Gary Soto is of critical importance to children’s and young adult literature because, with Baseball in April and Other Stories in 1990, he became the first Mexican American author to have a children’s book released by a mainstream publishing company. A Fire in My Hands, Soto’s book of poetry for children, was also published that year, and two more poetry collections soon followed: Neighborhood Odes (1992) and Canto Familiar (1995). It is not surprising that poetry would be included in his introductory year to children’s literature, since most of Soto’s earlier works consisted of poetry for adults.
Another collection of short fiction by Soto that is appropriate for this age group is Local News (1993). Some of his novels that middle-school students might enjoy are Taking Sides (1991), a story of loyalties both on and off the basketball court; Pacific Crossing (1992), a story of martial arts and a summer in Japan; The Pool Party (1993), a young boy’s reconciliation with his identity as a Mexican American in Southern California; Crazy Weekend (1994), a hilarious “cops and robbers” kind of adventure; and Jesse (1994), a realistic look at the potential of Mexican American youth. Soto’s collections of autobiographical essays include Living up the Street (1985), Small Faces (1986), and A Summer Life (1990).
Soto’s strength as a writer is exhibited in the variety of genres and audiences that he has addressed. Younger students might enjoy his short novel The Skirt (1992), the tale of a girl named Miata who loses the special skirt that she needs for the folklorico, or his picture books Too Many Tamales (1993), a Christmas Eve story involving a missing wedding ring and “too many tamales,” and Chato’s Kitchen (1995), in which a cat attempts to rid his barrio of little mice and ends up having them for dinner as guests instead of as the main course.