¡Mira Look!: Martina the Beautiful Cockroach

Image result for martina the beautiful cockroachSaludos todos! This week we are concluding our monthly theme of love with Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, an adaptation of an old Cuban folktale, written by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Michael Austin. This book won recognition as a Pura Belpré Honor Book. According to the introduction of the book, this folktale is one of the best known in Latin America, but versions of this classic tale also exist in other regions of the world. Nonetheless, Deedy takes this traditional tale, and its familiar themes, and intertwines it with her own creative twists and childhood memories. This in itself is one of the beautiful things about traditional folktales—their themes and plots have become so familiar to most people that they can be retold and adapted across countries, cultures and individual experiences to reflect both common sentiments of society, and the particular lives of individuals. Martina the Beautiful Cockroach deals primarily with themes of romantic love, but also of familial love, as young Martina relies on the advice of her wise abuela in choosing a future spouse. This charming story conveys themes of respect, compatibility, and family love, and is bound to make any reader smile as they follow the journey of Martina the beautiful cockroach.

martina-1 martina-2The story begins with a scene of the young Martina with her family inside their lamp post home. The warm hues of the illustrations evoke feelings of comfort and good company, while also accentuating witty details, such as a sofa made of a can of beans, a staircase made of books, and a stamp as a wall-hanging portrait. Martina has just turned 21 years old, and her family thinks that it is now time for her to find a husband. Her wise abuela tells her to go up to the balcony to await her suitors. Since Martina is stunningly beautiful, the entire town is abuzz with talk about marrying her: “Soon all Havana—from the busy sidewalks of El Prado to El Morro castle—was abuzz with the news.” However, her abuela also tells her to use the famous “coffee test” to pick the right suitor. When a suitor comes to speak to her, Martina must “accidentally” spill coffee on their shoes, and watch how they react. Based on their reaction, she will see how they will act towards her when they are angry. If they lose their temper and act disrespectfully, then they are not the right suitor. Although Martina is skeptical of her abuela’s eccentric advice, she follows it nonetheless.

martina-3 martina-4The first to come speak to Martina is Don Gallo, the rooster. The rooster has “splendid shoes,” and exclaims, “Caramba! You really are a beautiful cockroach. I will look even more fabulous with you on my wings!” But when Martina “accidently” spills coffee on his shoes, he erupts in a fury, insulting her and her “clumsiness”: “Clumsy cockroach! I will teach you better manners when you are my wife!” Alas, Don Gallo has failed the coffee test. Martina tells him cooly, “A most humble offer, senor, but I cannot accept. You are much too cocky for me.” These little play on words continue throughout the story, adding a layer of humor to an already charming and endearing story. While portraying the all-too-human sensations of searching for love and finding love, this story also self-consciously highlights the witty absurdity of the anthropomorphized characters: “Daintily, she sat down/ and crossed her legs,/ and crossed her legs,/ and crossed her legs.” As one suitor comes after the next, Martina grows more and more appreciative of her abuela’s unique advice.   Many of her suitors do not react kindly to having coffee spilt on their shoes, and this little experiment enables her to see each suitor’s true colors.

martina-5Finally, Martina spots a cute little mouse who’s been waiting in the bushes below the whole time. Martina, instantly drawn to him, goes to speak to him, but not before her abuela brusquely reminds her, “Don’t forget the coffee!” The little mouse blushes while speaking to Martina and tells her that although she is very beautiful, his eyes are not very good; his ears, however, are very sharp and he knows that she is “strong and good”: “Then he squinted sweetly. ‘Who cares if you are beautiful?’” Although this old folktale relies on old traditions of courting suitors, the values that it conveys—mutual respect, kindness, and a focus on internal values rather than external appearances—are timeless and remain important for any couple to this day. Although Martina is reluctant to try the coffee test this time, she does as her abuela says. Just as she is about to spill the coffee on the mouse’s shoes, though, he surprises her by doing something none of the other suitors have done. So as not to ruin the ending, which is my favorite part of the story, I will leave it at that. But in the end, Martina ends up falling in love with the most unassuming suitor, while also realizing how important her Cuban roots and family traditions really are.

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

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

Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images modified from: Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, pages 3, 7, 9, 11, 18

February 24th | Week in Review

2017-02-24-01.png¡Hola a todos! I hope these resources are of use. I know with recent current events it may seem like the future of education is bleak, however, we must remain strong and stay in solidarity. Together we can get through these dark times!

– Check out why these librarians are protesting Trump’s executive orders on Reforma.

— Additionally, Reforma shared about Talk Story Together- Sharing Stories, Sharing Culture. This is a great joint literacy project from the American Indian Library Association and the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association that celebrates and explores the stories of children and their families. Story telling is embedded in culture, and it’s a meaningful way to learn about each other.

– Our Teaching for Change friends shared resources on how to Teach Students to Question the President. They offer some great advice: “We need to remind students that this country has been at its best when people have organized to question and challenge presidents — opposing presidential support for slavery, war, invasion, segregation, and injustice of all kinds. Our students need stories of this resistance to inform and inspire their own activism in the years ahead.”

We Need to Start Telling the Truth About White Supremacy in Our Schools. “If we would start telling the truth in schools, we would not have racism. We could cure racism in this country,” says Jane Elliott in Discriminology.

Teaching Tolerance explored an important question this week: Have We Lost Sight of the Promise of Public Schools? What do you think? Is it true that “We began moving away from the ‘public’ in public education along time ago”?

–Here are Animated Shorts that Celebrate 11 of Mexico’s Indigenous Languages shared with you by Remezcla. Resources like this are a powerful way to counter oppressive misconceptsions: “Consciously or unconsciously, indigenous tongues are often viewed as backward and those who speak them stigmatized, relegated to the margins of official society for refusing to adapt to rules set by colonizers through violence and subjugation.”

Here is why Teaching People’s History is More Urgent. The Zinn Education Project is more relevant now than ever. It’s encouraging to know that “More than 65,000 teachers are helping students learn the truth, and teach outside the textbook.”

— Also from Remezcla is a post on A Journey Through the Empanadas of Latin America which encourages us consider the ways we can teach about identity through food. The author writes, “Empanadas are one of the few foods that unite all of Latin America. Though they come in myriad regional variations – with different doughs, fillings, and cooking methods – at their core they do have a (mostly) common origin story.”

– Lastly, Rethinking Bilingual Education announced the release of their new children’s book, When a Bully is President. “Playful ink and watercolor illustrations support a powerful journey that touches on bullying in the founding history of the US, how that history may still be impacting kids and families today, and ways to use creativity and self-respect in the face of negative messages for all marginalized communities.”

Abrazos
Alin Badillo


Image: Inner time flow resistance. Reprinted from Flickr user ioannis lelakis under CC©.

¡Mira Look!: Under the Lemon Moon

Image result for under the lemon moonSaludos todos! This week we are continuing our monthly theme of love with an especially heart-warming book, Under the Lemon Moon, written by Edith Hope Fine and illustrated by Rene King Moreno.  This lovely story specifically focuses on themes of forgiveness, generosity and personal growth, expanding our theme of love to include other feelings, values, and personal goals.

This book takes place in the Mexican countryside and the English narration is interspersed with Spanish vocabulary words. Fine has provided an index at the beginning of the book to help non-Spanish speaking readers puzzle through the Spanish interjections.  Not only will students learn lessons on patience, forgiveness, and compassion, but they‘ll also get exposure to new vocabulary, while practicing using an index as a tool for comprehension.

lemon-1The story starts by introducing the female protagonist, Rosalinda, who has started to grow her very own lemon tree in the backyard. One night she hears something rustling outside.  When she goes with her pet hen, Blanca, to investigate, she sees a “man with hunched shoulders” picking all the lemons off her tree and stuffing them into a sack before scurrying away into the night. Rosalinda is furious: “Her lemons. From her tree.” As Rosalinda is learning to take care of her plants and her pets, reinforcing feelings of pride, care and responsibility, her sense of possession also starts to get the best of her.  In portraying this delicate balance, Fine shows how important it is for children to have things that they can take care of on their own, that they can be proud of and responsible for, while also showing how this is in itself a learning experience and an opportunity for growth: Rosalinda asks herself, “Who is the Night Man? Why does he take my lemons?”

lemon-2The next morning Rosalinda finds that not a single lemon is left on her tree. The branches are bare and the leaves have a yellow, sickly tinge to them: “Rosalinda crooned a sad song as Blanca brawked along. She loved her lemon tree almost as much as she loved Bianca.” As the week goes by Rosalinda notices that the leaves on her precious lemon tree are turning more yellow, and starting to fall off, and she begins to worry that the tree is dying. When she goes to her parents for comfort they suggest that maybe a friend or a neighbor could help, or her dear abuela. Rosalinda’s parents are kind and compassionate and try their best to soothe her worries, while also encouraging her to find a creative solution on her own.Throughout the story, Rosalinda’s agency and independence are consistently reinforced: “Rosalinda set out.” Ultimately, the story culminates in Rosalinda resolving her own predicament in a way that is both gratifying for herself and compassionate towards others.

lemon-3As Rosalinda talks to various people in her neighborhood they each give her tips on how to care for a tree, watering it and even talking to it to make it feel better. But Rosalinda has already done all of these things and nothing has worked. Rosalinda takes good care of her plants and has already tried everything that she can think of. Finally, though, she goes to speak to her wise abuelita. Her abuela tells her that she’ll light a candle for her tree, something Rosalinda has not tried yet, and that maybe the candle will summon La Anciana, a wise old spirit known for making things grow. Abuela “eased the worries from Rosalinda’s forehead with her warm palm,” and proceeds to lovingly tell her the legend of La Anciana. Little does Rosalinda know, as she awaits La Anciana and her powers to make her tree grow, she also awaits her wise words and her powers to make her, Rosalinda, grow and mature.

lemon-4As Rosalinda makes her way back home she stops by the local market. As she walks by all of the stands she notices the Night Man. He’s sitting in front of a stand selling lemons, her lemons! Just as Rosalinda begins shivering with rage and fear, La Anciana appears, “her wrinkles deep, her eyes gentle.”  After listening to Rosalinda’s predicament, La Anciana agrees, “to take your lemons was wrong,” but then adds, “Perhaps he had a need.” Indeed, when Rosalinda goes back to the market the next day she notices that the Night Man’s hands are rough and hardened by tough work, and his family beside him looks hungry and disheveled.

Before leaving, La Anciana tells Rosalinda how to cure her tree, and, after following her instructions, Rosalinda wakes up the next day to find her tree overflowing with big, juicy lemons. She loads them up in a crate and takes them to the market, generously handing them out to everyone she sees, her neighbors, her friends, and even complete strangers. Finally, she stops by the Night Man’s stand. Rosalinda hands him her last lemon. She tells the night man to “siembra las semillas,” or “plant the seeds,” so that he can grow a lemon tree of his own. The Night Man thanks her and when Rosalinda leaves, her feelings of anger and worry from a week prior are now replaced by feelings of love and joy: “Rosalinda felt content, too. Except for one fat hen, Rosalinda’s cart was empty, but her heart was as full as a lemon moon.”

lemon-5This beautiful story shows readers the power of forgiveness and generosity, and how sometimes, by taking care of others, we ultimately take care of ourselves. With Moreno’s stunning illustrations, this book exudes a calming tone that encourages readers and young children to reflect upon their feelings and the feelings of others. Moreno’s illustrations have also appeared on our blog before with my book review of Uncle Monarch and the Day of the Dead, which is also a lovely, calming story about the flourishing wisdom of young children. In Under the Lemon Moon, the protagonist embarks on a journey of personal growth and maturity that ultimately teaches her to care not only for her own plants and pets, but also for her neighbors and for the people around her. In the end, the best way to feel as round and full as a lemon moon or a shimmering lemon tree is to spread kindness and generosity to the people around us.

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

Stay tuned for more great books!

Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images Modified from Under the Lemon Moon: Pages 9, 14, 17, 21 and 26

February 17th | Week in Review

2017-02-17-WWW-Image-01.png¡Hola a todos! I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine’s Day. Below are numerous resources that touch on identity, family, and testimony. I know I’ve shared a lot, but there were just so many to choose from this week! I hope these are of use to everyone. Have a wonderful weekend.

Rethinking Schools shared Tackling the Headlines: Teaching Humanity and History. One of the main takeaways: “The best antidote to Trump’s xenophobia, racism, misogyny, and fossil-fuel soaked future is critical thinking.”

– Our Lee & Low Books friends shared Valentine’s Day Children’s Books that Celebrate Familial Love. Even if it is no longer Valentine’s Day, it is important to stress the value of familial love. It’s a theme we’re talking about all month long.

— Also, Teaching for Change shared a great list of Afro-Latino Books for Children and YA. We were excited to see Margarita Engle’s Silver People on the list. It’s one of our recent Americas Award winners. If you are interested in learning more about it, check out the book review by our colleague Katrina.

– When talking about testimonios and identity, author Mia García questions How Do I Keep My History? How Do I Honor It? courtesy of Latinos in Kid Lit. “M. García was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She moved to New York where she studied creative writing at The New School… Her debut novel, Even If the Sky Falls, from Katherine Tegen books …is out now.”

–Here are 13 Books to Teach Children About Protesting and Activism shared by Raising Race Conscious Children. With the complicated state we’re in as a nation, we can’t stress how important we believe it is for young children to learn about activism.

PBS NewsHour shared A Mexican-American Artist On Why More Brown Faces Are Needed in Children’s Books. In the interview, PBS News Hour spoke with award-winning author Duncan Tonatiuh on “how he chose his style, what children have said about his work, and why there ought to be more brown faces in children’s books.”

— If you are looking for potential grant funding, Reforma shared the Día Grant– from the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature (CSMCL). This grant will award $500.00 in selected multicultural children’s books to a library with families who will have a Día program.

– For Black History Month, Celebrate Afro-Latino Music With Smithsonian Folkways. “The music of West Africa, where a majority of those enslaved in the Americas came from, was diffused through both an indigenous and Spanish filter to become the distinct sounds and rhythms that we know today.” This is a great resource to provide students with different narratives that can often be overlooked during Black History Month.

-Last week I shared a lot of resources on the meaning of teaching. Continuing this theme, Teaching Tolerance shared a testimony of how ‘Homegoing’ Has Changed through the teaching of Jeremy Knoll. He writes, “Teaching in a relatively affluent, largely white high school, I have always been troubled by a lack of empathy I see in some of my students. Too often in conversations about injustice or unfairness that spring up from the books we read, my students seem unwilling to acknowledge the advantages they have been given over so many others in our society.”

–Lastly, Remezcla shared a post on a documentary about the Black Immigrant Experience in Mexico. Highlighting the experience of both Haitian migrants and expat African artists, this is a great film for students to learn about different immigrant narratives.

Abrazos,
Alin Badillo


Image: Peace Flag. Reprinted from Flickr user Randal under CC©.

 

Our Next Good Read: Dancing in the Rain

Join us March 13 at Tractor Brewing (1800 4th Street NW) from 5:00-7:00 pm to discuss our next book.  We are reading Dancing in the Rain by Lynn Joseph.

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

Twelve year-old Elizabeth is no normal girl. With an imagination that makes room for mermaids and magic in everyday life, she lives every moment to the fullest. Yet her joyful world crumbles around her when two planes bring down the Twin Towers and tear her family apart. Thousands of miles away, yet still touched by this tragedy, Elizabeth is swimming in a sea of loss. She finally finds hope when she meets her kindred spirit in 8 year-old Brandt and his 13 year-old brother, Jared.

Brandt and Jared, two boys as different as Oreo and milk and just as inseparable, arrive on the island to escape the mushroom of sorrow that bloomed above their lives in the wake of the tragedy. Elizabeth shows them a new way to look at the world and they help her to laugh again. But can Elizabeth and Brandt help their families see that when life brings showers of sadness, it’s okay to dance in the rain?

Set against the dazzling beauty of the Dominican Republic, Dancing in the Rain explores the impact of the tragic fall of the Twin Towers on two Caribbean families. It is a lyrical, well-crafted tale about finding joy in the face of loss.

Dancing in the Rain won a Burt Award for Caribbean Literature (2015) prize.

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 March 6!

We’ll also be raffling off a copy of April’s featured book, The Head of the SaintJoin us that evening to be entered!

We hope to see you on March 13!

¡Mira Look!: Haiti My Country

Image result for haiti my countrySaludos todos! This week I will be reviewing Haiti My Country, a collection of poems written by a variety of Haitian school children, illustrated by Rogé and translated from the French by Solange Messier. As we continue with our February theme of love, including love of self, love of community, and love of others, to name a few, this book resonates primarily with themes of love of country and love of nature. Through each individual and unique poem, these children express pride in their country, adoration for its natural beauty, and, ultimately, the love that they have for themselves and for their own particular identities.

haiti-1This book on Haiti also harkens us back to my February posts from last year, where I used Black History Month as an opportunity to focus my book reviews for the month on books about Haiti, a country that is sometimes overlooked in our studies of Latin America. Of course, Afro-Latino culture and populations are prominent in all countries of Latin America, however Haiti’s history and society stands apart, as the majority of the population is made up of Afro-descendents, and it was the first country in the Americas to lead a successful slave rebellion. Some of my posts from last year include, Sélavi / That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope, Eight Days, A Story of Haiti, Running the Road to ABC, and Children of Yayoute. You may also be interested in Keira’s post on Resources to Teach about Haiti and Afro-Caribbean Cultures, or  Charla‘s post on Teaching about Haiti with Love. While Haiti My Country fits in with out general theme of love for this month, it also helps us remember and link back to some great resources and teaching plans from last year.

haiti-5The introduction of Haiti My Country, written by Dany Laferrière, provides some geographical and historical context for this collection of poems:

After the ongoing deforestation of the last few decades came a succession of cyclones, deadly floods, and then the horrific earthquake. I should clarify that these poems were written before the earthquake of January 12, 2010. What’s more, the region where these young poets live has been largely unaffected by the calamities that I have just mentioned. The natural landscapes that surround these teenagers inspire such dreams that visitors are often surprised they originated in Haiti.

haiti-2Laferrière notes that when he reads novels he can usually discern the age of the author based on a variety of cultural and historical context clues; however, with poetry it is different. He remarks that one of the enchanting and even mysterious aspects of these poems is that the poets themselves are so young, yet their words evoke such wisdom.

haiti-3One of the things that I find especially beautiful about this book is Rogé’s stunning, detailed, and humanistic portraits. Each portrait is presented on the adjacent page of the poem, depicting the poem’s author. The children are smiling, and resting their faces in an expression of serenity and tranquility; however, sometimes their expressions bear a degree of mystery, a complacent smile that hides a deeper truth: “The illustrator (I say illustrator and not painter because these portraits force us to think rather than to look) seems to be trying to resolve a deep mystery behind the faces that are suddenly unreadable.” According to Lafereire, one of the most poignant aspects of this book is the combination of the magical scenes painted by the children’s poetry, and the portraits of their calm, tranquil faces, coupled with the unavoidable context of poverty and devastation that has plagued Haiti for years.  He explains, “Such energy inhabits these adolescents! It overflows and consoles us, even as unfathomable sadness invades our hearts. Their vitality is irresistible. But as heavenly as the setting is, it does not distract them from the human condition.”

haiti-4Nonetheless, Laferrière also notes that these stunning portraits help paint a more holistic image of Haiti, the natural beauty of the country, articulated through the poems, and the endearing faces of its children, the faces of hope and the future. Again, what is so compelling about this collection is what is said and what is not said, the sweet smile on the face of a Haitian adolescent, and the tinge of sadness in her deep, dark eyes. This poignant duality is felt in a poem by Annie Hum: “Magnificent country becomes/ Broken land/ All smiles are lost.”  Yet these poems are also imbued with inspiring hope and faith in the future, in the future that these children will bring: “Everything is born, everything lives, everything perishes./ But this country, her exceptional natural beauty–/ I want her to live forever.” Another poem, shown beside the portrait of a somber looking boy starts with “I dream” and concludes with “I do not want to see these things in dreams/ But in reality…”  That poem alone is reason enough to use the book in the classroom–what a wonderful writing prompt that line could be!

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

For those of you interested in learning more about the book’s artist, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned for more great books!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice

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Author’s Corner: Oscar Hijuelos

HijuelosSaludos todos! This week we are taking the time to feature the renowned, Cuban-American author, Oscar Hijuelos, and his body of work. 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 his life and legacy.

Oscar Hijuelos (1951-2013) is a Cuban-American author who wrote several adult and young adult books, mostly focusing on Latin American protagonists or themes. Hijuelos was the first Latino to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction when he was recognized for his 1989 novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, which was turned into a movie in 1992. Hijuelos also won the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature in 2000. Through his iconic work, Hijuelos endures as a prominent figure of Latino literature, describing the immigrant experience, questions of identity, and the many hurdles of communication, through witty and endearing prose.

A New York Times piece remembering Hijuelos after his death reflects upon the narrative style and insightful perspectives that appear throughout his novels:

In novels like “Our House in the Last World” (1983), which traces a family’s travails from Havana in 1939 to Spanish Harlem; “Mambo Kings,” about the rise and fall of the Castillo brothers, Cesar, a flamboyant and profligate bandleader, and his ruminative trumpeter brother, Nestor; and “The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien” (1993), about several generations of a Cuban-Irish family in Pennsylvania, he wrote about the non-native experience in the United States from a sympathetic, occasionally amused perspective and with a keen eye for detail in his period settings.

In the same NYTimes piece, we learn of Hijuelos’ Cuban heritage and the immigrant life of his two parents, as well as his bilingual and bicultural upbringing in New York:

Oscar Jerome Hijuelos was born in Manhattan on Aug. 24, 1951, and grew up in the borough’s northern Morningside Heights neighborhood that later often figured in his books. His parents, Pascual, a cook at the Biltmore Hotel, and Magdalena Torrens Hijuelos, emigrated from Cuba in the 1940s.

The family spoke Spanish at home, and young Oscar became fluent in English only after a 1955 visit to Cuba, where he contracted a severe kidney infection that required him to spend a year away from his family in a Connecticut hospital.

Although Hijuelos is most known for his creative writing, he started his career in advertising, and also spent some time teaching at Hofstra University in New York (where my dad also works!).

Much of Hijuelos’ writing, whether autobiographical or fictional, focuses on the immigrant experience and the complexities of language, identity and appearance, reflecting Hijuelos’ own conflicting identities as a bicultural child. Hijuelos, a fair-haired boy born to dark-haired Cubans, who preferred to speak English, the language of his classmates and his friends, than Spanish, the language of his heritage, often experienced the push and pull of opposing currents. Hijuelos often writes about this familiar tug-of-war between old and new, assimilation and heritage, foreigner and native, Spanish and English, Cuban and American.

In a different NYTimes article, “Lost in Time and Words, a Child begins Anew,” written by Hijuelos himself, he describes his upbringing and the many struggles he faced straddling two cultures and two languages in a bustling and isolating, yet colorful melting-pot city. At the end, however, Hijuelos affirms his eternal affection for his Hispanic heritage, despite the many challenges of assimilation in the United States:

Then, as the years passed, while learning the hard way that I did not completely fit in with either group, a funny thing happened to me. Despite the strange baggage that I carried about my upbringing, and despite the relative loss of my first language, I eventually came to the point that, when I heard Spanish, I found my heart warming. And that was the moment when I began to look through another window, not out onto 118th Street, but into myself — through my writing, the process by which, for all my earlier alienation, I had finally returned home.

For those of you interested in learning more about Hijuelos and his work, here are some additional links:

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice