Perfect Picture Book Friday – Todos Iguales/All Equal

I discovered today’s Perfect Picture Book in a listing of recent non-fiction picture books. The bilingual title and the cover image intrigued me, and I knew I had to share it with you.

Title: Todos Iguales/All Equal: Un Corrido de Lemon Grove, Y El Primer Caso Exitoso de Desegregación Escolar/A Ballad of Lemon Grove and the First Successful School Desegregation Case

Written & Illustrated By: Christy Hale

Publisher/Date: Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books/2019

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes/Topics: Mexican-Americans, California, bilingual, school desegregation, #NF

Opening:

Weekday mornings, while the sun was slowly ripening over Lemon Grove, California, twelve-year-old Roberto Álvarez raced out the door. He loved school and didn’t want to be late. He hurried along North Avenue and around the corner to Olive Street, where he joined his friends on their way across town.

Brief Synopsis: In Spanish and English, Todos Iguales/All Equal recounts the true story set in California in 1931 of the first successful school desegregation case in the United States.

Links to Resources:

  • Find additional background information, discussion questions, and more in the comprehensive Teachers Guide;
  • Have you ever felt like you weren’t being treated as an equal because of your age, gender, cultural background, citizenship status, abilities, race, heritage, or religion? How did this make you feel? What did you do about the situation?
  • Do you have a friend who faces discrimination? How do you think you can support this friend?

Why I Like this Book:

Todos Iguales/All Equal broadens our history of the fight to end school segregation by bringing to light a little-known desegregation case in California that preceded the famous Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision by over 20 years.

In Todos Iguales/All Equal, Hale introduces us to the main child witness, Roberto Álverez, at the outset, and shows readers how he loved school. But the school board of this agricultural district populated by many farm workers of Mexican descent decided that Roberto and the children from his part of town should not mix with the Anglo children, and they hastily built a school that was little more than a barn for the Mexican American children. In response, the Mexican American community came together, hired a lawyer, and took the school board to court. Although the decision was not decided on racial grounds, the resolve showed by the Mexican American community and the role of the children, in this case as a witness in the trial, foreshadows the actions of later communities in fighting school segregation.

Not only does Hale provide a wonderful introduction to the characters and issues involved in this landmark legal case, but she precedes the text with a ballad, a song about the events that will be described. I can envision a roving troubadour singing it throughout the land, lending a mythic quality to this epic fight.

Hale’s illustrations in gouache and relief printing inks, often full-page spreads, feature the fruits and colors of the region, and place readers firmly in this period.

Backmatter includes notes on the area and migration from Mexico to the region, the participants in the case, the aftermath, the history of Corridos, and sources.

Todos Iguales/All Equal is a wonderful addition to classroom and school libraries. By publishing it in Spanish and English, with the Spanish text preceding the English text, I think Lee & Low have increased its value for Spanish-speaking communities who are battling discrimination today.

A Note about Craft:

The story of a little-known state court decision can be quite dry and boring. So how does Hale gain readers’ interest? Before jumping into the story, Hale offers A Ballad of Lemon Grove, a song, complete with melody, that recounts the facts of the case and elevates it to legend status. My interest was immediately piqued! Next, Hale begins the text by introducing young Roberto, smiling as he walks to school, joined on the second spread by his fellow Mexican American students. The emphasis is placed immediately on what’s so important in the case: these children. Finally, she shows, in text and pictures, how the community rallied to sue the school board, pointing out instances when the children themselves played a part: helping to fundraise via rummage sales, boycotting the new school, and, in Roberto’s case, even testifying at the trial.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

2 responses to “Perfect Picture Book Friday – Todos Iguales/All Equal

  1. This book sounds wonderful! I love that first line “sun was slowly ripening…”! What a perfect metaphor for this subject matter about discrimination against farm workers and their children. I wrote the annual reports for CRLA for several years, so I knew about this landmark case. And I also feel like I’ve read another picture book about this, but it could just be my memory from CRLA. Excellent recommendation!

  2. What a treasure! I have not heard of this book and didn’t know that the first Mexican-American desegregation case in California was in 1931. I was familiar with later cases. I love your poetic description of how this story unfolds with the music and the children! Beautiful review!

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