¡Mira, Look!: Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre

Saludos todos! This week we are concluding our March theme of women and Women’s History Month with another great read. Last week I featured the Coleccion Antiprincesas, which provides readers with biographies of underrepresented and under-studied historical Latina heroines. This week, however, we are switching gears a bit, focusing more on the courage and determination of young girls in our everyday lives. The book for this week is Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre, written by Tom Luna and illustrated by Laura Alvarez. This wonderful story focuses on a young, female protagonist who has to learn how to navigate her complicated emotions in a difficult situation. Not only does this book show young readers how to cope with separation and heartache, it also counters stereotypes and challenges negative representations of women and girls by portraying a young girl whose empathy and emotional sensibility is not a flaw or a nuisance, but, ultimately, one of her greatest virtues.

This book tells the story of young Camila and her beloved abuelo, Felix, who lives far away in Veracruz, Mexico: “It had been two years since he left San Antonio to return home to Veracruz.” Camila reflects on the bittersweet memories of her grandfather playing his favorite guitar, the requinto, and how he would sing her lullabies when she was a little baby: “He had a deep beautiful voice and played the requinto with an almost angelic touch.” Although the plot following the female protagonist challenges typical, negative representations of women and girls, the character description of the grandfather also challenges expectations of men and boys. The grandfather is sensitive, artistic, loving and participates actively in caring for his grandchild, taking her on outings to the zoo and the park, to name a few, all the while singing or whistling tunes from Veracruz.

Although Camila misses her grandfather greatly, her parents say that they do not have enough money to afford a trip to Veracruz to visit him. However, one day, deciding to take matters into her own hands, young Camila hops on her bike determined to ride the 938 miles to Veracruz to see her dear grandfather: “‘I’m going to see Grandpa Felix in Veracruz,’ said Camila with a defiant stance.” As one would imagine, Camila’s mother quickly intervenes and tells her to come back home, that she can’t ride her bike all the way to Veracruz, but that one day they’ll have enough money saved up for a visit. Although Camila’s immediate solution to her grandfather’s absence is, of course, not one that I or parents and educators would likely recommend to their students, this scene does illustrate Camila’s determination and her willingness to try to solve her problem independently. This scene also serves as a contrast to Camila’s eventual, more reasonable solution to her feelings, showing readers Camila’s learning curve and her progress in figuring out both what her feelings are and what to do about them.

After her failed attempt at biking 938 miles to Veracruz, and her mother’s brief scolding, Camila decides that a more appropriate response might be to write a letter to her grandfather and ask him to be her pen pal. This solution is also one arrived at entirely by Camila herself, further emphasizing her independence and her ability to learn and navigate tough situations on her own: “She went into her room, pulled out her diary and decided then and there that she would write to her grandfather and ask him to write her back.” What I also particularly love about this scene is the mention of Camila’s journal-writing as a catalyst for her emotional development and decision-making. As an avid writer and “journaler” myself, I, too, have found this to be a very useful strategy in coping with tough situations, sorting out my thoughts and feelings, and figuring out how to proceed. Moreover, as the story continues in a somewhat epistolary format, composed of letters between Camila and her grandfather, teachers could conduct various lessons based on two forms of writing: first, letter-writing and the epistolary novel form, and, second, journal writing. As an exercise in writing and verbal expression, teachers could ask their students to write in a journal every day. Teachers could also conduct exercises in letter-writing and, especially for foreign language students, teach their students proper opening and closing statements, such as “Querido abuelo/ Dear grandpa.” This story is entirely bilingual, which is especially useful for comparing the letter-writing format between English and Spanish. In addition, the simplistic illustrations found within this book could also inspire students to create drawings of their own to accompany their journal entries or letters. As noted by a School Library Journal review, “Rough-hewn, heavily brushed paintings tracking Camila’s progress to adulthood and Grandpa’s to gray-haired old age accompany narrative passages of English over Spanish.” In this story, the prose is just as important as the illustrations in conveying the passing of time, and both Camila’s physical and emotional growth.

Towards the end of the story we see Camila grown up to be a young, 18-year-old woman. Her family still has not been able to save enough money to go to Veracruz, but Camila is determined to go nonetheless: “On the day Camila turned 18, she was in her room with photos of her grandfather all around. She was working now and saving her money. Her family never did go to Veracruz but Camila was saving to go on her own.” This scene again reinforces Camila’s agency and independence, her ability not only to work hard towards a self-determined goal, but also to eventually travel on her own.What I find especially powerful about this scene is the way in which it emphasizes “ambition” as not only working towards professional and academic goals, but also towards emotional and interpersonal goals. Oftentimes “emotional labor,” or the work that one puts into emotionally supporting others, is unconsciously expected of women while also being undervalued, unrecognized and unremunerated, in both the home and the workplace. This heartwarming scene emphasizes the hard work that Camila put into sustaining a relationship with her grandfather over the years, as well as her grandfather’s boundless joy and appreciation upon finally seeing her arrive in Veracruz (belated spoiler alert!).

All in all, this book is a wonderful resource for teaching a variety of subjects from writing and correspondence, to emotional development and maturity.  Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre challenges typical representations of gender roles through children’s literature, empowering both young girls and boys.

For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned to an introduction to our April themes and more great reads!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images Modified from Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre: Pages 7, 9, 14, 15, 21

March 24th | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! I am happy to be back and to share with you all of these amazing resources.

– The folks over at the Américas Book Award Facebook page have been on fire with recommendations for diversifying Women’s History Month. Here are a few highlights from their posts:

— As we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month, here is the story behind La Galería Magazine’s highlight of 10 Dominican Women and Herstory.

– Also in honor of Women’s History Month, here are 7 Paraguayan Women Who Have Changed History, courtesy of Remezcla.

— This month the Brown Bookshelf blog is highlighting exemplary authors and illustrators every day. On Day 16, they reached out to learn more about Haitian-American illustrator Alix Delinois, whose beautiful illustrations have appeared in books such as Edwidge Danticat’s Eight Days: A Story of Haiti (which Alice reviewed for Vamos back in Feb. 2016)

Latinxs in Kid Lit favorably reviewed the recent YA novel The Only Road by Alexandra Díaz, noting that it’s “chilling and heart-wrenching in the best possible way. From the moment that Jaime’s beloved cousin Miguel is killed by a local gang, the Alphas, it is evident that this book is going to take its reader on a perilous journey, tagging along with Jaime as he flees his small town in Guatemala for the United States.”

— Though we know we’re preaching to the choir when we talk about the importance of being bilingual, here’s a recent article that backs up our enthusiasm: The Sooner You Expose a Baby to a Second Language, The Smarter They’ll Be. “A new study shows that babies raised in bilingual environments develop core cognitive skills like decision-making and problem-solving — before they even speak.”

– Throughout the US there seems to be an increase in hate speech. Nowhere is the issue more depressing and critical than in the K-12 classroom, where students are particularly at risk for such vitriol. For everyone grappling with this, here’s an article focused on The urgency of addressing the rise of racist hate speech in K-12 schools.

— As a response to the current administration’s threats to defund libraries throughout the nation, Lee and Low Books reminded us about these 8 Ideas for Educators to get Students Excited About the Public Library.

– Because it’s relevant never seems to go away, we wanted to share again a piece that we’ve discussed before. One of our favorite authors, Monica Brown, who’s also a professor at Northern Arizona University, shares her thoughts on The Power of Dehumanizing Language.

— Lastly, to end on a slightly positive note, we thought we’d highlight this news story from Colombia, even though it circulated back in 2015. ‘Trashy’ books: garbage collector rescues reading material for Colombian children. Let it remind us this week that one person and one book truly can change the world! “She used to read me stories every night,” said Gutierrez, who has traveled to book fairs in Mexico and Chile to share his experience of starting a library with discarded reading material. “To me, books are the greatest invention and the best thing that can happen to a human being.”

Abrazos
Alin Badillo


Image: Peace Art. Reprinted from Flickr user mbelle131under CC©.

¡Mira, Look!: Colección Antiprincesas

Image result for coleccion antiprincesasSaludos todos! I’m back with my weekly Mira, Look posts after a short time off for Spring Break. This month we have been celebrating Women’s History Month by featuring books about the wonderful women found throughout history and within our personal lives as well. This week I’ll be reviewing three books from the Colección Antiprincesas. This collection is meant to feature “grandes mujeres,” or prominent women in history, in order to show that women don’t have to be your typical “princess”; in fact, many of these women were so formidable precisely because they went against gender norms and fought for what they believed in.

The Colección Antiprincesas has received a lot of media attention, specifically through channels (blogs, magazines, etc.) that focus on Latinx literature for children, such as Remezcla’s post, These Anti-Princess Books Give Young Girls Badass Latina Heroines to Look up to. Since these new releases have been talked about so much within the children’s literature community, I thought it was a good idea to contribute my views and join in the discussion. Needless to say, we also greatly welcome the input of our readers in fostering a larger, dynamic discussion about this collection and Latinx children’s books in general!

The first book in the Colección Antiprincesas features Frida Kahlo, a timeless Mexican artist known for her captivating art, but also for her bold, individualistic style and her candid honesty in expressing the most personal aspects of her life, including chronic physical pain and heartbreak. Kahlo was also known for marching to her own beat and has turned into a renowned icon in Latin America and across the world for challenging beauty standards and social norms. Kahlo has been featured many times already on the blog, including Katrina’s Teaching about Frida Kahlo post, Lorraine’s book review on Viva Frida, and Neoshia’s book review on Frida Kahlo.

Although it would seem difficult to bring something new to the discussion after so many resources and books have already been published about Kahlo, the Colección Antiprincesas manages to do just that, thanks in large part to their unique format. Each double-page spread has an illustration that caters to the eyes of younger readers, along with more detailed historical information, discussion questions, and black and white archival photographs. The unusual format of this book makes it a bit difficult to use with younger readers or students reading independently; however, these books are perfect as a resource for teachers. Teachers could draw on the information from these books to teach about these prominent historical figures, incite discussion about the lives and work of these figures, and show images to attract the attention of students of a variety of ages. In addition, these books are monolingual and are written exclusively in Spanish, which means they serve a valuable purpose for bringing Latin American heroines to Spanish speaking audiences. A review by School Library Journal also comments upon this as an attribute of these books—they’re Spanish language books that are easy to get a hold of here in the U.S: “VERDICT An excellent choice for libraries seeking works in Spanish for elementary students, especially where biographies are needed.”

Although the multimedia, patch-work style of the book might make it hard for students reading or working independently, the varied information could lead teachers on a variety of lesson-plan trajectories. For example, one page of the Frida Kahlo book includes the definition of the art term, “surrealism,” along with examples of Kahlo’s work. This could lead teachers to a lesson plan on surrealist art where they compare Kahlo’s work to other surrealist artists, such as Salvador Dali. Another part of the book focuses on Kahlo’s activism fighting for the rights of workers in Mexico. This, too, could lead to an expansive lesson plan on the rights of workers throughout Mexican history, and of Mexican-American workers here in the U.S.

The second and third books of the collection feature Violeta Parra, contemporary Chilean composer and songwriter, and Juana Azurduy, Bolivian guerilla military leader born in the late 1700s. The format for these two books is the same as the first, with simplistic illustrations, historical information and educational definitions, such as “arte popular” (popular art), and “colonias” (colonies). Like with the first book, this information could lead to other related lessons on popular art in the Americas or the history of colonialism and liberation.

One of the wonderful things about these books is that, with the exception of Kahlo, they focus on Latina heroines who are not typically discussed and certainly not included in the classroom – even when discussing Latin American history! Admittedly, I had not heard of Violeta Parra or Juana Azurduy before reading these books. These books also don’t sugarcoat the hardships that these women went through in their lifetimes. Part of the “anti-princess” perspective of these books is precisely that they do not portray women as perfect and pretty; rather these books are straight forward when talking about their hardships, and the illustrations don’t “beautify” the women with western standards of beauty. School Library Journal also comments upon Saá’s illustrations: “The often graphic novel–like art—vibrant, bold colors outlined in black—depicts scenes from the text and enhances the view of the subjects as strong heroines.

Ultimately, these books are an excellent contribution to Spanish-language children’s books accessible here in the U.S., and to any collection of biographies of powerful Latina role models. Putting aside the critique that the unusual formatting could be a challenge for young readers, these books prove an excellent resources for educators looking to teach their students more about underrepresented Latina heroines.

For those of you interested in using these books in the classroom, here are some additional resources:

For those of you interested in learning more about the author and illustrator, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned for some more great reads!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images modified from: Coleccion Antiprincesas pages 4, 6, 7, 8, 13

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Our Next Good Read: The Head of the Saint

Join us April 10 at The Head of the SaintTractor Brewing (1800 4th St NW) from 5:00-7:00 pm to discuss our next book.  We are reading The Head of the Saint by Socorro Acioli.

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

After walking for days across the harsh Brazilian landscape only to be rejected by his last living relative, Samuel finds his options for survival are dwindling fast – until he comes to the hollow head of a statue, perfect for a boy to crawl into and hide…

Whilst sheltering, Samuel realises that he can hear the villagers’ whispered prayers to Saint Anthony – confessing lost loves, hopes and fears – and he begins to wonder if he ought to help them out a little. When Samuel’s advice hits the mark he becomes famous, and people flock to the town to hear about their future loves. But with all the fame comes some problems, and soon Samuel has more than just the lovelorn to deal with. A completely charming and magically told Brazilian tale, sure to capture your heart.

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 3!

We’ll also be raffling off a copy of May’s featured book, EchoJoin us that evening to be entered!

We hope to see you on April 10!

Author’s Corner: Lynn Joseph

Image result for lynn josephSaludos todos! This week we are taking the time to feature author Lynn Joseph, writer of this month’s featured book, Dancing in the Rain, and the topic of our March book group meeting. Like with our previous authors, we take this time to feature the breadth of the author’s collective oeuvre, as well as the more personal aspects of her life.

Lynn Joseph is originally from the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean. At the age of ten, she moved to Baltimore but continued to return to Trinidad for her summers. According to an interview with Joseph on her personal website, she started writing because of the nostalgia that was born from her bicultural childhood: “So, I lived two separate lives: an American school life and a Trinidad summer life. I began writing because I missed Trinidad so much; riding my bike everywhere, building forts in the hills, and just limin’ (hanging out) with friends. I also missed the steel pan music, and the joy I felt in Trinidad. The energy on my island is incredible.” Like this month’s featured book, Dancing in the Rain, most of Joseph’s books include elements of Caribbean culture. Dancing in the Rain won a Burt Award for Caribbean Literature (2015) prize, and skillfully focuses on the intersection between the culture, society and current events of New York City and the Caribbean. While exposing readers to certain Caribbean traditions and ways of life, this book also emphasizes the strong influence of Caribbean culture here in the U.S., particularly in New York.

Image result for lynn josephAlthough Dancing in the Rain is set in the Dominican Republic, Joseph, in the same interview mentioned above, describes how nearly all of her books include elements of Trinidadian culture and heritage: “My early books feature Trinidad’s majestic Carnivals (Jump Up Time), its delicious foods like roti, doubles, and pholourie (Jasmine’s Parlour Day) and my favorite beach, Mayaro Bay (A Wave in Her Pocket). I also retell folktales based on the scary stories I heard from my aunts in Trinidad. Those stories are in A Wave in Her Pocket and The Mermaid’s Twin Sister. My mother used to tell me I would turn into a mermaid if I went swimming on Good Friday, and I believed her, so I wrote about it in the Mermaid book.

Joseph got her B.A. in English from University of Colorado, Boulder before moving to New York where she started working with various publishing companies, further piquing her interest in children’s and young adult literature. Joseph, a woman of many talents, also obtained her law degree from Fordham University Law School in the mid-1990s, where she studied constitutional law and civil rights. Joseph works as a lawyer and writes her books on the side, while also taking care of her two sons, Jared and Brandt, which are also the names of the two boys in her novel, Dancing in the Rain. According to Joseph, “Reading cases is just like reading stories of people’s lives.” As an aspiring lawyer and writer myself, I find Joseph’s story especially inspiring!

For other readers, writers, and activists who feel moved by Joseph’s work and success, she offers some tips on how to take meaningful life moments and turn them into art and ambition: “Read a lot. Go inward. Don’t be afraid to be alone with your thoughts. In Trinidad, I walked alone at the beach and years later, I wrote scenes in The Color of My Words based on my memories. Try to absorb everything–the beautiful, sad, painful and joyous moments—these experiences will be there to draw on later when you need to create a heartfelt scene. And when you’re crying over some guy or girl breaking your heart, stop and think, “I need to remember this moment.” And you’ll be just fine.

For those of you interested in learning more about Lynn Joseph, here are some additional links:

Hasta pronto!

Alice

March 10th | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! Here are some timely resources that I hope will be of use to you. Unfortunately, next week I’ll be absent from the blog because it’s our spring break, but I’ll definitely be back the following week with more to share.

As a side note (but an important one!), we want to take a moment to add our  voices to the chorus of advocates who are incensed that the Zinn Education Project would be banned in Arkansas. Here at Vamos we’re devout supporters of their efforts to teach students the diverse histories of this nation. Check out the preceding link not only to learn more about what’s happening, but also for suggestions on how to support the Zinn Education Project in its valuable work!

– Here is a recent article on “America’s Forgotten History of Illegal Deportations.” It offers some uncomfortable parallels between historical and current immigration policies and conversations.

— From Remezcla, here are 20 Can’t-Miss Movie Picks From the San Diego Latino Film Festival that “highlight Latin American and US Latino culture.” The films are diverse and cover important topics, from migration to identity.

– The U.S. Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, offered his thoughts recently on America’s current climate, the importance of poetry, and “what Americans should be reading now.”

— Where do Boys Belong in Women’s History Month? is a question our friends at Lee and Low Books have raised, along with ideas “to think about when teaching women’s history so both boys AND girls grow and learn.”

–If you are teaching about Caribbean culture, race and racism, immigration and exile, or strong female protagonists, you might appreciate learning about a new Haitian YA novel that hits on all of those issues – and more. From Anansesem: The Caribbean Children’s Literature Magazine, we found a remarkable interview with Ibi Zoboi, a Haitian writer, as she talks about her book, American Street, in which she shares the migration story of a young woman, Fabiola Toussaint.

– Lastly, Latinos in Kid Lit posted a book review of The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera, a YA novel that touches on “issues of peer pressure, family expectations, gender bias, and community.”

Abrazos,
Alin Badillo


Image: Teaching for Change. Reprinted from Flickr user Teaching for Change under CC©.

Reading RoundUp: Diversifying Women’s History (Month) with Hispanic Stories


Hello, dear readers!

It’s not often that I get the chance to contribute TWICE to the blog in one week, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to chime in on the conversation about diversifying Women’s History Month. I’ve been humming to myself over here in the office as I’ve been digging into children’s and young adult literature focused on women’s history – and Hispanic women’s contributions to history, in particular. While there are beautiful books by and about women peppered throughout the blog and in our previous Reading RoundUp posts, for this month I had the pleasure of finding and compiling books based on real life heroines. These are books that highlight the groundbreaking, earth-shattering contributions and hard work of Hispanic/Latina/Chicana and indigenous women in the United States, Cuba, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guatemala, Paraguay, and Chile. Sometimes their work was an act of personal triumph; at other times, it revolutionized society.  Their achievements break barriers in music, labor rights, school segregation, literature, and art.  Across the spectrum, their stories are absolutely worthwhile.

As a caveat, I should add that I haven’t personally read all of the books on this list — like The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande, When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago, and Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood — but they’re stellar publications if others’ reviews are anything to go by.  If you should add them to your bookshelf, please let us know what you think. They’re certainly on our TBR list now.

Side note: The descriptions provided below are all reprinted from the publishers’ information.

Without further ado, here are 15 children’s and YA books that we hope will expand your classroom and home discussions about Women’s History Month!

En solidaridad,
Keira

p.s. Remember that Teaching for Change is offering a discount in their TFC non-profit, indie bookstore in honor of Women’s History Month. Just use the code Women2017 at checkout!

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