Book Review: In Darkness

We’re a little late in getting this review to you–but late is better than never, right? In Darkness was our last selection of this year’s book group.  It’s a really unique book, and one we all really enjoyed.  This will be our last book review until August when we’ll be back with our first book for the new school year!

In Darkness
Written by Nick Lake
Published by Bloomsbury USA, 2012
ISBN: 978-1599907437
Age Level: 14 and up

Book Summary: (From Goodreads)

In darkness I count my blessings like Manman taught me. One: I am alive. Two: there is no two. In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake a boy is trapped beneath the rubble of a ruined hospital: thirsty, terrified and alone. ‘Shorty’ is a child of the slums, a teenage boy who has seen enough violence to last a lifetime, and who has been inexorably drawn into the world of the gangsters who rule Site Soleil: men who dole out money with one hand and death with the other. But Shorty has a secret: a flame of revenge that blazes inside him and a burning wish to find the twin sister he lost five years ago. And he is marked. Marked in a way that links him with Toussaint L’Ouverture, the Haitian rebel who two-hundred years ago led the slave revolt and faced down Napoleon to force the French out of Haiti. As he grows weaker, Shorty relives the journey that took him to the hospital, a bullet wound in his arm. In his visions and memories he hopes to find the strength to survive, and perhaps then Toussaint can find a way to be free …

My Thoughts:

In Darkness isn’t an easy read. How could it be when it takes on the brutal past of a country born of the first slave revolution and the traumatic contemporary history of one of the world’s poorest countries? It’s a disturbing and serious read, but one which I think holds great value for both young adult and adult readers.

Haiti isn’t often taught about in k-12 schools, which is unfortunate. It’s a country with a powerful legacy as both the first Black Republic and the first country in the Western hemisphere to abolish slavery completely. Toussaint L’Ouverture rarely gets more than a passing reference in history books, even though he was the leader of what many consider the most successful slave revolution in history, and a pivotal figure in establishing Haiti’s freedom. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen L’Ouverture included in teaching units on historical heroes. I admit my own oversight in never including him in any number of thematic units where he would have been appropriate. I have my own thoughts on why we teach so little about Haiti or its historical heroes, but that’s a discussion for another time. I mention it here because it’s one reason I think In Darkness belongs on our classroom and library book shelves. I agree with other reviewers that it’s a challenging book to read, but it’s worth the effort, and it’s a strong start at filling the widespread gap in our knowledge of Haiti. I know of no other young adult book that offers such an interesting and historically based account of L’Ouverture’s life with L’Ouverture as one of the main protagonists.

I’m not always a fan of books written in alternating points of view, but it works well here. It made for a more engaging read and kept the story moving, which I think is really important since it is written on such a challenging topic that many students will have little background knowledge on. Shorty, our other main protagonist, offers us a picture of contemporary Haiti to contrast the historical voice of L’Ouverture. He is a teenage boy who convinces himself that joining a gang is the only way to gain revenge for the loss of both this father and twin sister. He’s not necessarily the type of character we typically find in young adult novels. He struggles, he makes bad decisions, he sells drugs and kills people. He’s also incredibly self-aware, even self-critical. He doesn’t lie to himself. He’s just the kind of character that may convince some of our more hesitant readers to give the book a chance.

Lake doesn’t sugarcoat his portrayal of Haiti. The contrasting stories from both the past and the present provide the context to allow discussions on recurring themes, patterns, and connections between Haiti’s history and its contemporary state. He’s critical of the French, the English, Aristide and UN involvement. His critique could be the start for an interesting discussion on foreign involvement in the governments of other countries. Shorty’s comments at the end of the book could be the basis for a critical classroom debate on foreign policy, responsibility and social justice: “These blancs, they look very proud, though, so I try to smile, cos I know how much they love to help, how much they’re always helping, how they can’t just mind their own zafé and keep off our island. Look where their help got us; look at the mess we’re in. . .” (p. 335).

There are no easy answers or solutions for Haiti, and Lake doesn’t attempt to offer any. In fact, whether the end of the novel is hopeful is debatable and up to the reader to decide.  I hope you’ll check the book out for yourself and let us know what you think of it.

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

Click here to listen to Nick Lake discuss the book.

–Katrina

COYRL 2014_2  2014-reading-challenge

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

Potential Books for 2014-2015 Vamos a Leer Book Group!!

booksI know we’ve been a little quiet here on the blog lately.  We’ve been busy wrapping up the semester, celebrating graduations and finishing up some projects.  We’ll be taking a short break from the blog soon as we spend time planning and prepping for fall semester, but before we do that, we have a few more posts we’d love to share with you all.  One of which is our potential book list for next year.  Below is a list of possible books for our 2014-2015 book group. We feature a different book each month and write an educator’s guide to help teachers incorporate the book into their classrooms.  Our goal is to have a list that includes a range of appropriate age levels, country settings, and a balance of male and female protagonists.  Each title is linked to the amazon.com page for that book, so just click on the title to get more information. We’d love to hear your thoughts about the books and which ones look best to you–especially if you’re an educator.  We want our resources to be as useful to you as possible. We’ve got to narrow our list down to just 10 books–so we’ve got a lot of work to do! If you have any other suggestions of book titles, please leave them in the comments section below.  Some of these look like great titles to add to a summer reading list. Let us know what you think if you decide to check any of them out!

Click here for a PDF that includes the list below.

The Color of My Words by Joseph Lynn | ages 8 and up | available in Spanish | Dominican Republic
An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio by Judith Ortiz Cofer | ages 8 and up | Puerto Rico

Firefly Letters by Margarita Engle | ages 10 and up | Cuba
Serafina’s Promise by Ann Burg | ages 10 and up | Haiti
La Linea by Ann Jaramillo | ages 10 and up | Mexico/U.S.
The Keeper
by Mal Peet | ages 10 and up | Latin America
I Am a Taxi by Deborah Ellis | ages 10 and up | Bolivia

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer | ages 11 and up | Mexico

Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazaro | ages 12 and up | Honduras/U.S.
Tropical Secrets by Margarita Engle | ages 12 and up | Cuba
Origin by Rebecca Khoury | ages 12 and up | Brazil
Red Glass by Laura Resau | ages 12 and up | Guatemala

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina | ages 13 and up | U.S.
The Disappeared by Gloria Whelan | ages 13 and up | Argentina

Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña | ages 14 and up | U.S.
The Deportation of Whopper Barraza by Maceo Montoya | ages 14 and up | Mexico/U.S.
He Forgot to Say Goodbyeby Benjamin Alire Sáenz | ages 14 and up | U.S.

Speaking “Mexican” and the use of “Mock Spanish” in Children’s Books (or Do Not Read Skippyjon Jones)

Thanks to a helpful suggestion from one of our wonderful readers, I was tuned in to this recent article “Speaking ‘Mexican’ and the use of ‘Mock Spanish’ in Children’s Books (or Do Not Read Skippyjon Jones)” by Dolores Inés Casillas, an assistant professor in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies and a faculty affiliate of Film & Media Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She writes and teaches courses on Latina/o sound practices, popular culture, and the politics of language.

In an extended post on the blog Sounding Out, Dr. Casillas explores not only the dearth of literature by and about people of color, but narrows in on an equally or more problematic issue: the misrepresentation that can take place in those few books which do make it to the mainstream market.

Her article aptly comes in the aftermath of commercialized Cinco de Mayo celebrations around the U.S..  She begins by writing: Continue reading

Américas Award Winners Announced!

The 2014 Américas Award winners are here!

I think most of our wonderful readers are familiar with the Américas Award, but, as my grandpa always said, it’s best to start at the beginning.  Allow me to delve into the background of the award before I get into the details of the amazing books that were recognized in 2014.

Each year, the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) supports the Américas Award, a literary honor given in recognition of U.S. published works of fiction, poetry, folklore, or selected non-fiction (from picture books to works for young adults) that authentically and engagingly portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States. By linking the Americas, the intent is to reach beyond geographic borders, as well as multicultural-international boundaries, focusing instead upon cultural heritages within the hemisphere.

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Parrots Over Puerto Rico cover illustration

Continue reading

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

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Have you heard about the We Need Diverse Books campaign taking place over the next three days? We here at Vamos a Leer will definitely be participating.  Check back tomorrow for our staff photos!! We’d love to see yours!.  Read all about the campaign below (information taken directly from the campaign website).  Or click here to go the website.

We hope that you’ll be a part of this campaign in whatever ways you can!!

“Recently, there’s been a groundswell of discontent over the lack of diversity in children’s literature. The issue is being picked up by news outlets like these two pieces in the NYT, CNN, EW, and many more. But while we individually care about diversity, there is still a disconnect. BEA’s Bookcon recently announced an all-white-male panel of “luminaries of children’s literature,” and when we pointed out the lack of diversity, nothing changed.

Now is the time to raise our voices into a roar that can’t be ignored. Here’s how: Continue reading

WWW: NPR – Borderland Dispatches

Santa Muerte - Image from NPR Borderland: Dispatches

Santa Muerte – Image from NPR Borderland: Dispatches

Journalist Steve Inskeep of NPR’s Morning Edition recently traveled 2,500 miles along the US/Mexico border, photographing and documenting what he saw:

We were seeking stories of people, goods and culture that cross the border. Heavily fortified though it is, the border remains the place where two nations meet, trade, clash and influence one another. It’s a place to see history — how the United States spread across the West, into lands that once belonged to Mexico — and a place to glimpse both nations’ emerging futures. We meant to explore big issues like immigration, crime and business through the personal stories of people who cross.

The resulting stories document various aspects of life along the border, including the tales of immigrants, asylum seekers, musicians, vendors, students, border patrol agents, cartel hitmen, and ordinary folks on both sides of the line. Continue reading

¡Mira, Look!: Laura Resau

laura resauThis week we turn our attention to Laura Resau, author of this month’s featured book. Resau is originally from Baltimore. She received her Bachelor’s degree in anthropology and French from St. Mary’s College in Maryland. Upon graduation, Resau earned her certification in teaching English as a Second Language. She applied for jobs internationally due to a desire to travel, so when she was offered a job in Oaxaca, Mexico, she jumped at this opportunity. During her stay in Oaxaca, Resau became fluent in Spanish and learned some Mixtec (an indigenous language spoken in the region) as well. Resau would return to the United States to earn her Master’s degree in cultural anthropology at the University of Arizona, where she began working on What the Moon Saw (her first book). Continue reading