Our LGBTQ hating, xenophobic Vice President, Mike Pence will hate the upcoming middle-grade book, The Moon Within by Aida Salazar, and the publishing industry doesn’t care. The Moon Within about Celi Rivera, a young bi-racial Puerto Rican and Mexican girl who dances bomba and has a gender fluid best friend is set to be published by Scholastic later this month. While Latinx folks are still largely ignored on television and in film, publishers of middle-grade and young adult books know there’s a market for books about people of color and LGBTQ folks.
Hailed, by Kirkus Reviews, as a “worthy successor to Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume, The Moon Within is written in an elegant, swift verse.
It tells the story of the budding Celi, a young accomplished dancer whose mother insists on announcing to the whole family that Celi is developing into a woman and insisting on holding a pre-Colombian style moon ceremony when Celi starts her first period.
At twelve, I read and loved Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, and as a small-for-my-age, Xicana, I identified with Margaret who felt her body was developing slower than those of her school friends. I also understood that the lavender covered book with the very blonde girl on the cover who wanted to “get her period” was very different kind of book than books like Little House on the Prairie that I had also read and loved, despite their flaws. But as a Xicana raised by a single mom in a run-down small town, the only place we could really afford to live in California, I felt distanced from Margaret’s life in many other ways. Her suburban neighborhood with sidewalks, her tidy house, her busy but attentive mother, and a father who worked and drove her to parties at friends’ houses, all seemed very far away and very white to me.
Judy Blume wrote for all children, but Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret is about a particular social class of girl, while Salazar’s The Moon Within is about family that is rich in other ways, culturally rich, artistically rich, and deeply rooted by their particularly close and caring community of artists and healers.
Celi’s mom, an herbal healer, who grows herbs in the yard is actually, however, similar to Margaret’s mother in that she wishes to help her daughter to grow into womanhood without shame. Interestingly, the particular brand of the shame that both mothers hope to help their daughters avoid is rooted in Christianity. Celi’s mom, Mima, rejects the misogyny of Catholicism that encourages women to fear and despise their bodies, bodies that have the capability to give life — and that’s all they’d do if Mike Pence had anything to with it.
And it’s this impulse of conservative men to dirty everything that isn’t cis-male centered that The Moon Within is such an important book right now and ever, especially in light of the racist and homophobic attack that severely injured, Empire’s, Jussie Smollet.
In a recent appearance on Late Night with Stephen Colbert, queer actor, Ellen Page, called out Mike Pence, blaming the Trump administration’s outward hate for the LGBTQ community, “Connect the dots,” she said, “this is what happens if you are in a position of power,” referring to the attack on Smollet. She continued, “and you hate people and you want to cause suffering to them, you go through the trouble, you spend your career wanting to cause suffering, what do you think is going to happen. People are going to be abused and they’re going to kills themselves, and they are going to die in the street.”
Children’s books agents– a surprising number of whom are people of color, like Marieta B. Zacker of Salazar at Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency and Amara Hoshijo at Soho Press– seem to know that even and even though equity and decency for all has seemed to have reversed in our country, that books like The Moon Within are the antidote to hatred, bigotry, and ignorance amongst the actual people who make up America.
As former pre-school teacher who did much of the book ordering for my pre-school library, and a current English professor, it’s comforting to know that the education of America’s children, is somewhat in the hand of these agents and publishers willing to listen.
It seems that publishing children’s, middle-grade and YA books by and about people of color is no longer considered a risk.
After the publication of Celia C Perez’s The First Rule of Punk, we can officially all stop being surprised by the fact middle-grade and young adult book publishers are the seemingly most willing to publish books about people who exist in the real world that their counterparts in the past would have considered niche: Latinx kids who are into punk, Latinx kids with parents who are artists, or young Latinx feminists, as in the upcoming We Set the Dark on Fire, by Tehlor Kay Mejia and several other books written for middle-graders and young adults set for publication this spring and summer.
Pues, check out this list of exciting books about to be published and remember that pre-ordering these books is not only the best way to support the authors, but it also guarantees that your chamaquitx won’t have to wait to read books about characters who look and/or have lives like theirs.
We Set the Dark on Fire, by Tehlor Kay Mejia
This fiercely feminist YA novel features a young Latina who attends a prestigious school under the pretense that she is not a member of the upper echelons, a fact that she must keep hidden in order to have a chance of success in the real world. Apparently, fans of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood are bound to love this debut by Mejia. This Xicana dystopian lit nerd eagerly awaits the release and the accolades that will surely follow.
All Of Us With Wings, by Michelle Ruiz Keil
Or if you liked 2017s The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez, you should pre-order the YA, All of Us With Wings, by Michelle Ruiz Keil, a book set in San Francisco and blends Aztec rituals and punk rock.
The Grief Keeper, by Alexandra Villasante
Available in June, The Grief Keeper, by Alexandra Villasante features a young Salvadoran girl who must leave El Salvador and attempt to cross into the US after her brother is murdered in order to save herself and her younger sister’s life.
The Last Eight, by Laura Pohl
Perhaps you know a young reader who likes to read science fiction, due for publication in March, The Last Eight, by Brazilian author, Laura Pohl, is about Clover Martinez, one of the last eight teenagers left on Earth, teenagers who survive an alien attack.
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