Review: Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh (Reviewed by Racha Kassir)

Review by Racha Kassirseparate

In 1944, a Mexican girl Sylvia Mendez, and her family moved to Westminster, California as her dad had leased a farm after years of fieldwork. Although they were U.S. citizens, the Mendez children weren’t allowed to register in a public
school. Mr. Gonzalo Mendez challenged Orange County’s public-school segregation and with the support of multicultural organization won the legal battle against it. In 1947, Governor Warren signed a law affirming that all children in California were allowed to go to school together regardless of race, ethnicity, and language. Told with Tonatiuh’s Maya-esque signature style illustrations, this picture-book describes Sylvia’s first days at the formerly white-only school. Although she is teased at first, Sylvia holds her head up and makes friends of different backgrounds. “We fought to make sure you could attend a good school and have equal opportunities” Sylvia’s mom tells her. And Sylvia knows how important equality is.


This nonfiction picture-book recounts one of the forgotten episodes in the fight for racial justice. Winner of the Pura Belpré Award for representations of Latin culture. It teaches children the courage to resist segregation and the importance of collective effort to change unjust laws. I enjoyed reading this book and learning about grassroots efforts that helped end segregation in California’s public schools.

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014
40 pages

*Read more? Visit Cristina Silvia Gleason’s review of Separate is Never Equal.

Racha Kassir on Feb 11, 2018. Racha is a graduate student at the family education
M.Ed. program, who likes baking and playing with her kids.

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