When the Slave Esperança Garcia Wrote a Letter

EsperancaGarcia

Image Credit: House of Anansi Press (Groundwood Books), Sonia Rosa/Luciana Justiniani Hees

Women’s History Month is wrapping up and I’m going to officially end it on my blog by sharing the story of this strong black woman.

Esperança Garcia was an enslaved Afro-Brazilian woman, a mother, a wife and a writer. The author opens the book with the hope that the world will know her story and know her strength. Esperança’s family was enslaved by Jesuit priests but when the priests were expelled from Portugal and its colonies, her family was split apart. Under the Jesuits, though enslaved, she learned to read and write. At this time, very few women at all had this skill. Unfortunately, her life with her new owner was worse than with the Jesuits; she and her young children were regularly beaten and mistreated.

Esperança devoured books and knowledge because they gave her joy. But the more she read, the angrier she became about the injustices of slavery. With this passion for change in her heart, she decided she’d write a letter to the governor to tell about her suffering and ask for his help in sending her home to reunite with her family.  She also explained her dismay at not being able to baptize her young daughter. She carried on loving her children and working, toiling and waiting anxiously for a reply…Esperança was the first slave to write a letter of petition in Afro-Brazillian Brazil.

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Image Credit: House of Anansi Press (Groundwood Books), Sonia Rosa/Luciana Justiniani Hees

The writing of this book is gorgeous. This woman’s story deserves powerful illustrations and luckily, Luciana Justiniani Hees’ art goes above and beyond. I love how she draws Esperança and the slaves with their blue/black/purple skin and strong faces. Esperança’s cornrowed hair and features are beautiful. The colors Hees’ uses are so deeply vibrant and comforting despite the heavy subject matter of the book. My favorite spread is where Esperança rests in the slave quarters, body propped up and head rested on her hand as her children sleep beside her.

I’d never heard of this woman until now and I’m glad to know her. Thank you to Brazilian author and illustrator Sonia Rosa and Luciana Justiniani Hees and Groundwood books for publishing this book in North America. Check out When the Slave Esperança Garcia Wrote a Letter, discuss deeply and share her story. What is Women’s History Month if not an opportunity to learn about (and be reminded of) the strength of women?

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Afro-Brazilian, Brazil, Piauí, Black History, Slavery, Injustice, Black Girl Magic, Family, Community, Cultural Diversity, Diversity, Defiance, Determination, Inner Strength, Resistance, Education, Discussion, Religion, Non-Fiction, Biography
Book Info: When the Slave Esperança Garcia Wrote a Letter by Sonia Rosa/Illustrated by Luciana Justiniani Hees, 2015 House of Anansi Press (Groundwood Books), ISBN: 9781554987290

Follow the Drinking Gourd

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Image Credit: Dragonfly Books (Random House), Jeanette Winter

This classic from my childhood discusses the importance of allies on the road to freedom. Abolitionists helped fearless slaves free themselves from oppression. Peg Leg Joe, the abolitionist featured in this story, may or may not have been a real person but the Underground Railroad was definitely real.

In Follow the Drinking Gourd, Peg Leg Joe  works at cotton plantations with the sole purpose of teaching slaves his song, Follow the Drinking Gourd, which tells them how to get to freedom. One day, Molly’s husband James is sold to another master and they have only one more night together. Slaves often had their families suddenly torn apart in this way. But that night they hear a quail’s song, the first clue from the song to get moving towards freedom. They decide to make an escape.

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Image Credit: Dragonfly Books (Random House), Jeanette Winter

The family follows the Drinking Gourd (Big Dipper), remembering the lines of Peg Leg Joe’s song for guidance. They hide from hounds and look for signs that they’re heading in the right direction; North. They get help from farmers and finally meet up with Peg Leg Joe who takes them across the Ohio River to their next stop, the house of a white family. They keep moving from house to house and take time to rest and heal and even stay at the place of a free black man. The family finally makes it to Canada, to freedom.

This has always been one of my favorite books about slavery because it presents it in a clear, easy to understand way. Children who have no understanding of slavery will need some explanation as to why the family wants to escape. There are no happy slaves here; we see the family’s hesitation, worry, fear and finally joy and relief. Jeanette Winter’s illustrations are extremely moving; especially the one with James on the auction block, head down and distraught, “Negroes for Sale” below him. I read this book quite often when I was young, so much so that the images are still very familiar to me. Be sure to check it out and discuss! The complete song is included on the last page.

 

Recommended for: 1st grade and up
Great for: Slavery, Underground Railroad, African American, Injustice, Inner Strength, Fearlessness, Determination, Family, Relationships, Allies, Abolitionism, Astronomy, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-Fiction, Discussion
Book Info: Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter, 1992 Dragonfly Books (Random House), ISBN: 9780679819974

Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert

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Image Credit: Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Gary D. Schmidt/David Diaz

Martin de Porres was born to an African/Native slave mother and a Spanish nobleman father in the barrios of Lima, Peru. The priest of a cathedral reluctantly baptized him, not knowing or caring that Martin would grow to be a true man of God. Martin lived with his mother and sister in poverty until he was 8 years old when his father came and took them to Ecuador. Martin came back to Lima to be an apprentice to a surgeon (a cirujano) and excelled at it.

Because he was African, people were prejudiced towards him but his skills were obvious. He was gifted lemon seeds for helping a man and after planting them, the next day a tree grew. At fifteen he wanted to become a priest but was denied the opportunity due to his mixed-blood. He offered to clean, wash and care for the monastery instead. People started to notice his gift with animals and his amazing healing powers. He performed miracles. Everyone, from the poor to the rich, came to him when in need. After many years of service he was allowed to become a priest, was finally seen as a brother, and continued his good deeds until his death.

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Image Credit: Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Gary D. Schmidt/David Diaz

The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and soft. I also love Diaz’ work in Wilma Unlimited. He has a very distinct style. My favorite spread shows Martin blissfully surrounded by a horse, chickens, mice and dogs. They all show their love and appreciation for him and he gives it back just as much.

To his mother, Martin was always a Rose in the Desert but finally, despite his brown skin and heritage, he was seen as the true rose he was, by everyone. Martin de Porres was beatified in 1837 and finally canonized in 1962. He is the first black saint in the Americas! How fitting this caring and spiritual man of color be named the patron saint of brotherhood, those of mixed race, animal shelters, interracial relations and social justice!

I like finding unique stories. I’m glad to be able to share this one with you for Black History Month. 🙂

 

Recommended for: 1st grade and up
Great for: Catholicism, Saints, Miracles, Mixed-Race, Injustice, Discrimination, Peru, Helping Others, Animals, Community Service, Love, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-Fiction, Discussion, Biography
Book Info: Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert by Gary D. Schmidt/Illustrated by David Diaz, 2012 Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), ISBN: 9780547612188

 

Brick by Brick

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Image Credit: Amistad (HarperCollins), Charles R. Smith Jr./Floyd Cooper

This book is a tribute to the slaves who built the White House, a building never meant for their Black Bodies…but yet!

The writing of Brick by Brick is beautiful. Charles R. Smith Jr. plays with the word “hand” by focusing on the slaves’ hands while describing their position as hands, as workers. Slave hands, white hands and free black hands worked together but slave hands did the most of the hard work to build the original White House for John Adams. They hauled stone, laid brick and sawed through logs with blistered, tired, bleeding hands. They suffered while their slave owners took the money earned.

Yet, as oppressed people do, they survived, thrived and learned. As the White House came to completion, slaves were taught new skills to finish the fine interior work of the house. With these new skills, they were able to save money and work towards paying for their freedom. Brick by brick they built the massive structure but they also built a way out of enslavement. I love how Charles R. Smith Jr. works NAMES into the story. We read and speak aloud the names of these amazing people. By including the actual names of slaves who worked on the White House, he brings them to life for us and honors them.

Cooper’s illustrations, as usual, are skilled and moving. He depicts the slaves’ warm dark brown skin, strong hands and raw expression beautifully. For another example of his beautiful work, check out Ruth and the Green BookBrick by Brick‘s words and illustrations create a portrait of the people who built one of the most important buildings in our country. The White House is a symbol of “freedom” yet it was built by the hands of those who were not free. This book is excellent for sparking discussion and is important because it covers a part of history that may not be very well known. Enjoy this book, read the Author’s Note and talk, talk, talk!

 

Recommended for: 2nd grade and up
Great for:  Toil, Pain, African-American, Family, History, Slavery, Injustice, Rhythm, Rhyme, Read-Aloud, White House History, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-fiction, Discussion
Book Info: Brick by Brick by Charles R. Smith Jr./Illustrated by Floyd Cooper, 2013 Amistad (HarperCollins), ISBN: 9780061920820

Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal

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Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/R. Gregory Christie

“Bass shook his head. He hated bloodshed, but Webb might need killing.” OH SNAP.

The story starts in medias res with an action-packed showdown shootout! Reeves has the tough job of being a lawman in Indian Territory. Though Natives were forcibly moved to Indian Territory to live, Whites squatted there illegally. The Territory was ripe with outlaws, gamblers and dangerous people. Reeves was the perfect man to uphold the law; in addition to being clever, well respected and honest, he was a crack shot, tall, broad and strong. He grew up a slave in Texas but escaped after an altercation with his master to Indian Territory. There he lived with tribes and learned their ways and languages until the Civil War when he became free.

Reeves married, had kids and was hired on to be a Deputy Marshal for Indian Territory. Though he couldn’t read, he had an excellent memory and was known for his disguises and clever schemes to track down outlaws. Being a church-going man, he also tried to talk sense into the criminals. Though he was generally respected, he was still a black man with power and many whites weren’t keen on that. When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Reeves lost his job as Deputy Marshal but became a part of the Muskogee police force. In his entire career, he only killed fourteen men in the line of duty!!!

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Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/R. Gregory Christie

One issue I have with this book is the way in which the author addresses the murder of Reeves’ daughter in law. Reeves’ son Benjamin murdered his own wife because she was “untrue” and though sentenced to life, he only had to serve ten years because he was a “model prisoner.” Micheaux Nelson simply retells historical events (focuses on how tough this is for Reeves) but Reeves’ daughter in law has no agency in this story. She’s the victim of horrific violence yet we never learn her name, we don’t see her in the illustrations and there’s no mention of her in the material at the end of the book. This is unfortunate and I hope readers use it as an opportunity for discussion and to learn more about her. [After about 20 minutes of searching the internet, I found two sources that list her name, Cassie Reeves. Here and here on pg. 39.]

R. Gregory Christie’s illustrations bring Reeves and the unpredictability of the Wild West to life. He’s a great illustrator. Micheaux Nelson and Christie also collaborated on the excellent book, The Book Itch. In this book, Christie’s color palette is full of sandy browns, rich greens and dark colors. The first page with outlaw Jim Webb bursting through a window (shards of glass flying) to escape from Reeves on horseback is my favorite.

Be sure to check out Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal. He isn’t as well known as he should be and this picture book is an excellent introduction to his remarkable life.

 

P.S. HBO is making a mini-series about Bass Reeves. Click here for more information.

 

Recommended for: 3rd-4th grade and up
Great for: Western, Indian Territory, Native Americans, Oklahoma Tribes, Squatters, Fairness, Law Enforcement, Relationships, Family, Law, Discussion, Deputy U.S. Marshal, Outlaws, African-American, Slavery, Injustice, Respect, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-fiction, Biography
Book Info: Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, 2009 Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), ISBN: 9780822567646

Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Carole Boston Weatherford/Ekua Holmes

“We serve God by serving our fellow man.”

Fannie Lou Hamer spent her entire life doing just that, fighting for black people’s rights to equality and justice. This mighty woman was one of class, power, strength and dignity. I see my grandmother in Fannie Lou Hamer’s big body and I see my mother in her strength despite her weariness. She suffered yet continued to rise and speak, and sing, and empower.

Weatherford does an amazing job (as usual) of crafting Fannie’s voice as we follow her story from childhood to adulthood. The words of the book are a combination of Weatherford’s storytelling and Fannie’s powerful quotes. While reading, I reflected on history and couldn’t help but compare the struggles people faced during her time to those of people of color today. I admire her strength. She grew up poor, the youngest of twenty children, picking cotton in the fields while living and breathing injustice. From an early age, she saw that black people didn’t have it equal; that they had to work hard just to get a little.

Fannie eventually marries and loses the ability to have her own children (her body is policed by white supremacy and classism) but she yearns for change and starts to push for black voters’ rights. Her determination to vote brings attacks on her life but she keeps moving forward to become a leader of the SNCC. Her spirit is never broken. She runs for Congress several times and reaches back to help the younger generation with Freedom Summers. Towards the end of her life she starts programs to help poor folks and also wins a lawsuit to integrate the public schools of her home county in Mississippi.

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Carole Boston Weatherford/Ekua Holmes

I spent just as much time enjoying Ekua Holmes’ illustrations as I did Weatherford’s words. After reading the rich text I’d turn to the illustrations and let them have their turn speaking to me. So much is packed into her painting-collages; varying shades of brown for skin, angular faces, flower bursts, patchwork, and texture. I love the pages where young Fannie holds a cotton plant quietly as her family members drag the long white bags that resemble ghosts and the final page, an older Fannie’s strong and beautiful profile with the American flag behind her. Weatherford’s books always have amazing art and this one is no exception.

When I think on this woman, I wonder…was there ever a selfish bone in her body? No. Fannie Lou Hamer’s life was in every way about service.

What a picture book. What a way to start many meaningful discussions. Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement is deserving of all the honors it has received.

We’re still pushing ahead Fannie.

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Civil Rights, Diversity, Discussion, Jim Crow, Segregation, Racism, Community, Family, Relationships, Black Girl Magic, Strength, Determination, Friendship, African-American, Social Issues, Social Justice, Injustice, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books
Book Info: Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford/Illustrated by Ekua Holmes, 2015 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763665319

Ruth and the Green Book

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Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Calvin Alexander Ramsey/Floyd Cooper

Family vacations are an American staple right? They’re when we take time away from our jobs to get in a car, train or plane to travel and have fun. But can you imagine needing to rely on a little book to help you stay safe on the road? The danger isn’t from other cars or weather conditions; the danger is from people who don’t like you because of the color of your skin.

 

Ruth and the Green Book is a story based on real historical events. Like Ruth and her family, in the 50s, many Black families were prospering in the North but had to take precautions when traveling, especially back down South and into Jim Crow. In this story, Ruth’s dad gets a brand new car and they head from Chicago to Alabama to visit grandparents. Ruth tells the story from her perspective and we experience her confusion and anger towards segregation. She doesn’t understand why they can’t use the restroom at the gas station and why the white hotel owner won’t let them stay in the hotel but she sees the effects these events have on her family.

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Image Credit: Wikipedia.org (New York Public Library) 1940 Edition of The Negro Motorist Green-Book

“Whites Only” signs are everywhere on their journey but her family sings joyfully as they drive and enjoy each other’s company. They make do as oppressed people do! Ruth learns the hard truth about Jim Crow, but luckily a family friend along the route tells them to look out for Esso Gas Stations. Esso is one company that accepts black business. At the first Esso Gas Station they see, a black worker sells them The Negro Motorist Green Book which lists safe places for Black people to eat, sleep and rest on the road. As they travel, Ruth grows up and makes a new friend at one of the inns they stay at. The Green Book helps Ruth and her family get to Alabama safely and she reflects on how thankful she is for a nationwide network of black people looking out for each other!

I love Cooper’s illustrations. He uses muted colors of browns, greens, and blues and it gives the feel of an old soft crackly television. Warm, expressive brown faces and Ruth’s loving family are beautiful to see. I really like the design of the cover of the book with its swooping green retro font, Dad’s brand new “sea mist” green Buick, and Ruth smiling proudly as her mom holds her steadily (strength, determination and a little worry in her expression.) This book is excellent for ALL ages because it discusses an important (and probably little-known) aspect of Black History. Check it out and talk about it!

 

P.S. For more information on The Negro Motorist Green Book and to browse through one online, click here and here. These links are super cool. I really encourage you to take a look!

 

Recommended for: 1st Grade and up
Great for: Civil Rights, Diversity, Discussion, 1950s America, Jim Crow, Segregation Community, Family, Relationships, Friendship, Travel, African-American, Social Issues, Determination, Injustice, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books
Book Info: Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey/Illustrated by Floyd Cooper, 2010 Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), ISBN: 9780761352556

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore

 

Happy Black History Month!

Please use this concentrated acknowledgment of BLACK EXCELLENCE to learn something new and keep it with you throughout the year.

I’ll be reviewing quite a few books for Black History Month this year so I hope you’ll enjoy my posts!

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Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/R. Gregory Christie

The Book Itch was recently awarded the Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Honor and for good reason. Not only are the illustrations cool but the content!! The content is gloriously heavy. It’s inspirational and thought provoking. This is a unique book.

The story is told by the son of Lewis H. Micheaux, the founder & owner of the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem. “Louie” as his father calls him, takes us back to 1960s Harlem, explains the significance of the bookstore and tells a story that honors his father’s brilliance and determination. The bookstore is more than a bookstore, it’s a gathering place, a refuge, and space for knowledge and politics. All types of people visit, even Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X! We get to experience Louie’s sheer amazement and adoration when he meets such powerful Black figures of the time.

I love Lewis H. Micheaux’s way with words. His catch-phrases and poetic slogans are catchy and real. “Don’t get took! Read a book!” encourages young people of color to educate themselves through reading; a message as important today as it was in 1960s America! He constantly encourages his son to read and learn so that he can sort out the truth of the world. This book doesn’t shy away from discussing civil rights and racial issues; the bookstore often hosts rallies and Micheaux jokes “Anytime more than three black people congregate, the police get nervous.” The later half of the story explores Micheaux’s close friendship with Malcolm X. As the reader finishes the book, he/she is left thinking about the power of words and are reminded that some are willing to die for freedom.

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Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/R. Gregory Christie

R. Gregory Christie’s paintings are excellent at creating place and mood. He places the reader directly in Harlem, on its streets and in the bookstore with its large collection of books knowledge. He draws long lanky bodies again like he did in Freedom in Congo Square but this time he focuses on detailed faces and expressions. His palette is dark and earthy and suits the story.

Please take time to read and discuss this book! The last few pages tell more about Lewis H. Michaeux’s life and there’s a great Author’s Note. I’m so grateful that Vaunda Micheaux Nelson created this book to share her great-uncle’s story; it’s a moment of Black History that I didn’t know about. The Book Itch is one of the strongest non-fiction historical books for children to come out in 2015. Oh the power of books…and words.

 

P.S. I love endpapers and this book has GREAT ones! Check out some of Micheaux’s “poetry” 🙂

 

Malcolm X delivering a speech outside of one his favorite places, The National Memorial African Bookstore, in 1961.

 

Recommended for: 2nd-3rd Grade and up
Great for: Civil Rights, We Need Diverse Books, Diversity, Discussion, 1960s America, Community, Black Bookstores, Family, Relationships, Friendship, Harlem, Lewis H. Micheaux, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Non-Fiction, Power of Words, Social Issues, The National Memorial African Bookstore, Determination, Injustice, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books
Book Info: The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth and Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, 2015 Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), ISBN: 9780761339434

A Chat With Duncan Tonatiuh

Duncan Tonatiuh’s work is some of the most important work in children’s literature right now. His books speak truth, teach our realities and his art isn’t too bad. 😉 He creates picture books that cover topics like immigration, city vs. rural life, friendship, art history, discrimination, prejudice, determination and history. You can read my reviews for Funny Bones and Salsa here.

Funny Bones was the very first book I reviewed for my blog, so it holds an important place in my blogging life. Through reading and experiencing his books, I became more interested in learning about him. He’s a very cool person! Let’s get on to the interview…

 

AliaQ1. What are three words to describe yourself?

Duncan: Thats a tough one. One would be responsible or dependable.

Alia: Yeah I know! I like to ask people this though…

Duncan: Creative maybe? Smart sounds conceited but something to do with being a thinker. Thoughtful?  That is what I can think of for now.

Alia: That’s great. Thank you.

Duncan: Calm maybe?

Alia: 🙂

Duncan: No problem.

AliaQ2. Congratulations on your baby daughter! Has having a child influenced how you see yourself as a storyteller?

Duncan: I’m sure it has. But I’m not quite sure how yet. It’s definitely had a huge impact in my life. My world does not revolve around me anymore by any means. And I feel an enormous and unconditional love for my daughter. It’s a wonderful feeling.

AliaQ3. The first time I saw your books, your art made me cheer. It’s such a beautiful display of indigeneity. The Mixtec codex influence. Do you mind discussing your style and how it developed?

Duncan: I went to design school in New York City. There is a large Mixtec community there. I became friends with a Mixtec guy named Sergio. For my senior thesis I decided to make a small comic book about his journey from his small village in the south of Mexico to working as a busboy in a restaurant in New York.

One of the first things I did when I began that project was go to the library to look up Mixtec artwork. I found images of Mixtec codex from the 15th century. I was blown away by them. I grew up in Mexico, so I was familiar with Pre-Columbian art but never paid much attention to it. When I saw images of the codex at the library I decided I would make a modern day codex of Sergio’s story.

I began emulating the drawings from the codex. I drew every one in profile. I stylized their ears to look like a number 3. I drew the character’s entire bodies, etc. I collaged my drawings digitally though to make them feel more modern.

Alia: That’s awesome! You kind of touch on that modern day application of art in your book about Diego Rivera. How he’d view the world now and create it in his style. I love how you take ancient art from your culture and make it modern for today’s children. I really really like how you use digital collage too! It makes the images pop.

Duncan: Thanks!

Alia: No problem!

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Image Credit: Dear Primo, Abrams Books for Young Readers, Duncan Tonatiuh

Q4. What was your favorite food growing up?

Duncan: Hmmm. Maybe enchiladas or pozole. When I was a kid I asked my mom why my Dad always got to pick what we were having for lunch. She said it was because he gave her the money to buy the food. At some point I got a job after school helping out a jewellery maker. When I got paid I gave the money to my mom and asked her to make enchiladas.

Alia: Hahaha. That sounds like something my mom would say. 🙂

Duncan: lol

AliaQ5. Your books are very powerful and full of history and perspective. They also have the ability to reach any child in the world. What do you hope children take away from your books?

Duncan: Thanks! Well, first and foremost I hope they find my books entertaining and interesting to look at. I make books about things that interest me. Hopefully young readers will find those things interesting and important too. I try to have a message in my books but I hope they don’t feel preachy or didactic.

When it comes to Latino children I hope they see themselves, their family and their community in the books. Hopefully they feel pride and realize that their voices and stories are important. For non-Latino children, I hope they learn about a different culture. With books like Pancho Rabbit or Separate Is Never Equal, I hope that they feel empathy and understanding of the struggles Latino children and people have to face sometimes.

One of the most rewarding moments I’ve had as an author is when a group of 4th graders from an Elementary in Texas wrote a multi-voice poem about their border crossing experiences after they read Pancho Rabbit. I feel my book encouraged them to speak and realize that their voices and stories are important. Let me find the link:

 

Alia: Thank you for sharing and that is amazing. I’m glad for your books because it is so important to not only share stories, but to create stories that children can relate to. Children of color sometimes need that boost, that representation. That’s why diverse books are so important. For teaching and learning, and inspiring as in the case of those 4th graders! 🙂

Duncan: 🙂

AliaQ6. Congratulations on all the recent honors (Sibert Award/Pura Belpré Honor/NCTE Honor) for Funny Bones! Have you received any feedback from kids on that book?

Duncan: Thank you! I’ve received a few calavera drawings from students. And I’ve seen projects that they’ve created at school for the Day of the Dead. I look forward to receiving more feedback from kids and seeing how they respond to the book and what resonates with them.

Alia: How cool! When I was a teacher in Korea, I learned about Day of the Dead to share with my students. In Korea, they have a holiday called Chuseok where they also honor ancestors, make an altar of food, and clean graves. They seemed to connect with it, especially since they saw some cultural similarities. They were a little surprised about the calaveras though. But when I showed them the sugar skulls, they wanted to taste them. lol!

Duncan: lol

Alia: Yeah my students were cute.

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Image Credit: Salsa, Groundwood Books, Duncan Tonatiuh

Q7. For the book Salsa, you illustrated words that weren’t your own. What was it like working with Jorge Argueta?

Duncan: The majority of picture books are written by one person and illustrated by another one. The publishing company pairs the two together. I did not meet Jorge until after I had illustrated the book. That is often the case with picture book authors and illustrators. I enjoyed illustrating Jorge’s book and we have become friends, but we didn’t work on that book together; at least not at the same time.

I finished illustrating a book recently for another author, a woman named Susan Wood. We’ve only met once very briefly. I enjoy illustrating other people’s stories but I like writing and illustrating my own books the best because I have a little more control. I can change the text or the illustrations as I need and hopefully that makes the book flow more smoothly.

Alia: That’s really interesting. I’ve also noticed that for some smaller publishers, the author can have some say in who they’d like to work with and there’s more dialogue during the creative process. I think the book came out really nicely.

Maybe also, like any piece of art, a book that is written and illustrated by you is your complete piece and like you said, you can tweak and bend the product to be exactly what you like and want to say.

Duncan: Definitely. And I’m not sure but I think the publisher asked Jorge if he thought I would be a good fit for the manuscript he wrote. He didn’t give me comments on my illustrations and sketches but he had the opportunity to look at some of my work first I believe.

Alia: Thanks for the insight!

Q8. You touched on it a bit above but are there any upcoming projects you can share with the public yet?

Duncan: I have two picture books coming out this fall. One will be called The Princess and the Warrior; A Tale of Two Volcanoes. I wrote and illustrated it. It’ll be published by Abrams. The book is my own version of the origin legend of two volcanoes that are outside of Mexico City: Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. The story is set in Pre-Columbian times and it has some similarities to Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet.

The second book is called Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist. It’s written by Susan Wood and illustrated by yours truly. It’ll be published by Charlesbridge. The book is about a Mexican composer who is considered the creator of lounge music. It was fun to illustrate. It’s a groovy and swanky book with a lot of hand-drawn text in it.

Alia: Oh man, I’m looking forward to both!!

Duncan: Thanks! Me too!

AliaSide note: While studying your books for this interview, it was fun to see how your art style has evolved over time. In Dear Primo compared to Funny Bones, your lines now are a little cleaner, the hands of the people are smaller and they have necks! So interesting to see.

Duncan: Yeah. That is true. Sometimes I miss some of the rawness of Dear Primo. I am hoping to experiment a little more with upcoming projects. I want them to still be in my style but I also want them to evolve or change a little depending on the project.

Alia: Looking forward to how your style grows.

Q9. Any place or food you really recommend during a visit to your hometown of San Miguel de Allende?

Duncan: San Miguel is a great place to visit. A few years ago it was voted “Best City in the World” by Traveler’s Magazine. I think one of the things that visitors like about it is that there is nice combination of high-end and cheap options. There are some really good fancy restaurants but also great cheap street tacos.

My favorite place in town is probably the library. It has a wonderful courtyard. I love going there to write, draw and read. Some good places for visitors are the crafts market, the botanical garden, the Fábrica la Aurora -an old factory that was converted into art galleries- and the hot springs.

Alia: Fábrica la Aurora sounds sweet! A great space for creativity. Thanks for sharing!

 

Thank you Duncan for taking time to talk with me. I really enjoyed our conversation and I’m excited for all the books coming from you (this year and years to come!). Yay!

Be sure to check out his:

Website, http://www.duncantonatiuh.com/

Facebook Page, https://www.facebook.com/DuncanTonatiuharte/?fref=ts

Blog, https://duncantonatiuh.wordpress.com/ 


 

Thanks for reading! ❤

My Seneca Village

MySenecaVillage

Image Credit: Namelos, Marilyn Nelson

 

My Seneca Village is a mighty work. Marilyn Nelson, as she describes in the introduction, connected to the people of Seneca Village while spending years researching the community and this is very evident in how heartfelt and moving this collection of poems is. Seneca Village was a community in New York City located where Central Park now is. It was a community of mostly African American families, with Irish, German, Jewish and some Native Amerian residents. It existed from 1825 to 1857; in 1857 all residents were forced to move out by the city in order to build the park. With this forced removal came the end of a rich, vibrant and thriving community.

What My Seneca Village does so beautifully is bring Seneca Village back to life. Through original poems, Nelson honors and creates a voice for its residents. We learn their stories, we see young dreamers, young love, life, death, gossips, mischievous children, racism and strength. Some of the residents we meet are real people who lived in Seneca Village, others are fiction and we also meet huge historical figures, like Frederick Douglass, who stop through the village to give moving speeches. It’s hard to narrow this book into one category because it does so much. Nelson’s poetry is powerful. One of my favorite stanzas is from the village’s Reverend Rush during an anti-abolition riot:

 

                                      “I asked everyone to bow their heads and pray.

                                        Pray for this nation’s struggle to be free

                                        for ALL Americans. Equality

                                        must be bitter, if you’ve always been on top,

                                        and you’re slapped awake out of a lifelong sleep.

                                        Pray we’ll pull together toward a common hope.”

 

Over a hundred years later and we’re still struggling for the same thing. I’m glad for this story. I’m glad to know about Seneca Village, I’m glad that this novel is being read nationwide and I encourage you to read this book and travel to Seneca Village.

 

P.S. Just wanted to note how nice this book is. Namelos is a small publisher and I can’t remember the last time I picked up a book with such nicely inked letters.

Also, here’s an interesting NPR article about the play The People Before the Park.

 

Recommended for: 12 and up
Great for: Poetry, Everyday Life, Community, History, Seneca Village, American History, African American, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Racism, Family, Love, Friendship, Relationships, New York, Eminent Domain, Injustice, Central Park
Book Info: My Seneca Village by Marilyn Nelson, 2015 Namelos, ISBN: 9781608981960