We had such a wonderful time with our book group on Monday night! Everyone really loved this book. If you didn’t get the chance to join us, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the book. If you haven’t had the chance to read it yet, it definitely comes highly recommended from Vamos a Leer. We hope you’ll add it to your TBR list!
Carlos knows that when the soldiers arrive with warnings about the Communist rebels, it is time to be a man and defend the village, keep everyone safe. But Mama tells him not yet — he’s still her quiet moonfaced boy. The soldiers laugh at the villagers, and before they move on, a neighbor is found dangling from a tree, a sign on his neck: Communist. Mama tells Carlos to run and hide, then try to find her. . . . Numb and alone, he must join a band of guerillas as they trek to the top of the mountain where Carlos’s abuela lives. Will he be in time, and brave enough, to warn them about the soldiers? What will he do then? A novel in verse inspired by actual events during Guatemala’s civil war, Caminar is the moving story of a boy who loses nearly everything before discovering who he really is.
Like Journey of Dreams by Marge Pellegrino, Caminar offers a fictionalized account of the violent Guatemalan Civil War that lasted over thirty years. Both books tell their story through the eyes of a young protagonist, but Brown’s Caminar is a novel in verse. The style of this genre makes Caminar a perfect introduction to a subject that’s often not covered in young adult fiction or non-fiction. While the topic itself is certainly complex, the novel in verse format lends itself to struggling readers and ELLs. Each page is its own poem, so there aren’t long chapters to wade through or difficult dialogues that can be frustrating for readers to try and follow. With shorter text, teachers can spend more time focusing on meaning, symbolism and imagery in each poem. Because it is poetry, it would make for a great read aloud, teacher or student led, providing great oral language practice. I think novels in verse are a great opportunity for focused poetry study as well. As a novel, they’re longer than the typical poems we teach in the k-12 classroom. While many students can be intimidated by poetry, the novel in verse gives them time to settle in both to reading poetry and exploring the particular author’s style. Brown’s work offers so many examples of the creative things a writer can do with poetry just through arrangement, spacing and shape of the poems that it really lends itself to a poetry unit.
Caminar is also a great way for students to see the ways in which fiction can become a means to push back against injustice and repression through re-writing or re-telling historical accounts of events. These re-tellings can include the multiple voices of those affected and the aspects of the events that are often written out of or ignored in more sanitized and sugar-coated versions. Some have critiqued the novel for not giving enough background information about the Guatemalan Civil War, but when told through the eyes of Carlos, this is the reality of the way that he and the other villagers would have experienced the war. They didn’t have all of the information; there were conflicting accounts of what was happening and why; people were confused; and many didn’t know what to believe. To provide all of the background information through the poetry would present an unrealistic version of Carlos’ experience. However, students will get more out of the story if additional information on the Guatemalan Civil War is provided as contextual material. This would be a great opportunity to pair fiction and non-fiction together in a literacy and/or social studies unit.
While the topic may be one that students are unfamiliar with, I don’t think it will be difficult for them to engage with the story of Carlos, the main protagonist. Carlos is a young adult and, like many of them, he is struggling to decide who he wants to be as he realizes that he is growing up. While his coming-of-age experience is much different than many of our students who don’t have to grow up in the midst of a violent conflict, this may be the reality of some of our students. As an advocate for the We Need Diverse Books movement, I strongly believe that all students need to read about books that reflect their own lives and experiences. I’m also a strong proponent of books that challenge our worldviews, allow us to question our own beliefs, and potentially encourage us to see the world through a different lens. Caminar can be quite powerful in that regard given the ways in which it engages with notions of gender. Throughout the story there are a number of references to traditional masculinity. This would be a great opportunity to allow students to really think about societal notions of masculinity and what message these ideas are sending. In the book, various characters say things such as (and I’m paraphrasing), to be a man means to be ready to fight, to no longer listen to one’s mother or elders, and to never be afraid. While Carlos struggles with how to define what it means to be a man for himself, I believe he comes to different conclusions than his peers by the end of the story. His struggle provides the perfect opportunity for students to discuss, analyze, and struggle with these things themselves.
While a difficult subject, Caminar is an excellent read. It’s another book that should definitely be on our library and classrooms shelves.
If you’d like to read what others have thought about the book, check out the links to other reviews below:
If you’re interested in hearing what the author herself has to say about the book, check out the following interviews:
- The Loud Mouth Librarian Interview with Skila Brown
- Latinos in Kid Lit Interview with Skila Brown
- Smack Dab in the Middle Interview with Skila Brown
Our Educator’s Guide to the book is now available!