Author: Carmen Tafolla
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Review Copy: ARC via publisher
Availability: On shelves now
Summary: An insightful novel in verse about the joys and struggles of a Chicana girl who is a warrior for her name, her history, and her right to choose what she celebrates in life.
Celina and her family are bilingual and follow both Mexican and American traditions. Celina revels in her Mexican heritage, but once she starts school it feels like the world wants her to erase that part of her identity. Fortunately, she’s got an army of family and three fabulous new friends behind her to fight the ignorance. But it’s her Gramma who’s her biggest inspiration, encouraging Celina to build a shield of joy around herself. Because when you’re celebrating, when you find a reason to sing or dance or paint or play or laugh or write, they haven’t taken everything away from you. Of course, it’s not possible to stay in celebration mode when things get dire--like when her dad’s deported and a pandemic hits--but if there is anything Celina’s sure of, it’s that she’ll always live up to her last Guerrera--woman warrior--and that she will use her voice and writing talents to make the world a more beautiful place where all cultures are celebrated.
My Thoughts: From the start, Celina, or Tere as she was called at home, knows that she comes from a courageous and loving people. The poems share the many times when she comes up against people in her schools and elsewhere that don't listen to her or believe that they know her or her name better than she does. With her Gramma and the one teacher that encouraged her and other students to use their voice, Celina is able to keep from having her culture, history, and self be erased.
Writing is Celina's comfort when she is dealing with difficult things and she doesn't want to burden her family or worry them. So we get to see her inner thoughts as she works through the stresses. When it's not writing or her family, the moon and nature are where she looks for peace.
In middle school, Celina learns much more about poetry and writing and as a teacher I see all kinds of possibilities for using this book in a classroom. There are examples of great writing in the poems, but there are also lessons about poetry. And the lessons are in Celina's voice and style so they aren't super didactic.
There are interesting conversations about history too like when they discuss who gets to relax on Labor Day, or why Columbus could claim the land that already had people, or that slavery was a reason for the battle at the Alamo though it often isn't framed that way in classrooms. There are many times when Celina asks questions of her friends and teachers and creates space for thinking about things.
Part of the story happens during the spring of 2020 so events of that time including COVID come into play. The fear of illness or loss of loved ones and the killing of George Floyd are part of Celina's life even as she is still waiting for her father to return after deportation. There's a lot going on, but she has the support of family, friends, and some teachers who care.
Recommendation: Get it soon. This is a short book that packs in a lot of things to think about around freedom, identity, family, friendship, history, community, and more.