Category Archives: Reading

Celebrating Hispanic Authors: Spotlight on Francisco X. Stork

In an effort to celebrate Hispanic authors beyond National Hispanic Heritage month, I plan to read and post about YA novels written by Latino/as. You may also want to check out Latina Book Club, a site by Maria Ferrer dedicated to promoting Hispanic authors and literacy.

And, today’s YA author in the spotlight is: Francisco X. Stork. Enjoy!

AUTHOR: (information comes from the author’s website ( Francisco Xavier Arguelles was born in 1953 in Monterrey, Mexico, to his single mother, Ruth. She later married Charles Stork, who adopted Francisco and gave him his last name.  The three moved to El Paso, Texas, where they struggled to make ends meet. For his seventh birthday, Charlie gave Francisco a portable typewriter because Francisco announced he wanted to be a writer. Two years later, Charlie Stork died in a car crash. Francisco and his mom stayed in El Paso. Francisco was awarded a scholarship to the local Jesuit High School. He received a full scholarship to Spring Hill College in Alabama, where he majored in English Literature and Philosophy and received the college’s creative writing award. After college, a Danforth Fellowship allowed him to attend graduate school at Harvard University, where he studied Latin American Literature. Francisco then went to Columbia Law School. His plan was to make a living as a lawyer without abandoning his plan to write fiction. Twenty years and twelve or so legal jobs later, Francisco published his first novel. He has published five novels so far: THE WAY OF THE JAGUAR, BEHIND THE EYES, MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD, THE LAST SUMMER OF THE DEATH WARRIORS, and IRISES.


Marcelo In The Real World

BOOK DESCRIPTION FROM AMAZON.COM: Marcelo Sandoval hears music no one else can hear–part of the autism-like impairment no doctor has been able to identify–and he’s always attended a special school where his differences have been protected. But the summer after his junior year, his father demands that Marcelo work in his law firm’s mailroom in order to experience “the real world.”

MY TWO CENTS: This description doesn’t do the  novel justice. I listened to this one on audio. Stork’s writing is simple yet beautiful. He masterfully crafts a story that includes issues of religion, love, friendship, loyalty, ethics, and conscience. He also creates a main character who is Mexican-American with a “developmental disorder,” but the narrative is about so much more than those two elements. I’ve been reading lots and lots of blogs and comments about the need for diversity in YA. Many have called for authors to include racially or ethnically diverse characters in stories that are not necessarily about being a person of color (i.e. the newly arrived immigrant or POC vs. the majority). If this is what some readers want, then this novel is a model. A great read! I don’t know what took me so long to get to this one!

LINKS for more information:

Find MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD on, Barnes and,,  and Goodreads.

Celebrating Hispanic Authors: Spotlight on Nancy Osa

In an effort to celebrate Hispanic authors beyond National Hispanic Heritage month, I plan to read and post about YA novels written by Latino/as. You may also want to check out Latina Book Club, a site by Maria Ferrer dedicated to promoting Hispanic authors and literacy.

And, today’s YA author in the spotlight is: Nancy Osa. Enjoy!

AUTHOR: (information comes from the author’s website Nancy Osa was born in Chicago, grew up in South Holland, Ill., and now lives in Portland, Oregon. Her father is from Cuba, and her mother’s side of the family traces back to the Mayflower. Her first novel, written as her BA thesis, remains unpublished. Her debut novel, CUBA 15, earned the following awards/honors: Pura Belpré Honor Book, ALA Notable Book for Children, YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, An Americas Award Honor Book, a Booklist Top Ten First Novel for Youth, A Children’s Book Sense 76 Pick, A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, Delacorte Press Prize for a First Young Adult Novel.


BOOK DESCRIPTION FROM AMAZON.COM: “Violet Paz has just turned 15, a pivotal birthday in the eyes of her Cuban grandmother. Fifteen is the age when a girl enters womanhood, traditionally celebrating the occasion with a quinceañero. But while Violet is half Cuban, she’s also half Polish, and more importantly, she feels 100% American. Except for her zany family’s passion for playing dominoes, smoking cigars, and dancing to Latin music, Violet knows little about Cuban culture, nada about quinces, and only tidbits about the history of Cuba. So when Violet begrudgingly accepts Abuela’s plans for a quinceañero–and as she begins to ask questions about her Cuban roots–cultures and feelings collide. The mere mention of Cuba and Fidel Castro elicits her grandparents’sadness and her father’s anger. Only Violet’s aunt Luz remains open-minded. With so many divergent views, it’s not easy to know what to believe. All Violet knows is that she’s got to form her own opinions, even if this jolts her family into unwanted confrontations. After all, a quince girl is supposed to embrace responsibility–and to Violet that includes understanding the Cuban heritage that binds her to a homeland she’s never seen.”

MY TWO CENTS: I have read a lot about, and even written an article or two, about the Hispanic Sweet 15 party, so I was familiar with the subject going into this book. Osa does a great job of presenting all that goes into this important ceremony and representing Violet’s mixed heritage: Cuban, Polish, and American. All of the characters are distinct, and well-developed with the right mix of seriousness and humor. Violet is a members of the debate team, which is cool and something I had never seen before with a Latina protagonist. I often read books by Hispanic authors about the harsh realities of living in poverty. I have to say, reading CUBA 15 was a refreshing change.

LINKS for more information:

Find CUBA 15 on and Goodreads.

The Books My Reluctant Readers Love

At various times during the year, a “best books” list is published by someone somewhere. Those people have a lot more clout than I do, but I contend that some of the best books are being read in my classroom. Why? Because they are being read. Period.

Most of my students are self-proclaimed non-readers. They can read, but they don’t like to read. When offered the choice between a book and something else, the something else wins. Reluctant readers are often turned off by books because they are told what to read instead of being allowed to pick a book for themselves. When allowed to choose, students often select something that sounds good, but may be above or below their reading levels, which leaves them frustrated or bored.

This school year, we started by reading two novels I was sure they’d love: 13 REASONS WHY by Jay Asher and THE WAVE by Todd Strasser. We read these together, which was great, but I wanted my students to develop an independent reading habit. They took a reading assessment that produced their “Lexile” numbers, and these were used to help students select books. I hadn’t done this before, but it seemed like the best way to match students with books they could actually read instead of something too hard or too easy. Like Goldilocks, we were searching for books that were “just right.”

Once students and books were matched, I gave them time to read every day. And an amazing thing happened….books…got…read…in…their…entirety! That’s right: cover to cover. Pretty cool, huh? Now, my matchmaking skills didn’t work on everyone. I had some students who stopped after a few chapters and needed to try something new. I have one boy who took weeks to finish a novel and another who has yet to finish one. But, by and large, students were reading, asking for more time to read, and finishing books, at which time I made a copy of the cover and pinned it to the wall.

Here is a picture of my wall when we first started:







Here is a more recent picture:







This is what we call progress. (I stop to wipe a teacher tear of joy.)

So, here is a list of best YA books based on the criteria that they were read and loved by students who would normally prefer not to read. I look forward to adding to the list later this year.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

The Wave by Todd Strasser

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman

Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman

Skeleton Creek: The Crossbones by Patrick Carman

Skeleton Creek: The Raven by Patrick Carman

Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

Haters by Alisa Valdes

Perfect by Ellen Hopkins

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles

Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles

Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

Celebrating Hispanic Authors: Spotlight on Matt de la Peña

In an effort to celebrate Hispanic authors beyond National Hispanic Heritage month, I plan to read and post about YA novels written by Latino/as. You may also want to check out Latina Book Club, a site by Maria Ferrer dedicated to promoting Hispanic authors and literacy.

And, today’s YA author in the spotlight is: Matt de la Peña. Enjoy!

AUTHOR: (information comes from the author’s website Matt de la Peña has had four YA novels, a picture book, and several short stories published. His debut novel, BALL DON’T LIE, was published in 2005 and made into a major motion picture. The book was named as an ALA-YALSA Best Book for Young Adults and an ALA-YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. His other novels, MEXICAN WHITEBOY, WE WERE HERE, and I WILL SAVE YOU were also recognized by the ALA-YALSA, the Junior Library Guild, and others. Matt received his MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University and his BA from the University of the Pacific, where he attended school on a full athletic scholarship for basketball. He lives in Brooklyn, NY. He teaches creative writing at NYU and visits high schools and colleges all over the country.


Mexican WhiteBoy

FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Danny’s tall and skinny. Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. Ninety-five-mile-an-hour fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets on the mound, he loses it. Ball ends up so far out of the strike zone it’s laughable.

But at his private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny’s brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego, that close to the border, means everyone knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blond hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged. But it works the other way too. And Danny’s convinced it’s the whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico.

That’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. Only, to find himself, he may just have to face the demons he refuses to see–the demons that are right in front of his face. And open up to a friendship he never saw coming.

Set in the alleys and on the ball fields of San Diego County, MEXICAN WHITEBOY is a story of friendship, acceptance, and the struggle to find your identity in a world of definitions.

MY TWO CENTS: I don’t often read books about sports, and I have already read a lot of  books about mixed-race cultural identity struggles. Because of this, I wasn’t sure  how I would react to this novel. I picked it up because I had heard and read a lot about  de la Peña. In the end, I wasn’t disappointed. The novel blends the major issues, so a reader can’t pin it down and say, “It’s a sports book,” or, “It’s a cultural identity book.” It’s both. And it’s more than that. It’s about friendship, family, love, pain, and the complicated process of figuring out one’s identity. I think it’s an especially good book for boys and reluctant readers because the issues and characters make you want to keep reading.

LINKS for more information:

Find MEXICAN WHITEBOY on and Goodreads.

Celebrating Hispanic Authors

During National Hispanic Heritage Month, I promised to read a novel written by a Latino/a and blog about it each month. I have fallen behind on the reading, but I have started Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Peña and will write about it once I am done. In the meantime, I’ve compiled a list of Latino/a authors who write middle grade and young adult novels. There were a couple of good lists online already, so I worked with those and added some names. If I have missed anyone, please let me know. I will add them to the list and to my personal to-be-read list. Enjoy and Happy Reading!

Isabel Allende: City of Beasts series

Julia Alvarez: Before We Were Free, Return to Sender, Finding Miracles

Sandra Cisneros: The House on Mango Street

Jack Gantos: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Joey Pigza Loses Control, Hole in My Life, Dead End in Norvelt

Francisco Jimenez: The Circuit, Reaching Out, Breaking Through

Pam Muñoz Ryan: Esperanza Rising, Becoming Naomi Leon, The Dreamer, Riding Freedom, Paint the Wind

Gary Soto: Buried Onions, The Afterlife, Accidental Love, Baseball in April etc.

Francisco X. Stork: Marcelo in the Real World, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, Irises, Behind the Eyes, The Way of the Jaguar

Margarita Engle: The Firefly Letters, Hurricane Dancers, The Poet Slave of Cuba, The Surrender Tree, Tropical Secrets, The Wild Book

Cristina Garcia: I Wanna Be Your Shoebox, Dreams of Significant Girls

Judith Ortiz Cofer: An Island Like You, Stories of the Barrio, Call Me María, If I Could Fly

Alisa Valdes: Haters, The Temptation: A Kindred Novel (coming 2012)

Ashley Hope Perez: What Can’t Wait

Jennifer Cervantes: Tortilla Sun

Meg Medina: The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind (coming 2012)

Jessica Martinez: Virtuosity

Yxta Maya Murray: What it Takes to Get to Vegas, The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Kidnapped

René Saldaña Jr.: The Jumping Tree, The Whole Sky Full of Stars, Finding Our Way, A Good Long Way

Sofia Quintero: Efrain’s Secret

Lulu Delacre: Golden Tales, Salsa Stories, Shake it Morena!

Kim Flores: Gamma Glamma

Bettina Restrepo: Illegal

Gaby Triana: Riding the Universe, Backstage Pass, The Temptress Four, Cubanita

Alex Sanchez: Boyfriends with Girlfriends, The God Box, Bait, Rainbow High, Rainbow Road, Rainbow Boys, So Hard to Say, Getting It

Matt de la Peña: I Will Save You, We Were Here, Ball Don’t Lie, Mexican Whiteboy

Veronica Chambers: Mama’s Girl, Plus, Marisol and Magdalena, Quinceñera Means Sweet 15

Benjamin Alire Sáenz: Last Night I Sang to the Monster, Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood

Caridad Ferrer: When the Stars Go Blue, Adiós to My Old Life, It’s Not About the Accent

Torrey Maldonado: Secret Saturdays

Iris Gomez: Try to Remember

Viola Canales: The Tequila Worm

Nancy Osa: Cuba 15

Malín Alegría: Estrella’s Quinceñera, Sofi Mendoza’s Guide to Getting Lost in Mexico

Carmen Rodrigues: Not Anything

Michele Serros: Honey Blonde Chica, Scandalosa!

Ofelia Dumas Lachtman: The Trouble with Tessa, Leticia’s Secret, The Truth About Las Mariposas

Juan Felipe Herrera: CrashBoomLove, Cinnamon Girl: Letters Found Inside a Cereal Box, SkateFate

e.E. Charlton-Trujillo: Prizefighter en Mi Casa, Feels Like Home

Agnes Martinez: Poe Park

Maria Colleen Cruz: Border Crossing

Lorraine Lopez: Call Me Henri

David Hernandez: Suckerpunch, No More Us for You

Nico Medina: Straight Road to Kylie, Fat Hoochie Prom Queen

Marisa Montes: A Circle of Time

Diana López: Confetti Girl

Claudia Guadalupe Martinez: The Smell of Old Lady Perfume

National Hispanic Heritage Month: Spotlight on Pam Muñoz Ryan

To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, I am highlighting an Hispanic author of young adult literature each week. At the end of the month, I will post a list of titles for those of you interested in reading YA novels written by Hispanic authors. I will continue to
chip away at the long list and post about them during the year because–hey, Hispanics should be celebrated year round! :.)

Here’s a link with more information about National Hispanic Heritage Month:

And here’s a link for Latina Book Club, a site by Maria Ferrer dedicated to promoting Hispanic authors and literacy.

And, today’s YA author in the spotlight is PAM MUÑOZ RYAN. Enjoy!

AUTHOR: (information comes from the author’s website Pam Muñoz Ryan  has written over thirty books for young people, from picture books for the very young to young adult novels, including the award winning ESPERANZA RISING, BECOMING NAOMI LEÓN, RIDING FREEDOM, PAINT THE WIND, and THE DREAMER. She is the National Education Association´s Author recipient of the Civil and Human Rights Award, the Virginia Hamilton Award for Multicultural Literature, and is twice the recipient of the Willa Cather Literary Award for writing. She was born and raised in Bakersfield, California, (formerly Pam Bell), received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at San Diego State University, and now lives in North San Diego County with her family.


Esperanza Rising

FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Esperanza believed her life would be wonderful forever. She would always live on her family’s ranch in Mexico. She would always have fancy dresses and a beautiful home filled with servants. Papa and Abuelita would always be with her. But a sudden tragedy shatters her world and forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California, where they settle in a camp for Mexican migrant workers. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard labor, financial struggles brought on by the Great Depression, and lack of acceptance she now faces. When Mama gets sick, and a strike for better working conditions threatens to uproot their new life, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances–because Mama’s life and her own depend on it.

MY TWO CENTS: This novel was on my to-read list for a long time. The teachers at my former school read it with their 6th graders, and I had heard a lot about it, but I never got around to reading it myself. I’m glad I finally did. I listened to the audio version of the novel, which can sometimes make or break my experience. The reader was great, and the story was both beautifully written and touching. Muñoz Ryan’s writing has a lyrical quality and her characters are likeable and memorable. The story of Esperanza’s family losing everything and needing to start over was skillfully blended with the historical setting, the Great Depression. Esperanza’s relationship with her mother, her love of the land–a seed planted by her father–and the lovely portrayal of Mexican culture were all high points for me.

LINKS for more information:

Find ESPERANZA RISING on and Goodreads.


NEXT UP: The long list of YA novels written by Hispanic authors.

National Hispanic Heritage Month: Spotlight on Gary Soto

To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, I am highlighting an Hispanic author of young adult literature each week. At the end of the month, I will post a list of titles for those of you interested in reading YA novels written by Hispanic authors. I will continue to
chip away at the long list and post about them during the year because–hey, Hispanics should be celebrated year round! :.)

Here’s a link with more information about National Hispanic Heritage Month:

And here’s a link for Latina Book Club, a site by Maria Ferrer dedicated to promoting Hispanic authors and literacy.

And, today’s YA author in the spotlight is GARY SOTO. Enjoy!

AUTHOR: (information comes from the author’s website Gary Soto, born April 12, 1952, was raised in Fresno, California. His poetry collection for adults, New and Selected Poems, was a 1995 finalist for both the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the National Book Award. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1997, because of his advocacy for reading, he was featured as NBC’s Person-of-the-Week. In 1999, he received the Literature Award from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, the Author-Illustrator Civil Rights Award from the National Education Association, and the PEN Center West Book Award for Petty Crimes. A prolific writer, Soto has authored picture books, middle grade novels, short stories, poetry for younger readers, YA novels, and books for adults and high school students. Other titles include: ACCIDENTAL LOVE, THE AFTERLIFE, TAKING SIDES, and BASEBALL IN APRIL AND OTHER STORIES.


Buried Onions

FROM THE BOOK JACKET: All of my life everyone was pulling away from me—Father, my mom, Jesús, school friends, and homies who disappeared in three lines of the obituary column. I could have cried under the heat of Fresno, but it wouldn’t have mattered. My tears would have evaporated before anyone saw my sadness.

Fresno, California, is such a sorrowful place that nineteen-year-old Eddie imagines there must be onions buried underground, their vapors drawing tears from the residents above. Eddie is trying hard to stay out of trouble and make a decent living, but he’s not finding it easy—especially with his aunt urging him to avenge his cousin’s murder. Will Eddie get caught up in the violence he despises? Or can he escape this land of buried onions?

An ALA Best Book for Young Adults

An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age

MY TWO CENTS: Soto’s talent as a poet with a keen eye for detail and skill for beautiful description is always evident. The buried onion image runs throughout the novel, as Eddie navigates life in a community plagued by gang violence and few real options for a brighter future. Soto writes: “For me, there wasn’t much to do except eat and sleep, watch out for drive-bys, and pace myself through life. I had dropped out of City College, where I was taking classes in air-conditioning. I quit not long after my cousin, mi primo, Jesús got killed.” Eddie struggles to work honestly and ultimately has to decide whether to stay in Fresno or get out by joining the military. While this is a sad tale on many levels, there is hope in Eddie, who refuses to give in or give up.

LINKS for more information:

Find BURIED ONIONS on and Goodreads.


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