Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight For Desegregation (Duncan Tonatiuh)


Hello, everybody! Today’s book is Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight For Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, the true story of the Mendez family’s fight to desegregate California public schools.

When Sylvia’s father uses his life savings to move his family to a new town, he is thrilled with the promise of his children getting a good education. But when Sylvia’s aunt takes them to enroll, she and her brothers are turned away and told they must attend the “Mexican school.” Despite being US citizens and speaking perfect English, Sylvia and her brothers are forced to attend a substandard school with disinterested teachers, flies, even an electric fence. Sylvia’s parents decide to fight this injustice: her father hires a lawyer and tours to raise support, and her mother works day and night to keep the farm running in his absence. After three years of fighting in the courts, the Mendez family wins their case, and the governor of California signs a law saying that all public schools must be open to ALL children. Sylvia is sometimes taunted at her new school, but she learns to hold her head high regardless: her family fought for justice, and they won.

This book was absolutely incredible. I loved that it did not shy away from the racist mindsets that school officials used to justify marginalizing these families. The story recounts testimony of a school superintendent who cites a lack of intelligence, work ethic, and even hygiene as reasons that Latino children should be barred from attending white schools. It’s an honest example of the extreme systemic prejudice that these families faced at the time, and still face today. This is ultimately a story of triumph, of one family’s fight and sacrifice to provide a better future for not only their children, but all children. The Mexican folk art-inspired illustrations are a wonderful addition, as is the educational appendix. The length may be pushing it for most baby bookworms, but this is a must-read when kids are ready. Absolutely phenomenal, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved.

14 Cows For America (Carmen Agra Deedy)

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Summer Reading Day 55: Our pick today was 14 Cows For America by Carmen Agra Deedy. It’s a deeply moving true story, told in picture book form, of a young Maasai man who was studying in America during September 11th. When he returns to visit his people the following spring, he tells them of what he witnessed, moving them to want to help heal the heart of America. So they decide to give 14 cows, each symbols of life and peace, to the nation of the United States of America as a gesture of goodwill and solidarity.

This is possibly one of my favorite children’s books ever written. The story is incredibly touching and has a beautiful message: no sincere gesture is ever too small. The artwork is absolutely BREATHTAKING, realistic and dreamlike at once, and even though it’s a slightly long story for most one year olds, she was so enraptured of the art that I was able to get away with it. The events of September 11th are dealt with well, the descriptions and art are subtle enough to convey the tragedy without being scary for young readers. And I dare you to read this to your little ones without choking up and/or finding a tear in your eye. It’s a book that will move you. Thumbs up.

Me, Frida (Amy Novesky)

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Summer Reading Day 47: Today’s book was Me, Frida by Amy Novesky, and as you could probably guess, it’s a children’s book about Frida Khalo. The story covers the period of time in which Frida moved with Diego Rivera to San Francisco and felt out of place and homesick. Eventually, of course, she worked hard, painted, and carved a life for herself by being herself, and all of that is covered here.

The story is a well-written, and leaves the reader with an important moral about perseverance and belief in yourself, even if it relies a little too heavily on Frida’s supposedly devoted and loving relationship with her husband (when in fact, their relationship was a tumultuous mess) as her motivation and validation. And of course, as you would expect from any book about Frida, the art is gorgeous. The length was not even unreasonable for a one-year old. Thumbs up!

Finding Winnie (Lindsay Mattick)

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Summer Reading Day 44: Today’s book was Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick, the story of the real-life Winnie-The-Pooh. A lot of people know that Christopher Robin and his stuffed bear Winnie really existed, but many don’t know the story of the bear that inspired the stuffed bear that then inspired A.A. Milne’s classic tales of the Hundred Acre Wood. I certainly didn’t, but it was wonderful to read about!

The length is a bit much for a one-year-old, so definitely save for older kids or the most patient of baby bookworms, but if you do, you’ll be treated to a heartwarming and moving tale, especially for animal lovers. The illustrations are darling, and the twist ending in this one is really something. Big thumbs up from us.