Reviews of the 2024 Pura Belpré Author Award Winners


Mexikid: A Graphic MemoirMexikid: A Graphic Memoir
by Pedro Martín; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Dial    320 pp.
8/23    9780593462287    $24.99
Paper ed.  9780593462294    $14.99
e-book ed.  9780593462300    $9.99

Martín’s humorous and heartfelt memoir recounts a momentous 1977 road trip with his “big Mexican American family.” Apá and Amá gather the nine Martín children to drive to Jalisco to pick up Apa’s father. The younger four “Somewhat Mexican” boys, including the author, travel in the family motor home, while the older “Somewhat American” siblings follow in a pickup truck. Martín captures each family member’s quirks — Amá’s habit of offering half bananas, or Apá’s whistling call — to bring their distinct personalities to life. Panels smoothly transition to splash pages with added visual guides and gags to create a dynamic flow. A full-color palette gives way to soft watercolor hues as the narrative evokes the past or, as Pedro learns more about his abuelo, integrates Ben-Day dots to lend a vintage comic vibe to Abuelito’s imagined adventures. Bits of Mexican Revolutionary history are integrated, reminiscent of the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series, and myriad pop culture references, from Star Wars to superhero action figures, reflect contemporary nerdom. Spanish is integrated throughout, with translations and comical addenda provided at the bottom of the page. Deep familial bonds, a lovingly chaotic household, and a heartfelt exploration of culture and identity underpin this very memorable debut. JESSICA AGUDELO

From the September/October 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

Something like HomeSomething like Home
by Andrea Beatriz Arango
Intermediate, Middle School    Random    256 pp.
9/23    9780593566183    $17.99
Library ed.  9780593566190    $20.99
e-book ed.  9780593566206    $10.99
Spanish ed.  9781644738696    $14.95

If only life were as straightforward as the Rubik’s Cube that Laura loves to solve. When this Virginia-set verse novel begins, the Puerto Rican sixth grader is on her way to a kinship foster-care placement “on the other side of town” with her titi Silvia, whom Laura has never met. Pulled from her admittedly chaotic life with her parents, who are struggling with addiction, Laura copes with the overwhelming changes that a new caregiver, new rules, a new school, and new peers bring, while suffering with extreme feelings of guilt over making the 911 call that resulted in her parents’ being placed in rehab. Laura finds purpose in training a dog she rescues near Titi’s house to be a therapy animal; her plan is to bring the dog to the rehab facility so she can finally see her parents. Arango’s writing is intimate and heartbreaking, tackling such hefty issues as cultural identity, addiction, the pain of displacement and the anxiety it causes, and the adulation and rationalization that a child in pain can offer to adults they love. Arango (Newbery honoree for Iveliz Explains It All, rev. 9/22) accomplishes this with the believable voice of a girl in crisis and by tapping into compassion for all the characters amidst moving scenes of joy and connection. AMANDA R. TOLEDO

From the September/October 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


by Donna Barba Higuera
Intermediate, Middle School    Levine Querido    336 pp.
10/23    9781646142637    $18.99

On Higuera’s barren post-apocalyptic Earth, Pocatels rule over the Spanish-speaking Cascabels, refugees from the San Joaquin Valley, forcing them to live in squalid tent cities, endure long hours harvesting potatoes, and subsist on next to nothing. Thirteen-year-old Leandro and his younger sister, Gabi, impoverished and orphaned Cascabels, plan to escape the Pox, as their settlement is called, but when Gabi is caught stealing a strawberry from a fruit seller, their scheme is thwarted. Leandro takes the blame, and he’s sent to the Center of Banishment for the theft. He’s given a choice: banishment or have his consciousness transferred to an alebrije, an Old World animal drone. He chooses the alebrije: as a drone hummingbird, he’s free to fly from the confines of Pocatel, but his choice comes with conditions. For one, he’s tasked with finding the daughter of one of the ruling directors and returning her to Pocatel. On his quest, Leandro uncovers the lies of the government; finds La Cuna, a legendary verdant paradise of the Cascabels; and discovers what it means to be a hero. With its social and environmental commentary, this fast-paced and imaginative novel tackles issues of deception and control and leaves one with a sense of wonder that a single flap of a wing or a solitary voice can bring about unimaginable change. An epilogue gratifyingly ties this book to Higuera’s Newbery Award–winning The Last Cuentista (rev. 9/21). YESICA HURD

From the November/December 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Benita y las criaturas nocturnas 
by Mariana Llanos; illus. by Cocoretto 
Preschool, Primary    Barefoot    32 pp. 
9/23    9798888590027    $17.99 
Paper ed.  9798888590034    $9.99 
Spanish paper ed.  9798888590416    $9.99 

Benita is wrapped up in her reading and not bothered by the night creatures who try to frighten her at bedtime. Annoyed at the growing crowd of would-be scarers, she yells, “DON’T YOU SEE I’M READING A BOOK?” Intrigued, the monsters ask Benita to read to them. Now all engrossed, they yell “SHHHH!” to latecomer Yanapuma, who rather than scaring everyone, instead joins the storytime. Boldly colored pencil and digital illustrations pop against mostly black ­backdrops. Young book lovers will relate to Benita’s devotion to reading and be amused by the friendly night creatures, who are all based on Peruvian legends. MONICA DE LOS REYES 

From the September/October 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Aniana del Mar Jumps InAniana del Mar Jumps In
by Jasminne Mendez
Intermediate, Middle School    Dial    384 pp.
3/23    9780593531815    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780593531822    $10.99

Aniana (Ani) del Mar lives on the Gulf Coast in ­Galveston, Texas, and the pull of the ocean is in her blood. But she must keep her passion for swimming secret from her devout Dominican mother, who lost a twin brother to a hurricane and deeply fears the water. A loving father, a preschool-age sibling, and a steady best friend help Ani keep her balance — most of the time. But when she begins to suffer pain and swelling and is diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, she questions everything — her gift for swimming, her family relationships, and her own identity. Incorporating some Spanish words and phrases, Mendez weaves together free-verse poetry, concrete poems, haiku, tanka, and even texting and dialogue poems to capture character voice and emotion and propel the story forward. She uses the shape and structure of the poem on the page to add weight to the text, as when “New Ani” offers a list of ways in which the character feels she has changed and has come to accept herself. The story moves quickly as Ani competes in swimming and keeps it secret, then bogs down a bit as she grapples with her illness, but the poetry keeps the plot afloat as we engage with Ani in her struggles. SYLVIA VARDELL

From the March/April 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Papá’s Magical Water-Jug ClockPapá’s Magical Water-Jug Clock
by Jesús Trejo; illus. by Eliza Kinkz
Primary    Minerva/Astra    24 pp.
6/23    9781662651045    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781662651052    $11.99

Young Jesús eagerly awaits Saturdays, when he helps his father with their family’s lawn service business. Papá gives him the responsibility of taking care of the water jug, claiming that it is a magical clock and when the water runs out, it’s time to go home. Hilarity ensues when Jesús doles out cups of water to three “super-old” thirsty cats, a dog in a sweater, and some peacocks, and uses lots of water to splash his face. The jug may now be empty, but Jesús and Papá can’t yet go home: it’s only ten thirty in the morning, and they still have eleven more houses to visit. Papá confesses that the water jug is not a magical clock after all; he had tried to make the day go more quickly by making the jug into a game. But as Jesús tells Papá, they can have fun in other ways. The protagonist’s exuberance shines through in his observations of the world. Kinkz’s art — in “pencil, ink, watercolor, gouache, crayons, and a few drops of queso” — brings this story to life. The colors are bright; the line drawings are childlike and full of zany energy. The garden-themed luchador endpapers will garner lots of laughs. This book mixes humor with the touching bond between a son and his papá, and a gentle message about the preciousness of water as a resource. YESICA HURD

From the September/October 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Read reviews of the 2024 Pura Belpré Illustrator Awards here and of the 2024 Pura Belpré YA Awards here. For more, click on the tag ALA LibLearnX 2024.

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