Review: The Miners’ Lament: A Story of Latina Activists in the Empire Zinc Mine Strike

THE MINERS’ LAMENT:

A Story of Latina Activists in the Empire Zinc Mine Strike”

by Judy Dodge Cummings

Illustrations by Eric Freeberg

Jolly Fish Press, 9781631635359
Publication Date: September 1, 2021

148 pages, Middle Grade Novel

I AM AMERICA Series

Description from Indiebound:

“It’s 1951, and workers at the Empire Zinc mine in Alba, New Mexico, have been striking for months. Among them is Ana Maria Garcia’s father, who says they may need to sell her vihuela to pay rent. But her vihuela was a gift from her recently deceased mother, and her dream is to be a corridista, a singer of Mexican ballads. As Ana Maria is drawn to the picket line, she is inspired to write a corrido about her mother and the other women of the mining community. An upcoming talent show may be Ana Maria’s chance to earn money for rent and save her vihuela–if she can give voice to the song of her heart. It’s the storytellers that preserve a nation’s history. But what happens when some stories are silenced? The I Am America series features fictional stories based on important historical events about people whose voices have been excluded, lost, or forgotten over time.”

I was eager to read this recent release because I am a fan of author/historian Judy Dodge Cummings. Her research, reflections, and writing are reliably thorough and engaging. In this case I was particularly intrigued because of the emphasis in this series on exploring and sharing lesser-known stories from American history, stories lost, in large part, due to systemic underreporting and ignoring heroic, historic events from any non-dominant culture in America. 

In the details of this case from the early 1950s, the injustice is particularly egregious because the mining corporation employed both Anglo and Mexican-American workers. Their segregated housing locations and conditions meant that Anglo and Latin men might be working in identical conditions, side-by-side, but were paid unequally.  Mexican-American workers were only rented land to build their homes on “the other side of the tracks”. It was that side of town, on land owned and controlled by the same mining  company, that  indoor plumbing or gas lines for cooking were not provided, as they were in Anglo housing.

Those and other conditions, including the size and amenities of the homes in direct proportion to  pay inequities, meant that Ana Maria Garcia and her father lived in hardship, especially after Ana Maria’s mother died. That tragedy, too, was related to the poverty in which they lived. Surrounded by Papa’s angry grief, financial stress, and expectations for his daughter to take over Mama’s household duties magnified Ana Maria’s frustration and sadness. All this is made worse when Papa scoffs at her love of making music and her dreams of becoming an accomplished corridista (balladeer and player of traditional stringed instrument).

I loved much about this story, including the many ways in which a culture unknown to me was made to feel familiar and respected. Cummings provided skillful revelations along the way, gradually allowing Ana Maria to better understand her papa’s struggle with loss, to regain her song-writing and storytelling voice, and to recognize the strength of women and girls in her community, despite culturally assigned restrictions and expectations. even secondary character were written with depth and allowed growth long th course of the story.

I was fully engaged with the many aspects of character development, political forces, and threats to physical, emotional, and social safety that unfolded through Ana Maria’s point of view. The tension never eases, although there are pauses as she incorporated events from the strike to extend the story and lyrics in her ballad. This provided readers a brief reprieve in which to deepen their connections and prepare for ongoing assaults on all aspects of life to Ana maria’s community at home and on the picket line.

The resolution was satisfying without being predictable, including the epilogue in which the characters are woven into the true story of a documentary film about the strike. Back matter allows readers to access websites and outer sources to learn more about events, culture, music, and language.

This slim and accessible middle grade novel will be welcomed by readers with Latinx heritage but also by Anglo and other readers. All will be drawn to the relationships, power struggles, and intense inner emotions of moving through loss and loneliness to acceptance and identity. As a coming of age story this is a  welcome addition to home, classroom, and library shelves. It’s a book that should be widely shared.

HEROES of WWII: Fifty Inspiring Stories of Bravery

Rockridge Press, 2021

WORLD WAR II BOOKS FOR KIDS Series

HEROES OF WORLD WAR II: 

50 Inspiring Stories of Bravery

by Kelly Milner Halls

ISBN: 978148763786

Paperback, August 10, 2021

Rockridge Press

 

Earlier this year I read and reviewed two related titles from this series, both by Kelly Milner Halls. Click the titles VOICES OF ORDINARY HEROES and VOICES OF YOUNG HEROES to read my praise of both additions to  the HISTORY SPEAKS series.

Now some of those same historic and heroic characters have been joined by entirely new names in this grouping of a full-color, oversized paperback collection that has similar structural assets and compelling narration in readily consumable passages.

The table of contents makes this a helpful research tool, and the consistent pattern of each featured hero’s section is an open invitation to readers to turn the page and read just one more. And then one more.

Four-page layouts begin with a color, comic book-style portrait illustration, followed by two pages of text, with wide spacing, wide-borders, and easy-to-read font. The fourth page of the layout displays a showcase quotation in the hero’s own words, followed by a short “Explore More” recommendation of an original source, a link to related museums or websites, or other novel or nonfiction titles portraying similar heroes. This bite-sized and easy-on-the-eyes approach makes substantial content both appealing and digestible for the young reader target audience, but also makes this an ideal offering for older readers with interest in WWII who will appreciate the reader-friendly and well-researched format of this collection of profiles.

What I particularly appreciated, among many things, is the diversity of individuals featured, ranging in ethnicity, nationality, geographic arena of action, age, and range of “heroism” portrayed. In some cases, those heroic choices were known to very few, or even remained hidden from public knowledge for decades, like Mariya Borisovna Bruskina. Others, like Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel, have been the subjects of books, documentaries, and movies. Even so, their larger-than-life stature on the stage of WWII resistance and heroism can overshadow the intimate look at their lives that these summary profiles provide.

Some may surprise you with their inclusion, like Mae Krier, a “Rosie” working on the homefront, or Wojtek, the bear, who was fostered, adopted, and then “enlisted” in an Italian military group to bolster the spirits of young men facing likely death or disaster. In every case, Halls makes a clear case for the ways in which heroism can be found in each of them. Without didactic suggestion, their lives and choices remind readers that the potential for heroism lies  in each of us.

The selected quotations would make a wonderful weekly calendar turn, with nearly enough for a full year: For example:

“I WILL ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY FOR EVERYTHING I AM GOING TO DO. I AM CONSOLED BY MY STRONG FAITH THAT GOOD DEEDS CAN NEVR BE WRONG.”

Those words to live by are the selected quotation by Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz. Not sure who that is? Get the book and find out! While you’re at it, suggest it to your library and recommend it to teachers you know. Then add it to your shopping list for gifting to middle-grade readers, and maybe even some older folks you know to have an interest in World War II.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher with no promise of a review.

Blogs Welcome IS IT OVER?

On July 6, launch day, our picture book was welcomed to the world, virtually. with a book-birthday-blast on  the blog of prolific and generous author, Vivian Kirkfield. She graciously featured IS IT OVER? with a brief note from me, then added simple introductions to illustrator Rebecca S. Hirsch and me, and is hosting a randomized giveaway of a signed copy of our book AND a stuffed Ivan the elephant!

Vivian not only writes remarkable and award-winning picture books (fiction and nonfiction), she mentors other writers, sponsors contests, and delights audiences, young and old. Check out all of her books here, including FROM HERE TO THERE, MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD, SWEET DREAMS SARAH, and others. More are on the way, too, making Vivian Kirkfield a force of writing wonder who is worth knowing about and following if you love picture books.

Then Dianne White asked terrific questions in an interview on her blog, Readerkidz, HERE. Dianne is the author of award-winning picture books that are among my favorites, including: Green on Green, Blue on Blue, Who Eats Orange, Goodbye Brings Hell0, and Winter Lullaby.
You can check out her books page by clicking on the titles above, and read my interview with her by clicking HERE. While you’re there, subscribe to her blog to stay up to date on her picture book recommendations.

Next, writer, coach, and inspiration, Rochelle Melander, invited me to share ideas about ways teachers, librarians, and family might use IS IT OVER? to extend learning and engagement with the text. If that sounds interesting to you, I nope you’ll check out my interview, HERE, This post was lots of fun and includes a link to the teacher resources page on this website. Rochelle has a new book coming out in  two weeks. I had the privilege of an advanced read, hosting the cover reveal, and interviewing Rochelle HERE. Encourage teachers you know to check out Rochelle’s suggestion blog as a quick and quality way to find out about recent releases and get quick tips from the authors for ways to encourage kids to interact and expand thinking.

Then, in the midst of a Midwest thunderstorm, blogger Patricia Tilton offered a lovely review on her blog, CHILDREN’S BOOKS HEAL.

I was particularly pleased because I’ve followed her blog for years, always finding wonderful titles with emotional resonance. To have my own picture book among her posts means that it may find its way into the hands of kids and families for whom it will play a heartwarming and healing role. I was especially pleased that she commented on the expansive and emotional power of the illustrations by Rebecca S. Hirsch, and added this in her comments:

“The entire book is gorgeous and will be a winner with families.”

For the first two weeks in the wide world, these are such heartwarming and encouraging welcomes. Thank you to the blog hosts, to you who are reading this, and to whatever is happening in my life that invites such support. It is a grace and goodness I deeply appreciate.

Counting Down the Days! Is It Over?

 

Here’s a quick update on the release of my first picture book, officially releasing on June 6, 2021.

 

 

It is now listed at retailers, so you can click to find it where you prefer to shop:

Amazon:

Barnes Noble:

Target:

Support independent booksellers via Indiebound:

and, of course, PenIt! Publications, where you can inquire about discounts for bulk orders.

You can mark it as WANT-TO-READ, and also read what others think on GOODREADS:

Just a side note here, in support of MY books, naturally, but for all authors’ works. There are many things you can do to support books and authors you enjoy:

  1. Ask your local librarian to stock the book. They have limited budgets, but truly want to shelve books that their patrons want to read.
  2. Leave a review/rating on booksellers sites, especially AMAZON. You do not have to buy it from them- I review library books there often. You will not be able to post a review until after the release date, but then can do so. As you must realize, Amazon is the largest bookseller in the world, and so their ratings have an outsized impact on attention to any title for any audience.
  3. Naturally, buying books is always a support, but BOOK-TALKING  it to friends and on social media is an enormous help, and costs less!

Launch day is only a week away (Tuesday evening, July 6). To meet me and  illustrator Rebecca Hirsch”virtually”, register for our Eventbrite session  at 6:00 PM central time. It’s free, and anyone who registers is entered in a raffle to win copy of the book signed by both Rebecca and ME!

Hope to see you there!

Dads: A Special Picture Book

Carolrhoda Books, 2020

I’m sharing this remarkable photographic picture book a bit late, since it published more than  a year ago. And yet it is exactly the right time. Fathers’ Day is just around the corner. This collaboration between succinct writer John Coy and gifted photographer Wing Young Huie is a homage to the purest, simplest ways in which Dads matter. Coy tags himself on his website: author, speaker, educator. To that i would add, Man of Few Words. They are, however, the right words.

Jacket copy quote from text:

“Dads work, dads share, dads laugh, dads fix.”

The spare text (just a few words per page) tags utterly, gloriously mundane photography by Huie in color and black/white. In each image, a father is featured, with offspring (often boys, but not exclusively), with other fathers or multiple generations.They represent  a wide range of ages, identities, ethnicities, economic and social standings, and communities, few of them typically featured in such a universal concept book. In an era of selfies and  casual “pix”, these images are both familiar and extraordinary. Each is a story in itself, framed and focused to invite our attention, trigger memories, welcome inquiry, and always recognize something deeply familiar. Both intense and minimalist, these pages have a powerful impact.

Often attributed to one of the most iconic sitcom dads of all time, some say,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This book reveals how showing up, being there, taking part in the lives of others is a foundational contribution beyond measure. I hope you’ll give it a good look, and then give it to a dad you know and love, even if your own dad isn’t around anymore.