Vamos a Leer!! Booklist for the 2015-2016 School Year

2015-2016 Vamos a Leer Featured Titles: YA and Adult Literature About Latin America

After lots of research and input from book group members we’ve decided on the books for this year’s Vamos a Leer Book Group! Thanks so much to all of you who contributed ideas and conversed with us about so many wonderful options. We’re trying something a little different this year.  We’re going to alternate young adult and adult titles.  After 3 and a half years of reading solely young adult literature we thought we’d mix it up this year.  All the titles still focus on Latin America, the Caribbean, or the Latino/a experience in the United States.

I’m really excited about this new format! We’ve tried to balance our selections to include a variety of reading levels (with the YA books), themes, male/female protagonists and countries. We can’t wait to get started in September. We look forward to hearing your thoughts! Happy reading!

We’ll see you the first Monday of the month (there are a few exceptions for holidays, including September, so check dates below) from 5:00-7:00 pm at Bookworks, Tractor Brewery, or St. Clair Winery.  As you can see we’re also changing up our locations a little this year as well.  We’ll continue to meet at Bookworks every other month. Feel free to drop in for any of our meetings.  This is definitely not an all or nothing book group.  Even if you haven’t had time to read the book, but are interested in the discussion, you’re always welcome to join us.

Don’t forget–we’ll be raffling a copy of the next month’s featured novel at each monthly book group, so there’s extra incentive to join us!!

Click here for a pdf version of the dates and titles below.  Feel free to share it with anyone who may be interested.

We’ll continue to create an Educator’s Guide for each young adult book, so be sure to check out our Educator’s Guide tab to access the curriculum materials for the featured book.  We’ve already created 34 guides over the past four years, so if you’re new to our blog, definitely check out our list of available teaching materials.

September 14th | Bookworks
Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero | Ages 14 and up | United States

October 5th | Tractor Brewery
Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón | Adult | Latin America

November 2nd | Bookworks
Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario | YA Version Ages 12 and up or Adult | Honduras

December 7th | St. Clair Winery
American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood by Maria Arana | High School/Adult | Peru and the United States

January 11th | Bookworks
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older | Ages 12 and up | United States

February 1st | Tractor Brewery
Names on a Map by Benjamin Alire Sáenz | Adult| Mexico and United States

March 7th | Bookworks
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir by Margarita Engle | Ages 12 and up | Cuba and the United States

April 4th | St. Clair Winery
Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat | Adult | Haiti

May 2nd | Bookworks
Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos | Ages 14 and up | United States




Vamos a Leer is on Summer Break

IMG_4690As you can probably tell from our minimal posting lately, we’re taking a bit of a break from the blog this summer.  We’re busy planning and preparing for some exciting stuff for the upcoming school year! Please continue to browse the blog and check out all of the great resources that have been added over the last year.  Keira and I will still be in the office, so if you have any questions about any of the materials or resources, leave us a comment and we’ll get back to you–we’ll be checking on the blog even if we’re not posting regularly.  And of course, as interesting things come up, we’ll continue to share them here.  Did you see Keira’s post on We’re the People: An Inclusive Summer Reading List? Definitely worth checking out!

We’re in the process of selecting the books for our 2015-2016 book group now, and we’ve got some exciting changes in the works that we think you’re gonna love!  Check back at the beginning of August for our new list.

We’ll be back posting in August, offering some resources to help you get your new school year off to a great start! By September we’ll be back in full swing with some great new GAs contributing to k-12 outreach and the blog!  We’re all looking forward to another great year working with all of you!

I hope you all have a wonderful and relaxing summer break!

We’re the People: An Inclusive Summer Reading List

We're the People Summer Reading ListWith the heat wave underway (particularly here in Albuquerque), now is the perfect time to wander inside to cool public libraries.  If you’re ready to move beyond the old set of titles from which to choose, you can search out the less-commonly-recognized but phenomenal titles written and/or illustrated by authors and arts of color.

The search for an inclusive reading list is made all the easier by the recent publication of the “We’re the People” summer guide produced by the following amazing women: Edith Campbell, Sarah Park Dahlen, Sujei Lugo, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Debbie Reese, and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas. You can read more about how they developed the list at Lyn Miller-Lachman’s blog.

In this annotated list of picture books, middle grade, and young adult, you’ll find, as Lyn writes, “books written and/or illustrated by authors and artists of color — African American, Asian American, Latino, and Native American. Some include LGBTQIA protagonists or protagonists with disabilities. They include contemporary, historical, and speculative fiction as well as graphic novels and nonfiction.”

Intrigued? We certainly were. I have personally added quite a few titles to my already full bookshelves. To see their suggestions for yourself, check out the full guide on the blog Crazi QuiltEdi: Promoting literacy for teens of color one book at a time.

Happy reading,

A Goodbye Post for Lorraine and Jake

signoffFellow blogger and children’s book reviewer Lorraine Archibald will be leaving us next year to pursue a FLAS Fellowship to learn Quechua.  As her team member throughout this past academic year, I have been thoroughly engaged and inspired by Lorraine’s and our entire team’s motivation to provide engaging material for our amazing readers.  I cannot express fully how much I have enjoyed and grown with all of you while writing my weekly World Wide Web posts.  With this beautiful note from Lorraine, I do not think it can be stated any better:

It has been an honor to be a blogger with Vamos a Leer, which has given me the opportunity to review dozens of multicultural children’s books allowing me to become more knowledgeable about great titles, authors, and resources for multicultural teaching in the classroom. My time with Vamos a Leer has led me to understand that educators desperately lack material that represents the diversity of experiences among their students, and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to suggest to educators ways to fill that gap. What made this job so rewarding were the praises, comments, and likes that fellow bloggers and educators shared with me.

At Vamos a Leer our goal is to help teachers incorporate Latin America and the Latino experience into the classroom. I hope to continue this goal throughout my academic and professional career, and I thank all of our readers for their gratitude and ongoing commitment to multicultural teaching.

– Lorraine Archibald, Jake Sandler and the Vamos a Leer team.  Have a wonderful summer!!

Book Review: The Meaning of Consuelo

meaning of consueloThe Meaning of Consuelo
Written by Judith Ortiz Cofer
Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux  2003
ISBN: 9780807083871

Age Level: Young Adult Fiction

Book Summary:

The Signe family is blessed with two daughters. Consuelo, the elder, is thought of as pensive and book-loving, the serious child-la niña seria-while Mili, her younger sister, is seen as vivacious, a ray of tropical sunshine. Two daughters: one dark, one light; one to offer comfort and consolation, the other to charm and delight. But, for all the joy both girls should bring, something is not right in this Puerto Rican family; a tragedia is developing, like a tumor, at its core.

In this fierce, funny, and sometimes startling novel, we follow a young woman’s quest to negotiate her own terms of survival within the confines of her culture and her family.

My Thoughts:

In reflecting on The Meaning of Consuelo, Julia Alvarez expresses what one finds at the heart of the book that makes it both beautiful and sad at the same time: “A bittersweet tale of the price one pays to re-invent the story handed down by one’s antepasados and familia. Consuelo is both herself and every mujer, and her story her own and that of her island, torn between self-discovery and safety.”

It’s not a light read. How could it be? From the very first chapter, we realize that what follows is the unfolding of la tragedia that would forever change Consuelo and her family. The novel tackles a number of difficult themes such as mental illness, sexuality, gender, rejection, poverty, independence, tradition, and progress. Like many other books we’ve featured, this is a coming-of-age story. Our protagonist, Consuelo, struggles for the right to define herself at the same time that she grapples with the mental illness of her sister, society’s rejection of her gay cousin, and the growing tensions between the traditional Puerto Rican culture of gente decente and the increasing influence of progressive America.

I think it’s fairly safe to say that Consuelo’s family is a dysfunctional one. Her family fails to successfully handle the homosexuality of her cousin Patricio, or the mental illness of her sister Mili. The family appears unable to accept either situation, as these are not issues of gente decente. In different ways, the family loses both Patricio and Mili as a result of the decisions they make. This isn’t to say that the family is ‘all bad.’ We all know that families are complex, and they come with both the good and the bad. Tempered by the expectations of what it means to be a mujer decente, Mami’s family is one with a history of strong women. Surprisingly, it is Mami’s mother, Abuela, who is the most explicit in her support of progress toward gender equality. While she may cling to the traditions of past generations of women, she does embrace the technological progress that made life easier for women: “She then vowed to invest in every product that allowed her the luxury she had never had as a wife and mother—time for herself” (p. 26). To a certain degree, it’s painful to watch Consuelo’s relationship with her parents unfold as she ages.   To her parents, Consuelo is the strong, dependable, serious child who needs little parenting or attention, and as a result, little love. She is certainly strong, but it is troubling to watch as she struggles through her teenage years not only alone, but also responsible for her mentally ill younger sister. As many of our students may also have to deal with equally complex family dynamics or feelings of isolation, the novel creates the space to connect those experiences to classroom learning and discussion.

There’s something difficult about watching Consuelo come-of-age on her own, with little support from her parents, but there’s also something empowering in seeing Consuelo decide for herself how she will be defined. The idea of being the outsider, el fulano or la fulana, is an important one in the story. At the beginning of the novel it’s used as a means to separate the gente decente from others; it’s a way to enforce the economic and social stratification of society. Both Consuelo and the reader are introduced to the complicated notion of the outsider through the neighborhood transvestite. He’s good enough to come through the backdoors to do manicures, but must be completely ignored if seen out in public. But by the end of the novel, something changes, at least for Consuelo. She’s realized that there is a certain power in embracing the idea of la fulana. Shunned for the choices she makes with her boyfriend, Consuelo accepts the role of la fulana, and is empowered in doing so. By refusing to play the role of the shamed fulana, Consuelo’s peers find they have little power over her. Other reviews have called Consuelo “gritty and brave.” I agree. Here is a protagonist that suffers through experiences that many of our students may be all too familiar with. She survives, and on her own terms. She chooses how she will define herself, not limiting herself to the traditions of her family or her society. This is the takeaway, the real lesson we want all of our students to master.

Our complete educator’s guide is available here.

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

If you’re interested in hearing what the author herself has to say about her work, check out the following online interview:


¡Mira, Look!: Featured Author: Judith Ortiz Cofer

JudithHey there readers, this week I am honored to introduce Judith Ortiz Cofer, the author of our last featured YA book for this academic year, The Meaning of Consuelo. Ortiz Cofer was born in Hormingueros, Puerto Rico, where she spent her formative years until her father’s job in the Navy had them move to Paterson, New Jersey. Ortiz Cofer, though, returned repeatedly to the island, often staying for months at a time with her grandmother. Her passion for story telling was inspired by the many stories she heard from her grandmother during these visits.

In her writing, she deals with issues that have been themes in her own life, such as having experienced the opposing world views of her parents who disagreed about living on the island. While her mother wanted to maintain strong ties to her tradition and heritage, her father wished to disassociate himself and his children from the stigmas and lack of opportunity of being from the island. In an interview done by the Annenburg Foundation, she states, “I now know that it was my heritage; this is my material, this is what I can write about because I have intimate knowledge of it. So in a lot of my books, beginning with my early poetry and then on to my novels…my theme is: When you are always between cultures and between languages, how do you negotiate the world? And I think that is a very contemporary theme because America is constantly being populated and repopulated by new immigrants, and that is what makes this country unique.” This theme is evident throughout our featured novel, The Meaning of Consuelo, in particular.

Her books are relevant to multiple audiences, from those in high school all the way through adulthood. With writing that is at once personal and political, Ortiz Cofer deals with issues that pertain to Latin@s throughout the United States, including family networks, language maintenance, and identity formation.

Ortiz Cofer holds a B.A. in English from Augusta College and an M.A. in English Literature from Florida Atlantic University. After 26 years as an English professor, she retired from the University of Georgia in December 2013. We can imagine that her students must have been inspired to have her as teacher, for Ortiz Cofer’s writing is as flexible as it is creative. She shifts with apparent ease between writing poetry, essays, novels, short stories and creative non-fiction – all of which have garnered her critical acclaim. As evidence of her success, in 2010 Ortiz Cofer was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. She has received grants from the Witter Bynner Foundation and the George Council for the Arts, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Florida Fine Arts Council.

This month’s featured book, The Meaning of Consuelo, was no exception to this rule. The novel was awarded the 2003 Américas Award, ALA Best Books for Young Adults, and was also included on the New York Public Library’s “Books for the Teen Age 2004 List.”

To learn more about Ortiz Cofer and her work, check out some of the following resources:

¡Mira, Look!: Pumpkinheads

Phead Lets be friendsHey there readers! This is a special review of a series of books sent to us for consideration. The series, titled Pumpkinheads, is a collection of books for toddlers and preschool-age children. Here is a description from the author Karen Kilpatrick:

“As the mother of three multi-racial children, I felt it was important to develop books that help kids learn from and interact with others, while encouraging acceptance of self and the celebration of their unique strengths and talents. Children learn about themselves, the world and others through storytelling and play, and these new books invite them to explore important social and emotional themes appropriate to their age in a fun way.”

Ella ShareThe Pumpkinheads series involves protagonists who represent a mix of racial backgrounds and ethnicities. The characters appear woven throughout the series and each one seems to have his or her own distinct personality. The stories help children build awareness and acceptance of their feelings by portraying the often turbulent emotions that children often experience at this young age. Sad LuluMany children will connect with the relatable stories of the characters who struggle with being sad, shy, lonely, possessive over their things, being excluded from a group, and feeling/looking different from others. Simultaneously, the books also deliver positive messages including the importance of sharing, listening, appreciating the natural world, incorporating everyone into playtime and, perhaps most importantly, learning to love yourself just the way you are. In a message from the Pumpkinheads, the reader is told “Beauty comes from within, from a warm and loving heart. But you should love your outside too, and here’s a place to start: Look in the mirror like Danza did-you know what to do! Take your time, gaze for a while, and enjoy that wonderful you!”Phead Love Me

These stories were meant to be read out loud. The text of the books is perfect for its preschool- aged audience in that it includes alliteration, rhyming, repetition, and exclamatory onomatopoeia — writing techniques that capture the reader’s attention and make the experience of reading more fun and enjoyable. This lighthearted approach is mirrored throughout the series, which as a whole emphasizes learning through play.

PheadBang bangMost of the books end with a spread about “The Pumpkinheads Answer,” in which each character answers a question such as, “How do you make new friends?” ”What is your favorite instrument?” “What do you like about you?” and “What do you practice?” The repeated presentation of Pheads Answercharacters in this form highlights their individuality and can lead readers to become invested in their favorite characters. I recommend this series mostly because of its success at presenting characters and situations that are so relatable to children.

I found the books to be a great tool for teaching about emotions and delivering positive messages. One of the best things about a series is that the stories and protagonists endure and evolve. Children can become attached to this series’ particular characters and literary style, leading them to be eager and excited to read more. Here are some lesson plans including common core standards to go along with some of the books:

To learn more about the Pumpkinheads series check out the website.