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A historic female painter and her pets, a rock star, and Mexican ballet dancer bring Hispanic Heritage Month to life at Miami‑Dade Public Libraries. But it’s not about celebrity. This month’s book spotlight also give answers to the vexing question faced by many Latino youth: Where am I from? And for fun, take a spin with a daughter and her Papi. Enjoy!

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos
By Monica Brown, Illustrated by John Parra

Painting of a young Frida painting

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo famously observed that because she was alone so much and knew herself best, she chose to paint herself. However, she also depicted her lifelong pets—her animalitos—who inspired, comforted and supported her throughout, and this wonderful book celebrates them. Frida had two spider monkeys (Fulang Chang and Caimito de Guayabal), a boldly colored parrot (Bonito), three dogs (including a hairless Mexican ixquintle dog, Mr. Xoloti), an eagle named Gertrudis Caca Blanca (Gertrude White Shirt), two turkeys, a cat, and a fawn named Granizo. Frida shared much in common with her beloved pets, and even Frida’s bright‑blue home, La Casa Azul, was reminiscent of the color of her Bonito’s feathers. Her parents nurtured Frida’s curiousness for the world, even when she was struck with illness at a young age and then again at eighteen. She began to paint thanks to keen eyes, plenty of imagination and encouragement, and also the fun, loving companionship of the animalitos, who lived and played in the courtyard of La Casa Azul with her long after her marriage to Diego Rivera.

Monica Brown is the author of many children’s books, including the Lola Levine and Sarai chapter books, and picture book biographies of Tito Puente and Pablo Neruda. John Para is an award‑winning illustrator, designer, teacher and fine art painter, whose works are inspired by his Hispanic heritage, as well as by Mexican mural paintings and surrealism. Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos was named a New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2017 and 2018 Pura Belpré Honor for Illustration. (Ages 4‑8)

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Where Are You From?
By Yamile Saied Mendez, Illustrated by Jaime Kim

A grandfather with his grandaughter on his shoulders walkin on a path through a feild

“Where are you really from?” some children ask a young girl. She responds: “I’m from here, from today, same as everyone else.” Her peers don’t believe her and unhappy with her own answer, the young girl turns to Abuelo (grandfather) to find the real answer to where she is from. Abuelo slowly begins to tell her of the Pampas—an open, free land with a brown river, rich with grain—where their gaucho (cowboy) ancestors lived. But, he tells her, she’s also from other places too—from mountains, islands, as well as from America—where some of her ancestors built homes even when they were enslaved because of their skin color. Abuelo’s last, very human answer of a definite place will stir the young girl and readers as well.

Born and raised in Argentina with multi‑cultural roots, author Yamile Saied Méndez’s story has wisdom for kids who have wrestled with questions of where they belong and where home is; they can come from unique ancestral places and cultures, as well as come from a loving human family. Illustrator Jaime Kim, originally from South Korea and now a naturalized American immigrant, provides beautifully serene, sweeping scenes to accompany this moving story. (Ages 4‑8)

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When Angels Sing: The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana
By Michael Mahin, Art by Jose Ramirez

Abstract painting of Carlos Santana playing the guitar on a multicolor floral pattern background

Although his tia abuela called him El Cristalino (the crystal one), rock legend Carlos Santana was born of ordinary parents and his journey to master and “speak” through la guitarra (guitar) was not easy. His father and grandfather were traveling musicians who played violín (violin), clarinete (clarinet), and corneo (horn), but Carlos was unable to play these with much success, for the instruments did not “sing” to him. He initially grew up in Autlán de Navarro in southwestern Mexico, rich with sounds and flavors, and later on in Tijuana, where he dressed in the traje de charro (traditional Mexican horseman’s garb, also often worn mariachi musicians) and played gypsy music on the streets with his father. When he heard blues, jazz and rock and was given a battered guitar that Carlos began to really enjoy playing—the narrator saying to Carlos that “the music to put its heart into you.” Growing up in both Mexico and California, Santana synthesized a multitude of influences into his band’s music, which fused rock, Afro‑Latin rhythms and simple vocals in an innovative manner.

Mahin’s narrator creates immediacy of voice for young readers by calling Santana intimately “you” (almost like an angel would) and then has Santana respond in his own voice and with his own thoughts. Mahin weaves Santana’s growth as a musician with the tumultuous 1960s, which culminates in his famous rock and roll Woodstock performance. Jose Ramirez’s boldly marked art, with shapes and figures similar to Mexican traditional folk art, is also enjoyable to see. (Ages 6‑10)

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My Papi has a Motorcycle
By Isabel Quintero, Illustrated by Zeke Pena

A girl smiling wearing a pink unicorn helmet while riding on the back of her fathers motorcycle

¿Lista? Isí! Agarrate! (Ready? Yes! Hold on!) Daisy dons her pink‑purple unicorn helmet and Papi his own dark one, and then they ride off on his bright blue motorcycle around Corona, California, like a glowing comet in the blue, purple and gold sunset. Father and daughter zigzag past favorite haunts and arrive to watch Papi’s fellow workers and muchachos (dudes)—hardworking painters, drywallers and floor layers—busy working on new homes that are replacing the remaining citrus groves. Lastly, they go around the circle on Grand Boulevard, the perfectly circular, historic beltway road where the famous road races of 1913‑16 were held. Even with all the noise and change in the neighborhood, and even without Abuelita’s nopales (cacti) and albondigas (Mexican meatball) soup, it’s a great day for the pair.

The back cover of the book notes, “Home is a feeling you take with you.” Isabel Quintero fills this story with tangible sights, sounds, heat, tastes and smells of her immigrant childhood home, and how it changes over time, yet still remains a part of her. Zeke Pena’s illustrations of Daisy, Papi, and their world are lively, colorful and bound to make us to revisit our own childhood memories. (Ages 4‑8)

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Danza! Amalia Hernandez and El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico
Written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

Illustration of a trio of dancers in Mexican dance attire

Born in Mexico City in 1917, Amalia (Ami) Hernandez discovered early on that she wanted to become a professional dancer. Ami’s parents were able to find her excellent ballet teachers such as Professor Zybin, formerly of Pavlova’s renowned Russian ballet. Ami trained in classical ballet technique but also later on adopted freer form “modern” dance. In 1952, with her Ballet Folklórica de México company, she choreographed and performed, “Sones de Michoacán” (Sounds of Michoacán) based on regional dances (bailes regionals) she’d watched as a girl. As Ami’s dance company grew in size and fame and toured the world, newer ballets were created based on iconic and indigenous Mesoamerican cultures, including the traditional mestizo dances and minstrel music of Veracruz (mestizo bailes y sones jaracho), the Dance of the Deer‑Stag of the Sonoran Desert (danza del Venado), and the Quetzals (colorful birds) (Los Quetzales) of the Valley of Mexico.

Once again, author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh sheds light on a less known historical figure of 20th century Mexico for young readers; they’ll also learn more of the history of ballet and dance forms. The book’s distinctly drawn figures, influenced by Pre‑Colombian art and beautifully colored, are thoroughly enjoyable to see. Other award‑winning books of Tonatiuh’s include Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote, and Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras. (Ages 6‑10)

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