Book Review: Yes! We Are Latinos

Yes! We Are Latinos

by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy
illustrated by David Diaz

There are many great Latino children’s literature books on the market today, but because we are a diverse community, only a handful of them are what I consider must-have books that every Latino family’s home library should absolutely include. And it probably comes as no surprise that the writing team of Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy have more than one title in this short list.

In August, I received a review copy of Yes! We Are Latinos. It took me less than five minutes to realize that it was going to be included in our HHM: Festival of Books Children’s Reading List.

There are not many books that truly reflect the diversity of our community. Our identity is inextricably bound with our culture…or cultures. In fact, many Hispanics here in the U.S. come by their heritage through more than one country. I myself am the daughter of a Spaniard and a Mexican-American, and was born in Texas. As such, I have strong, passionate feelings about all three cultures. My body involuntarily moves to the sound of Spanish flamenco, while my mouth waters at the thought of fresh tamales, and my mind enjoys listening to good ol’ cowboy poetry.

So I was eager to read Yes! We Are Latinos to my children…and they were engaged from the beginning. The book is a collection of 12 narrative poems, each one describing a snippet of time from the lives of 13 Latino children who come by their heritage in different ways. Here’s a glimpse of the 13 characters featured in these poems and how they come by their Latino heritage:

  • Juanita is a Mexican living in New York.
  • Mónica is from El Salvador and lives in Houston.
  • José Miguel is Cuban and Nicaraguan. He lives in Tampa.
  • Puertorriqueña Gladys is growing up in Philadelphia.
  • In Detroit, we’ll read about Santiago. He’s Dominican.
  • Sultana (or Susana) is a Sephardic Jew being raised in San Francisco.
  • Julio is a Zapotec growing up in Stockton.
  • Felipe is a black Panamanian and Venezuelan boy living in Chicago.
  • Rocio is a Spaniard in Boston.
  • Lili lives in Los Angeles. She is Guatemalan and Chinese.
  • Michiko also lives in L.A., and is of Peruvian and Japanese decent.
  • Andrés resides in Miami. He’s both Colombian and Ecuadorian.
  • And finally, there is Román from New Mexico, who is Hispanic and Native American.

Ah. Perhaps you see now why this is such an amazing book.

But there’s more. Because after each child’s story, there is a short nonfiction section to accompany their story and explain historical points such as the Ladino language and cultural identity of the Sephardic Jews, the Chinese and Japanese presence in Latin America, the Spanish Civil War, African roots, and even Latino immigration to the U.S. to name a few.

This book is rich in information and a teacher’s dream. But parents, too, will love reading aloud the short poems to their children and then discussing their stories. For a children’s book, Yes! We Are Latinos packs quite a punch as it is filled with many talking points and learning opportunities. It is a high-quality book for Latino families.

Though it is not a picture book, Diaz’s interspersed silhouette illustrations add a nice touch and help create the mental image that inevitably accompanies the text.

Ada and Campoy’s book is sure to engage young readers of all backgrounds, though it is sure to be of special interest to children of Latino heritage.

Bravo, once again, to two Latina authors who perfectly capture the Latino American experience.

Book Review: Good Night Captain Mama, Buenas noches Capitán Mamá

Goodnight Captain Mama: Buenas Noches Capitán Mamá

by Graciela Tiscareño-Sato
illustrated by Linda Lens

We needed a book like this. In a house full of boys and my constant determination to find books with strong female characters, Goodnight Captain Mama: Buenas Noches Capitán Mamá by Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, will officially be on our shelves. This beautiful story (illustrated by Linda Lens) receives double points from me for being a English-Spanish bilingual book and for portraying a courageous, intelligent and loving Latina mother.

Marco is in awe of his mother’s green uniform as he spots her getting ready to fly. Captain Mama sweetly goes through the bedtime routine while explaining to her son all about her career in the United States Air Force. As she tucks him into bed and cuddles, he questions several colorful patches on her uniform and she patiently describes their significance.

Luring her readers in, Tiscareño-Sato does a wonderful job at explaining the meaning of each colorful and impressive patch. When Marco asks about the red, white and blue patch, I swelled with pride for Captain Mama! She says, “This is the symbol of our nation, the United States of America. I serve in the military to protect our country and to keep you safe.”

With so many mothers working and serving in all branches of the United States military, this book can be used as a learning tool for all children. While reading to my six year-old son, not only was he impressed that a mami can fly a KC-135, but in all the work men and women do as a team to keep us safe. The use of the patches kept the story flowing, educational, and engaging. We loved it!

Disclosure: A digital copy of this book was provided for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Betty Galvan, is helping her readers “find the positive and seek the benefits” over at her blog, MyFriendBettySays.com.

She is the mother of three beautiful little boys and a teacher.

Photo credits: mikifoto by mallika malhotra

Book Review: An Honest Boy, Un hombre sincero

An Honest Boy, Un hombre sincero

by Magdalena Zenaida

An Honest Boy, Un hombre sincero has all the qualities of an excellent picture book with the basic literary and historical components to teach a whole lesson plan unit! The gorgeous illustrations by Gaston Hauviller and a sprinkle of Spanish phrases written by José Martí himself, guides young readers to understand his life from Cuba to New York City as a teacher, poet, and fighter for education equality for all.

My six year old and I used a map to locate all the countries where José Martí lived, we practiced reading Spanish aloud, and discussed a little of Cuba’s history. We also watched a Celia Cruz video to listen to Guantanamera, a very famous song that José Martí’s Versos Sencillos inspired. I caught myself singing the phrases as they are beautifully and perfectly weaved into the story!

Note: The book is not a literal translation, but rather one that conveys the meaning of the poem.

The book is probably best suited for ages 8 and up but, my son and I took the opportunity to use clues in the sentences to decipher challenging vocabulary. I also had to stop briefly to discuss phrases such as “freedom of speech” and “exile.” Nevertheless, as a believer of using picture books to teach some of life’s toughest lessons inside and out of the classroom, books like Zenaida’s do just that with a bonus of teaching children about prominent and notable Latino authors like José Martí.

Disclosure: A digital copy of this book was provided for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Betty Galvan, is helping her readers “find the positive and seek the benefits” over at her blog, MyFriendBettySays.com.

She is the mother of three beautiful little boys and a teacher.

Photo credits: mikifoto by mallika malhotra

Support Latino Authors! How to Write a Book Review That Matters

Interested in reading? Interested in supporting authors who write what you read? Do it today with a book review!

Reviews can make a book hugely popular. Lack of reviews can consign a book to oblivion.

The publishing industry has changed in recent years. Readers like you now have the unprecedented power to share opinions about books through reviews on amazon.com, the biggest book retailer in the US, and on goodreads.com.

Related post: How to Find Latino Reads on Goodread.com

Book reviews are hugely important to lesser-known authors and those who write for niche audiences. Many Latino authors and those who write Latino-themed content fall into both categories. If we want these books to continue to be published, reviews are needed to:

  • help others find the books
  • demonstrate that there is a vibrant community for this type of book
  • offer up honest opinions and get a dialogue going

Amazon requires a review to be at least 20 words long, plus include a 1-5 star rating. But most of us are readers, not writers. Writing a review seems hard.

The secret to a good reviewis 5 simple sentences! Use this formula and soon you’ll be writing reviews that help friends discover new books and support authors in your community.

The personal touch

Start your review with a personal comment such as why you chose this book or the feeling it left you with. Was it for a class, a book club, or because a friend recommended it, etc.

Fiction example: I picked up The Gifted Gabaldón Sisters by Lorraine M. López because it has an eye-catching cover. The story inside was just as mesmerizing.

Nonfiction example: I enjoy reading memoirs and found Take Me With You by Carlos Frías to be one of the best contemporary memoirs I have read lately.

Plot

What was the book about? Try to capture this in 1 or 2 sentences. If it was clearly a genre like mystery or a romance, say so. If it was literary fiction you can refer to it as a “story” or “tale.” If it has a twist ending don’t give it away! For a non-fiction book state the basic premise and some idea of the context.

Fiction example: The story traces the lives of four sisters, who each seem endowed with a magical ability or “gift.” But it’s not fairy tale magic and it shapes their lives in unexpected ways.

Nonfiction example: A Miami-based journalist, Frías recounts his own 2006 trip to Cuba to cover the political scene, which allowed him to trace his father’s life there before the revolution.

Style

How was the writing? Was it mostly dialogue that crackled with the characters’ personalities? Was there a lot of action? Did it bore you with long paragraphs or keep you turning the pages with a sharp, staccato pace?

Fiction example: The story swings between the lives of the sisters, and the official account of government research into the Puebla tribe. At first I didn’t understand the connection but after a few chapters realized that the research was the background story of Fermina, the girls’ caretaker after the death of their mother. Fermina is the one who gives the girls their “gifts.”

Nonfiction example: Frías writes simply and smoothly and his descriptions put the reader right into today’s Cuba, with its decayed buildings, poverty, and lack of so many things we consider normal. Although the book moves around between the author’s family in Miami, his father’s life in pre-revolution Cuba, and the author’s own experiences in today’s Cuba, the reader never gets confused.

Characters

Who are the main characters? What stood out about them? Did they experience change during the book? If there was tension, how did they deal with it? Did you have a favorite character?

Fiction example: The sisters are all named after Hollywood stars from the 40’s and 50’s, which made it easy to keep track of their different gifts and what they did with them. My favorite character was Bette David Gabaldón, who believes her “gift” is the ability to persuade people to do what she wants.

Nonfiction example: Frías is able to show us real people and how their lives were damaged by Cuba’s revolution, including his father as well as family members who stayed behind.

Recommendation

Who do you think would enjoy this book? If it is a book for a certain age group, note it here.

Fiction example: This book is recommended for anyone who likes Latino literature, stories with a bit of magic in them, as well as those who like fiction that draws on history.

Non-fiction example: This book is recommended for anyone interested in Cuba or for those who like to read memoirs.

Rating

Both amazon.com and goodreads.com use a 5 star rating. Here’s how I interpret the stars:

  • Likely to recommend: 5 out of 5 stars
  • Memorable: 4 out of 5 stars
  • Worth the time: 3 out of 5 stars
  • Feeling vaguely dissatisfied: 2 out of 5 stars
  • Want my money back: 1 out of 5 stars

I rate both The Gifted Gabaldón Sisters and Take Me With You as 5 Star reads! To support authors, I usually only post book reviews with a 4 or a 5 rating. The exception is if I’ve been specifically requested to review a book and honesty demands a lower rating.

To find books you might want to read and review, check out my virtual Latino Library on Pinterest.

What book did you last read? Show your power as a reader and give it 5 sentences! Maybe 5 stars, too!

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Carmen Amato is the author of political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. Both draw on her experiences living in Mexico and Central America where she discovered the best coffee on earth. She currently divides her time between the United States and Central America, using travel time to work on her next novel. Join her on Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/authorcarmenamato, visit her amazon author page at http:www.amazon.com/author/carmenamato, and check out her blog at http://carmenamato.net. She can also be found on Twitter @CarmenConnects.