Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation

by Duncan Tonatiuh (Author)

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation
Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade
Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a "Whites only" school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.


                                                            Pura Belpre Award-winning Tonatiuh (Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote, 2013) makes excellent use of picture-book storytelling to bring attention to the 1947 California ruling against public-school segregation. The concise, informative text, with occasional and always translated Spanish lines, discusses how being banned from enrolling in an Orange County grade school because of her skin tone and Mexican surname inspired Sylvia Mendez' family to fight for integrated schools. Soon they were joined by many others, including the NAACP and the Japanese American Citizens League, which led to their hard-won victory. Tonatiuh's multimedia artwork showcases period detail, such as the children's clothing and the differences between the school facilities, in his unique folk art style. An endnote essay recapping the events, photos of Sylvia and her schools, and a glossary and resource list for further research complete this thorough exploration of an event that is rarely taught. This would be a useful complement to other books about the fight for desegregation, such as Deborah Wiles' Freedom Summer (2001) or Andrea Davis Pinkney's Sit-In (2010).--Goldsmith, Francisca Copyright 2010 Booklist

School Library Journal

Gr 1-4-When Sylvia Mendez moved to Westminster, California, in the 1940s, she quickly found out that not everyone was welcome in her new neighborhood. Sylvia and her brother have to attend the "Mexican" school-Hoover School. Hoover is situated next to a cow field, had an electric fence, dirty halls, no playground, and unmotivated teachers, while local white children went to the much better 17th Street Elementary School. Eventually, the Mendez family and others filed a lawsuit, Mendez v. Westminster, that predated Brown v. Board of Education by almost 10 years. It would desegregate schools in California, affecting more than 5,000 Latino children. Carefully taking actual text from trials and interviews with Sylvia Mendez, Tonatiuh edits the original language to fit the pacing of the story for the intended audience. Legal terms and Spanish words are translated and explained so young listeners will be able to comprehend this important story. Adriana Sananes narrates efficiently. Her voice uses various pitches for characters and paces her reading so listeners can keep up with the many names, places, and terms. This CD version includes an author's note and information about the text included in the story. An extremely important story that should be widely known. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Katie Llera, Bound Brook High School, NJ (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publishers Weekly

Tonatiuh (Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote) offers an illuminating account of a family's hard-fought legal battle to desegregate California schools in the years before Brown v. Board of Education. In 1944, after years of laboring as a field worker, Sylvia Mendez's father leases his own farm in Westminster, Calif. But even though Mexican-born Mr. Mendez is a U.S. citizen and his wife is Puerto Rican, their children are banned from the local public school and told they must attend the inferior "Mexican school." When all else fails, the Mendezes and four other families file a lawsuit. Readers will share Sylvia's outrage as she listens to a district superintendent denigrate Mexicans (Tonatiuh drew his words and other testimony from court transcripts). Visually, the book is in keeping with Tonatiuh's previous work, his simplified and stylized shapes drawn from Mexican artwork. He again portrays his characters' faces in profile, with collaged elements of hair, fabric, and fibrous paper lending an understated texture. An extensive author's note provides historical context (including that Sylvia Mendez received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011) and urges readers to make their own voices heard. Ages 6-9. (May)

Copyright 2014 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.
Duncan Tonatiuh
Duncan Tonatiuh is the winner of the prestigious Pura Belpré Award. Born and raised in Mexico, he attended school in the United States. He divides his time between San Miguel Allende, Mexico, and New York City.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Harry N. Abrams
Publication date
May 20, 2014
Bluebonnet Awards
Nominee 2016 - 2016
Orbis Pictus Award
Honor Book 2015 - 2015
Pura Belpre Award
Honor Book 2015 - 2015
Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award
Honor Book 2015 - 2015
Americas Award for Children & Young Adult Literature
Winner 2015 - 2015
Finalist 2014 - 2014
Georgia Children's Book Award
Finalist 2016 - 2016
Beehive Awards
Nominee 2016 - 2016
Jane Addams Children's Book Award
Winner 2015 - 2015
Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children and Teens
Recommended 2015 - 2015
Alabama Camellia Award
Nominee 2015 - 2016

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