¡Mira, Look!: Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

As you may have noticed, throuviva fridaghout the month of March we have been celebrating inspiring Latinas. This week I’d like to draw your attention to another biographical book – this one by award-winning author and illustrator, Yuyi Morales. In 2014, Morales added to the growing set of children’s biographies by creating a multimedia book about an important inspirational influence of hers, Frida Kahlo. Viva Frida is a book that stands out as extremely unique in its artistic qualities.

Awarded the 2015 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award and recognized as a 2015 Caldecott Honor Book, here is a description from Goodreads:

Frida Kahlo, one of the world’s most famous and unusual artists, is revered around the world. Her life was filled with laughter, love, and tragedy, all of which influenced what she painted on her canvases.  Distinguished author/illustrator Yuyi Morales illuminates Frida’s life and work in this elegant and fascinating book.

Frida FigurineThe book takes us through various images of Frida in different scenes with multiple objects. In the beginning of the book we see our protaganista as a delicate ceramic figurine. Frida evolves into two-dimensional form, floating through the pages, and then becomes more and more texturized until we eventually see her on canvas as a painting of herself.Frida Canvas

The book’s multimedia artwork pays homage to Frida’s artwork through intricate details including papel picado, puppets, deer, and calabazas, among others. It also depicts aspects of her personal life, such as her pets, her blue house, and her hFrida Kissusband, Mexican painter and muralist, Diego Rivera.

To build on her multimedia illustrations, Morales includes a personal statement and a summary of Frida Kahlo’s life. The inclusion of this biographical information legitimizes the book as an educational tool, and compensates for the otherwise extremely minimal text.. Apart from this biographical content, Morales seems to assume that her readers will be familiar with Kahlo and her art. Given this, it would be wise to pair this beautiful book with a more informative text – at least for older readers who can grasp Kahlo’s life and work in more detail.

The book is biliViva Frida Papelngual but its main focus is the photographed art that make up the illustrations. This would be a great book to use in an art class, perhaps alongside a lesson that encourages students to create a 3-dimensional figure of an inspirational person. Using Morales’ work as a guideline, students could be encouraged to depict not only their inspirational person, but also additional objects or physical details that allude to their life. Students can write a summary about their person and each physical detail they included and present it to the class.

Here are some links to resources that reveal the author’s artistic process for making this book:

  • The making of Viva Frida photo essayFrida 2d
  • Short documentary video that captures Morales’ meticulous technique for making Viva Frida

Here are some previous Vamos posts on Morales and some of her other work!

Last but not least, for those more interested in Frida Kahlo, here are a few other children’s books that also beautifully depict the artist and her work:

Images: Modified from Viva Frida. Illustrator: Yuyi Morales. Photographer: Tim O’Meara.

WWW: Three Latin American Poets and a Translator

three poets cervantes

I am incredibly excited to share this week’s resource from the Wide World of the Web, because this resource not only contains the translated work of three phenomenal female modernist poets from South America, but it also helps tell the background story of how these three women came to be bound together in the June 1925 Issue of Poetry Magazine.  This historic issue, published in New York during a time when modernists such as Ezra Pound and T.S. Elliot were working out ways to form a new poetic tradition for the 20th century, this June 1925 issue featured an astonishing thirty-one South and Central American poets.  Among them were poets Alfonsina Storni, Juana de Ibarbourou, and Gabriela Mistral (featured in Lorraine’s Mira Look post earlier this week).  In this amazing resource you will find the poets featured in 1925 organized according to country.  You can find Storni’s poem “Running Water” under Argentina, Mistral’s “Ecstasy” under Chile, and Ibarbourou’s “Bond” under Uruguay.  All three of these pieces are excellent examples not only of 20th century modernist poetry, but of the perspective of Western educated Latin American women of that time.

In Ibarbourou’s “Bond”, the poet replaces common articles of feminine adornment to symbolize the suffering endured by societal pressures of beauty.  Ibarbourou (spelled Ibarbouron in the 1925 edition), who was a lifelong advocate and writer on women’s rights in Uruguay and abroad, replaced diadems with a crown of thorns and earnings with “two burning coals vermilion.”

The same sense of lyrical vehemence is also present in Storni’s “Running Water”, in which she likens her wandering, pleasure and passion to the movements of seawater “intermingling, over the sands.”  Storni (pictured above in the middle) was a close acquaintance with Ibarbourou (right) and also struggled working towards women’s rights and recognition. Storni’s heartbreaking death by the sea near Buenos Aires inspired many popular legends, and the song “Alfonsina y el mar”, which can be seen today as performed by pop star Shakira.

This perturbed experience with the female body as the site of both perceived beauty and internalized pain can be seen strongly in Mistral’s “Ecstasy”, in which “No perfume but would roll diluted down my cheek”, the female speaker ‘I’ who asks the reader, “What to me are bleeding roses, or quiet snows congealed?”  Mistral was in the process of breaking away from strong constraints and Western conventions of formal poetry – as you can see her poem is the only of the three not composed in strict four-line stanzas called quatrains.  Mistral, pictured on the left above, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945, and is still the only Latin American woman to do so.

Finally, a fourth woman enters our story here today, and that is the translator of these works, included in what they dubbed “The Spanish-American” edition, despite that we now know “Latin American” to be the more proper terminology.  Despite that fact, Muna Lee was born and raised in the American south, and later in the ‘Indian country’ of Oklahoma, before learning Spanish and working for the consul in New York City during World War I.  Although not a Latin American woman, Lee spent the rest of her life dedicated to promoting the writing of Latin Americans, married the famous Puerto Rican poet and journalist Luis Muñoz Marín, and in 1948 became the first democratically elected governor of Puerto Rico. In her “A Word from the Translator” she explains about this special issue:

Neither this nor any other anthology ever printed on the subject of Latin-American poetry is complete or even definitive. I am well aware that not all who are, are here: this is a suggestive collection, a cage in which humming-birds and parroquets, flamingoes and blackbirds are represented… It does little more than suggest, faithfully and gratefully, something of what readers of the poetry of our sister republics may expect to find.

Enjoy this ‘cage of lyricism’ and early 20th century Latin American women’s voices.

Image: Posted by Inmaculada García Guadalupe on Centro Virtual Cervantes

En la Clase: On Hiatus

magdaAs you may have noticed, there haven’t been many new En la Clase posts the last few months.  As much as I love these posts, I’m going to have to take a break from writing them.  As some of you may know, I’m in the process of writing my dissertation, and as my deadline gets closer and closer, I’ve realized I have to devote more time to that writing and research.  I’ll still be writing the monthly book reviews and educator’s guides for our featured young adult literature.  As I have time, I hope to pop in with a few shorter posts on some topics I’ve been thinking about lately.  I’m so glad that we have our other wonderful writers, Jake and Lorraine, who will keep sharing great content each week!

This next month is going to be incredibly busy for us here at the LAII’s k-12 outreach.  We’ve got some really exciting events coming up that I can’t wait to share with you! If you’re a local, we hope we’ll see you at some of them.  If you’re one of our long-distance readers, we’ll be sharing all the resources we create digitally, so you’ll be able to access them.

I hope you are all enjoying this second half of the school year! If all goes well, with the editing assistance of my always helpful cat Magda, I’ll be back writing En la Clase posts soon.


¡Mira, Look!: My Name is Gabriela/Me llamo Gabriela

gabbyHello again readers! After a bit of delay due to spring break, we are back with another great recommendation for a biographical children’s book about an inspiring Latina. My Name is Gabriela/Me llamo Gabriela: The Life of Gabriela Mistral/la vida de Gabriela Mistral written by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra, is a bilingual homage to poet, teacher, and the first Latina to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Gabriela Mistral.

Here is a description of the book from Google Books:

Gabriela Mistral loved words and sounds and stories. Born in Chile, she would grow to become the first Nobel Prize-winning Latina woman in the world. As a poet and a teacher, she inspired children across many countries to let their voices be heard. This beautifully crafted story, where words literally come to life, is told with the rhythm and melody of a poem. My Name is Gabriela/Me llamo Gabriela is beautiful tribute to a woman who taught us the power of words and the importance of following our dreams. The story of Gabriela Mistral will continue to inspire children everywhere.

Gabby ReadingThe story begins with Gabriela’s childhood and an explanation of her pen name. “It is a name I chose myself because I like the sound of it.” It goes on to describe her home and village located near the Andes Mountains in Chile, and different experiences that she had while growing up. Gabriela taught herself to read so that she could read other peoples’ stories and also so that she could tell her own. As a little girl she would play school with other children and she always pretended to be the teacher.

Gabby TeachingWe learn that eventually Gabriela became a teacher and taught the children of Chile, many whom later became teachers themselves. The reader follows as she describes her travels to faraway places including Mexico and the United States, and how her stories always traveled with her. People liked her stories so much that she was given the Nobel Prize for Literature. When she accepted the award, she thought: “of the beautiful mountains outside of my window in Chile, of my mother and sister, of the children of my village, and of all the stories that still need to be told.” What a beautiful and empowering sentiment to share with young readers – that we all have stories waiting to be shared.

Los PollitosThis book is particularly special because it works as a great interactive bilingual educational tool. As I read it with my five year old niece, she was very intent on following along and pointing out different objects, letters, and numbers that appear on the pages. The book also includes a segment of my favorite Spanish childhood nursery rhyme, “Los Pollitos Dicen Pio Pio.” My niece recognized it and sang along to it as I read – just as many students out there may do as well! Also included at the end of the book is a biographical summary and more highlights of Gabriela Mistral’s life.

Here are some resources to go along with the book and to learn more about the author and her work:

  • In celebration of the 70 year anniversary of her Nobel Prize , The Gabriela Mistral Foundation will hold a series of celebratory programs throughout the spring of 2015.
  • Bibliographical information and some of Mistral’s poetry from The Poetry Foundation.
  • Here is a guide for teachers that includes various activities that directly accompany the book.

What a great Latina figure to incorporate into the classroom! Stay tuned for next week as I highlight another remarkable Latina with my review of Yuyi Morales’ latest award-winning book, Viva Frida!

Images: Modified from My Name is Gabriela/Me llamo Gabriela. Illustrator: John Parra.

WWW: Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa

young celiaEarlier this week, Lorraine featured Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa on ¡Mira Look! This amazing story for children written by Veronica Chambers and illustrated by Julie Maren is based on the inspiring rise to fame of Celia Cruz, the Cuban-born Cuban-American music icon widely regarded as ‘The Queen of Salsa’.

As the story focuses on her childhood and early rise to fame, I thought it would be a great opportunity to feature the amazing celiacruz.com, where you can find some of Celia’s greatest music videos from recent times, before she passed away in 2003.  After all, one of the most incredible characteristics of Celia’s career was her longevity and uncanny ability to remain relevant no matter how much the salsa world was changing from the early days, when she and Tito Puente were carving away a place for salsa within popular culture in Cuba, the U.S. and beyond.

Before focusing on the videos, here are some important biographical facts to help put into context where she came from and how she became named by Smithsonian as the Most Iconic America in 2012:

  • Celia Cruz was born Celia Caridad Cruz Alfonso on October 21, 1925 in a working-class neighborhood of Havana, Cuba.
  • She studied music theory and voice at the music academy in Havana from 1947 to 1950
  • Her first recordings during the late 1940s made it onto Cuban radio and into the Havana nightclubs
  • In 1950 she started singing for a popular Afro-Cuban orchestra called La Sonora Matancera
  • Together with Sonora Matancera, Celia recorded various legendary albums and appeared in motion pictures, spreading the presence and popularity of Afro-Cuban music and culture throughout the Caribbean, South America, the U.S. and Cuba.
  • Following the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro’s rise to power, Celia moved to New York City, where musicians from all parts of the Latin world were mixing and forming new styles, in which Celia Cruz’s music would play a central role for the next four decades.

More biographical information can be found by accessing the menu bar in the top right corner of the homepage of celiacruz.com.  Under the videos tab, you will find three options.  The first one, ‘The Absolute Collection’, is a series of incredible music videos that do a great job showing not only the classic dance club scenes but some mages of the Havana streets.  The following two videos are two of Celia’s most famous tracks, equally as great to watch and listen.

Enjoy the dancing, the passions and the music.  But most of all, enjoy Celia’s wonderful voice and vivacious smile!!

Image: “Celia Cruz in Cuba, ca. 1950s” by Narcy Studios, Cuba.

¡Mira, Look!: Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa

celiaHello there readers and Vamos fans! This month we are proudly celebrating Latina and Latin American women! I am delighted to present to you this week a wonderful book that celebrates the life of one of the most influential females in the history of Cuban music: Celia Cruz. The book, Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa, written by Veronica Chambers and illustrated by Julie Maren, is, of course, about the late, great Cuban-American salsa singer and performer, Celia Cruz.

Here is a description from Goodreads:

Everyone knows the flamboyant, larger-than-life Celia, the extraordinary salsa singer who passed away in 2003, leaving millions of fans brokenhearted. Now accomplished children’s book author Veronica Chambers gives young readers a lyrical glimpse into Celia’s childhood and her inspiring rise to worldwide fame and recognition. First-time illustrator Julie Maren truly captures the movement and the vibrancy of the Latina legend and the sizzling sights and sounds of her legacy. 

Beginning with childhood anecdotes, the book spans most of Celia’s life. We learn that she grew up in a crowde20150218122356480_Page_05d home in a poor section of Havana with a very close family. From a young age she would sing to her younger siblings, by which she would gain the affection of her neighborhood. We learn that Celia was initially shy, but that it did not keep her from singing.

Celia schoolReaders might relate to Celia’s life through her tough decisions and the relationship with her father. He wanted her to forget about singing and focus on a more practical career, but she, inspired by her teachers, decided to pursue her dream. The book points out, though, that it was not easy to take a dream and “make it grow in the world,” and that Celia had to work hard to achieve her dream.

The author uses richly descriptive language to reflect the passion that Celia had for music: “It was the kind of music that sizzled from the joy of being alive.” The illustrations reflect and complement the passion and intensity of the text through their bold, varied colors.

20150218122356480_Page_15This book is a great education tool. The reader is able to see how Celia blossoms into a performer, while also learning about Afro-Cuban music traditions and genres. It includes select words in Spanish and even touches on historical-political information of how, after moving to the U.S., to her deep disappointment, Celia was no longer able to return to Cuba. The book also includes an in-depth author’s note, glossary, and selected discography.

For the classroom, this book could assist in teaching in many different ways. It can accompany lessons that aim to utilize bibliographies, or Cuban-American history. Students can compare this book to another about Celia, or choose their own influential Latina, artist, musician, or any combination thereof! It can also accompany an activity that involves listening to Celia’s music, playing instruments, and/or learning to dance salsa. Learning Through Art posted resources to accompany the book that include links to Celia’s songs, videos about Cuban rhythms, and resources for Cuban Recipes.

Celia MayorThe author, Veronica Chambers, was born in Panama, and her many publications reflect her multicultural background, including her renowned memoir, Mama’s Girl, which has been adopted by high schools and colleges throughout the country. See her website for more information about her work, commendations, and personal journey.

If this beautiful book wasn’t enough, see one of our previous posts in which we review Me llamo Celia Cruz by Monica Brown, another children’s book about Celia Cruz.

We hope you’ll look for a local copy of this book, and remind you to keep an eye out for the rest of this month’s ¡Mira, Look!’s, when we’ll continue to highlight influential Latina and Latin American women such as writer Gabriela Mistral, artist Frida Kahlo, and poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.

Images: Modified from Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa. Illustrator: Julie Maren

WWW: Stella Inda plays ‘Doña Marina’ in 1947’s Captain from Castile [Film Clip]

dona marinaWe begin the month of March (which will have a thematic focus on Latin American women) by looking at a film clip from the 1947 motion picture Captain from Castile.  This film clip is centered on a pivotal moment both in the film’s narrative, as well as Mexican national narratives, in which the conquistador Hernan Cortes and his soldiers go to meet Cacamatzin, an Aztec chieftain and king of the city-state of Texcoco.  What is important for us is the presence of Doña Marina, also known in legend and history as ‘La Malinche’.  As Lorraine aptly pointed out earlier this week in her discussion of Sáenz’ book A Perfect Season for Dreaming, the telling of oral histories, regardless of whether they are based on ‘reality’ or ‘imagined reality’, are nonetheless important and central to the construction of family and community identities.  With this in mind, we will look at this video clip and discuss the historical information that accompanies it on the Critical Commons feature of Captain from Castile, with a specific, critical focus on how Doña Marina is represented.

There have been so many differing accounts of how Doña Marina came to be known as “La Malinche” that her actual biography can sometimes seem nothing more than fodder for myth.  Many sources agree that she was born at the end of the 1400s into a family of local nobility near the present-day states of Veracruz and Tabasco, which was at that time a sort of borderland between the imperial Aztec empire and the Mayans.  Because of her geographic position and relative nobility, she was fluent in Nahual and Mayan as well as being situated near the Gulf coastal region where Cortes’ ships arrived. Named Malinali at birth, which was the Aztec Goddess of Grass and the ‘daysign’ on the Nahual calendar for her birthday, the names Malinche and Doña Marina probably did not come into use until after the arrival of Europeans and her becoming a translator and close advisor to Cortes.

In this 1947 adaptation of the Spanish conquest of Mexico as seen through the eyes of a young soldier, Doña Marina is represented by an actress from Michoacán named Stella Inda.  The director, Henry King, was a typical director of Hollywood’s ‘golden age’ and was known for popular adaptations of historical narratives, such as The Snows of Kilimanjaro.  Stella Inda was a part of a group of Mexican actresses of the ‘golden age’ who often found themselves straddling the border, even acting alongside Maria Felix in 1944’s Amok.  It is worth checking out more images of Stella Inda and her various roles through Mexican and American cinema.

In this adaptation we see Doña Marina dressed in beautiful colors that contrast sharply with the monochromatic armor of the conquistadors.  We also see vast historical inaccuracies.  Not to mention the fact that her hair and dress is done in a way that was highly improbable for the time, there is an important character missing in the picture of translation: Gerónimo de Aguilar.  Aguilar had learned Mayan as a captive, many years before Cortes’ army even arrived.  Between him and Doña Marina the triangular translation was possible, but because Doña Marina did know Spanish, or at least not immediately, the translation never would have taken place without the presence of them both.  Of course, for the sake of narrative simplification (key in Hollywood adaptations which prize the ease of comprehension more valuable than historical detail) we do not see Aguilar in this scene.  Also of note is the way that the Fox studio set directors of the 40s conceptualized and designed the set, including representations of pre-Hispanic art and architecture as well as dress, weaponry, posture, custom, etc.

To the right-hand side of the video on the Critical Commons webpage, you will notice a commentary on this piece of media written by Stephen Anderson, professor of History at California Riverside.  This commentary provides more discussion on the film and the lack of certain historical features.  The Critical Commons is a webpage that is highly worth checking out in general, as its content and overall mission in regards to the sharing and distribution of critical and educational media sources on the internet is filled with incredibly pertinent and well-organized information.

Enjoy the film clip and the discussion about film adaptations and their role in shaping our understanding of women in history.  Although the clip does show Stella Inda representing a woman who had a powerful position in this historical affair, it can absolutely be argued that legend and historical retellings such as this one have either greatly understated her power and importance, or greatly exaggerated.  An interesting discussion indeed.  Enjoy!!

Image: Reprinted from Ferdy on Films under CC ©