En la Clase: Tamales, Poinsettias, and Navidad

As I was researching books and materials for our last two En la Clase posts on Las Posadas, I came across some other really beautiful books and fun activities that are perfect for December.  These just may help you get through these last couple of weeks of school before winter break!

Too many tamalesOne of my favorite children’s books for this time of year is Gary Soto’s Too Many Tamales. In the story, the main character Maria is helping her mother prepare the tamales for Christmas dinner.  She decides to try on her mother’s diamond ring.  She only meant to wear it for a minute, but suddenly the ring was gone, and Maria and her siblings are left with 24 tamales that just might contain the missing ring.  It’s a fun story that my students always enjoyed.  It’s the perfect book to lead into a discussion about all the different foods that are part of students’ winter holiday celebrations.  Lots of times they are surprised to find out how different their classmates’ celebrations are from their own.  There are lots of different lesson plans out there for Too Many Tamales.  Here are a few that I found:

El Milagro de la Primera florI also discovered The Miracle of the First Poinsettia/El milagro de la primera flor de nochebuena.  This is an absolutely beautiful book.  It’s perfect for any class as there is both an English and a Spanish version (note: these are two separate books, it is not a bilingual edition).  The story is a retelling of a Mexican legend that describes the origin of the Poinsettia plant. In this version, a young girl has nothing to give the Christ child, but when the weeds she carries in her hands miraculously transform into red flowers, she now has the perfect gift. If you’re a member of Lesson Planet, they’ve got a lesson plan for the book.  If you’re not a member, they do have a free trial, so you can still access the materials.

The Miracle of the First Poinsettia 1

It would be an excellent book to use with Tomie dePaola’s well-known The Legend of the Poinsettia.  After reading both books, students could compare the two versions of the story of the Poinsettia.  To expand the comparison beyond just a classroom discussion, ask students to complete a Venn Diagram identifying the similarities and differences between the two stories, and then writing a compare and contrast essay (or paragraph) based on their graphic organizer. Twiggle Magazine has a lesson plan on The Legend of the Poinsettia that connects to both math and science.

I shared a number of poinsettia art activities in last week’s post, but I found a few more:

I came across one last resource that I’m really excited to share with you.  If you’re not yet familiar with the website KidWorldCitizen, I hope you’ll check it out.  I just found it myself and can’t wait to spend some more time with it.  They recently shared an excellent post “Children’s Books about Christmas in Mexico.” We’ve mentioned a number of these books in our own posts, but there were a few that were new to me that I want to share with you all.  While these new titles are about Christmas, they’re told from a different point of view that more traditional Christmas children’s literature.

When Christmas Feels Like HomeWhen Christmas Feels Like Home by Gretchen Griffith tells a story that I believe many of our students can identify with: “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.”

Going Home by Eve Bunting tells the story of Carlos, a young boy returning to Mexico for Christmas: going home“Christmas is coming and Carlos and his family are going home-driving south across the border to Mexico. But Mexico doesn’t seem like home to Carlos, even though he and his sisters were born there. Can home be a place you don’t really remember? At first, La Perla doesn’t seem very different from the other villages they pass through. But then Carlos is swept into the festivities by Grandfather, Aunt Ana, and the whole village. Finally, Carlos begins to understand Mama and Papa’s love for the place they left behind, and realizes that home can be anywhere, because it stays in the hearts of thepeople who love you.”

UPDATE: After publishing this post, I came across a very useful review of Going Home from De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children.  In the review, Beverly Slapin offers a critique of the book, raising some important points that should be considered before using it in the classroom.  Using it could provide an opportunity to have critical dialogue with students about some of the more problematic elements of the story.

Pablos ChristmasPablo’s Christmas by Hugo C. Martin is another Christmas story that also represents the reality of many of our students as they celebrate the holiday separated from different members of their families. In this story students will read about a young boy named Pablo.  For Pablo: “Christmas means family: everyone gathered together in joyful celebration. But what if one beloved member is missing? That’s the situation so movingly explored in this. . .holiday tale, set in the Mexican countryside. Because Mama is going to have a new baby, Pablo’s father has gone off to America to earn extra money. That makes Pablo the man of the house—chasing coyotes away from the hens, comforting his worried mother and sisters, and trying to make presents for everyone. Now Christmas is near—when Papa has promised to return. Will he be home for the holidays? Children will hang on to every word eagerly and sympathetically…right until the satisfying, and happy, ending.”

If you know of any other can’t miss titles for this time of year, we’d love it if you’d share them in the comments section!


For more resources on similar topics, check out our other posts listed below:


11 thoughts on “En la Clase: Tamales, Poinsettias, and Navidad

  1. Beautiful book cover for TOO MANY TAMALES, the tamales and the face expression of the kids. Thanks for introducing the book about the mexican legend about the Pointsettia. Just read about this legend now and the sweet story of weeds transforming to flowers. I just finished reading the great book THE TEQUILA WORM and the Pointsettia are also there.

    • Hi Giora! I love the cover too (and so did my students)! I think the legend of the Poinsettia really is such a sweet story, and so many of the children’s books that re-tell the legend have absolutely gorgeous illustrations. So glad to hear that you liked the Tequila Worm. I really enjoyed it too!

  2. Two other great books to include in this list are “A Piñata in a Pine Tree” by Pat Mora and “‘Twas Nochebuena” by Roseann Greenfield Thong. “A Piñata in a Pine Tree” is a twist on the famous carol Twelve days of Christmas. Throw in Magaly Morales’ amazing illustrations and it is pure delight. “‘Twas Nochebuena” is written mostly in English with Spanish mixed in and mostly in rhyme, detailing one family’s Christmas Eve’s traditions. Sarah Palacios’ illustrations add an extra element of fun to this lyrical narrative.

    ~Galia Sandy, La Casa Azul Bookstore Schools Program Coordinator

    • Thank you so much for your recommendations Galia! I love “A Piñata in a Pine Tree”! I just bought it for a friend’s daughters. You’re right, it absolutely belongs on this list! “‘Twas Nochebuena” is a new title for me. I can’t wait to check it out. We’ll have to plan to do a featured post on it for next year. We’re huge fans of La Casa Azul Bookstore here at Vamos a Leer. It sounds like an incredible place! I’m hoping to be able to visit it the next time I get a chance to go to NYC.

  3. I wish there were a way to publish these bilingual books differently so that only one language’s script appears at a time. Why not a flap?
    Students will always go to L1 because it’s easier. Therefore, while the books are great for prereaders, culture explorations, L1 literacy, there is little growth in L2.

    • I think you’ve raised a really important point that draws attention to the fact that what is in the publishers’ best interest is not always what is in the students’ best interest, especially when we are considering multilingual students. I know we’ve heard from a number of authors how hard it is to get Spanish editions of their books published. I wonder if the bilingual editions like those you reference are the compromise in that situation?

      • Probably. For Kindergarten Reading, an activity popular with some TCI teachers, I can simply cover the English. With FVR, the students will access to the English. 😦

  4. Pingback: En la Clase: ‘Twas Nochebuena. . . | Vamos a Leer

  5. Pingback: Reading Roundup: 10 Children’s Books about Latino Winter Celebrations | Vamos a Leer

  6. Pingback: Wrapping Up the Year with Reflections and Gratitude | Vamos a Leer

  7. Pingback: Winter Celebration Resources | Vamos a Leer

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