Picture Book Review: Alejandria Fights Back!/La Lucha de Alejandria! by Leticia Hernandez-Linares

Image description: A young girl with light brown skin and curly brown hair stands behind a podium. She is wearing a green hoodie and holding a map. There is a microphone on the podium. Behind her and to her left and right are people from her neighborhood wearing all manner of clothes, all ages, and all with various shades of brown skin. They hold signs saying “Our roots are here” and “No nos moveran” and “People over profits”. The title of the book is across the bottom in magenta text.

Alejandria Fights Back!/La Lucha de Alejandria! by Leticia Hernandez-Linares and the Rise-Home Stories Project, illustrated by Robert Liu Trujillo

From Goodreads:

For nine-year-old Alejandria, home isn’t just the apartment she shares with Mami and her abuela, Tita, but rather the whole neighborhood. Home is the bakery where Ms. Beatrice makes yummy picos; the sidewalk where Ms. Alicia sells flowers with her little dog, Duende; and the corner store with friendly Mr. Amir.

But lately the city has been changing, and rent prices are going up. Many people in el barrio are leaving because they can no longer afford their homes, and For Sale signs are popping up everywhere. Then the worst thing happens: Mami receives a letter saying they’ll have to move out too.

Alejandria knows it isn’t fair, but she’s not about to give up and leave. Join Alejandria as she brings her community together to fight and save their neighborhood!

Remember those essays you had to write every September about what you did over the summer? Usually they were pretty boring, either you did nothing or you did the same kinds of things your friends did- camp, summer school, watched TV. Imagine having a story to tell about how you helped your neighborhood resist evictions, though. That is exactly what Alejandria has.

I love how the story is framed in this familiar way. It begins with a friend who has been away for the summer asking Alejandria what she’s been up to and boy does she have a story to tell. Rising rents early in the summer meant families in Ale’s building were being forced to move out and evicted. Their building, and others in the neighborhood, were owned by an outside company who saw an opportunity to attract wealthier tenants. Alejandria noticed some of her friends packing up and her own family got an eviction notice.

This energizes Ale and she and her grandmother plug in with a tenant’s rights group. Ale’s mom is hesitant to make waves and is against speaking up. I think this tension is realistic and the fear of making things worse is real. I think this story works on several levels, first it reflects the reality of a lot of families and kids watching their neighborhoods and communities gentrify. I especially appreciate how this shows the cost of this gentrification (but if you work in a mostly white middle class community expect this book to make people uncomfortable), the community is in danger of unraveling. The book starts with Ale showing a map of her neighborhood and talking about the people and places that make it a vibrant, functioning community. This is what is at stake for her.

Second, the book is a roadmap of sorts or how kids and adults can take steps to protect their communities. While this story is particular to gentrification, the ideas behind organizing community are the same no matter what issue you take on. I also really appreciate the ideas presented here around organizing the people around you to show up to City Hall to speak at council meetings and also getting plugged into organizations working specifically on the issue at hand. Most books for kids that talk about “activism” are about making signs and showing up at marches they didn’t organize. That can be a piece of activism, but it’s often not the most effective and is typically only a piece of the whole strategy. I think we need to disabuse people of the idea that it’s enough to just hold a sign at some march. We need everyone showing up in places of power and decisions to demand their needs be met. We need people, even kids, showing up with organizations that are mobilizing, educating, and empowering communities. Collectively we’re powerful.

Trujillo is back with his lovely watercolor (guache?) illustrations. As always he captures the heart of the people and places he illustrates. The neighborhood is vibrant and the people diverse. His composition fits well with capturing the emotional core of the story. For example the spot illustrations showing Ale going to door to door in her building to get folks to come out to the City Hall meeting and speak up about what was going on. And the picture of Ale standing in her friend Julian’s apartment realizing he’s all packed up and moving out, disrupting the community she’s always known.

As I pointed out above, this book is going to make people who typically feel like they should be allowed to gentrify areas uncomfortable and maybe even angry. It’s a book that shows the folks they push out and the cost of their entitlement to places that aren’t actually theirs. This should not deter you from having these conversations and having this book on your shelves, but it might get some complaints and raised eyebrows. And for those communities on the frontlines of these issues, this is a book to encourage the youngest community members to use their voices.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

On Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores!): hardback

On Amazon: hardback, ebook

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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