International Books: Brazilian Children’s Literature

brazil-5Saludos todos y boa tarde gente! I’m stopping in outside of my normal Monday book reviews to bring you some awesome additional content! Today I have two great books to share that were lent to me by Dr. Leila Lehnen from UNM’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese. The books are written by Brazilian authors, and I’m sharing them with you here in an effort to draw more attention to international children’s books and authors from other countries.

Part of my inspiration writing this post comes from my recent effort to learn Portuguese through an intensive course that I took in Rio this summer. Later in the year I’ll feature some kid’s books that I bought myself while in Brazil. These titles may be hard to get a hold of from the United States, but not impossible. Our hope is to highlight these books to expand our discussion beyond US-based authors’ renditions of Latin America and to pique your interest in or stimulate a discussion on international children’s books.

brazil-7Before I get started reviewing our two books for today, I wanted to give you all a bit of information about Brazilian children’s literature in general. According to Publishing Perspectives, “the children’s book market in Brazil is the biggest in the industry.” Moreover, 2016 is an important year for the children’s book industry in Brazil, since Brazil will be sponsoring the annual International Day for Celebration of Children’s Books, founded by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). Brazilian author, Luciana Sandroni, has been commissioned to write a children’s book specifically for the occasion. As the children’s book scene in Brazil is abounding, we are left wondering why so few of these books make their way to the United States? With these additional posts we hope to bring you diverse, underrepresented books, broaden the horizons of children’s literature in the United States and simply share with you these lovely works.

brazil-6The first book is called A Lua Cheia de Vento, written by Mel Adun and illustrated by Reane Lisboa, and the second one is called Maju, A Princesa do Tempo, written by Aciomar de Oliviera and illustrated by Carmen Munhoz.

A Lua Cheia do Vento focuses on a young, female protagonist, and the romance that develops between two young characters from different parts of the land. At first, the young girl is scared of the boy who comes to drink water from the lake that she calls home, since she never leaves the lake and never meets strangers; but she soon becomes enamored by him. The story continues, with a few plot twists—primarily, the disapproving looks of the fish and other inhabitants of the land—into an endearing love story. At the end of the story, the young boy, Ventania, who is actually the prince of wind, sweeps the young girl, Gotinha, up in a strong gust and flies with her through the nighttime stars. This is how Gotinha becomes the moon and together she and the prince of wind can escape the judging gazes of earth’s inhabitants and live together in the sky. Finally, we learn how the moon became full of wind, as the title reads in Portuguese, “A Lua Cheio de Vento.” This phrase also has a double meaning: either the moon is full of wind, or the moon is full because of the wind. In either sense, this imagery illustrates how the two are lovingly intertwined, and how the moon is in her most complete form when she is with the wind.







Maju, a Princesa do Tempo is a lovely story about a young princess with “robes the color of the moon and tinged the color of the sun, with her fairy voice and her skin the color of passionate night” (for the record, these are my own translations). The princess controls the weather and alerts the sun when to rise and when to set. The gorgeous watercolor illustrations take us through various, fantastical landscapes, where Maju greets the sky and the ocean, “a marvelous day for everyone!” Whenever the wind starts to blow strong gusts of wind, Maju warns all the people to protect them from the wind’s strength. This beautiful story and its equally beautiful illustrations place a female protagonist in a position of agency and power, and, although young, she is a goddess of the land, and an equalizing force amongst nature’s volatile whims.

Both of these books are stunning and certainly worth a gander. I hope you’ve enjoyed this extra post– stay tuned for many more to come!

¡Hasta pronto!




¡Mira, Look!: Tales our Abuelitas Told

abuelita“Aunque ensile el pensamiento,/libre amor, nadie lo alcanza./ Even if someone were to saddle thought,/ Nothing can restrain love’s freedom” – Antonio Machado, “Canción a Guiomar III”

Saludos todos! We are concluding our September ¡Mira, Look! posts with another great book that highlights Hispanic heritage and the beauty of shared tradition. Tales our Abuelitas Told, written by F. Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada, and illustrated by Felipe Davalos, Vivi Escrive, Susan Guevara, and Legla Torres, is a lovely compilation of Hispanic folktales whose origins span the globe. Given the length and detail of the stories, this book is best for more advanced readers; however, if children are being read to, all ages could enjoy these beautiful tales.

tales-1The book begins with a “Welcome” section, where Campoy and Ada introduce not only their objective in creating such a collection, but also the general history and development of many of these tales, starting in Europe, with Arabic and Jewish influence, and moving to Latin America, fusing with African heritage. While providing an extensive and impressive history of folklore throughout the Iberian peninsula and then the Western hemisphere, Campoy and Ada remind readers of the ultimate beauty and importance of story-telling: “Through stories people share their dreams, their hopes, and the lessons they learn from life, and also their celebration of the imagination and the ingenuity of a well-told tale.”

tales-2The introduction provides an excellent, synthesized overview of the historical context of these stories, which in itself could lead to a variety of lessons on history and geography. From the European relations between the Greeks, Phoenicians, and Carthaginians, the invasion in Spain of the Visigoths, and the Arabic influence in southern Spain, to the onset of colonization in 1492, the indigenous civilizations of the Americas and their “magnificent civilizations,” and the slave trade, the introduction provides a detailed account of the history of these folktales. In particular, the authors discuss the influence of African culture in the Americas:

The enslaved African people, who were brought to the Americas, came without material possessions. Still, they carried with them their experiences, their knowledge, their cultural beliefs and worldviews, their languages and their stories. Some of the best-known and most-beloved stories told in Latin America today originated in Africa or among the African people forced into slavery.

tales-3This collection is rich with historical context and cultural heritage, weaving in thoughts, sentiments, stories and dreams of peoples from all over the globe, who spent their lives in Latin America. Imbued in the telling and retellings of Ada and Campoy is a love and awe for the power of storytelling and the resounding tragedy, mirth, and beauty of the past.

Yhe authors’ “Welcome” section also introduces the format for their rich and highly informative collection: “After each story we tell you a little about its origin—and in some cases about our relationship with the story—so that you may learn a bit more about the people who created that tale and the long journey it has traveled to reach you.”

tales-4One particular folktale, “Blancaflor,” tells the story of a young prince whose father, the king, has fallen terribly ill. In exchange for his father’s health, the prince makes a deal with spirit, that in three years’ time, he must go to the Three Silver Towers in the Land of No Return. Once the king has regained his health, he insists that his son must marry, so that he can live to see his grandchildren. However his son denies every proposition, and, right before three years have gone by, starts making his way towards the Land of No Return. Although the Land of No Return is a bleak and barren place, the prince meets a young girl by the name of Blancaflor. Here, the story takes an uplifting turn, and readers will delight in Blancaflor’s cunning and charm, and the ensuing tale of young love: “And this is the story of Blancaflor. It began with threads of silver and ended with threads of gold, all woven for you in the story I told.”

Some of you may remember the name of the folktale from a book review I did last year on Fiesta Feminina, another collection of folktales that focuses specifically on tales with female protagonists, including the tale of Blancaflor. As acknowledged by Alma flor Ada, who wrote the note “About ‘Blancaflor’” at the end of the story, this is a popular tale which originated in Spain and which has had many renditions  told and heard throughout the years: “In that same spirit, I have taken a few liberties myself.

tales-5At the beginning of the book, following the introduction, the authors have also included a page on “To Begin a Story,” where they provide Spanish phrases and their English translations: “To gain their full attention, the storyteller begins with a phrase that seizes listeners’ imaginations.” Readers learning Spanish or English as a second language will benefit from these translations, and more advanced readers could even use them in an exercise on writing and storytelling.  From “había una vez…/Once upon a time…” to “Para saber y contar y contar para aprender…/To know in order to tell and tell in order to know…”, students could practice using these opening lines to start and create their own stories. To deepen the exercise, teachers could also have students focus their original tale on childhood memories, family history and culture, or other such markers of heritage. At the back of the book, the authors have included a page on “To End a Story,” where again they provide readers (and educators) with a list of Spanish and English phrases useful for wrapping up a tale “…y colorín colorado, este cuento se ha acabado/…and, my many-colored feathered friend, now the story has found an end.” Just as Ada and Campoy have drawn from cultural heritage to exercise their own creativity, students of all ages could do the same.

For more information about the author and illustrator, here are some additional links:

For more ideas on how to use this book in the classroom, here are some additional links:

Stay tuned for an introduction to October’s themes and some more great reads!

¡Hasta pronto!


Images modified from: Tales our Abuelitas Told, pages 8, 13, 22, 36, 50


September 23rd | Week in Review


¡Hola a todos! The materials for this Week in Review are focused on the need for diverse books in children’s literature. Enjoy!

– Out of the page Reading While White, KT Horning shared what happens When Whiteness Dominates Reviews and asks the questions, “Why is it that Whiteness continues to dominate professional reviews? And what can be done to change that?”

– Professor Sarah Park (a faculty person in the Library and Information Science department at St. Catherine University) discusses the importance of diversity with her post on “Picture This: Reflecting Diversity in Children’s Book Publishing.”

— Also, on the page Mother Jones, Dashka Slater reveals The Uncomfortable Truth About Children’s Books. This is a huge and important issue as, “80% of children’s book world – authors, illustrators, editors, execs, marketers, and reviewers are white,” expresses Slater.

–Here is a question to think about. “How Many Central American of Note can you Name?” According to Teaching for Change, there are more than four million Central Americans in the US, yet most schools lack resources to teach about Central American heritage. This new website from Teaching for Change addresses that disparity!

— Lastly, here are 5 Books to Help You Raise a Globally Minded Child, shared by Lee & Low Books on their Facebook page.


Image: Open book. Reprinted from Flickr user Γιάννης Ηλίας under CC ©.

Guía del educador: El soñador

¡Saludos a todos! Estoy muy emocionada por tener la oportunidad de trabajar para ustedes este año. Para aquellos que no me conocen, me llamo Valeria y trabajo para el Institutio Latinoamericano e Ibérico (LAII) en la Universidad de Nuevo México. Este año me voy a enfocar en las traducciones de los Guías del educador (Educator’s Guides) para algunos de los libros bilingües más solicitados por ustedes. El propósito de mi participación en este blog es facilitar el uso de estos libros en el salón de clase, ¡y espero que las traducciones les sean útiles!

El-SonadorEsta semana, les presento la Guía del educador para el libro El soñador por Pam Muñoz Ryan. Pueden encontrar esta guía en la página Educator’s Guides junto con la versión en inglés. Sin embargo, el link directo está aquí.

Ojalá les guste esta guía, y busquen mi próximo mensaje que anunciará la próxima traducción!


Hello everyone! I am very excited for the opportunity to work for you this year. For those of you who don’t already know me, my name is Valeria and I work with the LAII at the University of New Mexico. This year I am focusing on translating some of the most requested Educator’s Guides into Spanish. The purpose of my participation in this blog is to facilitate the use of these books in the classroom, and I hope these translations are helpful to you!

This week, I present the Educator’s Guide for The Dreamer/El soñador by Pam Muñoz Ryan. You can find access to the Spanish-language version of both the page and the PDF of the Educator’s Guide in the Educator’s Guides page. The direct link to the page for El soñador can also be found here.

I hope you like and benefit from this translation, and keep an eye out for my next blog post announcing the latest translation!

Con cariño,



En la Clase: A Perfect Season for Dreaming/Un Tiempo Perfecto Para Soñar

PerfectSeasonforDreaming_cover_72dpiIt’s no secret that we’re huge fans of Benjamin Alire Sáenz at Vamos a Leer.  We love his poetry, adult fiction, young adult novels, and children’s literature.  As we continue to highlight resources and literature that present nuanced interpretations of Latinx identity, this week’s En la Clase is all about Sáenz’s bilingual children’s book A Perfect Season for Dreaming/Un Tiempo Perfecto Para Soñar

Cinco Puntos Press offers the following description of the book: “An old man tells his granddaughter about the nine most beautiful dreams of his lifetime.  So, what exactly is the perfect season for dreaming? For Octavio Rivera, it’s summer, when the sky is so blue and a few lovely clouds come floating along to decorate it. It turns out that Octavio Rivera is a beautiful dreamer. And on these first long days of summer, he is visited by some very interesting dreams. But Octavio doesn’t tell anyone about his dreams, not after the first one, not after the second, not after the next or the next or the next. Finally, though, he can’t stand it anymore and he wants to tell someone so bad that his heart hurts. He decides that the only one he can trust with his dreams, the only one who won’t make fun of him for being too old or eating too much chorizo, the only one who will understand is his young granddaughter Regina because she also has beautiful and fantastic dreams.  And that sets Octavio Rivera free to enjoy one last long and lovely dream.”

At a glance, it may seem like a simple counting book, but it’s so much more, making it appropriate even for children who are long past learning their numbers.  This is a book that is not only beautifully written and illustrated, but provides authentic, engaging, culturally relevant content as well.

Culturally relevant pedagogy (also referred to as culturally responsive teaching or multicultural education) has quickly become one of A Perfect Season for Dreaming | Benjamin Alire Saenzthe new buzz terms in education over the past decade.  Many cite Gloria Ladson Billings as the scholar who brought the concept to the forefront of educational conversation and research.  For Ladson Billings, one of the key pieces to culturally relevant pedagogy is that it “empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes” (The Dreamkeepers).  Woven throughout Octavio Rivera’s dreams are cultural referents that will speak to many Latinx, Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano, and Hispanic children.  Many will recognize the Spanish guitars, blooming desert cacti, armadillos, and marachi singers as familiar cultural references.  Children from the Southwest will delight in seeing some of their own hometowns mentioned in the story, as Denver, El Paso, Júarez, Lubbock, and Tucson all make appearances in the text.  Esau Andrade Valencia’s illustrations bring the surrealistic dreams to life, offering authentic colorful desert landscapes.  For students who aren’t familiar with any of this, the reading allows them to experience and learn about something new in a way that doesn’t perpetuate damaging cultural stereotypes.

Discussion Suggestions:

While young readers will certainly appreciate the structure and rhythm of the counting book, the simple text provides the opportunity to discuss so much more.  One of the more special elements of the story is Octavio’s relationship with his six-year-old granddaughter.  She is the only one he trusts to share his dreams with.  Their relationship provides the opportunity to introduce students to issues of ageism and breakdown many of the labels and stereotypes applied to the very old or the very young.  Ask students to think about the kinds of stereotypes we have about people who are older or younger. What words or pictures do they associate with those who are very old or very young? Then, ask them if they have a friend who is much older or younger. Does this person fit these stereotypes? What is their relationship like with that person? Ask them to think about why Octavio only chooses to share his dreams with his granddaughter.  Have them imagine that they have an older friend like Octavio.  What kinds of things could they share with that friend that they might not be able to share with someone their own age? Discuss these ideas as a class.

A Perfect Season for Dreaming | Benjamin Alire Saenz

Activity Suggestions:

When asked about the book, Sáenz wrote, “As a boy, I always hoped that when we broke the piñata at a party, that all sorts of beautiful things would come flying out.  Nothing ever came out but candy.  I suppose I wrote this book to set the world right.”  The fantastical, surreal, and magical nature of the book makes it perfect for the beginning of the year.  Often times the first month or two of the school year is focused on the teaching and establishing of routines, procedures, and expectations.  While necessary, all of this does little to encourage or build creativity.  A book like this offers a counterbalance.  It offers a celebration of the power of dreaming, something we don’t often talk about in our classrooms.  It’s also a chance for students to tap into their imaginations and practice a little inspired inventiveness.  Use the book’s text and imagery as a model.  Copying the dreaming premise of the book, ask students to create a counting book using their own cultural referents blended together with other fantastical elements.  If time is short, assign each student one number and have them create a page just for that number.  Then, combine each student’s page to create a class counting book.  If possible, have them visit a younger class and read their book to that class.

We’re not alone in thinking this is a wonderful book.  It has received a number of awards and honors, including the Kids’ Indie Next List (Winter 2008-09); Tejas Star Book Award; Paterson Prize; Best Book for Children; Texas Institute of Letters (TIL); Bank Street’s Best Children’s Books of the Year (2009); and Américas Book Award Honor Book (2009).

As always, if you’ve used the book with your students, we’d love to hear about it.  If your students make their own counting books, we’d love to see their creations! Just post a picture in the comments below.  Children’s art and writing is one of my most favorite things to see!

Until next week,












¡Mira Look!: Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes

portraitsSaludos todos! Our book for this week is Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes, written by Juan Felipe Herrera and illustrated by Raúl Colón (the same illustrator from last week’s book, Tomás and the Library Lady). Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes won the Pura Belpré Honor Book award for narrative in 2015, and perfectly embodies this month’s endeavor of honoring exceptional Latinos in children’s literature, as well as in society as a whole.

Each chapter of this wonderful compilation of portraits narrates the life and work of a Latinx hero, ranging from iconic activists such as Dolores Huerta and César Chávez, to trail-blazing intellectuals such as Sonia Sotomayor and Tomás Rivera, to some of my own personal idols, such as contemporary singer Joan Baez and 1920s author Julia de Burgos.

portraits-3Despite their unique backgrounds, ambitions, and accomplishments, all of these timeless figures share certain traits: courageous voices and a lasting impact on the Hispanic community. As exemplified in the chapter on Mexican-American folk singer, Joan Baez, who is known for her activism in the civil rights movements of the 60s and 70s, and her poetic, politically-charged song lyrics, these figures challenged the unfavorable odds placed against them, and blazed new trails for many to come: “One summer she picked up a ukulele, trained herself all that season, and changed her ‘sweet…thin and straight’ voice into a vibrant, magnetic cascade. ‘Powerless to change my social standing, I decided to change my voice,’ she said.”  Joan Baez ultimately used her voice, her art and her talent to spread a message of peace to areas of conflict around the world.

portraits-1portraits-5As noted by Publisher’s Weekly review, Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes’ biographical descriptions focus skillfully on the essence of the person’s character and drive, rather than merely outlining the historical facts: “The vignettes don’t overwhelm with dates and places, instead providing interesting snippets about the scientists, entertainers, civil rights workers, doctors, artists, politicians, educators, and judges.” In other words, each non-fictional portrait reads like a story rather than an encyclopedia entry, adding a comforting touch of informality and familiarity. The narrative style encourages readers to imaginatively enjoy the adventures and characteristics of these prominent figures, while also learning about the history of Hispanic-Americans in the United States. Although this book is best suited for ages 8-12, younger children may also enjoy the stories of these exceptional people as a read-aloud.

In an LA Review Books interview with author Juan Felipe Herrera, Daniel Olivas asks him to reflect on the underrepresentation of Latinxs in history, culture and literature. Herrera’s response shows the magnitude of this issue:

portraits-4We have always wanted a democratic awareness of all of our stories — everyone, all colors, all languages, all religions, all gender identities and orientations. To tell you the truth, I was bowled over at the lack of materials — interviews, books, research — on Latin@s that have achieved great heights. So much so, that I had to make calls and interview family members and the people themselves. It is one thing to enjoy the names and the lists of amazing people and their deeds and to hear their names in the media and holiday occasions and it is quite another thing to step into deep research and find a handful of dusty volumes and a couple of glossy biographies and autobiographies. We need writers to get to the task. And we need to walk these books to the centers of educational institutions — this is what it is all about.

portraits-2Herrera explains how his intensive research led him to a deeper understanding and admiration for these famous individuals, whose  pain, struggle, and ultimate perseverance became intimately apparent to him: “Border issues, citizenship, from island to mainland, fame, struggle, moments of enlightenment, ultimate transcendence — all of this floored me. I bow to all these heroes. Thank you, gracias, I say to them every day.”   Here is the essence of Herrera’s wonderful book: readers are at once stunned and moved by the impressiveness of these underrepresented and understudied heroes. Moreover, given Herrera’s accessible writing, these heroes’  everyday lives and accomplishments become simultaneously stories of lived experience, a collective conscience, and a shared heritage.

For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom and in teaching about Hispanic heritage and Hispanic historical figures, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned for next week’s featured Pura Belpré award winner!


Images modified from: Pages 40, 56, 60, and 68

September 16th | Week in Review


¡Hola a todos! I hope you have a good weekend. Enjoy the materials for this week. I know I had a really fun time gathering them. Let me know what you think, I would love to hear your thoughts.

– As the 50th anniversary of UNESCO’s founding of International Literacy Day, we wanted to share with you The Literacy Project, where they honor past and present efforts to reduce literacy at a global scale.

– Our Américas Award friends shared on their Facebook page an important article that highlights the reality of diverse children’s book. BookRiot’s Justina Ireland questions “Where Are All the YA Books for Kids of Color: September Edition.”

— Also, on their Facebook page Teaching for Change shared a story of a school that questioned, “How Diverse is Our Classroom Library?”

–Here is a quick six-minute read on Where to Find “Diverse” Children’s Books by Melissa Giraud, co-founder of EmbraceRace.

— Congratulations to Cuban-American author Meg Medina and Mexican-American author Anna-Marie McLemore who are on the prestigious 2016 National Book Awards Longlist: Young People’s Literature

– Lastly, again from Teaching for Change, we discovered the Smithsonian’s Global Folklorist Challenge where young people between the ages 8-18 are challenging and inspired to interview the elders in their community.

Alin Badillo

Image: Latin American Flags. Reprinted from Flickr user Steven Damron under CC ©.