Book Review – Tortilla Sun

Author: Jennifer Cervantes

Publisher:  Chronicle Books (May 5, 2010)

Reading Level: Grades 4th to 8th

Source: Personal Copy

Rating: 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

A tender, magical story about 12 year old Izzy Roybal who is sent to spend the summer in her nana’s New Mexico village where she is soon caught up in the foreign world of her own culture, from patron saints and soulful food to the curious and magical blessings Nana gives her tortillas. In Nana’s village she meets Mateo, the adventurous, treasure seeking thirteen year old boy who lives on the other side of the bolted door in Izzy’s bedroom and six year old Maggie who is raising her cat, Frida, as a dog and sees marshmallow ghosts float out windows. When the wind begins to whisper to Izzy, she is soon led on an adventure to learn about her father’s mysterious death, who she really is, and to connect the hidden pieces of her past.

Several months ago, I signed up to participate in The Story Siren’s 2010 Debut Author Challenge.  I will add admit that Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes was a late addition to my list of Debut Authors.  However, I am so thrilled that I found this absolutely lovely book.

If you hang around me for any length of time, you will know that trying to find books that my students will relate to is a big concern of mine.  The majority of my students are from Hispanic backgrounds.  Many are Mexican American.  There are some but not enough stories that feature Latino characters.  I was barely a chapter into Tortilla Sun when I knew that this was a book that I not only wanted to share with my students but that I would use as a read aloud with my fifth graders.

By now you may be wondering, what is so special about Tortilla Sun? Cervantes has created a story filled with well-developed characters, a vibrant setting, and a message of loss, love, family, and hope (pull out your tissues when reading this – I sobbed for nearly the last 1/4 of the book).  Twelve year old Izzy never met her father who died before she was born.  Her mother and she have never settled into one house or an apartment for any extended time.  After moving into yet another new place, Izzy uncovers a box of things that belonged to her father including a baseball with the worn words “Because____ ____ magic”.   Shortly after this discovery, Izzy’s mother is called away on a research trip and sends Izzy off to spend the summer in New Mexico with her grandmother.  At first Izzy is unhappy with this decision but shortly after arriving she discovers that the summer may be a time where she can learn about who her father was and what are the missing words rubbed off from the baseball.  From her Nana, she discovers the magic of homemade tortillas, and learns that the past needs time to be revealed.  From 13 year old Matteo and 6 year old Maggie, she learns about friendship, adventure, and caring about others.  From the adults that surround her in this small village, she learns to embrace the magic around her and discovers who she is.  Cervantes also weaves together Spanish words and phrases along with wonderful references to food and activities that further embrace the Latino culture.

This coming of age story is beautifully and masterfully told.  Cervantes has hit her own home-run with this debut offering and I am eager to read any future books from her.

You can find out more about Jennifer Cervantes and her book at: http://www.jennifercervantes.com/

You can find Jennifer on Twitter @jencerv or on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/jennifercervanteswriter?ref=ts

You can purchase a signed copy (while they last) of Tortilla Sun at Borders Glendale:  http://www.borders.com/online/store/StoreDetailView_149

Debut Author Signing

Way back in December, I signed up for the Story Siren’s 2010 Debut Author Challenge.  As I was searching for books to read for the challenge, I discovered Sea by Heidi R. Kling, The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, and eventually Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes.  I loved all three of these books.  You can find my review of Sea here, and I will be posting reviews for The Red Umbrella and Tortilla Sun later this week.  Just a warning, keep tissues by you when you read them.  Each book deals with the themes of loss, grief, and hope in their own powerful manner, but don’t be surprised when you find yourself tearing up.

After waiting for the books to finally be released, and chatting with the authors via Twitter and Facebook, I found out that not only would they be doing a book event in Southern California but that I would have an opportunity to help out.    Thanks to MyGirlSnark (Amber) and Frootjoos (Alethea), I was granted “green room” privileges.  Just a fancy way of saying I had a chance to hang with our wonderful authors before the event.  Here is Heidi signing a copy of Sea before hand (Christina is in the background signing books).

Jennifer Cervantes’ daughters challenged Christina to try some of the hot salsa.  Here she is deciding whether or not her mouth was on fire.

At the signing, Jennifer, Heidi, and Christina shared the mic.  They talked about their books, read snippets, answered questions and brought goodies to raffle off. (Oops!  Forgot to take pictures of the raffle prizes.)

One lucky family won three of the prizes.  Since I was helping with the Q & A, and the raffle drawing, I didn’t get pictures.  Next time, I need to make a list of the kind of things I need for pictures and assign someone the task (but thank you Frootjoos for trying to run around and snap some pictures).  I will say the prizes were very cool.  There was a Sea tank top, a red umbrella (read the book to discover the significance), a mug, and a beautiful Mexican bowl, and a couple of special necklaces.

After all of the books were signed, we did manage to group a group shot of the authors, Borders Staff members, and volunteer staff.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was very thankful for being allowed the opportunity to participate in the behind the scenes activities.

This is my last known author event for the summer but I am seriously looking forward to the Smart Chicks Kick It Tour in September.

-Aly

P.S. If anyone is looking for a signed copy of any of these books, give Borders/Glendale a call.

2010 Debut Author Challenge Update

Several months ago, I signed up for the 2010 Debut Author Challenge being hosted by the wonderful Story Siren (Krisit).  I have been terrible at posting my reviews on her site.  So in some ways you would think I had done nothing towards this challenge.  But I have and I am going to write one large update right here.  For more information about the Debut Author Challenge click here.

January

Scones and Sensibility by Lindsay Eland  – Twelve year old Polly is a hopeless romantic who loves Pride & Prejudice and Anne of Green Gables.  As she travels about town delivering, scones and other baked goods from her parents’ bakery, she schemes about ways to play matchmaker for friends and family.  Hilarity ensues and some lessons are learned.  Read my review here.

February

The Reinvention of Edison Thomas by Jacqueline Houtman – Edison “Eddy” Thomas is a middle school student, who loves to tinker with inventions but struggles to understand innuendos of those around him. After coming in 3rd in a school science fair, Eddy begins to tinker with another invention which leads him to some interesting lessons, new friends, and a lesson in understanding bullying.  Read my review here.

March

Under My Skin by Judith Graves – I love stories that are filled with paranormal beasties, great characters (especially kick-butt heroines), resident hotties, and humor! This one has it all.  It has probably been one of my most fun debut reads.  Fans of Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance will love this.  Read my review here.

April

The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams by Rhonda Hayter – This middle grade debut is filled with magic, humor, history lessons, and some great fun.  Middle grade girls will especially love Abbie and her magical ways.  Read my review here.

13 to Life by Shannon Delany – Between Judith Graves and Shannon Delany, I am becoming more and more a werewolf fan.  I really enjoyed this book.  I read it in one sitting.  Love the characters, the mythology, and the overall story.  Read my review here.

May

Sea by Heidi R Kling – Fifteen year old Sienna (Sea) lost her mother in an airplane accident over the ocean.  Three years later her father decides to take her to assist with orphan victims of the tsunami.  Her journey provides her with experiences that lead her to grow emotionally and personally. Read my review here.

Cinderella Society by Kay Cassidy – How many teen girls wish that they were cool, popular, and dating a hunk?  Fifteen year old, Jess learns that it isn’t all about appearances but that it really is an issue of girl empowerment and good battling evil.  Read my review here.

June

Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus  – So often in Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romances, a human girl falls in love with a supernatural boy or vice a versa.  Hopcus has main characters that are equally matched with secrets of their own.  Great characters, well developed story, and I am already pining for book two. Read my review here.

July

The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere #1) by Jacqueline West – A haunted house, a curious 11 year old girl, talking cats, enchanted glasses, and a mystery.  This was a great read.  What a wonderful Middle Grade debut novel.  One of my favorite reads this year.  Read my review here.

The guidelines of the challenge encourage participants to read at least 12 debut novels.  I am 3/4 of the way to the minimum goal.   However, I am determined to read closer to 25 books by debut authors.  Guess I should get reading if I am going to meet that goal…

-Aly