Latinitas: Celebrating 40 Big Dreamers by Juliet Menéndez, 120 pp, RL 3


Latinitas: Celebrating 40 Big Dreamers 
There are SO many things I love about Latinitas, I don't know where to start! Visually, Menéndez's illustrations are instantly engaging, from the warm palette that instantly evokes the warmth of Latin America to the folk art graphic style. I especially love the multitude of shades with which Menéndez's thoughtfully illustrates these Latinitas. The diminutive title, and the illustrations of the forty Latinas as girls, is reflected in the biographies, most of which are three or four paragraphs long. Menéndez hooks readers with stories about her subjects from childhood, reflecting the path their adult lives would take. Best of all, the table of contents includes the flag (or flags) reflecting their homeland and adopted homeland. My only wish is for a map of South America locating these countries for young readers to deepen their knowledge and understanding. Menéndez's biographies, which include quotes whenever possible, present joyful moments and experiences rooted in the culture and country of the subjects, even when the life events and experiences that made them notable are difficult. Her writing is rich with words from indigenous and Spanish languages, with context making meanings clear for readers. 

Menéndez, a Guatemalan Amercican author and illustrator, was inspired to write this book while working in New York City's public schools where most of her students were "bicultural and had families from places like the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Mexico." The desire to create something that would allow her students to see "fresh, new faces" that looked more like themselves set her off studying Latinx history, where she noticed the absence of women and, "seeing their contributions pushed into the footnotes or articles and history books" brought out the feminist in Menéndez and she decided to dedicate her book to them. The forty Latinitas (going back as far as the 1650s), and an extra ten (with the hopes for as many additional volumes as needed) include familiar names, like Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Frida Kahlo, Celia Cruz, Dolores Huerta, Sonia Sotomayor and Selena Quintanilla. It was excited to learn about Latinas like Juana Azurduy de Padilla, a military leader in the Bolivian war for independence, Policarpa Salavarrieta, a spy in the Colombian war for independence, Mercedes Doretti, a forensic anthropologist who bravely worked to uncover the bones of the disappeared in Argentina and Sonia Solange Pierre, who organized a group of women to take the Dominican government to court in the name of all Dominico-Hatians who hadn't been given their rights as citizens, I especially loved contemporaries included, like virtual reality engineer, Evelyn Miralles, six-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta Vieira da Silva and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez!

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