The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales

tequilaworm“I wanted to play soccer on those beautiful playing fields. I wanted to get better at kicking with my head so I could go to college. I could get a good job and make enough money to buy a nice house for my parents and Lucy.

But to go and live at a school? Without my family?”

Sofia’s family loves stories: telling and re-telling them, inventing new ones, and sharing old ones.  Stories are what keeps them together, and keeps their Mexican heritage alive.  There are stories of the Easter cascarones, the stories of loved ones for Dia de los Muertos, and stories of quinceanera preparations and festivities.  Sofia knows that part of becoming a grown-up is being able to share these stories with others.  However, her own story is about to change drastically.

When Sofia is offered a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school over three hundred miles from her home, she is torn: should she stay at home, with everyone she loves, with everything she is familiar with?  Or should she pack up and move to a school where everyone is wealthier, whiter, and more privileged than she?  School may be difficult, but Sofia’s determined to go away, learn, and then come back and help her family.

Sofia’s sense of humor permeates this sensitive story:  from the play-by-play of eating the tequila worm (to prevent homesickness) to the descriptions of her mother’s endless stream of knitted doorstops and pencil toppers, this book will keep you laughing.  Her humorous stories have a deeper meaning, though: through them, Sofia can feel the love of her family and community.  By sharing them, she takes her place as an almost-grown-up in her family.

This is another Pura Belpré winner, named for the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library! I’m reviewing as many of the Pura winners as I can; I hope you like this one. Would you like to read along with me? Here’s a list of past winners!

Author’s website:

Happy Reading!

Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa

cuba15They all looked at me: Mom, perturbed; Abuela, skeptical; Abuelo, curious; and Dad, still upset…Must I invite these people to my party? I thought, trying to hold firm. ‘Being the one turning fifteen and all,’ I said to my audience, ‘I just want to say that I would rather have gone on a trip to Spain.  But I was not given that choice.’

Abuela opened her mouth. ‘However,’ I continued, silencing her, ‘since my dear grandmother has offered to throw me a quince party, I have gratefully accepted the idea.’ If only to find out why, I thought.”

Violeta Paz has just turned fifteen years old, and her Cuban grandmother insists that she must have a quinceañera, a traditional coming-of-age celebration for young women.  The party is supposed to mark her transition into young womanhood, but Violeta just isn’t sure if all the tulle and dancing is for her.  Attendants?  A gigantic, fluffy dress?  Not for Violeta.  Couldn’t she just go to Spain, like her aunt got to do?  Besides, she’s not even all Cuban! Her mom is Polish, and who ever heard of a Polish-Cuban quince?

Violeta reaches a compromise with her family:  she gets to design her own party, within reason. (After all, she is definitely NOT the boss when it comes to money.) There will be tradición, si, but also new elements to her party.  And in the process of learning all about what this rite-of-passage business actually means(thanks to her guidebook: Quinceañera for the Gringo Dummy), Violeta learns  who she really is, and to love and appreciate her heritage.  Sure, her family may be irritating, obnoxious, and her dad’s devotion to his bowling-shoes-and-shorts combo is not the classiest, but they’re just perfect for her.

This book is written in first person, as though we’re listening to Violeta’s thoughts-and you’ll want to do that, because she’s super funny! Readers will enjoy her running commentary, sprinkled with sarcasm and a hefty dose of puns.  High school through her eyes is pretty hilarious, actually.  So, if you’re looking for a humorous, well-written book with awesome bicultural elements, this is a great place to start. Oh, and notice that shiny award on the cover?  It’s a Pura Belpre honor-an award that goes to work celebrating the Latino/a experience.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be featuring lots of Belpre winners, so stay tuned!

Author’s website

Happy Reading!

Want more quince stories, or more books about the Latino/Latina experience?  You might like these:

¡Scandalosa! Evie’s sixteenera might not ever happen, if she can’t keep her grades up.

Estrella’s Quinceañera Estrella’s mom has been waiting to throw her daughter a traditional quince for years now, but mariachi bands and puffy dresses give Estrella hives.

Um…is it too late for me to get my own quince?!  So much fun!

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

“One day a week,’ said Hortensia, looking at Esperanza. ‘The Mexicans can only swim on Friday afternoons, before they clean the pool on Saturday mornings.’

Esperanza pounded the dough a little too hard. ‘Do they think we are dirtier than the others?'”

This gem of a book is written from the perspective of Esperanza, a young girl who begins the story on her family’s large ranch in Mexico.  She lives like a princess, surrounded by family that loves her, and enjoys many luxuries.

However, tragedy strikes and her father is murdered by renegades of the Mexican Revolution.  When her predatory uncles move in and use threats and violence to access her late father’s money and property, Esperanza and her mother become migrant pickers, moving to California and trading their beautiful mansion for a picker’s squalid living quarters.  Since it is during the Great Depression, Esperanza and her mother face not only the hardships of the migrant picker’s life, but also must compete for work with those white farmers who also migrated to California during the Dust Bowl.  There are talks of strikes, but Esperanza’s mother falls ill and Esperanza knows she must keep working in order to pay for the doctor’s bills.  Readers follow Esperanza as she learns how to perform the labor required for her her new life, makes friends, and develops a finely-tuned sense of compassion.   The novel discusses prejudice,  poverty, class struggles, the Mexican revolution, and the Great Depression-making it the perfect text for including on a unit about the time period, or in a unit about race and racism.

Pam Munoz Ryan’s ancestors lived a life very similar to Esperanza’s, and Ryan’s meticulous research creates a very authentic voice for the characters. This novel won the Pura Belpre award, among many other recognitions, including the Willa Cather award for women’s Western writing.  The Belpre award goes to a text that “celebrates the Latino cultural experience”, which is something that Ryan does, sensitively and beautifully, with Esperanza.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:

Publisher’s website:

Ryan, Pam Munoz.  Esperanza Rising. Scholastic: New York, 2000.  262 pp (but doesn’t feel like it).  Ages 10-14. ISBN: 978-0439120425.

If you liked this book, try Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis or Becoming Naomi Leon, also by Pam Munoz Ryan.