List Fun: Cybils Books with Latino Flair

I’m very passionate about diversity in YA and children’s literature. As a former bilingual teacher, I found a huge discrepancy on what was out there during the 1990s/2000s especially stories with Latin@ protagonists. This was the driving force behind me writing Earrings of Ixtumea which has a Latina protagonist being thrust into a parallel world where she has to confront the heritage she shunned. Now though, there are a few more books out there, which is a little step in the right direction.

Here’s a list of some YA/Children books taken from the Cybils 2014 nominated/finalist list. There’s a story about an undocumented Argentinean teen living in the New Jersey suburbs, a Mexican-American teen’s experience, a picture book with references to Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, to a Latino teen stuck on a cruise ship during a disaster. All these books and others on my list reflect the beauty of a culture I’m very proud to call my own!

livingThe Living by Matt de la Pena (YA Speculative Fiction winner): What starts as a way for Shy to earn money to help his family back in a small town close to the San Diego/Mexico border turns out to be a horrific ride when the dreaded ‘Big One’ hits the West Coast. Added to the mix is a deadly disease that has killed not only Shy’s grandmother, but others. The Living has a gripping plot featuring a Mexican-American protagonist and a cast of diverse characters. It starkly portrays racism and classism among the rich cruise patrons, and the greed that drives some in power to commit questionable acts. Sure to appeal to reluctant readers with its multi-layered characters and action-packed scenes, this novel nails the horror of being caught in a disaster and portrays the courage and strength that can come when people are faced with terrible odds.

gabiGabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (YA Fiction finalist): It’s so refreshing to read a novel that gets the whole Latina experience. Quintero shows us sixteen-year-old Gabi, who’s sassy, smart, hilarious, loyal, and struggles with her love of nom-worthy Mexican food. A chica after my own heart. I loved the whole voice of this novel so much. Reading it had me craving those homemade green tamales one of my former parents used to make for me every Tuesday. This novel is rich with insights into a very real teen who comes at age at the end of the book. I loved Gabi and know if I was a teen, I’d totally hang with her. I know readers will come to love her too!

blackdogBlack Dog by Rachel Neumeier (YA Speculative Fiction nominee): What I really enjoyed about this story had to be the twist on the whole werewolf premise. In this case there’s Natividad, a Latina protagonist who is ‘Pure’ and able to harvest magic. She also can help Black Dogs(werewolves) handle their magic. After their parents are killed in a village in Mexico, Natividad and her brother flee to Vermont. But trouble follows.

vivafridaViva Frida by Yuyi Morales (Elementary/Middle Grade Non-fiction nominee): I LOVE Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and this picture books shows illustrations of her life. Bilingual text helps readers with the Spanish.

feralcurseFeral Curse by Cynthia Leitich Smith (YA Speculative Fiction nominee): This paranormal series is filled with a wide assortment of diverse characters who also happen to be were-creatures in a Texan town. So not only do they face racism but also prejudice for being not all human. Campy dialogue is a sure win for fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and others who love a good diverse paranormal tale.

pigparkPig Park by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez (YA Fiction nominee): Fifteen-year-old Masi Burciaga loves her neighborhood outside of Chicago but everyone is moving after the closure of the Lard Company. Then an entrepreneur comes with promises to help but not all is what it seems.

sowingThe Sowing by Steven Dos Santos (YA Speculative Fiction nominee): Lucian “Lucky” Spark lives a double life under a brutal dystopian government. By day he’s an Imposer trainee while at night he sabotages the oppressors within while trying to avenge the death of his love Digory Tycho and rescuing his younger brother. Action packed from the first page, this novel has tons of appeal for reluctant readers. Plus, another added bonus has to be the diversity including Lucky who is a strong gay Latino male protagonist.

dangerousDangerous by Shannon Hale  (YA Speculative fiction nominee): Think Ender’s Game meets a diverse world. Maisie Brown wins a place at Dr. Howell’s camp and she’s thrilled as she always wanted to be an astronaut. What’s makes her stand out though is her ‘handicap’– she’s an amputee. Lots of action with tons of futuristic technology that’s sure to appeal to fans looking for a Sci-Fi novel with a diverse protagonist.

secretsideThe Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu (YA Fiction nominee): High school senior M.T. has a secret: she’s an undocumented teen living with the constant fear of being deported back to Argentina. What I loved about this story is how M.T. dispels the stereotypes on what an undocumented Latin@ looks like. M.T. is blond and fair skinned and blends in well in her New Jersey suburban. The fears she has are very real and ones that children and teens like her face every day. I know. As a former bilingual teacher I could share the many stories parents told me of this happening to the ones that suddenly ‘disappeared’ as they were sent back to their native countries. A total must read.

goldmedalGold Medal Winter by Donna Freitas (Middle Grade Fiction nominee): Readers are introduced to sixteen-year-old Dominican American Esperanza ‘Espi’ Flores, a figure skater with a dream to go to the Olympics. What’s great about this novel is having a Latina protagonist in the world of figure skating. Filled with behind the scenes drama of elite athletes. Sure to be a hit for those who love reading about figure skating.

– Kim Baccellia, Si Se Puede — Yes, you can!