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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
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Celebramos Libros

And another report from the YA Lit Symposium!

Celebramos Libros: Celebrating Latino Literature, YALSA YA Lit Symposium, November 6

Presenters: Janie Flores, Rosemary Chance, Margarita Engle, Benjamin Alire Saenz, Teri Lesesne

Janie Flores, a librarian from the Rio Grande Valley, began by speaking about how, growing up, she didn’t have books to read that featured Latina characters. Yes, she read and could relate to Judy Blume, Ramona Quimby, Nancy Drew, but she was also aware that they didn’t have things like Quinceaneras.  Flores spoke for the need for books to be relatable – that celebrates customs and traditions and so celebrates Hispanic readers, and the need to do so while avoiding labels.

Teri Lesesne and Rosemary Chance spoke about their own passion for books and then introduced the authors, Benjamin Alire Saenz and Margarita Engle.

Benjamin Alire Saenz spoke, and my notebook is full of wonderful quotes from him. “It is an accident that I’m a young adult writer. I wanted to be a poet.” “I come from a working class Mexican family. Writing is work.” On the initial suggestion that he write for young adults: “I hated High School. You want me to revisit it?”

Saenz observed that young people turn to each other to make themselves visible, because adults make them invisible. He writes books to make teens visible: “I see you. I know you. I am you. When was the last time someone told you you were beautiful.”

In introducing Margarita Engle, Rosemary Chance asked: “Is it time for YALSA to offer a Latino award for Young Adult literature?”

Engle – who writes about historical events in verse format – spoke about finding the poetry in history. Writing a novel in verse form, Engle explained, “forces me to decide what is important.” Engle spoke about her research process —  gathering books, first person accounts, immersing herself into the history and then deciding “what fits.” Another reason for writing in verse – it allows her to write about the emotional lives of people. Verse novels also provide reluctant readers with a full length book with mature topics.

Engle also spoke about her personal connection with Cuba, with her mother’s family.  She spoke not just about the traditional and familial connections and summers spent in Cuba, but also the impact of losing that connection after the Cuban Missile Crisis.


Rosemary Chance Website

Teri Lesesne Website

Margarita Engle Website. Young Adult books by Engle include: Summer Birds, The Surrender Tree, The Firefly Letters, Tropical Secrets, The Poet Slave of Cuba 

Benjamin Alire Saenz Website. Young Adult books by Saenz include: Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, Last Night I Sang to the Monster, He Forgot to Say Goodbye.

YALSA Blog Recap of Celebramos Libros

YALSA Interview with Teri Lesesne 

Booklist from Teri Lesesne and Rosemary Chance   

Thank you to RIF, who made attending this Symposium possible.

About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is


  1. I would have loved to have attended this panel. Sammy and Julianna in Hollywood is one of my favorite books 0f 2010. It’s pure…wow. I still have yet to read Last Night I Sang to the Monster :(

    The Firefly Letters was an eye opening book. It left me wanting more but i appreciated learning about the story.

    It would be nice to see a YALSA award for Latino YA. I would also like to see more diveristy in Latino YA (Mayra Dole and others have toched on this). We have many quinceaneara storeis now, I’d like more stories about traveling to Spanish-speaking countries, growing up in America but not necessarily having to deal with the immigrant experience. Good stories but they grow a bit tiring after awhile. Plus I only seem to be able to find boks about Mexican, Cuban and Puerto Rican teens. I’d like more stories about Guatemalan, Hondurain, Chilean, Dominican, etc. teens!

  2. Ari, it is always so great to hear authors speak about their works and work process. I tink Firefly Letters is the only Engle book I haven’t read.

    You make a great point about diversity. Coming this spring, keep an eye out for THE QUEEN OF WATER ( by Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinango, set in Ecuador. It’s a work of fiction based on Farinango’s childhood and spans from age 7 to about 14 or 15.