A seed in the sun

Aida Salazar

Book - 2022

Lula, a farm-working girl with big dreams, meets Dolores Huerta, Larry Itliong, and other labor rights activists and joins the 1965 protest for workers' rights.

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Novels in verse
New York : Dial Books for Young Readers 2022.
Main Author
Aida Salazar (author)
Physical Description
255 pages ; 22 cm
Ages 8-12.
Grades 4-6.
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

There is a special power in historical fiction's ability to blend real issues and events with engaging characters, turning the past into a living, breathing thing. Salazar (The Land of the Cranes, 2020) accomplishes this beautifully in her new novel in verse, set in 1965 California during the Farmworkers' Movement. Lula Viramontes works on a farm where she and her family harvest grapes in dangerous conditions. At home, she helps care for her siblings and her mother, who is extremely sick, while also trying to dodge her father's angry outbursts. Lula finds some respite in dreaming about becoming a ringmaster in a Mexican traveling circus, despite knowing this aspiration will likely have to be set aside. One day, by chance, she meets a group of activists, which includes Dolores Huerta, that is tirelessly fighting for the rights of farm laborers (including migrant workers like Lula's family) to make sure the work is distributed more fairly and safely. As the story progresses, readers witness Lula as she finds her voice and learns to speak up, realizing that she's in charge of her future and her dreams. Led by a memorable protagonist, this novel mixes themes of growth and change with historical details and powerful observations on the abuses that sparked the Farmworkers' Movement and the strength of those demanding justice.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Centering a family of migrant workers during the 1965 Delano grape strike, Salazar (Land of the Cranes) tackles civil rights and labor justice in an extensively researched novel in verse. In Delano, Calif., 12-year-old Lula, who is Mexican American, helps her siblings to drown bedbugs as they settle into "another labor camp/ as terrible as the last." But as Lula and her older sister Concha begin school, and their parents and older brother head into the fields with the littlest siblings in tow, the family learns that they've inadvertently crossed picket lines against Filipino workers striking for better wages. The situation intensifies when the siblings' mother becomes mysteriously ill and can't afford treatment; their father, who drinks, turns increasingly volatile; and the family faces increasingly dangerous working conditions, including the threat of pesticides and sexual assault. As Lula seeks her voice, her Filipina and Mexican American classmate Leoner speaks up for the Filipino-led Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, of which her family is a part and which seeks to collaborate with the Mexican National Farm Workers Association, striking for better working conditions for all. Spotlighting historical figures including Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chávez, Salazar's lyrical poetry shines offers a sensitive depiction of Lula's struggles and hopes, culminating in a personal arc that emphasizes developing one's voice. An author's note contextualizes historical language used. Ages 8--12. Agent: Marietta Zacker, Gallt and Zacker Literary. (Oct.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 3--7--Seventh-grader Lula is the middle child of five in a Mexican American family. She may have inexplicably lost her voice--reduced to a "whispery rasp"--but she astutely bears witness to her family's peripatetic struggles as migrant farmworkers in California: her mother is mysteriously ill; her father is too-often violently angry; her older sister dreams of escape. Inspired by her own mother's stories as "a migrant farmworking child," Salazar deftly weaves her fictional characters into the real-life 1965 Delano grape strike led by Filipino and Mexican activists, including Larry Itliong, Dolores Huerta, and Helen and Cesar Chávez. Spanish-fluent, youthfully pitched Villarreal is Salazar's complementary cipher, augmenting the already resonating historical novel-in-verse with expressive rhythms and emotional depth. Salazar herself concludes the recording with a thoughtful "Dear Reader" afterword urging readers to "fight for justice through your voice." VERDICT Writer and reader are perfectly paired for flourishing results.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Horn Book Review

In this lyrical verse novel set in 1965 California, Lula has lost her voice. She can only speak in "a whispery rasp" that doesn't help when she has to call out in the fields where she picks grapes with her family of migrant workers. It doesn't help when her father becomes angry and accuses her of not doing her part for the family's survival. And it doesn't help when there is danger and she needs to protect her siblings. With a stronger voice, she would make her case for attending school, but now that her mother has been stricken by a mysterious illness, that's not possible. When the exploited farmworkers start organizing and a woman named Dolores Huerta urges them to strike, things begin changing. Will her father be receptive to these ideas? Will her mother get medical assistance? Will Lula and her siblings return to school? Salazar seamlessly combines historical events of the farmworkers' rights movement and the 1965 Delano grape strike with a sensitive portrayal of a girl trying to make sense of the world. It's a powerful coming-of-age story filled with evocative language, memorable characters, and apt nature imagery. A lengthy author's note tells more about what Salazar calls "one of the greatest labor justice movements undertaken in United States history." Alicia K. Long November/December 2022 p.95(c) Copyright 2022. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Twelve-year-old Mexican American Lula longs to speak out and stand up against oppression in 1960s Delano, California. Lula lives with her migrant farmworker family in bedbug-infested barracks. Her older sister, Concha, loves school just like Lula does; big brother Rafa works the fields with Mamá and Papá while youngest siblings Gabi and Martín tag along. Papá drinks, has an unpredictable temper, and only shows love to the littlest ones. Lula dreams of being able to make Papá smile. When Mamá becomes gravely ill, she's turned away from the emergency room due to lack of money. A local curandera thinks she's been poisoned by pesticides used in the fields and treats her with herbs. At school, Lula befriends Leonor, a Filipina and Mexican American girl, and is inspired by her powerful voice and grit. Leonor's family is involved with the Filipino strikers' union, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee. The AWOC are recruiting the Mexican National Farm Worker's Association, led by Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chávez, to join them in striking for better wages and conditions. This introspective novel with a well-developed sense of place features free verse in varied layouts that maintain visual interest. The character development is strong; as Papá is influenced by Chávez, who speaks of nonviolence, his behaviors change. Lula shows tenacity as her seeds of potential are nourished. Compelling and atmospheric. (author's note, further reading) (Verse historical fiction. 9-13) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Semilla They tried to bury us but they didn't know we were seeds. --Mexican Proverb Imperial Valley, California * March 1965 Remolino I sometimes think about how I lost my voice. I could have buried it in the earth, in the surco, the long row of dry dirt where we planted onion bulbs last spring while the heat of a too-hot California day fell on our arched backs like barrels of sun. It could have happened when Papá screamed for me to work faster just as I was singing along to Mamá's song louder than Papá's angry words or the drone of planes spraying the fields overhead. It could have been taken by the roaring remolino that slammed into us like the storm of Papá's belt when we upset him, an out of nowhere tornado ripping through the fields. maybe that's when the dirt-drenched air pulled my voice out of my breath and caught it in the spin of wild wind. What's left is a whispery rasp an orange-yellow mist that comes and goes like clouds. My real voice is either somewhere in the tumble of dirt in the onion fields of the Imperial Valley or was taken by the anger of the wind. One day, I pray it comes back. Delano, California * September, 1965 Open-Sky Hammocks We drown bedbugs in a pail of water, chinches we pluck from the mattresses propped up outside on rusty barrack walls. The worst kind of chore on our first day in Delano, in another labor camp as terrible as the last and the one before that. Concha and Rafa race to see who can drown more bugs. They beat me by a lot because they're five and four years older. I ask Mamá if we can sleep in our hammocks instead but she doesn't turn around. She still can't hear the tiny hiss that comes from me when I try to speak. "¡Mamá!" I try to say louder. She reads the question on my lips. "Lula, the mattresses are better so we are together and not hanging like leaves from the trees." Me? I'd rather sleep outside in a crest of oaks at the edge of the grape fields all around us with surcos like long fingers spread throughout the vineyard and thick vines growing big across the wires. I'd rather sleep beneath a blue-black sky glistening with bright stars. A stage. A place to dream. Where I can announce a make-believe circus like a ringmaster to an audience of hooting owls hunting field mice in the night. Outside under the dense, starry sky we can only see in the back roads of California where we work and chase the harvests, so different from the city where we hardly go and where the glow of lights washes away the contrast. Yes, it's colder in our hammocks than in the one-room wooden barrack, especially in the winter, but so much better than getting eaten alive by chinches. "Pero, Mamá, I wish we could . . ." I try to argue. "No time for wishing now, Lula." Mamá leans on my shoulder as she passes me holding a grass broom. Her long thick braid lays against her neck as her body bends like a willow branch, and she sighs, "Vamos, Lula, Concha, Rafa. Let's keep cleaning, mis amores." Light Blue Schoolhouse I watch water glisten as it splashes against the tin of the pail I fill at the only tap at this new but familiar camp. I think of the light blue schoolhouse I saw from the truck as we arrived, and my panza flutters. I wonder about the new school year and if the school will have a twelfth grade for Concha and a seventh grade for me because there's never a guarantee. A school! Where we'll be the new faces along with other farmworker kids whose families came like ours for the grape harvest and who also won't know what they'll be learning and will struggle to catch up. An actual school! Not housework, not watching my baby siblings, and not field work. Back in Bakersfield Rafa missed so many days he was whittled down two whole grades. That's when he had it and instead followed Papá and Mamá into the fields each daybreak to pick whichever crop was in season. Truant officers didn't even blink to see him in the fields as dandelion tall as he is. I'd taken what Concha once told me to heart. No matter how much we miss, no matter if teachers are mean, no matter they sometimes punish us for speaking Spanish, no matter if we can't keep friends, school is ours. "Lula, you're here to soak up anything you can, porque tomorrow, we'll be on the road again and the only thing you can take with you" --she tapped my head-- "is up here." The best thing about Concha is she loves school as much as me. Concha's gentle brown eyes are maps when I can't find my way. Baby Work Papá comes back with work orders from the crew leader and a face folded in worry. He, Mamá, and Rafa will pick grapes tomorrow morning. Our baby sister, Gabriela, and babiest brother, Martín, will go with them so Concha and I can get to school. Mamá doesn't ask us to work the fields to pick cotton, potatoes, strawberries, or grapes because that's when school's in session. Mamá doesn't ask us to skip school to watch the babies, either, she likes what we learn about the world outside the fields. She loves to hear us translate for her the stories in the books we get to read, the English transforming into the Spanish that she and Papà speak. Threat of a truant officer or no truant officer, I don't think Mamá would want it any other way. I wouldn't mind watching the babies, Gabi and Martín are two balls of sweet masa with legs. Gabi's almost three and runs like a cheetah on her bare feet with one too many toes on each foot. Mamá calls her "una hija de Dios" and because she's a child of God, she is perfect just as she is with no need for shoes we can't afford anyway. Martín crawls like a ladybug because being one year old is still pretty little. He reaches up with his dimpled hands whenever he wants to be carried, and we always happily sweep him up. It's not hard to do squishy baby work like that. Escabs I overhear Papá tell Rafa, "Caramba, we just walked into a strike. Men with picket signs and bullhorns were yelling at all of us not to work." "What do you think they're fighting for, Apá?" I get closer but he pulls Rafa inside, and gives me a "what do you want, nosy" kind of look but I can still hear him. "Los Filipinos seem to have left the fields because they want higher wages. They're en huelga, and they think we're taking their jobs," he says. "Do you think there'll be trouble, Apá?" Rafa asks. "Pues they were protesting and screaming 'Don't be escabs!' at us while we were getting crew orders. Josesito said escab means traitor because we are crossing their picket line." Papá says the word scab like his tongue is a skipped record adding a syllable up front. Mamá is sitting on the edge of the bed, holding her head between her hands like she's hurt, frowning into her closed eyes. I want to see what's wrong with her but I stay outside the barrack so Papá doesn't know I'm snooping. Martín toddles up to Papá, reaches up to him. Papá unfolds his brows and arms, lifts him up and tosses him into the air with an "Ah, ¡mi muchachito!" Papá saves his sweetness for the babies. As soon as we get older, seeing his love for us is a sight as rare as rain falling on desert earth. Carpa Smiles I remember a time before the whirlwind, a time before Gabi and Martín were born when we snuck into the circus. Rafa and me. Papá went without his bottles of beer for once to buy three tickets for Mamá, Concha, and him. Hidden behind crates, Rafa held up the tent's wall to keep me from getting scratched like he did as he crawled beneath the canvas. We emerged into a flurry of people trying to get a seat to see La Carpa Vázquez, the traveling Mexican circus. We squirmed, pushed, and shoved other kids to sit up front. As the lights began to dim, I searched and found Concha, Mamá, and Papá sitting still inside a crowd moving like ants around them. Suddenly the lights, the music, and a loud, booming voice welcomed us. "Señoras y señores, niños y niñas, welcome to the world-famous La Carpa Vázquez!" That's when I saw it. Papá's smile, with its missing right-side molar. A smile so pretty and wide it shined like a galaxy in the center of the deep brown night of his face. I don't understand why he never lets us see it, but seeing him smile because of the ringmaster's smooth voice opened up my own sonrisa like a squash bloom following the light of day. I swept my head around and was pulled like never before and never since into the magic of la carpa. The clown jugglers, the comedians, the singers, the dancing dog show, the tightrope walkers, and the flying trapeze. Rafa and me clapped, hollered, and fell on each other, ¡muriéndonos de risa! When I took a breath, a dream was etched in my heart, to join the circus one day, as ringmaster. I think about the ringmaster whenever I am still. I think about how his voice made the lights of Papá's face come alive. I want to be one of the reasons Papá smiles. Excerpted from A Seed in the Sun by Aida Salazar All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.