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The Picture Book Buzz

Barrio Rising - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

I am excited to be offering you all a sneak peek at this inspiring and stunning picture book about the community activism and involvement which created the amazing Chicano park in San Diego, California.

Book cover - young girl with fist raises encircled by a Mayan.Aztec dragon with her community protesting and blocking bulldozers in the background.

Barrio Rising: The Protest that Built Chicano Park

Author: María Dolores Águila

Illustrator: Magdalena Mora

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers/ Penguin Random House (2024)

Ages: 4-8

Historical Fiction


Community, resistance, Mexican American history, resilience, and bravery.


A vivid historical fiction account of the community activism behind San Diego's Chicano Park—home to the largest outdoor mural collection in the U.S.—and just one example of the Mexican American community’s rich history of resistance and resilience.

Barrio Logan, one of San Diego’s oldest Chicane neighborhoods, once brimmed with families and stretched all the way to the glorious San Diego Bay. But in the decades after WWII, the community lost their beach and bayfront to factories, junkyards, and an interstate that divided the neighborhood and forced around 5,000 people out of their homes. Then on April 22, 1970, residents discovered that the construction crew they believed was building a park—one the city had promised them years ago—was actually breaking ground for a police station. That’s when they knew it was time to make their voices heard. Barrio Rising invites readers to join a courageous young activist and her neighbors in their successful twelve-day land occupation and beyond, when Barrio Logan banned together and built the colorful park that would become the corazón of San Diego's Chicane community.

Opening Lines:

Down by the bay, past the tortillería and near the iglesia, Mami and I live in a little casita. Jacaranda blossoms snap underfoot as we walk to the tiendita to buy masa and corn husks for tamales.

Internal spread - mother & daughter with their community, bay, and Coronado bridge behind them.

Text © María Dolores Águila, 2024. Image © Magdalena Mora, 2024.

What I LOVED about this book:

Honestly portraying Barrio Logan's fractured and unhealthy condition in 1970, the text and illustrations follow a young girl, Elena, and her mom to the tiendita. As they pass under pillars of the Coronado bridge, the sight of bulldozers elicits excited dreams of a long-awaited (and promised) park.

Internal spread - on left, mother and daughter walking toward Mercado with bulldozers moving abouth the bridge supports. On the right girl dreaming about playground equipment.

Text © María Dolores Águila, 2024. Image © Magdalena Mora, 2024.

But when her vecino Mario bursts into the Mercado and announces that the city is building a police station instead, Elena and her entire community react. Encircling the bulldozers, they form a human chain singing, chanting, and refusing to leave. One neighbor even lies in front of a bulldozer, inspiring the others to not back down.

Internal spread - dark colored bulldozer with a woman lying on the ground, amid a bunch of purple blossoms, blocking its path.

Text © María Dolores Águila, 2024. Image © Magdalena Mora, 2024.

Despite the jeers of the construction workers, presence of the police, and assertions of city officials that they would definitely build a police station, the community peacefully resisted. They even began building the park themselves - "some work the land with picks and shovels, others plant nopales, agave, and flowers." And every day for a week Elena and her Mami "cook enormous ollas full of rice, beans, and tamales to nourish the vecinos building our park." I love how María Dolores Águila seamlessly sprinkles Spanish words throughout the text. Word spread of the protest and soon people from neighboring barrios, Los Angeles, and Santa Barabara joined Barrio Logan's protest.

Twelve days later, the protest continued at a town hall meeting, where an explosion of chants - ¡VIVA EL BARRIO! - and the urging of the barrio's councilman, Leon Williams, finally convinced the city and state officials to concede and create the park they'd promised. Magdalena's wonderful use of color and sepia tones makes Elena and Mami stand out in important moments and beautifully highlight Aztec and Mayan cultural symbols and aspects of Chicane history and culture. The book continues with a stunning condensed exploration of the creation of this inspiring park.

María Dolores Águila masterfully wove threads of bravery, community, and resistance throughout the child's poignant first-person narration. Which is gorgeously enhanced by Magdalena Mora's bold and vibrant pencil, charcoal, watercolor, and digital illustrations to create a wonderful exploration of Barrio Logan's history and put the reader into the action of the protest. A "brief history of the park" highlights the true aspects of the story and the status of Chicano Park today. An inspirational story based on true events, this is a wonderful book about the power of a community's activism to create change.


  • what type of mural would you design for one of the concrete pillars? Sketch your idea or write a description of the design.

  • is there something in your community that you'd fight for?

  • check out the film and recordings about Chicano Park in the back of the book.

If you missed my interview with María Dolores Águila and Magdalena Mora on Monday, find it (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions and resources see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

If you are in the area, check out the book launch:

KPBS Events

Books, Storytelling, Family, Kids, Heritage & Cultural, KPBS Arts Calendar,

Editor's Picks

Barrio Rising: The Protest That Built Chicano Park by María Dolores Águila & illustrated by Magdalena Mora

Friday, June 21, 2024 from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM

Libélula Books & Co

All Ages


Libélula Books & Co

950 S 26th St.

San Diego, California 92113

Photo Google map to Libélula Books & Co.

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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