Category Archives: Diversity

Cinco de Mayo, Middle-Grade Style

Cinco de Mayo is celebrated by many in the United States, but does everyone who celebrates know what the holiday commemorates?  A popular myth is that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day, similar to America’s Fourth of July.

But, it isn’t. Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16th.

Here’s the real story:  On the 5th day of May in 1862, though out-numbered and poorly equipped, Mexican soldiers held off French soldiers in the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. This stopped the the French from progressing to Mexico City. It was a victory worth celebrating!

Also worth celebrating are some great middle-grade titles that feature Latina/Latino characters.  But first, two words of caution as we think about diversity in our reading selections:

Not just today. Cinco de Mayo (or any holiday of cultural significance) is a great time to move readers toward more diverse book selection. But, let’s not limit that practice to the “culture of the month.”  Each and every day, we should strive for diversity in our home, classroom, school, and public libraries.

Not just the classics. There will always be that treasured and timeless book we adore. We love it for its heart and for its story. And, because its characters helped us learn more about a given culture (in this case, think Esperanza Rising), we tend to gravitate toward it again and again.  I say, Great! But, don’t stop there. Look for and champion new middle grade titles, like the ones below.

Click the book to go to the publisher’s page to read more about it.




Comment below with a book featuring Latina/Latino main characters that you’d like to read on Cinco de Mayo (or ANY day!)

Five Worlds Giveaway

The Five Worlds are on the brink of extinction unless five ancient and mysterious beacons are lit. When war erupts, three unlikely heroes will discover there’s more to themselves—and more to their worlds—than meets the eye. . . .

  • The clumsiest student at the Sand Dancer Academy, Oona Lee is a fighter with a destiny bigger than she could ever imagine.
  • A boy from the poorest slums, An Tzu has a surprising gift and a knack for getting out of sticky situations.
  • Star athlete Jax Amboy is beloved by an entire galaxy, but what good is that when he has no real friends?

When these three kids are forced to team up on an epic quest, it will take not one, not two, but 5 WORLDS to contain all the magic and adventure!

About the authors:

MARK SIEGEL has written and illustrated several award-winning picture books and graphic novels, including the New York Times bestseller Sailor Twain, or the Mermaid in the Hudson. He is also the founder and editorial director of First Second Books.
ALEXIS SIEGEL is a writer and translator based in London, England. He has translated a number of bestselling graphic novels, including Joann Sfar’s The Rabbi’s Cat, Pénélope Bagleu’s Exquisite Corpse, and Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese (into French).
XANTHE BOUMA is an illustrator based in Southern California.
MATT ROCKEFELLER is an illustrator and comic book artist from Tucson, Arizona. His work has appeared in a variety of formats, including book covers, picture books, and animation.
BOYA SUN is an illustrator and co-author of the graphic novel Chasma Knights. Originally from China, Boya has traveled from Canada to the United States and now resides in the charming city of Baltimore.

To be eligible to win a copy of this first book in the new graphic novel series, please leave a comment below!

Speaking of Shakespeare

Well, technically no one was speaking of Shakespeare, but maybe we should have been speaking like him. The reason: yesterday was officially Talk Like Shakespeare Day.

If you weren’t aware of this auspicious holiday and missed the occasion to impress your friends with quotes from Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet, here is an opportunity to celebrate in a way that might be more fun. Get your Shakespeare on and take a look at these middle-grade books inspired by the Bard.

To read or not to read? What? Of course you should read these fabulous books!

Romeo and Juliet Together (and Alive!) at Last by Avi

Star-crossed love. Betrayal. Death. Comedy? Peter Saltz (Saltz to his friends) and Anabell Stackpoole like each other, but they’re too shy to do anything about it. Thank goodness for Saltz’s best friend, Ed Sitrow, who masterminds an eighth grade production of Romeo and Juliet-starring none other than Saltz and Stackpoole as Romeo and Juliet. But getting the two reluctant lovebirds together is a bigger task than anyone anticipated, even with Shakespeare’s help. What ensues is the most hilarious, disastrous, and unprecedented rendition of Romeo and Juliet in history!

The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood

Widge is an orphan with a rare talent for shorthand. His fearsome master has just one demand: steal Shakespeare’s play Hamlet--or else. Widge has no choice but to follow orders, so he works his way into the heart of the Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare’s players perform. As full of twists and turns as a London alleyway, this entertaining novel is rich in period details, colorful characters, villainy, and drama.

William’s Midsummer Dreams by Zilpha Keatly Snyder

From three-time Newbery Honor author Zilpha Keatley Snyder, “an adventure story with a lot to say about identity, ambition, and character” (Kirkus Reviews). After a year living with Aunt Fiona, William is off to audition for the role of Puck in a summer production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But getting the part is just the beginning. Now William has to deal with a jealous rival out to sabotage him, a not-so-secret admirer, and the way the Baggetts still haunt him in nightmares. William’s summer is filled with acting and costumes and applause, but he still worries sometimes that he and his younger siblings will never be able to shake off the past. But when the Baggetts show up again, William realizes that he is braver than he thought, and that all will turn out okay.

All the World’s a Stage: A Novel in Five Acts by Gretchen Woelfle, illus. Thomas Cox

Suddenly a hand gripped the back of his neck. “Cutpurse!” Kit is caught! Twelve-year-old orphan Kit Buckles, seeking his fortune in Elizabethan London, has bungled his first job as a pickpocket at the Theatre Playhouse where the Lord Chamberlain’s Men are performing. To avoid jail, Kit agrees to work for the playhouse and soon grows fond of the life there: the dramas on–and offstage. Things get truly exciting when Kit joins the plot to steal the playhouse from the landlord who has evicted the company.

Secrets of Shakespeare’s Grave by Deron R. Hicks, illus. Mark Edward Geyer

Twelve-year-old Colophon Letterford has a serious mystery on her hands. Will she discover the link between her family’s literary legacy and Shakespeare’s tomb before it’s too late? Antique paintings, secret passages, locked mausoleums, a four-hundred-year-old treasure, and a cast of quirky (and some ignoble) characters all add up to a fun original adventure. Readers will revel in a whirlwind journey through literary time and space in real-world locales from Mont St. Michel to Stratford-Upon-Avon to Central Park.

Tower of the Five Orders by Deron R. Hicks, illus. Mark Edward Geyer

Colophon Letterford’s life changed overnight when she uncovered Shakespeare’s lost manuscripts. Now the authenticity of those manuscripts is in question and the family publishing business is in danger. In this exciting mystery, thirteen-year-old Colophon travels from Oxford’s lofty Tower of the Five Orders to the dank depths of London’s sewers in her pursuit of truth and honor. But the stakes are high. Budding cryptologists, Shakespeare fans, and mystery lovers alike will revel in the twists and turns of this fascinating middle grade sequel to Secrets of Shakespeare’s Grave.

The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne

All Hamlet Kennedy wants is to be a normal eighth grader. But with parents like hers –Shakespearean scholars who actually dress in Elizabethan regalia in public –it’s not that easy. As if they weren’t strange enough, her genius seven-year-old sister will be attending her middle school, and is named the new math tutor. Then, when the Shakespeare Project is announced, Hamlet reveals herself to be an amazing actress. Even though she wants to be average, Hamlet can no longer hide from the fact that she — like her family — is anything but ordinary.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

Holling Hoodhood is really in for it. He’s just started seventh grade with Mrs. Baker, a teacher he knows is out to get him. Why else would she make him read Shakespeare . . . outside of class? The year is 1967, and everyone has bigger things than homework to worry about. There’s Vietnam for one thing, and then there’s the family business. As far as Holling’s father is concerned, nothing is more important than the family business. In fact, all of the Hoodhoods must be on their best behavior at all times. The success of Hoodhood and Associates depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has Mrs. Baker to contend with?

King of Shadows by Susan Cooper

Only in the world of the theater can Nat Field find an escape from the tragedies that have shadowed his young life. So he is thrilled when he is chosen to join an American drama troupe traveling to London to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a new replica of the famous Globe theater. Shortly after arriving in England, Nat goes to bed ill and awakens transported back in time four hundred years — to another London, and another production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Amid the bustle and excitement of an Elizabethan theatrical production, Nat finds the warm, nurturing father figure missing from his life — in none other than William Shakespeare himself. Does Nat have to remain trapped in the past forever, or give up the friendship he’s so longed for in his own time?

Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing–and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.
As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama. In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.