Reviews of the 2023 Pura Belpré Author Award Winners


by Claribel A. Ortega; illus. by Rose Bousamra
Intermediate    First Second    224 pp.    g
10/22    978-1-250-25962-2    $21.99
Paper ed.  978-1-250-25963-9    $12.99

In a graphic novel that takes on antiblackness and colorism, every Sunday Marlene must sit for hours at the beauty salon while her naturally abundant tight ringlets are styled into straight unfrizzy layers. Gorgeously emotive sunset- and teal-hued panels illustrate the passage of the seasons as Marlene unwillingly follows her mother into the salon yet again. Over time, Marlene begins to wonder if Mom is right, “that I can’t be my best if my hair isn’t straight.” Marlene navigates the white standards of beauty entrenched in her Dominican family and which can permeate Latine communities, internalizing racist ideologies expressed in family comments: “You’re lucky your baby’s eyes are light.” “Cara fina!” “Straighten your hair so you look more presentable.” When school bullies target Marlene because of her hair, she takes a stand, which results in afterschool detention but also in a timely visit with Tía Ruby, who shows Marlene how to care for her curls as an act of radical love for Blackness and herself. Ortega’s narrative shows the complex arc of Marlene’s emotional growth — from exuberance to sadness, self-reflection to empowerment — captured with aplomb in Bousamra’s expressive illustrations. LETTYCIA TERRONES

From the November/December 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

The Notebook Keeper: A Story of Kindness from the Border
by Stephen Briseño; illus. by Magdalena Mora
Primary    Random House Studio/Random    32 pp.
6/22    9780593307052    $17.99
Library ed.  9780593307069    $20.99
e-book ed.  9780593307076    $8.99





The Coquíes Still SingThe Coquíes Still Sing
by Karina Nicole González; illus. by Krystal Quiles
Primary    Roaring Brook    40 pp.    g
8/22    978-1-250-78718-7    $18.99
Spanish ed.  978-1-250-78858-0    $18.99

González’s debut picture book follows Elena and her family in Puerto Rico before, during, and after Hurricane María, which devastated the archipelago in 2017. Elena loves picking ripe mangoes from her family’s tree and singing along with the coquíes, Puerto Rico’s beloved tree frogs, in the evening. When the hurricane strikes, Elena and her family take shelter in a closet and remain safe even after the roof is torn off their house. After the storm, Elena is heartbroken by the now-bare mango tree and the silence of the coquíes. She is comforted by her family and community members; Papi assures her that both the coquíes and their neighborhood will “come back.” A hopeful yellow permeates Quiles’s textured gouache and acrylic, digitally finished illustrations, visible in the flesh of a mango, candlelight during the storm, glowing seeds of “gold,” and finally the returning coquíes. González’s sensory text captures Elena’s complex feelings, the lingering damage in the aftermath of the hurricane, and the ways she finds optimism and strength in her community and nature. A glossary, information about coquíes and rebuilding efforts post-María, and personal notes from the author and illustrator are appended. Concurrently published in Spanish as Los coquíes aún cantan. MONICA DE LOS REYES

From the September/October 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


by Celia C. Pérez
Intermediate, Middle School    Kokila/Penguin    368 pp.    g
8/22    978-0-593-32517-9    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-32519-3    $10.99
Spanish paper ed.  978-1-64473-592-3    $12.95

Twelve-year-old Adela Ramírez has a loving family, a robust middle-school life, and an awesome best friend in her small New Mexico town, known for its love of wrestling: “Roswell had its aliens. Albuquerque had its hot air balloons. We had wrestling.” Her paleontologist mom is expecting her second child, and her warm and supportive diner-owning stepdad has just asked to legally adopt her. This seemingly positive “happily ever after” gesture only dredges up and intensifies Adela’s frustration at not knowing anything about her biological father, whom her mother refuses to talk about. The determined girl, along with her bestie Cy, starts investigating and piecing together bits of her past. She soon discovers that her father is a well-known professional wrestler named Manny “The Mountain” Bravo, and she subsequently meets the whole Bravo clan. Both of her grandparents were one-time world champions, and their kids, and a few grandkids, were and are fearsome competitors. Adela loves mythology and draws parallels from it to wrestling’s celebrity allure and peripatetic lifestyle. Pérez (The First Rule of Punk, rev. 7/17; Strange Birds, rev. 9/19) captures the action, rigor, and theater associated with the sport — full of colorful costumes and lucha libre masks, unpredictable moves and hijinks, and characters’ ever-changing personae. It all acts as an engaging backdrop to this story of family lost and found and of making amends. Manny may not be the biological father Adela had wanted him to be, but she is glad to have met him and made room for him and the Bravo dynasty in her heart. Available in Spanish as Tumbos (forthcoming in October). LUANN TOTH

From the September/October 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Read reviews of the 2023 Pura Belpré Illustrator Awards here and of the 2023 Pura Belpré YA Awards here. For more, click on the tag ALA LibLearnX 2023.

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