SLJ Review of the Day by Betsy Bird

I’ll admit I’m still pretty new to writing for children, but when I first stepped into it a few years ago, one of the first names I heard over and over again was Betsy Bird. She’s a children’s librarian and she reviews kid lit. Then, I heard her speak at a writing conference I attended in Virginia last year, and I knew why she was such a big deal. She’s a woman with a genuine and contagious passion for children’s literature who knows her stuff inside out and outside down and up. Last month, she wrote a review of Lucía the Luchadora on her blog hosted on the School Library Journal’s website. If I told you I got a little emotional when reading the review I’d be lying.

I had a torrent of feels.

Because reading reviews is a new thing for me, and it’s not quite like sitting at a parent-teacher conference and listening to the teacher give you feedback on your child. And Lucía is kinda like my child. Or like the feedback your writing critique partners give you. It’s more like Ultimate Feedback, because your book has been written and is out there, and can’t be changed. It’s done.

And those feels I had, well, they went beyond the book because when Betsy Bird reviews a book she’s putting it in a wider context. She starts this review by talking about an experience she had as a librarian where kids were looking for books on lucha libre, and she didn’t have anything to offer them because those books are few and far between. I have a deep respect for young readers and the sorts of stories they crave and deserve, and I’m thankful to Ms. Bird for making her review of this book about them, too.

It’s a long and thorough-as-can-be review, which also blew me away. Here are some of the highlights:

And then, this year, I saw Lucia the Luchadora and something in me broke wide open. Cleverly equating luchadoras with superheroes while tackling issues of sexism and cultural assumptions head on, this is the book that gave my 5-year-old daughter the idea to create her own luchadora outfits in fine and fancy style. Literally inspirational.

Of course, it’s not as if the North American market is positively overflowing with Latino-American picture books. In spite of the existence of the Pura Belpre Awards for Latino/Latina writers and illustrators, a study conducted by the CCBC in 2015 found that only 2.5% of picture books published contained characters with Latinx backgrounds. Garza’s choice to make the book culturally appropriate AND massively appealing in its subject matter is remarkable. We hear a lot about kids needing more diverse books and this is very true. But we additionally need more fun diverse books, and “Lucia” fits that need perfectly.

This is a book that positively sizzles on the page. Much of the credit of this sizzling action goes to Ms. Garza, author extraordinaire. Right from the start she’s acting on some pretty classic comic book tropes. Onomatopoetic words appear beside Lucia as she goes “POW” and “BAM” like a classy episode of the classic Batman and Robin television show from the 60s.

And did I mention the endpapers? Boy, you know I like a book when I start waxing eloquent on endpapers. The first ones you see display testimonial images to both Lucia’s abuela’s life (wedding photos, pictures of her cat, icons of Mary, lighted candles) and her loves (El Santo, her luchadora mask, etc.).

Children’s librarians are hemmed in by the constraints of the publishing industry. If they don’t make ’em, we can’t buy ’em. That’s why a book like Lucia the Luchadora is so important. Funny, exciting, and truly beautiful, this book is good for what ails you. Kids will eat it up with a spoon but beware. After reading this book they may want to know even MORE about luchadores and luchadoras. You better get ready to answer their questions. I suggest you bone up on your reading now. Start with this book. You hardly find one better.


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