Category Archives: Young Adult Books

Book review: Daniel Hernandez’s “They Call Me a Hero: A Memoir of My Youth”

TheyCallMeAHeroDaniel Hernandez Jr. makes an outstanding role model for young Hispanics, LGBT youth and all youth in general – even though he doesn’t want to be.

His memoir is called They Call Me a Hero: A Memoir of My Youth (Simon & Schuster) because of the response he received for his actions at a 2011 event in which a gunman began shooting at U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others at a public event in Tucson, Ariz.

Six people died and Giffords was shot in the head. Giffords was saved thanks to the help of Hernandez, a 21-year-old intern at her office, who drew on his first aid studies he learned in high school to help control her bleeding.

Hernandez was besieged with interviews and awards. He later was lauded at the 2011 State of the Union address and threw the ceremonial first pitch at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game later that year.

But Hernandez thought he would have done what anyone else would have done.

“I didn’t expect to be a poster boy for all the groups I happen to represent – Hispanics and people in the LGBT community. I never imagined that I would become a role model; this concept seemed foreign to me, because I was so used to not getting any attention. … As I told a reporter, whether I’d acted as I had during the shooting because I’m Latino or I’m gay or that I happened to be there on January 8 didn’t really matter. I’m not a model Latino or a model member of the LGBT community. The best way I knew to be a role model was by focusing on being the best Daniel Hernandez I could be.”

The book, co-authored by Susan Goldman Rubin, is a quick read and the first part of the book, which describes the shooting and aftermath, is riveting. The book, written in a conversational tone, then delves into Hernandez’s childhood and how he became politically active.

But keep in mind that the book was written for middle school students and older. I had to remind myself of this when the text seemed too simple or there was more telling than showing. The book could have used more anecdotes to tell the story better.

I also felt the book didn’t say enough about Hernandez’s life as a gay man. Hernandez also doesn’t mention Arizona’s anti-immigrant policies and ban on ethnic studies – but, again, this is a book for teenagers.

Still, this book could inspire youth to become more active their community. Hernandez’s work ethic is relentless and his passion of community service is tremendous. He drafted and helped pass a bill that gave college students time off from class to vote, managed an election for an Arizona state representative and was appointed to serve to the City of Tucson commission on LGBT issues – all before he could drink alcohol legally.

And if a young person isn’t inspired to volunteer for their community, this book could help them take pride in just being themselves. As Hernandez says:

“I was always different from most kids, and I was okay with it. I wasn’t very concerned with how others perceived me. I just wanted to be myself.”

Daniel HernandezMore about Daniel Hernandez:

Hernandez, who graduated from the University of Arizona in 2012, was elected to serve on the Sunnyside School Board. He also serves as a motivational speaker.

Source: I purchased this book through Amazon.com.

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Filed under 2013 Books, Book Reviews, Non-Fiction, Young Adult Books

La Llorona, chupacabras, oh my! Spooky books for children and teens

Boo! October brings the greatest holiday ever – Halloween. It’s not just about the candy, but listening to stories that put goosebumps on your arms and a shiver in your bones. As part of book blogger Jenn Lawrence’s meme, Murder, Monsters, Mayhem, here’s a look at spooky tales, Latino-style, for children and young adults. Look for a list of suspense books for adults later this week.

In Mexican folklore, no figure is more haunting than La Llorona, the woman who drowned her children and spends her time calling for them. Her tale has been told in numerous books, including La Llorona/The Weeping Woman by Joe Hayes, who talked about the story’s enduring legacy to The Hispanic Reader last year.

Texas-based writer Rene Saldaña Jr. also explores the myth – and others – in his book, Dancing with the Devil and Other Tales from Beyond / Bailando con el diablo y otros cuentos del más allá. La Llorona is becoming part of mainstream pop culture: She will be the subject of NBC’s Grimm in the Oct. 26 episode. Wilmer Valderrama talked about the project to NBC Latino. And here’s Lila Downs singing about La Llorona.

La Llorona and those other spooky beasts – the chupacabras – are part of Texas-based children’s writer Xavier Garza books, including Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys, Kid Cyclone Fights the Devil and Other Stories and Juan and the Chupacabras/ Juan y el Chupacabras. The Rio Grande Valley native talked about the inspiration for the books to the San Antonio Express-News last year.

For more universal creatures, Alma Flor Ada writes about ghosts in What Are Ghosts Afraid Of? El susto de los fantsmas. In A Mummy in Her Backpack/Una Momia en su mochila by James Luna, a girl ends up with an unusual souvenir from vacation. Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes and Yuyi Morales is a poem about the creatures that haunt the night.

Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy combines Halloween and the other upcoming holiday, Dias de los Muertos, in Celebrate Halloween and the Day of the Dead with Cristina and her Blue Bunny Celebra el Halloween y el Día de Muertos con Cristina y su conejito azul. Pat Mora’s Abuelos describes a Halloween-like holiday in northern New Mexico that has Mexican and Pueblo roots.

For young adults, You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens features a variety of tales from as Saldaña, Diana López and Sergio Troncoso. Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s recently released novel Summer of the Mariposas also features La Llorona – in a gentler light than most books – and chupacabras.

The Beautiful Creatures series, written by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, features teenagers who meet otherworldly beings called Casters. The book soon will be a major motion picture starring Viola Davis and Emma Thompson. Alisa Valdes’ The Temptation features a romance between supernatural teens.

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Book review: Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s “Summer of the Mariposas”

Summer of the Mariposas (Tu Books/Lee & Low Books), a young adult novel by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, combines Aztec and Mexican folklore with the plot of The Odyssey and elements from the movies Stand By Me and Weekend at Bernie’s – and it works.

Odilia, 18, and her four sisters are struggling to get by after their father has abandoned their mother. They’re enjoying a dip in the Rio Grande near their Eagle Pass home when they come across a dead body – hints of the Stephen King short story The Body and the 1986 movie Stand By Me, in which four boys look for a corpse. The sisters decide to take the body to the man’s home in Mexico with a scene reminiscent of the 1989 movie Weekend at Bernie’s, in which two men drag around a dead body.

Before they leave, La Llorona – the Mexican folklore figure who haunts waterways, crying for the children she drowned – gives Odilia advice about the journey and perils she will face in Mexico, similar to the trials Odysseus faced in Homer’s epic tale The Odyssey.

Odilia – get it? – and her sisters face a siren named Cecilia, who lures the girls with pan  dulce, and a one-eyed shepherd named Chencho. Garcia McCall also manages to get in the loteriaa quinceanera, chupacabras and the Aztec goddess Tonantzin (also referred to as the Virgen de Guadalupe) in the book. And, just like Odysseus, Odilia grows during her journey. The mariposas are in the title for a reason.

Adults may find the symbolism heavy-handed, but the book is aimed at young adults and Mariposas is a good guide to get them through The Odyssey. The book has a light, amusing touch that makes it a fun read, and young Latinos will enjoy reading about their culture.

More about Guadalupe Garcia McCall:

Guadalupe Garcia McCall won the prestigious Pura Belpré Award for her first book, the 2011 young adult novel Under the Mesquite. Born in Mexico, she now lives in Texas and teaches at a junior high school. She talked to The Hispanic Reader last year about her works and inspiration.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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In the news: New books by Cisneros; book festivals; and tons of links about Junot Díaz

(Note: This post was updated to include the Junot Díaz award from the MacArthur Foundation.)

It’s October, and that means news books, book festival season and Dias de los Muertos. Find out more below:

Already out: Sesame Street actress Sonia Manzano’s young adult novel The Revolution of Everlyn Serrano depicts a Puerto Rican teen growing up in Spanish Harlem in the turbulent 1960s. Manzano talked to the TBD website about the book.

• Oct. 1: Guadalupe García McCall, author of the Pura Belpre winning book Under the Mesquite, releases Summer of the Mariposas, a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey through the eyes of five sisters.

Oct. 2: Sandra Cisneros writes about her missing cat in the illustrated book, Have You Seen Marie?

Oct. 9: In the young adult novel A Thunderous Whisper by Christina Díaz Gonzalez, a 12-year-old girl is caught up in spying during the Spanish Civil War.

Oct. 16: Benjamin Alire Saenz releases a collection of short stories, Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club. In The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira by Cesar Aira, a doctor discovers he has superhuman powers.

Junot Díaz alert:

Junot Díaz was awarded the prestigious MacArthur “Genius Award” on Oct. 1. The honor is given by the MacArthur Foundation to outstanding individuals in the arts, humanities and sciences.

Need a Junot Díaz fix? Lots of people do since his collection of short stories, This Is How You Lose Her, was released last month. Nearly a thousand fans crammed into a New York City Barnes and Noble, causing a near riot, according to the ColorLines website. He chatted with The New York Times Magazine’s recent “Inspiration” issue about what has influenced his writing, and a nice slideshow is included. He talked about the main character’s game to NPR; his Dominican background to NBC Latino; genre fiction to Capital New York; and the perceived sexism in his book to The Atlantic. He also went bar-hopping with Grantland. But wait, here’s more articles from Latina magazine, the NPR radio show Latino USA, Huffington Post, the Good Reads website and CNN. Here’s some podcasts from The New York Timesand the Brooklyn Vol. 1 website, where Díaz discusses his passion for comic books. He talked about his love for the Hernandez brothers (of Love and Rockets fame) to the NPR radio program Latino USA. Still can’t get enough of Díaz? Check out his Facebook feed or the new fan website, Junot Díaz Daily.

Book Festivals:

Oct. 1-6: The San Diego City College Int’l Book Fair will include Reyna Grande (left), Gustavo Arellano, Rudy Acuña, Matt de la Peña and Herbert Sigüenza.

Oct. 13 – The Los Angeles Latino Book & Family Festival will feature Victor Villaseñor and Luis J. Rodriguez.

Oct. 27: The Boston Book Festival will feature Junot Díaz and Justin Torres, right.

Oct. 27-28: The Texas Book Festival in Austin will feature Gustavo Arellano, Nora de Hoyos Comstock, Junot Díaz, Reyna Grande, Diana López, Domingo Martinez, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, René Saldaña Jr., Esmeralda Santiago, Ilan Stavans, Duncan Tonatiuh, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Ray Villareal and Gwendolyn Zepeda.

Literary magazines:

Aztlan Libre Press has released the book Nahualliandoing Dos: An Anthology of Poetry, which was influenced by Cecilio Garcia-Camarillo, Caracol and Nahualliandoing.

• Here’s an interesting article from Ploughshares literary magazine from Jennifer De Leon (no relation) about whether to italicize foreign phrases in literary works, with a mention of Junot Díaz (him again!).

Events:

• Las Comadres Para Las Americas will host a writer’s workshop Oct. 6 in New York City. Speakers include  Sonia Manzano, Lyn DiIorio, and Caridad Pineiro.

• The Festival de la Palabra, which includes discussions and readings from from Rosa Beltrán, Ángel Antonio Ruiz Laboy and Charlie Vásquez, takes place Oct. 9-11 in New York City.

Other news:

• The Southern California public radio station KPCC covered a reading of Ban This! The BSP Anthology of Chicano Literature, written in response to the state of Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies.

• Poet Lupe Mendez was named one of the Houston Press’s top 100 creative people.

Héctor Tobar’s 2011 novel The Barbarian Nurseries may be adapted into a movie, according to ComingSoon.net.

• The film version of Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima premiered in El Paso, according to the El Paso Times.

• A new film based on Juan Gonzalez’s Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America is being released.

Justin Torres, author of 2011’s We the Animals, was named to the National Book Founationa’s 5 under 35 list of emerging authors.

Also this month:

• Celebrating birthdays this month: Nobel Prize winner Miguel Angel Asturias, right, on Oct. 19.

• The Nobel Prizes will be announced this month, and Book Riot has its predictions. (It’s not likely a Latino or an American will win this year.) Here’s a look at Latinos who’ve won the award.

• Looking for some books for Dias de los Muertos? Here’s The Hispanic Reader’s round-up from last year.

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Labor Day literature: The farmworkers movement in print

Americans will celebrate workers this Labor Day weekend. Two of the Latino community’s most prominent figures – César Chávez and Dolores Huerta – led the farmworkers movement in the 1960s, demanding better conditions for the workers who picked grapes in California. The movement not only had an impact on workers’ rights, but on Latino literature as well.

Here’s a look at some books about Chávez and Huerta, a couple of novels that portray the life of farmworkers, and the story of how the movement gave birth to one of the Hispanic community’s most prominent theaters:

For children: Children can learn about the movement in Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and César Chávez by Monica Brown, Harvesting Hope: The Story of César Chávez by Kathleen Krull and Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers, by Sarah Warren.

For adults: The Words of César Chávez is a book of Chávez’s speeches and writings. It was included in the Library of Congress exhibit, The Books That Shaped America. Delano: The Story of the California Grape Strike, by John Gregory Dunne and Ilan Stavans, is a comprehensive look at the strike, while Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa by Jacques Levy focuses on Chávez. (A film of Chávez’s life is being made into a movie starring Diego Luna, according to The Los Angeles Times.) The Fight in the Fields by Susan Ferriss and Ricardo Sandoval is the companion to the 1997 PBS documentary of the same title.

Fiction: Two of Latino literature’s most acclaimed novels focus on the plight of farmworkers. The 2000 young adult novel Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan depicts a teenager working the fields in the 1920s. The 1996 novel Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Maria Viramontes tells the story of California farmworkers through the eyes of a 13-year-old worker.

Theater: During the Delano Grape Strike, Luis Valdez began presenting plays on flatbed trucks and union halls. He eventually founded El Teatro Campensino, and went on to write the play and the movie Zoot Suit and the movie La Bamba. He recently talked about his theater’s roots to AARP VIVA radio. (The program is in Spanish.)

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Classic book review: Pam Muñoz Ryan’s “Esperanza Rising”

Pam Muñoz Ryan’s 2000 book, Esperanza Rising, is a young adult novel set in the 1920s, but readers of all ages will enjoy reading this story with its themes and issues that resonate today.

Esperanza Ortega is about to celebrate her 13th birthday on her family’s luxurious ranch when her family faces a series of tragic circumstances. As the revolution rages in Mexico, her mother decides they must go to the United States and work the fields. Esperanza quickly learns she must adjust to a new life, which includes living in a cramped two-room home with five other people and working the fields with workers who want to strike for better working conditions.

Muñoz Ryan writes beautifully with great descriptions of the land, but the novel’s greatest strength is its way of introducing relevant social issues – such as racism and immigration – to young people.

For example, Esperanza and her family go out of their way to a Japanese merchant because he treats them well, even stocking up cow’s intestines for menudo.

As her friend Miguel says:

“Americans see us as one big, brown group who are good for only manual labor. At this market, no one stares at us or treats us like outsiders or call us ‘dirty greasers.’ My father says that Mr. Yakota is a very smart businessman. He is getting rich on other people’s bad manners.”

As Esperanza accepts her new life, she also thinks about other people – such as the way workers were treated during a raid by immigration officials.

“Some of these people did not deserve their fate today. How was it that the United States could send people to Mexico who had never even lived there?”

Esperanza Rising won the Pura Belpré Medal – which honors works for youth by Latino authors – and it deserved it. It’s a great book with a strong character that young adults will identify with.

More about Pam Muñoz Ryan:

Pam Muñoz Ryan was inspired to write Esperanza Rising for her grandmother, also name Esperanza Ortega, who came from Mexico to the United States to pick the fields. The California native also has written Riding Freedom, Becoming Naomi León and The Dreamer, as well as numerous picture books.

Source: I checked this book out of the library.

Note: This book is part of the series of classic books by Latina authors. Next up: Esmeralda Santiago’s When I Was Puerto Rican.

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When you’re fifteen …: A look at quinceañeras in literature

The recently released Quince Clash by Malín Alegría is the latest book in the Border Town series for young adults, and it’s latest book that has featured quinceañeras – the elaborate celebration for Latinas on their 15th birthday – as a major plot point. Here’s a look at some other books that cover the unique Hispanic tradition.

Alegría knows quinceañeras well. In her 2007 novel, Estrella’s Quinceañera, the title character is almost embarrassed to have the celebration, especially since she is  attending an elite private school. According to this NPR story, the book is considered a classic among Latino youth and Alegría shows up at book readings in a ruffled quinceañera dress and tiara.

Quinceañera Means Fifteen, by Veronica Chambers, is part of a series featuring Marisol and Magdalena, two Panamanian best friends who live in Brooklyn. In this 2001 book, Marisol and Magdalena find their friendship strained as they plan their parties. The celebration is also featured in Chambers’ Amigas series – in Fifteen Candles and Lights Cameras Quince.

Belinda Acosta provides an adult perspective in her Quinceanera Club series. The main characters in 2009’s Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz and 2010’s Sisters Strangers and Starting Over are organizing quinceañeras for reluctant teenagers. Acosta cited Fifteen Candles: 15 Tales of Taffeta, Hairspray, Drunk Uncles, and other Quinceanera Stories, a book of essays edited by Adriana V. Lopez, as a great resource.

For a non-fiction take on the big event, try Julia Alvarez’s 2007 Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA. She visited several quinceañeras as research for the book, which covers the tradition’s history and its financial costs. Ilan Stavans examines the religious, gender and class aspects in the 2010 anthology of essays he edited, Quinceañera (The Ilan Stavans Library of Latino Civilization).

Other books about quinceañeras include (with a hat tip to Louisville Free Public Library): the Pura Belpré Award-winning The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales; Sister Chicas by Lisa Alvarado, Ann Hagman Cardinal and Jane Alberdeston Coralin; and Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa. And check out Sweet Fifteen by Diane Gonzales Bertrand.

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