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Reviews of the 2015 Belpré Illustrator Award winners

Winner:

Viva Fridastar2Viva Frida
by Yuyi Morales; illus. by the author with photos by Tim O’Meara
Primary, Intermediate  Porter/Roaring Brook  40 pp.
9/14   978-1-59643-603-9   $17.99   g

There have been several books for young readers about Frida Kahlo, but none has come close to the emotional aesthetic Morales brings to her subject, as a Mexican artist herself who understands the particular landscape of Kahlo’s imagination. By selecting several of Kahlo’s recurring symbols — monkey, dog, parrot, deer, hummingbird — she achieves artistic depth and lends child appeal to a very spare, ethereal text. Morales also incorporates Señor Calavera (a figure who recurs throughout Morales’s own work), representing the dance with death Kahlo engaged in all her life. Morales initially shows Kahlo as a puppet: made from steel, polymer clay, and wool, the three-dimensional figures (photographed and digitally manipulated inside double-page-spread collages) are works of art in themselves. The illustrations are accompanied by just a few words of text in both Spanish and English (“busco / I search // Veo / I see… // Juego / I play”) that leave readers with a dreamlike impression. As we enter Kahlo’s mind, the medium and style change, and the pages are illustrated with lush acrylics, showing her winged feet carrying her across the spreads, arrows whizzing past; one eventually hits her pet deer in the foreleg. This allusion to Kahlo’s famous painting The Little Deer may be lost on most young readers, but the accompanying text (“siento / I feel”) will get the basic meaning across. Morales (Niño Wrestles the World, rev. 7/13) once again impresses us with her artistry in an ingenious tour de force. KATHLEEN T. HORNING

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Honor books:

elya_little roja riding hoodLittle Roja Riding Hood
by Susan Middleton Elya; 
illus. by Susan Guevara
Primary    Putnam    32 pp.
4/14    978-0-399-24767-5    $16.99    g

Little Red rides an ATV to deliver la canasta (basket) to her ailing abuela in this hip updated version of the traditional tale. Liberally sprinkled with Spanish words and phrases, the rhyming text is fresh and funny (“‘Abue,’ he said in a high squeaky voz, / ‘I’m sorry to hear of your terrible tos’”) and often unexpected. (For example, “basket” is rhymed with “who asked it?”)  And just as clever as the quirky text are the watercolor, ink, and gouache illustrations that contain plenty of humor and multiple layers of meaning. The Three Blind Mice accompany Little Roja on her journey, while three magpies follow and call out warnings that appear in flowing ribbons that act as dialogue bubbles. Two little trickster elves make mischief throughout. But best of all is Abuela herself, shown here as an aging hippie who appears to be working on a manuscript revision in her sick bed. She doesn’t really need rescuing — she protects herself by holding up a statue of St. Jude; Little Roja joins in by throwing a pot of hot sopa at the wolf. Once the wolf is vanquished, capable Abuela discourages future intruders by installing a security sistema, while Little Roja trades in her red hood for one with tiger stripes. An inventive spin on a familiar tale, this will stand up to repeated readings and viewings. KATHLEEN T. HORNING

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

thong_green is a chile pepperGreen Is a Chile Pepper
by Roseanne Greenfield Thong; illus. by John Parra
Primary     Chronicle    32 pp.
4/14     978-1-4521-0203-0     $16.99
In this festive concept book, all the colors found in a Hispanic American neighborhood are described in rhyming text with frequent Spanish words, explained in detail in a glossary. The objects described, such as ristras, piñatas, and faroles, are staples of Mexican culture, but Parra’s folk art–style paintings, stuffed with entertaining details, make them universally understandable and appealing. SIENA LESLIE

From the Fall 2014 issue of The Horn Book Guide.

 

Separate Is Never EqualSeparate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
by Duncan Tonatiuh; 
illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate   Abrams   40 pp.
5/14   978-1-4197-1054-4   $18.95

Seven years before the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her family fought for — and won — the desegregation of schools in California. Tonatiuh, a Belpré-winning illustrator, uses a child’s viewpoint to clearly and succinctly capture the segregated reality of Mexican Americans and the little-known legal challenge that integrated schools. When the Mendez family moves from Santa Ana to Westminster only to find that their children must attend the inferior “Mexican” school for no particular reason, they first try petitions before turning to lawyers to set matters right. The straightforward narrative is well matched with the illustrations in Tonatiuh’s signature style, their two-dimensional perspective reminiscent of the Mixtec codex but collaged with paper, wood, cloth, brick, and (Photoshopped) hair to provide textural variation. This story deserves to be more widely known, and now, thanks to this book, it will be. Author’s note, photographs, glossary, bibliography, and index are appended. JONATHAN HUNT

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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Comments

  1. Great review on Yuyi Morales’ work. It takes great talent and deep understanding on culture to create such a beautiful piece of work that will leave readers begging for more. These books are just great reads for people to understand what it’s like to thrive in a Mexican Culture.

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