En la Clase: Los Gatos Black on Halloween

Los Gatos BlackA few weeks ago when I was browsing one of our local library’s collections of books on Día de los Muertos, I stumbled across Los Gatos Black on Halloween.  I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of this book before.  For those of you who know me, you may think I love this book just because it’s called Los Gatos Black.  While I do have a deep affection for black cats, as every cat I’ve ever had has been black, this book is amazing for more reasons than its title and cover. It’s an absolutely beautiful book, and PERFECT for this time of year.  Marisa Montes’ poetry paired with Yuyi Morales’ illustrations makes for an amazing collaboration. Kirkus Reviews calls the book “A spooky seasonal treat and a great choice for any collection” and I couldn’t agree more. The book’s description should give you a taste of what’s so special about this one:

Under October’s luna, full and bright, the monsters are throwing a ball in the Haunted Hall. Las brujas come on their broomsticks. Los muertos rise from their coffins to join in the fun. Los esqueletos rattle their bones as they dance through the door. And the scariest creatures of all? Wait until you see them! This lively bilingual Halloween poem introduces young readers to a spooky array of Spanish words that will open their ojos to the chilling delights of the season.

Montes’ Halloween poem is replete with wonderfully descriptive adjectives, and the rhyming and cadence make it a fun and Los Gatos Black 4lyrical read-aloud. My guess is students would love to turn it into a chant or choral reading, which would make it a great way to fit in a little extra oral language practice. Just imagine the fun students could have reciting the following:

Los gatos black with eyes of green
Cats slink and creep on Halloween
With ojos keen that squint and gleam–
They yowl, they hiss. . .they sometimes scream

A bilingual book, the Spanish words are seamlessly defined by the context, making it perfect for both your English and Spanish speakers.  I think it would be a particularly fun way for Spanish speaking ELLs to expand their English vocabulary, as the Spanish words, along with Morales’ beautiful illustrations, would activate their background knowledge, making it easier for them to understand, process, and remember the English words.  Katherine Reinecke has created a video read aloud where she narrates the book, which would allow students to read along and listen to the book from a computer.

The possibilities really are endless in terms of the activities you could use in your class to accompany the book.  Scholastic has created a simple lesson plan with great pre-reading activities, post-reading questions including a graphic organizer to review the use of context clues to decode unfamiliar words, and great extension activities that draw out the book’s connection to both Halloween and Día de los Muertos.  This would be a great book to use as a segue way to discussions that compare and contrast the two holidays.

Los Gatos Black 2Students may also really enjoy creating their own class Halloween poem.  The majority of the different stanzas of Montes’ poem focus on specific characters associated with Halloween (los gatos, las calabazas, las brujas, los esqueletos).  After analyzing the format and rhyming scheme used by Montes, each student could create their own four line stanza about their favorite part of Halloween and then illustrate it.  When completed, compile all of the poems and illustrations into one book to display in the classroom.  Sticker stories are another possibility.  My students always loved to make these.  I’d give them each a handful of seasonally themed stickers and a blank sheet of white card stock.  Using the stickers, crayons, markers, and anything else they could find, they created a picture.  Then, they wrote a story to go along with their picture.  Here, students could create a Halloween or Fall themed picture and write a four line, rhyming poem to accompany their picture. These could also be compiled to create a class book or hung in the classroom as a fun display.

calabazaYuyi Morales created an interactive page for the book with links to fun activities.  If you click on the pink headstone you’ll pull up thumbnails of different downloadable masks that students can color (like the one at the right).  Clicking on the blue-grey headstone will take you to a new page where students can explore Morales’ process for creating the illustrations.

Los Gatos Black on Halloween is included as an example of culturally relevant literature in the teaching document, “Common Core State Standards (CCSS) English Langauge Arts (ELA): Shifts and Expectations from old to New Standards, Supporting the Learning, Development, and Achievement of ELLs,” created by Loyola University, Chicago.  While not specific to Los Gatos Black on Halloween, the document includes a number of ideas and activities that meet both Common Core Standards and the needs of ELLs that would be easily implemented through the use of the Montes/Morales book.

You may also want to share parts of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s interview with Marisa Montes from her blog Cynsations with your students.

Los Gatos Black on Halloween is a 2007 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year, the winner of the 2008 Pura Belpré Medal for Illustration and a Pura Belpré Honor Book for Narrative.

If you use the book with your students I’d love to hear what they think of it!

Lorraine just reviewed another of Yuyi Morales’ books on Monday (I think you could say we’re officially part of the Yuyi Morales fan club now), so check out her post ¡Mira, Look!: Just A Minute!: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book.  If you missed it last year, you might also be interested in our post that included a round-up of fun resources and books for Halloween and Día de los Muertos.

Images: Illustrations from Los Gatos Black on Halloween. Illustrator: Yuyi Morales

¡Mira, Look!: Just A Minute!: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book

just a minuteLast week I reviewed a book that touches upon the issue of losing a loved one. This week I present a book that can be used to introduce the issue of death to children in a light and playful way. Given that it also includes imagery related to Día de los Muertos and celebrates Mexican traditions, it’s a great addition to your classroom discussions about this holiday. An Américas Award winner in 2003 and Pura Belpré Award winner in 2004, Just A Minute!: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book, (ages 4-8) written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales, is a wonderful book that mixes multicultural literature with bilingual elements and math.

Here is a description from Goodreads:

“In this original trickster tale, Señor Calavera arrives unexpectedly at Grandma Beetle’s door. He requests that she leave with him right away. “Just a minute,” Grandma Beetle tells him. She still has one house to sweep, two pots of tea to boil, three pounds of corn to make into tortillas — and that’s just the start! Using both Spanish and English words to tally the party preparations, Grandma Beetle cleverly delays her trip and spends her birthday with a table full of grandchildren and her surprise guest. This spirited tribute to the rich traditions of Mexican culture is the perfect introduction to counting in both English and Spanish. The vivacious illustrations and universal depiction of a family celebration are sure to be adored by young readers everywhere.”

The story begins with Señor Calavera knocking on Grandma Beetle’s door, and telling her it is time for her to come along with him. Grandma Beetle says “Just a Minute, I will go with you right away, I have just one house to sweep.” This phrase is repeated as she incrementally prepares for a celebration. She has two pots of tea to boil, three pounds of corn to make into tortillas, four fruits to slice, and on and on. This repeated format includes the Spanish translations for the numbers as Señor Calavera counts the objects.

Grandma Beetle fills seven piñatas with candy and then arranges eight platters of food before finally, her nine grandchildren come through her door. She invites Señor Calavara to be the tenth guest of what turns out to be…her birthday party! They all have a great time and when Grandma Beetle finally says she’s ready to go with him, Señor Calavara is gone! Grandma Beetle successfully outwits Señor Calavara, a fact which is made apparent by the way in which she winks at the reader on the last page and shows a note that Señor Calavara left behind. He says the party was a scream and that he wouldn’t miss her next birthday party for anything in the world.

Just a Minute_Page_3

The illustrations are made up of bold, vivid colors and include interactive elements that children will enjoy, such as spotting the little black and white kitten found on each page. Though the bilingual aspect is minimal (the only words in Spanish are the numbers 1-10), it is still a great tool to teach children how to count in Spanish. It also effectively reflects Mexican culture through the depictions of Señor Calavara, the foods, piñatas, and birthday celebration.

Just a Minute_Page_2



The book is a useful tool for introducing Día de los Muertos to young readers. In a purely visual sense, Señor Calavera mimics the traditional, whimsical skeletal figures often created to accompany the holiday, and the vibrant colors draw upon Mexican culture. More conceptually, Grandma Beetles’ celebratory interaction with death reflects the revelry that marks Día de los Muertos customs. These visual and textual elements thus make this title a great selection for teaching children about the holiday and getting them to acknowledge death in a lighthearted way.

Check out the amusing sequel to this book, Just In Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book, in which Señor Calavara comes back for another of Grandma Beetle’s birthday parties and labors over finding her a suitable gift.

If you plan on using this book with your students, there are a number of helpful resources:

  • Created for the Américas Award, Linda Kreft has written a classroom guide that ties the book to National Art, Language Art, and Social Studies Standards.
  • Chronicle Books produced a beautifully-illustrated Teachers Guide for grades K-3.
  •  Yuyi Morales’ website has numerous resources that explain her process of creating the book including the character Señor Calavara.

Gathering-Books Latinos-in-Kid-Lit

Good for: Gathering Books COYRL Challenge 2014 and Latin@s in Kids Lit Reading Challenge 2014

Images: Illustrations from Just A Minute!: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book. Illustrator: Yuyi Morales

En la Clase: All About Calaveras

skeletons 2Tonight is our sixth and last workshop in our series on teaching about Día de los Muertos.  We’ve had such a wonderful time with all of the teachers and community members who’ve participated this year.  We’ve spent the last two days making pounds and pounds of sugar skulls and icing, so I’m sure tonight will be just as much as fun.  We also just installed the ofrenda we created for the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s Día de los Muertos exhibit.  To say our LAII k-12 outreach team has been busy lately just might be an understatement.  We definitely plan to share some pictures of all of these fun projects soon!

Since I’ve spent the better part of the last two weeks covered in glue, glitter, tissue paper and sugar, I don’t have a new En la Clase post for you all today, instead I thought I’d share two of our more popular posts about calaveras.  They’ve got some great activities that your students will love.  If you haven’t read them before, take a minute to check them out.  The giant calaveras in “What My Calavera Did at Night” are always a student favorite.  My students were still talking about them in May.  Students absolutely love to make sugar skulls, and they are so much easier than you’d think!  The two posts are linked below.

En la Clase: Día de los Muertos, Sugar Skulls & Acrostic Poetry

En la Clase: What My Calavera Did at Night

Feel free to share any of your own ideas or thoughts in the comment section below.  I’ll have a new En la Clase post next week on one of my new favorite books, Los Gatos Black on Halloween. It’s perfect for this time of year!





¡Mira, Look!: A Gift for Abuelita: Celebrating the Day of the Dead/Un regalo para Abuelita: En celebración del Dia de los Muertos

regalo para abuelitaIn last week’s post, I introduced the theme of Día de los Muertos and we looked at a book that inspires students to think about honoring ancestors. This week we will continue with our theme as I present a book that tells the story of a young girl’s relationship with her grandmother, tackles the issue of loss, and explores traditions particular to Día de los Muertos.

A Gift for Abuelita: Celebrating the Day of the Dead/Un regalo para Abuelita: En celebración del Dia de los Muertos (ages 5-8) is a bilingual children’s book written by Nancy Luenn and illustrated by Robert Chapman.

Here is a description from Goodreads:

“This affectionate picture book reveals Rosita’s sense of loss when her grandmother dies, and how the family works together on the Day of the Dead to restore the healing power of remembrance.”

The story begins by showing the strong relationship that Rosita has with her grandmother (abuelita). The abuelita teaches her to braid, sings with her about making tortillas, and shows her how to work in the garden. Soon in the story, she also falls ill and dies.

Rosita misses her abuelita very much. Her grandfather tells her that she can show Abuelita how much she misses her by making her a gift when she visits on the Day of the Dead. The book explains “On the Day of the Dead, families remember the people thy love who have died. Each family makes an ofrenda at an altar to welcome the dead. Everybody makes gifts for the altar.” Rosita decides to make a beautiful braid as a gift to her abuelita, and she works on it as her family and community prepare for Dia de los Muertos.abuelita_Page_1

We learn about some of the traditions of the holiday through references to harvesting marigold flowers, lighting candles and incense, and preparing dishes such as chicken with mole.

As Rosita braids her gift to her abuelita, she remembers the things she loves and misses about her: her songs, stories, and wisdom. The book presents the braid as a product of Rosita’s love and appreciation for her abuelita. Her diligence in braiding works to guide the readers through the customs of Día de los Muertos, and highlights the importance of celebrating loved ones who have passed.

When the day finally arrives, Rosita becomes confused about when she will get to see Abuelita and has many questions about her afterlife. The book tackles this issue by having family explain to Rosita that Abuelita will visit them in spirit. It shows that though she cannot see Abuelita, she can still feel her presence by thinking about all the things she loves and remembers about her.abuelita_Page_2

The artistry of the illustrations is truly beautiful. Using cast paper, the illustrator applied wet paper pulp into a wooden frame filled with shapes that worked as his mold. In the Illustrator’s Note, he says “Building molds this way forces me to combine and simplify shapes in exciting ways.” He used this technique and created textured, collage-like images, rich in deep colors, that resemble quilted textiles. The use of wood, twine, fabric, and beads enhances the effect of dimension in the images and gives the story a crafty feel- reflecting the way in which Rosita has learned to braid, and braids for her abuelita!

A Gift for Abuelita serves as an excellent resource to help children understand the meaning of the Day of the Dead. It would be a great addition to any classroom as it works not only as a bilingual book that teaches about the holiday but also as a great tool to teach about death and loss of a loved one in general.  Below are a few more resources regarding this title and the creators’ other work:

Latinos-in-Kid-Lit Gathering-Books

Good for: Gathering Books COYRL Challenge 2014 and Latin@s in Kids Lit Reading Challenge 2014



Images: Illustrations from A Gift for Abuelita: Celebrating the Day of the Dead/Un regalo para Abuelita: En celebración del Dia de los Muertos. Illustrator: Robert Chapman

Book Review: La Línea

La Linea by Ann JaramilloLa línea
Written by Ann Jaramillo
Published by Roaring Book Press, 2006
ISBN: 9780312373542
Age Level: 10 and up


Miguel’s life is just beginning. Or so he thinks. Fifteen-year-old Miguel leaves his rancho deep in Mexico to migrate to California across la línea, the border, in a debut novel of life-changing, cliff-hanging moments. But Miguel’s carefully laid plans change suddenly when his younger sister Elena stows away and follows him. Together, Miguel and Elena endure hardships and danger on their journey of desperation and desire, loyalty and betrayal. An epilogue, set ten years after the events of the story, shows that you can’t always count on dreams–even the ones that come true.

My thoughts:

La Línea is about the journey of two young teenagers trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border to be reunited with their family in California.  It’s an incredibly poignant and moving novel.  The trip North is hard for Miguel and Elena, and it’s not always easy to read about what the two had to endure.  I certainly cried through a number of parts.  It’s difficult to read about how dehumanizing and traumatic the experience is.  While it’s fiction, it’s based on the lived experiences of some of Jaramillo’s own students.  Knowing how close the story is to the accounts of many immigrants makes the reading even more intense.  Jaramillo manages to communicate the danger, violence, and sacrifice while avoiding overdramatizing the emotions, which allows the story to remain accessible both to students who have had similar experiences as well as those who haven’t.

While it’s certainly a realistic account, there are times when I can imagine that Miguel and Elena were luckier than many in terms of the people they encountered, like Javi and Moíses, who led to their ultimate success in making it to the U.S.  They met people who sacrificed their own lives so that the two teenagers would make it to their families in the U.S.  Yet the story is not overly romanticized, by any means.  Even though Elena and Miguel survive the journey, they lose a great deal.  Such an experience can’t be forgotten; my guess is it forever changes a person.  It’s one that perhaps you never fully recover from.  When we consider the fact that some of our own students may have experienced the same thing, we realize how important a book like this is.

The novel puts a very human face on immigration.  It’s a counter story to the narratives that incite fear of immigrants by painting them as terrorists, drug dealers, or criminals.  Instead we see the financial desperation that forces people to risk everything, including their own lives and the lives of their families, to make it to the U.S.  We see how poverty forces parents to leave children behind to find work in the U.S., and the emotional strain this puts on the entire family.  When used in the classroom, the book can raise awareness and hopefully empathy for the risks so many immigrants take when they try and cross the border.   For those students whose families have experienced crossing the border, the book provides protagonists with whom they can identify, and the space to discuss what is an often silenced experience.

The documentary Which Way Home would be an excellent complement to the film, with a free teacher’s guide available for the film.

If you’d like to read what others have thought about the book, check out the links to other reviews below:

The book has been selected as part of the AILF’s “Immigration Resource Guide for K-12 Educators.”

I’m not alone in thinking it’s a book that should be on our classroom and library shelves. La Linea has been given a number of awards and recognitions: Florida Sunshine State Young Readers Award Master List, James Cook Book Award Nominee (2007), ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2007), ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults (2010), Young Hoosier Book Award Nominee (2008-2009), Texas Lone Star Book (2007-2008).

Click here to be taken to our Educator’s Guide for the book.

COYRL 2014_2  2014-reading-challenge

Good for: Gathering Books COYRL Challenge 2014 and Latin@s in Kids Lit Reading Challenge 2014

En la Clase: Conjuring Poetry and Ofrendas

SBMA Dia de los MuertosContinuing with this month’s theme of teaching about Día de los Muertos, in today’s En la Clase I’m going to share one of my favorite poetry writing activities from our Día de los Muertos teaching guide: Calaveras and Conjuring with Words.  If you’re planning on having your students make a classroom ofrenda or individual mini-shrines this is the perfect activity to pair with that.  This activity was produced by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and they very kindly let us reprint it in our guide.  They have excellent K-6 and Middle/High School lesson plans available for free on their website.  It’s definitely a site that I recommend you spend some time with.

As the background to this lesson writes, “The altar or ofrenda tradition of Día de los Muertos builds a bridge for the dead to travel between this world and the next.  Family and friends place food, drink, objects, photographs and personal items of the deceased on the altar to entice them to return.  The powerful smell of marigolds makes a kind of aromatic trail leading the departed back.  This tradition is meant to be welcoming and fun, not frightening.  It is done with love, respect and sometimes humor.   What the altar does with physical items, we can do with words.

That last sentence is the key to this writing exercise and what makes it such a special activity.  Through the descriptions and memories shared in the poem, students will ‘conjure’ their departed back to life.  It’s a powerful writing project, as teachers who’ve used it can attest to.  I think this is in part due to the personal nature of the writing.  In past posts we’ve talked about how important it is to build bridges between students’ home lives and school lives.  Often times the two are quite separate, and students feel like so much of what makes them who they are isn’t recognized as relevant or important knowledge in the classroom.  This activity is one way to create those bridges by welcoming their experiences outside the classroom into the curriculum.  If students aren’t comfortable writing to someone they’ve lost, they can choose a writer, artist, musician, actor, etc that they admire.

After introducing the activity to the students and discussing the significance of the word conjure and why it’s used here, follow the writing instructions below.


  1. Select the person who has died to whom you want to address your poem
  2. Write down a smell or scent you associate with this person
  3. Name a food or drink or taste of something they loved to eat or drink
  4. Write down a sound you associate with them. This can be music or the
    sound of them hammering or sweeping or chopping in
    the kitchen, a car horn, a whistle, a laugh, a cough, anything
  5. Remember a favorite article of clothing, a sweater, a pair of shoes they always wore/ Write those down.
  6. Was there a favorite saying they had? Something you associate with them, a nick name, a way of teasing? How would they greet you?
  7. What would you say to them if they came back? What might they say to you?
  8. What activity might you do together? Who else, if anyone, would join you?


  1. You might think of this as an informal letter to this person. Address them by name for eg. Tio Manuel. Or a nickname or term of endearment like Grammy
  2. Some possible starts are “When you come back….” or a direct appeal, “Come back…”
  3. The memories and details from their lives are what you are offering as the lure to bring them back. Let them know what will happen if they return.


For you, Grammy, I put your false teeth in a glass of water
next to the jewelry box with the dancing ballerina on top,
and inside, those green glass earrings that I bought you at Uncle Tony’s church rummage
and which you wore on Christmas.
Underneath, I put our aprons, the matching ones with red rick rack trimmed pockets,
and all my Barbie doll dresses you sewed from Dad’s ties.
I sprinkled a little of that pink face powder you used
and added some vanilla and molasses.
I set out African violets, and dahlias big as lions’ heads, and Christmas wreaths made of
coat hangars and Kleenex.
For dinner we’ll have beef stew with celery and just a little flour to thicken the sauce.
Can you see them, Grammy?
The candles look pretty behind the orange carrot Jell-O molds.
And if you come,
I promise I’ll sit up straight,
just like you always told me to.


Angel, when you come back
I bet you’ll come back on your black cruiser
moving slowly
with a lit sweet swisher cigar in your mouth
you’ll be wearing a black buttoned up shirt with a
But only buttoned up half way
and baggy jeans
and your I pod will be playing Tupac loud enough so
everyone can hear-
When you come back, Angel
me you and Hans will skate together out at UCSB
and maybe the skate park.
We’ll just ride around
you’ll say “Whas up den?”
and I’ll tell you
we are good friends
like I meant to do
I guess I did
when you were here.

Students can make mini-ofrendas, altars or shrines for the person in their poem using a variety of materials such as shoe boxes, Altoid mint tins, cigar boxes, note card boxes, etc.  Students decorate their ofrenda using various art materials, photographs or other objects that represent the deceased.  Then, you can create a class display of the ofrendas and poetry.

We’d love to hear your thoughts or any ideas you have for teaching poetry writing activities like this! Everyone who comments by October ….. is entered in our giveaway for a copy of The Tequila Worm!

Our Next Good Read…The Tequila Worm

Join us November 3rd, at Tequila Worm - low bright-high contrastBookworks from 5:00-7:00 pm to discuss our next book.  We are reading  The Tequila Worm  (Ages 12 and up) by Viola Canales.

The book was listed as an Américas Award Honorable Mention in 2005.

Here’s a sneak peek into the book: (from Goodreads)

Sofia comes from a family of storytellers. Here are her tales of growing up in the barrio, full of the magic and mystery of family traditions: making Easter cascarones, celebrating el Dia de los Muertos, preparing for quincea–era, rejoicing in the Christmas nacimiento, and curing homesickness by eating the tequila worm. When Sofia is singled out to receive a scholarship to an elite boarding school, she longs to explore life beyond the barrio, even though it means leaving her family to navigate a strange world of rich, privileged kids. It’s a different mundo, but one where Sofia’s traditions take on new meaning and illuminate her path.

Be sure to get entered in our drawing for a free copy of the book!! All you have to do is comment on any blog post by October 26th!

We’ll also be raffling off a copy of next month’s featured book, Mexican White Boy (Ages 14 and up)Join us that evening to be entered!

We hope to see you on November 3rd!