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 
preschool-up 
Mexican

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
2016
preschool-up 
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)

All Around Us

author: Xelena González
illustrator: Adriana M. Garcia 
Cinco Puntos Press, 2017 
grades 1-up 
Mestizo, Mexican American

Grandpa says circles are all around us. We just have to look for them. 

In this warm, gentle story that celebrates family, culture, community and the connectedness of all things, a young girl and her grandfather work side by side in their vegetable garden, hang out in their backyard, walk around their neighborhood—and find circles to see and contemplate. A rainbow, whose other half is down below the earth, “where water and light feed new life.” And stems, leaves, and seeds—veggie leftovers—“to bury back in the ground.” And round body parts, such as bellies and eyes, to laugh about. And bicycle wheels, and the sun and the moon, and gentle lessons about the cycles of birth and death. 

González’s and Garcia’s picture-book debut was informed by the author’s own experiences as a Mestiza child at school, and the characters were modeled after her daughter and father in their garden, backyard, and San Antonio neighborhood. In her author’s note, González explains the story behind this story. “When I was six,” she writes, 
I was given a class assignment to draw a timeline of my life. Birth was the beginning. First steps and first fallen tooth were milestones. I wondered aloud how my timeline would continue, and more importantly, how it would end. My father shook his head when he heard me. “People will tell you it’s a line, but we believe it’s a circle,” he said, gathering two imaginary points of a timeline and joining them midair to form a circle.

While “timelines” are typical first-grade assignments, they undermine Indigenous knowledges and nonlinear ways of visualizing time. All Around Us should have begun here, with an example of what Indian kids—such as the young Xelena—often encounter in school, and with the kind of loving affirmations that Indigenous family members—such as her grandfather—often give to their kids. 

Since all of her art depicts the outside, Garcia used a rich, textured earthy palette of mostly greens and browns, with brightly colored vegetables and some pinks and yellows as accents. She told me that she began this project with photos, which she digitized and collaged and used as a guide, and then added the background details. But rather than creating a photorealistic piece, her “imagination took over” as she redrew the images with digital paint, inserting mostly circular lines that both complement and transcend the story. I’m especially impressed by the differing skin tones between Grandpa and granddaughter, something that few picture-book illustrators get right. And, in many of the illustrations, lines almost blur as the two literally blend in with their environments. Where they’re digging in the garden, for instance, they appear to be dark brown on one spread and green on another; and where they’re sitting in sunlight, smiling at each other, they are yellow.

Just before sunset, Grandpa and granddaughter walk to the back of their yard, away from the house. There’s a fenced-in area with an arbor, a small bench, and a tall pecan tree, indicating that this area might be set aside as a family burial ground. Here, Grandpa and child sit on the bench, quietly, their eyes closed. Young Xelena says, “Grandpa seems sad when he sits here, because this is where we bury the ashes of our ancestors. I don’t remember them, but he does.” 

While González makes clear in her author’s note that it’s not her own family practice to bury their relatives’ ashes in this way, educators may want to use this passage in a class discussion—at another time, so as not to interrupt the story—of different practices associated with death and dying.

Finally, we walk to the front yard to water our smallest tree. Grandpa planted it for me on the day  I was born, and everything that fed me while I grew in my mother’s belly is buried at the roots. I love bringing water to the apple tree that is already taller than I am.
Here, young children who are literal thinkers might imagine their mothers’ bellies as filled with cereal and bananas to feed them as they grew inside; so there’s an opportunity to introduce the terms, “placenta” and “umbilical cord,” which are often buried at the roots of newly planted trees to connect newborns to the land.

As young Xelena waters her tree, she notices new growth, and Grandpa pats her head and says,“Do you see, my grandchild? We have new life with you.” “I am part of the circle too,” Xelena answers, “the part we can see…just like a rainbow!”

All Around Us is a quiet, beautiful story, and is highly recommended. 

—Beverly Slapin
(published 9/12/17)


Note (7/4/19): Por todo nuestro alrededor—the author’s new Spanish translation of All Around Us—just out—honors all the hablantes who will now hold in their hands and hearts a beautiful story of life and love. In it, author Xelena González thanks the following people for helping with the translation: Amalia “Maya” Guirao, Rafael Juárez, Luis Humberto Crothswaite, Isabel Zepeda, and Jessica Chávez. 





Marti’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad

author: Emma Otheguy
illustrator: Beatriz Vidal 
translator: Adriana Domínguez
Children’s Book Press / Lee & Low 2017 
grades 2-up 
Cuban















Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera
Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera
Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma,
Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma
Y antes de morir, me quiero
Echar mis versos del alma
Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera
Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera


Every Cuban child knows the lyrics to the folk song, “Guantanamera,” the national song of Cuba. “Guantanamera” is an adaptation of several stanzas from José Martí’s Versos sencillos (Simple Verses), the last of his works to be published before his death in 1895; and since the American folk music revival in the 1960s, “Guantanamera” has been popular in the US as well.

A fierce yet gentle poet-revolutionary who fought against all forms of injustice, from slavery to colonialism, José Julián Martí Pérez is a national hero of the Cuban people. His many writings, along with thousands of images of him—in books, paintings, drawings, posters and on statues—can be found all over Cuba, and a gigantic marble memorial to him stands in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución.

As a young man, Martí—affectionately called “Pepe”—found himself at the apex of what was to become a great struggle for the liberation of Latin America from Spain, and US intervention as well. He continues to be adored by the Cuban people and all who work for justice, and Marti’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad is the story of his early life, his first encounters with oppression, his organizing in Cuba and the US, and his joining the armed struggle for freedom.

In a series of paired stanzas, Otheguy and Domínguez each tell portions of Martí’s life and struggles in the style of Versos sencillos, his most famous work. Especially appealing are the placements of the English text and translation of a verso alongside the Spanish translation and one of Martí’s original versos, so that both hablantes and English-speakers can look from one to the other and examine them together. 

Marti’s story faces Vidal’s full-page, gouache folk-art paintings, rich with detail, that vividly portray the lush Cuban countryside, the horrors of slavery, and the multicultural and multiethnic mixes of the Cuban people. This diversity of people and their lives is subtle yet clear, and Vidal makes these complicated issues visually accessible to young readers:

• As a threatening white overseer, whip in hand, glares at enslaved African people who are chopping and bundling sugar cane, a young Martí, nearby on horseback, watches helplessly.

• While a young Black peasant raises the Cuban flag, a throng of protestors—Black, Chinese, Mestizo and white; country folk and city folk; unemployed, homeless, low-wage workers and some with means—gather at the Spanish Governor’s Palace in Havana, demanding justice.

• As Martí and some friends, all well-dressed and light-complected, distribute political pamphlets—mostly to interested white people—a homeless Black man carries all of his possessions on his back. While a young, well-dressed Mestiza looks towards him, one of Martí’s friends offers him a pamphlet, but he averts his eyes.

• At a crowded indoor rally in Nueva York, workers cheer an older Martí, who is standing in front of a large Cuban flag and speaking about freedom for Cuba. But in the street, as he attempts to hand out pamphlets, the white people ignore both him and a beggar and his dog at the curb.

More than anything else, Domínguez’s beautiful translation not only captures Martí’s words but also takes the spirit and passion of his verses into another realm. Indeed, she crosses the boundaries of what is often seen as “acceptable” in kid lit. On a personal note, it irks me that children’s book publishing generally regards translators as less important than authors and illustrators. Here, for instance, the inside back cover shows photos and bios of the author and illustrator, but not the translator, who is clearly an equal contributor.

Although the life and work of this great revolutionary and champion of human rights is not told in its entirety here, Otheguy provides significant information in an afterword on Cuba’s history, a brief author’s note, a selected bibliography, and excerpts from Versos sencillos in the original Spanish and an English translation.

Marti’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad is a lovely, evocative telling of a brilliant political writer and freedom fighter who gave his life for patria y libertad. It’s highly recommended. 

—Beverly Slapin
(published 9/6/17)


Trabajamos para los niños, porque los niños son los que saben amar, porque los niños son la esperanza del mundo. Y amamos que nos aman, y nos ven como algo de sus corazones.

We work for children because children are those who know how to love, because children are the hope of the world. And we love that they love us, and see us as something from their hearts.
—José Martí, La Edad de Oro, 1881

How Do You Say? / ¿Cómo se dice?

author: Angela Domínguez
illustrator: Angela Domínguez 
Henry Holt, 2016 
preschool-up

When two young giraffes—one who speaks Spanish and one who speaks English—discover each other at an acacia tree that provides a “delicious! / ¡sabrosa!” leafy meal for both of them and they can share water from the same small pond as well, they become instant friends. On elegantly designed double-page spreads that contain lots of white space—and a total of 24 words—the two see the tree (“Food!” / “¡Comida!”) hesitantly meet (“Hello?” / “¿Hola?”), discover everything they have in common, and, after their feast and a lively fiesta, they, of course, join together for a siesta. This last spread contains no white space, just the two giraffe bodies, leaning into each other amid a tangle of balloons, blissfully asleep.

Domínguez told me that her artwork in How Do You Say? is similar to her Lola Levine covers. For the giraffes, she began with pencil sketches on illustration board, on top of which she then glued tissue paper and digitally added layers of color. She painted the leaves, balloons and party hats with gouache and marker on illustration board, and then digitally “cleaned up” these images as well. An imaginative use of limited text, white space, and contrasting colors makes this sweet little book beyond adorable. 




Each double-page spread highlights the two young animals—or parts of them—as they meet, greet, and celebrate each other and their world. How Do You Say? / ¿Cómo se dice? is a gentle, sweet little book with a light-hearted message about similarities, differences and friendships that cross cultural barriers that are, after all, imaginary. Indeed, the youngest hablantes who may be learning English, bilingual kids, and children who don’t speak Spanish (yet) will love this—maybe as a group in a conversation about friendship during snack time and just before nap time. As Domínguez writes on the inside front jacket, “We may speak different languages, but friendship is universal!” / “¡Podemos hablar differentes idiomas, pero la amistad es universal!” Highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 9/3/17)