Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
by Duncan Tonatiuh
In 1943, Sylvia Mendez, her two brothers, and three cousins all go to the local 17th Street Elementary School to register. Sylvia’s light-skinned cousins are accepted, and she and her brothers are told they’ll need to enroll at the inferior Mexican school, father from their home. Sylvia’s parents aren’t having it, and push back, filing file suit, undertaking multiple appeals, and ultimately prevailing. Tonatiuh’s account details the family’s many struggles, from the complexities of the legal process to the personal attacks Sylvia experiences. After rigorous research, and interviews with Sylvia herself, Tonatiuh delivers a story that is both compelling and inspiring. And his archetypal artwork, with its Pre-Columbian influences, connects the contemporary fight with its formidable ancestry. The strong lines, simplified postures, and fixed profiles convey the family’s resolute determination; theirs is a victory that comes from strength, and a strength that comes from family.
My Book of Life By Angel
by Martine Leavitt
Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2012
The grief surrounding her mother’s death and the havoc it wreaks on her family pushes Angel to breaking. She slips onto the streets, and soon is in thrall to charming, malevolent Call and his “candy.” At first she’s doing favors for his friends, but in short order she finds herself working a corner to support herself and her habit. She is broken and resigned, until Call shows up one evening with eleven-year-old Melli in tow. Angel searches her soul to find an untapped store of resilience and resolve, and sets out to rescue Melli, and maybe, herself.
Leavitt writes in stunning, atmospheric free verse, and somehow manages to craft crystalline beauty from brutal, harrowing circumstances. Angel’s first-person narrative swings between blunt resignation and fierce defiance, beautifully articulating the confused despair of her gradual destitution and the clambering strength of her willful climb back up. It’s a staggering piece of writing–searing and evocative–and leaves the young reader with a profound understanding of the complex circumstances some teens face, full of empathy and free from judgment.
Roller Derby Rivals
by Sue Macy, illustrated by Matt Collins
Holiday House, 2014
I love a book that looks at yesterday and makes me think hard about today. This is one of those books, a rowdy, rock-em-sock-em snapshot of a bygone rivalry that positively hums with contemporary resonance. Macy and Collins set their sights on the roller derby, in its day a hugely popular sport built of speed and spectacle, profiling two incandescent women and their fierce, secretly friendly competition. Gerry Murray is beauty, Midge “Toughie” Brasuhn is brawn, and their fabricated opposition reflected the shifting cultural conventions of post WWII America. Their battle unfolded on television, indeed roller derby itself gets some credit for helping to cement the medium’s popularity, and the orchestration of the conflict makes for an eerie predictor of what we now call reality television. Unlike so much of that contemporary entertainment, however, this was a valiant fight between worthy opponents (despite contrivances to the contrary) and the book follows suit, offering up an account built on respect and honor. Diamonds are our cards of strength, and there is so much of it expressed here, from the physical strength necessary to perform feats of derring-do (while whizzing around a track) to the more spiritual fortitude required to bypass cultural expectation and chart a different course. These were some strong women, and strength like that is just as admirable, and just as crucial, today as it ever was.
To learn more about the Playing Card Project (PCP), visit our first entry, here.