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From The Guide: Chapter Book Mirrors

In her “Field Notes” column “Lucha Libros: Bilingual Battle of the Books,” AnnMarie Hurtado says, “Lucha Libros started in response to the growing body of research on the importance of bolstering kids’ reading skills by third grade, and from hearing so many parents (especially non-English-speaking parents) tell me how hard it was to motivate their children…to read.” The diverse chapter-book series recommended below join such favorites as Alvin Ho, Ruby Lu, and Anna Hibiscus (new books in that last series are reviewed in the November/December 2017 issue); and King and Kayla (rev. 3/17) and Jasmine Toguchi (rev. 9/17) are new friends to watch.

—Cynthia K. Ritter
Associate Editor, The Horn Book Guide

Brown, Monica  Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean
88 pp.     Little     2017     ISBN 978-0-316-25853-1
Paperback ISBN 978-0-316-25850-0
e-book ISBN 978-0-316-25852-4

Gr. 1–3  Illustrated by Angela Dominguez. Lola has waited forever for a cat, and on the big day, she picks Jelly. But when Lola’s brother Ben turns out to be allergic, Lola has to find a new home for her special friend. Lola’s spirit and heart shine in this fourth book about the Jewish Latina American protagonist, which thoughtfully handles the delicate issue of pet loss. Black-and-white illustrations, diary entries, and letters are sprinkled throughout.

English, Karen  Trouble Next Door
139 pp.     Clarion     2016     ISBN 978-0-544-80127-1
e-book ISBN 978-0-544-86819-9

Gr. 1–3  Illustrated by Laura Freeman. Carver Chronicles series. Calvin is convinced he’ll win the science fair with his project hypothesizing that boys are faster than girls. But his new next-door neighbor, the bully Harper, has a vested interest in the science fair himself. As Calvin’s theories on family, friendship, and gender are challenged, he grows as a person and a scientist. Black-and-white illustrations accompany the warm fourth story about the diverse cast of characters at Carver Elementary.

Jules, Jacqueline  Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Rules New York
87 pp.     Whitman     2016     ISBN 978-0-8075-9497-1

Gr. 1–3  Illustrated by Miguel Benítez. Freddie outgrows his original super-powered sneakers, and he has to leave for New York before he can test out his new pair (and his new abilities). In NYC, the big surprise Uncle Jorge is planning goes awry; can Freddie’s zapato powers help? The introduction of new abilities and new characters helps freshen up this sixth chapter book in the Zapato Power series.

Kelly, David A.  The Gold Medal Mess
103 pp.     Random     2016    Library ed. ISBN 978-0-553-51320-2
Paperback ISBN 978-0-553-51319-6
e-book ISBN 978-0-553-51321-9

Gr. 1–3  Illustrated by Scott Brundage. Stepping Stone: MVP series. A diverse group of Franklin Elementary students — Max, Alice, Nico, and twins Luke and Kat — works to uncover who’s trying to sabotage the school’s Olympic-style field day even as they participate in the competitions. Action-filled chapters and plentiful black-and-white illustrations support beginning readers. Facts about the Olympics are included at book’s end. A lively start to the mystery/sports mash-up series.

Manushkin, Fran  Pedro for President
32 pp.     Capstone/Picture Window     2016     Library ed. ISBN 978-1-5158-0087-3
Paperback ISBN 978-1-5158-0091-0

Manushkin, Fran  Pedro Goes Buggy
32 pp.     Capstone/Picture Window     2016     Library ed. ISBN 978-1-5158-0085-9
Paperback ISBN 978-1-5158-0089-7

Gr. 1–3  Illustrated by Tammie Lyon. Pedro series. First grader Pedro (classmate of Manushkin’s Katie Woo character) stars in four short standalone stories: Pedro becomes a soccer goalie, learns about bugs, runs for class president, and starts a mystery club with friends. Expressive full-color illustrations and wide leading will aid beginning readers, who should readily connect to Pedro’s spunk and personality. Jokes, writing prompts, and discussion questions are appended. Review also includes Pedro’s Big Goal and Pedro’s Mystery Club. Glos.

Rissi, Anica Mrose  Anna, Banana, and the Puppy Parade
117 pp.     Simon     2016     ISBN 978-1-4814-1614-6
ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-1616-0

Gr. 1–3  Illustrated by Meg Park. Anna’s two best friends, Isabel and Sadie, convince her to enter her dachshund, Banana, in the Puppy Parade. But when the girls take over the preparations, Anna is afraid her friends think that Banana isn’t good enough. Park’s illustrations depict a diverse cast of characters (with Anna’s non-white family at the center) in this friendship-affirming tale of elementary-school conflict.

Zemke, Deborah  My Life in Pictures
136 pp.     Dial     2016     ISBN 978-0-8037-4154-6

Gr. 1–3  Bea Garcia series. Bea Garcia tells the story of her life in words and pictures in this series-starting chapter book. Bea’s best friend/next-door neighbor, Yvonne, moved to Australia (on Bea’s eighth birthday of all days!), and “the monster” Bert has moved in. The book’s format — Bea’s own humorous doodles and first-person narration — allows the relatable Latina character to explore her imagination and express her feelings.

From the November/December 2017 Horn Book Magazine. Reviews are from recent issues of The Horn Book Guide. For more information about subscribing to The Horn Book Guide Online, please visit hbook.com/subscriber-info/.

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  1. Anonymous Librarian says:

    The Lola Levine books are highly problematic should probably not be on this list, nor any best list. They have been criticized seriously for tilting toward Lola’s Latinx identity and away from her Jewish identity. They favor her Spanish speaking and erase the idea of her getting any Jewish education, Hebrew, Yiddish, or Ladino language, or real Jewish background from her parents’ intermarriage. It is one Jewish trope after another.

    This review from The Forward, the Jewish national weekly of record, from last May 2017 by Emily Schneider is polite but critical of some of the problematic elements.

    https://forward.com/sisterhood/370734/meet-lola-levine-peruvian-and-jewish-childrens-book-heroine/

    Schneider writes, for example,

    “Brown has written several children’s books exploring South American culture, full of historical detail and an innovative mix of Spanish and English. Yet in the “Lola Levine” series, the Jewish part of Lola’s background remains elusive. The first chapter of “Lola Levine Is Not Mean” is entitled “Hello, Good-Bye, and Peace,” and her diary entries conclude with “Shalom.” This is almost the only Hebrew word (or word in any Jewish language) she uses. While Lola’s mother speaks Spanish as her first language and Lola strives to use the language as well, her artist dad’s cultural contribution to the family is bringing bagels to breakfast (from the inauspiciously named “Biff’s Bagels”). He is supportive and loving, but he does not continue ethnic traditions the way her Peruvian relatives do.

    “The closest to a Jewish experience which Monica relates is Friday night dinner at her home, when her family “welcome(s) the weekend,” with “matzo ball soup, Peruvian chicken, and flan.” It is not the lack of a religious component that makes this meal seem inauthentic, but rather the disembodied Jewish food item, served without any description of family memory or tradition. Elsewhere Lola is delighted by other foods identified in Spanish and explained: ice cream made from the Andean fruit lúcuma, butifarras ham and vegetable sandwiches, and even a bowl of mangos literally glowing with color, and labeled “GROWN IN PERU.”

    “The most recent book in the series, “Lola Levine and the Vacation Dream”, offers a richly detailed immersion in Peruvian culture, including descriptions of the archeological ruins of Pachacamac and the history of Peruvian soccer. Lola’s aunt informs her about the destruction of the native peoples of Peru by the Spaniards, but reassures her that “indigenous people are strong,” and have survived. Lola learns through direct and intense experiences that “We’re smart and creative people… and I feel proud that I am Peruvian.’

    So who connects Lola to the Jewish people? Her father’s mother, whom Lola refers to as “Grandma,” but addresses as Bubbie. Bubbie does not speak Yiddish or cook Jewish dishes. She is flamboyant and loud. She alone calls Lola “Lola Esther” and reminds her that she is descended from “drama queens.” The qualities Lola shares with her grandmother are personal, not overtly cultural. In a rare glimpse of family conflict in the book, Lola’s mom asks her husband why his mother is so “dramatic.” Perhaps the reader is supposed to infer that Jewish women are loud and enjoy being in the spotlight, but it is doubtful that Lola’s young fans would make such a connection. Lola also has a nemesis, mean girl Alyssa Goldstein, and a best male friend, Josh Blot. While Goldstein is immediately identifiable as Jewish, Blot seems to echo the common Jewish name ‘Blatt,’converted into a Borscht-Belt pun suggesting that his ethnicity has been “blotted out” of the picture.”

    Ugh. Everything we want diverse books NOT to be. Please reconsider.

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