia nieta le pregunte como era este tiempo: le contestará que era duro y poderoso.
Que cada día se escribía a diario con los cuerpos resistentes de las indígenas, las negras, de los hombres y las mujeres que tenían la convicción fuerte, la palabra sin mentira, la risa sin permiso y el corazón tierno.
Que las feministas luchamos con todo lo que sabíamos y podíamos para darnos a todos, a nosotras, a ellas y sus hijas, un país con justicia, sin miedo y sin guerra.
Le contará entonces que ganamos.
When the granddaughter of the granddaughter who has yet to grow up asks her about these times: she will answer that they were painful and powerful.
That every day the day’s history was written by the resilient bodies of indigenous women, black women, of men and women with strong convictions, words without lies, laughter without permission and tender hearts.
That we feminists struggled with everything we knew and gave our all in order to give to everyone, to ourselves, to them and their daughters, a country of justice, without fear and without war.
 Then she will tell her that we won.

13 colores de la resistencia hondureña / 13 Colores of the Honduran Resistance is highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 11/8/17)

Home at Last

author: Susan Middleton Elya
illustrator: Felipe Davalos 
Lee & Low, 2002 
grades 1-3 

Eight-year-old Ana Patiño and her family—Mamá, Papá, and baby twins, Jesús and Julio—come from a village somewhere in Mexico and move to “a town surrounded by corn” somewhere in the US. We don’t know what circumstances brought them here; all we know is that, from the first page, Mamá is “already missing home.” (Apparently, this “town surrounded by corn” does not contain Spanish-speaking agricultural workers—actually, it doesn’t contain any agricultural workers at all. Maybe it’s the off season, even though the illustrations show a field full of corn that’s ready to be harvested.) The first spread shows Ana, curiously looking out the window at the field full of corn. Maybe she’s wondering about the absence of farm workers, too.

“After the family settles in,” the story continues, Ana is in school, in what appears to be a friendly, multiethnic third-grade classroom with a supportive teacher who encourages her to say “hello.” At first, Ana is too shy, but by afternoon, she’s saying “hello.” By the next spread, we are told that Papá has gotten a job at the factory where Uncle Luis works, and Ana likes school. Mamá is in the kitchen, and the babies are probably taking a nap. On the next spread, Ana is back in school. There are a calculator and lots of art supplies, all the students are smiling and the teacher is looking on as the students share their artwork.

The next day Ana learned to say her name in English. Everyone in the class practiced with her. By the end of the day she had said “My name is Ana Patiño” a dozen times.

Let’s stop here for a moment. The child’s name is Ana Patiño. It’s the same name in English as it is in Spanish. A name is a name. Exactly what is it that she’s practicing? And why is everyone else practicing? And why is it taking all day? Everyone is sure devoting a lot of time to saying Ana’s name. If this is a third-grade classroom as it appears to be, don’t the students and their teacher have anything else to do? Like study for standardized tests?

On the next spread, Ana and Papá are practicing English together and keeping the babies entertained while Mamá is boiling rice and beans (because that seems to be all that Mexicans eat). Mamá wants to understand English, but when Ana suggests that she could learn, she responds with “¡Imposible!” (Except for “¡Imposible!” just about every Spanish question or phrase in the dialogue is repeated in English. This is annoying.) 

The next pages depict Mamá’s problems because she doesn’t speak English: a rude grocery clerk who overcharges her, an inability to read Ana’s teacher’s note, and finally—The Crisis That Changes Everything. Mamá panics because baby Jesús is running a fever, Papá’s not home from work yet, and their neighbors “didn’t understand her frantic Spanish.” Or gestures. Or the fact that she’s holding a sick baby and apparently doesn’t know what to do because she doesn’t speak English. 

Let’s stop here for a moment. Why, with two babies and an eight-year-old, is Mamá so helpless that she can’t treat a baby with a fever? Why isn’t she resourceful, as Mexican parents are? Why doesn’t the family have remedies in the apartment? Such as baby aspirin or Tylenol? Or apple cider vinegar to mix with water? Or alcohol to rub on the legs? Or chicken broth? Or any of a number of Mexican herbs? Why can’t the English-speaking neighbors understand the gestures of a panicky mother with a sick baby? Why can’t Ana, who speaks English, find a neighbor who can help or go to the store and get something?

Finally, Mamá agrees to learn English. So she goes to evening school while Ana and Papá prepare “overcooked pork wrapped in a tortilla” for her (because only Mexican mothers know how to cook), she learns “how to count, how to answer the phone, and how to shop at the store,” and—aces her test! With Ana watching proudly, Mamá corrects the grocery store clerk who had cheated her the first time (after which “she dances around on the sidewalk”). And one might surmise that she now knows what to do when one of her babies gets sick. 

After hurrying back to the apartment where Papá, Uncle Luis, and the twins are waiting, she declares (in English), “We’re home!” Meaning the US, not Mexico, is now their home. The End.

Home at Last was probably written to help English-speaking children understand the struggles of new immigrants. But this unrealistic and didactic story serves only to reinforce the stereotype of Mexican women as helpless and dependent; and to infantilize a Mexican mother with several children, who needs the pressure of her husband and daughter to learn to speak English, which will be interpreted as the only road to empowerment, not to mention survival.

Davalos’s vivid oil paintings, on a bright and varied palette that beautifully depicts facial expressions as well as a multiethnic neighborhood and classroom, are not enough to save this poorly conceived and poorly written story. Home at Last is not recommended. 

—Beverly Slapin
(published 10/26/17)

SanTana’s Fairy Tales / Cuentos de SanTana

author: Sarah Rafael García
translator: Julieta Corpus
Raspa Magazine, 2017 
grades 9-up 
Mexican American

Storyteller and visual artist Sarah Rafael García offers six “Fairy Tales for Trust and Justice,” all of them set in Santa Ana, a city in southern California that borders “the happiest place on Earth.” But that place is “never happy” for the brown people who live and work there, who live in fear of the landlords, the police, and ICE. In the first story, “The Carousel’s Lullaby,” we see the stakes, as teenager Saul remembers the carousel where he reunited with his parents after their separate migrations across the border, where he and his younger brother spent so many joyful weekends until Señor Billy Spurgeon, the real estate developer, tore it down to make way for shops and restaurants for rich Anglos. One night, Saul sneaks out to hear the ghost of the carousel, and never comes home—one more unarmed person of color killed by police. 
In “Zoraida and Marisol,” perhaps the most heart-wrenching of an emotionally powerful collection, transwoman Zoraida remembers her struggle for survival and to be herself while trying from the next world to save her younger friend Marisol:
I am an enchanted woman named Zoraida.
But of course you already know my name. You knew me when I was alive.
In this life, I reign from far, far above the castles and queens. I travel by whispers, wished upon the North Star and hushed weeps. Just like you called upon me in midst of bloody murmurs, wishing for death to ease the pain. Some call me death, others the Godmother of life.
In my last life I too thought it was my fate to die as a woman on a night like tonight. But death came just too soon, leaving me trapped between others’ lives and my own.
While Saul and Zoraida lose their lives to the supernatural ogres and beasts that represent forces of repression, the resourceful and resilient children of the next two stories, “Just a House” and “Hector and Graciela,” manage to outwit those who would steal their happiness and their lives—though not without great loss. Josefina’s nemesis in “Just a House” are Anglo gentrifiers turning their close-knit community into a playground for the wealthy (hers is the unhappy mother toiling in that artificially happy place). Graciela and Hector’s parents debate how to tell them that ICE threatens to destroy their family. Graciela, the older one, tries to protect her younger brother, but he is far more aware and clever than she gives him credit for. Readers will note the parallels between this story and the Grimm fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel,” including the ogre that lures the children with food.
For the last two stories, García narrates from the point of view of adult characters. The Anglo prosecutor in “When the Mural Speaks” hears the voices of Chicana/o veterans painted on a mural, and the Chicana writer of “The Wishing Well” hears the voices of her characters, most of them whose lives were cut short by the “snouted beasts.” 
García’s poetic language employs code-switching and incorporates individual words, dialogue, and songs in Spanish in an organic and believable way. For instance, in the first story, she code switches in dialogue:

“Saul! Where are you going? Don’t leave, you know what Apá says about being out after sunset.”
“Daniel don’t you want to know what happened to the carousel? Vas a ver, first the carousel and quinceañera shops, soon los fruteros, and one day it might be us!”

Rather than a word-for-word translation, Corpus’s Spanish version captures the rhythm and voice of the original, as shown by the Spanish beginning of “Zoraida y Marisol,” the English version quoted above:
Soy una mujer encantada de nombre Zoraida. Pero claro que ya sabes mi nombre. Me conocías cuando aún estaba viva. 
En esta vida, gobierno desde lejos, muy por encima de los castillos y las reinas. Viajo por medio de susurros, deseos pedidos a la Estrella Polar, y llantos silenciosos. Así como tú me invocaste enmedio de murmullos sangrientos, deseando que la muerte aliviara el dolor. Algunos me llaman Muerte, otros, la Madrina de la Vida.

While SanTana’s Fairy Tales was created for general adult readers, its focus on young people resisting oppression, coming of age, and coming into who they are makes this a compelling choice for teens. It’s highly recommended.

—Lyn Miller-Lachmann
(published 10/8/17)

Camino a casa // Walk with Me

author: Jairo Buitrago
illustrator: Rafael Yockteng
translator: Elisa Amado 

Fondo de Cultura Económica 
(Camino a casa), 2008 
Groundwood Books / House of Anansi Press (Walk with Me), 2017 

The cover of the Spanish version, Camino a casa, depicts a little girl who’s being held in the safety of whom we soon learn is a lion. The English version, Walk with Me, shows her offering a flower to the lion, who is sitting on a grassy knoll near a pedestal on which is engraved, “1948.” And girl, lion, and pedestal appear on the first full-bleed spread of both versions as well. 

The little girl asks her lion-friend to protect her from “falling asleep” as she navigates her dangerous, dilapidated city, picking up her baby brother from child care, shopping for groceries from the tienda whose owner refuses credit, arriving home to cook dinner, and waiting until her mamá returns from her job at the factory. Finally, the girl gives her lion-friend-protector permission to “go up back into the hills again,” but to be sure to return when she needs him.

Throughout, we see people falling asleep where they stand or lie down. The few adults who aren’t falling asleep are just staring blankly at the lion. And one appears to be dead. Only the children seem to be interested as they exit a school that resembles a prison (with a uniformed guard at the gate). In fact, there appear to be bars everywhere: on the school doors, on buses, even on the windows of the broken-down apartment houses. 

Many of the people in the city are impoverished and shabbily dressed, as is the little girl. A car passes by a man who’s digging through garbage cans. A man wearing a suit ignores a homeless man who’s leaning against a building with his hand out. A child looks out the window while a woman and her child walk up the hill, carrying everything they own on their backs. People pass by an elderly woman who’s dropped her bags of groceries, but no one offers to help. Indeed, complacency to the political and economic climate has put almost everyone to sleep. 

In 1948—the year carved into the pedestal—Liberal Party leader and Presidential frontrunner, Jorge Eliécer was assassinated in an operation widely believed to have been orchestrated by the then newly created US CIA. His murder provoked a riot in Bogotá (known as "El Bogotazo") which, between right-wing and progressive forces, almost completely destroyed Colombia’s capital city, claiming some 200,000 lives. Throughout the country, the more than ten-year epoch of violence became known simply as “La Violencia,” during which many more thousands were killed or disappeared over the years. In 1953, Colombia’s commander-in-chief, Gustavo Rojas Pinella, seized power in a US militarily and financially supported coup and ruled as dictator until 1954, when he was declared President. Today, under many guises, US support for “friendly” right-wing forces throughout Latin America continues to be well-known.

But the lion—the little girl’s protector—appears to be making things happen. As he passes by with the child on his back, people wake up and notice. There’s a car crash but no one is hurt. A young man has pasted a revolutionary poster on a telephone pole and is making a “peace” sign at bus passengers, who are all looking at him and the lion. A woman turns around to wave at the lion. People are looking out of the windows of the neighborhood buildings. A roar from the lion convinces the scared-to-death tienda owner to extend credit. Maybe, just maybe, people are beginning to wake up.

After dinner, with four bowls set out for the three humans and the lion, the girl knows that it’s time to send the lion back into the hills if he wants to go. She knows that he has more work to do.

On the next to the last page, as her little brother and their mother are asleep, the girl places her flower beside a framed family photo. It’s the same flower she has offered to the lion on the cover of the English edition and the first page of both Spanish and English versions. Next to the bed is a chair that holds an empty book bag and beside the chair is a pair of large boots. They are the same boots whose prints we see on the back endpapers. On the floor behind the chair is a stack of newspapers. On the last spread is a closeup of the stack of newspapers, with its headline now visible: “FAMILIAS DE DESAPARECIDOS DE 1985.” Under the headline is a photo of a man giving a statement to the media during a demand for information about all those whom the Colombian government has disappeared. And on the night table is a closeup of a framed photo that depicts happier times together: mother, father, baby and little girl are smiling, and the little girl is holding out her fingers in a “peace” sign. The father has a mane of curly hair—just like the lion who has walked with and guarded the little girl throughout the story. 

On the front endpapers we saw two sets of prints: those of whom belonged to the little girl and those of whom belonged to the lion. On the back endpapers are also two sets of prints; but this time, the lion’s paw prints have been replaced by the boot prints of an adult—the little girl’s father.

Yockteng sketched his illustrations—all on full-bleed spreads—in pencil and then digitally redrew and colored them. On a muted and somber palette of mostly grays, greens, blues, and browns, the only standouts are the girl and the lion—and the one spread that shows the grocer frantically pushing two bags full of groceries to the girl whose lion, in a full roar, exhibits all his teeth. And, as always, Amado’s English translation is excellent.

Together with Rafael Yockteng, Jairo Buitrago, who is Colombian, have written picture books for young children, including Dos conejos blancos // Two White Rabbits, that describe people’s hardships and struggles to survive the economic and political realities throughout Latin America and here in the US. As with Camino a casa // Walk with Me, they appear as quiet stories and are full of symbolism for young children and their teachers to discern and discuss in a non-threatening way—and to support those children who have their own stories to tell.

Throughout Latin America—most notably, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, and El Salvador—families of the disappeared and murdered are still holding vigils and protests and demands for information. In some of these countries, unmarked graves have been uncovered and victims identified and, with love, reburied. And in some cases (such as Chile), perpetrators have been tried and imprisoned. Nevertheless, families of the disappeared have kept up the pressure. It is to keep alive the memories of the disappeared, the activism and sorrow of their families, and their prayers for reunification (one way or another)—that Camino a Casa // Walk with Me holds so much hope. These lovely, poignant, compassionate books are highly, highly recommended. 

—Beverly Slapin
(published 10/6/17; revised 10/17/17)

(Note: "El Bogotazo" was not the name of the Liberal Party leader, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán; it was the name of the riots that followed his assassination. I made this correction above. Thank you, Lyn Miller-Lachmann; good catch!)

The First Rule of Punk

author: Célia C. Pérez
Viking, 2017 
grades 4-7 
Mexican American

There is a scene halfway through Pérez’s brilliant middle-grade novel that pulls so powerfully at the heartstrings of all those who have ever struggled with forming their identities as minoritized persons in the US. Having just wrapped up the first practice session of her newly formed punk band, The Co-Co’s, Malú (María Luisa O’Neill-Morales) learns an important lesson about what it means to be “Mexican.” It’s a lesson that not only connects Malú to her cultural heritage in a way that is authentic, it also invites her to self-fashion an identity that encompasses all parts of her, especially her punk rock parts! The lesson comes at the hands of Mrs. Hidalgo, the mother of Joe (José Hidalgo) who is Malú’s friend-in-punk, fellow seventh-grader at José Guadalupe Posada Middle School, and the guitarist of her band. And it’s a lesson that complements those imparted by the many teachers guiding Malú to incorporate the complexity of seemingly disparate parts that make up who she is.

Before leaving the Hidalgo basement, which serves as the band’s practice space, Mrs. Hidalgo asks Malú to pull out a vinyl copy of “Attitudes” by The Brat. Putting needle to record, Malú listens to the first bars of “Swift Moves,” the EP’s opening song, and asks in wonder, “Who is she?” To which Mrs. Hidalgo replies, “That’s Teresa Covarrubias.” And so begins a history lesson for the ages. By introducing Malú to Teresa Covarrubias, the legendary singer of The Brat—the best punk band ever to harken from East LA—Mrs. Hidaldo, in a true punk rock move, being that she’s one herself, reclaims the cultural lineages that are so often erased and suppressed by dominant narratives, by affirming to Malú: “And they’re Chicanos, Mexican Americans…Like us.” Mrs. Hidalgo opens a door and illuminates for Malú something so beautiful and lucent about our culture. She designates this beauty as being uniquely part of a Chicanx experience and sensibility. So that in this moment, Malú’s prior knowledge and understanding of the punk narrative expands to include her in it as a Mexican American girl. She too belongs to this lineage of Mexicanas and Chicanas that made their own rules, which as Malú will go on to learn, indeed is the first rule of punk.

This “like us,” this cultural resonance, this CORAZONADA to our heritage as Chicanx people in the US is exactly the attitude and voice that can come only from one who has experienced what it’s like to live in the liminal spaces, where you’re neither from here nor from there. Pérez, herself of bicultural Cuban and Mexican heritage, indeed speaks to this experiential knowledge, saying in a recent interview in The Chicago Tribune [1] that it wasn’t until college when she read Pocho by José Antonio Villareal that she recognized her own experience reflected in the pages of literature for youth. Pérez, in The First Rule of Punk, speaks to the same imperatives that Marianne Joan Elliott-Said, aka Poly-Styrene, another legendary woman of color, punk rock innovator, and singer of the classic British punk band X-Ray Spex, expressed when she sang following lyrics: “When you look in the mirror / Do you see yourself / Do you see yourself / On the T.V. screen / Do you see yourself / In the magazine” (“Identity” X-Ray Spex) [2].

Pérez holds up a mirror to all the weirdo outsiders, all the underrepresented youth who are made to not fit in, and shows them a story that reflects and honors their truths. She takes on the complexities and messiness of culture and identity construction, doing justice to this tough work of self-fashioning by presenting to us the diverse ingredients that combine in such a way to produce a beautifully vibrant, brave, and rad punk rock 12-year-old girl, Malú. Most importantly, Pérez shows us the significance of our elders, our teachers who assume different roles in guiding us, and guiding Malú, to always “stand up for what she believes in, what comes from here,” her/our corazón.

Malú is a second-generation avid reader, and bicultural kid (Mexican on her mom’s side, Punk on her dad’s side), who has to contend with starting a new school in a new town, making new friends, and dealing with her mom’s fussing over her non-señorita fashion style. She moves to Chicago with her mother who (in the type of first-generation aspirational splendor so integral to our Chicanx cultural capital that many of us will surely recognize) will begin a two-year visiting professorship. Malú dances away her last night in Gainesville to The Smith’s “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” with her dad, an old punk rocker who owns Spins and Needles, a record store. She brings with her handy zine supplies to chase away the homesick blues, creating zines and surrendering her anxieties to her worry dolls.

On the first day of school, Malú puts on her best punk rock fashion armor: green jeans, Blondie tee, trenzas, silver-sequined Chucks in homage to the OG Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, and some real heavy black eyeliner and dark lipstick, yeah! Of course, she gets called out. First, by her mom who tells her she looks like a Nosferatu (!), and then by her nemesis, the popular Selena Ramirez, who calls her weird, and then by the school policy, which lands Malú in the auditorium full of all the other kids who also stick out. Pérez captures the sticky reality of socialization where school serves as an agent of assimilation. She renders this moment with a tender humor that grateful adult eyes can point to when dealing with our children who will also likely experience this rite of passage. Malú resists being boxed in. She doesn’t want to assimilate. She doesn’t want to be “normal,” and neither does her friend Joe, whose bright blue hair and Henry Huggins steelo communicates an affinity with Malú’s punk aesthetic.

Thus, Pérez sets the stage. Malú, and her Yellow-Brick-Road crew comprised of Joe, Benny (trumpet player for the youth mariachi group), and Ellie (burgeoning activist and college-bound), are all Posada Middle School kids brought together by Malú’s vision and verve to start a punk band to debut at the school’s upcoming anniversary fiesta and talent show. Rejected—some would say censored—for not fitting into Principal Rivera’s definition of traditional Mexican family-friendly fun that she intends for the fiesta, The Co-Co’s decide to put on their own Do-It-Yourself talent show. Dubbed “Alterna-Fiesta,” The Co-Co’s plan to feature themselves and all the other students rejected from the school showcase for not fitting the mold.

The self-reliance of D.I.Y. ethos, however, does not overshadow the importance of collectivism and solidarity that support Malú’s response and agency toward expression. Again, she has her elders to thank. Mrs. Hidalgo helps set up the Alterna-Fiesta stage, which they improvised outside the school directly following the “official” talent show. Señora Oralia, Joe’s grandmother and Mrs. Hidalgo’s mom, turns Malú on to the power of Lola Beltrán, whose rendition of “Cielito Lindo” Malú transforms into a punked-out version in the tradition of Chicanx musical culture—from Ritchie Valens to The Plugz—that fuses traditional Mexican songs with rock and roll. Even Malú’s mom, who often projects her notions of what Malú should look and be like, is also the source of an important lesson. She teaches Malú about her abuelo Refugio Morales who came to the US as a Bracero, and about her abuela Aurelia González de Morales who migrated to the US at 16 years old. She helps Malú see her grandparents’ experiences reflected in her own day-to-day life in Chicago.

Malú recognizes her family’s story of migration in the lives of her peers at Posada Middle School who might be recent immigrants. She reflects upon today’s workers, whose hands—like those of her grandfather—pick the strawberries she sees in the supermarket. Through zine-making, Malú makes sense of her world. She synthesizes the new information she’s learned about her family history to create new knowledge, as documented by her zine:

Braceros like my abuelo worked with their arms…and their hands manos (Abuelo’s tools). I work with my hands, too. Not in a hard way like Abuelo. But we both create (my tools)…scissors, paper, glue stick, markers, stack of old magazines, copy machine. (pp. 116-117)

Through the creative process of making zines, Malú weaves herself into her family’s tapestry of lived experiences, values, and character that are collectively shaped by her family. Malú’s Bracero zine exemplifies what Chicana artist Carmen Lomas Garza describes as the resilient function of art, which works to heal the wounds of discrimination and racism faced by Mexican Americans—a history that is also part of Malú cultural DNA [3]. Her Bracero zine is an act of resilience through art. It reflects a creative process tied to collective memory. Indeed, she calls upon herself, and by extension, her reader, to remember. For it is the act of remembering and honoring who and where we come from that enables us to integrate and construct our present lives.

Malú’s family tapestry also includes her father, who despite being geographically far away, is firmly present throughout Malú’s journey. Malú seeks his counsel after Selena calls her a coconut (“brown on the outside, white on the inside”). Selena, the popular girl at Posada Middle School, embodies all of the right “Mexican” elements that Malú does not. She dances zapateado competitively, speaks Spanish with ease, and dresses like a señorita. Confused and hurt by Selena’s insult, Malú, being the daughter of a true punk rocker, flips the insult around and turns it into the name of her band, The Co-Co’s. The move, like her father said, is subversive. And it’s transformative as it addresses how divisions happen within our culture where demarcations of who is “down” or more “Mexican” often mimic the very stereotypes that we fight against. And it’s her father’s guidance to always be herself that equips her to resist the identity boxes that try to confine her. Malú, through the course of this story, figures out her identity by shaping, combining, fashioning—even dying her hair green in homage to the Quetzal—and harmonizing all the parts of herself to create an identity that fits her just right.

The First Rule of Punk is outstanding in its ability to show authentically how children deal with the complexities and intersections of cultural identity. It reminds us of what Ghiso et al., interrogate in their study of intergroup histories as rendered in children’s literature. As children’s literature invites young people to use its narrative sites to engage the intellect in imagination and contemplation, the researchers ask, “whether younger students have the opportunity to transact with books that represent and raise questions about shared experiences and cooperation across social, cultural, and linguistic boundaries.” [4]

The First Rule of Punk responds affirmatively to this question in its resplendent example of our connected cultures and collective experiences. Malú, in making whole all the parts that comprise her identity, models for us, the reader, our own interbeing, our own interconnection. It’s like she’s asking us: “Wanna be in my band?” I know I do! Do you? Highly recommended.

—Lettycia Terrones
(published 9/30/17)

[1] Stevens, Heidi, “Chicago Librarian Captures Punk Aesthetic, Latino Culture in New Kids’ Book.” Chicago Tribune, 8/23/17.

[2] X-Ray Spex, “Identity,” Germfree Adolescents. EMI, 1978.

[3] Garza, Carmen Lomas. Pedacito De Mi Corazón. Austin, Laguna Gloria Art Museum, 1991.

[4] Ghiso, Maria Paula, Gerald Campano, and Ted Hall, “Braided Histories and Experiences in Literature for Children and Adolescents.” Journal of Children’s Literature, vol. 38, no.2, 2012, pp. 14-22.

This review first appeared in Latinxs in Kid Lit (latinosinkidlit.com). We thank Latinxs in Kid Lit for permission.

Rudas: Niño’s Horrendous Hermanitas

author: Yuyi Morales 
illustrator: Yuyi Morales 
Roaring Brook Press, 2016 

For the most part, adults who are fans of Lucha Libre Mexicana, professional wrestling bouts in which the Técnicos (the good guys) and the Rudos (the bad guys) enact the battles between good and evil, are aware of the political and social realities they signify. Some of it may fly over the heads of children, but Lucha Libre, “el fuego en el cuadrilátero,” remains a pop-culture phenomenon, similar to WWF, in Latino neighborhoods, north and south.

Readers may remember (from Niño Wrestles the World) how our three-year-old, world champion lucha libre Técnicito, decked out in red mask, orange and yellow sneakers, and blue-banded tighty whities, quickly demolishes the nasty Rudos in his little world: “La Momía de Guanajuato” (the Guanajuato mummy, who has been chasing people since 1865), “La Cabeza Olmeca” (the mysterious Olmec Head), “La Llorona” (the shrieking Mexican ghost who abducts children to replace her own), “El Extraterrestre” (who hovers the earth in his flying saucer), and “El Chamuco” (the devil who tempts little kids into doing bad things). Finally, he is challenged by the worst, the loudest, the most dangerous Ruditas of them all: the tag-team “Las Hermanitas,” his twin baby sisters, who have just awoken from their nap! And The Great Niño, employing his masterful brain, rather than his so-so brawn, emerges once again, victorious!

In this, the rematch of all rematches!—defeated, but unwilling to surrender!—Niño’s HORRIFYING, HARROWING, HORRENDOUS HERMANITAS (“Wrestling champions! Lucha Queens!”)—interrupting their brother who has been busy creating a picture book and must now drop everything to don his lucha libre costume—return to take back the title (or something)! But this time, decked out in cute little sparkly onesies with angelic, kewpie-doll expressions, they’ve decided to employ the dirtiest, smelliest, most vicious, rudest tricks that Ruditas can possibly pull off on the other Rudos. De veras, ¡es fuego en el cuadrilátero! Their POOPY BOMB BLOWOUT—“such a rotten move!” quickly sends El Extraterrestre back home! Next, their NAPPY FREEDOM BREAK stuns Cabeza Olmeca! And their next hideous move, TAG TEAM TEETHING, crunches El Chamuco’s tail! After their PAMPERED PLUNDER, in which they steal La Llorona’s baby dolls, Niño pulls the unbelievable LOOK-AND-BOOK DIVERSION (with the book he’s made, aptly entitled RUDAS), but the hermanitas are inconsolable, HORRIBLE losers—until they (with Niño’s allowing it to happen) pull off a SEIZE AND SQUEEZE—and they’ve won (sort of)! The fight is over! Will Niño demand another rematch?

In her hilarious and beautifully crafted picture book, Morales digitally collaged her artwork, loading each double-page spread with bright, bold acrylic paint rolled on paper and textured with handmade stamps and salt on watered acrylic (to create the rock-like texture for la Cabeza Olmeca). She also painted the black lines of the characters with ink and brush and used crayons in a few places. The ample white background highlights brilliantly arranged bold font styles and speech bubbles (for comic-book sound effects), and multicolored stars, zigzags and other shapes—and title cards that mimic the expressive and fun Mexican Lucha Libre posters. 

Youngest children, turning the pages and listening to creative readers, will see and hear the lucha libre announcers shouting their over-the-top superlatives: “The time has come to welcome the PHENOMENAL, SPECTACULAR, LEGENDARY (TWO) OF A KIND…”

In Rudas: Niño’s Horrendous Hermanitas, as well as Niño Wrestles the World and all of Morales’s other stories, she makes sure to depict the racial mixture, even within families, that shows the kind of diversity found all over Latin America. In both titles, one of the hermanitas is dark-complected, one is light, and Niño is kind of in the middle. And master storyteller that she is, Morales seamlessly incorporates Spanish words and phrases into the sparse English text without interrupting the story by translating them, so young hablantes and English-speakers can enjoy the action together. (Readers can peek at the translations and small illustrations on the endpapers.)

Rudas: Niño’s Horrendous Hermanitas, like its predecessor, Niño Wrestles the World, is silly and great fun and is highly recommended. 

—Beverly Slapin
(published 9/24/17; revised paragraph describing art 9/25/17)

Little Night / Nochecita

author: Yuyi Morales
illustrator: Yuyi Morales
translator: Yuyi Morales
Roaring Brook Press
Mestizo, Mexican

In this beautiful inverted go-to-bed story, full of magical realism and lots of love, Mamá Cielo (Mother Sky) convinces her young daughter, Nochecita (Little Night) to come out and darken the sky so that everyone can sleep. While Morales portrays Mamá Cielo as a beautiful, zaftig Mestiza with long braids flying, Nochecita is a chubby baby girl with glowing, dark, dark skin, happy and mischievous and adorable and well-loved. She is, after all, the night, so how could she be anything but dark?

This was Morales’s intention, she told me: to acknowledge and honor the beauty of brown skin by having a child represent the night. As such, while Little Night / Nochecita has the energy of a bedtime story, it’s as calming as the relationship between a loving mother and her child. And, as Morales told me, it celebrates her memories of her mother’s getting her and her sisters ready for bed, and how her sisters would run and hide in order to avoid going to sleep. 

Here, it’s time to come out—rather than time to go to bed—and Nochecita’s running around, one more time, trying to avoid darkening the sky because playing hide and seek is the fun thing to do. While Morales plays with this cosmic idea, Nochecita peeks from behind the hills, disappears into a bat cave, jumps into a rabbit hole, blends with the stripes of bees, vanishes into a blueberry field, and goes anywhere dark, as dark as she is. 

Morales produced her acrylic art on paper with very light brush strokes, thinly layered and without mixing of any of the colors. By drying each layer with a hair dryer before adding another, she told me, she was able to form her colors by creating a myriad of layers. The result is a richly dark palette—of mostly twilight colors of reds and pinks, blues and purples, with brown tones representing the Earth and, of course, Nochecita and Mamá—that literally glows, with the depth of the shine depending on the depth of the dark. And, as young readers turn the full-bleed spreads, they see the images and colors of the afternoon becoming night. 

Both Spanish and English are poetry, and neither is an exact translation of the other. They both hold the metaphors of the language and beautifully complement the artwork. For instance, as Mamá pours stars from the Milky Way from an enormous clay jug into a tiny cup for Nochecita, the English reads:

“I found you. I found my Little Night.” Creamy mustache, lips lick, stars dripping from the Milky Way to drink.

And the Spanish reads:

—Te encontré, encontré a mi Nochecita. Bigotes cremosos, labios relamidos, la Vía Láctea gotea sabrosas estrellas de leche para beber.
Finally, as the sun is setting and the last peekaboo for this day has occurred, Nochecita has quit her hiding game. She’s taken her bath in a tub of falling stars, she’s wearing her nightdress crocheted from clouds, she’s had her nighttime snack from the Milky Way, and she’s allowed Mamá to comb her hair with her braids kept in place by three hairpins—Venus está al Este, Mercurio, al Oeste, y Júpiter, arriba. And as the little children for whom this story was made are in bed, getting sleepy, Nochecita is taking her moon ball and bouncing it high into the air.

On every page, with every word, darkness is beauty and joy. Little Night / Nochecita—a loving, life-affirming story that celebrates children who see themselves in this little girl—is highly, highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 9/22/17)