Buenos días a todas y todos,
The Vamos a Leer theme for this month, as written in Keira’s Sobre Deciembre post, is focused on winter celebrations. I was eager to explore children’s and YA literature around this topic in hopes of finding books that are reflective of the diverse familial celebrations, religious and spiritual practices, and cultural traditions throughout Latin America. However, it would be disingenuous to state that this eagerness remained after learning the outcome of the election. Rather, like many others, I began to reflect on the multiple uncertainties that our communities face. More specifically, what will the future hold for those that are from other countries and living in the United States? With everything that I read being filtered through this lens, I decided it was best to reframe the theme a bit.
This month’s reading selection will focus on Latinos/as living within the US, with ties to another country, and who experience the holidays and winter season differently because of this. The books below are diverse in narrative, yet are connected by the common thread of living in dual worlds. My hope is that this book selection not only validates these experiences, but can provide some comfort to our students and children.
Happy reading and happy holidays!
Alfredito Flies Home
Written by Jorge Argueta
Illustrated by Luis Garay
Translated by Elisa Amado
Published by Groundwood Books
Age level: 4-9 years old
Description (from House of Anansi Press):
Alfredito and his family are getting ready to return to their old home in El Salvador for Christmas, their first time back since they left as refugees. But they will make this trip on a plane; the first time any of them has ever flown. The excitement mounts as they drive to the airport, get on the plane and fly up into the air, each step bringing an increasing level of amazement. But the greatest moment of all is when they finally arrive and their beloved relatives meet them. Their old house looks and feels as it always did. The smells, the food, the new puppies, the familiar plants and flowers fill Alfredito’s heart with a sense of belonging and joy.
Alfredito Flies Homes captures a young boy’s excitement as he prepares to return to El Salvador for Christmas and his reflection of how he felt upon coming to the US four years earlier. In contrast to the other Argueta books that I have read, Alfredito Flies Home is much more serious in tone. It thoughtfully represents the complex emotions felt when one has two countries which they call home. The sincerity of everyday moments expressed within the book through both the prose and artwork is captivating. The realistic illustrations by Garay beautifully complement the sentiments in the text as well. He also does a wonderful job at highlighting the blending of two cultures, as in the image of the artwork hanging in Afredito’s home in the US. Aside from simply enjoying this book, I recommend it here because its versatile approach means that it can be used to discuss multiple topics in both the classroom and at home.
This book has an English and Spanish version.
Written and Illustrated by Lulu Delacre
Published by Scholastic Press
Age level: Grades 2-5
Description (from Scholastic):
Carmen Teresa’s house rocks to the beat of Salsa music as grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and neighbors from all over Latin America arrive in their Silver Spring, Maryland home. Together they cook, gossip, play dominos, dance, and enjoy the warmth of this special New Year’s Day celebration.
When Dona Josepha gives Carmen Teresa a blank notebook as a present, the guests suggest that she fill it with stories that they remember from their own childhoods. And from there, everyone from this charming cast of characters has a unique story to tell.
When everyone is finished, Carmen Teresa has her own idea of how she will fill her book. She has enjoyed everyone’s stories. But since she loves to cook, and each storyteller has mentioned foods associated with the particular occasion in their stories, she decides to create a cook book and write down all of their recipes. And, of course, recipes are included at the end of the book.
One for the YA readers! In spirit with last month’s theme of food as cultural heritage, Salsa Stories is a great representation of the vital role food plays in maintaining culture and acting as the link that connects so many together, despite where one is living. Through collecting family recipes, our protagonist, Carmen Teresa, figured out her own way to preserve her family’s rich histories. Salsa Stories, written and illustrated by Lulu Delacre, is a great read. Delacre does an excellent job at creating a holiday environment that feels life-like: the commotion, the sounds, the smells. Represented in the book are several different Latin American countries and, lucky for us readers, we get to try out some recipes from a few of them. I’m looking forward to trying to make “Mamá’s Yuca con Mojo Criollo.”
Lastly, please check out how Delacre created the impressive artwork for Salsa Stories!
Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid
Written and Illustrated by Xavier Garza
Published by Cinco Puntos Press
Age level: Grades K-4
Description (from Cinco Puntos Press):
Let’s welcome Santa’s newest helper: his cousin Pancho, a farmer living down in South Texas who is so smart he speaks Spanish and English. Back in the day, Pancho was a mariachi singer with a whole lot of style and a fancy sombrero. But as the years passed, Pancho got, well, a little older and a little wider all around. Then one night his primo Santa Claus showed up. Santa needed some help! Pancho volunteered. And then, poof, Santa transformed Pancho into the resplendent Charro Claus with his incredibly Flying Burritos. And Charro Claus, it turns out, even had his own surprise elf—his nephew Vincente!
All Christmas Eve, Vincente and Pancho deliver toys to the boys and girls on the border. Neither rain, cloudy skies, wire fences nor concrete walls keep them from covering every inch of their newly assigned territory. And they don’t forget a single town or city. How could they? The border is their home.
Xavier Garza, the award-winning author from Texas, writes and illustrates another great story. Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid is a fun read! This bilingual book provides a refreshing perspective to the Santa Claus narrative: burros en vez de deer, lucha libre masks, mariachi, and cheer! Most importantly, however, is its focus on the border; a place where the adjoining of two worlds is most profoundly felt, and unfortunately often overlooked or forgotten. Beverly Slapin in her De Colores post says it best: “I’d like to see every child living in the towns on both sides of the outrageous, forbidding, miles-long barb-wired fence—and especially, every refugee child held in the border-town detention centers—own a copy of this book. They could all use a little magic, right about now.”
Thank you, Xavier Garza for introducing us to Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid!
Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems/ Iguanas en la nieve y otros poemas de invierno
Written by Francisco X. Alarcón
Illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez
Published by Children’s Book Press
Description (from Lee & Low Books):
In their final collection of seasonal poetry, poet Francisco X. Alarcón and artist Maya Christina Gonzalez invite us to celebrate winter—by the seashore, in the magic city of San Francisco, and in the ancient redwood forests of the Sierras.
We see a city where people are bridges to each other and children sing poetry in two languages. A family frolic in the snow reminds the poet of the iguanas playing by his grandmother’s house in Mexico. We are dazzled by the promise of seedling redwoods—like all children—destined to be the ancestors of tomorrow.
Artist Maya Christina Gonzalez has once again created a spirited family of children and adults who swing their way through colorful pages. Collages of old maps of Mexico and California provide intriguing backgrounds, and fun-loving iguanas peek out at us from the most surprising places.
Alarcón’s Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems/Iguanas en la nieve y otros poemas de invierno is a wonderful celebration of winter in San Francisco. The simple, yet reflective poems honor the season, history, family and community (animal friends included), migrant workers, la nochebuena, and bilingualism. This collection of poetry promotes a reverence for diversity, a connection to where we came from before finding ourselves where we are, and the beauty that this difference creates in our communities. “I dreamed/a city open/to the sea/soaking her feet/in a bay/friendly/very joyful/and kind/with bridges ready to/embrace us all/a city/where people/become/bridges/to each/other.” Gonzalez’s artwork contributes to the vibrancy and joy to the poems. I especially enjoyed finding the iguana on each page, bundled up in its winter clothes.
As mentioned in the description, Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems/Iguanas en la nieve y otros poemas de invierno, is a part of a collection of poems. Please check out Alarcón’s and Gonzalez’s other works as well. Lorraine wrote an excellent review on one!
Thank you, Francisco X. Alarcón, for having shared your gift with all of us.
When Christmas Feels Like Home
Written by Gretchen Griffith
Illustrated by Carolina Farias
Published by Albert Whitman and Company
Age level: 4 -8 years old
Description (from Albert Whitman and Company):
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.
I will start by saying that there are some minor drawbacks to the story — readers will not get a sense of where Eduardo and his family are coming from (despite the above description saying Mexico), the Spanish felt a little clumsy, and there are no gritty experiences to be overcome – it is an “easy” book in many ways. Yet, I found it to also be a lovely book: creative in its prose, thoughtful in its representation of the sharing of cultures and the changing seasons, and with a sort of universal-feel to it. It is a story to which many can relate. It is also beautifully illustrated. When Christmas Feels Like Home is a “feel good” story. Its focus on a welcoming community, intercultural exchange, friendship, and family are all qualities and values that I can get behind!