Who was Selena?

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Who was Selena? What did she accomplish? What did she represent to her fans? Who was Selena is a book from the Who Was series that since 2002 has published over 250 books (“How many,” 2020). To much of the Spanish speaking world, Selena is an icon. She was a female musician in a male dominated industry and for others, represents a blend of American and Mexican culture. This book in the series of Who was books, not only tells her story but the story of Mexican-American people, their struggles and culture. Illustrator Qiu complements the narration with images on almost every page.


One of strongest points of this book is its inclusion of informing the reader about Mexican-American or Tejano history. Born in Texas, Selena was not Mexican, but American, but also a Mexican-American and also a Tejana. Even though everyone of Latin descent are lumped into the term “Hispanic,” every group has their own story. Tejanos are no different and the fact that this is elucidated by the authors is of utmost importance. Of greater importance is the inclusion of the struggles and systemic racism that Selena’s family and other Tejanos faced. Families were labeled as being Mexican and speaking Spanish, which took away opportunities for them, “so, many Tejano parents stopped teaching their children Spanish. They thought it would give them a better life in America” (Bisantz, Bisantz & Qiu, 2018, p. 22). This is a critical topic for young people to see, as difficult as it, is because it offers a window into the reality of this time period, yet shows the strength that Selena showed any way.

In addition to telling the story of who Selena was, this book seeks to inform the readers about Mexican-American language and culture in a way that is understandable and even participatory. The writing style of this book is detailed, but simplified. An example is: “That same month, she released her next album-Amor Prohibido (say ah-MOR-pro-ee-BEE-doh), which means forbidden love” (Bisantz, Bisantz & Qiu, 2018, p. 95). In this example, the authors provide the Spanish, but engages the reader to try to pronounce these words. In addition, they offer and easy to understand translation. Another example is the the explanation of the differences between Tex-Mex and Mexican food. Then, in a type of glossary, there are definitions of different Tex-Mex foods. As the book comes to an end, the authors are honest and candid about her untimely death. An added plus are the additional resources at the end of the book including discography, bibliography, timeline of the world. Young readers, who were not alive during her life, will appreciate quotes from current stars about Selena’s influence.

Demi Lovato – “Growing up- I just loved Selena’s music”

Jennifer Lopez – “The impact that she had on my life, on my career….It was a great thing for her to be my mentor” (Bisantz & Bisantz, 2018, p. 123).

Throughout this chapterbook, the illustrations by Qui seek to capture the story of Selena, from her beginnings to her untimely death. They are black and white and range in depicting Selena from young girl to adult to illustrating action scenes of them getting in the car, or of their home in Lake Jackson. This helps elucidate the context of the story. Another way in which the authors and illustrators provide more information and context is by occasionally having separate boxes of more in depth information. For example, in one part, the authors mention that Selena was a Jehovah’s Witness, and in a later page, a box with more detailed information is provided. While this is reminiscent of a textbook, it actually might be more engaging to the reader if they selected it on their own. One questionable aspect of the illustrations stands out. One the title page, the reader sees an illustration of Selena, presumably a casual head shot. It is drawn seemingly effortlessly but captures her hair, her smile and her features. However, when one compares this to the front cover, there may be confusion. The depiction of Selena on the front cover does not look like Selena. With exception of voluminous hair, brown skin, this rendering does not look like the subject at all.


This book about Selena’s life is rich with information not only about her too-short life, but about her culture. Much effort is put into explaining vital history, such as the struggles of Mexican-Americans, culture and food and language. Spanish speakers will find themselves represented in this book with many Spanish references. Non-Spanish speakers will see another culture represented and can learn about that culture. Qiu does an excellent job of adding to the narration with his black and white sketches of scenes. The authors simple writing style do lot lessen the impact this book might have on young readers. This book is recommended for any school that serves young emerging readers.


How many Who Was? titles are there? (2020)Who Was? Series (2020). Penguin Random House LLC. https://www.whowasbookseries.com/faq/

Bisantz M., Bisantz K. & Qiu, J.J.M. (2018). Who was Selena? Penguin Workshop

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