Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month With This Book!

Portraits of Hispanic American HeroesPortraits-Hispanic-American-Heroes-cvr.jpg by Juan Felipe Herrera with paintings by Raúl Colón (Dial Books for Young Readers 2014, $19.99, Ages 8-12) is reviewed today by Dornel Cerro.

“Although there have been incredible contributions by Hispanic Americans since the beginnings of this nation, their pioneering roles often have been overshadowed and their identities besmirched by terms such as ‘alien’ and ‘illegal.” (p. 7).

Many people have heard about the achievements of famous Hispanic Americans such as Roberto Clemente, Sonia Sotomayor, and César Chavez. However, how many people know …

1. which Hispanic American won a Nobel Prize in Physics?

2. who defeated the British at the Siege of Pensacola (Florida) in 1781?

3. who was the first Latina astronaut?

Don’t know? Find out by reading and relishing this book! Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes is an eye-opening and inspirational celebration of people whose achievements and accomplishments are just begging to be shared with children.

California poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera reveals the voices of those heroes and heroines – some whose contributions are unacknowledged or have been forgotten in this collection of 19 biographical sketches of Hispanic Americans plus Hero Street USA. The breadth and scope of the people represented here is extraordinary: migrant workers, military officers, teachers, scientists, activists, musicians, and more. Each is placed in the context of his or her times and Herrera demonstrates how all refused to let inequities and other challenges prevent them from realizing their dreams.

Herrera’s engaging narrative weaves unfamiliar terms and Spanish words into the text, making it more authentic and accessible for children:

“The National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) … a powerful organization to help migrant workers make a better life for themselves in the United States (César Chavez, p. 42).”

“…I gnacio E. Lozano escaped from Mexico with his family to El Norte, the United States (p. 21).”

Controversial details are touched upon in a straightforward, non-judgmental way, and, if needed, explained in the context of the time:

“But people got wind that Adelina had been divorced from a military officer … During these times, women were looked down upon for not staying married. Her opponents used this against her and she lost the election (Adelina Otero-Warren, p. 19).”

The collection concludes with two compelling accounts. The first is about Hero Street in Silvis, Illinois, where eight fallen heroes, Mexican American soldiers killed in WWII battles, once lived. The final entry is a complex sestina for Victoria Leigh Soto, the teacher who died protecting her students during the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre on Dec 14, 2012

Artist Raúl Colón’s “portraits,” made up of watercolor washes, etchings, and litho pencils, seem to catch the inner nobility of each person, perfectly complementing the narrative.

Use this with students as an inspirational introduction to biography or a nonfiction read aloud. Give this to children who are looking for real superheroes. Hopefully it will encourage all children to: “See further and dream larger.” Judith F. Baca, UCLA professor and artist (p. 75).

For those of you who made to this point, here’s the answers to the above questions:

1. Luis Alvarez
2. Bernardo de Galvez
3. Ellen Ochoa

Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes features stunning portraits and biographies of the following: Adelina Otero-Warren, Bernardo de Galvez, César Chavez, David Farragut, Dennis Chavez, Desi Arnaz, Dolores Huerta, Ellen Ochoa, Helen Rodríguez Trías, Hero Street USA, Ignacio Lozano, Jaime Escalante, Joan Baez, Judy Baca, Julia de Burgos, Luis Alvarez, Rita Moreno, Roberte Clemente, Sonia Sotomayor, and Tomas Rivera.

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