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YA Lit Reviews
Latina/o - American Lit

Latino/a Culture encompasses many different groups of people and the writings available should reflect these multiple social and cultural experiences. Unfortunately, literature published in the U.S. has not always reflected this. New insider stories are necessary to create a wider understanding of groups of people, and erase negative stereotypes that were seen as reality. That doesn't mean that there should only be stories written by insiders. Outsiders can and should write about others, but when they do it should be done with love and respect for the community they choose to write about. 


The writers in this section are all insiders, and that positioning has enhanced the works that they have created.



Soto, Gary. Illus. by  Annika Nelson. 1995. Canto Familiar. New York:  Harcourt.

ISBN: 0152000674

Ages 9-12


Gary Soto works in both children and young adult genres. His Canto Familiar is a wonderfully written small book of poetry, about the common everyday things one knows and loves. These poems highlight some of the physical points of familiarity in Soto's life. His relationship to real world items are both cultural markers for Mexican American children who will know what Menudo and Tortillas are, and what a Sarape feels like.


Others who read the story are also going to get a sense of what Soto is describing even if they dont know the words in Spanish. The sense of the thing is there for every reader. Soto does not consistently code switch in these poems but he mixes in terms that would be useful to beginners thinking about learning the Spanish language. They are the familiar, the common, the usable.


Soto also looks at the universally familiar with his poem "Left Shoe on the Right Foot," where boys put their shoes on wrong and try to move around doing ordinary things like kicking a soccer ball around.  Many children may share the experience of having eyeglasses, and in the poem "Eyeglasses" Soto highlights that feeling of not wanting to wear them, not wanting to be teased, while at the same time knowing that without those glasses there is a whole world that will be missed.


Annika Nelson's illustrations in the book are done in a mix of lush colored woodcuts.  Each modern art work on the glossy page stands out against its white background. Nelson has matched the work to certain poems scattered throughout the book, first highlighting a familial scene then some aspect of Soto's Poetry in the cover art of a woman, boy and girl playing outside in their small community.  She also gives us a glimpse of the Sarape as part of the family picnic experience. Whether shes doing people animals or objects, Nelson's art shows life and movement. Her rendering of Soto's Gatito (cat) balancing on the top of the chair as he reaches for the curtain is as playful as Gatito himself. This particular woodcut, like many others in the book, is filled with layers of detail, like the cactus in the foreground and the slippers and rat. Each work speaks volumes in the layers of detail, mirroring the richness of Soto's poetry.

Amazons book link with reviews by School Library Journal and Booklist 

Official Gary Soto Website  


another good biography of Gary Soto  

Gary Soto Bibliography



Soto, Gary. Illus. by Joe Cepeda and Carolyn Soto. 1995. The Cat's Meow. New York: Scholastics Inc.

ISBN: 0590470027

Ages 4-8


What would you do if you found out that your cat talked? Would you try to get it to talk for others? Would you keep this event a secret? Graciela's cat Pip talks briefly to her one day while they are both in the kitchen saying Quiero mas, Graciela, (I want more).  She is so sure that Pip has not only spoken to her, but spoke to her in espanol, that she tries to tell her family. No one believes her so, Graciela sets out to prove to others that Pip can speak to her and understand her.


Unfortunately Graciela learns from Pip that he learned to talk from Senior Medina, an intellectual philosopher/scientist, who has trouble being accepted by others in the neighborhood who perhaps fear him, and his abilities. He has taught a cat to speak after all. Graciela keeps Sr. Medinas secret, but others (a neighbor) blab to the world and Sr. Medina has to leave. Pip leaves with him, but by the end of the story returns to Graciela with more surprising news.


Joe Cepeda did the black and white drawings for this story. Each of the seven chapters begins with a drawing of a cat, perhaps as a kind of a logo for the story. The illustrations focus on the connections between Pip and Graciela. They spend most of their time together and love each other.  Throughout the bulk of the story, the illustrations are drawn without filler, with only Graciela's hair darkened on the page. At the end of the story there is a reversal with Pip drawn as a black cat. The ending silhouette of Graciela seated at the table talking to Pip who is on top of the table, is the reconnection scene after Pip's return to Graciela and her family. 

Amazons book link with reviews by School Library Journal and Booklist  

Meet Joe Cepeda  

Cepeda's Page. take a look at his portfolio. It's Wonderful stuff.



Mora, Pat. Illus. by Raul Colon. 1997. Tomas and the Library Lady. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

ISBN: 0375803491

Ages 4-8


This story about Tomas is based on a true incident that occurred in the early life of the chancellor of UC Riverside: Tomas Rivera.  This story about a love for stories and life is combined with the world of fantasy and books through Tomas experiences on the road and in the library.


As part of a family of migrant workers, Tomas is on the road with his family as they travel to the next job. When they get to the job and settle in temporarily, Tomas shares his life and his love of his grandfather's stories. Stories he told Tomas and the other children in Spanish.


Tomas goes to town, peeks in the window of the library and finds himself invited inside by the librarian. She asked him about what he might like to read and found some books for him. Tomas lost himself in those books for the rest of the day, and when he had to leave, the library lady let him check out books to take with him.


That evening instead of Papa Grande telling the stories, he asked Tomas to read the stories in English. As Tomas read, everyone stopped what they were doing to listen to Tomas read and act out the stories.  Tomas spends his summer at the library learning the stories there, and becoming a storyteller just like Papa Grande.


Raul Colon's Illustrations set the scene as Tomas and his family travels from Texas to Iowa, then follows Tomas and his fantastical adventures in the library. From Tigers to Dinosaurs, to the connections Tomas and his grandfather make with the library lady, Colon faithfully captures Mora's story of a boy who loves stories, storytelling, and books.


The visual cultural markers include extended families and family connections, the storytelling grandfather, and the life of migrant workers from the south. Each illustration is a full scene of the story acted out, whether it is the family listening to Papa Grande while seated together under a tree, or the family gathered together in the house listening to Tomas read a story.


This story told by an insider highlights familial connection and that great respect Tomas has for his grandparents. Papa Grande is as important to Tomas' love of stories as the library lady.


Colon has also added very interesting scratch lines to each illustration. It turns out that this technique is something that runs through Colon's work.

Amazons book link with review by school library Journal

  Pat Mora's page 

Voices from the gap Bio and information on Pat Mora 

Brief Bio on Pat Mora 

You can see Colon's work here. 

And here's more work of Colon's




Ancona, George. 1993.  Pablo Remembers. Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard.

ISBN: 0688112498

Ages 4-8


Pablo Remembers is a non-fictional work  about a familys experience  on El Dia de Los Muertos: the Fiesta of the Day of the Dead, a Mexican celebration of the dead. This celebration is held on October 31, or All Hallows Eve, that day of the year when the barriers between the worlds of life are slim and spirits may be able to communicate with you. It is a day of respect to honor where and who you come from. We get to see the preparations for the day and the events themselves through Pablo's eyes.


Ancona has done the photo art for the book as well as the text. He begins with the dark cover with a rainbow colored framed picture of Pablo holding a skull. Ancona follows Pablo through his experience beginning with the children creating an altar for their dead relatives. For Pablo his memory is focused on his (Abuelita) Grandmother. Typically Pablo spends his days at school or helping his father weave rugs.  Today though, he helps his father with their fiesta preparations. They go to the city of Oaxaca where Ancona shows us some of the preparations for the day of the dead. There is pan de muertos (bread of the dead) and colorfully decorated Calaveras de Dulce (sugar skulls); cardboard skeletons and cempasuchil (marigolds: flowers of the dead).  Ancona gives us both Spanish and English definitions throughout the book.


Pablo and his sister create their own altar at home to invite spirits of dead children to return for a visit. Offerings made of flowers and small fruit baskets are placed on the altar as offerings and small candles are lit to light the way for spirits who choose to visit.


On November the 1st, All Saints Day, the celebrations begin with pan de muertos and chocolate for breakfast. Then the chores begin as Pablo waits for the rest of his family to arrive. He will help his father gather the materials to build the communal altar. There will be a place all the families of the community on the altar that will display photos of the dead.


On November second (All Souls Day) some go to church early in the day and everyone prepares to go to the graves to visit dead relatives.  Families, friends, and neighbors eat and talk and laugh together, and Pablo spends a moment in the tomb of his Abuelita who he misses very much.  This non-fiction work gives students a glimpse of this holiday experience.


Ancona is an insider and his work is done with love and respect for his subjects. He has written an authentic book that can be used to explain to outsiders the importance of this Holiday.

Amazons book link with reviews by School Library Journal and Booklist. 

Great information on Ancona in this PDF file. 

Brief bio of Ancona 

Another brief bio of Ancona