Most of us cannot imagine a world without books, and if you're reading this, you're one of those people. The love of the printed word usually begins at an age when young minds are expanding and developing at a miraculous rate. Also, with millions and millions of gift cards given each year during the holidays, what better way to spend this platic money than on something other than video games and iTunes? So, here are just a few of the fine books published this year that would delight children and teenagers. But before you read my recommendations, on behalf of my compadres y comadre here at La Bloga, stay safe, be happy and enjoy this special time of year. And if you're going through a rough patch, we send you good thoughts and wishes for a better new year. -- DAO
◙ Artemio Rodríguez is one of the most exciting artists working today. He now brings us a delightful bilingual picture book, The King of Things / El rey de las cosas (Cinco Puntos Press, $14.95 hardcover). Using the well-known Mexican game of lotería as his inspiration, Rodríguez tells the story of a little boy named Lalo who proudly trumpets: "I am three years old. I am so strong, I am so smart, look at what I own!" With a youthful glee that is infectious, Lalo informs us of the colorful characters that inhabit his make-believe kingdom. And as children often do, he places himself at the center of each lotería image, from el gallo to la luna, from la sirena to el tecolote.
◙ Tales Our Abuelitas Told / Cuentos que contaban nuestras abuelas by F. Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $19.95 hardcover) has been released in separate English and Spanish editions. The authors tell us that the stories included in this anthology of Hispanic folk tales not only have Spanish roots but also possess elements that can be traced to other people because Spain has been a "cultural crossroads throughout history." Thus, we are told that there are influences from the Phoenicians, Jews, Greeks, Basques, Celts and others. At the end of each tale, the authors give a little historical context. The stories themselves are entertaining and, at times, offer lessons on how we should treat others and conduct ourselves in this thing we call life.
◙ In Call Me Henri (Curbstone Press, $17.95 hardcover), a novel for young adult readers, Lorraine López introduces us to a middle-school student, Enrique, who valiantly attempts to survive life's obstacles. He juggles the demands of teachers with helping his working mother by baby-sitting his three brothers -- infant triplets -- after school. Enrique's stepfather battles alcoholism and while under the influence, creates a violent and uncertain atmosphere at home. And then there are the dangers of gangs that Enrique must confront while walking to and from school. But there is a glimmer of hope through learning. With the help of several caring teachers, Enrique falls in love with the French language which leads to intellectual excitement and academic success. From such positive reinforcement, Enrique's home life becomes less hopeless, and his self-confidence grows.
◙ Teens will be moved and inspired by Rose Castillo Guilbault's memoir, Farmworker's Daughter: Growing Up Mexican in America (Heyday Books, $11.95 paperback). The chapters in this richly detailed book arose from a series of essays first published in the San Francisco Chronicle. Guilbault is best known as an award-winning broadcast and print journalist who now is vice president of corporate affairs at the Automobile Association of America of Northern California. Her memoir recounts the intellectual, cultural and emotional trek from her youth in the border town of Nogales, Mexico, to growing up in California's Salinas Valley. Guilbault fights bigotry, economic hardship and sexism. She eventually finds success in the world of words -- although the phrase "I can't" has no place in her vocabulary.
[This first appeared in the El Paso Times in a slightly different form.]