Happy Thanksgiving!!

Hi everyone! This week our office will be closed for the holidays, but please look out for next week’s World Wide Web post, which will feature some really amazing student activities using Google’s Digital Museum of Latin American Art!!

As for this week, I hope you all have a wonderful and safe holiday, and that as we celebrate family and give thanks, that we also consider the vast multiplicity of voices in the history and social formation of our entire American Continent (North and South).

See you in December!!!


Jake and the Vamos a Leer team

En la Clase: More Resources for Teaching Las Posadas

LuminariasLast week’s En la Clase shared a number of children’s books and ideas for how to teach about Las Posadas.  There were so many resources that I just couldn’t fit them all into one post, so today I’m sharing some other online resources and art activities that you can use to complement any of last week’s literature.

While I think children’s books are a great way to introduce a new theme or topic to students, articles can be a useful way to integrate shorter non-fiction texts into the classroom.  Mexconnect has two interesting articles on Las Posadas.  Since they are available online, you have the option of printing copies for your students or just projecting it onto a screen or smartboard. In the first article, “Posadas,” Maggie Van Ostrand shares what it was like to experience her first Posadas.  In “Mexico’s Christmas posadas, pastorelas and nacimientos” Luis Dumois shares a brief history of how these celebrations came to be a part of Mexican tradition.

One of the most frequently mentioned videos comes from The Other Side of the Tortilla where Maura Wall Hernandez shares both a short video and description of how her family celebrates Las Posadas, including the lyrics to two of the more common songs used during Las Posadas.  Oh Em Gee! It’s Eddie G shared the video What are Las Posadas? This is how we celebrate in Los Angeles @omgitseddieg.  It’s short and engaging, and one I think students would really like as well.

There are also lots of great art activities to use in a unit on Las Posadas.  Bright Hub Education shared the lesson plan “Las Posadas: A Mexican Christmas and Two Crafts for Elementary School” which has simple directions for making mock luminarias and foil Christmas ornaments.

Crayola shared a fun lesson for how to make a glowing luminaria path.  They suggest using gel markers on black construction paper, but you could also use crayons or chalk.

MommyMaestra, who I mentioned in last week’s post, has written instructions on how to make luminarias and piñata ornaments.

There are many, many different lesson plans for making poinsettias.  Here are just a few: Complementary Poinsettias with Paint, Poinsettia Felt Ornament,  Poinsettia Fans with lesson plans and instructions in English or instructions in Spanish, Poinsettia Sponge Paint Art, and Construction Paper Hand Print Poinsettias.

Star Piñatas are a really fun part of the Las Posadas celebration.  If you aren’t brave enough to make twenty-something piñatas with your entire class (I’ve done it. It’s incredibly messy and fun. You will be exhausted, but you will survive), here are some other options: Cone Cup Piñatas, Mini-Piñatas, and Tissue paper pinatasTissue Paper Pinatas.  There wasn’t a specific lesson plan for this last activity, but here’s a picture from Fabulous in First that’s pretty self-explanatory.

To see everything we’ve posted on Las Posadas, find our Las Posadas button under “Our Most Popular Themes” on the right hand side of the blog or do a search for Las Posadas at the top right hand corner.

We’d love to hear how you plan to teach about Las Posadas or any other resources you know of!

Image: New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, Luminaria Display.  Photo by Darren Phillips

Book Giveaway!! Caminar

We’re giving away a copy of Caminar written by Skila Brown–our featured novel for the January book group meeting. Check out the following from School Library Journal:

Unlike many novels in verse, which can read like conventional narratives with line breaks, Caminar contributes poetry that elevates the genre. In this story of a decimated Guatemalan village in 1981, readers will encounter a range of imagery, repetition, rhythms, and visual effects that bring to life the psychological experience of Carlos, a young boy caught in the violent clash between the government’s army and the people’s rebels. Like most small villagers, Carlos feels far removed from the conflict and is unsure which side to trust. Still, the army emerges as the clear villain after publicly hanging an innocent man and, weeks later, massacring the village while Carlos collects mushrooms in the forest. Now the boy attempts to survive on his own, stay ahead of the army, and warn his grandmother’s mountaintop community of the coming threat. Only when he meets a band of rebels does he realize the extent of the carnage he has escaped….This is a much-needed addition to Latin American-themed middle grade fiction.

It looks like another interesting read–a great addition to any personal or classroom library! To be entered in the giveaway, just comment on any post on the blog by January 2nd.  Everyone who comments between November 24th and January 2nd will be entered in the drawing.  If your name is chosen, we’ll email you ASAP about mailing the book to you.

Don’t forget, we also raffle off a copy of the following month’s featured novel at each book group meeting.  So if you’re an Albuquerque local, join us for a chance to win!

Good luck!

¡Mira, Look!: Round is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes

51B7Kr5bqWL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The winter holidays are approaching which for many of us means impending celebrations that revolve around…food! That is why this week, in light of Thanksgiving, I present a review of Round Is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes (ages 3-5), written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong and illustrated by John Parra, a children’s picture book that teaches about food and shapes featuring objects that are Latino in origin.

Here is a description from Goodreads:

Round are tortillas and tacos, too. Round is a bowl of abuela’s stew. In this lively picture book, children discover a world of shapes all around them: Rectangles are ice-cream carts and stone utates, triangles are slices of watermelon and quesadillas. Many of the featured objects are Latino in origin, but all are universal in appeal. With rich, boisterous illustrations, a fun-to-read rhyming text, and an informative glossary, this playful concept book will reinforce the shapes found in every child’s day!

Round Triangle

Aimed towards younger children, the book is a light read (only 2-4 lines per page). Even so, it encourages readers to further engage by searching out shapes in the illustrations and answering questions like in the following passage, “I find ovals at the store,/huevos, olives, beans galore./Can you name a couple more?” This interactive engagement makes this book a great choice to read aloud to your class, or read closely one-on-one with a student.

Round are Tortillas

The book is multicultural because of its portrayal of foods and objects that stem from Latino culture, including tortillas, tacos, Abuela’s stew, paletas (popsicles), masa (dough from corn flour), guacamole, sandia (watermelon), and more. It also features scenes that represent Latino traditions such as grinding corn into masa, and a multi-generational family celebration involving dancing and mariachi music. You will also find that the book works as a great introduction to bilingual literature, as there are Spanish terms interspersed throughout, which readers can look up in the provided glossary at the end.

The illustrations are painted with streaking brush strokes in such a way that they add rustic texture to the scenes painted on the pages. The illustrator also pays close attention to paint clean, careful, and deliberate lines for details such as corn husks and papel picado. The diverse color palette and beautifully depicted emotional expressions of the subjects are sure to keep readers engaged.

In short, this is a great picture book to utilize to get children to identify shapes and introduce them to Spanish terms. The representation of Latino food, traditions and cultural objects makes it a valuable addition to any library hoping to include more multicultural literature. I hope that everyone gets to enjoy food and family this week. I’ll be back next week to bring you information about this month’s featured author, Matt de la Peña.

Here is a Reading is Fundamental educator’s guide to go along with the book that includes content connection activities for Science, Math, and Social Studies.

Also, inspired by the book, the Indianapolis Public Library compiled links to online games and printable worksheets to help children practice learning shapes.

If you like this book, check out its sequel-Green is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors.

Gathering-Books Latinos-in-Kid-Lit

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



Images: Modified from Round Is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes illustrations, Illustrator: John Parra.

WWW: An Interactive “Mural-Venture” through Nicaragua!

Sandinista.muralStanford University’s creative learning resource, Expressions of Central America, is a fantastic and organized way for k-12 teachers of all ages and disciplines to find a way of delving into the topic of Central American culture, history and society via art and interactive multimedia.  By choosing a country’s link at the top of the home page, you can enter into a collection of teacher’s resources and student activities that specialize in the topics of that country.  Here today, we will look at the Expressions of Nicaragua page.

Nicaragua is an important nation geopolitically, not only because of its robust collection of natural resources, but also its containing coastline on both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.  Along with Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras and Guatemala, Nicaragua has been the subject of intended plans to construct a canal since long before the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914 (the Central American Map Puzzle is a wonderful student activity to display this important geographical and commercial feature of the Central American Isthmus).  However, because of the giant Lake Nicaragua, the canal route through this nation is particularly enticing, and just recently has reappeared in national news as a Chinese company begins planning a new canal project, which I wrote about in on the Latin American Data Base’s (LADB) blog last month

Entering into the Teacher’s Corner you will see the student activity entitled Mural-Venture.  Here, you will find a well-organized teaching resource including lesson plans, group activities, and historical overview.  Once reviewed, you can lead your students to the actual activity through the Student Inter-Activities under the link for The Mural-Venture Student Activity.  Here, students can take an interactive, multimedia tour.  Students will not only learn about important aspects of what it means to grow up in Nicaragua, but they will also be able to see how their artistic styles of murals and graffiti art compare to those we see in our own American cities and towns.  They will see the political and social nature of these murals and gain an understanding of how connected Nicaraguan culture, politics and history is to our own, and its connection to the global network of trade that impacts us all.

I hope you and your students enjoy this vibrant and well-organized website.  It is an amazing resource full of information catered to learning culture through art.  Enjoy and have a wonderful weekend!!

p.s. If you check out the LADB blog and are interested in learning more about this type of information, know that all K-12 teachers can register to receive free access to the full LADB digest and archive!)

- Jake Sandler

Image: “Sandanista Mural” by Wikimedia Commons user Jack Child

En la Clase: Literature for Teaching about Las Posadas

Diego Rivera Las Posadas

I realize it’s still November, but based on our search statistics, many of you are already looking for books, lesson plans and resources for teaching about Las Posadas.  I’m impressed! You all are far more organized than I was when I was in the classroom.  In previous posts on Día de los Muertos we’ve discussed our philosophy for how to approach teaching about cultural celebrations and traditions in a way that’s authentic and meaningful.  Many of those same ideas are relevant here as well.

This time of year was always one of my favorites times to be in the classroom because the possibilities for engaging and interesting lessons were endless.  When I taught third grade, at the beginning of each December I began a unit on three winter celebrations: Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Las Posadas.  As a child, I remember talking about Hanukkah in school, but the extent of what we learned seemed to be limited to eating latkes and learning a song and game about dreidels.  I wanted to go beyond that.  I wanted my students to have a deeper understanding of cultural traditions that may be different from the ones they or their families personally observe.

I checked out children’s fiction and non-fiction literature on each celebration.  From these books and other resources we learned the history of each celebration: when, where and why it began; the traditional language of that celebration; and the traditions that continued to be celebrated each year. This unit became a gold-mine for addressing multiple standards.  I was able to meet a number of social studies, geography, literacy and cultural competency standards in just a few weeks.  A timeline and world map were major components of the unit.

I never had any issues or complaints during this unit because I think it was clear we were approaching this as a means to gain cultural knowledge and become culturally competent learners.  While these celebrations are much more than cultural knowledge to those who observe them, my purpose was to share some of the diversity of the world with my students, so that they would be able to acknowledge and respect difference when they experienced it in the world outside our classroom.

Over the next month, Lorraine and I will be sharing posts that highlight resources you can implement in your classroom as you finish out 2014 with your students.  In today’s En la Clase, I’m highlighting books for teaching about Las Posadas.  If you used any of our GLAD resources for teaching about Día de los Muertos, this could be a great follow-up by using the chants on traditions, adding Las Posadas to the class Process Grid on celebrations, or creating a Big Book on Winter Celebrations (the link will take you to our example on Día de los Muertos).  Connecting this tradition to others that you’ve studied is one more way to ensure that students see it as important and relevant knowledge.

Here’s a simple approach to a lesson plan for teaching about Las Posadas.

  • Read one of the books listed below each day for a week.  As you read each book, have the class chart the information you’re learning about Las Posadas–things like when, where and why the tradition originated, how is it observed, where it is observed today, and interesting facts about the tradition. If you’re going to use a Process Grid make sure the information you focus on here is the same that you’ll ask students to fill in on the chart
  • Choose a writing activity to assess student’s understanding of the celebration.  There are lots of options here.  You could write a class Big Book on Las Posadas.  I’m always a proponent of using poetry in the classroom.  Acrostic poetry or 5 Senses Poetry would be great activities (again, I’ve linked to our Día de los Muertos lesson plans, but these are easily adaptable to Las Posadas).  Students could also write an essay, comparing how their families observe Christmas, Hanukkah or another winter celebration with the Las Posadas celebration.
  • Choose an art activity to close the unit.  You may want to explain this activity to students once they’ve gotten started on the writing activity.  That way if students are waiting to meet with you to discuss the draft of their writing, they can begin the art activity.  In my next post, I’ll share some art activities  and other online resources that can be used. There’s just too much information to put it all in one post!

A great starting place is MommyMaestra’s post on teaching about Las Posadas.  Her post is full of great information and links to help you teach about Las Posadas.  I absolutely loved her reflection on her own experience and why she wants to share this with her children:

“Growing up I attended countless posadas. Some were hosted by my family, and the rest by friends. Even now, some 20 (30?!?!) years later, I can still remember the excitement and the anticipation that each one created within me. I always chose to be a part of the outside group, one of the “peregrinos” asking for shelter. Standing outside in the cold with my boots pinching my feet, I would shiver and watch my breath floating away on their frigid air. Sometimes I would stand with a candle clutched in my hand or maybe holding the peregrinos that my grandmother fiercely guarded all year long, stored carefully in a box, only to be taken out and lovingly prepared for their important role in our yearly celebrations.

It grieves me that I cannot share this tradition with my own children now. Distance and circumstance can be bitter bedfellows. But I can still share my own childhood experiences with them through stories and in other ways that I piece together. . .”

The Night of Las PosadasTomie DePaola’s book The Night of Las Posadas is one of the more well known children’s books about the tradition.  It’s a beautiful book:

“Sister Angie has organized the celebration of Las Posadas for many years, in which the people of Santa Fe re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter on the night Jesus was born. This year’s performance promises to be very special. Sister Angie’s niece Lupe and Lupe’s husband, Roberto, are to play the parts of Mary and Joseph. But on the night of the celebration, a snowstorm hits and Lupe and Roberto’s car breaks down on their way into town. And to make matters worse, Sister Angie is home sick with the flu. It seems that only a miracle will be able to save Las Posadas.”

A great early elementary lesson plan based on the book (and linked to common core standards) is available here.

There are also lots of other great books to bring into your classroom.  We’ve mentioned some of these in posts from past years, but I wanted to compile them all into one list for you.

Pedro The Angel of Olvera StreetCarlos Light the FarolitoLas Posadas A Christmas StoryUno Dos Tres PosadaNine Days to Christmas

Pedro: The Angel of Olvera Street by Leo Polti is an much older book, a Caldecott Honor book originally published in 1948. The words and illustrations tell the story of the Las Posadas Christmas tradition of Los Angeles that continues today.

Carlos, Light the Farolito by Jean Ciavonne and Donna Clair tells La Posada from the view of the Las Posadas_Page_1innkeeper (i.e. the house where on the 9th day, Mary and Joseph can finally take shelter). Carlos’ grandpa always plays the role of the innkeeper…but when his grandfather isn’t home as the procession comes to his door, Carlos must take on the role of the innkeeper. Richly illustrated with quick and engaging text, this book is sure to delight your K-2nd graders.

Las Posadas_Page_2Las Posadas: A Christmas Story by James Fraser and Nick de Grazia is also an older book, originally published in 1963.  With its simple text and illustrations its perfect for our youngest students or as an independent reading for slightly older students.



Uno, Dos, Tres, Posada! by Virginia Kroll and Loretta Lopez is a very fun and lively bilingual counting book centered around La Posada. Preschoolers will love to interact with the teacher on this book as they say, “One!” when you say “Uno!”

Nine Days to Christmas by Marie Hall Ets and Aurora Labastida is a Caldecott Medal winner from Inside Nine Days to Christmas1960.  While a picture book, it has a significant amount of text, so it will likely take more than a day to use for a read aloud. With beautiful illustrations, the book tells the story of Ceci’s first Christmas posada party and piñata, bringing her Mexican culture to life.

Las Posadas: An Hispanic Christmas Celebration by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith and Lawrence Migdale is a great non-fiction photo-essay on how the celebration is observed in a small New Mexico town.

While not entirely about Las Posadas, Rio Grande Stories by Carolyn Meyer is a compilation of stories about New Mexican culture and popular practices. Though all the stories are written by Meyer, the premise is that they were written by a classroom of kids, thus each story has a different “author.” Chapter 9 is all about the holidays in New Mexico: from Las Posadas, to Luminarias, to Bizcochitos. This book is easy to read for 5th graders and up, or great for a read aloud with younger students.

I know this was a longer post than usual, but I hope all the information was helpful.  I’ll follow-up with another post focusing on art and online resources that you can use in the classroom.

Image: Diego Rivera Mural “Niños Pidiendo Posadas” (1953)


¡Mira, Look!: Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con madre tierra: Poems/Poemas

Talking With Mother EarthNovember is Native American Heritage Month, an opportune time for students to reflect upon the history of Native Americans and indigenous peoples around the world, and to learn about their cultures. Last week I presented a book that inspires students to rethink the story of Columbus from the point of view of the Taino people. This week, I present a book that explores indigenous peoples in a broader sense with a focus on their relationship to nature.

Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con madre tierra: Poems/Poemas (ages 5-8), written by Jorge Argueta and illustrated by Lucia Angela Pérez, is a bilingual poetry book about a boy who learns self-acceptance through his growing connection with Mother Earth.

Here is a description from Goodreads:Talking with mother earth_Cover Image

Tetl’s skin is brown, his eyes are black, and his hair is long. He is different from the other children, whose taunts wound him deeply, leaving him confused and afraid. But Tetl’s grandmother knows the ancient teachings of their Aztec ancestors, and how they viewed the earth as alive with sacred meaning. With her help, he learns to listen to the mountains, wind, corn, and stones. Tetl’s journey from self-doubt to proud acceptance of his Nahuatl heritage is told in a series of powerful poems, beautifully expressed in both English and Spanish. Vivid illustrations celebrate nature’s redemptive powers, offering a perfect complement to the poignant story.

The protagonist exhiTalking with mother earth_Aguabits pride in his identity, though he is discriminated because of it. He says, “I am descended from the Aztecs and like them I wear feathers of beautiful birds to protect me from the bad words and the looks that come my way from some people because I am Indian.” He asserts that though everyone knows him as Jorge, he prefers his Nahuatl name given to him by his grandmother. Ancestors are a reoccurring theme throughout the poems; they become a vehicle of wisdom through which Tetl learns about the natural world. Talking with mother earth_Me Dice

As the boy is taunted for being Indian, he finds peace and solace through the blessings of Mother Earth. In the poem “Mother Earth Tells Me”, it says, “Mother Earth tells me, do not be sad anymore, my Indian boy. You are as beautiful as the wind./The sun, the trees, the ocean and the stars are for you./So are the mountains the flowers the moon and the little drops of dew…./All this I give you, my son. All my love is yours. You just be happy.”

The book includes bitstalking with mother earth_Wind of knowledge pertaining to agriculture and includes important indigenous symbols of the natural world, including the sacredness of stones, water, wind, the sun, corn, animals, and more. It ends with a poem titled “Prayer” which sums up how many indigenous cultures hold a profound respect and appreciation for the natural world. The illustrations celebrate Mother Earth as they beautifully reflect symbols of the natural world through pages full of deep, vibrant colors.

This book is a wonderful tool for introducing students indigenous communities and exploring the way that many such cultures have strong spiritual ties with nature. As a bilingual poetry book, it teaches Spanish vocabulary in a creative and artistic way, allowing students to learn by reading the two languages side by side.

The author, Argueta, is a celebrated Salvadoran poet and writer. In an interview with Poetry for Children, he speaks about growing up in rural El Salvador and the role poetry played in his childhood. Stay tuned in December for a review of another of Argueta’s books, Tamalitos: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem.

Given how much we appreciate this book, we imagine that your students will enjoy it even more so. There are several tactics you can use to introduce it to your class, including focusing on the history of indigenous people, the poetic approach, or the emphasis on Mother Earth and natural resources. Below are a few ideas to expand these concepts at an adult-level, as well as classroom suggestions for how to explore them with younger students.


GoodLatinos-in-Kid-Lit for: Gathering Books COYRL Challenge 2014 and Latin@s in Kids Lit Reading Challenge 2014



Images: Modified from Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con madre tierra: Poems/Poemas illustrations, Illustrator: Lucia Angela Pérez