In September, we shared lists of recommended reading from some Latinx authors and illustrators in Virginia, including author NoNieqa Ramos, author of Your Mama. As our 2021 Great Reads author, we invited Ramos to share more about why she loves the books she recommended. Keep reading to learn more about her recommendations…
“My first recommendation for Hispanic Heritage Month begins with one of those writers who gifted us with her art, Lupe Ruiz-Flores. She is the author of many award-winning bilingual children’s picture books including Let’s Salsa/ Bailemos Salsa, and The Battle of the Snow Cones / La Guerra de las Raspas. Lupe’s books invite readers of all ages to laugh, to dance, to dream, and to create.
When I first started my teaching career in San Antonio, Texas, one of my passions was to invite inspirational local creators, like Lupe, into my classroom. My elementary and middle school readers and writers experienced one of their first powerful, positive, and accurate representations of happy, healthy, flourishing Latinx families and communities in books. So did I. Picture books are for everyone. I wrote Your Mama as much for the mamas and caregivers as I did for the children.
Like me, many of my marginalized readers were robbed of the experience of representation in books, television, and movies that reflect the beautiful complexity of Latinidad. Even now, they are only beginning to catch a glimpse. I am grateful for the glittering glimpse artist Jacqueline Alcántara creates in her illustrations of the single-parent in Your Mama, both in her struggle and in her glory. Diverse books can provide medicine, healing, and recovery for the adults who read them. For the littles, they are nutrition, sustenance, and fuel. For society’s ills, they are part of the cure.
Part of healing and recovery is reclamation of our history and storytelling. When I read Juliet Melendez’s Latinitas to my child and we revel in the biographies of icons and sheroes Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Juana Azurduy de Padilla, Policarpa Salavarrieta, Rosa Peña de González, Teresa Carreño, Zelia Nuttall, Antonia Navarro, Matilde Hidalgo, Gabriela Mistral, Juana de Ibarbourou, Pura Belpré, Gumercinda Páez, and Julia de Burgos, we are both nourished.
Reading #OwnVoices BIPOC stories is nourishment for all children, all classrooms, all communities. We all need gold-standard books like Melendez’s Latinitas, Anika Denise Aldumay’s A Girl Named Rosita: The Story of Rita Moreno, Gloria Amescua’s Child of the Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua, Monica Brown’s Pelé King of Soccor / El Rey del Fúbol, and Mariana Llanos’s Run, Little Chaski!: An Inka Trail Adventure in the hands, hearts, and minds of all children.
Learning takes place in a safe space surrounded by a nurturing community. Dazzling books like Diana López’s Sing With Me: The Story of Selena Quintanilla create those spaces on every page. My kids and I love the picture book biography. López does a gorgeous job of showing the complexity of Latinidad through Selena’s journey to explore her roots. Selena struggled to learn Spanish, but she never gave up. She worked hard to embrace and illuminate her ancestry with her art. When my children read López’s story, they learn that despite the obstacles created by colonization and assimilation, they can persevere and receive the gifts of their ancestors.
In Ana Siquera’s picture book Bella’s Recipe for Success, Bella isn’t graceful and can’t cook well in the beginning: “Bella quits everything she (barely) tries because she’s a desastre. Her somersaults are like jirafas rolling downhill, her piano playing like elephant feet. When she decides to learn how to bake with her abuela, her first attempt at dulce de leche frosting looks like cocodrilo skin. She must learn it’s okay to try again.” Who she is as a Latina transcends particular actions. While many Latinx find common experiences in our love of dance did you know not every Latinx would like to break out into a choreographed dance routine? Did you know there are Latinx who love to eat the mofongo, but in fact, do not want to cook the mofongo? Bella’s Latinx identity is exemplified in her family love and support, traditions, and her journey to connect with her grandmother. This story flips the script because this Latina is not graceful or rhythmic, and can not cook well in the beginning. Who she is as a Latina is not embedded in particular actions, but exemplified in her family love and support, traditions, and her journey to connect with her grandmother.
The Grief Keeper by Alexandre Villasante and The Resolutions by Mia García are my YA recs for script-flippers. The Grief Keeper is a genius hybrid of a powerful queer immigration story and social justice manifesto, a captivating sci-fi tale, and a soft sweet romance. Villasante expertly writes about mental health like depression and suicide with authenticity, dignity, and hope. Readers will love the narrative of the television series woven into the narrative.
García flips the script in The Resolutions because of her treatment of queer characters and stories. She wrote the book she had not seen on the shelf growing up and the world queer children should be living in, where families, friends, and community is accepting and supportive of LGBTQIA is the norm, not the exception. Her queer stories are about young love, coping with heartache, and many of the great milestones and transitions that all teenagers encounter. She portrays more than one Puerto Rican character, including an Asian Latinx character. You can find future works of both these writers in an upcoming anthology Our Shadows have Claws edited by Amparo Ortiz (Blazewrath Games) and Yamile Saied Méndez (Furia), two other brilliant script-flippers.
For more recommendations of acclaimed award-winning books by Latinx creators from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Uruguay, just to name a few, explore Las Musas Books. You will find a treasure-trove of picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and young adult gems.”
To learn more about NoNieqa Ramos and her work, visit her website at NoNieqaRamos.com.