Américas Award Titles Call Attention to Important But Rarely Taught Historical Events

June 11, 2015

The Américas Award is given annually in recognition of U.S. published works of fiction, poetry, folklore, or selected non-fiction (from picture books to works for young adults) that authentically and engagingly portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos/Hispanics in the United States. By linking the Americas, the intent is to reach beyond geographic borders, as well as multicultural-international boundaries, focusing instead upon cultural heritages within the hemisphere. The award is unique among literary acknowledgments because it focuses on classroom application, bestowing recognition upon books that will benefit K-12 classrooms and libraries. In 2015, the winning titles will contribute to classroom learning by offering rare and valuable perspectives on historical events which generally receive little attention in the classroom."

In 2015, the Américas Award goes to Duncan Tonatiuh for his children's book Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family's Fight for Desegregation (Abrams Books) and to Margarita Engle for her young adult novel Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). In addition to the winners, the Américas Award highlights Honorable Mentions and Commended Titles. In the former category, author José Manuel Mateo and illustrator Javier Martínez Pedro are recognized for their children's book, Migrant (Abrams Books for Young Readers), alongside author Larry Dane Brimner for his young adult non-fiction book, Strike! The Farm Workers' Fight for their Rights (Calkins Creek). Commended titles include the following: A de Activista by Martha González and illustrated by Innosanto Nagara (Triangle Square); Abuelo by Arthur Dorros and illustrated by Raúl Colón (HarperCollins Publishers); Caminar by Skila Brown (Candlewick Press); Dalia's Wondrous Hair/El Cabello Maravilloso de Dalia by Laura Lacámara (Piñata Books); Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life by Catherine Reef (Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt); Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (Cinco Puntos Press); Green is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors by Roseanne Greenfield Thong and illustrated by John Parra (Chronicle Books); Letters from Heaven by Lydia Gil (Piñata Books); Low Riders in Space by Cathy Camper and illustrated by Raúl the Third (Chronicle Books); Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes by Juan Felipe Herrera and illustrated by Raúl Colún (Penguin Group); The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu (Running Press); and Twas Nochebuena by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by Sara Palacios (Penguin Group).

The two winning titles stand out for their exceptional quality, innovative approach, and indisputable relevance for classroom instruction. Both provide accounts of historical events that merit more attention than they currently receive in K-12 curricula. Tonatiuh's Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family's Fight for Desegregation, for instance, is the story of a young girl and her family fighting for desegregation during a time of racial discrimination against Hispanics and minorities in general. Seven years before the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education addressed segregation in schools throughout the country, the similarly significant but less known case of Mendez vs. Westminster School District challenged school segregation in California. Author and illustrator Tonatiuh has made this history available to young readers everywhere for the first time as he documents Sylvia Mendez and her family's fight for desegregation through the book Separate is Never Equal. The text pays tribute to this historical moment of social justice and the people who made it happen by drawing on court testimonies and personal interviews to ensure authenticity and accuracy. An author's note, glossary of legal terms, and bibliography complement the text and provide both younger and older readers with valuable resources for understanding the case's development and its ongoing implications. In addition to the meticulous text, readers will enjoy Tonatiuh's signature artistry as he draws upon Mesoamerican codices to create modern, multimedia collages of the Mendez family alongside people from their school, community, and trial. With this children's book, Tonatiuh offers a significant contribution to US and Mexican-American histories. It would be a valuable asset to any elementary classroom or library. (Grades 1-6).

Engle's Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal is written with her characteristic economic yet moving verse, and once again transports us to a world and time that few writers have explored, especially in the genre of children's literature. Silver People tells the story of the building of the Panama Canal, which opened in 1914 and connected the two largest oceans in the world, while at the same time signalling America's emergence as a global superpower. The canal was a miraculous engineering feat that created a path of water through a tropical jungle where a mountain once stood. Yet miracles often come with a steep price. Thousands of brown and black Caribbean Americans lost their lives, and those that survived were paid in silver, while their white counterparts earned gold. Engle gives these workers a voice, transporting us to the bottom of "serpentine cut" and describing the backbreaking labor required to accomplish it. We are also treated to the voices of the natural world that loudly or silently protest while their habitat is destroyed. This unique work and the apartheid-like inequality it portrays is a powerful contribution to Latino children's literature. Once read, its accurate description of the construction of the "largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken" will not be soon forgotten. (Grades 7 and up)

The awards are administered by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) and coordinated by both Tulane University's Stone Center for Latin American Studies and Vanderbilt University's Center for Latin American Studies. Generous support is also provided by Florida International University, the University of Florida, University of New Mexico, Stanford University, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.