December 2nd | Week in Review


¡Hola a todos! Another month has passed, and I just want to let you know that I am extremely grateful to share all of these resources with you. I really hope they are of use to you.

– Our friends at Remezcla shared a preview of the Latin American women featured in Rad Women Worldwide by Kate Schatz.

– With Fidel’s passing, Teaching for Change reminds us that the film Maestra (Teacher) is an invaluable resource for learning/teaching about Cuba. “Narrated by Alice Walker, Maestra explores the experiences of nine women who, as young girls, helped eradicate Cuban illiteracy within one year.”

— Also, at their Facebook page, Rethinking Education shared 6 Potential Brain Benefits Of Bilingual Education. “[Bilinguals] can pay focused attention without being distracted and also improve in the ability to switch from one task to another.”

–Here are 8 Ideas for Educators to Get Students Excited About the Public Library This School Year as shared by our friends at Lee & Low Books.

— Additionally, here is what happens in the classroom when you Don’t Say Nothing shared by our friends at Teaching Tolerance. “When their teachers choose to remain silent about moments of racial tension or violence—violence that may well touch students’ own communities or families—these children are overtly reminded of their inferior place in society.”

– Lastly, here are We Need Diverse Books’ top 5 Middle Grade Novels About Immigration. I personally love Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan.

Alin Badillo

Image: Street art. Reprinted from Flickr user Classic Film under CC©.

5 Latino/a Children’s and YA Books Honoring Immigrant Experiences in the Winter Season

Buenos días a todas y todos,

The Vamos a Leer theme for this month, as written in Keira’s Sobre Deciembre post, is focused on winter celebrations.  I was eager to explore children’s and YA literature around this topic in hopes of finding books that are reflective of the diverse familial celebrations, religious and spiritual practices, and cultural traditions throughout Latin America.  However, it would be disingenuous to state that this eagerness remained after learning the outcome of the election.  Rather, like many others, I began to reflect on the multiple uncertainties that our communities face.  More specifically, what will the future hold for those that are from other countries and living in the United States?  With everything that I read being filtered through this lens, I decided it was best to reframe the theme a bit.

This month’s reading selection will focus on Latinos/as living within the US, with ties to another country, and who experience the holidays and winter season differently because of this.  The books below are diverse in narrative, yet are connected by the common thread of living in dual worlds.  My hope is that this book selection not only validates these experiences, but can provide some comfort to our students and children.

Happy reading and happy holidays!

Un abrazo,


Alfredito Flies Home
Written by Jorge Argueta
Illustrated by Luis Garay
Translated by Elisa Amado
Published by Groundwood Books
ISBN: 978-0-88899-585-8
Age level:  4-9 years old

Description (from House of Anansi Press):

Alfredito and his family are getting ready to return to their old home in El Salvador for Christmas, their first time back since they left as refugees. But they will make this trip on a plane; the first time any of them has ever flown. The excitement mounts as they drive to the airport, get on the plane and fly up into the air, each step bringing an increasing level of amazement. But the greatest moment of all is when they finally arrive and their beloved relatives meet them. Their old house looks and feels as it always did. The smells, the food, the new puppies, the familiar plants and flowers fill Alfredito’s heart with a sense of belonging and joy.

My thoughts:

alfreditoAlfredito Flies Homes captures a young boy’s excitement as he prepares to return to El Salvador for Christmas and his reflection of how he felt upon coming to the US four years earlier.  In contrast to the other Argueta books that I have read, Alfredito Flies Home is much more serious in tone.  It thoughtfully represents the complex emotions felt when one has two countries which they call home.  The sincerity of everyday moments expressed within the book through both the prose and artwork is captivating.  The realistic illustrations by Garay beautifully complement the sentiments in the text as well.  He also does a wonderful job at highlighting the blending of two cultures, as in the image of the artwork hanging in Afredito’s home in the US.  Aside from simply enjoying this book, I recommend it here because its versatile approach means that it can be used to discuss multiple topics in both the classroom and at home.

This book has an English and Spanish version.

Salsa Stories
Written and Illustrated by Lulu Delacre
Published by Scholastic Press
ISBN: 0-590-63118-7
Age level: Grades 2-5

Description (from Scholastic):

Carmen Teresa’s house rocks to the beat of Salsa music as grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and neighbors from all over Latin America arrive in their Silver Spring, Maryland home. Together they cook, gossip, play dominos, dance, and enjoy the warmth of this special New Year’s Day celebration.

When Dona Josepha gives Carmen Teresa a blank notebook as a present, the guests suggest that she fill it with stories that they remember from their own childhoods. And from there, everyone from this charming cast of characters has a unique story to tell.
When everyone is finished, Carmen Teresa has her own idea of how she will fill her book. She has enjoyed everyone’s stories. But since she loves to cook, and each storyteller has mentioned foods associated with the particular occasion in their stories, she decides to create a cook book and write down all of their recipes. And, of course, recipes are included at the end of the book.

My thoughts:

One for the YA readers!  In spirit with last month’s theme of food as cultural heritage, Salsasalsa-stories Stories is a great representation of the vital role food plays in maintaining culture and acting as the link that connects so many together, despite where one is living.  Through collecting family recipes, our protagonist, Carmen Teresa, figured out her own way to preserve her family’s rich histories.  Salsa Stories, written and illustrated by Lulu Delacre, is a great read.  Delacre does an excellent job at creating a holiday environment that feels life-like: the commotion, the sounds, the smells.  Represented in the book are several different Latin American countries and, lucky for us readers, we get to try out some recipes from a few of them.  I’m looking forward to trying to make “Mamá’s Yuca con Mojo Criollo.”

Lastly, please check out how Delacre created the impressive artwork for Salsa Stories!

Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid
Written and Illustrated by Xavier Garza
Published by Cinco Puntos Press
ISBN: 9781933693248
Age level: Grades K-4

Description (from Cinco Puntos Press):

Let’s welcome Santa’s newest helper: his cousin Pancho, a farmer living down in South Texas who is so smart he speaks Spanish and English. Back in the day, Pancho was a mariachi singer with a whole lot of style and a fancy sombrero. But as the years passed, Pancho got, well, a little older and a little wider all around. Then one night his primo Santa Claus showed up. Santa needed some help! Pancho volunteered. And then, poof, Santa transformed Pancho into the resplendent Charro Claus with his incredibly Flying Burritos. And Charro Claus, it turns out, even had his own surprise elf—his nephew Vincente!
All Christmas Eve, Vincente and Pancho deliver toys to the boys and girls on the border. Neither rain, cloudy skies, wire fences nor concrete walls keep them from covering every inch of their newly assigned territory. And they don’t forget a single town or city. How could they? The border is their home.

My thoughts:

charroXavier Garza, the award-winning author from Texas, writes and illustrates another great story.  Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid is a fun read!  This bilingual book provides a refreshing perspective to the Santa Claus narrative: burros en vez de deer, lucha libre masks, mariachi, and cheer!  Most importantly, however, is its focus on the border; a place where the adjoining of two worlds is most profoundly felt, and unfortunately often overlooked or forgotten.  Beverly Slapin in her De Colores post says it best: “I’d like to see every child living in the towns on both sides of the outrageous, forbidding, miles-long barb-wired fence—and especially, every refugee child held in the border-town detention centers—own a copy of this book. They could all use a little magic, right about now.”

Thank you, Xavier Garza for introducing us to Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid!

Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems/ Iguanas en la nieve y otros poemas de invierno
Written by Francisco X. Alarcón
Illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez
Published by Children’s Book Press
ISBN: 0-89239-168-5

Description (from Lee & Low Books):

In their final collection of seasonal poetry, poet Francisco X. Alarcón and artist Maya Christina Gonzalez invite us to celebrate winter—by the seashore, in the magic city of San Francisco, and in the ancient redwood forests of the Sierras.

We see a city where people are bridges to each other and children sing poetry in two languages. A family frolic in the snow reminds the poet of the iguanas playing by his grandmother’s house in Mexico. We are dazzled by the promise of seedling redwoods—like all children—destined to be the ancestors of tomorrow.

Artist Maya Christina Gonzalez has once again created a spirited family of children and adults who swing their way through colorful pages. Collages of old maps of Mexico and California provide intriguing backgrounds, and fun-loving iguanas peek out at us from the most surprising places.

My thoughts:

Alarcón’s Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems/Iguanas en la nieve y otros poemas de invierno is a wonderful celebration of winter in San Francisco.  The simple, yet reflective iguanaspoems honor the season, history, family and community (animal friends included), migrant workers, la nochebuena, and bilingualism.  This collection of poetry promotes a reverence for diversity, a connection to where we came from before finding ourselves where we are, and the beauty that this difference creates in our communities.  “I dreamed/a city open/to the sea/soaking her feet/in a bay/friendly/very joyful/and kind/with bridges ready to/embrace us all/a city/where people/become/bridges/to each/other.” Gonzalez’s artwork contributes to the vibrancy and joy to the poems.  I especially enjoyed finding the iguana on each page, bundled up in its winter clothes.

As mentioned in the description, Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems/Iguanas en la nieve y otros poemas de invierno, is a part of a collection of poems.  Please check out Alarcón’s and Gonzalez’s other works as well.  Lorraine wrote an excellent review on one!

Thank you, Francisco X. Alarcón, for having shared your gift with all of us.

When Christmas Feels Like Home
Written by Gretchen Griffith
Illustrated by Carolina Farias
Published by Albert Whitman and Company
ISBN: 978-0-8075-8871-7
Age level: 4 -8 years old

Description (from Albert Whitman and Company):

After moving from a small village in Mexico to a town in the United States, Eduardo is sure it will never feel quite like home. The other children don’t speak his language and they do not play fútbol. His family promises him that he will feel right at home by the time Christmas comes along, when “your words float like clouds from your mouth” and “trees will ride on cars.” With whimsical imagery and a sprinkling of Spanish vocabulary, Gretchen Griffith takes readers on a multicultural journey with Eduardo who discovers the United States is not so different from Latin America and home is wherever family is.

My thoughts:

I will start by saying that there are some minor drawbacks to the story — readers will notchristmas get a sense of where Eduardo and his family are coming from (despite the above description saying Mexico), the Spanish felt a little clumsy, and there are no gritty experiences to be overcome – it is an “easy” book in many ways.  Yet, I found it to also be a lovely book: creative in its prose, thoughtful in its representation of the sharing of cultures and the changing seasons, and with a sort of universal-feel to it.  It is a story to which many can relate. It is also beautifully illustrated.  When Christmas Feels Like Home is a “feel good” story.  Its focus on a welcoming community, intercultural exchange, friendship, and family are all qualities and values that I can get behind!

¡Mira Look!: Miracle on 133rd Street

Image result for miracle on 133rd street lesson plansSaludos todos! I hope everyone had a nice and relaxing Thanksgiving break! This week we’re continuing with our November themes of food and the cultural importance of food while also transitioning into our brief December focus on winter celebrations. We’ve spent November highlighting the importance of food in cultural celebrations and rituals as well as community environments, which has been a nice way for us to bridge the celebrations of late October and early November such as Day of the Dead, late November celebrations such as Thanksgiving, and December celebrations such as Christmas and Las Posadas.

133rd-1 Our book for this week, Miracle on 133rd Street, written by Sonia Manzano and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, focuses on the frantic energy of the yuletide season, as a family tries to find space for their holiday roast. The oven is too small in the family’s tiny, New York City apartment, forcing them to journey through the halls of their apartment complex, seeking help from their diverse neighbors, all of whom are also anticipating and preparing for their own holiday celebrations. The plot of finding space for the holiday roast is what drives the story showing how food facilitates community and brings people together. Food is at the crux of this exciting and endearing plot, as it is for many of us celebrating the holidays.

133rd-2 The author, Sonia Manzano, is a retired actress best known for her role as Maria on Sesame Street. Interestingly enough, many of this story’s illustrations and scenes resemble some of the dynamics of Sesame Street, with a diverse cast of characters all coming together on the street, in the hallways, and, generally, through the lively maze of New York City. The stunning, colorful illustrations also brightens the gray and white tableau of New York City during wintertime with cheerfully colored homes, people, lights and stars.

133rd-3The story starts with young José decorating “the tiniest Christmas tree ever” while his mother curses in the kitchen—“she added a string of words he was not allowed to use—in English or in Spanish”—as she tries to find space for the holiday roast: “’We never should have left Puerto Rico. There we could have roasted it outside. Everything is too small here. Small kitchen. Small apartment. Small everything. We need a bigger oven.’” The beginning of this story starts with some typical holiday season sentiments, such as stress over cooking, organizing amongst family, excitement about the special occasion, while also adding another element characteristic of the immigrant experience—missing home. Although the holidays are often a special time, they can also be a sad time when people miss their homes, the holiday rituals of their culture, and their loved ones abroad: “José knew his mother needed a joke; every Christmas she got homesick for Puerto Rico.” This has been a recurrent theme in many of my holiday posts, including some from last year, such as Feliz Navidad, by José Feliciano, and some from this year, such as The Storyteller’s Candle/La velita de los cuentos by Lucia M. Gonzalez. The holidays are simultaneously a time of joy and mirth, and yearning and nostalgia, especially for those living between two countries and two cultures.

133rd-4While José’s mom struggles to find room for the holiday roast, José suggests that they take the roast down to the pizza shop to roast it in the pizza oven. Although intended as a joke, José’s parents think it’s a brilliant idea. As José and his father push their way through the crowded and excited hallway, with their neighbors popping out, one by one, to see what the commotion is about, readers are introduced to a diverse array of characters, and their own, individual stresses, laments and regrets this time of year. Mrs. Whitman in 4B’s children are driving her crazy and she can’t wait until school starts up again; Mr. and Mrs. Santiago miss their children who can’t come home to visit this year; Mr. Franklin anxiously advises the family to not go out the day before Christmas, because “that’s when all the muggers are out”; and Ms. Simon and Mr. Wozensky lament the over-commercialization of the holidays and the materialism and financial stress associated with buying presents. Even Mr. Ray at the pizza shop, once José and his father finally arrive, laments that “’Nobody eats here on Christmas Eve. They just take their pies and go home.’”

133rd-5 Mr. Ray agrees to cook their roast in his big pizza oven and José and his father wait patiently in the shop as it cooks. José even dozes off for a little while, but when he wakes up, he is overwhelmed by the delicious scent of the roast and all of the happy feelings and memories associated with it: “And that’s when it hit him. A scent. A most glorious scent. A scent so garlicky and olive oily and delicious it made you want to eat—even if you weren’t hungry. A bouquet that made you feel excited, except you didn’t know why. A smell that made you feel something wonderful could happen, but you didn’t know what.” The scent of the finished roast makes José and his father so happy, especially after their long journey of finding a place to cook it, meandering through waves of curious and agitated neighbors, and trudging through mounds of New York City snow, that they feel overwhelmed by love, affection, and yuletide mirth: “The aroma seemed to lift José to his feet and wrap itself around all of them like a scarf. There was nothing left to do but hug.” This lovely scene reinforces how food (the smell, taste, and preparation process) can have profoundly emotional and visceral impacts, and can facilitate unity, love and communication amongst people. This scene also shows an interesting intergenerational conflict, where José, upon smelling the roast, is reminded of all of his previous Christmases and is overwhelmed by joy and fond memories, whereas his mother, who has many more memories of Puerto Rico, is still at home overwhelmed by nostalgia and feelings of longing.

133rd-6In the Christmas spirit, José’s father also decides to invite the pizza shop owner, Mr. Ray, back to their home for Christmas dinner. Although José and his family miss Puerto Rico, these cultural differences and individual memories also make them feel at home in the diverse atmosphere of New York City. As a New Yorker myself, I can’t help but smile at the illustrations and scenes of all different people, from different countries and cultures, with different lives and experiences coming together in the holiday spirit to offer some help, share some advice, or vent some frustration.

133rd-7As José, his father and Mr. Ray make their way back through the hall, the enchanting aroma of the roast seeps through the doors of all the neighbors. Everyone comes out to fawn over the delicious, mouth-watering roast, and José’s father invites them all to come over to help them eat it. Again, we see how the enchanting effect of food brings people together: “As José, Papi and Mr. Ray came through the door, the miraculous aroma filled up the apartment quickly. The guests filled the apartment even quicker.” This wonderful story, although filled with moments of mirth, love and kindness, also shows the reality of the holidays, the human and relatable feelings of nostalgia, longing, and sometimes sadness. Ultimately, this is what makes this book so wonderful—as all these different characters from different cultures with different life stories come together, they realize that they’re actually not all that different. Everyone has some sad stories, everyone is thinking about a loved one far away, and everyone is stressed with planning, finances, interpersonal dynamics—but at the end, this is what makes them all human, and this is what brings them all together.

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

Stay tuned for one last book review before we leave for winter break!

¡Hasta pronto!


Illustrations modified from Miracle on 133rd Street: pages 5, 6, 8, 12, 13

Sobre Diciembre: Latino/a Resources for Teaching Winter Celebrations


Dear all,

We’re wrapping up our discussion of food as cultural heritage and celebration here at Vamos a Leer and turning our attention to the winter season and winter celebrations as December comes upon us. In the next few weeks we’ll share resources with you for how to highlight and explore Latino/a- celebrations and traditions that focus on this time of year.

As always, let us know if you have ideas and resources! We welcome your input.



November 25th | Week in Review


¡Hola a todos! I want to wish you a very peaceful, joyful, gratitude-filled, and unforgettable Thanksgiving break. As you recover from the revelry, I hope you enjoy our review for this week.

– Our friends at We Need Diverse Books shared 50 Mighty Girl Books Celebrating Diversity and Acceptance. I personally love the book The Colors of Us.

– Our Anansesem friends shared What’s Important to Us? The Value of Books, Libraries and Kid Lit in Caribbean Societies. “When we read picture books in particular, we enhance children’s visual literacy and teach them about the power of the image to render the visible world.”

Latinx in Kid Lit expressed their thoughts on Good Men & Bad Men: On Latino Masculinities in Joe Jiménez’s Bloodline. Sonia expresses “Bloodline by Joe Jiménez is an excellent example of the impact these polarizing views of Latino masculinity can have in the lives of Latino boys and young adults.”

– Lastly, from Multicultural Children’s Book Day, we found 10 Interesting Facts About the Mapuche People that can be shared with your classroom. “They were located between the Valley of Aconcagua to the Island of Chiloé in southern Chile, and in Argentina, in the region of Neuquén and the Patagonia.”

Alin Badillo

Image: Cartoon Books. Reprinted from Flickr user La Prehistoria en E.I under CC©.

National Picture Book Month

¡Hola artistas!

What makes picture books unique? They have both words and pictures! To celebrate November’s National Picture Book Month I wanted to take a moment to recognize one of my favorite artists, Yuyi Morales, whose work we have had the privilege of showcasing here at Vamos a Leer.


As Neoshia wrote in 2013, Morales is a Mexican author and illustrator who was born in Xalapa, Mexico. She immigrated to the United States as an adult. Although she has written most of her work while in residence in California, she maintains her Mexican roots. In fact, much of her work has been influenced by her childhood in Mexico in what is known as the “City of Flowers” and her Mexican heritage. In her YouTube video, Why I Love Picture Books, Morales herself recounts her first encounter with picture books as “love at first sight.”

Morales’ multimedia techniques, including the puppet making she began experimenting with in 1995 when she moved to the United States, set her apart from many illustrators. To see some of her creations, check out her art-infused website that echoes the liveliness and vivid colors of her books,  learn about your favorite characters within them, and even how they were made! Some of my favorite parts include:


You can learn more about Morales and view more of her artwork at PaperTigers (which celebrates books and artists from around the world), and at Let’s Talk Picture Books’ Illustrator Spotlight.

We’ve also talked about Yuyi Morales at Vamos a Leer – be sure to take a re-look at some past posts:

Wishes for a creative noviembre,



Image: “Breakfast.” Reprinted from Yuyi Morales’ website, Frida’s Photo Album.

Image: “Death waiting and waiting for grandma beetle.” Reprinted from Yuyi Morales’ website, Death’s Photo Album.





Quick Recess!

Hi everyone! With the craziness of the semester coming to an end, and all of the existential dread associated with the recent election, I haven’t been able to write a book review for this week. Please stay tuned for the following week, after Thanksgiving break, for the start of our winter themes!