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Janitor Strike in L.A.

by Diana Cohn
illustrated by Francisco Delgado
This title is being reprinted.

Vermont Center for the Book Top Ten Diversity Book, 2002
Skipping Stones Honor Book, 2002
Honor Book—Jane Addams Peace Award, 2002

Product Details

Reading is Fundamental

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ordering this book as a RIF selection

10-digit ISBN0-938317-89-X
13-digit ISBN9780938317890
LanguageBilingual - English & Spanish
Also Available InHardcover
Page Count32
Publication DateJanuary 1, 2005
Starred Review5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars - see reviews
RightsAll Rights Available
“What we clean, we also make sacred.”

Carlitos’ mother is a janitor. Every night while he sleeps, his mother cleans in one of the skyscrapers in downtown L.A. One night, his mamá explains that she can’t make enough money to support him and his abuelita the way she needs to unless she makes more money as a janitor. She and the other janitors have decided to go on strike. Will he support her and help her all he can? Of course, Carlitos wants to help but he cannot think of a way until he sees his mother on TV making a speech in support of the strike. Finally, Carlitos knows how he can show his mamá how proud he is of her. He and the other children in his class make posters and Carlitos joins the marchers with a very special sign for his mom!

Si, Se Puede! has an essay written by acclaimed author Luis J. Rodriguez about Dolores Sanchez, one of the women involved in the L.A. Janitor's Strike. The book also has a poster with a poem by Rodriquez, and information about unions directed to grades 4-6.

Teachers: We have a very useful teacher's guide for Si, Se Puede! with lesson plans and ideas.
Críticas 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars
In this latest offering from Cinco Puntos Press, a serious subject is covered with a great deal of empathy. Its political message is unapologetically pro-union and labor. It tells the story of the successful Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) “Justice for Janitors” strike in Los Angeles in April of 2000. The narrative centers on Carlito’s Mom who has to work odd jobs on the weekends in addition to her nightly shifts cleaning office buildings in downtown L.A. to support the family’s needs. The author does an admirable job of explaining, through the mother, why the strike is necessary, touching on salary issues as well as the desire of the workers for dignity and respect. Carlitos is only tentatively supportive until he goes to school and realizes that other children in his class also have parents who are joining in the strike. In addition, his teacher tells the class about her own father’s participation in the farmworker’s strike led by Cesar Chavez years earlier. As he watches his mother blossom into a union leader during the course of the strike, the boy makes posters and even joins the picket lines. The bilingual text is technically correct and works well enough, although there are spots where the translator should have taken greater liberties with the Spanish-language text in order to produce less stilted sounding phrases. Delgado’s illustrations are powerful in their strong colors, distorted proportions, and skewed perspective. Rodriguez’s introductory essay describes the real-life woman who inspired this story and adds a touch of reality that brings the story home. Any school system or public library district serving a Mexican-American clientele should have this book on their shelves and in their classrooms. Also recommended for bookstores.
Political and passionate, this bilingual picture book about the L.A. janitors’ strike in 2000 gives a voice to contemporary urban Latino working-class families. With the English text at the tope of each page and the Spanish translation bellows, the story is told in the first person by Carlitos, a Mexican immigrant child, whose widowed mother works cleaning offices nights and weekend but still can’t manage to support the family. After Mamá tells Carlitos that she is helping to organize a janitors’ strike for a union, Carlitos gets support at school from his teacher and classmates, and he joins the march with a sign that reads: “I love my Mamá. She is a janitor!” Delgado’s bright, active pastel pictures, much like poster art, are reminiscent of the work of Mexican artist Orozco, with pulsing scenes of marching crowds in the streets as well as warm close-ups of people at work and home. Carlitos’ story is framed by lots of politics for group discussion , and the inside of the dust jacket is a poster with art and text about labor history.
School Library Journal 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars
Cohn shows exactly what strikes are, why they happen, and how people are affected. The victory of the Justice for Janitors campaign in Los Angeles in April, 2000, served as the inspiration for this well-told story. Carlitos's mom is a janitor who works both nights and weekends to make ends meet. Her decision to help lead a strike is based on her desire for more time with her son and better health care for her aging mother. Carlitos wants to help, but it is not until he sees his mother on television that he figures out what it is that he can do. The lively, information-packed text, presented in clear, colloquial English and Spanish, is matched by Delgado's lively, detailed, primitive illustrations, brightly rendered in oil pastel and watercolor wash. A spread following the story is devoted to a factual account of one woman's experience as a union organizer. Younger children will enjoy the story, but intermediate students will benefit from both the narrative line and the content. This is the rare crossover picture book that gives sound information on big issues with grace and ease. A real winner for both school and public libraries.
Los Angeles Times
In New Book, Children Learn the Story of L.A. Janitors' Strike
The L.A. janitors' strike in the spring of 2000 altered the labor landscape.

Just as the 1997 Teamsters strike against UPS succeeded in part because everyone knew those nice young (mostly) men in brown shorts and UPS was a faceless corporate entity, the first victory of the janitors' strike was the public imagination. It was cinematic, easy to cover, easy to cast—poor immigrants versus rich office people. Janitors marched past skyscrapers downtown and along flower-scented roads in Bel-Air, calling solidarity slogans to maids and gardeners.

From Chicago to San Diego, the L.A. janitors' strike nudged management elsewhere toward signing contracts. It inspired other unions. It created strike-chic: knockoffs of the red "Justice for Janitors" T-shirts were sold in the garment district like fake Fendi handbags. A British director made "Bread and Roses," a film about the strike.

And now there's a children's book about the strike, "Si Se Puede," colloquially, "Yes, We Can," a rallying cry since the early days of Cesar Chavez's farm workers.

On Sunday, actor Edward James Olmos fought a cold and the traffic from the Valley to the West Adams district to read aloud from the vividly illustrated book to a group of children, many of whose parents are janitors. It tells the story of Carlitos, whose widowed mother is a janitor who helps lead a strike for higher wages. To help her, Carlitos paints his own sign, "I love my mama! She is a janitor!" and marches with her.

They all sat under a marquee outside St. Joseph's, the grandificent church--one adjective isn't enough to describe it, you have to conflate two of them--that stands across from the secularly charming Automobile Club building, so I've always thought of St. Joseph's as Our Lady of Roadside Assistance.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, resplendent in creamy vestments trimmed with bright fabrics of Mexican weaving, swept by the group on his way to say Labor Day weekend Mass, the day before he would open his new downtown cathedral. He waved at Olmos, who waved back. (In Mahony's days as a bishop in the Central Valley, some growers nicknamed him "Red Roger" for his early and vigorous support of the farm workers union. In L.A., he backed the janitors' strike with equal fervor—but lost ground with labor for resisting the archdiocese's cemetery workers in their fight to unionize.)

As Olmos read, the book's author stood nearby, beaming. Diana Cohn just moved to the Bay Area from New York and she doesn't speak Spanish, but when she read about the strike, she figured this story, she had to tell. Unions, she believes, "are the only anti-poverty program that works."

She's written other children's books but this is the first to be political, so political that her mainstream publisher asked her to "restructure" it—dilute the politics. Cohn went instead to Cinco Puntos Press in El Paso, which wanted it at once, printed copies in English and Spanish--including a paperback version to give to the janitors union--and is giving some of the proceeds to a New York
workers' fund.

The strike was "a really great story where all the threads came together," Cohn says, "both social justice issues and really important values." She shared her manuscript with a focus group of janitor-parents and kids, whose suggestions—put in some Central Americans, not just Mexicans, and add some adult men to the story—Cohn took.

One of them was Dolores Sanchez, who led her colleagues in the strike. "I'm glad they wrote something," she said in Spanish on Sunday, "so our children could understand what we do and why." The book even helps explain her family: her children are 19, 15—and 11 months old, the youngest conceived before she got the benefits of the new labor contract--among them, she says, health care insurance and family planning.

There's a small bit about health care in the book: with a new contract and better wage, Carlitos' mother doesn't have to clean other people's houses on weekends. They can go to the park and buy ice cream and even afford medicine, so Carlitos' grandmother's "sore bones feel so much better."
Publishers Weekly
Focusing on the event in April 2000 that united 8,000 workers in the Justice for Janitors Campaign, Si, Se Puede!/Yes, We Can!: Janitor Strike in L.A. by Diana Cohn, illus. by Francisco Delgado, trans. by Sharon Franco, chronicles the proceedings through the eyes of one female worker's son. An opening color-pencil sketch in fiesta-bright colors shows Mam tucking in Carlitos for bed before she leaves for work. She explains to her son the need for a strike, and a series of spreads chart the strikers' progress. A final spread profiles union organizer Dolores S nchez; the dust jacket doubles as a poster that explains labor unions and strikes, along with a poem by Luis J. Rodriguez.
Children’s Literature
”¡Sí, Se Puede! Sí, Se Puede!” cries the crowd of underpaid janitors in this historical fiction picture book based on the janitor strike in Los Angeles, California in the year 2000. The book uses historically accurate details to tell about the strike while it uses a fictional family to make the book more personal. Carlitos is a young boy whose mother tucks him in every night and heads off to work as a janitor in a large office building. One evening, she tells Carlitos that she cannot take care of him and his grandmother the way she wishes she could because of the poor working conditions and that she and the other janitors are going on strike. The janitors are underpaid and work long hours, even on the weekends. As bathrooms go unclean and trash piles up, Carlitos is exposed to the importance of what his Mamá is doing. One day at school, Carlitos’ teacher even talks about it. He realizes that he is not the only student in his class that has a parent involved. The children decide that they will combine together to help their parents out. Carlitos and his friends meet together to paint signs. They plan on rallying along with their parents. Carlitos makes a sign that says, “I love my Mamá, she is a janitor!” After three weeks the strike ends and the janitors receive the pay raises and respect that they have deserved and waited for.
Chicano artist Francisco Delgado captures a pint-size view of the janitor strike in L.A. by literally looking up into the action. The story is told from the point of view of the son of one of the participants in the Justice for Janitors strikes of 2001. The simple, bilingual text faces full page, full color illustrations that make the dilemma and courage of these workers, their families and neighbors come alive in a way that children will understand. Readers will want to cheer when the kids in Carlito’s class show their support by making signs for the demonstrators (and in the process discover how many families in their barrio are involved). In our increasingly serviced-based economy, many Latino workers in urban areas today are facing the same struggles that farm workers experienced in the fields. In addition to the story, there is an excellent essay by Luis J. Rodriguez about Dolores Sanchez, a real woman not unlike Carlos’ mother. Teachers and older students will be facilitated in their exploration of the issues by the inclusion of a poster and the URL for the Justice for Janitors’ website. This is an important story that impacts the children we serve and needs to be on our shelves. Recommended for the non-fiction collection of school and public libraries, and academic Chicano collections or libraries with a focus on labor issues.
El Paso Times
"I wanted to contribute to multicultural literature, as a writer and teacher," Cohn said. "I hope this book raises the subject of working families and opens up discussion about what labor unions have done for this country."
full review >>
Rethinking Schools
Hotel workers are currently on strike in San Francisco, and many of the students I work with have family or family friends on the line. We talk about the strike and speculate about its outcome. Recently I discovered a children's book that is one of those rare books that tells a tale as interesting to high school students as to kindergarteners. Si, Se Puede! Yes We Can, by Diana Cohen, is narrated by a child who tells the story of his mother, a janitor in a Los Angeles highrise who is out on strike. It portrays dignified people, working hard to make their way into society and fighting for their rights.

The book, with its essay by Luis Rodriguez, centers on the successful janitors' strike in Los Angeles, but it could just as well be San Francisco and the current hotel workers' strike. This moving story shows how the young narrator is drawn into the world of labor struggles.
SEIU newsletter
In the entertaining and powerful story, Carlitos joins his mother in standing up for a good job for his mother and a better future for his family.
full review >>
“The Death of Bernadette Lefthand should rank among the classics of American fiction.”
- Tony Hillerman, 
Kirkus Reviews
As his eyes open to his father's alcoholism and dark moods, Rocky unearths memories of his loving mother, who disappeared 10 years earlier. He discovers ugly truths about his parents' relationship and his mother's disappearance and starts digging deeper.
- April 7, 2019  Visit Website
full review >>
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