Mexican? American? What is it like to be a Mexican American today? These books, mostly novels, explore life and issues for Mexican American youth. Like many first, second, or third generation immigrants, it’s not uncommon to have a foot in both worlds, especially if relatives still live in Mexico. To better understand their history and culture, a few folktales and biographies are included.

Web links to additional information and activities about Mexican history and culture follow these reviews.

Contributor: Peg Glisson


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Fifteen-year-old Ari is a loner who is trying to figure out his place in the world when he meets Dante, a boy from another school. Despite their many economic, social, and personality differences, they quickly become best friends. It’s complicated though; Ari wallows in his loneliness and anger caused by family secrets around his older brother who is in prison and his father’s service in Vietnam. Dante, on the other hand, is outgoing, open, and erudite. The novel quietly and poetically explores family relationships, sexual and ethnic identity (both boys are Mexican Americans), heroism, PTSD, and drug and alcohol experimentation without being overwhelming. Ari narrates the story and it’s easy to slide inside his mind as situations play out. He calls himself “inscrutable” and readily admits he doesn’t understand himself–and neither does the reader who lives Ari’s confusion, loneliness and anger throughout. Saenz never minimalizes or sensationalizes events and feelings; rather he quietly explores Ari’s hesitant journey from childhood to manhood. Both boys have incredibly understanding parents, especially given that the story is set in Texas the 1980s. Otherwise characterizations are extremely well done, as is the novel’s pacing. The book reads quickly, yet the reader feels suspended in time, living the year with Ari and Dante. As Ari confronts his deeply buried desires and fears, it’s his parents who help him realize that making mistakes is part of life and encourage his taking off his self-imposed the blinders. As much about family, friendship, communication as it is about sexual identity, this is a truly powerful story. 2012, Simon and Schuster, Ages 13 up, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Peg Glisson (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9781442408920


Alex Sanchez

Diego MacMann is a good student, but he has a temper he cannot control. When he assaults another student, he lands in court. He is assigned a probation officer, Mr. Vidas. Something about the way Mr. Vidas looks at him allows Diego to trust him. After discovering that Mr. Vidas wants to recommend a suspended sentence, Diego goes against legal advice and requests to be placed on probation in order to retain him as his probation officer. In their weekly meetings, they explore the causes of Diego’s anger, his obsession with self-mutilation, and his suicidal tendencies. Slowly Diego learns that if he is ever to take control of his life, he must deal with the abuse he suffered at the hands of his stepfather. Sanchez’s novel unfolds slowly, layer by layer. Although more sophisticated readers might see the signs of abuse early on, for many younger readers the cause of Diego’s anger is revealed as Diego puts the pieces together. The description of the abuse does not pull any punches. Mr. Vidas forces Diego to face what has happened. The subject matter and descriptions are graphic, in keeping with the events that have taken place; however, the novel’s emphasis is on trust, dealing with trauma, learning to love, and rebuilding one’s life. Although this novel will not appeal to every reader, for those trying to understand traumatic events in their life or the lives of others, it has much to offer. 4Q 4P J S. 2010, Simon & Schuster, $7.99.

REVIEWER: Christine Sanderson

ISBN: 9781416937746

Cesar Chavez: A Photographic Essay

Ilan Stavans

Minimal text and multiple black-and-white images dramatically introduce readers to an important fighter of civil rights for minorities. Stavans begins by noting “the silence” (p. 11) given Spanish-speaking Americans in history books, monuments, and museums even though America is “a true multiethnic tapestry” (p. 11) and writes that Chavez is “a lens for viewing the nation’s past in a broader, more comprehensive fashion” (p. 12). When the Chavez family lost their farm, Cesar left school after grade eight and went to work as a migrant worker, with “no home, no secure job,” a “nerve-wracking existence” (p. 24). In 1952 he joined Fred Ross, who needed a Spanish-speaker from the Mexican-American migrant culture to help in his work with Latino civil rights groups. Uniting farm workers to improve wages and working conditions required a willingness to take risks, which Chavez willingly did over the next forty years. He used an arsenal of nonviolent tools to draw attention to the plight of minorities, even, as a devout Catholic, challenging Church leaders to help those struggling for justice. The photographs well document the multiple facets of Chavez’s character: pensive, somber, happy, serious, weary, and weak from lengthy fasts. But the photos show mostly a determined man who loved all people and worked tirelessly to bring economic justice and equality to all. After he died in his sleep in 1993 at age 66, President Clinton posthumously presented the Metal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor a U.S. citizen can achieve, to his wife Helen. A detailed chronology helpfully provides a context for events pictured. Highly recommended to broaden readers’ understanding of lesser-known threads that wove together the fight for civil rights in the last half of the 20th century and that will help readers understand the continuing problems today. 2010, Cinco Puntos Press, Ages 12 up, $13.95.

REVIEWER: Mary Bowman-Kruhm, Ed.D. (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9781933693224

Chavela and the Magic Bubble

Monica Brown

Illustrated by Magaly Morales

Chavela, a young Mexican American girl, loves chewing chicle (gum) and is exceptionally good at blowing bubbles with it. One morning, on her weekly Saturday trip with her grandmother to the corner store, Chavela spots a new type of gum called “Magic Chicle.” She chews it and discovers she can float with the giant bubble she blows. The gum carries her all the way to Mexico, where she meets chicleros (gum collectors), who are extracting chicle from sapodilla trees, and a girl who mysteriously reminds her of her grandmother. Chavela sings, dances, and learns about how chicle is extracted from the trees and turned into chewing gum before journeying back to her home. Illustrator Magaly Morales’s colorful, bold and bright acrylic artwork, with its curves, swoops, and sense of motion, depicts Chavela’s journey and discoveries with delight in this whimsical story about a loving grandmother-granddaughter relationship that captures the essence of magical realism and offers a gratifying resolution. Highly Commended, 2011 Charlotte Zolotow Award CCBC Category: Picture Books for School-Age Children. 2010, Clarion, Ages 5-9, $16.00.

REVIEWER: CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices).

ISBN: 9780547241975

Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin

Duncan Tonatiuh

Charlie, who lives in America, exchanges letters with his cousin Carlitos in Mexico. Carlitos describes his life on a farm amid the mountains, including the Spanish names for what is around him. Charlie in turn depicts his city and skyscrapers. They talk about their different ways of getting to school, subway versus Bicicleta; the games they play, basketball versus futbol; the foods they eat; and what they do with their friends. Carlitos and his parents shop in an open-air market, while Charlie and his mom go to the supermarket. They write about the entertainments around them and their holiday traditions and celebrations. Together they conclude that they should visit each other. The boys are depicted on the cover in a stylized manner influenced by some ancient Mixtec and other Mexican artifacts. The illustrations combine Tonatiuh’s hand drawings with other pre-structured materials, colored and collaged digitally. They are just detailed enough to compare the lifestyles of the cousins. Along with a glossary, the author has included a note about the relationship of his life as both a Mexican and an American to the story. 2010, Abrams Books for Young Readers, Ages 4 to 8, $15.95.

REVIEWER: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780810938724

Diego Rivera: His World and Ours

Duncan Tonatiuh

Duncan Tonatiuh’s picture book account of Mexican painter Diego Rivera’s life and work as an artist begins by looking at the painter’s education, artistic influences, and desire to make art about and for the people of Mexico. “He wanted to celebrate the things that were special to Mexico and wanted Mexicans, from all distant parts of the land, to learn about their culture and feel proud.” Tonatiuh then imagines what Rivera might choose to paint if he were alive today, connecting the possibilities to the art for which he is known. “Would he paint the big city … as he painted the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan? … Maybe Diego would paint shops at the mall … as he painted street vendors selling flores.” He notes that Rivera’s dream of a better future for “the common people” is something the painter celebrated in his art, and today “it is up to us to make our own murals and bring them to life.” Tonatiuh’s arresting and distinctive visual style is inspired in part by ancient Mexican art. A glossary defines terms relating to art and to Mexican heritage, and an author’s note provides more details on Rivera’s life, as well as Tonatiuh’s own artistic influences. CCBC Category: The Arts. 2011, Ages 6-9, $16.95.

REVIEWER: CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices).

ISBN: 9780810997318

Fiesta Babies

Carmen Tafolla

A vibrant picture book celebrates very young children and elements of Latino culture and family life. Each double-page spread features a rhyming couplet describing “fiesta” babies in action (“Fiesta babies sing along / to Grandpa’s favorite mariachi song!”). A detailed illustration decorates the page of text, while the full-page illustration opposite depicts a colorful scene featuring one or more young children engaged in the activity described. Both the short, bouncy narrative and the art that accompanies it are full of energy and appreciation for Latino culture, and all children. The artist focuses on Latinos in scenes depicting family life and shows children from diverse backgrounds in other scenes. CCBC Category: Picture Books for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers. 2010, Ages birth-3, $12.99.

REVIEWERS: CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices).

ISBN: 9781582463193

From North to South

Renae Colato Laainez

The characters in this story try to make the best of a very difficult and sad situation. Jose’s mom is an undocumented immigrant who was deported when police raided the Tijuana factory in which she worked. Jose and his father visit Jose’s mother, who is staying in temporary housing. Jose enjoys the time with his mother and she does her best to reassure him that the lawyer is working very hard to get her home as quickly as possible. The ending is not the hoped-for happy family reunion, leaving us to wonder about Jose’s future. Jose’s family situation is far too common among undocumented immigrants. Although this complex situation is difficult to convey to children, the author is does so quite effectively. The illustrations seem to soften the gravity of the book’s theme while engaging the reader in believable family interactions. 2010, Children’s Book Press, Ages 6 to 10, $17.95.

REVIEWER: Mandy Cruz (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780892392315

A Good Long Way

René Saldaña Jr.

Three Mexican American teens discover some important life lessons in this moving account of one twenty-four hour period. After a fight with his father, Beto decides to run away and drop out of school. His best friend Jessy is counting the days until she can leave the violence of her house–she no longer thinks of it as home–and has dreams of college and a new life. Roelito wants to heal the rift between his father and older brother Beto. In fact, all three fight against the assumptions of teachers and adults around them. Roelito wishes for teachers to see him as something other than the little brother of a troublemaker. Beto wants his father to quit telling him what to do and acknowledge him as the adult he is about to become. Jessy’s greatest hope is for everyone around her to see past her tough girl facade. While rooted in a particular place and time–a modern, working-class Texas neighborhood–Saldana successfully conveys universal truths about growing up. A distinctive narrative voice represents each teen’s story–Beto in a limited third person, Roel in first, and Jessy in an unusual second person. Twice, an omniscient narrator links all three voices into one story that has both grit and heart. Teen readers will easily find themselves in this tale of teens seeking both family solidarity and independence, and desiring recognition for their own unique, individual talents. 2010, Pinata Books/Arte Publico Press, Ages 13 up, $10.95.

REVIEWER: Leona Illig (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780385740395

Grandma’s Chocolate

Mara Price

Illustrations by Lisa Fields

Spanish translation by Gabriela Baeza Ventura
In this bilingual book that celebrates Mayan heritage, readers also learn about the history of one of the world’s favorite treats–chocolate. When Sabrina’s grandmother visits from Mexico, she brings surprises: a whistle, a drum, hair ribbons, and chocolate. The young girl weaves the red, white, and green ribbons into her hair to look like a Mayan princess; a beautiful green huipil, or traditional blouse, that her grandmother gives her adds to the effect. As Sabrina and her grandmother talk, readers learn about cacao trees and seeds and their uses. From functioning as currency to their transformation into hot chocolate, the value of the seeds is made clear. Attractive illustrations that depict the story as well as images of long vanished Mayan royalty will help make the book attractive to young readers. The book would make a good addition to public libraries, especially those that serve a Spanish speaking population. It would also serve nicely as a supplement to classroom lessons on Mayan history. 2010, Pinata Books,Ages 5 to 8, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Ramirose I. Attebury (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9781558855878

Grandpa’s Magic Tortilla

Demetria Martainez

Illustrations by Lisa May Casaus

Spanish translation by Rosalee Montoya-Read.

When Alejandra, Benjamin and Daniel go to stay with their grandparents in New Mexico for the weekend, Grandpa gets up early to make homemade tortillas for breakfast. One of the tortillas gets burned and Grandpa sets it aside. After breakfast the children go out to help with the farm chores and chat about the burnt tortilla. Benjamin insists to his siblings that he saw a bear in the tortilla. Daniel says he saw a dolphin, and Alejandra did not see a thing. So the boys bring their sister in to have another look. The children marvel as the shapes on the burnt tortilla change before their eyes. When Grandma comes in to make Grandpa’s quesadilla, the children try to convince her that she must not use the magic tortilla for Grandpa’s snack. Though unable to see what they see, Grandma agrees to put the tortilla aside for later. The children excitedly tell the neighbor children what they’ve seen; still the adults can’t see it. When one of the hungry neighbor children eats the tortilla, everyone is disappointed. The siblings feel so bad that they draw all sorts of animal pictures as consolation. Grandpa reassures the kids that every day is another opportunity to make tortillas. While a very charming idea, the story falls short and leaves the reader wanting more, and the abrupt ending leaves much to be desired. 2010, University of New Mexico Press, Ages 7 to 10, $28.50.

REVIEWER: Mandy Cruz (Children’s Literature).
ISBN: 9780826348623

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors

Francisco X. Stork

The deaths of his father and sister within three months have made seventeen-year-old Pancho the newest resident at St. Anthony’s, a home for orphaned and abandoned boys. D.Q., a resident who is terminally ill with cancer, quickly pegs Pancho as his new best friend. Pancho resists the role, but D.Q. wants someone in his corner and senses there’s something Pancho wants, too. D.Q. is going to Albuquerque to try a new treatment regime his mother insists upon. She abandoned D.Q. years before in a time of crisis, and now she is fighting for his life even if it means alienating him further. And it turns out a way to get to Albuquerque is exactly what Pancho has been hoping for. The man he believes is responsible for the death of his developmentally disabled sister lives there, and Pancho plans on killing him. Francisco X. Stork’s astoundingly beautiful novel explores complex emotions of characters who are fully realized as they weave their way into one another’s hearts and minds. With its suspenseful and satisfying conclusion, this story affirms the power of caring and love to reveal meaning and value in life. CCBC Category: Fiction for Young Adults. 2010, Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic, Age 14 and older, $17.99.

REVIEWER: CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices).

ISBN: 9780545151337

La LLorona: The Crying Woman

Rudolfo A. Anaya

Illustrations by Amy Caordova

Translation by Enrique R. Lamadrid

On the very day that villagers in ancient Mexico celebrated the Festival of the Sun a baby girl was born. Maya was born with a sun shaped birthmark on her shoulder, the priest who blessed her told Maya’s parents that she would never die. She grew to be a lovely young lady who was loved by all of the gods but detested by Father Time who would not tolerate immortality by Maya or her future offspring. In fear that Father time would take her future children Maya was hidden in the jungle by her parents. Growing lonelier by the day Maya wished for company, a wise owl overheard her and told her how to grow a baby in a clay pot. As long as Maya kept the clay pot safe, Maya’s baby would be safe from Father Time. Eventually Maya grew more babies and guarded more pots and soon after her fifth baby, Father Time found Maya and her children. He tricked Maya into destroying the clay pots allowing him to run off with her children. Once she realized she had been tricked Maya was devastated. She was doomed to spend her immortality crying for her children. Hispanic children grew up being warned that la llorona, the crying woman, would steal them away if they were bad, wandered off or disobeyed. She was the boogeyman. The story is beautifully told, illustrated and translated; the legend of her wailing transforms believers from fearful children into sympathetic adults while introducing a new generation to legends told by our ancestors. 2011, University of New Mexico Press, Ages 8 to 10, $19.95.

REVIEWER: Mandy Cruz (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780826344601

Let Me Help!/Quiero ayudar!

Alma Flor Ada

Illustrations by Angela Domainguez

An unrelenting pet parrot wants to help with whatever he can throughout the 31 pages of this exquisite bilingual book. The parrot’s repetition of the phrase, “Let me help! Let me help!” as a family prepares for the Cinco de Mayo celebrations will resonate with English and Spanish young readers. The parrot’s insistence ranges from trying to help with everything from making tamales to creating tissue flowers, braiding hair with ribbons to practicing with the mariachis, and even baking batches of pan dulce. His persistence does pay off when the parrot finally gets to help out by doing something no one else can–perching himself on top of the boat float which has become damaged. The translation is adequate for English and Spanish readers. The illustrations are eye-catching for young readers and the vibrant colors catch the mood of a fiesta. The themes of perseverance and helping others can be explicitly taught with this picture book. It is a wonderful bilingual read! 2010, Children’s Book Press, Ages 7 to 10, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Rosa Roberts (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780892392322

The Living

Matt de la Peña

Shy Espinoza takes a summer job working on a cruise ship hoping to earn some extra cash to help his family and find a way out of his impoverished life. On board, he meets a rag-tag gang of friends, including the girl who may be his soul mate, Carmen. One stormy night, the world is forever changed when THE big one hits California and a tsunami leaves him stranded at sea with the spoiled Addie. The story then enters into act two–a survival story. After days at sea and near death, they are rescued by the mysterious Shoeshine who takes them to a research island that hides secrets. What happens next will leave readers waiting for the next installment. de la Pena manages to pack a lot into The Living: there is an examination of social class; a pandemic (already in existence and effecting Shy’s life); the adventure saga at sea; and a conspiracy plot all of which take the reader on a whiplash adventure. In less deft hands, the pieces could fall apart, but de la Pena manages to make it all work. There are a few convenient coincidences that come into play but in the end, readers just will not care because this is an excellent, enthralling ride. Shy is an interesting main character with an authentic voice, and as events unfold, he is forced to examine who he is, how he views others, and how he responds to the world around him. A great read for those looking for adventure and survival stories with some good

REVIEWER: Karen Jensen (VOYA, December 2013 (Vol. 36, No. 5)).

ISBN: 9780385741200

Maximilian & the Mystery of the Guardian Angel: A Bilingual Lucha Libre Thriller

Xavier Garza

“This action packed bilingual mystery novel uses playful language that reinforces elements of Mexican-American culture and overflows with almost unbridled excitement for Lucha wrestling.” – The Pura Belpré Committee, 2012

ISBN: 9781933693989

Milagro of the Spanish Bean Pot

Emerita Romero-Anderson

illustrations by Randall Pijoan

Folktales in the Southwest frequently start with the phrase, “It as a time of no rain,” and drought features prominently in this perfect story of Raymundo’s quest for water, skills, and neighborly feeling between Spanish villagers and the Native people who share the land. The story is told with the fluid rhythms of the Southwest, the cadence of a Spanish story told in English. Raymundo is a multi-dimensional character struggling with issues of faith and why his miracle icons will not bring the much needed rain to save his bean crop or provide a means of fixing his mother’s cracked bean pot. As neighbors fall ill from drinking stagnant water and malnutrition, they look for a scapegoat and focus on Clay Woman, a Native American potter, and Fools Crow, a tribal medicine man. The two are accused of witchcraft, but Raymundo thinks otherwise. He admires their skills and wants to learn to be a potter like Clay Woman. Raymundo is a boy with an open mind and an open heart. His dedication to learning and loyalty to his friends and family are admirable traits. There are many discussion starters in this book: differences in the practices of faith, how outsiders are marginalized by communities, and the importance of passing on heritage and skills to another generation. Randall Pijoan’s illustrations evoke the colors and primitive beauty of Santa Fe artists and bring an authentic look to the text. A glossary of Spanish terms is included, but many of the terms will be understood from the text. It is wonderful to find a book that raises issues of cultural difference in a respectful context that educates all readers as to different landscapes and customs. 2011, Texas Tech University Press, Ages 8 to 12, $18.95.

REVIEWER: Lois Rubin Gross (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780896726819

Summer of the Mariposas

Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Life is feeling a little out of control for 15-year old Odilia Garza and her four younger sisters–Juanita, twins Delia and Velia, and little Pita. Their Papa left almost a year ago and has not been heard from since. Their Mama, who never completed high school, is working nights as a waitress and just seems lost in her own sadness. The Garza girls run wild, ignoring chores and taking off to go swim in the Rio Grande every chance they get. Then one day, a dead body floats into their little eddy of the river and magic enters the picture. Odilia is visited by the spirit of a woman grieving her lost children–a figure of Aztec myth named Llorona. She charges Odilia and her “hermanitas” (sisters) to take the dead man back to his family in Mexico and then go find their father’s mother, Abuelita Remedios, who they have not seen in years. So begins a daunting adventure as the girls take off in their father’s old car, and with a little help from Llorona’s magical earrings, successfully fight off demons, witches and vampires before reaching the sanctuary of their grandmother’s home and care. The sisters have had to support one another to survive and, with some guidance from Abuelita Remedios and the Virgin of Guadalupe, come to understand they must continue to work together to help their Mama become fully herself after the devastation of Papa’s abandonment. Based loosely on both The Odyssey and on Aztec legends, this story celebrates the power of women and the bonds of family. An extensive Spanish-English glossary helps the reader with frequent use of Spanish terms in the text. An Author’s Note provides additional insight for understanding the character and significance of Llorona. This book will resonate with those navigating the difficult waters of divorce and/or single-parent families. 2012, Tu Books/ Lee & Low Books, Ages 12 up, $17.95.

REVIEWER: Paula McMillen, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9781600609008

Sylvia and Aki

Winifred Conklin

In 1942, when the Munemitsu family is forced to leave their farm and live in a Japanese internment camp in Arizona, the Mendez family leases the farm. Before leaving for Arizona, third-grader Aki Munemitsu hides her favorite doll and her Westminster School class photograph on the shelf in the back of the closet. When they move into the house, Sylvia Mendez dreams of attending third grade at Westminster School. Her dream turns into a nightmare when the school officials state that the Mendez children must attend the “Mexican” school even though it is farther away. Sylvia’s father, a naturalized U. S. citizen, is determined to fight this policy. In the meantime, Sylvia discovers Aki’s doll in the closet. She meets Aki and the girls become pen pals and friends. The story is told in chapters that alternate between Sylvia and Aki as they relate their feelings and events between 1942 and 1955. Each chapter begins with either a Mexican or Japanese proverb, which captures the essence of that part of the story. Both girls face prejudice and segregation. They discover that friendship can cross cultural boundaries. Based on a true event, Conkling clearly presents the issues and the historical background that culminate in Gonzalo Mendez v. Westminster School District of Orange County, a case that influenced Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Readers will cheer their friendship and the beginning of the breakdown of “separate but equal.” The girls’ stories, photos, and the afterword combine to bring these historic events to life. For those who want to know more, there are titles for further reading, and a bibliography that includes court documents, a film, books, articles and interviews with Aki and Sylvia. 2011, Tricycle Press, Ages 9 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sharon Salluzzo (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9781582463377

Tia’s Tamales

Ana Baca

Translation and illustrations by Noel Chilton

Despite the title, this bilingual story isn’t so much about making tamales as it is about making connections between generations and making the most out of a tough situation. On a snowy day, Luz’s abuelita arrives to teach her to make tamales, but soon dives into telling a story about her father, Diego, and a wintry visit from his tía. Although the chickens aren’t laying and the cupboard is bare, thanks to some ingenuity, Tía has a feast cooked up in no time. Chilton’s figures resemble cutout paper dolls, with drop shadows adding to a three-dimensional effect. Luz gets the best of what strong family connections offer: stories, skills, and even the occasional heirloom. 2011, Univ. of New Mexico, Ages 7-up, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly).

ISBN: 9780826350268

Tortilla Sun

Jennifer Cervantes

Twelve-year old Izzy is a struggling author and unwilling nomad who knows nothing of her father except that he died before she was born. Izzy’s mother won’t talk about him. They’ve just unpacked their belongings in yet another apartment when Izzy finds a baseball that belonged to her father, sporting part of a mysterious message. Before she can ask about it, Izzy gets packed off alone to spend the summer with a grandmother she can’t remember in a place she’s never been. The New Mexico village is a welcoming, colorful place with a wind that speaks to Izzy. As the weeks pass, Izzy learns bits and pieces about her father and forms strong bonds with her grandmother; Maggie, a little orphaned girl who becomes part of the family; and Mateo, a thirteen-year-old neighbor. But the end of her stay is near, and Izzy is impatient to learn the whole story about her father. She begs the village storyteller for a spell that lets people talk with ghosts. Izzy convinces Mateo to come with her on her midnight journey to the river to recite the spell, and little Maggie secretly follows. Stormy weather and Izzy’s temper send her and Maggie plunging into the raging river. Izzy’s supernatural request is answered, but the cost is dear. Can Izzy pull Maggie out of the coma? Can she forgive her mother for her secrecy? Can she find a home at last? The story unfolds gently, slowly, grippingly, with laughter and tears, plain food and supernatural seasonings for healing hurting souls. The hard-covered, almost-square book feels easy in the hand and stays open where you ask, revealing a story of family, friendship and belonging that begs to be read. 2010, Chronicle Books, Ages 8 to 1, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Heather N. Kolich (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780811870153

Under the Mesquite Sun

Guadalupe Garcia McCall

A novel in poems chronicles Lupita’s journey through high school, when her family faces the challenges of her mother’s cancer diagnoses and treatment At times, Lupita feels everything in her life is inconsequential compared to her mother’s illness, but when friends accuse her of being too white because of her academic achievements, her pain and anger are vivid. While her father cares for her mother, Lupita cares for her younger siblings. But after her mother’s death, she must choose between honoring her father’s wishes that she stay at home, and following her dream of going to college in a new place. Author Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s beautifully written novel in Lupita’s first-person voice captures the flow of life on both sides of the border as Lupita’s family, which lives in a Texas border town, regularly goes back and forth to visit relatives in Mexico. Deep love for her family grounds Lupita in both places, and that love is what sustains her, and also what challenges her as she thinks about moving beyond grief into a future of her own making. CCBC Category: Fiction for Young Adults. 2011, Lee & Low, Ages 12-16, $17.95.

REVIEWER: CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices).

ISBN: 9781600604294

Updated 06/01/14

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