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Aniana del Mar Jumps In

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"Beautiful in its honesty and vulnerability, this is a powerful story about dreams and bodily agency that sings from the heart.”—Natalia Sylvester, award-winning author of Breathe and Count Back From Ten

A powerful and expertly told novel-in-verse by about a 12-year-old Dominican American swimmer who is diagnosed with Juvenile Arthritis by an award-winning poet.

Aniana del Mar belongs in the water like a dolphin belongs to the sea. But she and Papi keep her swim practices and meets hidden from Mami, who has never recovered from losing someone she loves to the water years ago. That is, until the day Ani’s stiffness and swollen joints mean she can no longer get out of bed, and Ani is forced to reveal just how important swimming is to her. Mami forbids her from returning to the water but Ani and her doctor believe that swimming along with medication will help Ani manage her disease. What follows is the journey of a girl who must grieve who she once was in order to rise like the tide and become the young woman she is meant to be. Aniana Del Mar Jumps In is a poignant story about chronic illness and disability, the secrets between mothers and daughters, the harm we do to the ones we love the most—and all the triumphs, big and small, that keep us afloat.

ISBN-13: 9780593531815

Media Type: Hardcover

Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group

Publication Date: 03-14-2023

Pages: 384

Product Dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.50(d)

Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

Jasminne Mendez is a best-selling Dominican-American poet, educator, translator, playwright and award winning author of several books for children and adults. She has had poetry and essays published in numerous journals and anthologies and she is the author of two multi-genre collections including Island of Dreams (Floricanto Press, 2013) which won an International Latino Book Award. Her debut poetry collection City Without Altar was a finalist for the Noemi Press poetry prize and was released in August 2022(Noemi Press) and her debut picture book Josefina’s Habichuelas (Arte Publico Press, 2021) was the Writer’s League of Texas Children’s Book Discovery Prize Winner. She has translated the work of NYT Best Selling authors Amanda Gorman, Nikole Hannah-Jones, René Watson and Calribel Ortega. She is an MFA graduate of the creative writing program at the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University and a University of Houston alumni. She is the Program Director for the literary arts non-profit Tintero Projects and she lives and works in Houston, TX.

Read an Excerpt


When I Learned to Swim

Before my brother, Matti, is born

before I learn how to keep secrets,

before I learn what my name means and how it ties me to the water,

Papi teaches me how to swim.

Mami is away in the Dominican Republic visiting family and friends she hasn’t seen in years.

I am six and still afraid of everything.

Papi knows Mami won’t like it.
But he decides it’s time for me to learn.
The First Time

I tremble near the edge of a pool.

My knees KnOcK
against each other.

A warm August wind w h o o s h e s through my tangled curls,

I almost let go of my Minnie
Mouse towel when––

Papi nudges me a little closer to the edge.

I jUmP back as if the pool is a sinkhole of blue flames.

I squeal
a high-pitched trumpet tingling my tonsils:

I don’t want the water
in my eyes
in my nose
in my lungs.
Mami says that the water . . .

Sssh mi reina, no pasa nada.

Papi sits me on his lap,
tells me a cuento para calmarme.

Papi: The first time I swam
in the green rivers of el campo,

the current slapped me around
until my arms began to flip

and my legs began to flap
and suddenly I was flying underwater.

Your body will know
how to handle the water

as long as you don’t resist it.
Jumping In

Papi’s big brown arms wrap around my waist.

His warm breath tickles my ear and his black beard sweeps against my cheek.

Papi whispers:

Reach your arms out, then pull
them apart as if you are parting
the purple curtains in your room.

Kick your legs like a drummer’s hands
when they paddle their palms
on a Palo drum.

Imagine your body is a feather
and you’ll float. Let the water hold
you. Remember, yo estoy aquí.

He squeezes my hand.

We jump in.

The Island (& Me): May

My Island

We live on an island.
The island where we live is an o u t s t r e t c h e d arm reaching into the Gulf of Mexico.


Where the streets are lined with papel picado houses in peacock green and
pomegranate pink.

Hundreds of shotgun houses where the wind whistles
in through the front door and shoots directly down the hallways out the back.

Hundreds of houses
in sherbet colors that remind Mami
of “back home.”

But this is the only home
I’ve ever known.

On Sundays before church,
I like to walk to the seawall,
and watch the sunrise explode in the sky like cascarones on Easter.

Blue, pink, and orange colors confetti the horizon and kiss the sea.

Sometimes, I don’t know if the ocean is the sky or the sky is the ocean.

It opens
E N D L E S S.

The way I do when I swim.

Sometimes, I think that if
I swim long enough
I’ll reach that cascarón sky and instead of swimming
I’ll begin to S O A R.

Wants Me Close

Some Sundays after church, Mami,
Matti, and me
go to the beach.

Sometimes I build sandcastles with Matti.

Sometimes, if Papi is with us and goes
in the water with me,
Mami lets me S W I M.

Mami doesn’t like it that I swim underwater so far away from her.

I try to tell her:

Papi taught me
how to hold my breath,
stroke my arms,
and kick my fins,
like a dolphin.
I’ll be fine.



She’s afraid la mar will swallow me up the way it swallowed
her brother her house and
her village during a storm long ago when she was just a girl.

Mami calls the ocean
“la mar” instead of “el mar”
because she believes
the ocean is a strong woman who gives and takes life when she wants.

The ocean will betray you
she says.

I try to tell her:

I am Ani
de las aguas
I swim
with the dolphins.
The water and I
protect each other.
She won’t take me
away from you.



Birth Story

Mami says when I was born,
I almost drowned in the ocean of her belly and they had to C U T me out.

I was not ready
for the world,
would not latch,
would not eat,
would not stop crying.

So they slipped tubes through my nose and fed me food that was not Mami’s milk.

Mami says this made her worry we would not bond
and I would not have enough of what I needed to grow big and strong.

And sometimes I worry
she was right.