Under the Radar (UTR) is a regular review column on the ALAN website that highlights the publications of smaller presses. The most recent column is below; for archives of the UTR column, please see this page.

Under the Radar: Bullying and Latino/a and
Native American Young People

by The UTR Team:
cj bott, James Bucky Carter, Sean Kottke, Jon Ostenson, Daria Plumb, and Jennifer Walsh

UTR circle draft color

The mission of Under the Radar has been to feature publications of interest to adolescent and young adult readers from small publishers that may fly under the radar in the book world. While previous columns have each focused on a single publisher, this series of columns will embrace books from multiple small publishers that focus on different populations of adolescents most targeted by bullying, as laid out in Generation Bullied 2.0 (Miller, Burns & Johnson, 2013). Our first column in this series took up the issue of sizism and weight discrimination, and features an extended discussion of two selected titles on this theme, The Fat Boy Chronicles and Picture Me. This column will deal with the need for more books for, by, and about Latino/a young people and Native American young people.


Our times are wrought with divisiveness over many issues, one of those being equality.  And, it’s a big one.  In Bullied 2.0 by Miller, Burns and Johnson (2013) one of the chapters is devoted to cultural diversity and the bullying that occurs within and beyond that group.  We have chosen to spotlight two different cultures represented in North America to show how they are bullied in their own respective countries.

The United States is going through a population transition or growth spurt, depending on one’s perspective. In 2000 the US Census presented the actual breakdown of numbers for enrollment in elementary and secondary schools was 61% white and 39% all other ethnicities, the projected enrollment for 2019 is 50.1% whites and all other ethnicities will make up 49.89%. However, the National Center for Education Statistics had projected different statistics for 2014 with white population 49.8% with our other populations making 50.2%, the breakdown being —  black populaltion 15.5, Hispanic 25.6, Asian/Pacific Islander 5.2, American Indian/Alaska Native 1.0 and those of two or more races 2.8. (This is also supported by a report from Education Week.)

The fastest growing cultural group is the Latino population. This change has already impacted our country and our classrooms. We need to be more proactive.

We asked Rene Saldaña, Jr., a well-established author of books for Latino/a young people for his thoughts. He sent the following:

Speaking to a gathering in San Marcos, TX, at the 20th anniversary of the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, U.S. poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, himself a children’s and YA author and a Mexican American, described these times as “our breakout moment.” He counted among the proof the growing number of Latino/a authors and a growing interest on the part of publishers in working with “more global writers and voices.”

I wish I could be so upbeat about the state of Latino/a literature for children and young adults, and Mexican Americans more specifically. Though we have experienced an uptick in the number of Latino/a writers and illustrators (you remember the days when the sole representative was Gary Soto), there hasn’t been a similar or corresponding hike in the number of Latino/a-themed books published yearly. A grand total of 66 this past year (2014) by the CCBC’s count. That’s 66 titles ABOUT Latinos/as, which can be read to mean books that include a Latino/a character(s) though not necessarily one playing a central role in the story. And that’s 66 titles out of 3,500 books submitted to the CCBC for review out of an estimated 5,000 published last year. “About” also implies written by a non-Latino/a potentially. A quick study of the CCBC’s list for the five years prior shows that the publishing industry hasn’t changed much. More Latino/a writers doesn’t automatically mean more representation.

Sad to say, the state of Latino/a and Mexican American writing (that is, books by Latino/a authors about Latino/a characters and themes for Latino/a readers) is grim, in my opinion. (For more information and statistics, see this NBC News article and this article from the CCBC at the University of Wisconsin-Madison)

In this column, we feature two books from small presses: Paraiso Portal/Portable Paradise by Mario Bencastro and the compilation Dreaming in Indian edited by Lisa Carleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale. To make navigation easier, you can use the tabs below to select which book you’d like to read more about.

Arte Público Press is one of the publishing house we are spotlighting in this column. Founded in 1979, Arte Público Press is the largest and oldest publisher of U. S. Hispanic literature. Housed in the University of Houston, its mission is the publication, promotion and dissemination of Latino literature for national and regional audiences, from early childhood to adult. In its publication of literature and cultural information, Arte Público is committed to reforming the national culture to more accurately include, value and reflect Hispanic historical and contemporary contributions. In 1994 Arte Público Press established Piñata Books that publishes books for children and young adults. For more information go to www.artepublicopress.com.

In Paraíso Portátil/Portable Paradise, the below poem is published on page 168 in English and on page 57 in Spanish:

Yo también soy América

by Mario Bencastro
(“I, too, Am America”
Langston Hughes)

My hands grow
America’s food.
I build houses and buildings
to shelter America.
I take care of the children:
America’s future
But when I look for food
that I’ve grown with my sweat,
shelter in the house
I made with my hands,
and my children look for a future
in the school I built,
I am rejected.
I am undesirable,
I have no right to exist.
They don’t accept
that I, too, am America.
Because with my sacrifice and my blood
I feed and build
the present and the future
of America.
That’s why
yo también soy América.

Yo también soy América

by Mario Bencastro
“ I, too, am America”
–Langston Hughes

Mis manos cultivan
el alimento de América.
Construyen casas y edificios
para el abrigo de América.
Erigen puentos y carreteras
para el progreso de América.
Miman y cuidan niños:
el futuro de América.
Pero cuando busco el alimento
que he cultivado con mi sudor,
abrigo en la casa
que he levantado con mis manos,
y mis hijos buscan un futuro
en la escuela que he construido,
soy rechazado
soy indeseable
no tengo derecho de existir.
No aceptan
que yo también soy América.
Porque con mi sacrificio y mi sangre
alimento y construyo
el presente y el futuro
de América.
Por eso yo también soy América

UTR: What strikes you first? What new awareness or renewed awareness do you realize?

Jon2I’m struck by the fact that so many of those who come to this country (legally or not) are interested in making a better life for themselves and their families. And in so doing, they end up contributing in meaningful ways to the country and to our way of life. I’ve looked into the stories of my ancestors, and those who came from Scotland and Norway three generations ago that worked, according to census records, as manual laborers–miners and farmers by far are the most common professions my ancestors chose. I consider my family today (their descendants) and there’s not a farmer or miner among us; we’re teachers and translators and businessmen and real estate agents. I suppose this shows a bias of mine against the manual labor of my ancestors, but my family members today have jobs that are less physically demanding and more comfortable–so that’s one definition of a better life. That’s been in large part enabled by my ancestors. So when I consider those who are newcomers to this country (and the many students I’ve worked with whose parents brought them here for a better life), I see their stories echoed in that of my ancestors and so many of those who have come to this country. That alone should bring us together in bonds of respect and fellowship.


Bucky2I want to see a version of this poem written in multiple languages on an inspirational poster. At the least, wouldn’t a poster with the last lines in multiple languages make for a great visual in a classroom or office? So many of us come from and continue to come from a lineage which has met with adversity in terms of being accepted into whatever the broader notion of “American culture” was or is. I know there may be some who might want to criticize me for seeing the poem as having universal qualities, but I can’t appreciate it fully without thinking of all the “tambiens” who strive or have striven or will strive to find a place in the USA. That said, I appreciate the specific cultural focus in the poem. Every Thanksgiving for the past few years I’ve seen a meme with a wealthy white family praying over a feast. “Thank you, Jesus,” they say, “for this meal.” A juxtaposed image of a Hispanic farm worker replies, “De nada.” While I’ve never been one to understand  “A Day Without a Mexican”-level advocacy for greater respect of Hispanic cultures (I clean my own clothes; mow my own lawn; etc. so I worry such films and organizational efforts conflate race and class too much) I think there’s a lot of “appreciation inequity” in the United States when it comes to valuing those who sweat and toil to make it by facilitating easier lives for others. The speaker has every right to make what they see as the invisible visible.


cj2When I first read this poem, I was touched by how accurate it was.

There is a wonderful picture book, First Day in Grapes (words by L. King Perez, illustrations by Robert Casilla, Lee and Low Books) about Chico’s first day in school also being his father’s first day in grapes, as the family follows the ripening fruits and vegetable to be harvested. Though I like this picture book, this is too often the image people have of Hispanics in this country. There are now several Latino politicians and as I write this one is running for president of the United States. My husband’s vascular doctor is Latino. But still when we think of the Latino people, we think of those who enter either seasonally or illegally, often in attempts to escape documented horrors in their home country. This poem corrects many incorrect beliefs and validates the many that have contributed to this country.

Bucky, what is a “meme?” It does not show up in my computer’s dictionary. (A meme is a viral internet image containing an editorial comment, usually humorous but sometimes political)


Sean2Bucky, I too was struck more immediately by the universality of the speaker’s lamentation against American culture’s easy embrace of the economic contributions of immigrant labor and simultaneous rejection of the laborers as equal citizens than by the specificity of the experience Bencastro describes. There’s a room in the Ellis Island Immigration Museum showcasing an immense collage of anti-immigrant pop culture artifacts, like sheet music, movie posters and comic strips, that hits me harder than photographic evidence directly documenting the struggles of immigrants displayed elsewhere in the museum. What that room reveals is just how deeply xenophobia has permeated the American consciousness throughout its history, and how many different national and ethnic identities have found themselves so left out in various eras in which the zeitgeist supposedly embraced a melting pot ideal … only to find themselves several generations later, blended in and suspicious of the next new immigrant population. The question is how to interrupt that cycle of xenophobia, encapsulated chillingly in the aphorism “slaves don’t dream of freedom, but of becoming masters,” which may have an older source, but which I first heard in the first season of the FX series The Bridge. The answer – and I know I must sound like a broken record having said this before in prior columns – is literature. This hits particularly close to home, as just last summer, some of the ugliest intolerance I’ve seen first-hand erupted in Vassar, Michigan, where nearly 200 children fleeing political violence in Central America were temporarily placed pending formal resettlement. Earlier this month, a follow-up story in Bridge Magazine (linked here) featured “Scars 2,” a poem by 19 year old Honduran immigrant Elvis Valasquez that gives voice to the struggles faced by these children, and I think pairs well with “Yo también soy América.”


Jennifer2I agree with what cj said about acknowledging that we are stuck in a rut when we pigeon hole Latinos/Latinas as field workers.  There are many more professions in which they work besides picking crops.  I am also happy to see Latinos/as rising up and defending themselves against Donald Trump’s ridiculous remarks (see America Ferrara’s comments here).  How different is this than slavery, which we legally abolished 150 years ago?  Our politics show how disrespected this culture really is.  We have anti-immigration laws, police officers granted the ability to ask for papers at any time, and as Sean mentioned, Michigan has welcomed many of the children brought into the US.  There was complete uproar, and it was definitely right down party lines.


-cj: Sean, in the link you provided I read Elvis Valasquez’s story and his poem and found the same strength of passion and frustration as in Bencastro’s poem.


UTR: Why is this parallel to Langston Hughes’ poem so important to realize?

Jon: I think the “I, too, am America” refrain is important in both poems. The ideal of America is one that embraces all who want to work hard and move forward; it’s an ideal that wants to provide equal opportunities and ensure equal rights. This ideal, to me, is one that embraces lots of different races and ethnicities, that unites many disparate people into a single group engaged in a noble project. It is, in fact, strengthened by the diverse skills, perspectives, and backgrounds we bring to it. We have to remember how we have personally benefitted from this project and recognize the rights of others to also participate.

Bucky: I second Jon and want to point out that some suggest now the most “sure-fire” way to get ahead in America is to be born ahead already. I don’t think we can consider either of these poems without a critique of the “bootstrap” narrative and the Horatio Alger-esque mythologies they might engender within us. Recognition, after all, is not the same as compensation. The act of endeavoring, of venturing, is not the same as reaching a pinnacle. I know Browning asks, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp/Or what’s a heaven for?” but the idea of nobility in aspiring is problematic if we come to see it as an acceptable perpetual aspiration. Ideally, there’s room for all of us at whatever we envision as our “at the top’s” and each of these poems’ speakers seek out that room, recognition and respect. But, truth be told: Our current economic systems might be rigged such that those born ahead benefit not only from their station but in romanticizing those working to “make it” but actually in stasis/stationary. The parallels in the poem are important in their romanticisms and their realisms.

-cj: I agree. The ideal you identified, Jon, America is one that embraces all who want to work hard and move forward, is one of this country’s strengths, though it also is in many countries, but doesn’t it seem that it is in all countries. Working hard for something is a strength-building validation seconded only by the pride that comes from having that work recognized.

Sean: I also agree, but would push back against an implicit (and I’m sure unintentional) reduction of an individual’s value to the economic benefits they confer on society, rather than embracing their humanity. With the exception of unconditional amnesty, even the most progressive immigration policies since the opening of Ellis Island have employed some degree of filtering to let in the employable (or potentially employable) and exclude those whose prospects for immediate employment are dimmer. As the poem and the controversy in my state to which I referred earlier make clear, society is content to benefit from the labor of the immigrant, even if society has to look the other way to gain that benefit in violation of its own laws, but is stereotypically much more reluctant to demonstrate that it unconditionally values the essential, common humanity of the laborer (to say nothing of the non-laborer). People are valuable and worth validating independent of the work they do.

Jen:  I find it ever more perplexing that a country created by immigrants is now so critical of anyone who isn’t “one of us”.  As I said above, the fact that Langston Hughes wrote the original poem and Bencastro has put his own spin on it speaks for itself.  We are a country of many diverse populations and languages.  Hughes writes of his desire to have equality and so does Bencastro.  It seems that our country isn’t quite happy if we aren’t marginalizing some particular group of people so we feel superior.  


UTR: Are Latinos in the same position that African Americans have been and have not escaped entirely even yet?

Jon: I think Hispanics face unique challenges in some ways, at least those who are illegals and live with that stigma and fear; even those who aren’t here illegally are probably often lumped in with those who are, since you can’t tell someone’s immigration status from their face. Sometimes they are cast as interlopers, law-breakers who are here to “steal” from those of us who are more deserving. I had Hispanic students at the high school share experiences of strangers yelling at them to “go back to Mexico,” even when they had been born in this country or brought here as little children (and not always from Mexico). I suspect this has been true for most immigrant, minority groups through the history of America; unfair judgments have always been made based on the way we speak or the color of our skin. But since immigration is part of the political discussion in the country, I wonder if some of us interpret that as giving us the right to judge Hispanics (and other immigrant groups) and to see them in the ways I’ve described here–which can lead to discrimination.

Bucky:  No. Not if our definition of slavery focuses on forced immigration and unpaid labor. Viola Canales has a great quote in The Tequila Worm.My family didn’t cross the border; it crossed us.” The forced immigration issue separates the struggles of many Hispanics from those of many African Americans. However, if we were to expand a definition of slavery to include indentured servitude and unfair labour practices — even debt from predatory lending — which strikes me as a very progressive and enlightened and 21st century thing to do, I say “yes.” Addressing the question from a socioeconomics slant helps me see how many people across races and ethnicities share — either historically or currently — a secondary, unappreciated status steeped in manipulation of human rights, regulations and laws (or lacks thereof), and culturally accepted definitions of equity and even “human.”

-cj: Bucky, that certainly applies to those who have been “taken” from their home land and sold into a new type of slavery in this country–the new invisible people. I think first of Patricia McCormick’s Sold, the first of many YA novels dealing with human trafficking.

Sean: I’d say yes and no, following the same lines of thought explored in Bucky’s comments. Another layer is language; in my state, there is a constant back-and-forth battle between those who value mastery of a world language in addition to English as an essential component of a 21st century global education and those who do not. Perhaps more powerfully than reading literature from diverse voices, mastering our neighbors’ tongue(s) provides a direct line into the hearts and minds of people different from us by affording us a simultaneously visceral and cognitive portal into their construction of reality. I like that Bencastro presents this poem in both Spanish and English in the book, but preserves key elements in Spanish within the English translation. I would argue that a key distinction between the Hispanic and African American experiences today is that mainstream society has been quicker to validate varieties of English spoken by different populations and co-opt to varying degrees their unique vocabularies and syntactical features than it has been to meaningfully value multilingualism in a visibly widespread manner. Even some high profile advocates of multilingualism have recently accused American schools for overpopularizing European heritage languages like Spanish, French and German out of proportion with their global spread while not preparing students in languages like Bengali that have more speakers worldwide (see, for example, “America’s Lacking Language Skills” in this past May’s The Atlantic). The problem with that line of thinking is that it further devalues the language and worldview of people in our own communities who aren’t properly valued to begin with, as this poem demonstrates.


UTR: The Hispanic population is growing faster than any other group in the USA. In 2010, the Hispanic population numbered 50.5 million. What does that mean to you?

Jon: One thing I think it means is that this group, if they are allowed to do so, can become a tremendous force for good–just as immigrants have historically done. So many of the Hispanic families that I’ve known are hard workers, focused on family and community; perhaps more importantly, I think they believe in the ideals of America and want to be part of that project (as I wrote about above). If they’re given the chance, I can see them contributing immeasurably to our strength as a culture and a country.

-cj: Many immigrants/settlers/refugees/people new to this country are hungry for a safe place to live, a job that will enable them to support their family, and a future for their children that they could not find in the countries they left. Many will make their create their own “chance” or opportunity.

Jen:  It means that we need to help these people feel welcome in our country.  It means we need to learn Spanish and not just expect everyone to learn English.  Many of these families are escaping unsafe situations in their home countries and we continue to marginalize the outsider. Everyone deserves a chance in America- that’s one of the foundations of our country.

Sean: As I hope to have made clear above, it means our collective understanding of literacy and global competency needs to include mastery of more than one language.


UTR: What the will this “new” Civil Rights look like in America as we move forward? How do we incorporate it into our classrooms and lives?

Jon: One way I can think of incorporating this into our classrooms is to have our students investigate the stories of their ancestors, to learn about how they helped contribute to this country. There’s also a strong tradition of immigrant experiences in American literature that we can tap into for this, giving students opportunities to read across a wide variety of experiences. And, hopefully, as they become more acquainted with these past experiences, we can help them see the parallels to today’s world and this aspect of the experiences of Hispanics.

-cj: There are many teachers who still believe in each individual’s right and recognize individual differences and validate those for all the students in the class. Appreciation for diversity starts with the staff, but must also be supported by the administration and community. There are teachers who do not like the complications of having students from other countries in their classrooms if only due to the complications of language. The staff must be prepared and made aware of what is expected of them, and those expectations need to be very clearly presented.

Bucky: I worry some contemporary intellectuals, academics, and, — dare I say it? —  social justice warriors seek a “new” civil rights that doesn’t actually change the system but just replaces the players.  I don’t think that’s useful for an entire nation in the long run. Changing the racial or ethnic makeup of whatever the hegemony may be is not transformative enough. It’s the power structures and systems themselves which need to become more equitable and just. I worry this fact — or what I see as a fact — gets overlooked.  What’s that they say about power and absolute power, eh? I feel, if the goal among progressive powered parties and social issues advocates is just to make sure certain people are in leadership positions instead of others —  instead of changing what we mean by power and leadership and constantly revisiting what that term “civil rights” actually means for all citizens — we’re destined for New Boss Same As the Old Boss. That said, we are going to find more and more Hispanics in positions of influence in many parts of the country. While it’s important to realize population shifts will continue to evolve and that not every part of the nation sees demographics shift in the same way (a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education suggested my current locale of Pullman, Washington, will see major growth in Asian/Asian American populations, for example), it is  a good thing we will see more Hispanics in positions to affect positive change. Maybe they (I do not identify as Hispanic)  will show more humility and connectedness to all than previous parties have. Regarding the classroom, I think a place has to be made for Mexican American literature just as there needs to be a place for literatures from other populations who have influenced the history and development of United States culture. There’s no lack of titles available, though I’m not the best person to offer up a comprehensive list. Earlier I mentioned Canales’ The Tequila Worm, which I love. Pretty much anything from Benjamin Alire Saenz is worthy of whole-class attention one way or another. As a comics fan, I’m fond of the work of the Hernandez Brothers. I’ve taught texts from all of those talents at the college-level, especially in YAL courses. Books or excerpts from these writers and others need to find space in K12 classrooms, to be sure, if through book talks, reports, independent reading or whole class novels. I think I’d favor a teacher read-aloud model for the whole class approach, though. One additional note: While “Latino” and “Chicano” may have very specific delimitations in their connotative meanings to some, the larger term “Hispanic” describes Mexicans, Mexican Americans and many, many more. So, while it is great to integrate more Mexican or Mexican American literature into classes, let’s not forget Puerto Rican writers, Cuban or Cuban American voices, and others. I guess while I won’t offer specific strategies, I’ll state that any American Literature class in U.S. high schools needs to be a multicultural literature class.  

Jen:  I agree with Bucky that anything Benjamin Alire Sanchez writes is worth reading!  

-cj: Maybe that course should be called Current American Literature. (For more understanding on the use of Hispanic or Latino, go to: http://www.diversityjournal.com/9724-hispanic-or-latino-which-is-correct/)

Sean: And if I might recommend a superb pair of anthologies for such a class, check out From Totems to Hip-Hop (2003) for poetry and Pow-Wow (2014) for short fiction, both edited by Ishmael Reed. His introduction to the earlier volume should be required reading for teachers wishing to develop an authentically multicultural literature curriculum.

Jen:  We are a country that stands for equality of all.  Slaves were made real “people”, LGBTQ citizens now have the right to marry, and now we are growing into a nation with ever growing diversity as the white population will fall below 50%.  Yet, we aren’t giving everyone equal opportunities.  Some of it is subtle, some not.  We worked so hard to get African American literature into our classrooms, but unfortunately I’m not seeing that thrust with Hispanic writers.: One thing I think it means is that this group, if they are allowed to do so, can become a tremendous force for good–just as immigrants have historically done. So many of the Hispanic families that I’ve known are hard workers, focused on family and community; perhaps more importantly, I think they believe in the ideals of America and want to be part of that project (as I wrote about above). If they’re given the chance, I can see them contributing immeasurably to our strength as a culture and a country.

21561039This compilation is rich with pictures, poetry, stories, art and culture highlighting the contributions of Native Americans throughout what we consider our “modern age.”  From “Fried Bologna and Rice” to treatises on the “Rez” schools, one gets a glimpse into the lives of Native Americans and those who rose up and blossomed despite the culture-cide white North Americans have thrust upon the native peoples of our continent.  But, it gets even more complex than that.  The complexity within the different nations is just that.  There are many different nations and traditions that whites do not delineate-  we lump Native Americans under one “group”.  Yet, this book shows the beauty of the multitude of indigenous tribes of North America.  Please note that this book is published by Annick Press (Canada) and reflects experiences of Native peoples of both Canada and The United States.

The editors of this book (Charleyboy and Leatherdale) begin with a foreword and a welcome.  These are capped with a quote (p. 11) that reads:

“There is no one Indigenous perspective…no one Indigenous story.  We are tremendously diverse peoples with tremendously diverse life experiences.  We are not frozen in the past, nor are we automatically just like everybody else.  This is why it is so important for everyone to share their own story.  In revealing their personal truths, they help us all gain a better appreciation for the messy, awesome, fun reality of the world we live in.”  (Wab Kinew-Anishinaabe, Journalist, Hip hop artist, Director of Indigenous Inclusion at the University of Winnipeg.

UTR: This book is broken down into four parts, emulating a cycle of a culture.  They are:  Roots, Battles, Medicines and Dreamcatchers.  The “Battles” section deals with a multitude of identity issues such as finding one’s place in the Native American culture and how that identity helps or hinders one in negotiating an identity in the larger world.  Additionally, issues of gender identity, racism and stereotyping get in the way in this broader context.  Which of these pieces in this section really spoke to you and why?

Bucky2All sections spoke to me. I appreciate the “album” or “yearbook” feel of this collection, and the multimodality within it is exceptional. I respect that the book is self-aware of a time when the pictorial reigned over the written word. Many have written on the oppressive and domineering nature of printed language and, specifically, of written English. This book helped me see a connection between the history of art as language and those in the fields of education and teacher education who still favor the “primacy of print” and see images as second-class citizens. I wonder how those folks would feel if they noted a connection in stultifying the imagistic with stultifying peoples and cultures with imagistic traditions. The move toward favoring words isn’t evolution, necessarily, so much as it is colonization and manifest destiny.

As well, each section of the text revealed to me the diversity among native tribes, especially in Canada. I have to admit, the book did not help me form a favorable opinion of Canadian policy. I just happened to be watching the series Bomb Girls on Netflix at the time I red Dreaming In Indian, and the two experiences together challenged the narrative I had of Canada as the United State’s kinder, gentler Northern brother.  


Sean2While the book’s overall multimodality is striking, of its four sections, it is the print texts in the “Battles” section with which I connected most strongly. I was quite intrigued by the three perspectives shared in “Growing Up with Pocahontas,” each of which articulates a tension between an attraction to stereotypical imagery of Native American femininity and a recognition of those images’ “pigeonholing” effects. In harsh contrast stands Tonya-Leah Watts’ “The Only Place She Knows,” with its dramatization of one woman’s tragic appropriation of that imagery and exploitation of the sexual allure that imagery has for some non-Native men in the service of survival. The poem “Poverty” accomplishes quite well what some of the best multicultural literature is able to convey: locating the universals of human experience that transcend the particulars of different cultures’ experiences. Underneath “the most beautiful costumes with shiny ribbons, streamers, and banners” run currents of frustration and exhaustion that course through the lives of all who’ve experienced poverty in an affluent nation regardless of heritage or skin color.


cj2I was not ready for how much I liked this collection. The first time through, I looked at it casually–the second time, I read every word and though I usually mark in my books, I could not bring myself to do so with this one. So I have bits of paper and post-its hanging out of the book. Though it is not the focus of this question, I particularly like My Mother’s Teachings by isabelle Knockwood in “Roots,” The book, Fatty Legs: A True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton (2010) was the first time I hear about Residential Schools for Indian children, and then again in an adult mystery by Louise Penny, a Canadian author, but I was still stunned when I read Knockwood’s column. In 1867, the British North American Act stated Canada’s goal, “Our country’s goal is to destroy the tribal society and assimilate Indians into the white dominant society as quickly as it is convenient.

I knew the US had been horrendous to the Indian Nations and that has yet to be dealt with, but somehow I had thought Canada had done better.

In Battles, I particularly liked Shedding my own Skin (page 64-5) written by Joseph Boyden as he looked back at his teen years and how he realized he had value to give. After a suicide attempt, Joseph realized that to stop hurting so much inside, all I had to do was stop worrying about myself and try to help others who had less than me, who wanted to achieve their goals so badly but were being held back. He likened his life to that of his pet Burmese python, I grew, shedding old skin for something better.

I was also impressed with the pairing of What is Gender? by Aja Sy and My Reality  by Karina Rain Dominguez (pages 44 & 45) and the black and white parallel layouts of these two pages. Sy asks What if the world didn’t have gender? And then offers the solution, What are we really? We are Humans.

Dominguez’s reality began when she was sexually assaulted starting at age nine and that reality dictated her life for far too long. In the last few lines she reveals all this happened after the Department of Child and Family Services removed her from her family.


Jennifer2All of the pieces spoke to me the multiple times I read the book.  However, the following I thought were not to be missed:  in the ‘Roots’ section, I really took notice of the Rez schools stories.  This is where Native culture was forced out of the people and they were “christianized”. I have distinct memories of junior high and learning about this ‘education’ and wondering how on earth we could do that. Fear of the unknown and the belief that our ways were better than all others. As cj said, I knew this happened but not to the blatant extent and with the arrogance mentioned.
Jon2The piece in this section titled “Poverty” resonated with me in many ways. I recognize that poverty is a legacy that many Indigenous peoples deal with as a result of the way Europeans have treated them. The brief glances and images of this poem really hit home for me: a check that arrives just in time and will tide them over for three days, sifting through the clothes in the donation bin, powdered milk with puffed wheat cereal. But it’s the turn in the middle of the poem that has the most power, where the author recognizes the riches she had from family, from being swept away in books, from culture, and from the land around her. Poverty is a real thing, and its destructive and debilitating power is legitimate, but it is also a state of mind, an attitude that can hold more power than it should over us. I’m drawn to the contrasts established in this poem between the very real destitute conditions in which the young girl lives and in the attitude she adopts looking back. (And I love that her name is Faith, which I think speaks volumes about how we work to eradicate problems in our world like poverty and discrimination.)

UTR: On pg. 30-31 Isabelle Knockwood (Mi’kmaq) contributed a piece called “My Mother’s Teachings”.  Talk about what the Reservation schools did to Native Culture and how we might be able to turn all of this around.  How do we teach young people in our society to respect and preserve native cultures rather than keep these groups on the margins as they continue to be placed? How can we make our classrooms more inclusive of Native Cultures and their literature?

Bucky: Including this book in one’s classroom and drawing attention to it could be an excellent first or early step. I suppose a teacher could ask a question or two about self-identification on an early inventory to see if any students in the class identified as a Native person. That’s the rub about the multicultural classroom, though: On the one hand, we want to make sure students in our classes see themselves in texts in our classes. But, we need to help them see beyond themselves too. So, not having a Native population in my class shouldn’t be enough to keep me from integrating this book. I’d love to book talk this title, at the very least.

Sean: The effects the reservation schools of the 19th and early 20th centuries had on the survival of Native American culture are the most extreme example of the consequences of a particular strain of essentialism that has permeated educational thought across the history of schooling. Why it should have been enforced more perniciously against Native Americans than against other populations is a fair question to ask of history, and one that has recently received increased attention in my own state (see Michigan Radio’s “Native American boarding schools have nearly killed Michigan’s native language” from September) and at the federal level.   In my own teaching practice, I found integration of literature by and about the Native American experience peculiarly more difficult to accomplish than that of other cultures. Folktales, fables and legends with Native American roots had been well-received by my students from a young age, but as they matured, they seemed more willing to negotiate texts about the enslavement of African-Americans or the Holocaust than to confront texts about the conquering of the Native Americans of North America. However, if Native Americans are ever to be regarded as more than just quaintly spiritual storytellers with a mystical connection to nature, the realities of their experience across history and North American governments’ active hand in shaping that experience need to be understood. A book like Dreaming in Indian, which relocates those experiences from the remote past into the present day, can go a long way toward bridging cultures in a manner that highlights contemporary frames of mind and actions that today’s youth can adopt in creating a more inclusive future.

-cj: I haven’t taught for awhile, but I used to give students lists of books (often drawn from the box of books we get at the ALAN Workshop plus the Award Lists) for their free reading which made up a quarter of their grade. They would advance on our school library with about ten sheets of titles. The librarian pulled me aside one day to tell me he used my lists to order current books for his library.  I also always carried a book around with my grade book, and students soon started asking me about it. If a school offers a Religions of the World course, we can highly recommend that Native beliefs be included, as well as ask the American History teacher if s/he includes the presence of Native Americans in a fair way–though I am sure I would have to chose a better way to say that.

Jen:  we must always continue to do better at including native stories into all of our teaching. I really couldn’t put it better than Arigon Starr in her short interview.  She says “we are STILL here.”  This simple phrase says it all.  We cannot be overwrought with our secondary American culture and lost that which came before us.   I was so moved by the Crazy Horse Monument my family and I visited over the summer right after Mount Rushmore. The fact that the US government refuses to fund this monument yet slapped up the President’s faces without batting an eye shows how far we still have to go.

Jon: I’m not sure what I can add to these ideas as I agree that inclusion of more stories from Native American and First People groups is vital to coming to develop more authentic understandings of the challenges they faced, historically speaking, and the legacy that those challenges have left. These texts could be used in History classrooms to start discussions about the motivations behind actions like residential schools and the repercussions of those schools. Somehow we also have to help convey the complexity of cultures and identities represented in these groups as well, drawing from multiple groups in the books we’d choose and study. It can be too easy to see all Indigenous groups as monolithic, and this hampers our efforts to understand their cultures in a meaningful way.
I am struck by Knockwood’s referring to herself as a “child warrior” and I wonder if that couldn’t be used to frame an exploration of these texts. How did Native cultures fight against the dominant culture’s efforts to erase their cultural identities and assimilate the individuals into the dominant culture? Many of these ways are likely to be hidden and covert, as portrayed in the answers that Knockwood’s mother gives to her young daughter that plant seeds in her of a cultural identity that persists regardless of the efforts made to eradicate it. In my years working with teens, I think many of them feel like their identities are “under siege” as adults belittle or denigrate the things that matter to them. For adults, it’s too easy to make the mistake of viewing teens in such deficit ways and taking lightly the things that really matter to them. Perhaps exploring this phenomenon is a way of helping young readers build a bridge between their experiences and those of Indigenous groups historically and in the present.

UTR: These vignettes all include some sort of art or picture of a person.  How do the illustrations and pictures serve as important characters in this book?

Sean: This aspect of the book is, for me, its greatest selling point. The “4 Reservation Food Groups” photo essay is alternately marvelous in a Warhol-esque pop art vein and horrifying from a nutrition and wellness perspective. The latter sentiment is reinforced by Keesic Douglas’ brief lamentation of the presence of canned meat and the absence of fresh venison and fish in his family’s pantry. The collection of haunting graffiti images that constitutes the entry “Silenced No More” conveys a visceral sense of the dehumanizing force of the residential school experience as powerfully as the first-person narrative and brief informational text that follow it. The imagery in the “Roots” section contrast sharply with those in the “Medicines” section, trading conflicting emotions about the limitations and prejudices of the worlds into which the authors were born for a proud sense of self-determination through appropriation of cultural iconography and visual language.

-cj: Sean, I completely agree. Without all the graphics, this book could easily be lost.

Jen: I was so entranced with the Super Indian comic that I ordered it from Amazon. Then, I ended up emailing the author and asking for PDFs as well as answers to questions/insights on this completely original superhero.  Both the real human pictures as well as the art make this an even more entrancing work for adults and students alike.

Jon: The students we work with, and the young readers this book is aimed at, are astute visual observers; they may not always be the most critical in their responses, but they are more accustomed than older generations to the way images can communicate. I’m struck by a couple of things in perusing the images in this book and the first is the wide variety in the physical appearance of those in the book. This variety helps me recognize the variety that surely exists across the cultures and groups that exist within the broad group of Indigenous or Native groups. The high quality of the images and the paper the book is printed on make the pictures vibrant and gorgeous, which I think reflects the beauty of the cultures and individuals represented in the pages of the book. And finally, the images in the Roots section especially are just haunting, and they add an emotional layer to the text that is undeniable. I second Sean’s mention of the food groups image but I’m most drawn to the image of Tanya Tagaq Gillis on page 23; its evocation of the pain that bullying caused her contrasted with the power in her stance and her face is worth more than a thousand words.

Pages 62 and 63 include a poem called “Poverty” by Faith Turner.  This speaks of the poverty of the Native Americans but the richness of what they do have–each other.  Compare and contrast “Poverty” to the discussion of “Yo Soy Tambien America” by Mario Bencastro earlier in this article. How does “Poverty” speak to you in terms of the Native American experience?

Bucky: We need to be cautious not to assume that all Native American or Indigenous peoples narratives are narratives of poverty. Some criticism of “reservation novels” focuses on the tendency of those texts to show the reservation only as a decrepit place of dysfunction. There is a Native American middle class, though I admit it is probably true that when many think of Indigenous peoples, it is a narrative of poverty which dominates.

Sean: As I remarked in response to the first question on Dreaming in Indian, I think this poem does a good job of universalizing the experience of poverty. Having experienced different levels of (non-reservation) poverty at various times in my own life, I found my reactions more along the lines of “Yes, that’s just what it was like for me!” than “Wow, is that what it’s like for them?” Going beyond the book, Bucky recently turned me onto a great online article on Native American rap that I think is worth connecting to this poem and his caution against essentializing First Nations narratives as “poverty porn.” Posted last year, “Native American Rap Is the Most Authentic Rap We Have Today” feels almost like a multimedia extension of Dreaming in Indian.

-cj: I wouldn’t use this book to rehash what has been done for years, but rather stay grounded in the present. I googled Current Events within Native American Communities and got over fifty-seven million sites. I checked out three which I thought were very informative in many ways (got a couple of great recipes). Sounds like the beginning of a research project. Below are the sites I liked.




Bucky, you are usually my go-to-guy when it come to graphic novels and other contemporary form of expression. Can you think of any such examples to add here?

Bucky: I reiterate the importance of the link Sean mentions above. I was struck by the diversity of images and messages in the raps and felt knowing about the Native American rap scene helped me appreciate the texts we are discussing. Soon Marvel will release a series featuring a Native American character named Red Wolf. Even though the series has yet to debut, some feel the character’s representation is controversial (see http://www.themarysue.com/tom-brevoort-marvel-promotional-art/). Red Wolf has starred in an eponymous series before in the 1970s, and I think his new series will be one worthy of critical attention.

Jon: I commented on this poem earlier, but I’ll add just one more thought here. Reading Bencastro’s poem, I can’t help but feel (as a white, middle-class male) my own complicity in his situation, however unintentional that may be. Reading Faith’s poem on poverty has a similar effect when I consider the role that my European ancestors played in limiting the privileges available to Native American groups. At times, it feels like there’s little I can do to make amends for this history, but both poems suggest to me that finding value in Latino and Native American cultures, honoring them just as I honor my own cultural heritage, is a step in the right direction. And Faith’s poem helps me see the richness of her culture and points the way, I think, towards honoring that culture.

UTR: How could teaching this book, in any level classroom, help students truly understand what the Native American peoples endured throughout history and where they are now?

Sean: I think this book does an excellent job of helping students understand what Native American young adults experience now, which is clearly the legacy of an extensive history of neglect and oppression and likely more powerful for helping promote respect and cross-cultural understanding than an emphasis on the particulars of that history. When I taught Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee to a predominantly white classroom, the scope of the atrocities chronicled in Dee Brown’s classic frequently overwhelmed my students. I felt a sense of disempowerment among them, a helplessness to do anything about a monolithically horrifying history. In retrospect, I think a better approach would have been to start with a text like Dreaming in Indian to give students an encounter with “the now” of their peers in the Native American community, then gradually peel back layers of history to discover not only how their different worldviews were shaped by historical circumstances but also how “the now” is not a monolithically horrifying experience. The book has an empowering vision that undermines the “poor Indian – evil white” dichotomy they might otherwise interpret (and resist) from a first encounter with history. The contributors to the “Medicines” and “Dreamcatchers” sections don’t ask for readers’ pity as victims of history; they command readers’ respect as creators of a vital present.

-cj: And why not use this book in Art and Journalism, why only Language Arts or American/Canadian History? I am more for teaching the presence, how Native Americans peoples are as involved in this world as we are, and we have to start paying attention.

Jon: cj, I totally agree with your idea and would add, as I suggested above, that the book could have particular power in a History class. When we study history, we too often emphasize the sanitized accounts presented in history books that rarely explore multiple perspectives in any serious way. I recognize why our culture legitimizes such accounts as “true” but I also recognize how limited the “truth” is when it’s presented in these modes. I think there are truths contained in stories, personal memoirs, and the images presented in this book that cannot be captured or conveyed in traditional textbook accounts. Fiction, I think, should be fair game in a History class where we’re trying to understand the way historical events had an impact on real people and their lives.

Jen: I would love to use this novel as a,jumping off point for further research into the past and comparison with the present.  Yes, some Native Americans still live in poverty, but some are definitely middle class though many different opportunities. The fact remains that the joblessness and poverty on the reservations continues to be a problem. I would like kids to surmise how America would be different now if we hadn’t banished Native Americans to the places we did, so the “Americans” could enjoy the riches discovered in certain parts of our land.

unnamedBelow is an interview conducted with Arigon Starr, author of Super Indian, Vol. 1 and 2.  She is a Native American writer whose work we first came across in Dreaming in Indian.  Her work is self-published and her work with Super Indian brings a fresh look at graphic novels as well as the Native American perspective.


Why did you choose a graphic novel/comic format for your Super Indian character?  

Being a long-time comic book fan, I was hungry to see my people represented in the genre. Native folks have been featured in many mainstream comic book titles, but those titles were never created by us. “Super Indian” was a way for me to tell stories about people I know, in a genre I love and infuse the work with lots of truth and humor. Indigenous people have been telling stories with words and pictures since time began. I’m just following in my ancestors’ footsteps.


Why do you think it’s important for teens to read your books as well as other books about Native Americans?

Combating negative stereotypes is a 24/7 job. Images of Native people in feathers, leather and on horseback keep us stuck in amber. If you’re able to destroy a culture’s achievements and history and reduce them to caricatures, it’s as if they never existed.


What knowledge do you wish every high school student in America left with (in regard to Native Americans and their culture)?

Native creators will continue to echo this sentiment — We are STILL here. Our culture is thriving and surviving despite the genocide. Knowing who you are, where you come from and who your people are will always be important.


(Bilingual where noted. E – Elementary school, MG – middle grades, MS – Middle School, HS – High School)


Arte Público Press/Piñata Books
Featured publisher

Border Crossing by Maria Colleen Cruz. Piñata Books, An Imprint of Arte Público Press. 2003. MS Twelve-year-old Cesi has a mixed heritage, her mother is Irish and Cherokee and her father is Mexican though he never talks about his life before California. Cesi buys a bus ticket to Tijuana for herself to find out more.

Cartas del Cielo/Letters From Heaven by Lydia Gil. Piñata Books, An Imprint of Arte Público Press. 2014. Bilingual. MG Since her grandma Rosa’s death, Celesta has not known how to prepare dinner for her mother after work, but then mysterious letters start arriving from Grandma Rosa contain all their favorite Cuban recipes. Celesta knows her grandmother is watching over her.

Crossing Bok Chitto. Tim Tingle.  Cinco Puntos Press, 2006. (E) Martha Tom is a Choctaw who lives on one side of the Bok Chitto River.  In a story that is reminiscent of both the story of Moses as well as Harriet Tubman, Martha Tom befriends a slave boy, Little Mo,  on the other side of the river.  The law was that if slaves crossed the river to the Choctaw side, they were free.  What the slaves didn’t know was that the Choctaw had built a hidden stone path just under the water to cross to the other side.  When Little Mo’s mother is sold at a slave auction, Little Mo leads his family to the promised land.

Diary of an Undocumented immigrant by Ramon “Tianguis” Pérez. Translated by  Dick J. Reavis. Arte Público Press. 1991. MS/HS In this personal narrative, Ramon documents his decision to make the journey made by so many from his small village in Mexico, to the United States in hopes of a chance to earn money.

El Diablito y la Rosa/The Little Devil and the Rose by Viola Canales. Arte Público Press. 2014. MS/HS Canales graduated from Harvard Law School, served as a captain in the U.S. Army, and was appointed to the U. S. Small Business Administration by President Clinton before turning to writing. This collection focuses on her earlier life and is easily accessible to young people creating their own memories.

Eulogy for a Brown Angel: A Gloria Damasco Mystery by Lucha Corpi. Arte Público Press. 1992. HS and Adult. Damasco becomes involved with a murder investigation of two Hispanic males, a four-year-old boy and a teenaged gang member that lasts for two decades. Besides presenting a solid mystery, Corpi weaves several threads of society’s prejudical issues throughout.

The Fabulous Sinkhole and Other Stories by Jesús Salvador Treviño. Arte Público Press. 1995. MS/HS The first story in this collection, The Fabulous Sinkhole” sets the stage for the other stories. Briefly.  Mrs. Romero goes outside to water her gardens and discovers a hole, 3 feet in diameter, in her now flooded front yard–a sinkhole. As the Sinkhole grows neighbors gather, Mrs. Romero asks the children to pull out the items swirling and stack them off to the side.  All of the stories in this collection contain characters introduce in tthe first chapter and items from that pile. In “An Unusual Malady,” twelve-year-old Choo Choo, an aspiring writer, finds a typewriter, paper and pens in that pile and decides it is time to build his office, which he does behind and under the three apartment building he lives in. From there he can hear all the arguments in those three apartments, in one he and his family live, in another Mr Sabastino lives with his dog Peanuts and memories of his beloved wife, and in the last lives Julia Miranda, the love of Choo Choo’s life.

Hay Un Nombre Para Lo Que Siento Cuentos/There’s a Name for These Feelings Stories by Diane Gonzales Bertrand. Piñata Books, An Imprint of Arte Público Press. 2014. MS/HS Bilingual. These ten superbly written stories focus on teen characters in a single life circumstance in a variety of situations. In “Brake and Shift,” Joaquín decides to visit his elderly grandmother and finds her trying to drive her car and then rolling it out of her driveway right and into neighbor’s yard across the street. “Agapito” is about a boy who loves really fresh potato chips. Sixteen-year-old Ninfa Garcia, in “My Twisted Tongue”, wonders why her parents never taught her how to speak Spanish.

Juventud! Growing Up on the Border by René Saldaña, Jr. and Erika Garza-Johnson. VAO Publishing, 2013. MS/HS This collection contains 8 short stories and 16 poems assuring there is something for everyone. Priscilla Celina Suárez’s poem, When a Story is an Heirloom, values the stories told by an older generation that will join the stories of the younger generations. René Saldaña’s The Heartbeat of the Soul of the World starts at the graveside of PD, a student who had been killed by a drunk driver. Stevens, PD’s band director, spills out PD’s story and his love of jazz, the mixing of John Coltrane and Narciso Martinez, through memories of PD, a gifted musician.


Other works by René Saldaña, Jr.:

The Jumping Tree. Laurel-Leaf Books, 2002. MS.

The Whole Sky Full of Stars. Laurel Leaf Books,  2008.  MS/HS

The Case of the Pen Gone Missing/El Caso De La Pluma Perdida A Mickey Rangel Mystery. Piñata Books Books, Bilingual edition. translated by Carolina Villarroel, 2009. MG.

A Good Long Way. Arte Publico,  2010. MS-HS.

The Lemon Tree Caper/La Intriga Del Limonero: A Mickey Rangel Mystery. translated by Natalia Rosales-Yeomans, Piñata Books, 2011. MG.

Dancing with the Devil and Other Tales from Beyond. Piñata Books, 2012. MS-HS.

The Mystery of the Mischievous Marker / El Misaterio el Malvado Marcador. A Mickey Rangel Mystery.  translated by Carolina Villarroel. Piñata Books, 2013. MG.

Heartbeat of the Soul of the World. Juventud Press, 2015. Short story collection, MS-HS.


Little Havana Blues: A Cuban-American Literature Anthology by Virgil Suárez & Delia Poey. Arte Público Press. 1962. HS. Fifty-three years ago, Suárez & Poetry created this first anthology of Cuban-American works containing pieces from thirty-five authors in four sections, Poetry, Fiction, Drama, and Essay. Thoug many of them are now historic, several still speak to the same issues faced today.

Mi Sueno de America/My American Dream by Yuliana Gallegos. Piñata Books, An Imprint of Arte Público Press, 2007. MG  Bilingual. Having just moved to Houston, Texas from Monterrey, Mexico, Yuli and her little brother Alfredo must start a new school and learn English, which after one day in her fourth grade class, Yuli feared might never happen.

On the Other Side of the Bridge by Ray Villareal. Arte Público Press, 2014. MS/HS After thirteen-year-old Lon Chaney Rodriguez’s mother is shot and killed at her job as a security guard, his father’s drinking escalates and costs him his job. Before long they are homeless, but when Lon reaches out to one of his old teachers things slowly start to change.

Paraíso Portátil/Portable Paradise by Mario Bencastro. Arte Público Press. 2010. Bilingual. HS This collection of prose and poetry on the emigrants’ experience includes the poem “Yo también soy América.” Alternately magical and naturalistic, hopeful and bleak, each work captures the emigrant’s longing for reconnection with the people and spirit of the Central American homeland, complicated by a tension between the inhumanity of a war-ravaged old world and the inhumanity of an anonymous, illegal existence in the new.

Versos Sencillos/Simple Verses by José Martí, Translated by Manuel A. Tellechea. Piñata Books, An Imprint of Arte Público Press, 1997. Bilingual. With poems no longer than two pages the reader gets a sense of Cuba’s history in the late 1800s. This collection could easily be used in a history class for that time period and in literature class as the poetry is easily accessible to teens in middle school and up.  Many of the poems parallel events today.


Picture Books and Primary Books

El Gato Ensombrerado/The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (1957), translated by Georgina Lazaro and Teresa Mlawer (2015). Picture Book, Random House.  A very talented cat mesmerizes two children on a rainy day. Bilingual.

The Great and Mighty Nikko: A Bilingual Counting Book Written and Illustrated by Xavier Garza. Cinco Puntos 2015. Picture Book. At his bedtime, Nikko doesn’t count sheep, he counts and defeats ten luchadores (wrestlers), and then exhausted, he easily falls asleep.

Little Chanclas written and illustrated by Jose Lozano. Cinco Puntos, 2015. Picture Book. Everyone knows when “Little Chancias” arrives because her shoes/chancias click when she walks, but when one falls apart she doesn’t know what she will do!

Mango, Abeula, and Me words by Meg Medina, illustrated Angela Dominguez. Candlewick      Press, 2015. Picture Book. Mia’s far-away grandmother comes to live with Mia and her parents, however Abuela does not know English and Mia does not know Spanish, but with the help of a pet parrot their communication begins.

My Tata’s Remedies/Los remedies de me Tata  Written by Roni Capin rivera-Ashford and Illustrated by Antonio, Castro L., Cinco Puntos, 2015. Picture Book. Aaron wants to learn healing remedies from su Tata (grandfather) so he can also care for people.

Sonia Sotomayer: A Judge Grows in the Bronx / La Juez que Crecio en el Bronx by written by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Edel Rodiguez. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon and Schuster, 2015. Picture Book. Raised in a small family, her mother, her brother and herself, Sonia Sotomayer was imprinted with her mother’s drive to not only suceed but to accomplish many goals no matter what obstacles she would face. Bilingual with both languages on each page, the text is not the usual picture book text and the author’s note inside the back cover should not be overlooked.

Two Rabbits written by Jairo Buitrago, iIllustrated by  Rafael Yockten, translated by Elisa Amado. Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2015. Picture Book. While a young girl and her father travel by foot, by boat, by train, she counts things  as her father keeps them safe. (To mark the publication of Two White Rabbits,  Groundwood Books has made a donation to USBBY [www.usbby.org] in support of REFORMA’s Children in Crisis Project, which provides reading and writing materials to refugee children crossing the southern border into the United States.)


National Geographic
(Recently, NG has started publishing some of their younger reader English books also in Spanish, below is a list of their upcoming Spanish books for children aged 4-8 years in its National Geographic Kids Super Readers Series.)

Papa Francisco (Pope Francis) by Barbara Kramer, 2015. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Argentina, the first pope to come from the Americas and is often called “the people’s pope.”

Caterpillar to Butterfly/De la Oruga a la Mariposa by Laura Marsh. 2015. (All the books in this series are beautifully illustrated, but the photography in this particular book is exceptional.) Each butterfly goes through four stages– egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and finally the butterfly! As caterpillars grow, they shed their skins four or five times!

The Whales Grandes Migraciones: Las Ballenas by Laura Marsh 2015. Baby Sperm Whales weight approximately one ton at birth; males will grow to fifty tons as an adult and eat about one ton fish –octopus, fish, shark, skate and their favorite, squid every day which they find in their playground, all the oceans around the world!

Dinosaurs/Los Dinosaurios by Kathleen Weidner Zoeheld, 2015. From the biggest land animal ever–the Argentinosaurus to the smallest dinosauro you could hold in your hand–the Microraptor, these long dead creatures still amaze us!

Cats vs. Dogs/Los Gatos vs. Los Perros  by Elizabeth Carney. 2015. Dogs  ancestors are wolves, coyotes, and jackals and our pet cats ancestors are tigers, lions, lynxs, pumas, and leopards!

Wolves/Los Lobos by Laura Marsh, 2015.  Wolves travel in packs for protection and for help in hunting, led by an alpha male and a alpha female who are the best hunters so they get to eat first!

Pandas/Los Pandas by Anne Schreiber, 2015. A new born cub weighs about as much as an ice cream sandwich and once that cub starts eating his favorite food, bamboo, it will grow to about 250 pounds.

Penguins/Los Pinguinos by Anne Schreiber, 2015. Once the mother penguin lays an egg, the father cares for it while the mother goes away for months to find food. All of the fathers stand in a crowded group each with an egg between his feet!

Ponies/Los Ponis by Laura Marsh, 2015. A pony is a type of horse that has shorter legs and a wider body than standard horses and there are six different kinds; Dartmoor Pony. Assateague Pony, Welsh Mountain Pony, Exmoor Pony, Connemara Pony, and Norwegian Fjord Pony.

Sharks/Los Tiburones  by Anne Schreiber, 2015. With bright illustration, photography and information, the reader will learn more then they wanted to know about Sharks, especially about their teeth!

More to come in 2016  


Deadliest Animals/Los Animales Mas Mortales

Frogs/Las Ranas

Jump, Pup!/Salta, Cachorrito

Snakes/Las Serpientes


Middle Grade through High School Titles
from other publishers


Breaking Through by Francisco Jiménez. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001. MS/HS. This is the second book in Jiménez’s autobiography.  The second oldest of six children, the youngest four having been born in the USA, Francisco is fourteen when the book opens. With a strong sense of responsibility to his family but also to his future, the young Franciso works in the fields with his father and older brother/best friend, Roberto, and helps Roberto with his cleaning jobs where he carries flash cards to learn new American words. The sense of family is also a character in this book Roberto and Francisco contribute all their earning to the family’s needs. Other books in this series, The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant a Child (1997), Reading Out (2009), Taking Hold: From Migrant Childhoos to Columbia University (2015) are available in English and Spanish. NF

Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States. Edited by Lori Marie Carlson, Introduction by Oscar Hijuelos, MacMillan Children’s, 2013. Bilingual.  MS/HS. Much is expected of children that are Latino, they learn two languages, they live in two cultures.

Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young and Latino in the United States, Edited by Lori Marie, Introduction by Oscar Hijuelos. Macmillan, 2005. Bilingual.

Enrique’s Journey: The True Story of a Boy Determined to Reunite with His Mother (Adapted for Young People) by Sonia Nazario. Random House, 2013. MS/HS Nazario, a projects reporter for the Los Angeles Times, won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for her series, “Enrique’s Journey”. For her research, she took the same journey as Enrique would have taken and traveled through Mexico on the tops of trains. Enrique’s mother Lourdes left him and her daughter Belky when they were very small to make money in the United States to send to them, which she does, but the children miss her terribly. The book is told in two perspectives, the hardships and loneliness of Lourdes in the US and her children in Honduras.

SkateFate by Juan Felipe Herrera, Rayo Publisher, Spanish language imprint of HarperCollins, 2011. MS/HS Main character Lucky Z, confined to a wheel chair in his new foster home, creates an escape through writing in this novel in verse.


A Mix of Diversities

Winter Candle, written by Jeron Ashford, illustrated by Stacey Schuett. Creston Books, 2014. This is the poignant story of a lumpy candle stump that is passed from family to family in an apartment building in the city.  Nana Clover gets it from the super, then each family in turn needs a candle and borrows it from the last user.  The beauty of this book is that each of the families who use the candle use it for a different kind of celebration relevant to their culture.  Represented are:  Thanksgiving, Havdalah, Saint Lucia Day, and Kwanzaa.  It concludes when a Middle Eastern family uses it to light their window so their father, caught in a snow storm, can find their new apartment.  Wonderful diversity with a unifying element.  We loved this book so much, we’d like to incorporate some of the artwork into the column. (Click the thumbnails for larger versions.)

Winter Candle written by Jeron Ashford, illustrated by Stacey Schuett, reprinted with permission from Creston Books (www.crestonbooks.co)
Winter Candle written by Jeron Ashford, illustrated by Stacey Schuett, reprinted with permission from Creston Books (www.crestonbooks.co)


Native American Books

Crossing Bok Chitto by Tim Tingle.  Cinco Puntos Press, 2006. (E) Martha Tom is a Choctaw who lives on one side of the Bok Chitto River.  In a story that is reminiscent of both the story of Moses as well as Harriet Tubman, Martha Tom befriends a slave boy, Little Mo,  on the other side of the river.  The law was that if slaves crossed the river to the Choctaw side, they were free.  What the slaves didn’t know was that the Choctaw had built a hidden stone path just under the water to cross to the other side.  When Little Mo’s mother is sold at a slave auction, Little Mo leads his family to the promised land.

Dreaming in Indian, Edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale.  Annick Press, 2014.  (MS, HS) This is a series of vignettes, told in multiple voices and chapters, that shows the true experiences of Native Americans in our culture.  Organized into four different parts (Roots, Battles, Medicines and Dreamcatchers), the editors take the reader through both dark and light times in the culture of Native Americans.  This is a hard hitting look at the way Native Americans have been treated throughout the centuries in their own country.  A brief introduction to each contributor is listed in the back of the book with their tribe listed next to them.  A wonderful way to introduce students to Native American culture from their perspective.

House of Purple Cedar by  Tim Tingle. Cinco Puntos Press, 2014. (MS) Rose Goode barely survives the fire of 1896 at New Hope Academy of Girls in the Indian Reservation of Oklahoma (pre-statehood), although 20 other Choctaw girls were not so lucky.  Shortly thereafter, Rose’s grandfather, Pokoni, is beaten and humiliated at the local train station by the Mayor, with Rose and her sister as bystanders.  This is the story of how a Native American elder asked those of the tribe to use forgiveness and compassion to move through a difficult time even though the members were ready to revolt.  Rose’s coming of age is beautiful and the language is worth the read.  (Note:  This novel has one of the most brutal antagonists I’ve ever read.  Will stay with you long after reading)

Shi-shi-etko by Nicole I. Campbell (author), Kin LaFave (illustator), Groundwood Books/ House of Anansi Press, Toronto, Ontario, 2005. (E) Shi-shi-etko, whose name means “she loves to play in the water”,  is getting ready to leave for residential school in “four mornings.”  Each of her close relatives; her mother, father and grandmother, take her out into nature to preserve memories for when she is away at school.  Sights, sounds, smells and bits of nature go into a deer hide pouch for her to retrieve and remember when she returns to her village in the spring.  A poignant look at what a child had to give up in order to attend a residential school, where their native cultures and customs were often “weaned” out of them.  The digital illustrations are also breathtaking and move the reader seamlessly through the prose.

Super Indian. Arigon Starr.  Wacky Productions Unlimited.  2012 (GN) (MS). A very tongue-in-cheek look at a Superman-esque “Super Indian” who saves people throughout the city.  Nerdy janitor by day, Super Indian appears when you really need him.  The situations and pithy comments from SI makes for a humorous read.  Note:  Arigon Starr is one of the contributors to Dreaming in Indian.  Vol. 2 is also available.

Walking on Earth and Touching the Sky.  Edited by Timothy P. McLaughlin, Paintings by S.D. Nelson, Foreward by Joseph M. Marshall III.  Abrams Books, 2012. A compilation of poetry from Lakota children at the Red Cloud Indian School.  Much like a Dreaming in Indian for younger children.