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Lil Libros Finally Adds Musician Ritchie Valens To The List Of Icons Highlighted In Bilingual Children’s Books

Lil’ Libros has been gifting Latino parents the gift of a single children’s book read in two languages to promote bilingualism in Latino niños around the world. The stories are all about Latino icons that have shaped and defined our culture throughout history, honoring stories like Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and Cuban music legend, Celia Cruz. With nearly 20 books in the collection so far, we thought Lil’ Libros couldn’t get any cuter or more relevant until it added the story of Ricardo “Ritchie” Valenzuela in “The Life of / La Vida de: Ritchie.”

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The children’s book will cover all the highlights of Ritchie’s life.

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“Born May 13, 1941, Ritchie Valens was a Mexican-American singer, songwriter, and guitarist,” reads the book description. “His musical journey began at age 5 when his father encouraged him to take up guitar. In high school, he made his performing debut with the band The Silhouettes. At 17, Ritchie recorded his final record, which included classics like “Donna” and “La Bamba”. That record went on to sell over one million copies. To this day, Ritchie  Valens’ music lives on in the hearts of many!”

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Ritchie followed his passions, and they became a gift to the music world.

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Ritchie is considered the father of the Chicano rock movement. He was the son of two Mexican immigrants, born in the Los Angeles valley as Richard Steven Valenzuela. Even though Ritchie was left-handed, he taught himself how to play the guitar, trumpet, and drums, and was so in love with music, he learned it all with a dominant right hand. He was always bringing his guitar to his high school to play for his friends. By the time he was 16 years old, he was invited to join The Silhouettes, and eventually became the lead singer. He only released two records during his lifetime, and is best known for “La Bamba.” He’s also known for being the first Latino to successfully cross over into the U.S. mainstream rock genre, inspiring Selena, Café Tacuba, Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys, and even Carlos Santana to fuse Latinidad with rock.

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We *doubt* they’ll include that Ritchie dropped out of high school.

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He became a raging success with the release of his first and only three records and dropped out of school to keep up with his career. Ritchie actually didn’t know any Spanish, and his family only spoke English and Spanglish in their house. He learned to sing “La Bamba” in Spanish by learning the song phonetically. Just this year, The U.S. Library of Congress selected “La Bamba” to be preserved in the National Recording Registry as “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.”

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Or Ritchie’s tragic death by a plane crash at just 17 years old.

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Ritchie had a fear of flying that he eventually overcome throughout his short-lived music career. His fear started during the second term of his junior year in high school. Two airplanes collided over the school’s playground on January 31, 1957, killing and injuring several of his friends. It all happened while Ritchie was at his abuelo’s funeral. His first flight was to Philadelphia to appear on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand show, where he performed “Come On, Let’s Go.” The following month, he was flying to Hawaii to perform with Buddy Holly and Paul Anka.

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Ritchie won a coin toss that fateful February 2, 1959 winter day in Iowa that won him a spot on a small plane that would later crash and kill everyone on the plane. His band had been traveling by tour bus throughout the Midwest without adequate heating, causing them all to catch the flu and, in one case, even frostbite. They were desperate to get on a flight out, and only the guitarist, Tommy Allsup, and bassist Waylon Jennings were spared, simply because they lost their coin tosses. 

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Ritchie took off at 12:55 am and crashed just minutes later.

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Still, nobody knows why the plane crashed. It killed everyone on impact. Ritchie suffered a blunt force trauma to the chest and unsurvivable head injuries, dying at just 17 years old. His death inspired Don McLean to write “American Pie,” forever remembering February 3 as “The Day the Music Died.” The music may have died by Ritchie’s legacy continues to live on, now in both Spanish and English at storytimes.

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