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Seven years before Brown v. Board of Education, the Mendez family fought to end segregation in California schools. Discover their incredible story in Separate Is Never Equal, a picture book from award-winning creator Duncan Tonatiuh.
Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Winner
A Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book
A Robert F. Sibert Honor Book
STARRED REVIEW *“Masterfully combines text and folk-inspired art to add an important piece to the mosaic of U.S. civil rights history.” ―Kirkus Reviews
When her family moved to the town of Westminster, California, young Sylvia Mendez was excited about enrolling in her neighborhood school. But she and her brothers were turned away and told they had to attend the Mexican school instead. Sylvia could not understand why—she was an American citizen who spoke perfect English. Why were the children of Mexican families forced to attend a separate school?
Unable to get a satisfactory answer from the school board, the Mendez family decided to take matters into its own hands and organized a lawsuit. In the end, the Mendez family’s efforts helped bring an end to segregated schooling in California in 1947, seven years before the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education ended segregation in schools across America.
Author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh writes in his notes, “My hope is that this book will help children and young people learn about this important yet little known event in American history. I also hope that they will see themselves reflected in Sylvia’s story and realize that their voices are valuable.”
Using his signature illustration style and incorporating his interviews with Sylvia Mendez, as well as information from court files and news accounts, Tonatiuh tells the inspiring story of the Mendez family’s fight for justice and equality, a fight that is as relevant today as it was 75 years ago.
About the Author
Duncan Tonatiuh (toh-nah-tee-YOU) is an award-winning author-illustrator. He is both Mexican and American. He grew up in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and graduated from Parsons School of Design and Eugene Lang College in New York City. His artwork is inspired by pre-Columbian art. His aim is to create images and stories that honor the past but are relevant to today’s people, especially children. His books include A Land of Books, Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns, and Separate Is Never Equal. He currently lives in San Miguel with his family but travels in the United States often.
** STARRED REVIEW**
"Tonatiuh masterfully combines text and folk-inspired art to add an important piece to the mosaic of U.S. civil rights history."
— Kirkus Reviews
** STARRED REVIEW**
“Younger children will be outraged by the injustice of the Mendez family story but pleased by its successful resolution. Older children will understand the importance of the 1947 ruling that desegregated California schools, paving the way for Brown v. Board of Education seven years later.”
— School Library Journal
"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."
— Publishers Weekly
"Pura Belpré Award–winning Tonatiuh makes excellent use of picture-book storytelling to bring attention to the 1947 California ruling against public-school segregation."
"The straightforward narrative is well matched with the illustrations in Tonatiuh’s signature style, their two-dimensional perspective reminiscent of the Mixtec codex but collaged with paper, wood, cloth, brick, and (Photoshopped) hair to provide textural variation. This story deserves to be more widely known, and now, thanks to this book, it will be."
— The Horn Book Magazine