Separate is Never Equal and Diego Rivera, His World and Ours

Duncan Tonatiuh is just one of the authors I look forward to meeting at the Week of Writing (WOW) retreat in July. Besides preparing my manuscripts for the critiques and round table sessions, I’m delving into some of the books written by the authors who will be sharing their craft. Today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday post features two books from Duncan Tonatiuh, an award winning author/illustrator whose art is immediately recognizable and whose stories ring with Mexican history and culture. (You’ll have to wait until October for the third one.)IMG_0757

First, my favorite…

Separate is Never Equal, Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation

Written and Illustrated by: Duncan Tonatiuh

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014

Suitable for ages: 6-10

Lexile: AD870

Themes/topics: desegregation, immigrants, education, community, Sylvia Mendez

Sylvia had on her black shoes. They were shiny-new. Her hair was perfectly parted in two long trenzas . It was her first day at the Westminster school. The halls were crowded with students. She was looking for her locker when a young white boy pointed at her and yelled, “Go back to the Mexican school! You don’t belong here!”

Brief synopsis
(from Years before the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez, an eight-year-old girl of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage, played an instrumental role in Mendez v. Westminster, the landmark desegregation case of 1946 in California.

Activities and Resources:
America’s Book Award Educator’s Guide
ADL’s Book of the Month Teacher’s Guide
There are additional activities available online for older students as well, 6-8th grades. These students can explore the history and the structure of the story.

Why I like this book:
First and foremost, as an ESL teacher, it touches my heart and illustrates (literally) the beauty that diversity brings. The “folkloric” style artwork is rich and captivating. Though the court case was settled long ago, all kinds of children today still often face less than welcoming attitudes. It’s history, it’s culture, it’s an inspiring story.


IMG_1074Diego Rivera, His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuh

Abrams, 2011

Ages: 6-10

Lexile: AD1040

Themes/topics: Diego Rivera, art, Mexico

Brief synopsis:
(from This charming book introduces one of the most popular artists of the twentieth century, Diego Rivera, to young readers. It tells the story of Diego as a young, mischievous boy who demonstrated a clear passion for art and then went on to become one of the most famous painters in the world.
Duncan Tonatiuh also prompts readers to think about what Diego would paint today. Just as Diego’s murals depicted great historical events in Mexican culture or celebrated native peoples, if Diego were painting today, what would his artwork depict? How would his paintings reflect today’s culture?

Diego Rivera was born in Mexico in a city called Guanajuato, which means the “land of frogs.” As a boy Diego enjoyed playing with his trains, but more than anything he liked to draw.

Make Your Own Mural
Teacher Activities from The Classroom Bookshelf

Why I like this book:
Aside from the distinctive illustrations and valuable content about an artist’s journey, the structure of this biography is interesting. After sharing the basics of Diego Rivera’s life, the author brings the subject matter directly to the reader for consideration. What would he paint today? This is followed by several pages comparing and contrasting life today with the scenes that Rivera painted. Tonatiuh very effectively connects the past to the present, art to life, and an artist to children.


Visit author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books for a plethora of picture books listed by title and topic/theme, each with teacher/parent resources.


11 thoughts on “Separate is Never Equal and Diego Rivera, His World and Ours

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