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Jaguars and Butterflies
Jaguars and Butterflies By Catherine Russler, Illustrated by Ely Ely (2020) – hardcover

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The Spanish edition, Jaguares y Mariposas, is available for purchase through our MiJa Books Shop!
Jaguares y Mariposas

Jaguars and Butterflies is a definitive must-have for all girls of Mexican descent. For all other readers, including boys and adults, it serves as a window into a culture and identity deserving of recognition.

Through stunningly poetic text and equally stunning illustrations, author Catherine Russler and artist Ely Ely have created an absolute gem. Intended as a book of self-empowerment, Russler uses ties to the natural world as she highlights girls with varying skin tones, hair textures and other features.

…my waves flow like lava from the great Popocatépetl.

My skin glows like copper beneath our deserts…

Her text alone richly incorporates the connection to cultures in México. The supplemental material in the book includes:

  • a list of cultural and geographic terms used throughout the text
  • a parent and educator resource for further learning and self-empowerment

But it’s Ely Ely’s signature bold and vibrant illustrations that truly makes for a breathtaking reading experience. Fiery red, pink, and brown wavy hair melts into the lava flowing from the great Popocatépetl volcano. A girl with long, brown braids is enveloped in a fanciful cacao tree.

Jaguars and Butterflies
Interspersed throughout the text are the affirmations: We are powerful. We are beautiful. The pronoun “we” is more than literal. Russler is addressing more than just a group of girls. By using “we” against the backdrop of Mexican girls with straight, wavy and curly hair, girls with melanin-rich skin, Russler is combating an all too common problem of racism and colorism throughout Latin America. This book is her rallying cry against those who deny their ties to Indigenous ancestry. But, more importantly, it’s her gift to young girls just beginning to form conceptions of self-worth and identity.
Jaguars and Butterlies
Here is Russler, in her own words:

This is more than a book to me. It is my personal response to racism and colorism in my community.

 

Unfortunately, very few people with power to change things in my city (Guadalajara) know what colorism is or regard racism as a problem. Yet ask almost anyone of clear Indigenous descent whether they are hurt by racism, and you will receive a very clear ‘Sí’. Enter almost any exclusive space; it is overwhelmingly white. Browse almost any magazine display; the only Indigenous faces are in ‘feed the children’ ads. Marketing for children’s products, baby doll sections at toy stores; white, preferably blonde and blue-eyed. Children’s book selections; mostly imported, heavily white. When children are born, they receive special praise if they have light skin or eyes (guerito, ojos de color). As the child grows, strangers comment freely on these features.

 

White is very clearly marketed as an aspirational identity and is heavily glamorized. What effects does this have on our children? On how they perceive their position and their potential? On how they value themselves and others? What adults do they become?
All of us — everywhere — should learn how colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism have created and perpetuated racialized power structures. We must help our children value themselves and each other enough to question these structures. If our children understand that self-interested humans invented unjust hierarchies, they can imagine how more-evolved humans might change them.

 

And so we present Jaguars and Butterflies. A project that centers Mexican girls rich in melanin as an identity that is important, powerful, and beautiful. If this book helps just one little girl recognize her own power and question the glamorization of whiteness, it will be enough. But I think we can reach many children, and we can include boys.

Jaguars and Butterflies is the book I needed as a young Mexican-American girl but didn’t know it. Today, I am grateful that my Afro-Latina daughter has such a marvelous, life-affirming resource. Muchísimas gracias, Catherine Russler y Ely Ely.

About the Author:
Catherine Russler first came to México as a college exchange student. Years later, after obtaining her master’s degree in international affairs with a focus on Latin American studies, she returned to México as a U.S. intelligence analyst posted abroad. There, she fell in love with Francisco, to whom she is now married. They live in Guadalajara with their young daughter Olivia, an ever-changing number of senior rescue dogs, and an opinionated cat. They are excited to soon grow their family by adopting México’s foster care system.

Catherine enjoys spotting butterflies and hummingbirds with Olivia and imagining ways to help young people discover their own magic. She is passionate about social justice issues impacting youth in both of her countries.

Proceeds from the purchases of this book support grants for authors working to increase representation of their communities in children’s literature. See www.jaguarsandbutterflies.com for more information.

About the Illustrator:
Melissa Zúñiga, better known as Ely Ely, is a Mexican illustrator from Aguascalientes who currently lives in México City. After finishing her studies in graphic design, she worked for a few years in various marketing agencies while also doing freelance work as an illustrator and mural painter, then launched her own illustration studio in 2014.

Women, Mexican graphical elements, nature, and color form the basis for her creativity and inspiration, and these things can frequently be found in her illustrations, murals, and other work. She has worked on numerous projects in México and abroad, including partnerships with Disney, Google, Mary Kay, Clinique, Maybelline, Dole Sunshine, Danone, and Bonafont, among others. See more of her work on Instagram.

TAGS: female lead, female empowerment, Latinx, Mexican, brown skin, textured hair, Spanish edition, hardcover

Check out our MiJa Books Storytime! episodes featuring English and Spanish read-alouds of Jaguars and Butterflies – Jaguares y Mariposas!

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