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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Shine On, Luz Veliz

Instead of the traditional Perfect Picture Book Friday post, this week I'd like to introduce you to a poignant, funny, and heartwarming middle grade novel about the role of coding in rescuing a fracturing family, reinventing a wounded spirit, and creating amazing friendships.

Shine On, Luz Veliz

Author: Rebecca Balcárcel

Publisher: Chronicle Books (2022)

Ages: 8-12



Self-identity, soccer, family, coding, budding romance, and friendship.


A beautiful coming-of-age story for fans of Front Desk and Merci Suárez Changes Gears, this book celebrates identity, language, heritage, family, and the determination to follow one's own inner light.

Have you ever been the best at something . . . only to lose it all?

Luz Véliz is a soccer star-or rather, she was a soccer star. With her serious knee injury, it's unlikely she'll be back on the field anytime soon. But without soccer, who is she? Even her dad treats her differently now—like he doesn't know her or, worse, like he doesn't even like her. When Luz discovers she has a knack for coding, it feels like a lifeline to a better self. If she can just ace the May Showcase, she'll not only skip a level in her coding courses and impress Ms. Freeman and intriguing, brilliant Trevor—she'll have her parents cheering her on from the sidelines, just the way she likes it.

But something—someone—is about to enter the Vélizes' life. And when Solana arrives, nothing will be the same, ever again.

Unforgettable characters, family drama, and dauntless determination illuminate Luz's journey as she summons her inner strength and learns to accept others and embrace the enduring connection of family. Through it all, Luz's light is a constant—a guide for others, a path forward through the dark, and an ineffable celebration of her own eternal self.

Opening Lines:

So there’s before it happened. Before I learned to use crutches. Before I needed physical therapy. Before, before, before.

Welcome to After.

I grab a trash bag that’s almost as tall as I am. LAWN AND LEAF, the box says. Perfect for raking out the whole soccer section of my closet. Perfect for clearing out Before.

What I LIKED about this book:

This engaging, thought-provoking middle grade novel explores the physical, emotional, and inter-personal fall-out and changes that occur when sixth-grade soccer star, Luz Véliz, blows out her knee and has to discover and re-invent who she is.

Luz's convinced that her Dad's aloofness revolves around her sudden inability to play soccer. That his hyper focus on her injury and incessant need to remind her to be careful stem from it being their one, now lost connection. When she can no longer play, he quits coaching.

Determined to find something else to make him proud, to make her parents cheer and celebrate her again, she stumbles across a Robotics class. Intrigued by the teacher and the class, (or at least one classmate in particular - Trevor) she's determined to win admission into the level-2 Robotics class. She just needs to create an awesome computer program for the school showcase. But Luz has no computer or robotics experience and the showcase is in nine weeks.

So, Luz befriends her marvelous neighbor Mr. Mac, who's garage is a computer programmer, robotics, tinkerer's paradise, and convinces him to tutor her. As things start to fall into place, her self-image of a worthless, washed up socceer star slowly shifts to a talented computer coder. However, just as she's accepting her new normal, the rug is yanked out.

Luz learns she has a half-sister in Guatemala. A daughter her father never knew he had. And to top it off, her mother's death means Solana's moving in to share Luz's house, room, family, and life. Ratcheting up an already volatile family atmosphere. Worst yet, everyone loves her, fueling Luz's isolation and growing jealousy. Luz's voice is gripping and gritty. Believable and heartbreaking. Sympathetic, even in her worst moments.

Slowly, through many bumps, hurt feelings, and near tragedies, she discovers insights into her parents, friends. the tragedies and challenges of Guatemalan immigrants, a wonderful sister and friend, and a brand new Luz.

The author's note on the real-life inspiration for Solana's story and the interweaving of coding & robotics throughout, plus a recipe for Guatemalan Hot Chocolate enhance this exciting novel about the strength of family, importance of friendship, and the journey of self-discovery. It's touching, poignant, and at times brutally honest. A book that stays with you long after you finish.

If you missed the interview of Rebecca Balcárcel on Monday, find it (here).


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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