We here at OutlooK-12 are honored to feature the 2016 winners of the prestigious Pura Belpré Award for this very special edition of our School Library book reviews. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the Pura Belpré Award is named for the New York Public Library’s first Latina librarian and is presented each year to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work “best portrays, affirms and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.” In addition to this year’s two medal winners, the 2016 Pura Belpré Award Committee has also selected four honor books based on excellence in writing and/or illustration.
2016 Author Award Winner
“Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir”
Written by Margarita Engle
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
In this poetic memoir, Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time, she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. And when the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide.
2016 Illustrator Award Winner
“Drum Dream Girl”
Illustrated by Rafael López
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Long ago on an island filled with music and rhythm, no one questioned the rule that girls cannot be drummers—until the drum dream girl. She longed to play the tall congas and small bongós and silvery, moon bright timbales. But she had to keep her dream quiet and practice in secret. When at last her music was heard, everyone sang and danced and decided that both boys and girls should be free to drum and dream. “Drum Dream Girl” is inspired by the life of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl in 1930s Cuba who became a world-renowned drummer.
2016 Author and Illustrator Honor Book
“Mango, Abuela, and Me”
Written by Meg Medina
Illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Mia’s abuela has left her sunny house with parrots and palm trees to live with Mia and her parents in the city. When Mia tries to share her favorite book with Abuela, she discovers that Abuela can’t read the words inside. So while they cook, Mia helps Abuela learn English (“Dough. Masa”), and Mia learns some Spanish too, but it’s still hard for Abuela to learn the words she needs to tell Mia all of her stories. Then Mia sees a parrot in the pet shop window and has the perfecto idea for how to help them all communicate a little better.
2016 Author Honor Book
“The Smoking Mirror”
Written by David Bowles
Publisher: IFWG Publishing, Inc.
In this fantasy novel, Carol and Johnny Garza are 12-year-old twins whose lives in a small Texas town are forever changed by their mother’s unexplained disappearance. Shipped off to relatives in Mexico by their grieving father, the twins learn that their mother is a nagual, a shape shifter, and that they have inherited her powers. In order to rescue her, they will have to descend into the Aztec Land of the Dead and face the dangers that await them. This action-packed story is based on Aztec and Mayan mythology while capturing the realities of life in contemporary South Texas and Mexico.
2016 Illustrator Honor Books
“My Tata’s Remedies/Los remedios de mi Tata”
Illustrated by Antonio Castro L.
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Aaron has asked his grandfather Tata to teach him about the healing remedies he uses. Tata is a neighbor and family elder, and people come to him all the time not only for his soothing solutions but also for his compassionate touch and gentle wisdom. Tata knows how to use herbs, teas and plants to help each one. His wife, Grandmother Nana, is there too, bringing delicious food and humor to help Tata's patients heal. This intergenerational, bilingual story includes an herbal remedies glossary at the end of the book that has useful information about each plant plus botanically correct drawings.
“Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras”
Illustrated and written by Duncan Tonatiuh
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
“Funny Bones” tells the story of how the amusing calaveras—skeletons performing various everyday or festive activities—came to be. They are the creation of Mexican artist José Guadalupe (Lupe) Posada (1852–1913). In a country that was not known for freedom of speech, he first drew political cartoons much to the amusement of the local population but not the politicians. He continued to draw cartoons throughout much of his life, but he is best known today for his calavera drawings. These famous skeletons have in particular become synonymous with Mexico’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival.