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Guest Post: Cindy L. Rodriguez on YA Latin@ Lit

It's National Hispanic Heritage Month and we are honored to present this guest post about Latin@ literature by teacher, writer and reader, Cindy L. Rodriguez.

Cindy L. Rodriguez lives in Connecticut, where she teaches middle school reading and college-level composition. Her debut contemporary YA novel will be published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA (Winter 2015). She is also one of the creators of Latin@s In Kid Lit.

YA Latin@ Lit

Every year, when National Hispanic Heritage Month rolls around, I celebrate by reading and talking up books by, about, and for Latinos/as. Why?

First, I’m a book nerd (pumps fist in air). I’ve had a lifelong love affair with well-told stories that come to life on paper. This love led me to become a journalist and then a teacher and fiction writer.

Second, the combination of a growing Latin@ population and stagnant representation in children’s literature compels me to cheer on the authors who have already published novels with Latin@ characters. I am not a book critic, but I am a Latina, mother, teacher, reader, and writer.

Reading books and then putting them into students’ hands is one of the best parts of my job, so I’m excited to do the same thing virtually through this post. Below is a list of five of my favorite novels (so far) and five on my to-be-read list (in no particular order). Happy reading!

Five of my favorites:

THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET. This classic by Sandra Cisneros is often in the middle grade section, but it is often read in high schools and can be appreciated by adult readers, too. The series of linked vignettes read like a combination of poetry and prose; every word matters. The story about young Esperanza growing up in the Latino section of Chicago is touching and the writing is masterful.

One of the many cool scenes in MEXICAN WHITEBOY is when 16-year-old, half-Mexican Danny connects with a beautiful girl named Liberty even though he does not speak Spanish and she speaks very little English. This romantic moment is sweet, but more than that, it captures the diversity of the Latino community. Danny is biracial, with a Mexican father and blonde-haired, blue-eyed mother. He is a talented pitcher, but isn’t on the team at his private school. He’s an insecure, endearing, confused boy who cuts himself. It’s complicated, as it should be. De la Peña blends issues of cultural and racial identity with issues of love, acceptance, family, and friendship.

I read MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD because everyone was talking about it, and I needed to know why. I’m glad I did, and I kicked myself for not doing it sooner. Marcelo Sandoval is a Mexican-American with a “developmental disorder,” but the narrative isn’t really about those things. They matter, yes, but Stork creates layered characters involved in a story about religion, love, friendship, loyalty, ethics, and conscience. Loved it!

Chances are you didn’t see SEAN GRISWOLD'S HEAD coming. I didn’t either. While reading, I was pleasantly surprised that the main character, 15-year-old Payton Gritas, is half-Colombian. I was already hooked by Leavitt’s characters and story. Payton cracked me up with her graphic organizers and realistic teen mix of confusion and confidence as she handles falling in love and her father’s illness. References to Payton’s ethnicity are sprinkled through the narrative, but she’s not struggling with her cultural/racial/ethnic identity. It was refreshing to read a fun, heart-warming, page-turning story with a half-Latina main character who’s dealing with “typical” teen issues.

The PERFECT CHEMISTRY series by Simone Elkeles has been hugely successful, although some feel she perpetuates stereotypes through Alex Fuentes, a Mexican-American gang member from the “wrong side of town.” But, guess what? Hard-core reluctant readers LOVE this series. My high school girls who NEVER read for pleasure passed this one around like a hot potato. They were ASKING to go to the library and PUTTING THEIR NAMES ON WAITING LISTS. Yes, I am yelling with excitement! Their enthusiasm for this book forced our media specialist to order more copies, and—best of all—my girls became READERS. I wrote to an email to Elkeles to tell her about the frenzy she was causing in my part of the world, and she sent bookmarks and posters for my students. All of this brings teacher tears of joy to my eyes.

Five on my to-be-read list.

THE CULLING has been described as a dystopian adventure that appeals to HUNGER GAMES fans, with multicultural characters and a gay protagonist, Lucian “Lucky” Spark. I’m in.

THE REVOLUTION OF EVELYN SERRANO and ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE. Both of these novels dominated the last round of teen literary awards. Enough said. I need to read these books ASAP.

YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS. Meg Medina had me at the title. Love it. That she was recently disinvited from a school speaking engagement because of the title, even though the content is about the important issue of bullying, makes me want to read it even more.

DEATH, DICKINSON AND THE DEMENTED LIFE OF FRENCHIE GARCIA. I am a Latina who loves YA and Emily Dickinson, and here’s Sanchez, blending all of these things. Yay! I’m sure Frenchie and I will become good amigas.
Kristin Halbrook

Kristin Halbrook is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novels Nobody But Us (HarperTeen, 2013) and Every Last Promise (HarperTeen, 2015). She likes many things.

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  1. Thank you for this! I feel it's really important to highlight and promote (as you have done) books with Latino/a protagonists for whom race is not the central issue of the story. I feel like a lot of people, whether they realize it or not, have this outdated notion that books with main characters of color are supposed to teach us all a Big Lesson About Racial Tolerance, rather than just be entertaining, or moving, or whatever other reasons people read books. There's a weird mental block in the kidlit world that seems to prevent many authors of color from breaking into the mainstream as easily as their white counterparts. A block that has nothing whatsoever to do with talent.
    Thank you again, to Cindy and YA Highway, for this post.


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Item Reviewed: Guest Post: Cindy L. Rodriguez on YA Latin@ Lit Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Halbrook