¡Mira, Look! International: A Misteriosa Mansão do Misterioso Senhor Lam and Peripécias de minha infância


Saludos todos and boa tarde gente! I am popping in today to bring you another international Mira, Look post on two more wonderful Brazilian children’s books. These books, like the books from my last Mira, Look international post, were also lent to me by Dr. Leila Lehnen from the Department of Spanish & Portuguese here at the University of New Mexico. This semester we have started a new section of the blog, “Mira, Look International” in an effort to focus more attention on Latin American children’s books from Latin America. In particular, I’ve chosen to take this time to focus special attention on Brazil, since Brazilian books are not often featured in the United States, and since my summer travels there this summer have made me more personally interested in Brazilian literature, both for children and adults.


The first title I’ll share here is a picture book written by Claudia Nina and illustrated by Cecília Murgel called A Misteriosa Mansão do Misterioso Senhor Lam (Mysterious Mr. Lam’s Mysterious Mansion). The book is about a big mysterious mansion that rests atop a hill in a small town where all the little houses look alike. The house is large, ominous, and sticks out like a sore thumb. Nobody knows who lives in the house, and in the wintertime, snow falls only on this one plot of land, and never on the rest of the village. The house is made of gray brick, surrounded by white snow, and the mysterious sounds of a lovely piano emanate from within its walls. Sometimes the town’s people see shadows against the walls, or figures in the window, but still, no one knows who lives in the great big house on the hill.


One day a big hurricane hits the town and all of the little, identical homes are destroyed, leaving the town’s people homeless and injured. However, the big brick house on the hill is left perfectly intact. In a lovely turn of events, the mysterious inhabitant of the great, big house finally emerges from his home and, to the surprise of the town’s people, invites them all into his home for shelter, helping them tend to their wounds. The town gathers together to rebuild the houses, making sure to make rooves that are even sturdier than before, to avoid such a catastrophe from happening again in the future—a valuable strategy for any post-disaster situation. This books shows readers that you can never judge a book by its cover. At the end of the book there is also a charming little twist of romance, proving that beautiful things can rise out of the rubble.

The creatively scaled illustrations of this book are fun and engaging for young children. The long, vertical shape of the book itself elongates the view of the town with the house at the top of the hill, emphasizing viscerally the sensation of gazing up at a looming, enigmatic home.

brazilpost5 brazilpost4

Finally, one of the concluding messages of the book, which I find especially compelling, is that some things are better left unanswered, and there is always a little bit of mystery in any good story. The narration leaves readers with some pending questions. For example, why did the man never come out of his home before the hurricane? However, the narration also answers its own question: “Porque os mistérios fazem parte das histórias e porque nem tudo se pode ou deve contar/ Because mysteries are a part of stories and because not everything can be told or should be told” (Note: the translation is my own).

Ultimately, this book explains that not all mysteries are meant to be solved, giving young readers the freedom to exercise their own imaginations and their own creative inclinations.

brazilpost8 brazilpost7The second book, Peripécias de minha infância (Adventures from my Childhood), written by Sacolinha and illustrated by Roberto de Lima Dorta, also emphasizes the wonderful element of mystery in storytelling. This book is unique from many other children’s books that I’ve read, particularly in the introduction written by the author, Sacolinha.

Sacolinha explains how his story reflects on the childhood of Artur Alves de Freitas, a person who was materially impoverished but who had abundant creativity and energy. Whether or not these tellings are autobiographical is left unknown. In the introduction, Sacolinha emphasizes this bit of mystery, without giving a clear answer. In this regard, this book relates to the previously described book, as it relishes in the resonating wonder of mystery. Solinha also laments the changing culture of play and creativity for children nowadays. He writes that when he was a kid, the children would play outside for hours on end, but now many children spend hours playing video games or watching T.V.  He also claims that nowadays healthy children will get sick from a light breeze, because growing up in environments that are overly sterile compromise the immune systems of growing children, and in his day, children were allowed to roll around in the dirt without any fuss, which actually strengthened their immune systems. Perhaps what is so unique about this book is that, while many children’s books are oriented towards the future and a focus on future aspirations and achievements, this book is infused with nostalgia.

This title is for more advanced readers than the one I reviewed above, and could be read as an early chapter book. However, it does still have some illustrations, which are simple but colorful and cheery. Each page of the book is also a different color paper, which adds to the playfulness of the book and the happiness evoked by looking back on fond memories. Nonetheless, of course, not all memories are cheerful, and this book evokes certain philosophical questions about memory, nostalgia, and perception.

These two beautiful books are unique and compelling with stunning illustrations, and are proof of what awaits when we expand our literary horizons.

Stay tuned for more ¡Mira, Look! International posts, as well as my regular, weekly ¡Mira, Look! book reviews!

¡Hasta pronto!


¡Mira Look!: The Spirit of Tío Fernando, a Day of the Dead Story/ El espíritu de tío Fernando

tio-fernandoSaludos todos! As we continue our October themes of death, grief and loss, this week I will be reviewing The Spirit of Tío Fernando, a Day of the Dead Story/ El espíritu de tío Fernando, Una historia del Día de los Muertos, written by Janice Levy, illustrated by Morella Fuenmayor, and translated into Spanish by Teresa Mlawer.  Although this year we’ve tried to expand our October themes to focus on the general concept of death, and not just as it relates to specific holidays, I felt it appropriate to feature at least one book on Day of the Dead. Since Day of the Dead is a celebration and cultural ritual that we’ve worked on extensively here on the blog, we wanted to expand our themes a bit this year; however, there is a reason that we’ve worked so extensively on Day of the Dead, and I find it nearly impossible to talk about the concept of death in Latin America without mentioning this beautiful holiday. Moreover, this particular story does a nice job of exposing readers to the various elements and practices of the holiday as it is celebrated in Mexico, while centering primarily on the young, male protagonist’s experience with death and grief.

tio-1This book is bilingual and each page shows both the English text and the Spanish text. At the beginning, the author has included a paragraph describing the traditions of Día de los Muertos and the cultural context of the holiday: “The Day of the Dead is a centuries-old holiday, mixing ancient Aztec and traditional Catholic customs. It is celebrated throughout Mexico and Central America. During this time, people who have died are honored; their spirits are believed to visit the earth.” As this story shows, there are a variety of customs associated with the holiday, preparing altars to honor the dead, making the foods that they enjoyed most in life, and visiting the cemeteries to celebrate and be with the spirits. The holiday is an occasion to remember the positive qualities of the people we’ve lost, to celebrate the beauty and the life that once was, and make peace with feelings of longing and remorse: “When the holiday is over and the spirits have returned to the spirit world, the celebrants are happy and at peace, knowing they have made the souls of the dead feel loved and remember.” Personally, I find that people who are experiencing loss are often conflicted by a seemingly irreconcilable task: wanting to feel better and move on without forgetting about the person who has passed. This holiday is a lovely way of keeping the person’s memory alive, and investing time in their memory, while also taking care of the self, learning to make peace with feelings of grief, and channeling those feelings through this cultural catharsis.

tio-2 tio-3The story centers on a young protagonist, Nando, whose uncle whom he’s named after, Tío Fernando, has just passed away six months ago. Although the boy’s deceased uncle, of course, is not physically present within the storyline, we learn some intimate details about him through the boy’s memories of him, and through the ways in which the boy sees parts of his uncle reflected in himself: “Tío Fernando had long, skinny legs, and the second toe of his right foot was longer than his big toe—just like mine. His moustache would tickle my chin when he lifted me in the air. He always brought me coconut candy that got stuck in my teeth.” Although the uncle is deceased, we can still feel his presence resonate throughout the story, much like the boy who can feel his presence resonate through his own being.

tio-4As the boy prepares for the Day of the Dead celebrations with his mother, readers will get a glimpse of some of the cultural traditions that make up this holiday. For example, we see Nando go to the market to buy sugar skulls, set up an altar with some of his uncle’s old belongings, and prepare his uncle’s favorite foods to also put on the altar. As Nando goes through the motions of preparing for the holiday, he wonders about how he will actually be able to reconnect with his uncle’s spirit: “’How will I meet Tío Fernando’s spirit?’” The vendor at the market replies, “’I don’t know, Nando. But when you do, you will feel good inside.’” Here we also see how this tale focuses on the young protagonist’s self growth and development. Although many people in Nando’s family and community are teaching him about Día de los Muertos and guiding him through some of the rituals, they also show him the tools for answering some of his own tough questions himself.

tio-6 tio-5What is also especially valuable about this story is its use of a male protagonist. Many of the books that I’ve reviewed lately focus on female protagonists, and when dealing with emotional themes, such as death and grief, I find it especially important to include young boys, who are often discouraged from showing emotion, or from participating in more sentimental rituals. This particular book also reminds me a lot of a book I reviewed at this time last year, Uncle Monarch and the Day of the Dead, which also illustrated the many rituals associated with Day of the Dead through a young protagonist’s personal journey of confronting death and loss and learning to heal. Essentially, these books show how the process of working through complicated emotions, which is often considered an internal process, especially in hyper individualistic cultures such as that of the United States, can also be experienced and expressed socially, culturally and communally. Although Día de los Muertos is not practiced as ubiquitously in the United States, we can incorporate many of these values into the classroom. We can help our students through these tough times by showing them that grief can be shared and expressed with others, and does not have to be an isolating, solitary and internalized process.

For those of you interested in learning more about Day of the Dead, and teaching about this holiday in the classroom, you might be interested in some of the curriculum resources we’ve developed here at the University of New Mexico: Educator’s Guide to Día de los Muertos. There are also several excellent videos that can help impart the significance of this holiday to your students:

Stay tuned for our November themes and more great reads!

¡Hasta pronto!


Images modified from The Spirit of Tio Fernando: Pages 3, 8, 9 14, 19

October 21st | Week in Review


¡Hola a todos! I am sorry for the technical difficulties last week! We promise not to send you the same post three times in a row again, even if we’re really excited about it.

Now that we’re back on schedule, here is the week in review. Let us know if we overlooked any marvelous resources!

— As we wrap up Hispanic Heritage Month, Read Diverse Books recommended a list of books to Read During and After Latinx Heritage Month. I’ve read A House of My Own by Sandra Cisneros and The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande, but clearly have a long list of TBR ahead of me!

– Our Rethinking School friends shared on their Facebook page an important article that highlights How the Stress of Racism Affects Learning.

— Also, on the blog Reading While White, Allie Jane Bruce shares Thoughts on Stereotypes and offers a perspective that we share here at Vamos a Leer: “…we need to pay attention when characters are given stereotypical traits.”

Latinx in Kid Lit shared an example of the positive influence of bilingual education in Californians, Having Curbed Bilingual Education, May Now Expand it. “What we want is for individual schools to be able to decide what they think is best for the students, whether that’s a dual language or some other way.”

– Over at the De Colores blog, we read a moving review of the children’s book Dos Conejos Blancos / Two White Rabbits written by Jairo Butrango and illustrated by Rafael Yockteng. Recently selected as an Américas Award Commended Title, this is a book to add to your collection!

— Lastly, Lee & Low Books shared the new Curated Books App by We Need Diverse Books. “OurStory is a database comprised of more than 1,200 curated books reflecting diverse characters and themes that librarians, educators, parents, and children can search for reading recommendations.”


Alin Badillo

Image: Ballet Folklorico Performers. Reprinted from Flickr user Jennifer Janviere under CC©.

Voces: Diverse Books or Honest Books?

Saludos friends!

As you might have gathered from my recent introductory post, I’m coming to Vamos a Leer with a deep commitment to finding diverse literature and bringing it directly to classrooms. I hope in the coming months to use the blog to share the voices of others who are equally if not even more deeply committed to this cause. But before I dive into that effort, I wanted to take a minute and tap into the bigger questions that underlie all this work.

I’m going to start with an assumption with which I think many of our readers would agree: We need diverse books.  But what are diverse books? How do we pick them? And how do we use them?Updated info graphic.jpg

A couple of years ago I started working in an after school program at a bilingual elementary school in Oregon. In my conversations with educators I learned that there were a variety of questions and concerns that commonly prevent diverse books from being used in the classroom.

In her article and conversation with two other authors earlier this year, Tanwi Nandini Islam wondered whether all the “buzz” about diversity had made the word become hollow. Daniel José Older, author of the young adult novel Shadowshaper (previously reviewed by Katrina), told her: “I’m fighting for diverse books, I’m fighting for honest books. When we have books or shows about New York City and it’s all white folks, there’s a lie inherent to that. It’s a question of honesty.”

When I was working with the school, though, I heard a common set of responses: But how do I (as an educator, a librarian, an administrator, a parent) find this diverse and honest representation in books? How do I pick a book about a group I don’t know anything about? How do I choose “quality” diverse books? What do I do if a book has stereotypes? What if I say something wrong? It turns out many educators and others around the country are asking similar questions.

Luckily, there are a growing number of resources to help you out – whether you are a parent, a friend,  an educator, or someone who just loves to read (and of course, none of these are mutually exclusive!).

To start, check out this short Oregon-based video called Choosing Diverse Literature that hopes to address some of these concerns! (Friendly disclaimer: I helped produce it and owe a great deal to all those who made the project possible!)

Ready to choose and use diverse books in your own classroom? Here are some more tips and resources to help get you started:

  1. It’s helpful to start by considering how books can act as mirrors and windows – Rudine Sims Bishop’s theory of books as Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors can help you start to think of books in this way. You can hear her talk about this idea in an interview with Reading Rockets.
  2. Why are diverse books important in your classroom? Katie Cunningham’s guest post on Lee and Low’s blog explains why mirror and window books are important for all readers.
  3. Okay, I get it – diverse books are important – but how do I choose them? Educators at the University of North Carolina have created a critical lens to help educators make diverse and equitable choices about the books they choose for the classroom. Their lens combines the “mirrors and windows” theory with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s single story frame to consider issues of equity and power.
  4. Ready to consider how reflective your own book collection is? Sam Kane, a school librarian committed to anti-bias education and a participant and facilitator in S.E.E.D (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) groups tells us about how she is creating her own windows and mirrors collection, and provides some questions and guidance to get you started.
  5. Keep your eyes peeled for We Need Diverse Books’ new Our Story App which will aim to help educators and children identify quality books with diverse characters, themes, and by multicultural authors. The app will launch in January of 2017!

For further reading about diverse books:

Buena suerte,





¡Mira, Look!: Mi Abuela is Sick


Saludos todos! This week we will be reviewing a book that has recently come out and was a finalist for the International Latino Book Awards in both the category of “Best Educational Children’s Picture Book—English” and “Most Inspirational Children’s Picture Book—English.” Mi Abuela is Sick, written by Jennifer Bisignano and illustrated by Gaston Hauviller, tells the story of a young, female protagonist who confronts the reality of her ailing, dying grandmother, which is likely also her first encounter with death. Keeping in line with our themes for the month, this book is especially useful for young children to begin discussing and conceptualizing death, and for those already struggling with these experiences, to find solace in the shared experience of a relatable protagonist. The book may also aid teachers looking for resources to help their students through difficult times.


Although the story focuses on the theme of death and the difficulty of confronting the possibility of death, especially throughout a long and painful illness, the narrative does not explicitly dwell on that finite outcome, and the ending is left open, giving readers a bit of hope for the grandmother’s successful recovery. The story centers, rather, on the difficult journey, the anxiety, nightmares, and physical effects (worrying that she herself may too have cancer) that the young protagonist has in response to her grandmother’s illness. Death, in this particular story, is not sudden and definitive; it is a long, looming process that elicits a variety of emotional ups and downs, with enduring questions and uncertainties. In this respect, this story is incredibly impactful because it shows the nuance in one’s experience with the death of a loved one.

The book is written primarily in English, but with Spanish words peppered throughout. At the back of the book the author has included a glossary of Spanish phrases with their English translation, the first one being “Mi abuela esta enferma./ My Abuela is sick.” This phrase becomes a poetic refrain throughout the narration and is repeated on nearly every page, reflecting the persistent, haunting effect of an anxiously anticipated end.

abuela-2At the very back of the book the author has also included a section on how to answer children’s difficult questions about cancer and death. This section addresses the young reader directly: “This book was created for children like you who have questions about cancer.” This book also stresses the importance in emotional expression, letting readers know that it is okay to cry and okay to have an emotional response: “Remember it is perfectly normal to become emotional when speaking about cancer. Don’t forget, it is always okay to cry.” This is especially important in a society that does not always encourage emotional expression, especially amongst men and young boys. In speaking directly to the young reader, this therapeutic guide reassures children that they are not alone in their feelings and that there are healthy tools for overcoming grief.

The book is narrated in the first person perspective of the young protagonist and starts with the little girl describing all of the wonderful things about her grandmother. I find this character description and introduction especially meaningful because it provides a well-rounded, holistic image of the grandmother; she is not defined merely by her illness, which, at times, may in fact feel or seem all-consuming. Her grandmother loves donuts and hot cider, “her hair is the color of the first stars that dance across the night sky,” and she wears small, red glasses with purple dots on them.

When her grandmother becomes sick, the most familiar parts of her personality seem more distant, too: “Today she took her glasses off. Today she doesn’t want donuts.” As the story progress, the grandmother also loses her hair that is “the color of the first stars that dance across the night sky.” As the young protagonist confronts the possibility of death, she must also adjust to the fact that her grandmother can no longer do and enjoy the things that she used to, the things that make her so familiar. Here begins the long process of learning about her grandmother’s cancer, watching her mother grieve, and feeling not only her own pain but the empathetic pain of seeing her mother, who is always so strong and brave, also suffer. This story displays the many layers of grief with intimate and comforting detail.

abuela-3 abuela-4One especially useful scene for educators includes a moment when the young protagonist goes to school, and is sitting on a rug with her teacher and her peers discussing her grandmother’s illness. The protagonist doesn’t want to talk about her grandmother’s illness, or doesn’t know how to, but feels pressured to by the knowing gazes and inquisitive expressions of her peers: “My Abuela does not like to talk about cancer. I don’t want to talk about it either. She says it’s okay to keep things inside. It can be our secret, nuestro secreto. I want it to be our secret. But everyone in my class knows my Abuela has cancer.” Some even ask rather blunt questions, questions that are typical of young kids who have not yet learned emotional sensitivity and the seriousness of death: “A few kids today asked me if my Abuela was dead yet.”  However, Hauviller’s wonderfully emotive illustrations also show the magnitude and importance of this scene. The teacher, Ms. Peggy, looks at the protagonist with a sad and sympathetic face, and the other children, although perhaps a bit uncomfortable and unsure of what to say, are taught to listen, learn and sympathize. Together, the students and the teacher have created a comfortable space to either open up about one’s feelings, sit in sad silence, or a bit of both.

abuela-5Ultimately, this book helps both educators and children alike recreate this sort of tolerant, sympathetic, and sensitive environment for the health and well being of all students. As someone who has reviewed a variety of Latin American children’s books, and who has also had some personal experiences earlier in life dealing with family members who’ve had cancer, I felt truly very moved and impressed by this book. Although death is something that everyone will have to confront and deal with at some point in life, children are so often sheltered from that reality. Although the intention is to spare children of this pain, we may in fact be doing a disservice to them by not giving them the tools early on to deal with the emotional obstacles of life. These themes appear so infrequently in children’s literature, even though for many children this is precisely the kind of guidance, sympathy, and comfort they need. This book has effectively become an exceptional contribution to the body of Latinx children’s literature—highly recommended!

For those of you interested in more resources for helping children cope with death, check out the links below:

Stay tuned for more October books!

¡Hasta pronto!


Images Modified from: Mi Abuela is Sick, pgs. 7, 13, 14, 15, 23

Educating Children and Young People for Joy and Justice: A Guest Post by Author and Teacher Ann Berlak

To prepare children and young people to participate in the construction of a more just and joyful future, we must tell them stories that make the invisible visible and unsettle what is taken for granted.”

I love everything about this article! In case you missed it, I wanted to share it on Vamos a Leer. It’s so relevant to many of the conversations we’ve been having here on the blog and with our local NM teachers.  I hope you’ll read the whole thing on the Latinxs in Kid Lit website!

By Ann Berlak

To prepare children and young people to participate in the construction of a more just and joyful future, we must tell them stories that make the invisible visible and unsettle what i…

Source: Educating Children and Young People for Joy and Justice: A Guest Post by Author and Teacher Ann Berlak

October 14, 2016 | Week in Review


¡Hola a todos! Here is the latest Week in Review:

– Our friends at Lee & Low Books posted on their blog an Alternative History Book List. The list is part of acknowledging Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day, for which, they write, “we are offering a series of blog posts that look at pieces of history that have been hidden, silenced, altered, or swept under the rug.”

Teaching Tolerance shared on their Facebook page The Problem with Columbus ‘Discovering’ America. “The idea of a holiday to celebrate the people who lived in the Americas before Christopher Columbus ever set foot there got its start in the 1970s.”

Teaching for Change recommended on their Facebook page the new children’s book “Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds.” By Jorge Terl Argueta and illustrated by Alfonso Ruano. The book “describes the challenges of leaving one’s homeland and the journey north.”

–Also, Lee & Low Books shared  a piece by one of our favorite authors, Guadalupe García McCall, in which she discusses reasons why some History is Not on Text Books.

–Thanks to our friends at the Tulane University’s Stone Center, we discovered Google’s latest Arts and Culture initiative: the Latino Heritage and Cultures project, which offers a wide range of resources, “from ancient artifacts to contemporary street art, [to] explore the depth and diversity of Latino cultures.”

– Lastly, Rethinking Schools shares 9 Teaching Resources that Tell The Truth About Columbus. “States and cities are increasingly recognizing Indigenous Peoples, but appropriate and readily available lesson plans have fallen behind the trend.”



p.s. We’re sending this out just a bit ahead of time, as UNM is on Fall Break today and tomorrow! Enjoy the autumn weather!!

Image: Illustration, Somos como las nubes / We are like the clouds  by Jorge Argueta and Alfonso Ruano.