★ Becoming Maria - New York Times
★ Becoming Maria - Publisher's Weekly
Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx
Sonia Manzano. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-545-62184-7
Manzano (The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano), widely known for her longtime role as Maria on Sesame Street, chronicles her formative years in a troubled household in 1950s and ’60s New York City with a voice that conveys a slow-burning audacity and the internal glimmer of lightness of a true dreamer. She invites readers into the rundown and crowded apartments and neighborhoods where she lived with her mother and her alcoholic, abusive father, both immigrants from Puerto Rico; her siblings; and a smattering of raucous extended family and friends. Though some of her vividly recounted memories are tinged with warmth and humor, many reveal dark realities of poverty and domestic violence. Manzano’s coming of age is paralleled by an increasing pride in her heritage and by her witnessing the civil rights and women’s liberation movements. After learning of Manzano’s stressors and doubts, her hard-won victories feel downright cathartic, be it a kindness from a teacher, entrance to the High School of Performing Arts, a drama scholarship to Carnegie Mellon University, a rise on Broadway, or her fateful audition for Sesame Street. Ages 12–up. Agent: Jennifer Lyons, Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency. (Aug.)
Reviewed on 07/10/2015 | Details & Permalink
★ Becoming Maria - Kirkus Reviews
Actress Manzano, best known as Maria from Sesame Street, provides a lyrical and unflinching account of her tough Nuyorican upbringing in the South Bronx. Split into three parts, this touching memoir is a chronological series of vignettes in the author’s life, starting with her earliest memories as a diaper-clad toddler witnessing her father’s drunken outbursts and meeting a mysterious “dark little girl,” who turns out to be her older half sister. The author doesn’t give many dates or ages; her memories are fragments of her Spanglish-filled life in a large, poverty-stricken Puerto Rican family. She writes about the fear and confusion of having an abusive father and a battered mother doing the best she could with four kids to clothe and feed. She describes the communal shame of cousins and friends “ruined” by teen pregnancies. But her childhood isn’t all grim. Manzano lovingly details life-changing moments: seeing West Side Story with a teacher and two other Latina classmates; visiting Puerto Rico, the place her parents fled but cherished; listening to a record of Richard Burton playing Hamlet; and later successfully auditioning for a spot in Manhattan’s illustrious High School of Performing Arts. Life is full of tragedies and triumphs alike, and Manzano shows how both helped her become the actress that generations of children grew up seeing on Sesame Street. In stark and heartbreaking contrast to her Sesame Street character, Manzano paints a poignant, startlingly honest picture of her youth.
★ Becoming Maria - School Library Connection
SCHOOL LIBRARY CONNECTION – JANUARY 2016
Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx
2015. 272pp. $17.99 hc. Scholastic, Inc. 978-0-545-62184-7. Grades 8-12
This poignant coming-of-age memoir of the actress who created Sesame’s Street’s beloved character, Maria, details the challenges of growing up in a Puerto Rican barrio in the Bronx, told in chronological stream-of-consciousness. While her father’s drunken rages, her brother’s acute asthma, their persistent roaches and food shortages, and their frequent moves could have portended a dismal future, Sonia is encouraged by her magnet school teachers and peers to achieve her dream of becoming an actress. Sonia’s resilience and strong sense of self-worth are inspiring, although the strong language, sex, drug and alcohol use, and details of child and spousal abuse may be objectionable to some.
Peggy Creighton, School Library Consultant, Clayton, Georgia [Editor’s Note: Available in e-book format.]
★ Miracle on 133rd Street - Kirkus Review
MIRACLE ON 133RD STREET [STARRED REVIEW!]
Author: Sonia Manzano
Illustrator: Marjorie Priceman
Review Issue Date: September 1, 2015
Online Publish Date: August 12, 2015
Publication Date: September 22, 2015
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-0-689-87887-9
ISBN ( e-book ): 978-1-4814-2892-7
Category: Picture Books
On Christmas Eve, a large apartment house on 133rd Street in the Bronx becomes the site of a multicultural neighborhood party. Manzano, a Pura Belpré honoree and Maria on Sesame Street, teams up with Caldecott honoree Priceman for this vibrant story. The setting is the apartment of a Puerto Rican family preparing their special Christmas Eve dinner. Mami is trying to cook a huge roast, but it won’t fit in her small oven. Papi and José decide to take the roast to their friend who owns a pizzeria to see if he can help. On their way, they meet several neighbors and friends of different ages and ethnic groups; all are stressed, lonely, or worried about money. When the father and son return with the cooked roast, its delicious aroma transforms everyone who smells it, wafting them along on swirls of contented delight. They all float up the stairs to the apartment for a Christmas Eve dinner, fitting everyone into just one small apartment—a Christmas miracle. The polished text uses dramatic pacing, dialogue, emotion, and characterization to excellent effect. Priceman’s dazzling illustrations are filled with pulsating energy, glowing colors, and the radiant smiles of the neighbors who find community together. A magical, hopeful vitality permeates the art, reflected in multiple swirling elements wound through the illustrations. A scrumptious treat to be savored and enjoyed, just like a fine holiday dinner.
(Picture book. 4-9)
★ Miracle on 133rd Street - Publisher's Weekly
Never underestimate the power of food to bring people together—especially at the holidays. So it goes in Sesame Street alum Manzano’s warm and funny tale. When Mami’s Christmas Eve roast won’t fit in the oven, José and his Papi take the meat to the local pizza shop to cook there. The neighbors they pass on the way are all mired in holiday crabbiness—feeling lonely, frazzled, or dead broke. But hours later, when father and son carry the roast back home, its enticing smell magically melts away any bickering or complaints, leading the whole building (and the pizzeria’s owner) to Jose’s family’s apartment for a boisterous celebration. Priceman’s rainbows of color and wintry swirls of white and blue capture a bustling New York City neighborhood as Manzano confidently unfurls an urban Christmas miracle with a distinct Boricua flair.
★ Miracle on 133rd Street - Booklist
As the story opens, José is downcast over his sparse Christmas tree, while his mother is equally upset that her oven is too small to hold their roast. What to do? Head to the local pizza parlor to see if the owner will let the family use his big oven. Along the way, they meet a multicultural mix of disgruntled neighbors and friends, none of them in a holiday mood. However, once the roast is cooked and traveling back home, its delicious aroma spreads good will to all in its path, and many join José’s family for a joyous Christmas Eve celebration. Priceman’s extraordinary illustrations fill up every page with bright colors and life. The art almost vibrates off the pages: lamps tilted, arms helter-skelter, buildings at an angle. The book has to be turned sideways at one point to see everything. Once the celebration is embraced, there are people everywhere, carrying instruments and chairs and cannoli and cookies. And this swirl is repeated in the snow and smells and stars. Mami’s memories of Puerto Rico are in bright shades of yellows, but José’s world is bright red, blue, orange, and green, all-inclusive, just like their celebration. Whatever traditions are followed, readers will delight in the joy of this book.
— Edie Ching
Sesame Street’s “Maria” Opens Girls Write Now’s Reading Series
An audience of 230 budding writers and their loved ones greeted Sonia Manzano with cheers and excited whispers on March 22, welcoming the celebrated Latina actress and 15 Emmy Award-winning screenwriter as the special guest speaker for the opening event of Girls Write Now’s CHAPTERS Reading series. Best-known as “Maria” from the long-running PBS show Sesame Street, Manzano has recently added acclaimed young adult author to her list of many accomplishments: her Revolution of Evelyn Serrano (Scholastic, 2012) garnered a Pura Belpré Honor.
After a clip of Sesame Street “Maria” milestones, the crowd was treated to a reading from Manzano’s historical fiction novel, which is set in1969 Spanish Harlem. The book’s backdrop includes the rising popularity of Young Lords Party—a Puerto Rican activist group. The author shared with the crowd that the title character’s struggles were modeled after the feelings and issues she herself experienced during this tumultuous time.
“The story of Evelyn trying to choose between her more traditional mother and her radical grandmother came from my own self-conscious feelings about being Latin at that time,” Manzano said. “I felt invisible, because I wasn’t being reflected in society.” She went on to give writing advice and words of encouragement and empowerment.
The first of an ongoing reading series, this debut night of CHAPTERS included 18 teen participants, who read their best poems, personal essays, short stories, or excerpts from longer works to a group of teachers, friends, family members, and mentors. The selections ranged in tone, from the poignant subway ride reflection, “Not Just a Stranger” by Mariah Teresa Aviles, to the morbidly funny paranormal romance, “Luca” by Mennen Gordon. Many of the performances were a collaborated effort and featured not only the mentees, but included mentors as well.
Now in its 15th year, Girls Write Now is the first organization in the country with a writing and mentoring model exclusively for girls. It pairs talented, at-risk public high school students with women mentors in all areas of writing professions. It also boasts a 100 percent high school graduation and college attendance rate, and many of these young women have writing honors such as the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards already under the belts. Some of the mentees go on to become published writers, like CHAPTERS emcee and poet Jeanette Anderson, whose work has appeared in The Broome Review and Mslexia.
Sponsored by Open Road Media, and supported by Writers House LLC, Penguin, and Random House Children’s Books, the CHAPTERS series continues with stellar authors like Adele Griffin on April 19, Gayle Forman on May 17, and Marcia Ann Gillespie on June 14. All of the readings will be hosted held Scholastic headquarters and occur from 6pm to 8pm ET.
'Revolution of Evelyn Serrano' - Slatebreakers Review
Face Value: Powerful image that reflects the content and location of the story, and hints at one of the central metaphors in the book! Love! Says Evelyn, “There’s a Puerto Rican expression that says some people try to ‘tapar el cielo con la mano’ – to cover the sky with their hand.” People cover up what they don’t want to see. There’s a hand reaching up to the sky in this image, but the sun is shining through the fingers – a gorgeous symbol for Evelyn’s emotional journey. I like what happens with the text too – Revolution and Evolution are both key to the emotional core of the story, and the text suggests this without being too cheesy.
Does it Break the Slate? Totally. There are three generations of Slatebreaking women in this book, all of whom are making it happen in their own way. The political, activist, historical and family threads of this novel all come together for an undeniably feminist story.
Who would we give it to? This book would be a great pairing with Rita Williams Garcia’s amazing One Crazy Summer. Radicals making the world a better place and a young girl’s journey into self-awareness and racial and political advocacy.
Review: It’s 1969 in Spanish Harlem and Evelyn Serrano is determined to figure out who she is, and set herself apart from everyone else she knows – especially her mother. As she explains,
“Ever since my fourteenth birthday last month, I told everybody I wanted to be called Evelyn. My full name is Rosa Maria Evelyn del Carmen Serrano. But I shortened it. El Barrio, Spanish Harlem, USA, did not need another Rosa, Maria or Carmen.”
And so begins Evelyn’s quest to find herself. It gets even harder as her Abuela arrives, bringing with her a story of revolution in Puerto Rico and a new way of looking at the world. Then she encounters The Young Lords, an activist group that shakes up everything she thought she knew even more. Over the course of the book, Evelyn learns about her Latino history, her family history, and the kind of woman she’s going to be.
The greatest strength of this book, in my opinion, is the three generations of women coming together. Abuela is amazing, and she fascinates and energizes Evelyn, but she also has a complicated and difficult history with Evelyn’s mother. All three of these women are Slatebreakers in their own right, and they all love each other. Watching Mami and Abuela come to terms with one another, and watching Evelyn grow up into a woman who can understand, love and appreciate her whole family and its history is a really lovely journey. By the end, Evelyn has figured out that she doesn’t need to be Evelyn to be her own person. Rosa again, she is still an entirely changed, stronger girl.
Earlier I compared this book to One Crazy Summer, and I totally stand by that comparison. However, Evelyn Serrano is somewhat lacking compared to the richness of the way that world is crafted. This book almost gets there. The story, especially all of the history, feels condensed, and a little too easily brought to a resolution. However, the complexity of the characters and the relationships between the family members is totally worth it.
This book is a first novel by Sonia Manzano, who you are more likely to know for her role as Maria on Sesame Street. I loved her authors note, and learning about how her own history played into the way she wrote Evelyn’s story. An incredible role model already, I love that she’s started writing, and I look forward to seeing what she does next in the children’s literature world.
ALSC - Association for Library Service to Children
2013 Author Honor Books – The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano.
In her debut novel, Manzano beautifully recreates a world of turmoil in 1969 Spanish Harlem. Fourteen-year-old Evelyn Serrano is caught in a whirlwind of events led by the revolutionary Young Lords. Navigating the tensions between her activist abuela and conservative mother, Evelyn learns to value her own culture and history. Better known as “Maria” on Sesame Street, Sonia Manzano has won multiple awards for television writing. Raised in the South Bronx, Sonia’s life-long commitment to children continues with this distinguished novel for adolescents.
About the Pura Belpré Award :
The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. It is co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, an ALA affiliate.
'Revolution of Evelyn Serrano' - Next Best Book
The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano was a great surprise to me. The description on the flap was intriguing, because I am fascinated by the time period. However, there was just nothing on the flap that jumped out as “You NEED to read this book.” I’m glad I decided to give this book a chance.
Evelyn is searching for herself. She feels smothered by her mother and stepfather and worn down by her life in the barrio. She wants more, so instead of working in her father’s store all summer, she decides to get a job in the local drugstore to earn her own money. When her grandmother comes to stay and takes over her bedroom, Evelyn is more upset than welcoming. At first, she can’t stand being around Abuela because she’s embarrassed by her flamboyant hair and clothing. Slowly, though, as Abuela begins to tell Evelyn of her life in Puerto Rico, Evelyn begins to see the strength that lies behind the makeup and red hair. This is moved forward when the Young Lords, an activist group, takes up residence in the neighborhood. Evelyn is forced to decide what’s most important for her life and her future.
Girls of all cultures will see themselves in Evelyn and her search for self. Along the way, they may just learn a thing or two about American history that they might not see in their schoolbooks.
'Revolution of Evelyn Serrano' - Love YA Lit
First of all, Sonia Manzano wrote this book. Doesn’t ring a bell? Perhaps you know her as Maria…from Sesame Street. That’s right.
Evelyn “Don’t Call Me Rosa” Serrano is a 15 year old in growing up in Spanish Harlem, NYC at a tenuous time in our nation’s history. But, Evelyn can’t see past the importance of her own life. She is disconnected from her Puerto Rican heritage and embarrassed by her traditional parents, especially “my mother, the slave.” When her mother’s Mother, Evelyn’s Abuela, shows up on their doorstep Evelyn is certain her life will only get worse. Covered in bright make-up, with wild hair and dressed like someone half her age, Abuela is a sight but what’s worse is how she talks – “This whole scene sounded like something on one of the telenovela soap operas on Telemundo.”
At the same time that Evelyn’s familial life is in turmoil, something is brewing in her neighborhood, El Barrio. The Young Lords, a Puerto Rican activist group, have taken space in the church across the street and are challenging the community members to join them as agents of cultural change. With her Abuela on the front lines while her own mother hides at home, Evelyn begins to explore a world much bigger than her own and is inspired by what she discovers.
Situating a coming of age story in a time when the entire country was amidst multiple revolutions leave countless opportunities for discussion and subversion. Manzano taps into that age appropriate couth she honed for years on Sesame Street to produce a novel that is honest enough about the reality of social change but pertinent enough to the experience of the reader, especially those Evelyn’s age. Manzano’s choices also make a strong case for the value of female relationships and the importance of women in leadership. Through her developing relationship with Abuela and a desire sparked by the energy of the Young Lords, Evelyn begins to understand the importance of history and her place in it. As she becomes more aware of herself and the past that has shaped her, her apathy evolves into compassion for her mother and a sense of connection to her community.
There are many ways to categorize what the Young Lords stood for but an essential piece to take away is the power yielded by a group of young people who were motivated to create positive change in support of a marginalized group. Manzano uses their legacy as a metaphor for the revolution that occurs within Evelyn – the discovery of one’s personal identity and how that identity will participate in the world.
Alicia’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
'Revolution of Evelyn Serrano' - CBC Diversity
A Coming of Age Nuyorican History Lesson Undoubtedly one of America’s most influential Latinas in pop culture, the Emmy-winning New Yorker Sonia Manzano continues to define the TV-watching experience of many kids—especially young Latino and Hispanic children.
For me and many Latinos who grew up watching the humorous, albeit always educational, antics of Burt & Ernie and Cookie Monster, no human face is more associated with the globally broadcast Sesame Street (Plaza Sésamo en Español) than “Maria” embodied by Sonia Manzano.
Manzano joined the production of Sesame Street in 1971, where she eventually began writing scripts for the series. She has won 15 Emmy Awards as part of the Sesame Street writing staff. Many of those kids who grew up with Maria—myself included—will forever regard Sonia Manzano as a cherished storyteller.
This is why her powerful debut YA novel The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano (Scholastic Press) is so important and relevant for young readers of all backgrounds.
A coming-of-age story set in 1969 in New York City’s Spanish Harlem (“El Barrio”), The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano reads like nonfiction. Manzano’s story based on her own life growing up during a fiery, unforgettable time in American history is infused with actual news accounts—specifically surrounding the Puerto Rican activist group The Young Lords.
If you or your students aren’t familiar with the radical, certainly controversial, group The Young Lords, that’s because there aren’t many—if any—young adult books written about the subject.*
Manzano’s novel remains the only fictionalized narrative on the subject written with young adults and teens in mind. Her story revolves around 14-year old Evelyn Serrano—who is struggling with the idea of what it means to be Puerto Rican—and the complex family dynamic of three generations of women living together: grandmother, mother, and daughter.
With so much discussion about Common Core standards and the push for nonfiction narrative by curriculum developers, The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano seems like a solid choice for educators who want to explore Latino Heritage in a format that is not only relatable but accessible and historically poignant.
Manzano’s novel includes an appendix of articles and other materials for further reading including, notes about Iris Morales’ seminal documentary, “!Palante, Siempre Palante!” and video links to footage of the 1937 Ponce Massacre.
The activism portrayed in the novel lends itself easily to extended conversations about civil rights and even the recent Occupy Movement. Evelyn’s personal struggle with identity stirs up discussion about the impact of cultural heritage—an internal conflict that many young people can relate to.
Incidentally, Manzano’s novel takes place in 1969, the same year that Sesame Street first aired on various public broadcasting stations with a mission to harness the power of media to empower and educate. Likewise, the Young Lords activists’ mission was to empower their membership to fight against gentrification and educate the American people about the discrimination faced by Puerto Ricans at the time. In more ways than I can enumerate here, Sonia Manzano provides a seamless link between those two worlds, having lived through the influence of the Lords during her formative youth and as a pioneering writer and role model on screen.
When asked by Publishers Weekly’s Shannon Maughan how much of her character Evelyn is based on her own life, Sonia responds with aplomb, “There is a lot of me in all the characters I write. There’s even some of me in Big Bird and Ernie and Bert when I write for them!”
'Revolution of Evelyn Serrano' - Mamiverse
Like Pam Muñoz Ryan, who so beautifully and eloquently captures the essence of the Mexican-American experience, and Julia Alvarez, who does the same for Dominican-Americans, Sonia Manzano sheds some light on the history of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican-Americans (or, more accurately, Nuyoricans).
In The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, this long-time Sesame Street contributor and Emmy Award-winning actress places a large amount of weight on Rosa María Evelyn del Carmen’s (AKA Evelyn) shoulders. Evelyn simultaneously tells the story of the Ponce Massacre of 1937 while living through, and participating in the activism of the Young Lords and their 11-day occupation of a church in East Harlem in 1969. This event comes at a time when Evelyn is trying to understand who she is and where she stands on issues ranging from those related to her own family, to the world at large. She does so primarily with the help of her Abuela, her estranged grandmother and long-time activist.
The events and history that Manzano shares with readers are worthy of volumes of books, but it is encouraging to see Manzano and Evelyn bring awareness to topics rarely covered by mainstream media. May Manzano be offered more opportunities to bring her knowledge and experience of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican-Americans to the forefront. Boricuas and their descendants everywhere need and deserve to have more of their stories told.
—Reviewed by Marietta B. Zacker, Book Curator at Sparkhouse in South Orange, NJ
'Revolution of Evelyn Serrano' - Kirkus Reviews
Set in 1969, Manzano’s first novel offers a realistically mercurial protagonist struggling with her identity in Spanish Harlem.
Fourteen-year-old Rosa María Evelyn del Carmen Serrano is frustrated with life in El Barrio. Tired of working for her mother and stepfather in their bodega, she takes a job at a five-and-dime and hopes to trudge through the rest of the summer. Everything changes when her abuela arrives, taking over Evelyn’s bedroom and bearing secrets of the family’s involvement in Puerto Rico’s tumultuous history. When a group called the Young Lords begins working to bring positive changes to the neighborhood, some residents are resistant, including Evelyn’s mother. Led by her grandmother’s example, Evelyn begins to take an interest in the efforts of the activist group. As the months pass, the three generations of women begin to see one another’s perspectives, and Evelyn realizes the importance of her Puerto Rican heritage. Like most real-world teens, she changes subtly, rather than through one earth-shattering epiphany. The author effectively captures this shifting perception in the dialogue and Evelyn’s first-person narration. Secondary characters of surprising dimension round out the plot and add to the novel’s cultural authenticity, as do the Spanish and Spanglish words and phrases sprinkled throughout the text so seamlessly that a glossary would be moot.
A stunning debut. (author’s note, recommended reading) (Historical novel. 12 & up)
'Revolution of Evelyn Serrano' - Horn Book Magazine
Set in the summer of 1969, Manzano’s solid first novel deals with the political and cultural awakening of fourteen-year-old Rosa María Evelyn del Carmen Serrano, who tells us straight off that she prefers to be called Evelyn because “El Barrio, Spanish Harlem, U.S.A., did not need another Rosa, María, or Carmen.” She’s not particularly happy with her life: her best friend has dropped her, her mother embarrasses her, and she hates the stench of overflowing garbage cans in her neighborhood. To make things worse, she has to give up her bedroom when her grandmother arrives from Puerto Rico, and Evelyn’s charismatic orange-haired abuelais not an easy person to live with.
She’s loud, messy, and opinionated, and she constantly clashes with Evelyn’s more conservative mother. Abuela becomes involved with the Young Lords, a radical Puerto Rican Nationalist group working to empower the residents of Spanish Harlem, and she shares with Evelyn pieces of her own family history relating to the 1937 Ponce Massacre, part of an earlier Nationalist movement. Evelyn becomes increasingly radicalized and joins a protest occupation of her church. Based on true events, the story develops organically through well-realized fictional characters dealing with complex family dynamics. Manzano has a gift for providing just the right amount of historical and political context for today’s young readers without slowing the pace. The story has obvious parallels to Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer (rev. 3/10), and the two would make a great pairing. Review by Kathleen T. Horning
Booklist Issue: October 15, 2012
Starting with the title’s pun on revolution, this wry, moving debut novel does a great job of blending the personal and the political without denigrating either. Growing up in the Puerto Rican East Harlem barrio in 1969, Rosa, 14, changes her name to Evelyn and tries to be more mainstream. Then her activist abuela arrives from Puerto Rico and moves in, and Evelyn feels as if she’s found “an older overdone version of me.” Abuela inspires Evelyn to join the Young Lords, the political activists who are working closely with the Black Panthers and fighting for Puerto Rican rights. But Evelyn’s mama does not approve, especially when the activists occupy the neighborhood church to demand food and shelter for the poor. Evelyn’s first- person narrative is filled with irreverent one-liners, but it never denies the realism of daily struggle: the “heat and stink of our neighborhood.” Rooted in the author’s own experience, the teen’s intense narrative is set against real-life political events (reports from the New York Times are documented in an appendix), while the family drama and revelations continue right up to the end. — Hazel Rochman
'Revolution of Evelyn Serrano' - Barnes and Noble Book Club
Full disclosure: Years ago, I did a bit of publicity for Sonia Manzano’s first picture book No Dogs Allowed!. At the time, I was unabashedly excited to meet the woman who starred in the role of Maria on “Sesame Street” and, needless to say, she completely lived up to my expectations. She couldn’t have been a more gracious and intelligent conversationalist with a fantastic sense of humor. So it is not surprising that when I saw she was publishing her first novel, I had to give it a read and promised myself that I’d be objective. The great news is that The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano (Ages 12+) is wonderful. Inspired by true events that took place in Harlem in the late 1960s (and based very loosely on parts of Manzano’s teenage years and beyond), the novel is a moving portrait of a community fighting for their rights and their place in a society being torn apart by inequality and prejudice, corruption, and greed.
Rosa Maria Evelyn del Carmen Serrano (a.k.a. Evelyn) and her mother and stepfather live in a small apartment in Spanish Harlem, where there’s trash on the street and gangs fighting for territory down the block. Evelyn’s summer job at the five-and-dime keeps her busy while Mami’s at home doing the laundry, cooking dinner, and making sure her daughter stays out of trouble. When Evelyn’s abuela (grandmother) shows up from Puerto Rico and moves into Evelyn’s room with her bright orange hair and penciled-in eyebrows, tensions rise as Mami’s bottled-up resentment threatens to bubble over at any second. Manzano fills her descriptions of a typical (her words) Puerto Rican household with plenty of luscious details (tasty huevos frying up on the stove, plastic covering all the furniture, fake roses everywhere), and the Spanish and Spanglish words she sprinkles throughout the text add flavor to the story. But where Manzano really excels is in developing Evelyn’s coming of age and tying it in to a crucial moment in Latino history in New York and in America. As Evelyn starts asking her grandmother questions about her heritage and follows Abuela’s lead in getting involved with a Puerto Rican activist group called the Young Lords despite her mother’s intense disapproval (at least, at first), Evelyn not only learns what it takes to stand up for what is right but also what it means to be a confident and proud Latina woman.
Manzano mentions in the Afterword that she condensed the timeline of the Young Lords’ takeover of the church in East Harlem and a number of other pro-Puerto Rico events involving the activists in 1969 in order to fit the trajectory of Evelyn’s story. If Manzano wanted to write 100 more pages about the takeover, thereby stretching out the story, I would’ve read them. As it stands now, the book is an excellent launching point for further research and classroom discussion.
Review by Alexis_Burling
'Revolution of Evelyn Serrano' - KellyVision
In 1969, Evelyn Serrano was living with her mom and stepfather in New York’s Puerto Rican neighborhood (El Barrio). She doesn’t really like her neighborhood or her real name (Rosa—Evelyn is one of her middle names and what she’s chosen to go by). Then her grandmother moves in and an activist group called the Young Lords begin protesting. Evelyn is fascinated by both—Abuela has these amazing stories and the Young Lords really do just want to make things better in the neighborhood. And over the course of the novel, Evelyn learns about her heritage and culture.
At BEA’s Bloggercon, I ended up having breakfast at Sonia Manzano’s table and this book ended up in my “swag bag.” That’s incredibly fortunate, because without those two things, this book wouldn’t even have been on my radar. (And honestly, at breakfast I was just like, “I am drinking horrible coffee with Maria from Sesame Street. Maria! From SESAME STREET! I am at her table!”)
And this is an amazing, amazing book. While it’s incredibly specific to a culture, time and place, it’s also very universal. I’m very fortunate in that my racial background is very well represented. I know all about my history. But if you’re a minority, it becomes a lot harder (especially, I would imagine, if you were Puerto Rican in the late 1960s).
While I couldn’t relate to the initial desire to assimilate (it’s not a coincidence that Evelyn goes by that and not Rosa), I do understand the eventual fascination with your culture and desire to learn more. As a lesbian, it’s fascinating to know what those before me had to deal with. Evelyn had the privilege of being a trailblazer (in a small but important way); I have the privilege of getting to reap the benefits.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and hope to read more from Sonia Manzano. I especially want a sequel. The world needs more Evelyn. 🙂
Publishers Weekly Interview with Sonia Manzano
Actress and author Sonia Manzano is perhaps best known for her ongoing role as Maria on Sesame Street; she joined the cast in the early 1970s. But she has also won 15 Emmy Awards as part of the show’s writing staff, and in 2004 she published her first children’s book, No Dogs Allowed!, illustrated by Jon J Muth (Atheneum). Another picture book, A Box Full of Kittens, illustrated by Matt Phelan, followed for Atheneum in 2007. Her new title, The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano (Scholastic), is something of a departure: a YA novel about a Puerto Rican girl awakened to political activism and to her cultural heritage while living in Spanish Harlem (El Barrio) in 1969.
Why did you want to write about the Young Lords, a short-lived Puerto Rican activist group in 1960s-70s New York City?
I thought it important to write about the power of youth. I remember seeing footage of Juan González [one of the group’s leaders], who is now at the [New York] Daily News. The group would shout things like ‘We think Puerto Rico should be independent – and kids should eat oatmeal!’ There was a sense of ‘We can do all this stuff!’ I’d forgotten about that. Kids do have a lot of the answers but they can’t always move things forward. There was so much youthful indignation: ‘What?! People are being unfair?!’ What they were doing seems so revolutionary. And they looked like Castro. I think people were afraid of them because of the way they looked.
How does the group fit into your latest book?
I have always been fascinated by things that were happening in 1969. Coincidentally, Sesame Street first aired in 1969 and one of the main curriculum goals of the show was that American children should know that Latins lived in America, and the Latin child should know that he is important in the world. Latins were totally invisible at the time. 1969 was the very beginning of Hispanics being public. It started with the Young Lords [they set garbage on fire to draw attention to a lack of sanitation services and occupied a church from which to offer the community help]. Everyone had a platform then; it was a time of idealism and change, and the status quo was being challenged. That small event had great impact. It feels like a perfect time to bring attention to it.
There seems to be a renewed spirit of activism in our country, reflected in the various Occupy movements over the past year or so. Do you have a philosophy about activism that you hope to convey to your readers?
Well, the Occupy movements seem to be about general discontent and not very specific. But there is a harshness in society nowadays. People are uncaring of other people; there is an incivility. It’s not the kind of society we would like to think of ourselves as being. If it [the book] makes kids look out for the other guy, that would be a good thing. There is also a great lack of critical thinking these days. People can’t see the gray in things; everything is black or white. [In the book,] at first Evelyn is thinking “either my mother is right or my grandmother is right.” But in the end, she says she hopes they are both right. Each has something she can take.
Your descriptions of El Barrio are particularly evocative. What is your personal experience with the neighborhood?
My grandmother lived on East 111th Street, right across from the church [First Spanish Methodist Church] seized by the Young Lords. I was raised in the Bronx, but we visited her often. When we would come across the Willis Avenue Bridge it was like Puerto Rico Central. I remember the food sold in the street; it was so exotic seeing all those fried foods. And I remember the congestion of people at the time, and the sadness of people gazing out the window. My grandmother’s maiden name was Serrano and she lived with my cousin Evelyn. Using their combined names in the book is another personal connection for me.
In addition to Evelyn’s political awakening, your book explores Evelyn’s connection to her heritage and cultural identity. Does this reflect your own experience?
I remember becoming politically aware and seeing myself in the big world, separate from my parents. I was 21. Evelyn is much younger, 14. The way she begins to see her family is because of her issue about being Latin. It reminds me of that movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, when the main character recalls that she was the only kid in school with sideburns because she was Greek. It’s a universal problem that people from many cultures can relate to. [But] when you know your past, you can have a stronger future. You can at least understand your parents and grandparents better. My parents would always paint our kitchen turquoise and I wanted everything to be beige. When I went to Puerto Rico and saw all the bright colors, it hit me that my family was from the tropics. I realized how hard it must be for them to be indoors all the time in New York. We have so many old family photos taken up on the roof – it was just like West Side Story. It was my family’s way of being outside as much as possible.
Before becoming an author, your first professional success was as an actress on Sesame Street. How do the two art forms – acting and writing – compare for you?
When one acts there is a feeling of recklessness. “Know your lines and be ready to go” is something I learned from a Muppet person. I had always wanted to practice everything over and over. But this person said, “Let’s just go and not practice.” You can know the lines but still have room to just go with it and improvise some things. It worked really well on camera.
With writing it’s just the opposite. You ponder the word, look at the sentence, leave it alone for a while, then come back to it. It’s very particular – do I use an exclamation point or not?
You first entered the children’s book world as a picture book author. How was it to shift gears and write for an older audience?
I don’t have to spell everything out for older readers. They can infer and guess and put their own lives into it. I’m still learning the genre, but I’m happy to have such a wonderful editor in Andrea Pinkney.
What’s up next for you? Any new book projects you can talk about?
I love to write and I have been working on a memoir for a while. I’ve also been working on another memoir with a family member.
And I just did my first event for the new book, at La Casa Azul Bookstore on 103rd Street – a few blocks from where the Young Lords were demonstrating.
So it sounds like we’ll be learning more about Sonia Manzano. Is there any of you in Evelyn Serrano?
Yes. There is a lot of me in all the characters I write. There’s even some of me in Big Bird and Ernie and Bert when I write for them!
'Revolution of Evelyn Serrano' - Novel Novice
It’s a pivotal time in America’s history. Set in the Spanish Harlem, 1969, Sesame Street star Sonia Manzano’s first novel follows the fiery and free-spirited heart of 14-year-old Evelyn Serrano. With the help of her brassy grandma, Evelyn is caught up in the action and activism of the Young Lords fiery protests in her neighborhood, and through the upheaval, discovers a deep, hidden pride in her heritage.
It’s her grandmother, Abuela, who tells Evelyn about the 1937 Nationalist uprising in Puerto Rico and connects the current activism with the Latino past. Through the revival of their unique history, three generations of women are drawn closer as they unite in a common cause. Filled with smart characters, wisdom, and the social lessons learned from racial inequities, activism, and the power of love, Manzano takes her readers on a remarkable and complex journey through America’s rarely discussed past. I was profoundly touched and moved by this book! I hope it’s not Sonia Manzano’s last.
'Revolution of Evelyn Serrano' - The Buffalo News (Life & Arts)
Sonia Manzano, who starred as Maria on “Sesame Street” and has won 15 Emmy Awards for her television writing, makes her powerful debut in the crowded field of Young Adult novels with this entertaining and inspiring political coming-of-age tale inspired by her own experience growing up in Spanish Harlem and loosely based on real events in 1969.
Rosa Maria Evelyn del Carmen Serrano, 14, is a rebel in her own way, preferring to be called Evelyn, treating her mother rudely for her slavish waiting upon both Evelyn and her stepfather and refusing to work at the family bodega and getting a summer job instead at a neighborhood grocery store. The neighborhood is in an uproar after Puerto Rican activists, the Young Lords, dump garbage in the streets and set it afire to ignite protests. Evelyn’s activist grandmother gets involved, and Evelyn starts to learn family secrets and truths about her heritage. Manzano tells her story in the smart, sassy voice of her teenage protaganist (in her hilarious description of the making of Pasteles, Evelyn watches “my mother peel a yautia, which was more like trying to peel the bark off an oak tree with a nail clipper”). Manzano notes that while Evelyn’s political awakening takes place during the 11 days in which the Young Lords occupied the First Spanish Methodist Church in Harlem, her own political awakening was more gradual. She adds: “I’ve always been interested in people’s internal revolutions because those are the ones that govern their everyday actions and by progression, a community’s life.” – Jean Westmoore
'Revolution of Evelyn Serrano' - Publishers Weekly
In Sesame Street star and picture-book author Manzano’s (A Box Full of Kittens) first novel, set in 1969 Spanish Harlem, 14-year-old Evelyn Serrano finds a new appreciation for her family and pride in her Puerto Rican heritage amid neighborhood protests. Evelyn is frustrated with her struggling parents, who cling to the old ways of Puerto Rico, and sick of the “El Barrio fart smell of garbage” that makes the summer heat hard to bear. Things hit a fever pitch when Evelyn’s free-spirited abuela arrives to live with them, clashing with everyone. It’s Abuela who tells Evelyn about the 1937 Nationalist uprising in Puerto Rico and how it’s similar to the Young Lords who are burning garbage and occupying a local church to focus attention on the barrio. The knowledge helps bring three generations of women closer as they unite in a common cause. Manzano shines light on a little-known moment in history through the eyes of a realistically mercurial protagonist who can be both petulant and sympathetic. Evelyn’s tale fascinates, ending on a hopeful note. Ages 10–14. Agent: Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency.
Julia Alvaréz, Pura Belpre Award-winning Author
Pura Belpre Award-winning author of Before We Were Free and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.
Sonia Manzano has been a trendsetter ever since she put our face in a national television series as our beloved María in Sesame Street in 1971. Since then, Sonia has been an engaging and powerful presence in the lives of all American children, not just Latinos.
(I believe Dora and other explorers owe their popularity to her breakthrough over forty years ago.) Now with her new young adult novel The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, Sonia Manzano takes that talent and storytelling skill to the printed page, giving us an important, but undocumented story of the Latino civil rights movement. The story of the Young Lords and their activism in New York City in the late 1960s is told through the personal story of a young girl’s coming of age, as both the movement and the girl learn pride in their heritage and self-empowerment in their activism. This is a book to be read alongside books about Martin Luther King and César Chávez and placed on proud display with the literature that enriches our multicultural America. History will come alive for young readers who will identify with how a great historic moment can affect one girl and her family personally.
Nicholasa Mohr National Book Award Finalist
National Book Award finalist, author of El Bronx Remembered
The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano invites the reader into the world of a young Latina’s coming of age. Manzano’s narrative poignantly shares Evelyn’s story during a time when political awareness created an indelible impact in lives of our young people. Groups like the Young Lords declared themselves to be in charge of their own destiny. Along with political awareness, Evelyn begins her own personal journey as she struggles with conventional family traditions that stifle her need for personal independence. This lively novel includes the reality of the struggle that triumphed by creating indelible, political awareness in lives of Latinos.
Juan Gonzalez, New York Daily News Columnist
Columnist, New York Daily News and Former Leader of the Young Lords
Out of the grinding poverty, racial inequities, and the turbulent social protest of New York’s Spanish Harlem in the 1960s, Sonia Manzano has fashioned a gripping story that will warm your heart.
John Leguizamo, Actor & Comedian
I love this book! It’s smart, real, painfully funny, and filled with the wisdom of a writer who can get to the hearts and souls of her readers. Sonia Manzano, standing ovation! (Encore, please!)
Pablo Yoruba Guzmán, Emmy-Winning Reporter
Emmy Award-winning reporter, WCBS-TV, and former Minister of Information, Young Lords Party
The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano is remarkable. Sonia has rendered a complex, pivotal time in America. Her words lifted me out of myself, and also brought me back to that place — and made me look forward.