Juana & Lucas

This is a shorter chapter book that is perfect for independent readers who are transitioning into longer reads than picture books. Juana is a young girl who lives in Bogota, Colombia and loves drawing, Astroman, brussel sprouts, reading books, and especially her dog Lucas.

Beginning chapter book
Interest Level: 1-3; Reading Level: 3.6
Pura Belpre author award winner, 2017
5 out of 5 stars

On the first day of school, Juana’s isn’t having a great day, but things go positively downhill for her when her teacher announces, “Today you are going to begin learning the English.” Juana struggles to learn all the strange words and figure out the weird sounds made by English letters. Juana dislikes learning this new language and can’t figure out why she even has to.

Juana & Lucas is a winner of the Pura Belpre award which is given to a work of children’s literature that best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience. Set in Bogota, Colombia, readers are given a glimpse of life in another country. What makes this story so exceptional is that young readers see a character who is not that different from themselves–struggles to learn in school, riding a school bus, playing soccer at recess…these are all experiences that children in Indiana go through as well.

Juana’s struggles to learn a second language will be familiar to anyone who has learned a foreign language. It doesn’t come easily and Juana sees no use for a second language. When Juana is told that she needs to get her grades up in order to go to Spaceland in the USA and see her favorite hero, Astroman, she suddenly has a reason to learn English. For many children (and adults) motivation to learn increases when learning is given a real-world context and meaning. Juana suddenly lives and breathes learning English and begins to excel.
Juana is a spunky main character who young readers will easily relate to and enjoy. Juana Medina’s illustrations are fun and engaging and the text contains many features that capture the eye and add visual interest to the page. Spanish words are interspersed throughout the text, but are easily translated through the context of the sentence.

Juana & Lucas introduces a main character who is from a different culture but doesn’t focus on the differences, and instead shows the commonalities among people. Juana is an energetic young lady who will appeal to a wide variety of children.

Juana & Lucas
Candlewick Press, 2016
ISBN 978-0-7636-7208-9

Nino Wrestles the World; 4 out of 5 stars #bookaday

Nino Wrestles the World
by Yuyi Morales
Roraing Brook Press, New York, 2013
ISBN 978-1-59643-604-6
Picture book, diversity
Pura Belpre Illustrator Award, 2014
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 2.3
4 out of 5 stars

Lucha libre is a style of professional wrestling that features the participants wearing brightly colored masks. They can feature anything from animals to mythical heroes and villains, and are popular in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries.

Nino Wrestles the World is a picture book that features a young boy who begins the story quietly playing by himself. You can see that he has a toy wrestling ring with luchadores set up on the ropes. Then the boy straps on a red mask, strips to his tighty-whiteys and becomes NINO! He wrestles various characters, using tactics like the “tickle tackle” and “popsicle slick.” He defeats all foes until his twin sisters wake up from their nap, and he must face Las Hermanitas.

This diverse book is very creative, and highlights the wonders of a child’s imagination. Spanish is sprinkled throughout the text, but careful reading, and some wonderful explanations in the book’s endpapers, enable readers to understand meaning. There were a few scenes in the book that I did not understand on the first reading, so I really do encourage readers to read the endpapers, and read the book a second time. The meaning is much more apparent then.

Morales has illustrated the story with a graphic style featuring bright colors and scenes that would be at home on wrestling poster. This book is a wonderful way to open up children to different cultures, as well as to let children see their interests reflected in a story.