Growing an Artist: The Story of a Landscaper and His Son/Cultivando a un artista: la historia de un jardinero paisajista y su hijo by John Parra

Published by Simon and Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

Summary:  The narrator spends the day helping his father with his landscaping business.  It’s hard work, and one of his classmates snubs the boy when he sees him working in his yard.  But visiting the dump and choosing plants from the nursery is fun, and his dad’s enthusiasm about his business is contagious. Everywhere they go, the boy pulls out his sketchbook and draws what he sees.  Their last visit is to a couple who want to transform their overgrown yard.  When the boy gets home, he begins to create a design for the new yard.  His dad agrees to use his plans.  “You have a gift,” says his mother, as he looks at all the sketches he’s made of his day.  Includes an author’s note about his father’s landscape business and how he helped his dad as a child.  Available in English and Spanish. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This would make a great mentor text for memoir/narrative writing. Belpré honoree John Parra brings to life a story which is clearly close to his heart.

Cons:  I would have enjoyed seeing a side-by-side illustration of the boy’s blueprint and the finished yard he helped design.

The Year We Learned to Fly/El año en que aprendimos a volar by Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by Rafael López

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

The Year We Learned to Fly - Kindle edition by Woodson, Jacqueline, López,  Rafael. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
El año en que aprendimos a volar (Spanish Edition) - Kindle edition by  Woodson, Jacqueline, López, Rafael, Canetti, Yanitzia. Children Kindle  eBooks @ Amazon.com.
The Year We Learned to Fly: Woodson, Jacqueline, López, Rafael:  9780399545535: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  From the team that brought you The Day You Begin comes this picture book about a brother and sister going through a difficult year.  There’s boredom in the spring when the weather keeps them inside, sibling fights in the summer, loneliness in autumn, and finally, a move away from the familiar neighborhood in winter.  Each season, their grandmother reminds them, “Lift your arms, close your eyes, take a deep breath.”  When they do, the two children are able to fly, looking down on their city and letting go of their difficult feelings.  In their new house, other kids are initially unfriendly, but when they see the two who can fly, they close their eyes, take a deep breath, and join them.  Includes an author’s note acknowledging Virginia Hamilton’s The People Could Fly: Black American Folktales as her inspiration for this story.  Available in English and Spanish. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I probably shouldn’t start predicting the 2023 Caldecott the day before the 2022 awards will be announced, but I do love Rafael López’s beautiful illustrations that perfectly complement the intriguing, poetic text by Jacqueline Woodson.

Cons:  Don’t hurry through the story; there’s a lot to unpack in both the text and the illustrations.

I have a discussion guide for this book on Teachers Pay Teachers that includes discussion questions, vocabulary, and connections.

¡Mambo Mucho Mambo! The Dance That Crossed Color Lines/El baile que atravesó la barrera de color by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Published by Candlewick

Amazon.com: ¡Mambo Mucho Mambo! The Dance That Crossed Color Lines:  9781536206081: Robbins, Dean, Velasquez, Eric: Books
Amazon.com: ¡Mambo Mucho Mambo! The Dance That Crossed Color Lines:  9781536206081: Robbins, Dean, Velasquez, Eric: Books

Summary:  In the 1940’s, young people danced in groups divided by race and ethnicity.  Millie danced to jazz in her Italian neighborhood, while Pedro danced to Latin songs in his Puerto Rican community.  But then a band called Machito and His Afro-Cubans started mixing things up, using jazz trumpets and saxophones with Latin maracas and congas to make what they called Latin jazz.  In 1948, New York City’s Palladium Ballroom broke the rules by opening its doors to everyone and hiring Machito to play for them.  It brought together Millie and Pedro, who danced a new dance called the mambo–and danced it so well that they became the best at the Palladium, the best in New York City, and finally, the best in the United States.  Includes an author’s note with more information on Machito, the Palladium, and the dancers mentioned in the text; also a list of resources.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The realistic oil painting illustrations and the brief text capture the movement and energy of the dancers, as well as the different groups that came together at the Palladium.  The back matter adds good informational value.

Cons:  No photos.

Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Magaly Morales

Published by Harry N. Abrams

Pura's Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories -  Kindle edition by Pimentel, Annette Bay, Morales, Magaly. Children Kindle  eBooks @ Amazon.com.
Pura's Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories:  Pimentel, Annette Bay: 9781419749414: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Pura Belpré grew up in Puerto Rico, surrounded by a family of storytellers.  When she moved to New York City, she missed those cuentos and visited her branch of the New York Public Library to discover the stories there.  The librarian noticed her interacting with others in both Spanish and English and offered her a job.  Pura loved reading to kids but couldn’t find any books with the Puerto Rican folktales she grew up with.  She broke with protocol by telling a story instead of reading it during an evaluation with library administrators.  They were so impressed that they gave her special permission to use her storytelling skills (instead of reading a book) during library story hours.  She was a pioneer of bilingual story hours, making the library more inviting to Spanish speakers.  In her retirement, she worked on writing down some of the stories, making her beloved cuentos available in published books.  Includes an author’s note, a list of Pura Belpré’s books, and other sources.  40 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  I almost passed by this book, thinking that everything I needed to know about Pura Belpré I learned from 2019’s Planting Stories by Anika Aldamuy Denise.  I’m glad I didn’t, as I found it charming and engaging, telling the story of this fascinating woman with slightly dreamy illustrations that incorporate a lot of Spanish words.  Planting Stories won a Belpré honor, and this book is worthy of one as well.

Cons:  Seems like it would be in keeping with Pura’s spirit to have a Spanish version of this book, but I couldn’t find one.

My Two Border Towns/Mis dos pueblos fronterizos by David Bowles, illustrated by Erika Meza

Published by Kokila

My Two Border Towns: Bowles, David, Meza, Erika: 9780593111048: Amazon.com:  Books
Mis dos pueblos fronterizos (Spanish Edition): Bowles, David, Meza, Erika:  9780593325070: Amazon.com: Books
Mis dos pueblos fronterizos (Spanish Edition): Bowles, David, Meza, Erika:  9780593325070: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  A boy and his father take a Saturday morning trip over the border to Mexico, something that is obviously a familiar routine for them.  As they approach the bridge, Dad reminds him that the land once belonged to the Coahuiltecans before it became two countries.  They enjoy coffee and hot chocolate in a restaurant, then head out for their errands, visiting relatives and shopping for friends.  When it’s time to go back home, they have one more stop to make part way across the bridge.  It’s lined with people camping there, refugees from the Caribbean and Central America who can’t get into either Mexico or the U.S.  The boy and his father distribute much of what they’ve bought that day to the people on the bridge: food, medicine, comics.  “All the way home I imagine a wonderful day, when all my friends from the Other Side can go back and forth between my two border towns, just like me.”  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  An uplifting but realistic look at the life of an American boy who still has close ties to his Mexican heritage–and who is being taught empathy and compassion as he and his dad consider the plight of their friends waiting to gain admittance to one country or another. 

Cons:  A little back matter with additional information about the border and/or refugees would have been a nice addition.

Bright Star/Lucero by Yuyi Morales

Published by Neal Porter Books

Bright Star: Morales, Yuyi: 9780823443284: Amazon.com: Books
Cover Reveal: Bright Star / Lucero by Yuyi Morales

Summary:  “Child, you are awake! Breathe in, then breathe out, hermosa creatura.  You are alive! You are a bright star inside our hearts.”  A fawn travels through a desert landscape with its mother.  When it discovers the destruction of the beautiful cacti and a wall blocking its way, the mother is comforting, encouraging her fawn to speak up with a “No!”.  The fawn imagines a beautiful healed world, which includes human children: “You are a bright star inside our hearts.”  Includes a note from the author giving eleven reasons she wrote this book, which include a wish to show the environment of the borderlands, and its destruction from building fences and walls; also, a list of source materials. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I’m putting this on my list of books to watch for Caldecott and/or Belpré recognition.  The illustrations are amazing, Spanish and English are effortlessly woven together in the text, and the back matter adds extra depth.

Cons:  It took me a few readings to fully understand what was going on in the story. That may be the book–there’s definitely more than meets the eye–or possibly my brain.


Isabel and Her Colores Go to School by Alexandra Alessandri, illustrated by Courtney Dawson

Published by Sleeping Bear Press

Isabel and her Colores Go to School (English and Spanish Edition):  Alessandri, Alexandra, Dawson, Courtney: 9781534110632: Amazon.com: Books
Isabel and her Colores Go to School (English and Spanish Edition):  Alessandri, Alexandra, Dawson, Courtney: 9781534110632: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Isabel’s got the typical first-day-of-school jitters, but she has an additional worry: she doesn’t speak much English.  She begs not to go; her mother is understanding but insistent, offering her this advice: “Al mal tiempo, buena cara.  To bad times, a good face.”  Things are tough at first, and when a girl named Sarah offers to be her friend, Isabel doesn’t understand and shakes her head.  In the afternoon, though, there’s time to draw, and Isabel loves using all the colors.  Remembering Mami’s advice, she draws two faces and shows them to Sarah, along with the word “Amigas”.  The rest of the class enthusiastically admires Isabel’s picture, and Isabel ends up thinking that maybe school won’t be so bad after all.  The story is told in both English and Spanish and includes two pages of Spanish to English translations for the words used in the story.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A perfect back-to-school book for ELL students, particularly those who speak Spanish.  The story captures the worries of learning a new language and fitting in, with a realistically hopeful ending.

Cons:  I hope Isabel can get some good ELL services at school.

A Song of Frutas/Un Pregón de Frutas by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Sara Palacios

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

A Song of Frutas: Engle, Margarita, Palacios, Sara: 9781534444898: Amazon.com:  Books
Un pregón de frutas (Song of Frutas) (Spanish Edition): Engle, Margarita,  Palacios, Sara, Romay, Alexis: 9781534494763: Amazon.com: Books
A Song of Frutas: Engle, Margarita, Palacios, Sara: 9781534444898: Amazon.com:  Books

Summary:  When the narrator visits her abuelo, she loves helping him sell fruit.  Together they make up a song to let people know the fruits they have, “Mango, limón, coco, melón, naranja, toronjo, plátano, piña.”  On New Year’s Eve, many customers buy grapes so they can gobble up twelve at midnight, making a wish for each chime of the clock.  The girl’s last wish is always to be able to visit her grandparents more often, but much of the time they have to make do with letters that travel between the U.S. and Cuba.  Includes an author’s note with additional information about Spanglish, travel restrictions to Cuba, los pregoneros or the singing vendors, and New Year’s Eve. Available in Spanish and English. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The lively narration and colorful illustrations present an inviting portrayal of Cuba that would pair well with All the Way to Havana for a Cuban/Margarita Engle story hour. Well deserving of some Pura Belpré recognition.

Cons:  Eating twelve grapes on the stroke of midnight sounds challenging.

Sing With Me: The Story of Selena Quintanilla/Canta Conmigo: La Historia de Selena Quintanilla by Diana López, illustrated by Teresa Martínez

Published by Dial Books for Young Readers

Sing with Me: The Story of Selena Quintanilla: López, Diana, Martinez,  Teresa: 9780593110959: Amazon.com: Books
Canta conmigo: La historia de Selena Quintanilla (Spanish Edition): López,  Diana, Martinez, Teresa: 9780593323304: Amazon.com: Books
Sing with Me: The Story of Selena Quintanilla: López, Diana, Martinez,  Teresa: 9780593110959: Amazon.com: Books

Summary: Selena’s love of singing is obvious from the first page of this biography, in which she’s using a rolled tortilla as a microphone.  She started at a young age, and by the time she was nine, she was singing in a band at the family restaurant with her siblings on drums and guitar.  Hard economic times meant losing the restaurant and a move to Corpus Christi, Texas, where the family bought a bus and went on the road to perform.  Wanting to connect with her audience, Selena taught herself Spanish so she could sing the much-loved Tejano songs, ultimately succeeding in the male-dominated field of Tejano music.  The story ends with Selena’s final concert at the Houston Astrodome performing before over 60,000 people, inviting them to “¡Canta conmigo!”  Includes author’s note with additional biographical information and a list of Selena’s studio albums.  Available in both English and Spanish versions. 32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  Another great picture book biography about Selena that can be paired with last year’s Selena: Queen of Tejano Music.  This one emphasizes Selena’s hard work and how she overcame sexism and racism to succeed.  With the Netflix series introducing Selena’s music to a new generation, there’s sure to be a big demand for both of these books.

Cons:  Selena’s marriage is covered in one sentence, with no mention of her married name Perez, and her death is described in the author’s note simply as “she was killed on March 31, 1995”.

Areli Is a Dreamer: A True Story /Areli Es Una Dreamer: Una Historia Real by Areli Morales, a DACA recipient/beneficiaria de DACA, illustrated by Luisa Uribe

Published by Random House Studio

Spanish and English versions available

Areli Is a Dreamer: A True Story by Areli Morales, a DACA Recipient:  Morales, Areli, Uribe, Luisa: 9781984893994: Amazon.com: Books
Areli Es Una Dreamer (Areli Is a Dreamer Spanish Edition): Una Historia  Real por Areli Morales, Beneficiaria de DACA - Kindle edition by Morales,  Areli, Uribe, Luisa. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
Areli Es Una Dreamer (Areli Is a Dreamer Spanish Edition): Una Historia  Real por Areli Morales, Beneficiaria de DACA: Morales, Areli, Uribe, Luisa:  9780593380086: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Areli Morales tells her story, beginning with her childhood in Mexico where she lived with Abuela.  Every Saturday her parents would call from the United States, and Areli dreamed of the day she could join them there.  Her older brother Alex lived with her, but eventually was able to leave, because, unlike Areli, he had been born in the U.S.  Finally, when Areli was in kindergarten, she got word that she would be able to join the rest of the family.  When Areli arrived, she was thrilled to be with her parents and Alex, but struggled to learn English and fit in at school, where kids sometimes called her “illegal”.  As the years passed, things got easier, and a fifth grade field trip to Ellis Island made Areli realize how many other immigrants had come to America just like she had, and helped her to dream of a bright future in America.  Includes an author’s note about her DACA status: how she obtained it, what opportunities it opened up for her, and how it has been threatened.  40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  Areli’s story is told in a way that will engage younger readers but also show older kids the experience of immigrating to the U.S. and what it means to be a DACA recipient.  Kids who have had an experience similar to Areli’s will appreciate her story, and those who haven’t will get a child’s perspective on what it’s like.

Cons:  I liked Areli’s author’s note, but I would have liked even more information or additional resources about DACA.