4 YA Novels in Verse by U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera

crash boom love1. Crashboomlove (University of New Mexico Press, 1999) From Goodreads: Sixteen-year-old Cesar Garcia is careening. His father, Papi Cesar, has left the migrant circuit in California for his other wife and children in Denver. Sweet Mama Lucy tries to provide for her son with dichos and tales of her own misspent youth. But at Rambling West High School in Fowlerville, the sides are drawn: Hmongs vs. Chicanos vs. everybody vs. Cesar, the new kid on the block. Precise and profound, CrashBoomLove will appeal to and resonate with high school readers across the country.

 

 

 

 

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2. Downtown Boy by Juan Felipe Herrera (Scholastic Press, 2005)   Juanito Palomar is new to San Francisco. He moved there from the central valley after his father had to go away. Herrera’s novel in verse is set in the 1950s and follows Juanito through the trials and tribulations of being a young man of color. Juanito doesn’t understand why his father comes and goes from the family as often as he does. Throughout the story, Jaunito struggles to define his masculinity and to define his relationship with his father. Herrera tells a beautiful story about a father’s and son’s desire to belong, to find healing, and to be with each other.

 

 

 

 

cinnamon girl3. Cinnamon Girl: Letters found Inside a Cereal Box (2005/ Harper Collins, revised edition 2016) Publisher description: U.S Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera delivers this moving tale of one teen seeking courage amid tragedy. When the towers fall, New York City is blanketed by dust. One the Lower East Side, Yolanda, the cinnamon girl, makes her manda, her promise, to gather as much of it as she can. Maybe returning the dust to Ground Zero can comfort all the voices. Maybe it can help her Uncle DJ open his eyes again. As misfortunes from her past mix in the air of an unthinkable present, Yolanda searches for hope in the silvery dust of Alphabet City.

 

 

 

 

Skate fate

4. Skate Fate (Rayo, 2011) From Goodreads: I wanted to roar out touch things i had never touched. to see if it was true. was i still here was this life still here. on this side. whatever you call it dude. wanted to touch everything like van Gogh touched and smeared everything when he painted. so i wrote it and spoke it. maybe mama would hear me. cuz i could hear her. sayin’ When your heart hurts, sing. wherever you go. Lucky Z has always lived on the edge—he loved to skateboard, to drag race, to feel alive. But things have taken a turn—he’s living with new foster parents and a tragic past. An accident changed everything. And only his voice will set him free.

 

Super Cilantro Girl Review

superUpon learning that her mother has been detained at the border, Esmeralda Sinfronteras transforms into a superhero to rescue her mother from ICE. She uses the power of cilantro to grow taller than a house, with hair longer than a bus, and skin so green it could have only come from cilantro. Super Cilantro Girl flies to the border, climbs the dark and dreary detention center to her mother’s window, and simply picks her up and puts her in her pocket and they fly home. The ICE agents are so mesmerized by the power of cilantro that they do not notice or prevent Super Cilantro Girl from rescuing her mother. The next morning, Esmeralda makes a huge discovery about her and her mother.

Author Juan Felipe Herrera and illustrator Honorario Robledo Tapia have created a magnificent children’s book about the transformative power of imagination. Esmeralda is emblematic of the many children who have been separated from their families due to unjust and xenophobic immigration laws. Herrera and Tapia go beyond common debates about immigration to give a face and a voice to the children impacted by this. Esmeralda gains the power and courage she needs to confront ICE from the environment around her. Her grandmother and the land serve as vessels for alternative knowledge that guide Esmeralda through her journey. Furthermore, Herrera’s and Tapia’s reclamation of the color green juxtaposes Esmeralda’s power with the cultural and social power of the “green card.” In Esmeralda’s imagination, her power is much stronger than anything ICE or a green card could ever have.

There are several ways to read race, gender, and class into this story in order to come up with a thorough analysis of how immigration impacts Latina/o children and their families. What I appreciate most about Herrera’s children book is that hope and empowerment are central to the narrative. Giving Esmeralda superpowers reveals the possibility for change that manifests from a child’s imagination. Super Cilantro Girl encourages children to dream, hope, and fight for their rights even if it means going against an entire state apparatus like ICE.

*Originally posted on GoodReads