Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Dear Esme,

Thanks for the blog, it is awesome! Do you think you could profile some Hispanic/Latino biography type books? These seem VERY difficult to find. One of the few people I have had luck finding is Cesar Chavez. I would like to get a wider variety. Thanks for your blog. It's the first thing I check on the computer each morning!


Dear Gentle Reader,

I have to confess, my all-time favorite biograpy is about Cesar Chavez, one that can and should be read-aloud to every child in every grade:

by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Harcourt). On a ranch in the Arizona desert was a family thriving on eighty acres, until the great drought drove them all to migrant work. Though their crops may have withered, a seed was germinating in young Cesar Chavez. The indignities he experienced as a shy Spanish-speaking student and the grueling conditions are honestly portayed. Children will be stirred by these indignities, and their hearts equally swelled by the huelga, Chavez's peaceful movement against threatening overlords. His three-hundred mile march from Delano to Sacramento was the longest in U.S. history, and resulted in the first ever contract for farmworkers. This is an extremely powerful book that underscores the bravery and resolve it takes to engage in non-violent protest, and rightly puts Chavez on the same scaffolding as Martin Luther King as a champion of civil rights. The lush illustrations roll across double-pages horizontally set, thoughtfully designed as to emphasize distance: how far the people had to travel both spiritually and physically to achieve the goal. A page-turning read-aloud about an important chapter of Latino history, this is a welcome and well done contribution to the shelves of children's biography. Viva la Causa!

But there are more out there, though not nearly're right, we need way more biographies, especially ones that deal with contemporary Latino and Hispanic lives in a way that can inspire the next generation! In the meantime, at least we have these:

by Pat Mora,illustrated by Beatriz Vidal (Knopf)
This exquisite volume pays homage to the great poet of the seventeenth century and one of the greatest booklovers of all time. While children today still recite her poetry throughout the Spanish-speaking world and her face appears on Mexican currency, many North American girls will find a new and worthy heroine between these bindings. Juana Inéz is a child prodigy, her thirst for knowledge so great that she follows her sister to school when she is three years old and learns to read. So begins an unusual childhood for her time; though girls were not permitted at university, at ten years old she went to Mexico City where she was privately tutored, ultimately becoming a lady-in-waiting at the viceroy's palace and wowing the court and an assemblage of forty scholars. She ultimately left the palace and became a nun so that she could concentrate on her pursuit of knowledge and create one of the largest libraries in all of the Americas, and one glorious day, her own book of poetry would be added to those shelves. Children will be inspired by her cheerfulness and insistent spirit, and intruiged by how someone so long ago could have had such modern sensibilities. Nearly every page is graced with borders of delicate fruit and flowers, and the illustrations are crisp and elegant, painted using small brushes under a magnifying glass. A jewel of a book about a jewel of a woman. (7 and up)

by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Ana Juan
This phantasmagoric picture-book tribute to artist Frida Kahlo celebrates the imagination that helped her endure her troubled life, and allowed her spirit to endure after death. The author portrays the loneliness and misfortune that plagued Kahlo in brief and straightforward text, balanced by amazing illustrations in which everyday things seem to fly, and eyes and smiles peek out in unexpected places. The double-paged spreads are surreal, wild in color and splayed with motifs from Kahlo's work and Mexican folk art. Through it all, Kahlo's character eminates a calm in the fray. Her eyes are illustrated as sleepy, often closed, as if this story of her life was a dream she once had. This book is ambitious and accomplished, a fitting tribute to a woman who knew how to turn her pain into something beautiful. An outstanding picture book for older readers. (9 and up)

by Francisco Jiménez (Houghton Mifflin) The sequel to THE CIRCUIT: STORIES FROM THE LIFE OF A MIGRANT CHILD stands solidly on its own. Told in a straightforward, genuine style, this book continues the Mexican author's memoirs through middle and high school. The voice has an unusual dignity as the author candidly reveals his own innocence and growing ambition in the face of "the American Dream." In Jiménez's world, school is not a right but a privilege, and Jiménez describes a heroic effort working as a teenager both in the fields and cleaning offices to help his family while trying to succeed at school in such a matter-of-fact manner that it is humbling to read. Jiminez's frustrated relationship with his unhappy father is surprisingly tender; indeed, family relationships even in the bleakest situations are rife with humor, patience, and optimism. There is precious little available for Spanish-speaking children to relate to in children's literature, and this book fills that niche, but it is also is far more universal than that. Jiménez is a model and inspiration for all children who have obstacles to overcome, and he is a great champion of mutual respect between races and classes. I can't imagine a better book to share with someone who sees high school on the horizon, and it is also a must-read for all English-as-a-Second Language teachers. Viva Jiménez! (12 and up)

Also of interest:
CELIA CRUZ, QUEEN OF SALSA by Veronica Chambers, illustrated by Julie Maren (Dial)
BEISBOL! LATINO BASEBALL PIONEERS AND LEGENDS by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Bruce Markusen Rodriguez (Lee and Low)

Hope these help!

Madame Esme

If you have an "ASK ESME" question, please e-mail it for consideration to esmeatripcodotcom.

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.


Anonymous said...

Esme, some good reading here. Thanks! There's also Susanna Reich's "Jose! Born to Dance" (illustrated by Raul Colon), about dancer/choreographer Jose Limon.

Anonymous said...

You could also check out This month they are exploring Hispanic culture.


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