A few weeks ago when I was browsing one of our local library’s collections of books on Día de los Muertos, I stumbled across Los Gatos Black on Halloween. I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of this book before. For those of you who know me, you may think I love this book just because it’s called Los Gatos Black. While I do have a deep affection for black cats, as every cat I’ve ever had has been black, this book is amazing for more reasons than its title and cover. It’s an absolutely beautiful book, and PERFECT for this time of year. Marisa Montes’ poetry paired with Yuyi Morales’ illustrations makes for an amazing collaboration. Kirkus Reviews calls the book “A spooky seasonal treat and a great choice for any collection” and I couldn’t agree more. The book’s description should give you a taste of what’s so special about this one:
Under October’s luna, full and bright, the monsters are throwing a ball in the Haunted Hall. Las brujas come on their broomsticks. Los muertos rise from their coffins to join in the fun. Los esqueletos rattle their bones as they dance through the door. And the scariest creatures of all? Wait until you see them! This lively bilingual Halloween poem introduces young readers to a spooky array of Spanish words that will open their ojos to the chilling delights of the season.
Montes’ Halloween poem is replete with wonderfully descriptive adjectives, and the rhyming and cadence make it a fun and lyrical read-aloud. My guess is students would love to turn it into a chant or choral reading, which would make it a great way to fit in a little extra oral language practice. Just imagine the fun students could have reciting the following:
Los gatos black with eyes of green
Cats slink and creep on Halloween
With ojos keen that squint and gleam–
They yowl, they hiss. . .they sometimes scream
A bilingual book, the Spanish words are seamlessly defined by the context, making it perfect for both your English and Spanish speakers. I think it would be a particularly fun way for Spanish speaking ELLs to expand their English vocabulary, as the Spanish words, along with Morales’ beautiful illustrations, would activate their background knowledge, making it easier for them to understand, process, and remember the English words. Katherine Reinecke has created a video read aloud where she narrates the book, which would allow students to read along and listen to the book from a computer.
The possibilities really are endless in terms of the activities you could use in your class to accompany the book. Scholastic has created a simple lesson plan with great pre-reading activities, post-reading questions including a graphic organizer to review the use of context clues to decode unfamiliar words, and great extension activities that draw out the book’s connection to both Halloween and Día de los Muertos. This would be a great book to use as a segue way to discussions that compare and contrast the two holidays.
Students may also really enjoy creating their own class Halloween poem. The majority of the different stanzas of Montes’ poem focus on specific characters associated with Halloween (los gatos, las calabazas, las brujas, los esqueletos). After analyzing the format and rhyming scheme used by Montes, each student could create their own four line stanza about their favorite part of Halloween and then illustrate it. When completed, compile all of the poems and illustrations into one book to display in the classroom. Sticker stories are another possibility. My students always loved to make these. I’d give them each a handful of seasonally themed stickers and a blank sheet of white card stock. Using the stickers, crayons, markers, and anything else they could find, they created a picture. Then, they wrote a story to go along with their picture. Here, students could create a Halloween or Fall themed picture and write a four line, rhyming poem to accompany their picture. These could also be compiled to create a class book or hung in the classroom as a fun display.
Yuyi Morales created an interactive page for the book with links to fun activities. If you click on the pink headstone you’ll pull up thumbnails of different downloadable masks that students can color (like the one at the right). Clicking on the blue-grey headstone will take you to a new page where students can explore Morales’ process for creating the illustrations.
Los Gatos Black on Halloween is included as an example of culturally relevant literature in the teaching document, “Common Core State Standards (CCSS) English Langauge Arts (ELA): Shifts and Expectations from old to New Standards, Supporting the Learning, Development, and Achievement of ELLs,” created by Loyola University, Chicago. While not specific to Los Gatos Black on Halloween, the document includes a number of ideas and activities that meet both Common Core Standards and the needs of ELLs that would be easily implemented through the use of the Montes/Morales book.
Los Gatos Black on Halloween is a 2007 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year, the winner of the 2008 Pura Belpré Medal for Illustration and a Pura Belpré Honor Book for Narrative.
If you use the book with your students I’d love to hear what they think of it!
Lorraine just reviewed another of Yuyi Morales’ books on Monday (I think you could say we’re officially part of the Yuyi Morales fan club now), so check out her post ¡Mira, Look!: Just A Minute!: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book. If you missed it last year, you might also be interested in our post that included a round-up of fun resources and books for Halloween and Día de los Muertos.
Images: Illustrations from Los Gatos Black on Halloween. Illustrator: Yuyi Morales