Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Merci Suárez Changes Gears

Meg Medina, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sept. 4 2018

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Pages: 346

Themes: Cuban-American, Bullying, Aging grandparents, Alzheimer, Friendship

Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Mercedes (Merci) Suárez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she has no idea just how different. Merci has never felt like she fits in with the other kids at her private Florida school because she and her brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t live in a big house, and they have to do community service to make up for their tuition. Roli adjusts because he loves science and is a stellar student. When Merci is assigned to be a Sunshine Buddy with the new boy at school, bossy Edna Santos is jealous.

Things aren’t going well at home, either. Merci’s grandfather, Lolo, has acted differently lately. He forgets his glasses, falls off his bike, tries to pick up the wrong twin grandsons at school, wanders off and gets angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Why I like this book:

Meg Medina skillfully writes a heartwarming and engaging novel that tackles several big topics. There is a mean, rich-girl bully theme at school, due to the differences in social status and culture. While the rich kids show up in expensive SUVs, Merci arrives in the old truck Papi drives for his painting business. Instead of expensive vacations, Merci is stuck watching her twin cousins. And there is her grandfather’s Alzheimer diagnosis, which her parents shield Merci from until the end of the novel. Her concerns for Lolo turn into anger when she discovers that she is being lied to and treated like a child. After all, the Suárez family prides itself in being truthful.

This richly textured Latino story is peppered with Spanish expressions from her Cuban-American family. Medina uses humor in this true-to-life story that is topsy-turvy and filled with heart. The Suárez family is a large multigenerational family that live in a group of three pink houses where all family members come and go, regardless of who lives where. The three identical houses are affectionately called Las Casitas. Needless to say there is a lot of chaos. The Suárez family is a close-knit family that work, cook and eat together, share childcare, and support each other, even if money is tight.

The characters are memorable. Medina uses authentic voices to create a story about a tween girl who has worries, frustrations and angst about her looks. Merci is a strong-willed, but it  takes her a long time to realize that she is genuinely liked by many of her classmates and forms connections with ease as long as she is herself. This is a winning and completely satisfying coming-of-age story.

Meg Medina is the author of the YA novels Burn Baby Burn; Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, for which she won the Pura Belpre Author Award; and The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. She lives in Richmond Virginia. Visit Meg Medina at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

Mango, Abuela, and Me

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Meg Medina, Author

Angela Dominguez, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Aug. 25, 2015

2016 Pura Belpré Honor Book medal for literature

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Aging grandparents,  Love, Family relationships, Learning a new language, Hispanic, Diversity

Opening: “She comes to us in winter, leaving behind her sunny house that rested between two snaking rivers.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Mia’s “far-away” grandmother leaves behind her sunny house with parrots and palm trees to come live with Mia and her parents in the city. But when Mia tries to share her favorite bedtime story with Abuela, she discovers that Abuela can’t read the words.  Mia helps Abuela with her English while they cook, and Mia learns some Spanish, too. But it’s still hard for Abuela to learn the words she needs to tell Mia all her stories. So when Mia sees a parrot in the pet-shop window, she has the perfecto idea for how to help Abuela.

Why I like this book:

What a treat to review Meg Medina’s book, just after she received the 2016 Pura Belpré Honor Book medal for literature. Her heartwarming story about the bonds of love, family and culture is a testament to how important Latino books are for children.

Medina weaves her magic as she includes both Spanish and English words into her uplifting and endearing bilingual story about Mia finding a way to communicate with her Hispanic grandmother — especially since they share a bedroom together. Language barriers are likely a familiar issue for many multi-generational immigrant families.

Mia and Abuela’s memorable characters are artfully crafted. Mia is caring, creative and determined to find a way to bridge the communication gap and does so in a very clever and humorous way. (No spoilers.) Abuela is sad and homesick at first, until she begins to cook with Mia and learn new words. Both learn to be patient with each other.

The text is simple and lyrical, the plot engaging and timeless. The narrative is a springboard for Angela Dominguez’s lively, colorful and expressive illustrations which are a blend of  ink, gouache and marker. This is a lovely collaborative effort between Medina and Dominguez.

Resources: Children learn a second language very easily. No matter if your child is learning English or Spanish, you can teach them simple words. For instance, Mia makes words cards for her abuela and tapes them to the lamp, rug, door, phone, chair, blanket, pillow.  Teach your child to count and say the alphabet in Spanish or English. Visit this creative Bilingual Teaching Activities page for children on Pinterest.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

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Meg Medina, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, 2013

Awards:  2014 Pura Belpré Author Award; ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults; International Latino Best Books Awards – Young Adult Fiction; and  Kirkus Reviews Best Books for 2013

Suitable for Ages: 14-17

Themes: New Girl, Latin Americans, Bullying, High School, Family Relationships, Friendships

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass.” That’s what some girl tells Piddy Sanchez one morning before school. Too bad Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui Delgado is, let alone what she’s done to piss her off.  All Piddy knows is that Yaqui hates her — and she better watch her back because Yaqui isn’t kidding around.

At first Piddy just focuses on trying to find out more about the father she’s never met and how to balance honors courses with her weekend job at the neighborhood hair salon. But as the harassment escalates, avoiding Yaqui and her gang starts to take over Piddy’s life.  Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off and running away from her problems?

Why I like this book:

  • Meg Medina focuses on the paralyzing impact of bullying in this raw, emotional and honest novel. The theme is timely and based on the author’s own experience with a bully as a teen, which adds depth and credibility to the story.
  •  The richly textured Latino story is set in Queens, New York, where Medina grew up.  The story is peppered with Spanish expressions, which contributes to the reader’s experience.
  • The characters are diverse and memorable. Piddy is an outgoing, smart and attractive Latina girl who wants to be a scientist. Yaqui is a jealous and threatening adversary who hates Piddy simply because she’s the “new” girl at school. Piddy’s Mama is strong and protective. Lila, her Mama’s best friend, is Piddy’s only confidant.  She works at the hair salon with Piddy, sells Avon and adds some comic relief.
  • Medina’s first-person narrative is extremely effective. The reader feels Piddy’s growing panic as the harassment increases and Yaqui and her gang stalk and close around her. Piddy is trapped and knows that if she tells school authorities or her mama, she will be “digging her grave.” Her grades dive, she isolates herself, skips school and her personality changes.
  • The plot is multi-layered, courageous and complicated. Medina delves deeply into the loneliness, fear and trauma of a bullied teen trying to handle the situation alone and the realistic mother-daughter relationship with family secrets.  The pacing is fast, engaging and keeps the reader turning pages. There are unexpected surprises and a realistic ending.  I had a hard time letting go of the story and characters.
  • Older teens will identify with Piddy and relate to the theme and plot.  Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass belongs in every school library because it is such an excellent work of fiction and a great discussion book.

Meg Medina is an award-winning Cuban-American author who writes picture books, middle grade, and YA fiction. She is the 2014 recipient of the Pura Belpré medal and the 2013 CYBILS Fiction winner for her young adult novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. She is also the 2012 Ezra Jack Keats New Writers medal winner for her picture book Tia Isa Wants a Car.  Visit Meg Medina at her website.