Our Next Good Read. . .In Darkness


It’s our last book group meeting of the school year!! I hope you’ll join us May 5th at In DarknessBookworks from 5:00-7:00 pm to discuss our next book.  We are reading In Darkness (ages 14 and up) by Nick Lake.

Here’s a sneak peek into the book: (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 …

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 April 27th!

We hope to see you on May 5th!

Book Giveaway!! In Darkness


in-darkness 2It’s our last giveaway of the school year!! We’re giving away a copy of In Darkness (ages 14 and up)written by Nick Lake–our featured novel for May’s book group meeting!! Check out the following starred review from School Library Journal:

Trapped in the rubble of Haiti’s massive 2010 earthquake, teenage Shorty desperately waits for rescue. While in darkness, events of his traumatic, violent life replay in his head. He is haunted by his father’s brutal murder, his twin sister’s disappearance, and the armed gang activity that has been his means of survival in Site Soléy (Cite Soleil), a very real and dangerous slum. As he faces death and struggles to understand the external forces that have shaped him, Shorty gradually feels the uplifting spiritual presence of revered slave liberator Toussaint L’Ouverture and draws strength and hope from the man’s extraordinary life, determination, and idealism. The pervasive Haitian voodoo belief in spirit transfer empowers Shorty and connects him with Touissant across time. In alternating chapters of “Now” and “Then,” Shorty’s and Toussaint’s stories unfold. The relentless oppression, poverty, violence, and instability of the country is vividly conveyed through Shorty’s stark, graphic narrative. Toussaint’s story provides historical background for the socioeconomic and political conflicts that continue today. As the author notes, he portrays the essential spirit and history of Touissant with some omissions and simplifications. For example, Touissant learned to read as a boy, and not late in life, but this factual inaccuracy does not diminish the account of his charisma and significance. The entangled actions of gangs and government, the complicated relationship between Haitians and foreign-aid organizations, and the rich mix of Creole and French patois provide insight and authenticity. A striking cast of characters, compelling tension as Shorty confronts his own death, and the reality and immediacy of Haiti’s precarious existence will captivate secondary readers.–Gerry Larson, formerly at Durham School of the Arts, NC

It’s the perfect book for May’s Haitian Heritage Month! To be entered in the giveaway, just comment on any post on the blog by April 27th.  Everyone who comments between March 31st and April 27th will be entered in the drawing.  If your name is chosen, we’ll email you ASAP about mailing the book to you.

Good luck!

¡Mira, Look!: Frida Kahlo

**Blogger’s note: I would like to apologize for a small error on last week’s ¡Mira, Look! post. It was, in fact, not the last post of the year. We will be publishing posts through the week of April 28th, and that was a publishing error on my behalf!**

frida1After having spent the last month talking about immigration, one of the largest social issues of our time for a multitude of reasons, I thought it would be nice to turn our attention to something a little bit lighter this week. Frida Kahlo was one of the most prominent surrealist artists of the 20th century. Her life, along with her work, has become immortalized because of her popularity and unique story. Not only was she an important artist, but she was also a Mexican artist. Thus, for this week, I would like to draw your attention to a few books about Frida Kahlo, whom I’ve specifically chosen for this because she is a unique personality whom many people frida2reference in popular culture.

Margaret Frith’s Frida Kahlo: The Artist who Painted Herself is a good read for ages five to eight about Frida Kahlo that chronicles her life and art. As an added bonus, the book is illustrated by Tomie dePaola, a follower of Kahlo’s work. Sarah Fabiny’s Who Was Frida Kahlo? is written for audiences that are ages eight to twelve. It is a biography of Kahlo’s life and history. While it’s not as colorful as Frith’s book, it is an informative read. For young adult readers, there is Andrea Kettenmann’s frida3Frida Kahlo 1907-1954: Pain and Passion. This book is a short biography that chronicles Kahlo’s life with a bit more detail than the previously mentioned books, and it includes pictures of Kahlo as well as some of her works.

Why are these books important for the classroom? Well, many times, we get so bogged down on issues that can become depressing and boring that after a while we forget to focus on other aspects of culture – such as art. While Kahlo had a unique style, she was a well-renowned artist during her time and long after. Also, talking about Kahlo can open discussion about the advances other Mexicans have made in modern art as well. For example, Kahlo’s husband, Diego Rivera, was also a well known Mexican artist who painted murals at the bequest of Mexican officials following the Mexican Revolution. Art is a part of culture, and why not expose youngsters to this aspect of Mexican culture a little bit more?

Until Next Time,


WWW: Gathering Books

Gathering Books is currently in the midst of a multicultural-based theme, "“Rainbow Colors of Diversity: Voices of the Silenced.”

Gathering Books is currently in the midst of a multicultural-based reading theme, “Rainbow Colors of Diversity: Voices of the Silenced.”

Are you looking for something to read? Check out the phenomenal blog: Gathering Books. I’ve always been aware of this incredible resource, but I’ve never had much of a chance to explore its voluminous content. Until now. My one word summary is: “Wow!” I’m struck by the amount and quality of work the team at Gathering Books must devote to the blog. It’s mind-blowing.

The bloggers responsible are Myra Garces-Bacsal, an Assistant Professor and clinical psychologist who does extensive work with the gifted; Fats Suela, a B.A. in Psychology, “nomad at heart,” and fabulous book reviewer; and Iphigene Daradar, a managing consultant, pyschometrician (I had to look this up), and counselor-in-training. These three have reviewed and commented in depth on hundreds of books. Many kudos for that!

The blog is organized into sections consisting of book reviews of all types (with new reads on Mondays and Saturdays), Filipino Lit, Nonfiction for Adults, Picture Books, Young Adult Lit, and more… Visitors interested in finding a good read can navigate these sections, read the reviews, view scans of illustrations, and comment on the books after reading.

The blog’s content revolves around a series of bimonthly themes. In March and April, Gathering Books has been posting daily as part of a multicultural reading theme called: “Rainbow Colors of Diversity: Voices of the Silenced.” Book/poetry reviews and author bios selected for this theme are geared toward celebrating uniqueness, featuring “voices of the silenced” (including immigrant voices), and encompassing lifestyles and cultural beliefs of as many children as possible. Check out, for instance, Iphigene Daradar’s insanely comprehensive review of Aristotle and Dante Discover Secrets of the Universe, and Myra Garces-Bacsal’s review of “I Dreamt… A Book about Hope,” which is a beautifully illustrated book that I had never heard of, cast in the midst of Mexico’s war on drugs.

In addition to the blog, Gathering Books also houses a “Behind the Books” resource, which includes the following unique resources:

  • Poet’s Sanctum: Focused exclusively on poets who move sensibilities and enrich consciousness
  • Academic Nook: “Quirky space” for educators, lecturers, librarians, guidance counselors, etc, to share insights about books that move them. Guest posts are accepted
  • Illustrator’s Sketchpad: Featuring interviews with various talented illustrators
  • Meet the Storyteller: Author interview and background information space – Here, the relentless team at Gathering Books synthesizes the works of its favorite authors, conducting interviews, “stalk[ing] websites,” and reporting findings

I can’t compliment this blog enough. It’s great place to find discussion on reading and education, multiculturalism, and the value of diverse viewpoints. It’s also a great place to locate author/illustrator bios and interviews and a perfect starting point for constructing a summer reading list. If you’re interested, follow the links above and consider entering Gathering Books “Check off Your Reading List 2014” challenge.

Book Review: What the Moon Saw

whatTheMoonSawWhat the Moon Saw
Written by Laura Resau
Published by Yearling, 2008
ISBN: 978-0440239574
Age Level: 8 and up


Clara Luna’s name means “clear moon” in Spanish. But lately, her head has felt anything but clear. One day a letter comes from Mexico, written in Spanish: Dear Clara, We invite you to our house for the summer. We will wait for you on the day of the full moon, in June, at the Oaxaca airport. Love, your grandparents.

Fourteen-year-old Clara has never met her father’s parents. She knows he snuck over the border from Mexico as a teenager, but beyond that, she knows almost nothing about his childhood. When she agrees to go, she’s stunned by her grandparents’ life: they live in simple shacks in the mountains of southern Mexico, where most people speak not only Spanish, but an indigenous language, Mixteco.

The village of Yucuyoo holds other surprises, too– like the spirit waterfall, which is heard but never seen. And Pedro, an intriguing young goat herder who wants to help Clara find the waterfall. Hearing her grandmother’s adventurous tales of growing up as a healer awakens Clara to the magic in Yucuyoo, and in her own soul. What The Moon Saw is an enchanting story of discovering your true self in the most unexpected place.

My Thoughts:

I first read What the Moon Saw two summers ago and absolutely loved it. It’s such a sweet story. It doesn’t have the harshness or grittiness like some of the books we’ve reviewed for Vamos a Leer. It won’t break your heart the way Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe does. Yet, it’s a beautifully written and moving read. I couldn’t put it down.

One of my favorite lines comes early on in the book during a conversation between Clara and Abuela: “The most beautiful things in life are unexpected, Clara. They tear at the fabric of the everyday world. The world of patting tortillas and fetching water and washing dishes. They show you the deeper world, where you talk with the spirits of trees. Where you see the silvery threads connecting a leaf to a star to an earthworm” (p. 42). The longer Clara is in Yucuyoo with her grandparents, the more she comes to realize the truth in her grandmother’s words. Away from the suburbs of Walnut Hill, Clara’s understanding of the world changes drastically. She begins to see how those threads connect us to the world and the people we love. This change of perspective is also the impetus for Clara to reflect on who she is, what she values, and the kind of person she wants to be. Like many teenagers, Clara struggles with her identity and the desire to fit in. Early on in the novel, Clara is a girl who fits in among her friends at school, yet she’s restless. While she doesn’t realize it, she’s searching for something more—“Now do you understand, Clara? Why your spirit was restless? I thought for a moment. “Because I was looking for something, but I didn’t know what it was. Something hidden. The thing that makes me feel alive” (p. 174). In Yucuyoo she finds what she’s looking for and allows herself to become the person she wants to be, not the person that her best friends from back home think she should be. While not filled with the angst of many books that tackle similar themes, Clara’s transformation is still quite powerful and has the potential to provide the space for classroom discussions around identity, values, and acceptance.

Set in the village of Yucuyoo, in Oaxaca, Mexico What the Moon Saw is an excellent book to use to teach literacy through Social Studies. Through Resau’s novel, students will learn about what rural indigenous life in Oaxaca, Mexico is like. Just as regions of the United States vary greatly, so do the countries of Latin America. Often our students get overly simplified pictures of what life is like in other countries, this book provides the opportunity to teach about the diversity of Mexico through discussions of indigenous groups and languages in Mexico. Resau references both Spanish and Mixteco words, demonstrating that not everyone in Mexico speaks just Spanish. As Clara’s father’s story unfolds, connections to the contemporary issues surrounding immigration are easy to draw out. The novel encourages students to move beyond polarizing statements about immigration and to think about it on a more personal level. Clara’s father’s experience could easily be the catalyst to discuss questions such as—What must one give up or sacrifice to immigrate? Why do people feel pressured to immigrate? What about the family left behind, what happens to them? How does immigration affect families who are separated?

It’s the perfect book for younger teenage readers. It grapples with the same issues of identity that many of our students are struggling through. It provides the space to discuss important contemporary issues, while also providing content knowledge about Mexico.

I’m not alone in thinking it’s a book that should be on our classroom and library shelves. What the Moon Saw has been given a number of awards and recognitions: Colorado Book Award Winner (2007); Arizona Young Adult Book Award Winner, Arizona Library Association (2007); Américas Award Honorable Mention (2007); Booklist Top 10 First Novels for Youth (2006); Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Youth (2006); School Library Journal Pick of the Week (Aug. 28, 2006)

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


¡Mira, Look!: Nick Lake

nick lakeWhile it’s incredibly difficult to believe this time is upon us already, we have come to our final ¡Mira, Look! post of the school year.  For this climactic moment, we are proud to feature an equally climactic author: Nick Lake. Not coincidentally, one of his most recent books, In Darkness, is also our featured title for May.

Nick Lake was born in Britain, but he grew up in Luxembourg because his father was on assignment as a civil servant of the English Parliament. There is not a lot of information available about Nick Lake’s upbringing and background, but we do know that he currently lives in England with his wife and daughter and that he presently works as the Editorial Director for fiction for Harper Collins Children’s Books.

Lake is perhaps best known for a vampire ninja trilogy called Blood Ninja that he wrote in the early 2000s. More recently, however, his work has fallen under the genre of what Lake describes as “literary thrillers.” In Darkness was released in 2012, and Hostage Three was released in 2013.  In Darkness was Lake’s first book written for young adults.  In an interview with School Library Journal (SLJ), he said his impetus for writing it came from “two separate strands. The first: I did a Masters in linguistics and one of the modules was on Creole and those kind of languages and so that got me interested in Haiti and reading about people like Toussaint L’Ouverture, and reading Wade Davis and Zora Neale Hurston. That was 10 years ago but that fascination with Toussaint L’Ouverture was kind of percolating at the back of my mind….The second thing was the earthquake—and the utter horror that most people felt, that this terrible humanitarian tragedy happening to a country that had already had such a bad history. And particularly, it was when two or three days later, the news started doing stories on people who had dug out of the rubble. I saw one of them being interviewed on TV and they said, “There was a point there where I couldn’t tell whether I was thinking thoughts or speaking aloud.” And I thought that was just the most extraordinary thing for someone to say. In fact, I stole it and used it for Shorty in the book.”

While Lake acknowledges In Darkness is a work of fiction, he took great care to both explore Haitian culture and describe its historical roots. He conducted a great deal of research to draw historical parallels between his main character, Shorty, and prominent Haitian figures of the past such as Toussaint L’Ouverture. This particular work also engages the notion of foreign aid, what it means to Haitians, and how outsiders can (or cannot) help — a powerful topic around which to engage students.  And, if time permits, the book can also spawn a provocative conversation that considers the historical and contemporary relations between the U.S. and Haiti (see the BBC’s article on “The long history of troubled ties between Haiti and the US“, for instance).

Well, I hope you will all check out this book–and perhaps some of Lake’s other works as well. It has been a great year, and I am signing out for the summer.

Until Next Year,


Local Event! Canadian Author Anthony De Sa

Kicking the SkyOur wonderful local partners in crime, the staff at Bookworks, are hosting a discussion this week with Canadian author Anthony De Sa on Thursday, April 10, 2014, at 7:00 p.m.  De Sa will discuss his book Kicking the Sky, an adult novel but one with major young adult crossover because the main character is a young person.  It takes place in the Portuguese neighborhoods of Toronto.  The novel is hybrid, filling an odd space between fiction and non-fiction, adult and young-adult.  Although based on gruesome events, the novel is carried out through a naive point of view of an adolescent protagonist.

This is certainly not for the faint of heart.  It’s a book that may be appropriate for high school audiences, which, despite the subject matter, is not altogether surprising given that the author himself is a high school teacher in Toronto.

Kirkus Reviews‘ synopsis reads “A scrappy immigrant community in Toronto in 1977 sinks deeper into superstition and violence after a child’s murder; a pubescent boy struggles to comprehend the events in this gritty second book from Canadian De Saw based on real events.”

The real events upon which the story are based are gruesome.  One reviewer touches on this truth as he writes “On July 28, 1977, Emanuel Jacques – a 12-year-old shoeshine boy from the Azores – was lured into an apartment above a body-rub shop on Yonge Street just south of Dundas.  There, he was tortured and raped by three men, who then drowned him in the kitchen sink…The city was traumatized.”  The news coverage of the story caused protests by more than 15,000 people, many of whom were Portuguese Canadians.  De Sal, a second-generation Portuguese Canadian, personally remembers the event with grim realization.  He was roughly the age of the victim at the time the events took place.

Although difficult to stomach at times, this novel offers an ultimately profound perspective on how our lives are shaped by, and in turn shape, our urban environments – and how cultural heterogeneity can be at once divisive and cohesive.

If you’re in town, join us on Thursday at Bookworks (4022 Rio Grande Blvd NW).  For more info, visit Bookworks’ website.



Hard & Vulnerable: Discovering the Universe of Aristotle and Dante


You all know how much we loved Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe when we read it for our February book club, so I had to share this beautiful review with you from Gathering Books. It’s such a wonderful discussion that really captures what makes the book so special.

Originally posted on :


Iphigene Here.

If emotions were currency in the world of reading, I would be poor. I’m not the most emotional reader there is. I rarely find myself in tears or in awe of a book. These occasions are so rare that authors and books that do awe me become an obsession. Case in point: Haruki Murakami (there is no need to expound on this, only that I have written two college papers on him and his books). While I enjoy reading many books, normally only one book in a whole year of reading makes my jaw drop and impossibly moves me. This year, this feeling came early. It came in the most unexpected places, in a Young Adult book I read on a whim. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, I thought was good enough reading: It fit the theme, Fats enjoyed what little she read…

View original 2,173 more words