Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Which Side Are You On?, written by George Ella Lyon and illustrated by Christopher Cardinale, has won the American Folklore Society's 2012 Aesop Award for Children's Literature. That's big news! Congratulations to George Ella Lyon and Christopher Cardinale. George Ella is an activist for the rights of coal miners and for the land on which she lives. Which Side Are You On? is truly a labor of love and an homage to Florence Reece--the author of the song "Which Side Are You On?" Christopher Cardinale traveled to West Virginia to study the Kentucky mines and landscapes for his illustrations. He and George Ella collaborated on this wonderful book that teaches us the story of Ma Reece, her husband and her children as they struggled for basic human rights. Cinco Puntos is proud of Which Side Are You On? and the Aesop Award, and so happy for George Ella and Christopher. We congratulate the Aesop Committee for recognizing the book's roots in the voice of the people--the folklore of the people--and its importance to the United States in 2012. It arrives at a time of renewed union struggle, a time in which our country seems to have forgotten about the struggles in the past. Which side are you on? 

Children’s Folklore Section
of the Children’s Folklore Section of the American
Folklore Society announces the 2012 Aesop Awards

The Aesop Prize and Aesop Accolades are conferred annually by the Children’s Folklore Section of the American Folklore Society upon English language books for children and young adults, both fiction and nonfiction. The award criteria include: Folklore should be central to the book’s content and, if appropriate, to its illustrations; the folklore presented in the book should accurately reflect the culture and worldvie w of the people whose folklore is the focus of the book; the reader’s understanding of folklore should be enhanced by the book, as should the book be enhanced by the presence of folklore; the book should reflect the high artistic standards of the best of children’s literature and have strong appeal to the child reader; and folklore sources must be fully acknowledged and annotations referenced within the bound contents of the publication.

2012 Aesop Prize Winner

Which Side Are You On? By George Ella Lyon, illustrated by Christopher Cardinale. El Paso, TX:
Cinco Puntos Press, 2011.

The urgency and bravery described in Which Side Are You On is at once both historic and contemporary.This picture book recounts the desperate circumstances that prompted the writing of a pivotal song of the labor movement in Kentucky in 1931. Author George Ella Lyon, and illustrator Christopher Cardinale, do a masterful job of portraying the historic setting and the unsung heroes of the coal miners’ strikes in the 1920’s and 30’s. And yet, by bringing this era into sharper focus, Lyon and Cardinale bring the realization that folk song is ever relevant in contemporary society. This book showcases a classic example of folk song, while simultaneously providing the context in which this song for social change took root. Social unrest, and the desire for justice, provide fertile ground for the flourishing of folk music as the voice of the oppressed. By describing the development of this song, Lyon and Cardinale remind us of its relevance today.

This is mainly the story of how Florence Reece wrote the song, “Which Side Are You On,” during one terrifying night, when the “gun thugs” (hired by the mine owners) were firing bullets into her home. Reece’s daughter narrates the scene, describing the way her six brothers and sisters cowered under the bed. Reece had gotten word to her husband (a mine worker and union organizer) not to return home, and to hide out. Amidst the questions bursting from the children under the bed, Ma tells them, “This ain’t easy, but sometimes you’ve got to take a stand.”

But this book is so much more than the story of Ma writing the song on the back of a calendar page, riveting though it is. The narrative simultaneously weaves three main threads into a cohesive flow: the unfolding plot in Reece’s home, background information on miners, and the lyrics of the song. Using an economy of words, Lyon imparts a surprising amount of information, in a child’s language. Readers learn about the grueling work of a miner, the meaning of a “company town,” payment in “scrip,” the meaning of a strike and a scab, and the reason a union is needed to set things right. The song lyrics visually swirl on intermittent pages.

The extensive author’s note provides even more information on the history, as well as reflections on folk music and the folk process, then and now. Cardinale, an accomplished cartoonist, achieves a style of illustration that captures the rough‐hewn quality of the setting, evocative of woodcuts. Illustrations and text work cohesively to portray a mood, not only of the violence, but of the resolve and love and solidarity of the family and the union.

Visualize the scene: Disenfranchised by those in power, the common people rise up to face their oppressors. These brave souls are armed with a powerful tool: the rousing refrains of a song. The music stirs their hearts and feeds their spirits, as they gather in strength and resolve. Does this scenario sound familiar? We hear about such uprisings and rallies on the news frequently. The use of folk song as a vehicle for righteousness is grounded in history, and those songs, old and new, still ring out today. Lyon and Cardinale have crafted a book that reminds us of that.

--Statement by the Aesop Award Committee

The Great Florence Reece singing her song!

Friday, October 5, 2012


It's time to get ready for Halloween, so that means folks will be telling and re-telling the legend of La Llorona, the Weeping Woman. The Byrd kids--Susie, Johnny and Andy--, when we moved to El Paso in 1978, learned about La Llorona on the playground in kindergarten and at Crockett Elementary School. Parents or teachers didn't tell them the story. The kids did. All the kids knew about La Llorona and where she lived and they knew to scare the new kids with what they knew. In our neighborhood, she lived on Franklin Mountain up Louisville Street, and at night she'd come howling out of a canyon, looking for her kids. Oh, wowweeee! Lee and I learned about La Llorona first thru out kids and our neighbors, but then we met storyteller Joe Hayes. We became friends. Joe told us a lot about the folklore of the American Southwest and the world (that's something most people don't know about Joe--he's a deeply committed folklorist), and from Joe we learned the history of the legend. But most importantly, we got to publish Joe's telling of the story. Oh, what a great gift that was. It was the 3rd book published by Cinco Puntos, our first bilingual children's book and by far our best-selling book of all time. We have over 400,000 in print in all of its various editions. We call Cinco Puntos Press "the House that La Llorona built!" Here's an interview I recently found in our archives (forgive me, I can't find the source, so if somebody knows, please tell me) where Joe talks about this great legend which is certainly an integral part of the culture where we live.  --Bobby Byrd


Q: Why are people so intrigued by the tale of La Llorona?

There are really three aspects to the character of La Llorona. First, she's a threatening character you have to look out for, especially if you're a kid. This by far the best-known aspect. Many people know of her in this role, without knowing the tale behind it, or knowing only the detail that she drowned her children.

And then there's the legendary tale explaining her origin. It's a legend because it's widely accepted as based on real events.

Finally, there are the many stories of personal experiences involving La Llorona.

In my version in The Day It Snowed Tortillas, I include all three aspects of her. And I think these three facets of La Llorona combine to make her so intriguing. Children are fascinated by a vague threat, and even more so if there's a safety valve, a way to avoid the threat: Stay inside at night.

The theme of a mother who kills her own children is widespread in folklore. It's such a violation of the natural order, that people can't quite get it out of their minds. And a character who is perpetually mourning and seeking forgiveness also has a strong hold on the imagination.

Finally, so many people swear they've seen or heard La Llorona, that children can never quite declare that they don't believe the story.

There's always that sense of "I don't really think it's true, but… but…"

Q: The story has many different versions. How did you adjust it to your book version?

I just started telling the story several decades ago, combining things I had heard as a kid with my own imagination. Over the years, the listeners helped me refine the story by the way they reacted to it. The printed version is somewhere between the way I started out telling and how I now tell it. I always tried not to glorify the violence that's inherit in the tale, but refused to abandoned the essential fact that she drowned her children.

I can't stand some of the contemporary versions that turn La Llorona into a helpful character, or say that she didn't actually drown the children.

They rob the story of it's mythic quality. The story of La Llorona, at least my version, is highly moralistic. It's a teaching story.

Q: As an Anglo man, what has appealed to you about communicating through different cultures?

I have always believed that stories belong the those who honor and care for them, those who put them to good use. Years ago when I first started tellling stories, I knew that the story of La Llorona needed to be perpetuated. No other storytellers were telling it. So without reasoning why I just started telling the story. That's changed now, of course. Many people tell it.

I now realize that because I'm not Hispanic I've been able to make a greater contribution--both to Hispanic and non-Hispanic children--than I could ever have made were I Hispanic. It's opened minds to the fact that words are for everyone, stories are for everyone. The human family is one big round circle, not a lot of separate straight lines.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Sometimes the border is a mirror, sometimes an escape,
and sometimes it’s just the bridge you cross to go home.


The Kentucky Club on Avenida Juárez is a touchstone for each of the stories in this remarkable collection. Saenz’ characters walk by, or they might go in for a drink or to score, or they might just stay and hang out for a while and let their story be told. Sáenz understands that a place like the Kentucky Club is an antidote to borders, welcoming Spanish and English, Mexicans and gringos, poor and rich, gay and straight, drug addicts and drunks, laughter and sadness—and sometimes even well-earned despair. It’s a place where you can sit at a polished mahogany bar, drink a cold beer, and become a part of history. “I’m going home to the other side.” That’s a strange statement, but you hear it all the time at the Kentucky Club.

“There is never a question of either Sáenz’s own extraordinary capacity for caring and compassion or the authenticity of the experiences he records...” Booklist 

“Sáenz's moving collection of short stories hinges on the intergenerational clientele of the titular borderland watering hole just south of the U.S.-Mexican divide on Avenida Juárez...there's much to enjoy in these gritty, heartfelt stories.” Publishers Weekly

Benjamin Alire Sáenz is a poet and writer of fiction, young adult and children’s literature. Like these stories, his writing crosses borders and lands in our collective psyche. Poets & Writers Magazine named him one of the fifty most inspiring writers in the world. He’s been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and PEN Center’s prestigious award for young adult fiction. Sáenz is the chair of the Creative Writing Department at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club 
240 pages / Publishes September 2012
PAPERBACK ISBN 978‐1‐935955‐32‐0 / US $16.95 
E-BOOK 978-1-935955-33-7 (AVAILABLE @ ALL E-TAILERS)
Available to the trade at 
For more information, contact John Byrd ; 915‐838‐1625

(I recorded this video in August 2012 at the Kentucky Club on Avenida Juárez; la ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. The book's designer Antonio Castro H, Ben and I walked across the bridge to take photographs, looking for the perfect cover. We had a beer, talked to the waiters, took photographs and enjoyed ourselves. When it was time to go home, I asked Ben to say a few words about the stories. It was a good afternoon. --Bobby Byrd)