A Tuesday Ten: Hispanic/Latino Speculative Fiction for Kids

When we talk about diversity in speculative fiction, it can be hard to find examples.  I found this to be particularly true in the case of the representation of Latino/Hispanic characters in children’s Science Fiction and Fantasy.  Even with two picture books on the list, I was having great difficulty coming up with ten titles.  And to be honest, without the three significant titles from 2015 added in, the list just wasn’t able to be pulled together without pulling in a lot more picture books of myth and fairy tale. Not that myth and fairy tales are impossible to use, but it felt disheartening to offer so little in the way of middle grade novels.

 

1.

So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane (Harcourt, c2003)

Sometimes it’s easy to miss books right under your nose.  This has been one of my favorite books for well over three decades now, and it only occurred to me on rereading the books in this series, that I’ve known a Hispanic speculative fiction protagonist for all that time.  Kit Rodriguez is a 12-year-old boy who discovers the same book Nita does, a mysterious tome entitled “So You Want To Be a Wizard”.  The two of them begin to work together to figure out their powers, along with the rules of the wizarding world.  They both get sucked into a urban fantasy battle of good vs. evil before all is said and done.  This is only the first book in the continuing Young Wizards series.  And Kit tends to share equal time as the main character in these stories.  Given that I can’t find any other middle grade representatives in speculative fiction earlier than this,  the author may have broken new ground by making Kit’s background Hispanic.

2.

Dona Flores by Pat Mora, illustrated by Raul Colon (Knopf Books for Young Readers, c2005)

One of my picture book additions to the list–this tale is lovely enough that I’m very happy to include it here.  We often hear tales of Paul Bunyan and similar super-sized men in tall tales, but it’s rare we get a glimpse of giant women.  Here Pat Mora and illustrator Raul Colon transform the story of Dona Flor, a giant woman who lives in the puebla with lots of families and loves her neighbors.  When danger threatens the people of the puebla in the form of a nasty puma, Dona Flor is the one who will deal with the puma and protect her friends and neighbors.

 

3.

Starfields by Carolyn Marsden (Candlewick Press, c2011)

I’m not familiar with this book, but it came up on a search and fits the parameters.  Rosalba is a 9 year old girl growing up in rural Mexico, learning old Mayan traditions.  When a girl from the city shares with her the story of the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world, it prompts Rosalba into seeking to know more.  Through her dreams she travels back in time to meet a Mayan boy of ancient times and learn how she might make her voice be heard in the world today.

4.

House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (Atheneum, c2004)

Science fiction featuring cloning, a Hispanic protagonist and a multiple award-winner and nominee? All in one middle-grade book?  Yep. Nancy Farmer’s book is a stand-out in so many ways–and it’s the reason I imagine that it winds up on Summer Reading assignment lists every year.  Matteo wasn’t born, he was grown from harvested DNA, a clone whose purpose is to extend the life of others.  Growing up in the country of Opium ruled by El Patron, Matteo only slowly discovers the truth of his identity in this dystopian future.  We don’t often see a future-world based in the area of Mexico, and Farmer’s vision of a possible future is a fascinating one.

5.

Elena’s Serenade by Cambell Geeslin, illustrated by Ana Juan (Atheneum, 2004)

My second picture book offering.  Elena wants to be a glassblower, but only men can be glassblowers.  Rather than be deterred,  Elena journeys to the fabled town of Monterray on a fantastic journey all her own to prove that girls can do anything they set their mind to!  Elena disguises herself as a man in order to get into a contest to prove herself and  then creates some glassblowing magic that is purely her own.

 

6.

Ambassador by William Alexander (Margaret K. McElderry, 2014)

If Nancy Farmer’s book is the first I can find where a science fiction story has a Hispanic protagonist, then this is the second such story.  Gabe Fuentes has been chosen from all the people on Earth to become Earth’s ambassador to the galaxy.  But being that ambassador is hardly fun and games–someone is trying to kill Gabe before he even gets a chance to understand what’s going on, and while he’s busy trying to meet and understand other aliens from far off worlds, his own parents are in danger of being deported!   This first book in the series leaves a lot of the story unfinished, but the second book will hopefully clear some of that up!  Nomad is due to hit the shelves in September 2015.

 

7.

MiNRS by Kevin Sylvester  (Margaret K. McElderry Books, Expected Publication September 2015)

So one of the books from this year that I’m very excited about is this science fiction adventure.  In this story, raiders have come to the planetoid  Persus and the only ones left alive are a handful of kids hiding out underground, desperate to stay alive.  Christopher Nichols is attempting to lead this motley crew, but feels in over his head.  His best friend, Elena Rosales is strong and intelligent-she’s passionate  and sometimes hot-headed in her motivations.  Elena comes across as a vivid human being with a large part to play in the struggle for survival and need to strike back at the raiders.

 

8.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, illustrated by Katie Kath (Knopf Books for Young Readers, May 2015)

Another marvelous offering from this year!  An epistolary novel about a young girl who has to move out to a farm with her parents.  At first Sophie Brown feels entirely out of her element, coming from the busy city of LA to this place.  But the farm appears to have some very unusual chickens . . . chickens with strange powers.  And it’ll take just the kind of girl Sophie happens to be to learn all she needs to know to care for them properly and keep them safe!

 

9.

Hunters of Chaos by Crystal Velasquez (Aladdin, June 2015)

Ana is going to a Southwestern boarding school where all is not as it seems.  Along with three other girls, Ana’s special heritage means she’s inherited powers that will allow her to shapeshift into a cat form!  Ana and her new friends will need these powers to combat and stop the chaos spirits that have been released and prevent those who would reconvene the Brotherhood of Chaos!  I haven’t read this one just yet, but hope to get my hands on it soon!

 

10.

Wizards at War by Diane Duane (HMH, 2005)

I told you it was difficult to put this list together, right?  I know I’m including Diane Duane twice here, but I think at least in this case, it’s a fair inclusion.  Because while we’ve known Kit for all of the Young Wizards series, we haven’t learned as much about his sister in the earlier books.  As the series progresses though, we see more of Carmela Rodriguez.  She’s a few years older than Kit, and despite not being a Wizard, she’s completely at ease with Kit’s powers, is learning the Speech herself and becoming quite a force to be reckoned with in her own right.  I sort of love this gal simply for being a sort of non-magical “hell I’ll do it anyway” kind of person.  In this particular book, she becomes key to freeing the entire wizarding party at a crucial moment. Go Carmela!

11.

The Spider Ring by Andrew Harwell (Scholastic, January 2015)

A latecomer to the list!  Thanks to Katy K. for mentioning and Andrew Harwell for confirming! Maria inherits a strange spider-shaped ring from her grandmother . . . a ring with mysterious powers and control over spiders.  But there are darker forces after those powers  . . . can she keep the ring safe and out of the wrong hands?

 

A few links I came across in my searches:

Latinos in Kidlit

This is a great resource for Latino/Latina books in Picture Book, MG and YA–up to date and very helpful!:  http://latinosinkidlit.com/about/

Latinopia : Latino Science Fiction Convention–This is adult SF but still very interesting!

Taken from the website: On April 30, 2014 the first conference on Latino Science Fiction was convened at the University of California at Riverside. The event, organized by Sherryl Vint with the cooperation of Dr. Melissa Conway of the Eaton Science Fiction and Fantasy Collection at UC Riverside, brought together five Latino science fiction authors. They discussed the future of Latino science fiction and how it differs from that written by non-Latinos. This is the first of several Latinopia videos on the conference.

http://latinopia.com/latino-literature/latinopia-word-latino-science-fiction-1/

 

If you can suggest titles to build into this list please add them in the comments!

Review: Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel

Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel by Megan Morrison (Arthur A. Levine Books, April 2015)

” . . . you must journey. You must experience. Or you must die.”

Most of us know the fairy tale of the girl in the tower with the super long hair.  The main stories tell of a girl baby who is stolen from her parents as payment/punishment for her father stealing rampion from the witch’s garden.  The witch raises the baby girl in a tower where the girl’s hair grows preposterously long and acts as the mechanism for the witch to come and go from the tower.  Then a prince spies the tower, climbs the hair and meets the girl . . . and of course they fall in love.  The witch takes her revenge on the pair, but ultimately they find a happy ending.

It’s a story that begs for more to the telling.  And many writers and movie makers have sought to do just that.  Now debut author Megan Morrison provides us her own take on the Rapunzel tale . . . and a new world of fairy tales in the bargain.  In Ms. Morrison’s story, we start right in the thick of things, with Rapunzel confronting an uninvited guest who has come to her tower.  This Rapunzel fears the outside world and all the terrible things and people in it who might harm her.  Safer and better to stay with  her Witch where she is happy and loved and well protected.  But then her interloper says he’s not a prince and he tells her things that don’t make sense.  That a prince visited and cut her hair.  That she is responsible for hurting a fairy.  The boy, called Jack, seems to know things that she can’t remember.   Despite not being able to remember, Rapunzel follows Jack down out of her tower, certain he means to harm her Witch.  But once on the ground, she finds that everything  is not as she expected.   Rapunzel strikes a bargain to go on a quest in order to protect her Witch from harm. She’s going to leave that tower and journey far across Tyme with Jack as her companion.  That journey will be filled with all sorts of new adventures, new discoveries, and new skills.    Ultimately Rapunzel will come into her own . . . and make her own decisions about who she will be and how she will act.

Oh the cynic in me was skeptical at first with this story–Rapunzel has never been my favorite fairy tale heroine and despite Disney’s Tangled and Shannon Hale’s graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge, I was skeptical as to whether an entire novel about this long-haired girl who lives in a tower would keep my interest.  And there are echoes of Disney’s Tangled at first here–because we see a girl addressing a stranger whose come to her tower, certain that her Witch is good and tries to keep her safe.  But get a few pages in and the similarities fall away. This Rapunzel has a lot less knowledge about the world at large and no desire to leave the safety of her tower.  It takes an intervention from Jack and a fairy visitor to begin to change that.  And I will confess I still wasn’t certain I’d like this Rapunzel very much.  She was being pushed and pulled by others in the plot out of her tower and into her quest.  But then . . . that’s the essence of Rapunzel at the beginning of the story.  She is a pawn rather than an active participant.  She hasn’t been given the agency to make choices for herself.   This is a coming of age journey of dramatic proportions for Rapunzel.  She’ll discover her own bravery and kindness.  She’ll discover truths about the world–both good and bad.  She’ll encounter the true story of her past, the tragedy of the bargain that led her to be in the tower in the first place.  And she’ll discover who her wonderful Witch really is.  By the end of this story, Rapunzel is the one taking the actions and making the choices.  And what she chooses will likely surprise some readers.

Megan Morrison’s debut novel tackles tried and true fairy tales and reinvents them once again.  Her world of Tyme, which her bio says she’s been developing since 2003 is richly detailed, with plenty of world building touches  that make it clear how well she knows the land her protagonists are traversing.  Despite her attention to the setting and elements of of Tyme, this story is character driven, with Rapunzel crafted as a complex, and very human girl who must struggle with the fact that most of the life she’s known has been a lie.  Facing not only this tragedy, but the discovering the strong young woman underneath who can make friends, go on adventures and even regain part of her family, gives us a solid and substantial Rapunzel.  One who ultimately makes some startling decisions that impact us precisely because of what Rapunzel has gained in her journey.

That all said, this will likely not be a good starting place for younger readers just getting into longer chapter books.  The plotting is involved, the characters complex and the narrative is meaty fare.  This is a book that sophisticated  younger readers and older tween and teen fans of fantasy will devour happily.  (I’ve already several of my hungry readers love this book)  Great for fractured fairy tale readers who enjoyed to see these stories fleshed out and sometimes turned inside out.  Ms. Morrison has a deft hand for combining the profound with lighter moments of frivolity and humor and it creates a tremendously satisfying ride.  I’m also glad to know that this is only the first story we’ll see about the world of Tyme and its inhabitants.  The author plans to bring us more stories from this world, and I’ll look forward to seeing them!

Publisher:Arthur A. Levine

Publication Date: April 2015

ISBN13:   9780545638265

Recommended for grades 4 and up.

Flashback Fridays: Send me an angel . . .

You’re a girl whose part of the servant class, serving as a handmaid to your young mistress.  Until she is kidnapped by a monstrous creature called the Darkangel.  Not long after, you find yourself carried away by the same monster.  Now you are his prisoner, forced to weave clothing for the Darkangel’s wraith wives.  You know you must kill him before he claims his final wife and comes into his full power, but you hesitate . . .

Do you remember:

The Darkangel by Meredith Ann Pierce (Atlantic Monthly Press, c1982)

How did I find Meredith Ann Pierce?  Well, this isn’t really a mystery.  This is one of those tween/teen stories that lived in the Children’s section when I was a kid–and I was the kid who dove right into Tamora Pierce’s work.  So it stands to reason that sooner or later I’d wonder about the writer playing neighbor to her on the shelf.  Meredith Ann Pierce is a very different sort of writer, but  well worth the read.    Her Darkangel trilogy has been set firmly in young adult these days–which isn’t surprising.  It’s one of the oddest  genre-blend trilogies I’ve ever come across.  It’s also a series I really enjoyed reading, and has proven unforgettable over the years.

When Aerial is kidnapped by the Darkangel, he considers her too ugly and low class to be considered as his next “bride”.  Instead he sets her to serving his blood drained wraith wives and commands her to make them gowns to wear.  Their bodies are so fragile and light that anything other than finest thread weighs them down terribly.  While Aeriel is afraid, she is also fascinated.  She’s spent most of her life as a  lowercaste servant to her lady, and now her lot has changed.  Aeriel knows that the darkangel is dangerous and terrible, but he is not past all humanity–not yet.   For unlike the other vampyres, he still possesses his soul.  Despite the strangeness of his appearance Irrylath was once just a human child, transformed into what he is now by the White Witch.   Once the darkangel gains a twelfth wife, he will come into his full power, and the White Witch will turn him into a permanent soul-drinking monster–a true vampyre.  And that must not happen, for the safety of the entire world in which she lives.  Aeriel knows she must kill him before then, but time is running out.  Her strange set of allies give her what help they can in guiding her how to defeat the Darkangel–and they plan in earnest. Yet even Aeriel cannot predict how things will ultimately fall out.

This is a book about magic, and quests and prophecies, but it is also a book about love–unselfish love and its ability to transform.  The story reads like pure fantasy: there are dwarves and mystical monsters, vampires and deadly witches, magical spindles and powerful artifacts.  In fact, you can read the first book and imagine the story to be done in this stunningly bittersweet fantasy.  It’s a marvelous read all on its own.

But the tale is far from over . . . the second book, A Gathering of Gargoyles (1984)  sets Aeriel on the mission to defeat the White Witch herself, and prevent her from creating anymore vampyres.  The gargoyles she sets free at the end of the first book are revealed to be more than she had guessed.  In the third,  The Pearl of the Soul of the World (1990) (quite possibly one of the worst titles I’ve encountered in kid’s speculative fiction)  readers follow Aeriel as she heads into a final confrontation and discovers the truth about the world, and herself.    This is one of those books that slyly starts as fantasy, allows you to think it is just that, and then reveals to you that it’s more of a science fiction work instead.   I don’t want to go too much into the stories themselves since that would offer too many spoilers, but Aeriel and the world around her are not as we first imagined, and our assumptions are neatly shattered more than once.   There’s some fascinating writing here, and I enjoyed reading the entire story arc as a whole.  To be honest, however  I found the first book the one I returned to again and again, and I rather like the ending of the first book.  Everything wraps up quite neatly and poetically.  The later books add a lot more ambiguity and bittersweet regret to the story.

It’s hard to say who this trilogy is appropriate for.  It’s certainly dark and mature at times, although I feel the books never really cross the line out of tween.  It’s an intricately odd science fiction-fantasy  whose main themes focus on love and longing.   It’s an uncommon subject without the clear cut happy ending that readers may be hoping for, and certainly something that will leave the reader pensive about Aeriel’s own future.  For all that, I value this trilogy enough to own it for occasional rereads.

Meredith Ann Pierce is also known for her unicorn society based Firebringer Trilogy, though I’ve been remiss in reading this trilogy.  My other favorite title by her is The Woman Who Loved Reindeer, a strange folktale that again tackles the theme of unselfish love, as well as singular bravery.

Any other fans out there?  Comments Welcome!

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