Juanito Paloma, his mother Lucha, and his elderly father Felipe, are a tiny family who, after years of working in the fields of California’s Central Valley, move to San Francisco’s Latin Mission District to live with relatives. Juanito longs to be in one place, rather than “going, going, going,” and pines for the love of his often-absent father. This family story of growing up Latino will resonate with the readers of all backgrounds. Although the story is about a Latino boy living in the 1950’s, readers of all backgrounds can easily relate to the young character.
Growing up as the child of migrant farm workers–longing for stability and the love of an often-absent father–proved resonant subject matter for Juan Felipe Herrera’s Downtown Boy.
For his efforts, Downtown Boy has been honored with the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award for books published in 2006. The award, established at Texas State University-San Marcos in 1995, is designed to encourage authors, illustrators and publishers to produce books that authentically reflect the lives of Mexican American children and young adults in the United States.
Juan Felipe Herrera’s books are often inspired by his past as the only son of a pair of migrant farm workers, along with his belief that language, culture and good-hearted laughter are key ingredients. As a child, Herrera traveled through the many small farming towns of California before his parents finally settled in San Diego. That influence is apparent in Downtown Boy, which follows the life of Juanito Paloma, who, along with his mother Lucha and his elderly father Felipe, moves to San Francisco’s Latin Mission District to live with relatives after years of working in the fields of California’s Central Valley. Juanito longs to live in one place, rather than “going, going, going,” and pines for the love of his often-absent father.
The author of 19 books ranging from children’s literature to verse, Herrera is best known for Calling the Doves, winner of the 1997 Ezra Jack Keats Award; Crashboomlove, winner of the 1999 Americas Award; and Featherless/Desplumado, winner of the 2005 Independent Publisher Book Award.
Beyond his writing, Herrera has also founded bilingual theater groups, music and poetry troupes. He learned his love of word, language and writing at a young age from his mother. Poetry has been a part of his life ever since, and he now writes poetry for both children and adults.
Herrera currently holds the Tomás Rivera Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. He lives in Redlands, California. He is also an actor, both on stage and film and currently is writing a young audiences bilingual play for the La Jolla Playhouse POP tour in Southern Calfornia schools. (Originally posted by Jayme Blaschke, University News Service, June 6 2007)