Books by Robert Casilla

THE REMEMBERING DAY / EL DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS by Pat Mora
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 31, 2015

"Readers might choose this book thinking they will find out more about this well-known Mexican tradition; instead, they will find a warm family story. (author's note) (Bilingual picture book. 5-8)"
Mora worries that the Mexican tradition of honoring their dead on the Día de los Muertos may be misunderstood and become commercialized, so, the author offers this imagined story of how a "remembering day" to honor loved ones now dead might have started in the distant past. Read full book review >
LET'S SALSA / BAILEMOS SALSA by Lupe Ruiz-Flores
CHILDREN'S
Released: Nov. 30, 2013

"In attempting to address both the importance of exercise and the value of social activism, the story fails to truly engage readers on either topic. (Bilingual picture book. 6-8)"
Noticing that her mother lacks energy and has put on some weight, young Estela suggests that she join some of the neighbors in the salsa class at the community recreation center. Read full book review >
DOLORES HUERTA by Sarah Warren
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 2012

"A welcome title for children and educators alike. (Picture book/biography. 6-10)"
Warren's debut provides a much-needed biography of a heroine in the struggle for migrant farmworkers' rights. Read full book review >
THE LUNCH THIEF by Anne C. Bromley
CHILDREN'S
Released: July 1, 2010

When a new classmate steals his lunch, Rafael first hesitates to say anything for fear of a fight, but later, when he sees that the boy is living in a motel, he realizes that Kevin may be stealing because he's hungry. The story stresses Rafael's mother's advice, "Use your mouth before your fists," and, indeed, when the pudgy boy decides he can share his food, the problem is solved. Casilla (First Day in Grapes, 2002) has provided realistic, if stiff, illustrations, done in colored pencil, watercolor and pastel. Emphasizing people's faces, they back off occasionally to show glimpses of the classroom, neighborhood and baseball field. Rafael's Latino heritage is evident in his burrito lunches, but the classroom group is diverse. The Southern California setting is clear from the reference to fires in the Jacinto Valley, but this situation of hidden hunger and homelessness could take place anywhere in the country. Well-meaning but not particularly engaging, this slight story may be most useful in classrooms where tolerance and social-justice issues are being explicitly taught. (Picture book. 8-12)Read full book review >
DANIEL AND THE LORD OF LIONS by Gloria Jean Pinkney
ANIMALS
Released: Sept. 1, 2008

The Old Testament story of Daniel in the lions' den is smoothly retold in this longer story for children in the early elementary grades. Pinkney's retelling focuses on Daniel's courage and strong faith, showing his growth from boyhood to slavery in Babylonia and his rise to a powerful position as a governor and protégé of the king. The author successfully conveys the depth of Daniel's faith and clearly summarizes the complex political situation in Babylonia that led to Daniel's incarceration with the lions. Casilla's full-spread illustrations in bright jewel tones create a distinct look and personality for Daniel and convey the menacing power of the snarling, prowling lions. The elision of one of the dramatic highlights of the story—when the angel appears to Daniel and shuts the lions' mouths—is supported by scripture but may be somewhat disappointing nevertheless. The lions do appear in the last pages with their mouths firmly closed, with a few exhibiting just the hint of a smile. A solid treatment, both textually and visually. (author's note) (Picture book/religion. 6-9)Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 2004

In this worthy successor to My Name Is Jorge (1999), Medina again creates a collection of poems in English and Spanish that form a story-in-verse. Sixth-grader Blanca applies herself in school (most of the time) and dreams of being a teacher. Her clear eye takes in how hard her father works, how distant her older brother has become in his teenage years, and even how easily she can manipulate being bilingual in order to "translate" a teacher's concerned criticisms into a glowing report for her Spanish-only mother. She notices how brown her classmates are, and how white her teachers; she adores Mrs. Farley, the only white neighbor to remain as the neighborhood "went brown." Medina's easy-to-read free verse encourages even the reluctant reader, in English or Spanish, and Casilla's soft black-and-white illustrations are lifelike and inviting. A winner. (Poetry. 7-10)Read full book review >
MAMA HAD TO WORK ON CHRISTMAS by Carolyn Marsden
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2003

Nine-year-old Gloria is a Latina girl who lives in San Diego with her mother, a hotel worker, and her father, a migrant farm worker who's away over the Christmas holiday. Gloria's plans for a Christmas visit with her grandmother are derailed when her mother has to work at her hotel cleaning job, and Gloria has to tag along with her mother to the large hotel and wait in the kitchen. Throughout the long day, Gloria's anger at her mother grows as she sees what the hotel guests enjoy in comparison to Gloria's modest lifestyle. An evening visit to her grandmother's home in Mexico reminds her of her family's important traditions and their strong love for Gloria. The deliberate contrast of Gloria's life with the fancy holiday atmosphere at the hotel is rather heavy-handed, and Gloria's obstinate behavior makes her a sometimes unsympathetic character. Mexican Christmas traditions and Spanish words are interwoven throughout the story, though there is no glossary appended. (Fiction. 7-10)Read full book review >
FIRST DAY IN GRAPES by L. King Pérez
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 2002

Chico, the son of migrant workers, faces many first days in new schools, and today is his first day in third grade as well as his family's first day "in grapes." He's not looking forward to it, partly because he is sometimes picked on by the other students, partly because they don't teach race car driving in school. Mamá points out that everyone has a job and his is school; then makes sure to straighten his back before he leaves the house, a bit of encouragement that comes in handy later, when the dreaded bullying begins. Chico has an additional ace up his sleeve; while he struggles with writing English, he's learned how to add quickly from his experience picking and packing produce. Remembering his mother's straightening and his newly recognized math talent, he stands up to the bullies and wins the respect of his new third-grade peers. He even gets up the courage to befriend the intimidating bus driver, grouchy Old Hooch. Realistic watercolor, colored-pencil, and pastel illustrations excel in conveying Chico's emotions through facial expressions; his slightly sullen countenance as his teacher introduces him gives way to a shy smile as he realizes his seatmate just might be friendly this time. Although a bit didactic and perhaps a bit overly optimistic, Chico's success story is cheering, and will be useful in introducing some of the issues facing migrant kids. (Picture book. 6-10)Read full book review >
THE LEGEND OF MEXICATL by Jo Harper
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 1998

The story of a young man destined to be a leader of his people is also the story of the founding of Mexico. A young boy who lives "under the blazing desert sun" is called Mexicatl, after the mescal plant used to make his cradle. The strong child is told that the Morning Star will speak to one who will rise up among their people and resettle them. One day in the desert, the young man hears his name. A voice calls him to a mountaintop where he sees the vision of a cactus and an eagle. He leads some of his people to a new land. He reigns, but does not contribute to the good of the community until his mother offers her advice: "You have set yourself above the people. This is not the way of harmony." Lesson learned, Mexicatl changes his ways and the people prosper. A note describes the Mexican legend's history. The illustrator chooses to make the scenes very simple: the realistic depiction of a young man against a background of color that is the stylized landscape; uncluttered vistas and several portraits of Mexicatl—with movie-star good looks—at various ages. The overall effect is to enhance the legend with timeless pictures of strength and beauty. There is food for thought in Harper's recasting of the legend, which locates the humanity at the center of true leadership. (Picture book/folklore. 5-8) Read full book review >
BOYS AT WORK by Gary Soto
ADVENTURE
Released: June 1, 1995

Two Latino fourth-graders scramble to raise money when one accidently breaks a local punk's portable CD player. Readers who met Rudy and Alex in Soto's Pool Party (1993) will find that they still charge off to find out the hard way whether their schemes are practical or not, loyally helping each other out of jams, and elevating the conversation like true 10-year-olds (``Rudy, you ever notice that when you drink milk, you sweat water?''). The author sprinkles his dialogue with Spanish exclamations and slang (translated or clear from context), and surrounds Rudy with relatives both sympathetic and not. As in most of his books, Soto creates a community that will be familiar to readers of any ethnic background that also retains its distinctive flavor. Casilla renders young people with fair realism, reinforcing this sense of familiarity in a handful of b&w scenes; the punks look less scary than the boys' imaginations had painted them—just taller neighborhood kids in the same jeans and t-shirts. After a tense but nonviolent climax, this story comes to its comfortable close, an everyday sort of story punctuated by moments of high and low comedy. (Fiction. 9-11) Read full book review >
A PICTURE BOOK OF JACKIE ROBINSON by David A. Adler
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Oct. 15, 1994

Adler's (A Picture Book of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1991, etc.; Hilde and Eli, above) latest Picture Book Biography tells how a courageous man and outstanding athlete desegregated major league baseball. Jackie Robinson was born in 1919, the fifth child of sharecroppers in Georgia. When his father left to find better paying work and never returned, Robinson and his family moved to California. He became a star athlete in high school and later at UCLA. He played professional football in Hawaii before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and was then drafted into the army. Although discriminated against because of his race, Robinson managed to become an officer, and was court-martialed for refusing to sit at the back of a supposedly desegregated bus (he was acquitted). After being released from the army, Robinson was playing with an all-black professional baseball team when scouts for the Brooklyn Dodgers spotted him. In 1947, Robinson began playing for the Dodgers. It was a difficult beginning for him, but in the end he was voted Rookie of the Year. He played for eight more years before retiring. Robinson died in 1972 at the age of 53. Easily read and educational. A fine addition to this notable series. (Author's note) (Biography/Picture book.) Read full book review >
THE POOL PARTY by Gary Soto
CHILDREN'S
Released: June 1, 1993

The Herreras are living in a Fresno, California, barrio when Tiffany Perez, one of the richest kids in school, invites Rudy Herrera to a pool party. His whole family helps him get ready: Grandfather (``El Shorty'') advises that a pool party is ``when a bunch of guys get together and shoot pool''; older sister Estela urges an improvement in manners lest Rudy embarrass the whole family; his father finds a huge inner tube to take along and tries to teach Rudy how to make small talk; but when the big day comes, the boy's main concern is having a good time. This Latino family has an exemplary warmth and dignity; no matter how often Grandfather tells the same stories, they listen politely; and they all pitch in when Father needs help with his gardening jobs. ``Work is honorable,'' Grandfather asserts as he shows hands ``rough as bark.'' Mexican-American colloquialisms sprinkled throughout the dialogue (and nicely defined by the context—no glossary this time) give it an authentic, playful tone. Engaging, gently humorous—with plenty of realistic full-page drawings and a jacket that's sure to attract readers. (Fiction. 7-10) Read full book review >
THE LITTLE PAINTER OF SABANA GRANDE by Patricia Maloney Markun
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 31, 1993

Fernando's teacher has told him how to make paint with natural materials—charcoal, berries, clay—so that he can continue with his art during the vacation; the one thing lacking is paper. Still, the white side of his own house looks inviting; and after his parents' initial resistance is overcome, Fernando decorates it with festoons of vines, flowers, and animals—a rooster, a monkey—familiar in his village in Panama. Based on an actual happening, Markun's first book is a straightforward, believable account, smoothly incorporating details of Panamanian life. Casilla's paintings serve the text well enough; his characters aren't well individualized, but his large spreads are colorful and attractive, and he does convey the young artist's intensity. Pleasant and unusual. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
A PICTURE BOOK OF ELEANOR ROOSEVELT by David A. Adler
BIOGRAPHY
Released: April 15, 1991

Continuing his very brief biographies, Adler presents the essential facts here in a style so succinct that it can verge on parody (``Franklin's mother Sara often told Franklin and Eleanor what to do...Eleanor didn't complain, but later she refused to be bossed around''). Casilla's skillfully composed watercolors capture the pathos in many of the situations, though his figures are sometimes wooden and he emphasizes Eleanor's tendency to appear unprepossessing. Adequate but, of necessity, superficial. (Biography/Picture book. 5-9) Read full book review >