5by5: Five Children’s Authors for Cinco de Mayo
Explore each author in depth by clicking on the highlighted name
More than fifty years ago, Leo Politi pioneered “multicultural” children’s book; he featured Mexican-American characters and themes in his stories set in the Los Angeles region. The Getty Museum has recently republished four of these works. Nowadays, readers are likely to find his pictures “retro” or even “corny,” but this Italian-American (and street artist in the L.A. market area known as Olvera Street) drew on Diego Rivera for his style.
Several times a year I visit the Chula Vista Learning Community Charter School, about ten miles from the border between California and Mexico. The school is bilingual: some students know English and are learning Spanish, some know Spanish and are learning English, some already know both, and a few arriving students speak another tongue and learn both languages. No doubt, the exciting atmosphere at this linguistic hothouse explains the craze students shared with me–for the Skippyjon Jones books by Judy Schachner. ¡Ay Chihuahua! Here’s my account from the New York Times Book Review.
Probably the best known Latino/a work of children’s literature, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan tells a 1930’s story about a family forced to leave Mexico and traveling to California where they picked fruit and vegetables. Though set in the 1950’s, the stories in The Circuit by Francisco Jiménez tell similar, touching tales: about picking crops in the Central Valley, about being the only kid in a classroom unable to speak English, and about not being able to afford a doctor. Reading these two books together, you can see why “the story of immigration is often a memoir of childhood.”
Poet Laureate of California, activist in the early Chicano/a Movement, and all around interesting guy–Juan Felipe Herrera is a nationally known writer whose varied body of work includes bilingual picture books for kids and adolescent novels written in verse. We met over coffee and talked for hours about his writing–especially about how he plays back and forth in English and Spanish, and about his politically sensitive books against the backdrop of deportations and current border policy. The link takes you to an excerpt from my interview with him.