Saturday, August 02, 2014

"Zorro" book's author and publisher disagree with "review"

Last week, I covered a new, children's book, Boy Zorro and the Bully (El Niño Zorro y el Peleón), by Kat Aragon. My post opened with "U.S. readers definitely need more and more diverse books. Especially for children, both Anglo and the marginalized children of color. A bilingual book by Kat Aragon, published last month, relates to that need, as well as to the U.S. sickness of bullying."

I closed with, "Our First Voice books should aspire to be superior to others being written. If expecting books to meet such a standard offends someone, I prefer that to my saying nothing about our literature needing improvement. And when mine are published, I'll ask help holding them to similar standards. To help publicize Zorro, I'll give the author, publisher, and illustrator, for that matter, space here if they would like to explain more about the book."

The author and the publisher sent responses to my post and as promised, I include them below, as well as some others. Reading the original post will likely help you understand what's said below.

Reviews of any book are inherently done from personal perspectives; it's simply part of human frailty. Which is why authors sometimes disagree with their reviewers. Based on what follows, I displeased some people, got confused or maybe even don't understand certain things. I do sometimes do that. Although my review can't be considered thorough, it was my best attempt.

Normally, Anglo reviewers don't necessarily go "light" on Anglo writers, except insofar as they go "heavy" on ethnic writers or lit that's not part of the Anglo world. I believe Chicanos, Latinos, all People of Color also need to be as insightful and honest about "their" literature and writers. Maybe, more so.

Back in the 60s-70s, we Chicanos tended to hide our differences, not criticize ourselves in front of Anglos and generally looked with disdain on any Raza who dared to find fault in the Chicano Movimiento, its leaders or its politics. I tried not to be one of those. I continue to try to practice honesty in my writing and in assessing that of others. According to the author and publisher of Zorro, at least, I didn't do that in their case. You decide. 

The comments about my original post:
1. Rudy. Rudy. Rudy. You practically missed the book altogether. Starting with the misclassification of it as “A Latino Book”. This is a book about “Bullying”. You made it a book about Latinos and then used the book as a platform to go off into different tangents about race, skin color, lack of female representation, and injecting the word “punishment” -implying a negative connotation, as though it is related to the injustice of the system – which is indeed a problem, but not in this book.

A children’s book about a bully, that happens to be inclusive of Latinos, particularly Mr. Ramos the principal, and the iconic Mexican character Zorro, should be commended, not torn apart for not addressing every single issue regarding race. Are you helping or hurting those who actually do something in the world to provide quality education in today’s world with our Latino families?

The fact that I selected a publisher (and there aren’t too many), that focuses on bilingual books as a way to be inclusive of Spanish-speaking immigrant parents, and provides a practical solution to include Spanish-speaking parents in the discussion at schools, with language, reading and educational opportunities to improve our society, should be commended not slighted. - Kat A. - Author [of Zorro], Educator

2. I am the publisher at Lectura Books and I would love to clarify the intent of this special book – Boy Zorro and The Bully. The book is quite timely and is intended for the support of very young elementary kids, as a way to have discussions about the topic of bullying and what to do if they experience it, or witness it.

The Boy Zorro character, Benny, is very young, and the Zorro outfit was a creative expression of his young imagination, and perhaps his fascination with superheroes.

Boy Zorro does the right thing by having an adult handle the bully. And, doing the right thing, at the risk of being called a name like “snitch,” takes true courage.

Bullying is a serious topic today, and goes beyond teasing and snitching. Actual bullying happens over and over and creates ongoing fear in the victim – which is the case with the Big Ricky character in the book. Mr. Ramos, the principal, does the right thing, stays strong, and all outcomes are favorable – no matter their skin color or race.

As you can see from the text, Boy Zorro doesn’t “make a difference” simply by going to the principal. He ultimately makes a difference by taking it to the right person (instead of trying to fight the bully), who will bring it to the school community for discussion, accountability and policy.

As a child development expert, I love how this book spells out the consequences so that kids, parents, and teachers know what to expect. It’s also important that the offender, Big Ricky, had an opportunity to see that his actions were unacceptable and would not be tolerated in their community, and yes, there are real world consequences. Consequences should be spelled out clearly and followed through, as in every good parenting and leadership situation.

It’s true, this is a complex time in our society, which is reflected in our schools and I don’t think anyone has an easy fix for bullying. But, I do know that having ongoing discussions, about what is acceptable and what are the consequences, is a terrific model for parents, kids, teachers, and administrators. The book also has an age-appropriate play for young school kids to perform in front of their school community, which invites further opportunity to open up the lines of communication.

If you’d like more bilingual books with girls, boys, people of different colors, histories, traditions, and socioeconomic diversity, visit our website at: - Katherine Del Monte, Publisher

3. I like the main character Boy Zorro and his fighting against Bullying. Putting aside the issue of light v. dark skin, the illustrations are great. Hopefully, Zorrito will appear in follow-up books fighting other problems. - Author Giora

4. I like the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of your review. I also like how you offer space to those who created the book for their comments. I remember some awful moments in school, some more terrifying than others. If I had told my Father everything, I feel certain he would've had me transferred -- I was a kid, and valued being with friends more than safety. I think it's great to teach kids how to deal and I also like adult awareness. I also agree that bullies won't teach themselves how and why to stop. Great post, Rudy! - Sylvia Riojas, Independent Writing and Editing Professional

5. Very good review, Rudy. You've really covered all of the pros and cons. Bullying happens both within and outside of cultures and needs to be always in our minds to protect children and show them how to work with and survive it. This book is a good start. - L. M. (Linda) Quinn, Marketing/Technical Writer Living and Writing in L.A.

6. Rudy, as always, you are honest, straightforward, and insightful in your comments. I, for one, appreciate this. No book is perfect. You pointed out plenty of good points about this book, so the author, illustrator, and publisher should feel good. Re: the cons, every book has some. Hearing honest reviews helps us authors keep pushing the envelope toward higher and higher quality. Thanks for not insulting us by expecting less. - Thelma T. Reyna, author

Final aviso: This post is not intended as a literary boxing ring. In my mind, there are no sides. There are opinions, and that's all they are. Anyone who chooses to comment to this post should keep in mind that only "constructive" criticism will improve "our" literature, assuming you include yourself in the "our."

Es todo, hoy,
RudyG, a.k.a. Rudy Ch. Garcia, Chicano speculative fiction author (honorable mention, International Latino Book Awards)


Thelma T. Reyna said...

Hi, Rudy. Both the publisher and author make good points in their rebuttals to your review. As an educator, I can agree with a number of their points regarding bullying and parental involvement. However, the real topic here is a book reviewer's right and obligation to present his/her assessment of a book openly and as honestly as he/she can. This is what you did in your book review, and you had the right to do that.

I as an author have also experienced a few instances in which a book reviewer said something less than glowing about my books, or even misinterpreted some of my writings, especially poetry. But this was rare, which helped me get over it. I had to chalk their comments up to their individual perspectives, since all reviews are subjective to a large extent. No book is perfect, as I wrote here before, so all of us--even very famous authors--have to endure a negative review here or there. Such is the writer's world.

Finally, many of your points in your review were constructive criticism, and I agreed with these in particular: the need to include strong female characters, and the need to pictorially represent our cultural diversity correctly and realistically. I'm surprised that anyone would contradict these two points. So, with all due respect to the author and publisher--who will hopefully feel very proud of their publication and move successfully onward--let's spend less time seeing the half-empty glass and focusing instead on the half-full glass. Best wishes to each of the three of you!

Linda Quinn said...


I just attended a Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) conference where Diversity was the BUZZ. The book you reviewed and others considered diverse were discussed by authors and readers. As Thelma pointed out in her comment above, there are many view points, many of them as valid as your review's. Many of the authors I spoke to didn't understand what Diversity was (unless they were obviously diverse - Hispanic, Asian, etc.). They weren't seeing the scope of Diversity (religious, cultural, ethnic, etc.). This conference did a lot to explain all of this and hopefully these authors will pass along their learning.

Anonymous said...

Kat, Kat, Kat. One of my favorite all-time authors, Carlos Dickens, was hammered in his day and some literary scholars to this day say he was not all that great, overrated, wrote the same theme over and over, etc.

So, consider yourself among elite company (in my opinion) and keep writing what you feel and forget what I feel.

And I am also defending, kind of, Rudy and his humble review.

Anonymous said...

I am the director of an anti-bullying committee at our school district and I plan on recommending this book to all our K-2nd grade teachers to give out in their classrooms. I'm glad I ignored all the negativity the reviewer created and read it for myself. This is a practical and helpful story for our young readers, and beautifully illustrated. For those of us who work in education today, and who deal with the real issues of our world, like bullying, we all need to try to support the good work of others and not get so caught up in our own negative thoughts. But I guess that comes along with the internet - anyone can say whatever they want and be critical, thinking that they are just being "constructive". I didn't find this review helpful to understand the book and how useful it really is, until I read it for myself. I recommend this book to all parents and current day educators, especially those who have the need for books in Spanish to include parents who speak spanish.