Good Bye From the Blog Team: See You in the Fall!

Saludos todos!

I’m just popping in here to let our readers know that we are approaching the end of our semester, which means that we’re concluding our blogging schedule for the time being.  While we here at The University of New Mexico enjoy a reprieve of summer term, we hope that you, as educators around the country, do, too! We’ll be  back in August to share more resources with you and to continue our conversations around diverse literature in the classroom.

I also wanted to add a few personal notes on behalf of our whole blogging  team here at Vamos a Leer. For my own part, I will not be returning next year as a Mira, Look writer, since I am graduating from the UNM Latin American Studies Master’s program in just a couple weeks. I have greatly enjoyed these past two years working for this awesome blog, though, and I look forward to keeping up to date on future posts and publications! This summer I will be returning home to my native New York and looking for work while also getting ready to apply to law school for the following year. I’ll definitely miss the southwest sunshine!

Over the summer, Colleen, our wonderful Reading Roundup writer, is looking forward to spending time outdoors and taking in New Mexico’s beautiful landscape with family and friends.  She is also eager to make a dent in her ever growing To Be Read list!  Colleen is also excited about the upcoming fall semester, in which she will focus on the Community and Regional Planning portion of her degree.  Colleen also will not be returning next year as a blog writer—the blog will surely miss her!

Alin, our amazing Week in Review contributor, will spend the first half of the summer interning with the National Hispanic Cultural Center—congratulations, Alin, on such an awesome accomplishment! She will be helping them in their Circo Latino Summer Institute where children learn wellness and resiliency through the circus. The second half of the summer Alin hopes to go to Jackson Hole, Wyoming (where she is from) to begin her Master’s research project. Alin will be returning next year as a writer for the blog.

Katrina, our fearless En la Clase writer and curriculum developer, has been markedly quiet this year because she’s in the final stages of writing the dissertation for her doctoral degree in Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies from the UNM College of Education. Although she intends to defend her dissertation this summer and move on from student life, she’s going to continue working with us on the Vamos a Leer blog, so look forward to her return in the fall!

Finally, Keira, our behind-the-scenes blogging editor, will be catching up on other work here at the UNM Latin American & Iberian Institute this summer before she returns to contributing to Vamos a Leer in the fall. If you’re here in Albuquerque, you might catch her enjoying her To Be Read list much like Colleen or enjoying some beautiful NM summer bike rides.

We all have a lot of exciting (though still work-filled) plans for the summer, and we hope our readers, too, can find some time in their busy lives to relax and read some good books this summer!

Wishing everyone the best!


April 28th | Week in Review

2017-04-28-01.png¡Hola a todos! This is my last post of the school semester. I want to thank everyone for taking the time to look at sources I have shared through this blog. I am always pleased to share them with you and hopeful that they may be of use to you.

– You might only think of tortillas when you think of Mexico, but the country’s culinary repertoire goes far beyond that – in part because of the overlapping indigenous, Spanish, and French influences. The next time you’re using food as an introduction to Mexican culture, you might want to read this Illustrated Guide to Mexico’s Delicious Breads. The article discusses how bread was made more palatable with “the addition of indigenous ingredients, like corn, piloncillo, and chocolate. And then when the French began arriving to Mexico, they introduced European baking techniques, which have had long-lasting effects in the Latin American country.”

Meet Danielle Calle, the Colmbian-American Filmmaker Probing Latino Experiences in the Deep South. While studying film, Calle noticed that there was a lack of Latin America films in her program and she took it upon herself to change that. “‘We took international cinema classes and they never discussed cinema from places outside of Europe, or besides the one or two Asian films that we would watch,’ she says.”

–The amazing librarian Edith Campbell has partnered with her fellow authors, bloggers, academics, and librarians to once more produce a “We the People” reading list for summer 2017. Visit the new We’re the People website to see the list for this year and the past two years. The collaborators note that, “Books we recommend are ones written or illustrated by Native Americans or writers/illustrators of color that have withstood a critical review. We want readers to become familiar with the names on the list and their creative work and to enjoy the stories they tell and the people they represent.  We are proud to share our list.”

–Contrary to the notion that children’s books can’t be critical, we frequently come across titles that challenge social norms and promote social justice even for very young readers. The book, Momma, Did You Hear the News?, by Sanya Gragg, is just such a title. The book helps parents to address issues of police brutality against black bodies. In this political sphere, this book can help ease many difficult conversations in kids. “In the black community, “the talk” with your children isn’t just that of the birds and the bees ― it’s the one where you explain to them how their skin tone may one day make them a police target.”

— José Martí is a renowned Cuban philosopher, poet, novelist, and political essayist, among other things. He’s revered throughout Latin America. Now, there’s a new bilingual book to introduce him to young readers, courtesy of Lee & Low Books: Martí’s Song for Freedom: Martí y sus versos por la libertad written by Emma Otheguy and illustrated by Beatriz Vidal. Moreover, Lee & Low Books has “created an amazing activity guide for readers. Modeled after a poem by José Martí, readers can create their own poem after reading his inspirational story as well as excerpts from his seminal Versos sencillos.”

– Lastly, as the topic of Trump’s proposed border wall continues to reverberate throughout the news, we thought it would be appropriate to remind you that the Zinn Education Project provides a free lesson plan on the “U.S. Mexico War: We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God.” And if you’re intrigued by that, you might want to turn to the author’s larger curriculum project, The Line Between Us, produced by Rethinking Schools, to learn more about teaching about the border and Mexican immigration.

Alin Badillo

Image: Mach Pichu. Reprinted from Flickr user sweetransvestite75 under CC©.


¡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!