Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation

Duncan Tonatiuh, Author
Duncan Tonatiuh. Abrams, $18.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1054-4
DVD-Video - 978-1-62923-689-6
Compact Disc - 978-1-62923-856-2
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Tonatiuh (Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote) offers an illuminating account of a family’s hard-fought legal battle to desegregate California schools in the years before Brown v. Board of Education. In 1944, after years of laboring as a field worker, Sylvia Mendez’s father leases his own farm in Westminster, Calif. But even though Mexican-born Mr. Mendez is a U.S. citizen and his wife is Puerto Rican, their children are banned from the local public school and told they must attend the inferior “Mexican school.” When all else fails, the Mendezes and four other families file a lawsuit. Readers will share Sylvia’s outrage as she listens to a district superintendent denigrate Mexicans (Tonatiuh drew his words and other testimony from court transcripts). Visually, the book is in keeping with Tonatiuh’s previous work, his simplified and stylized shapes drawn from Mexican artwork. He again portrays his characters’ faces in profile, with collaged elements of hair, fabric, and fibrous paper lending an understated texture. An extensive author’s note provides historical context (including that Sylvia Mendez received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011) and urges readers to make their own voices heard. Ages 6–9. (May)
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