Archive for the ‘children's books’ Category

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote

January 15, 2014


Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale was published in May 2013 by Abrams Books for Young Readers. I am its author and illustrator. The book can be read on two levels. On the surface it is a story that reads like a fable, a bit like the Little Red Riding Hood or the Gingerbread Man. But the book is also an allegory of the terrible journey that undocumented immigrants go through in order to reach the U.S.


The book begins when a drought forces Papá Rabbit to leave and go North to find work so that he can provide for his family. After some years Papá Rabbit is finally returning. His family prepares a big fiesta for him and they cook his favorite meal: mole, rice and beans, a heap of warm tortillas and a jugful of fresh aguamiel. Everyone is excited to see him, but it gets late and Papá Rabbit does not come home.


In the middle of the night Pancho Rabbit, the eldest son, packs Papá his favorite meal and decides to look for him. Along the way he meets a sneaky coyote who offers to help him. They travel together on top of a train, they cross a river, they use a tunnel guarded by snakes and they cross the desert. Every time the coyote helps Pancho he asks him for some of Papá’s food until the food runs out and the coyote decides he still hungry …for Pancho!


In Spanish the word coyote has two meanings it is the name of an animal, but it is also slang for a person that smuggles people between the U.S. and Mexico border. Immigrants pay coyotes exorbitant fees for their help. They put their lives on the coyote’s hands and they have no guarantees that they will reach their destination. According to a 2010 Pew Research Center report, 11.2 million undocumented immigrants live in the U.S. An average of 150,000 unauthorized immigrants enter the U.S. each year. Most of them are from Mexico and Central America. They leavve their home countries due to poverty, violence and lack of opportunities.


Central American migrants travel around five thousand miles on top of trains to cross Mexico. It is extremely dangerous. Because of their undocumented status they are vulnerable and they are often the victims of gangs that steal from them and abuse them.


Some migrants never reach their destination. According to the American Civil Liberty’s Union and Mexico’s National Human Right’s Commission, between 350 and 500 migrants die every year. That number is most likely a lot higher because many migrants that die while trying to reach the U.S. are never found or claimed. Some drown while trying to cross the river that separates Mexico and the U.S. Many more die of dehydration while crossing the desert.


It is not only young men that go on this journey. Women and children also go on this journey. There are an estimated 1.5 million undocumented children in the U.S.


Immigration comes in and out of the news cycle. But when it is discussed, it is usually in abstract terms. Instead of focusing on the experience of actual people politicians discuss immigrants as a statistic in the economy. Or worse, when we hear of immigrants in the media, it is with negative and sensational tones. Undocumented immigrants are often equated with terrorists and drug traffickers, when in reality almost all immigrants are hard working people trying to provide for their families. In 2008, 94% of undocumented immigrant men of working age were employed compared to 83% of U.S. born men.

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote has been well received by teachers, librarians, professors and parents. Some people have called the book liberal propaganda though. My book does not advocate for open borders of for a giant border fence protected by drones. Instead, it tries to focus on the terrible journey that migrants go through and the separation that families experience.


Immigration is a complicated issue. In order to reach long-lasting solutions both the U.S. and the Mexican and Central American governments and societies need to be involved. On the one hand the immigrant’s home countries have to improve living conditions and create better opportunities for their citizens so they are not forced to leave. On the other hand the U.S. needs to admit its dependency on undocumented workers to do much of its manual and domestic labor and to provide legal and safe working opportunities for those seeking employment. Undocumented immigrants are a huge and important part of the U.S. workforce. According to a Pew Research Center study in 2005, 7.2 million undocumented workers were working in low skilled and often grueling jobs, like farming and construction. Only 31% of U.S.-born workers hold those occupations.


Some people have said that Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote is inappropriate for children. I disagree. I have read the book to children in schools and libraries in different parts of the U.S. Young kids enjoy the story the way they would enjoy a classic fable or a folk tale. Older kids are able to understand and discuss the second layer of meaning in the book. Many of them see their own experiences reflected in the story.

Last October a group of 4th graders from Metz elementary in Austin introduced me at the Texas Book Festival. They shared with me this multi-voice poem about their own immigrant experience.

According to a 2011 Pew Hispanic Research Center report, in 2008 there were 5.5 million children of undocumented immigrants in U.S. Schools. I think it is important to make books that resonate with them, with their parents and that generate empathy and understanding from their classmates.

Here is a video of a TEDx talk I gave which has more information on the artwork and more information on my personal connection to immigration.

Akron Art Museum

January 26, 2013

Left Wall


Right Wall (click to enlarge)

click on the image to enlarge

Full Mural (click to enlarge)

This is a mural I designed for the Akron Art Museum in Ohio ( The museum will print and install the mural. It is going to be 30 ft long (including the door) and 8 ft tall. It will be on display from February 9 to August 4. It is part of an exhibition called Draw Me a Story, which will also feature picture books created by 2nd and 3rd graders of Leggett Elementary, King Elementary, Glover Elementary and The Lippman School. Here is a clip from the museum’s member’s magazine with more info.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

The books the children made and the mural I designed are homage to Ezra Jack Keats and to his groundbreaking book The Snowy Day, which was the first modern picture book to feature an African American protagonist. An exhibition called The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats will open at the museum on March 16. It will be the first retrospective of the award-winning author-illustrator in the US.


click to enlarge

Keats books are set in Brooklyn where he grew up and lived. His spreads are filled with Brooklyn buildings,  graffiti and traffic lights. But more importantly, his books feature children of diverse ethnic backgrounds. They reflect the environment that surrounded him. This is a nice little video on youtube with plenty of information on Keats’ work and life.

Keats’ work was revolutionary in terms of content, but also in terms of technique. He would do collage and mixed media when no one else was doing it.

spread from The Snowy Day

spread from The Snowy Day

I have a lot of admiration and I feel a great affinity towards Keats. I do collage in my illustrations (but I use the computer). I am drawn to urban settings and try to make relevant social commentaries in my work.



The Snowy Codex

I wanted the mural to look like a modern Pre-Columbian codex set in contemporary Brooklyn during winter. The characters are always drawn in profile and I chose to use a limited palate: blue, red, white, black, gray and a tiny bit of yellow. The color choice was intentional. Red, white and blue are the colors of the American flag. The US is one of the most, perhaps the most diverse country in the world. There are people from all races and backgrounds here, especially in big urban centers like New York. Unfortunately a lot of prejudice and racism still prevails.

I had a lot of fun with this project and tried to make reference to several pieces of art and artifacts. The bundled children are inspired by egg-shaped Aztec sculptures in the Museo Nacional de Antropologia in Mexico City.




The four children making snow angels in the center are meant to look a bit like a Huichol Ojo de Dios. The 4 directions are of utmost importance to indigenous groups. I drew children of different ethnicity pointing towards each direction.


I included some text in the mural. The text comes directly from things that 2nd and 3rd graders wrote. I sent them a brief letter with a short questionnaire. I asked them what winter sounded, smelled, felt, looked and tasted like. I also asked them what was their favorite thing to do on the first snowy day of the year. My drawings are based on their responses. Snowball fights and sledding where among their favorite activities. Those are also some the things Peter, the protagonist of The Snowy Day does in the book.

letter akronletter akron_0001letter akron_0002

I tried to integrate some of their text into the image, and make it a part of the illustration, much in the spirit of my friend Lauren Redniss.



I will be visiting Akron from April 12 to the 16. I am looking forward to meeting the students that I corresponded with and seeing the full scale mural! Hopefully you can make it to Akron and see it yourself. When the exhibition ends I will be donating the mural to one of the Elementary Schools that participated in the project.


April 28, 2012

I am very excited to be an ambassador for El día de los niños / El día de los libros, Children’s Day / Book Day, better known as Día.

Día is a year round celebration of children, families, and reading that culminates on April 30. The celebration emphasizes the importance of advocating literacy for children of all linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

Día was started by the wonderful author and literacy advocate Pat Mora in 1996. When she learned that in Mexico and in other Latin American countries April 30 is a holiday to celebrate children, she decided to create a similar celebration in the US and further, to link it to literacy. She soon found enthusiastic allies. Members of REFORMA, the  National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, joined her efforts and in 1997 the first Día was celebrated.

Día has grown and grown over the years. It is now sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). There are Día celebrations hosted by librarians, teachers and community leaders all around the country. A Día day may involve readings by guest authors, book give-aways, games, activities and cultural performances.

Día is an opportunity for children to spend a great day with their families and to enjoy books. It is a day especially important for children who live in underprivileged areas or who have parents whose first language is not English. There is a wonderful map on the American Library Asociation (ALA) website where you can look for a Día event near you (click on the map) .

If you are a librarian, a teacher or someone interested in hosting a Día event there are wonderful resources in Pat’s webiste and in the día website There is a very thorough and insightful resource guide with everything you need to know about Día based on more then 15 years of experiences here:

There is in fact an award, the Mora award, named after Pat’s parents, where libraries, schools or educational institutions receive a 1,000$ stipend based on the creativity, focus and outreach of the Día event they plan to host. You can find out more about the Mora award here:

Be sure to check out Pat’s blog where she is hosting díapalooza, with daily April entries related to Día:

Again, I’m thrilled to be an ambassador along with other wonderful authors and illustrators. ! I’m fortunate to know and be friends with some of them like: Monica Brown, René Colato Laínez, Yuyi Morales, John Parra and Lucia Gonzales. Check out the full list of ambassadors here:

I made a pair of videos for Día where I’m reading from my books. Enjoy!!

Dear Primo, A Letter to My Cousin

Diego Rivera: His World and Ours

Diego Rivera is out and about

June 10, 2011

Diego Rivera: His World and Ours

I have not posted a new entry to my blog in several months. I apologize for that. I have been quite busy and productive though. My second picture book Diego Rivera: His World and Ours was published by Abrams this last May.  You can buy it online from Abrams or from Amazon among other retailers.

The book has received some great reviews so far.

It received a Parent’s Choice Recommended Seal by the spring 2011 Parents’ Choice Book Awards.

The Latin Baby Book Club chose Diego Rivera:His World and Ours as their June book of the month. They did a Q & A with me too.

The Happy Nappy Bookseller gave the book a very generous review. “There are a few children’s biographies about Diego Rivera. Tonatiuh’s sophomore release is a great addition, with it’s own personal distinctions. ”

It got a starred review from Kirkus. “A simple picture-book biography of Diego Rivera concentrates on his artistic career and encourages children to imagine themselves painting their own world… Both solid introduction and exhortation, this book will thrill budding artists.”

And Publisher’s Weekly gave it a great review “Suggestive of stained glass windows, Tonatiuh’s mixed-media collages combine ancient Mexican art motifs with blocky, stylized figures, to pay tribute to this versatile artist.”

I am heading to Dallas later today. I am thrilled to be a part of the 1st Annual BooksmART Festival in the Dallas Museum of Art where I will read Diego Rivera: His World and Ours and also Dear Primo, a letter to my cousin.

I will be visiting 3rd graders at the The School at Columbia University next Monday and I will be heading to New Orleans at the end of the month for the ALA conference. I have a busy and exciting month ahead.

Diego Rivera: His World and Ours

October 12, 2010

page 3

This is a sneak peek at my upcoming picturebook “Diego Rivera: His World and Ours” I am the author and illustrator of it. It is going to be published by Abrams and will be available next spring.

page 9

The first part of the book is a biography of the great muralist.

But then the book asks what would Diego paint today? For instance, “Would he paint our craze for monsters and creatures of outer space as he painted the god Quetzalcoatl and the feathered serpent?”

page 30-31

What I admire the most about Rivera is that he looked back at the art of ancient Mexico and combined it with the art of the modern era.


In my work I attempt to do something similar. I look back to that ancient art also, but I try to combine it with the tools of the digital era.

Author’s Day at the Woodbridge Library

May 17, 2010

Mixteco codex

My first book event in the US was at the Woodbridge Library in New Jersey. Every year the library has an Author’s Day when they invite several writers and librarians from the region to come. The librarians get to see the writers’ new work. We all get to meet each other and new books are brought back to libraries.

The event went really well. I did a presentation of my book Dear Primo. The librarians there specially liked the artwork of the book and where able to further appreciate it because I showed some slides of the Pre-Columbian and Mixteco art that inspires my illustrations. The copies of my book at the event sold out, and I signed a lot of books. It was very rewarding.

The Popularity Papers

There were other authors at the event. I specially liked meeting Amy Ignatow. She is a fellow author-illustrator. Her book is called The Popularity Papers. It’s super-entertaining and I highly recommend it. It’s published by Abrams also.

The only dark side to the visit was that I learned from librarians in Woodbridge that up to 70% of the New Jersey public library budgets are being cut. Unfortunately this is the case in many other states. You can visit to get involved and sign a petition to stop these cuts.

I have some new events coming up. I will be at the Book Expo in the Javit Center in New York City on May 25th. I will be at Books of Wonder in Manhattan on June 5th and I will be at the American Library Association conference in DC on June 27th and 28th. I’ll put more info about these events in my facebook and twitter accounts as the dates approach.

Uninter Cuernavaca

May 17, 2010

Rivera mural in the Cortez Palace, Cuernavaca

I was invited by Abraham Popoca to show my book at the Universidad Internacional in Cuernavaca. Abraham along with a group of students there runs a research center that looks into policy relating to children’s rights. They were interested in my book because of its bi-national nature.

I did a presentation of the book and showed them also another picture book I wrote and illustrated called Solar Cookies. The college students there enjoyed the books and had excellent and challenging questions. One of the students asked me if I worried that the Mexican child in the book was a stereotype, or that a Mexican child who saw the book would be ashamed of how Mexican children are represented in it.

Dear Primo’s main character are Carlitos and Charlie. Carlitos is a rural boy from Mexico, Charlie is his cousin and lives in a city in the US. Carlitos wears sandals. Charlie wears hightop sneakers and a fitted baseball hat.


I could understand why the Uninter student would ask that question. I have a multilayered response to it. To begin, the book is addressed to children between 4-8. And though I always attempt to create something sophisticated, for this project it was very important to focus on the contrasts between Carlitos and Charlie -much like the country mouse and city mouse story- and keep them clear and simple.

I am aware that Mexico is a very urbanized country. The Mexico City metropolitan area is the largest metropolitan area in the American continent. And I am aware that Mexico is in many ways a very Americanized country, and that the US also is a very Mexican country. But again, for the sake of clarity and simplicity I had to make the contrasts in food, environment, etc very clear, almost extreme. Yet, the point of the book is that regardless of their nationalities Carlitos and Charlie are at heart more alike than different.

There is an important reason why I decided to make Carlitos a rural boy and Charlie an urban one. Without being overt, I am acknowledging the migration of Mexican workers to the US. A large portion of these workers come from rural backgrounds and often migrate to cities in the US. They work as deliveryman, nannies, construction workers and in other service industries. That is the experience of people I know both in San Miguel Allende, where I grew up, and in New York, where I went to school.

Further, tradition and progress don’t have to be mutually exclusive. One can be can modern and up to date and at the same time have a strong sense of identity. One can be technologically savvy and at the same time be proud of ones heritage and traditions.

After the presentation I got to hang out with some Uninter students. It was a lot of fun. The students at the research center are a very close and supportive group.


I’m currently working on a new picture book. It is inspired by the life and art of Diego Rivera. It wil be out next spring. Although I didn’t see the Rivera mural in Cuernavaca on my visit to the Uninter, I did see it on a previous visit to the city. It’s excellent and entrance is free on Sundays, I believe.

Rancho Alcocer School

May 17, 2010

Escuela Rancho Alcocer

It was quite fitting that the first reading of my newly published book Dear Primo was to kids at my old elementary school. It was a spur of the moment kinda thing. I ran into Mario, my old principal, at el Tecolote bookstore. A few days later I grabbed the proof of my book -the book wasn’t available yet then- and took the little school bus up to Alcocer, a rural community outside of San Miguel Allende.

There are only 20 or so students in the school. They don’t wear uniforms. Students from different grades are mixed together. There are chickens, rabbits and a large vegetable garden that the students help rise. The school was closed for many years, but it re-opened two years ago. Fortunately, very little has changed since the time I attended it more than 15 years ago.

It was a very special to be in Alcocer as a guest alumni after such a long time. It was lot of fun and a good learning experience reading to the kids there. They enjoyed the book. They asked a lot of questions and put me on the spot more then once.

Dear Primo, a letter to my cousin

November 19, 2009


This is the cover of “Dear Primo, a letter to my cousin.” It’s my first picture book. I wrote the story and illustrated it. Its published by Abrams and it will be in stores March 1st.

The story is about Carlitos and Charlie, two cousins that write letters back and forth to each other. Carlitos lives in the countryside in Mexico. He rides his bicicleta to school and loves quesadillas. Charlie lives in a city in the US. He rides the subway to school and always gets a slice of pizza on his way home.

There are words in Spanish scattered throughout Dear Primo and a glossary at the end. These are some spreads from the book:





Carlitos and Charlie’s environments are vastly different, but at the end of the day the two primos are more alike then different. Primos are primos. The story is inspired by my own experiences and observations. I grew up in Mexico, but have lived for a significant amount of years in the US.

I received a copy of the book from my publisher this last week. Here are some pictures of it:



I’m so happy with how it came out.  My mom and I got very emotional when I translated the author’s note to her.

my mom and the primos

I can’t wait to see it in libraries and bookstores, but more importantly, to see children reading it.


I plan on being in NY for the release of the book and hopefully I’ll be doing some book readings too. More on that once I know the details.

The book is 32 pages long, full color. It’s 8.5 x 11 inches, and it has a hardcover with a jacket. If you are interested in pre-ordering the book you can click here and to see the Abrams spring 2010 catalog you can click here or visit

KID SALVAJE, Where the Wild Things Are meets el Santo

October 19, 2009




















These are images from a children’s book I put together a few months ago called Kid Salvaje. It is a re-interpretation of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. Perhaps the best picture book of all time.

There are many great re-interpretations of classics. Romeo and Juliet has West Side Story, the Odyssey has Joyce’s Ulysses. My favorite is Black Orpheus based on the Orpheus myth; incredible movie and music for anyone that has not seen it.

I find Sendak’s story to be very archetypal. That is probably why it is loved by so many. In a nutshell Max, a kid who is wearing a wolf suit, gets in trouble for misbehaving. He is sent to his room which turns into a forest from which he journeys off to the land where the wild thing live. After an intense adventure he returns to his room with a new appreciation of his home.

In Kid Salvaje -salvaje is spanish for wild- Junior, the main character, loves Mexican wrestling. He gets in trouble too. But his room turns into an arena with a wrestling ring where he encounters los Rudos.

For my research I watched some Mexican wrestling live for the first time. Fun, fun, fun. Those dudes can really fly.

And I watched some of el Santo’s movies. I recommend el Santo vs the Crime King. It gives an explanation for el Santo’s origin. I’ve heard el Santo vs the Vampire women is pretty good but have I not watched it yet.

el Santo

el Santo

What I admire the most of Sendak’s book  is the way  the words and images compliment each other and create a greater seamless whole. And I admire too the way the book is designed and structured. It is conceived in its totality.

boceto del libro

a sketch by Miguel Tanco of WWTA storyboard

Miguel Tanco a wonderful illustrator, has a great entry on his blog about it ( his blog is in Spanish and Italian). The sketch of the storyboard above is a sketch he made.


and grew, and grew

The book begins with a small image of Max causing mischief. Gradually the images in the book grow, until they cover the entire page. It parallels the way that Max becomes immersed in the world of the Wild Things. As Max leaves that world the images grow small again.

I’m planning on self-publishing Kid Salvaje on Lulu or Blurb for anyone that is interested in getting a copy. Or for any publisher out there interested in seeing more, feel free to contact me.

I recently found out about a great website called Terrible Yellow Eyes with tons of artwork by many different artists inspired by Sendak’s book. I’m sure most Where The Wild Things lovers are aware of it. But for anyone that doesn’t, I highly recommend it.

…Oh yeah, and the Spike Jonze movie based on the book just made 32.5 million dollars on its opening weekend.