¡Mira, Look! The Patchwork Garden/ Pedacitos de huerto and It’s Our Garden

Saludos todos! This week we are celebrating Earth Day with two wonderful books, which I will be reviewing side by side. The first book, The Patchwork Garden/ Pedacitos de huerto, written by Diane de Anda and illustrated by Oksana Kemarskaya, is a bilingual, fictional picture book that tells the sweet and inspirational story of a young girl who, with the help of her dear Abuela, learns to cultivate a garden and grow her own vegetables in the middle of her urban neighborhood. The second book, It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden, written by George Ancona, is a non-fictional book equally sweet and inspirational, that tells the story of a group of children right here in New Mexico who grew and took care of their own vegetable garden. Together these two books can inspire readers of all ages to grow their own vegetables in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner. And, just as Abuela says in The Patchwork Garden, “‘They taste much sweeter than the ones you buy in the store.’”

The Patchwork Garden/ Pedacitos de huerto, tells the story of a young girl whose wise Abuela teaches her how to cultivate a healthy and fruitful garden, despite some modern-day challenges: “‘I wish I could have my own vegetable garden,’ replied Toña, ‘but there’s nothing but cement around our apartment building.’” Abuela reassures her, telling her that all you need is a small plot of land– a garden can be beautiful, no matter how small. With this information, Toña realizes that there is a little patch of dirt behind the neighborhood church that might be suitable for her garden, so she goes to ask Father Anselmo for permission to use it, adding that he can take as many colorful, sweet vegetables as he’d like: “‘Ah,’ said Father Anselmo, thinking of the fresh salads and steamed vegetables, ‘beautiful and healthy.’” As Toña and her Abuela embark on their journey of organizing a plan for their garden, they enlist the help and support of the community, simultaneously teaching others about sustainable living and healthy eating, while also fortifying their community bonds.

Under Abuela’s guidance, Toña, along with her brother and father, start digging the dirt and preparing the soil for their plants.  Along the way,  readers will share in Abuela’s wisdom and learn some tips and steps for preparing a garden. When Toña goes to the store with Abuela to pick out the seeds for their vegetables, the cashier hands them a pamphlet with the nutritional information for their new crops, reminding readers yet again of the health benefits of growing your own vegetables, and including more produce in your diet: “The lady at the cash register handed Toña cards on small sticks with pictures of the vegetables she had bought. ‘This tells you all the vitamins you will get from the different plants in your garden,’ she explained with a smile.” As the family continues with their project, Abuela teaches Toña (and young readers) even more lessons on safe and healthy living, including how you should always wear a sun hat when gardening outside, to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays.

As the weeks go by, and Toña’s garden starts to grow (thanks to her after school ritual of watering the little seeds), more and more people start to notice the beautiful, colorful vegetables growing from the soft dirt: “‘I wish we could have a garden,’ sighed many of the children. ‘I wish we had a place for a garden,’ the parents sighed back.” But Toña explains to them that, although she was discouraged at first too, thinking that gardening was not a possibility for urban-dwellers like herself, it is indeed possible for anyone to grow a garden as long as they have just a tiny piece of land. Once again moved and inspired, Toña decides to help her discouraged friends. As she reflects on her Abuela’s beautiful patchwork quilt (another idea for a fun and creative project!), Toña decides to create a patchwork garden throughout her neighborhood, inspiring friends, neighbors and community members to use their little, vacant plots of land for gardens to create one big garden “quilt”. While this lovely conclusion shows readers how the ideas and initiative of one can inspire others and create a brilliant, collaborative project, it also opens the eyes of readers of all ages to the real, present-day challenges and innovation of urban agriculture. As more and more people live in urban areas, one important way to challenge both environmental change and degradation, as well as issues of food justice, is to find ways to make urban areas more green and ecofriendly, and also to give people living in urban areas easier access to food (especially healthy food).

In It’s Our Garden, we see how Abuela and Toña’s inspirational story can be actualized in real life, with another inspirational (but this time non-fiction) story about the students at in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who grew a large and plentiful garden right in the backyard of their elementary school. Ancona’s story is organized as a sort of ethnography for young children, explaining to readers what he observed and learned during his year spent shadowing this school and observing its garden chores. The book is composed of photographs of the children happily watering their plants, turning the soil, and harvesting their beautiful crops, as well as illustrations by the children themselves of some of their favorite plants.

Filled with great, technical detail, this book is a useful guide for teachers and parents trying to start their own garden with students or children. Ancona’s thorough observations outline many of the steps needed for both creating a fruitful garden and effectively engaging children in the process. Ancona also observes how some children use leaves that fall off the trees during the fall to make leaf prints and other works of art, providing teachers with even more ideas for fun projects to do with their students: “There are lots of things in the garden to write and draw about. An easel in the middle of the garden invites anyone to draw what they see or write down their thoughts and experiences. Some students use leaves to make leaf prints. Their art decorates the greenhouse and the outdoor classroom.” In addition, “The harvest becomes a chance for Miss Sue to quiz the students on the variety of crops the garden has produced. She makes a game of the quiz, placing the answers facedown on slips of paper under each fruit, vegetable, or herb.” This fun learning activity could also be especially useful for foreign language teachers, trying to teach their students new food vocabulary.

As in the story of Toña and her Abuela, this Santa Fe school garden becomes a place for community engagement and participation: “On special afternoons and weekends, the garden becomes a place where the school community gathers. Students come back with their parents, sisters, brothers, grandparents, and friends. They compost, seed, plant, transplant, weed, water, and dig. By now, the flowers are blooming and the beds are green. The garden is flourishing with so much care.” Even in the summer when school is out, the children and their families, teachers, and other members of the community gather to play and listen to music, make food, and enjoy the company of their neighbors.

For those interested in using these books in the classroom and teaching students and children about gardening, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned for more great reads as we wrap up the semester and the end of the school year!

¡Hasta pronto!


Images Modified from The Patchwork Garden/ Pedacitos de huerto: Pages 3, 6, 11, 14

Images Modified from It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden: Pages 17, 22

April 21st | Week in Review


¡Hola a todos! This week’s resources are diverse and I hope they are of interest to you.

– Check out how this College Student (Kaya Thomas) Created a Mobile Directory of 600 Books that Prioritize Diversity. After realizing that most of the characters in books she read didn’t look like her, “Thomas devised an iPhone app that functioned as a directory of 300 books showcasing characters of color.”

These Latin Americans Celebrated their Roots with a Mesoamerican Ballgame Championship in Tetiohuacán. This ballgame, known as “pitza” in the Classic Maya language, was celebrated over 3,000 years ago in the region and is today practiced as part of an effort to reclaim culture and history.

— Here is a book review of Mamá the Alien/ Mamá La Extraterrestre written by Rene Colato Laínez and illustrated by Laura Lacámara. This bilingual book is the story of how Sofía discovers the different meaning of the word “alien” and its implications for her mother. The book is published by Lee and Low Books, and is accompanied by a teacher’s guide.

– Check out the story of how “‘Lucía the Luchadora’ author wants more Latino kids to see themselves in picture books.” Author Cynthia Leonar “Garza, who has a background in journalism and writing, said she wanted to write her first picture book for kids like her — and for kids like her daughters. ‘I was looking for something I wasn’t finding,’ she said: picture books that featured kids who looked like her kids.” To top it off, Garza also wrote the story to help “little boys get the message that girls can be superheroes.”

–For an inspiring story of how literature can change one life and many lives all at once, we suggest you read this article about Rueben Martinez (winner of the Innovator’s Award at the L.A. Times Book Prize) and his view on reading and books. From humble roots, Reuben’s “barbershop-cum-bookstore Libreria Martinez Books and Art Gallery became one of the largest purveyors of Spanish-language books in the country, as well as a center for literacy advocacy whose influence continues to ripple nationwide.”

– Lastly, you should probably know about “The Great Language Game,” which is a simple but good way to pass the time individually or with your students.

Alin Badillo

Image: Smiling Faces. Reprinted from Flickr user Kay & Amy under CC©.

Poets and Poems: #NationalPoetryMonth

Hello, all!

Our wonderful children’s book reviewer, Alice, is away from the blog this week. In  place of her review, we thought we’d share this beautiful resource developed by Bookology Magazine: Poetry Mosaic.

In honor of #NationalPoetryMonth, Bookology has invited authors to read their original poetry and is compiling the recordings into a mosaic of poets and poetry, with a new author highlighted each day. All of the poets selected are amazing, but here are a few of our Vamos a Leer favorites: Jorge Argueta, Pat Mora, and Margarita Engle. Argueta and Engle read both English and Spanish versions of their poems, so this is an even better start to the day for our bilingual readers. Take your pick of language!

Jorge Tetl Argueta     Pat Mora     Margarita Engle
Hope you enjoy this poetic start to the day as much as we did!


April 14th | Week in Review


¡Hola a todos! This week’s resources are interesting and diverse. Enjoy!

– Remezcla recently reviewed Lilliam Rivera’s novel, The Education of Margot Sanchez, is a YA novel about a young Nuyorican growing up as a South Bronx Latina who struggles to fit in at her white prep school. “So she’s just trying to navigate that world. She’s going to assimilate and copy the people who are in power — and usually the people in power are the white people. Because that’s what her parents are teaching her to do.”

— Check out this book review of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen. This “is a scrapbook-style teen guide to understanding what it really means to be a feminist,” and it includes a number of essays focused on the intersection of Latinx culture and feminism.

– For those of you who are teaching seniors and junior students, they might appreciate reading the story about Chelsea Batista, a Latina Accepted by 11 Med Schools [Who] Has a Message For Those Who Credit Affirmative Action. Chelsea expresses, “I was absolutely terrified that I wasn’t going to get into even one school that’s why I filled out so many applications.”

— Also, you can read about how one teacher invited her Students to Confront and Examine Their Own Biases Using the Images on Covers of Picture Books. She writes, “I have to help my students to recognize their own biases. I have to help them to see the biases that they hold and recognize what an impact they have on the way that they interact with the world.”

–Here is a quick preview of the book trailer for the beautiful Mexican children’s book Ella trae la lluvia by Martha Palacio Obón. On one level the story is about “a lost voice and a witch with blue hair that seems to know everything,” But one review also called it a story about “la violencia y los desplazados a partir de un relato fantástico y marítimo.”

– As Earth Day gets closer (April 22), you might want to check out Lee and Low Books Earth Day Poetry Collection.

— Lastly, listen to Latin America’s greatest authors read their works in this online treasure trove. Authors include Jorge Luis Borges, Enrique A. Laguerre, Amanda Berenguer, and many more.

Alin Badillo

Image: #niunamenos. Reprinted from Flickr user Fernando Canue under CC©.


Our Next Good Read: Echo

Join us May 22 at EchoCasa Rondeña Winery (733 Chavez Rd, Los Ranchos De Albuquerque) from 5:00-7:00 pm to discuss our next book.  We are reading Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan.

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

Winner of a 2016 Newbery Honor, ECHO pushes the boundaries of genre, form, and storytelling innovation.

Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.

Richly imagined and masterfully crafted, this impassioned, uplifting, and virtuosic tour de force will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck.

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 May 8!

We hope to see you on May 22!

¡Mira, Look!: The Shark and the Parrotfish

Image result for the shark and the parrotfishSaludos todos! This week we are continuing our theme of nature in celebration of this month’s Earth Day with another great read. The Shark and the Parrotfish and Other Caribbean Fables, written by Mario Picayo and illustrated by Cherise Ward is a lovely collection of fables that take place in various parts of the Caribbean, incorporating characters based on all of the region’s abundant and diverse flora and fauna. This book is perfect for this month’s theme as it embraces many of nature’s wonders, while also anthropomorphizing animals and insects, reminding us of our closeness to nature, and helping readers sympathize with many species’ current plight of habitat destruction and resource scarcity. The setting of the Caribbean is also conducive for this month’s discussions on climate change, conservation, and eco-friendly living, as this region of the world, arguably one of the most beautiful and biodiverse, has also been one of the most affected by environmental exploitation, species extinction, and ecological destruction. Furthermore, as explained in the introduction of this book, each story is a fable, meaning that it contains a moral or a lesson to readers. As we take this month to reflect on the state of our planet and many of its glorious ecosystems, let us also reflect on the moral of this collection as a whole, as well as all of this month’s books: to save our ecosystems, care for our planet, and live responsibly.

In a note to the reader at the beginning of the book, the author introduces the genre of the fable, and explains many of the fable’s characteristics, such as being passed down from generation to generation, and usually including a moral or a lesson for the reader: “A fable is a story, but it is a special kind of story that teaches a lesson. We call that lesson a moral. Many fables are about animals and plants that talk and act like people.” The author also explains how Aesop is one of the most well-known fable-writers, but how this collection, rather than focusing on a European or African heritage, like many of Aesop’s stories, focuses on the Caribbean: “But I was born in the Caribbean, not in Africa or Europe, so my stories don’t have lions, foxes, or grapevines. Mine have mongooses, genip trees, and sharks.” Here we see how the fables’ focus on the Caribbean’s diverse flora and fauna is not only something that makes these fables so fascinating and intriguing, but also something that makes them distinctly Caribbean. In other words, our natural surroundings are not just a matter of environmental concern, but also of cultural identity, patrimony, and heritage. When we jeopardize and endanger earth’s species and the natural habitats of the world, we stand to lose not only our rich ecosystems, but also our culture, our national identities, memories, and ways of life.

The collection is composed of 12 different fables that are about a page in length. Each story is accompanied by a lively, colorful, and oftentimes humorous illustration. Although the stories are rather short, the language of the text can appear a bit dense for younger readers. Thus, this collection would be perfect for challenging older readers or for reading aloud. Each story also concludes with “Fun Facts,” usually about the animals or ecosystems found in the story. The “Fun Facts,” along with the moral(s) of each story make this collection and its various fables educational in more ways than one.

The first fable, The Hermit Crab and the Octopus, is about an old hermit crab who has lost his shell. As explained in the “Fun Facts” section of the story, this is typical of hermit crabs: “Like in the story, hermit crabs move from one shell to another as they get bigger.” The hermit crab in the story knows that his shell is getting old, and he’s going to need a new one soon, but before he can make that decision, a big wave comes and knocks his shell right off. The hermit crab, in a panic, starts crying out: “’Oh, no! My shell is gone! What am I going to do?’” But just as he is starting to slip into more of a panic, a big octopus comes up and offers the hermit crab his help. The big octopus, using his many tentacles, starts to dive down into the water looking for the hermit crab’s shell. Eventually the octopus finds the hermit crab’s shell, and the hermit crab is overjoyed: “’Why do you like this old shell?’ asked the octopus. “Because it is mine,’ said the old hermit crab. ‘I would rather sleep in my old shell than in a brand-new one that might belong to somebody else.’” The octopus, moved by the hermit crab’s honesty and humility, decides to reward the hermit crab with an additional gift. He dives down deep into the ocean again and this time comes back up with a beautiful bright blue and gold shell that he gives to the hermit crab as a gift.

The moral of each fable is written clearly at the bottom of the story in bold, red letters. The moral for The Hermit Crab and the Octopus is: “Honesty should be its own reward, but sometimes it is also rewarded by others.” However, each fable is also rife with a variety of morals and lessons, some small and intimate and others larger and symbolic. As a valuable exercise for students in both emotional development and analytical thinking, teachers could ask their students to identify other possible morals of each story. Although most of the morals identified by the author at the end of the story deal with interpersonal relationships and individual values, one could easily identify a variety of morals that speak to climate change, the environment and conservation. For example, when the hermit crab admits that he loves his old shell because it is his home, he is exercising honesty, but he is also reminding young readers of the importance of animals’ homes and habitats, and the pain and sadness that they endure when their homes are threatened or destroyed. Furthermore, the beginning of this fable illustrates the scene of the beautiful Caribbean: “An old hermit crab, who had not visited the ocean since he was young, decided to walk to a nearby reef and smell the sea air.” Here we are once again reminded of how the environment and the natural wonders of the world are also closely associated with our personal lives, our memories, family traditions and cultural identities, but the mention of the “nearby reef” also reminds us of the Caribbean’s magnificent and world-famous coral reefs.

In recent years the amazing reefs of the Caribbean have come very close to extinction. The Caribbean coral reefs are part of a complex ecosystem of marine life that both sustain the life of the reefs and depend on the reefs for their own sustenance and survival. According to an article by The Guardian, “Caribbean coral reefs ‘will be lost within 20 years’ without protection,” “Most Caribbean coral reefs will disappear within the next 20 years unless action is taken to protect them, primarily due to the decline of grazers such as sea urchins and parrotfish, a new report has warned. A comprehensive analysis by 90 experts of more than 35,000 surveys conducted at nearly 100 Caribbean locations since 1970 shows that the region’s corals have declined by more than 50%.” While the old hermit crab talks about his old shell as his home, this language about the importance of home and habitat can also be read as a larger metaphor for the Caribbean coral reefs and the marine-life ecosystem as a whole. Without the reefs, many plants and animals would no longer have a home and would soon too face extinction.

All in all, this book is a wonderful resource for teaching children about the fable genre, and about the fragile ecosystems of the Caribbean—highly recommended!

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

Stay tuned for more great reads!

¡Hasta pronto!


Images Modified from: The Shark and the Parrotfish, pages 3, 6, 8, 13, 15

Author’s Corner: Socorro Acioli

Image result for socorro acioliSaludos todos! This week we are taking the time to feature author Socorro Acioli, writer of this month’s featured book, The Head of the Saint, and the topic of our April 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.

Socorro Acioli is a Brazilian author who holds a Master’s degree in Brazilian literature and is currently pursuing her PhD in Literary Studies at the Universidade Federal Fluminense, Rio de Janeiro. Although Aciolo’s literary career as a novelist and children’s book author is relatively new, she has already garnered worldwide recognition and prestige. She has lectured internationally and was a visiting researcher at the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany. Acioli also took part in a workshop called ‘How to tell a tale’at the San Antonio de Los Banõs International Film and Television School in Cuba. The workshop was conducted by Nobel Prize-winning author, Gabriel García Márquez. Márquez chose Acioli himself to be a participant in the workshop based on her recent work The Head of the Saint.

Acioli is a highly prolific author, but her books have only recently been translated into English. The Head of the Saint is Alcioli’s first book to be translated into English for publication. The book has been lauded for its stunning use of magic realism, a literary genre that Garcia Marquez was best known for. The genre of magic realism, often closely associated with Latin American literature in general, usually incorporates magical, surrealist narrative elements into the “real world” setting of the book. As always, the impact of The Head of the Saint reminds us of how important translators are in exposing us to the stunning works of authors from around the world.

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

Hasta pronto!