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Young Readers One Book Introduces Two Amigos

February 17, 2024

Third graders around South Dakota will make two new amigos (friends) next fall – a spunky niña (girl) named Juana and her loyal perro (dog), Lucas.

These are the main characters in the 2024 Young Readers One Book, a bind-up of the first two books in the award-winning Juana and Lucas series, written and illustrated by Juana Medina. The books are based on Medina’s experiences growing up in Bogotá, Colombia, but fictionalized for simplicity and clarity.

While the South American setting might not be familiar to many South Dakota youth, Juana’s experiences of dealing with changes at school and within her family are universal. Sharing those stories with new audiences is one of Medina’s goals, as she told We Need Diverse Books in 2021.

“The most thrilling thing for me is seeing how so many readers have been able to identify with Juana; they might not be Colombian, or struggle with learning a language, or wear pigtails, or have a dog, or love soccer, or any other singular details that pertain to the character,” Medina said. “But for children to find themselves within the pages of Juana & Lucas is the most extraordinary reward I can think of, not only as an author and illustrator, but as a reader that didn’t find herself in the pages of a book until her late 20s. “

The books are unique in several ways, said Jennifer Widman, director of the South Dakota Center for the Book at SDHC. One standout aspect is the wealth of full-color illustrations. “The artwork is so charming and creative,” Widman said. “Not only are there pictures on nearly every page, but there are also several two-page spreads with people, objects, and animals labeled from a child’s perspective. The illustrations are definitely an integral part of the storytelling.”

Also, while written in English, the Juana and Lucas include Spanish words sprinkled throughout the text. “This reflects the way many people who speak English as a second language naturally communicate, and it also allows native English speakers to absorb the meaning of the Spanish words through context,” Widman said.

SDHC will distribute about 14,000 copies of the Juana and Lucas special edition books, which will include the titles Juana and Lucas and Juana and Lucas: Big Problemas, to third graders when school starts in the fall. Medina will speak to more than 2,000 of those students in person during the Young Readers Festival, Sept. 19 in Sioux Falls and Sept. 20-21 in Brookings. Her presentation will also be streamed and recorded so youth across the state can watch it in their classrooms or at home with their families.

About Juana Medina

Medina was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. She is the author and illustrator of multiple children’s books, including the chapter book series Juana & Lucas, winner of the prestigious Pura Belpré Award and two International Latino Book Awards. Her passion for storytelling has led her to work on exciting projects—ranging from illustration and animation to interactive design—with numerous clients, among them the Library of Congress, Apple, and PBS, as well as publishers such as Candlewick Press, Chronicle Books, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins.

A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Medina is an Assistant Professor at George Mason University’s School of Art. She enjoys visiting schools and libraries around the country, encouraging children to read and find power in their own personal stories. Medina lives with her wife and twin sons in Northern Virginia.

About Juana and Lucas

Candlewick Press, SDHC’s partner in producing the Juana and Lucas bind-in, writes that “fans of Judy Moody and Clarice Bean will love Juana, the spunky young Colombian girl who stars in the playful, abundantly illustrated Juana and Lucas series.

“Juana loves many things — drawing, eating Brussels sprouts, living in Bogotá, Colombia, and especially her dog, Lucas, the best amigo ever. She does not love wearing her itchy school uniform, solving math problems, or going to dance class. And she especially does not love learning the English. Why is it so important to learn a language that makes so little sense?

“Hilarious, energetic, and utterly relatable, Juana will win over los corazones — the hearts — of readers everywhere.”

About Young Readers One Book

The Young Readers One Book program began in 2014 to encourage enthusiasm for reading among the state’s youth at the critical stage of third grade, when “learning to read” becomes “reading to learn.” Each year, SDHC shares copies of the selected title with South Dakota students and brings the author and/or illustrator to the Young Readers Festival to meet book recipients. In 2023, SDHC distributed more than 14,000 copies of that year’s selection, reaching every school in the state. For more information, please visit SDHC’s Young Readers web page.

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