Friday, October 16, 2015

Fall favorites! Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas

Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas 
Book review by Andrew ViƱales

Meeting Piri Thomas!

I read Down these Mean Streets when I was in middle school. In fact, Piri Thomas was the first author I ever met in person. It was important for my mom to make sure I saw Afro-Latinx’s contribution to literature and culture, through Piri Thomas’ work I gained access to that world. Down These Mean Streets is about Harlem, poverty, prison and coming of age for a man who experienced systemic racism in complex forms. Thomas’ rhythmic voice masterfully retells parts of his life story in a way that doesn’t romanticize the drama, but makes it more palatable. I firmly believe that my academic, social, and political work has been shaped by Down these Mean Streets, with that I end my review in the Spirit of Thomas… Punto! 

About Down These Mean Streets:
Thirty years ago Piri Thomas made literary history with this lacerating, lyrical memoir of his coming of age on the streets of Spanish Harlem. Here was the testament of a born outsider: a Puerto Rican in English-speaking America; a dark-skinned morenito in a family that refused to acknowledge its African blood. Here was an unsparing document of Thomas's plunge into the deadly consolations of drugs, street fighting, and armed robbery--a descent that ended when the twenty-two-year-old Piri was sent to prison for shooting a cop.
As he recounts the journey that took him from adolescence in El Barrio to a lock-up in Sing Sing to the freedom that comes of self-acceptance, faith, and inner confidence, Piri Thomas gives us a book that is as exultant as it is harrowing and whose every page bears the irrepressible rhythm of its author's voice. Thirty years after its first appearance, this classic of manhood, marginalization, survival, and transcendence is available in an anniversary edition with a new Introduction by the author.

About Andrew:
Andrew is a proud Afro-Latinx born and raised in the Bronx. He found his love for reading at an early age. His interests in history, culture, literature and community is a driving force for him to pursue a Master’s degree in Oral History at Columbia University. When he’s not organizing, reading, writing short stories, or on Tumblr, you can find Andrew dancing!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Fall favorites! Wonder by RJ Palacio

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Book review by Elizabeth Rossi

Wonder is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It follows a young boy named Auggie who has a face deformity that causes other children to scream in fear when he walks down the street. In order to protect him, his parents have home-schooled him until one day Auggie makes the brave decision to enroll into a public school in the 5th grade. It is here that Auggie must face his fear of rejection and being ostracized by his peers - but it also here where Auggie finds friendship, and people willing to stand up for him and by him. 
Wonder provides an opportunity to see how being extraordinary can come in all forms, even by ordinary people. It allows us to see how bravery can come from anyone, no matter the circumstance. It also shows us that it takes facing fear in order to see the best humanity has to offer. This book can be especially useful tool for parents and teachers to start conversations with students about bullying.
I recommend this book to both youth and adults. 

A reminder that no matter your age, you can always be extraordinary in your everyday life by not being afraid to be yourself and allowing others to do the same. 

About Wonder
August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

"Wonder is the best kids' book of the year," said Emily Bazelon, senior editor at and author of Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” —indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out

About Elizabeth:
Believer that art has the power to make significant social change and that peppermint tea can always heal your tummy - Elizabeth Rossi is the Gallery Curator of LaCasa Azul Bookstore, she is also teaches painting classes and feminism. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Fall favorites! Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat.

Happy Fall season! 
We had a great time this summer -- outdoor concerts, author mingles and paint parties. 
As the weather cools down, we though we'd suggest our favorite reads -- perfect for staying in and enjoying the new season. 

Every Friday we will post a Fall Favorite -- starting today with Doris' pick,  Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat.  

This September, Edwidge Danticat joined us for an intimate book reading and conversation with loyal fans.  When asked which of her own books was her favorite, she replied: Claire of the Sea Light (published in 2013).

I undoubtedly agreed, half way through the vignette-styled novel I felt that few other worlds could stay in my heart, like those of Ville Rose.

It is here, on a tempestuous shoreline, we first met our heroine, seven year old Claire Limye Lanme Faustin. And like a cascade, Danticat tenderly and unsentimentally reveals the people who have loved her the most, and the strangers who have loved them in turn. By the end you have this incredible patchwork of living and breathing that I was overwhelmed by my capacity to understand Haitian life in the few words she expressed.

The easy style of Edwidge Danticat's writing is what brings you in and lets you trust her in a deep, primal manner. That must be what enamors so many people to her work. The sweat of the writer's toil is clear, that she so encapsulates the essentials of life in a foreign world to the reader, and allows you to sit on that Haitian shoreline, kitchen, slum road, that you feel undoubtedly must be real. And you fall in love with the experience of reading her work, as you feel her world as if you've lived there your whole life.

In small chapters you meet the people with the power to change her life, like her father who debates whether or not to give her away for adoption. Or the dressmaker who may rekindle her role as a mother by sharing her home with the little girl. One afternoon she runs away, and like a mystery tale, Danticat artfully and confidently weaves in the lives of distantly related townspeople who all share in the sum experience little Claire has run away from, and is irrevocably made of.

About Doris:
A firm believer in the magic of books, from her Uncle Gerardo's science textbooks to her father's hilarious imitations from a book on Leonardo da Vinci's inventions, Doris-Elin Salazar currently works as a researcher at La Casa Azul Bookstore. She writes for Ashajiraa, a blog detailing the work of extraction industry activists in La Guajira, Colombia.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Meet Innosanto Nagara!

To open a book is to enter into a world of magic and wonder. Children's books have a powerful purpose -- beyond educational, books open children's minds to imagining many worlds and possibilities.
With The Power of Children's Books, we are not only celebrating the importance of their art but also the artists themselves, whose contribution provide our children with creativity and fantasy - and the
opportunity to dream of a world where anything is possible.

The current exhibit "A is for Art in Activism" closes this weekend - bring your children and students and encourage our youth to become the future leaders of tomorrow. 


Get to know one of the artists in the exhibit - Innosanto Nagara, author and illustrator of A is for Activist!

Of the books you have drawn, which do you reflect the most on? Why?
 I've only done two children's books, A is for Activist and Counting on Community (which comes out this Fall). Because I just finished Counting on Community, that's the one I've been reflecting on most recently. But A is for Activist also is a continuing project for me. Working with Martha Gonzalez (amazing Artivista from the Grammy Award winning band Quetzal) last year on her Spanish adaptation, A de Activista, has been a wonderful experience. Because it's an ABC book, and the words in Spanish that relate to the images don't always start with the same letters, it was a unique challenge. So we don't call it a translation, we call it an adaptation. Martha wrote a whole new book in Spanish that is fun for the kids, engaging for the adults, and presented her voice and politics along with the original images.
We also has the opportunity to work with Tom Morello (from Rage Against the Machine) on producing an audio version of A is for Activist,  and a Swedish translation came out last year as well! I'm working on a study guide based on the themes in the book with a number of leading activists who are working on those issues on the ground. So struggle continues!

Innosanto Nagara and Martha Gonzalez
What advice would you give your younger self?
 Don't take up smoking. When you're young, you don't think you'll never have to worry. Well, when you do get older, those things were either dumb, a waste of time, or an unnecessary worry that you now have to deal with.
But besides that, I would advise my younger self to worry a little less about what other people think. Everyone says that, and in fact you do need to care about what other people think. There is great value in understanding where other people are coming from, and that comes from caring what they think. But understand it. Have empathy. Decide what to do with it. But don't worry so much.

What three children’s books, other than your own, would you name as must reads? Why?
It's so hard to narrow it down to three. I feel there is such a great movement right now of people creating diverse children's books about things that matter. Authors and illustrators like Maya Christina Gonzalez, Yuyi Morales, and Shane Evans are creating such wonderful works of social relevance that children just love. But if I have to come up with three, I'd have to give a shout out some of my favorite independents:

Oh, oh, Baby Boy by Janine McBeth
As the father of a boy and a person of color, I think this book is just a gift. It is so important that we continue to expand the narrative of empowerment for girls, recognize women's work, and break down the gender binaries. But in the midst of that work it is also important to find the space to talk about raising good boys, and celebrate "engaged fatherhood" as she puts it. So I'm thankful for this book on a personal level.

What Makes a Baby by Corey Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth
There is nothing else like it, and it's important. The rest of the world is going to present our children with faulty messages about their bodies, human reproduction, and what makes a family. Corey's narrative masterfully navigates all this in a way that is engaging and understandable to even very small children (my child loved it since he was 3), without compromising on any social or scientific accuracy.

Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors 
by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
While I am not a practicing Muslim, I grew up as a Muslim in Indonesia and now that I live here, I see the deep, deep levels of ignorance people in the US are subjected to with regards to Islam. Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns is a wonderful way to expose your children to what Islamic culture really means to Muslims. The illustrations are beautiful. And the words are lyrical, and are chosen so very carefully to appreciate, not preach.

W​hat are three places you would suggest children/families visit when in your hometown?
I will have to re-answer this question for my home hometown of Jakarta when I take my child there for the first time next year. But for my current hometown, if I have to pick three, I'd say Children's Fairyland, the Oakland Museum during their Dia de los Muertos event, and Adventure Playground in Berkeley.