Elem. – My Two Border Towns

Bowles, David and Erik Meza. My Two Border Towns. Illustrated by Erika Meza. Kokila, 2021. 978-0-593-11104-8. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Life along the U.S. – Mexico border can be more similar than different, especially for a small Hispanic boy who makes weekend trips back and forth with his father. “Vamos a la otra lado.” (Let’s go to the other side.) Once they pass through customs into the Mexican town, they run chores, visit family, and eat at their favorite places. The boy is proud of the gifts and supplies that they are collecting along the way. Erik Maza illustrates the town with friendly people, peaceful streets, and colorful tones. David Bowles brings in Spanish terms and phrases with mostly English narrative to tell their routine journey. The trip ends with an important and realistic stop near the border bridge, where a large group of refugees are camped out and waiting. “The US says there’s no room, and Mexico says it can barely look after it’s own gente.” The boy seeks out his friend who is waiting, and hands over the collected toys, comics, medicine and supplies to the grateful family. The dilemma of crossing the border freely as citizens leaves the boy, and perhaps the readers, wishing for a future of compassion and friendship.

THOUGHTS: Making a complex and never ending issue such as immigration and border control work through the eyes of a child is always a lesson in empathy. In this case, the author chooses to show the connections rather than the divisions between the two countries with a stunning effect. Discussions comparing similarities and differences between students’ towns and the story may continue the conversation. Recommended.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

MG – Paola Santiago and the River of Tears

Mejia, Tehlor Kay. Paola Santiago and the River of Tears. Disney-Hyperion, 2020. 978-1-368-04917-7. 350 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Scientific Paola just eyerolls when her superstitious mother talks of spells, wards, and evil beings like La Llorona, the creature who roams the river stealing children to replace those she lost. But Paola and her friends Emma and Dante do respect the Gila River near their Arizona home. Several local children have drowned in the waters. Not that that stops them from lying to their parents and hanging out on the banks of the river. But when Paola repeatedly has dreams of a creature reaching out of the waters and grabbing her, and Emma disappears one evening, Paola begins to reconsider whether her mother’s superstitions are as ridiculous as she always assumed them to be. When the police refuse to listen to Paola, she and Dante decide to take matters into their own hands. Armed with support and advice from a most surprising source, they venture into a world of legendary monsters battled by lost children, shocked to discover their own roles in this world that shouldn’t exist. Paola Santiago, part of the Rick Riordan imprint, is a page turner from the very beginning. Pao is a delightful protagonist, supported by her two best friends. Scientific-minded, fascinated by space, she is stunned by the existence of magic, myth, and monsters. Dante and Emma are strong characters as well (in every sense of the word), and the various creatures they encounter don’t stand a chance against the combined wiles of the trio. But Pao also learns that there is more to life than what the power of physics can prove and becomes closer to her mother through the ordeal. Paola and Dante are Hispanic; Emma is white.

THOUGHTS: Paola Santiago and the River of Tears is an exciting page turner that is hard to put down. Paola is a feisty heroine who is easy to love and is sure to gain legions of fans. Add this to your collection if other mythology-based books are popular.

Fantasy/Mythology          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat

Raúl the Third. ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat. Versify, 2020. 978-1-328-55704-9. Unpaged. $14.99. Grades K-2.

Little Lobo and his friends, from the Pura Belpré Honor Book ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market, return for more rollicking fun. This time, Little Lobo is asked to deliver lunch to the professional wrestlers in town for a big show. Little Lobo, his dog Bernabé, and his friend Kooky Dooky the rooster proceed to guide readers through a colorful marketplace of food carts where each delicious offering sounds better than the last. The food carts themselves are examined and explored, as well as the myriad of offerings. As in the first book, Spanish language terms are used extensively, sometimes translated in text, other times readers will go searching for the extensive glossary in the back of the book. The illustrations, in a rainbow of dusky colors, are lively and full of action, begging to be pored over. The text is never simplistic or overly explanatory, relying on readers to explore the Spanish language terms on their own. Unfortunately, the admittedly non-inclusive glossary frequently omits words specifically used in speech bubbles or pull out comments, assuming the reader will have the initiative (and ability) to locate a Spanish/English dictionary or look up the term on the internet.  Nevertheless, it is a marvelously fun introduction to Mexican food and culture.

THOUGHTS:  A must purchase for elementary libraries. The brilliant illustrations by Elaine Bay will enthrall readers, encouraging  multiple readings and the litany of Mexican foods will leave readers very hungry!

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD