¡Mira, Look!: Martí’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad

¡Buenos días! Today’s book fits perfectly with both National Poetry Month and Earth Day. Martí’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad, written by Emma Otheguy, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal and translated by Adriana Domínguez, is a picture book biography  of the Cuban hero José Martí (1853-1985). It was published in 2017 by Lee & Low Press. Each page provides the text in English and Spanish, with Otheguy interspersing Martí’s own words alongside her narration of his life.

This book would be a wonderful contribution to children’s literature at any point, but it stands out in the present era as a timely resource for encouraging young readers to see injustice and seek change in the world around them. For a snapshot into why his life might inspire readers today, long after his death, the publisher’s description offers a useful biographical sketch:

As a young boy, Jose Martí traveled to the countryside of Cuba and fell in love with the natural beauty of the land. During this trip he also witnessed the cruelties of slavery on sugar plantations. From that moment, Martí began to fight for the abolishment of slavery and for Cuban independence from Spain through his writing. By age seventeen, he was declared an enemy of Spain and was forced to leave hisbeloved island. Martí traveled the world and eventually settled in New York City. But the longer he stayed away from his homeland, the sicker and weaker he became. On doctor’s orders he traveled to the Catskill Mountains, where nature inspired him once again to fight for freedom. Here is a beautiful tribute to Jose Martí, written in verse with excerpts from his seminal work, Versos sencillos. He will always be remembered as a courageous fighter for freedom and peace among all men and women.

Martí was a philosopher, poet, traveler, and, yes, “fighter for freedom and peace among all men and women.” His life is complicated and not easily conveyed to even adult readers, yet Otheguy, who is a scholar of Spain and colonial Latin America, has managed to do just that. In School Library Journal’s starred review, they acknowledged that she offers a “sensitive and poignant tribute to one of Latin America’s most important historical figure.”

Writing a children’s book is never easy. Writing a children’s book about a complex historical period and renowned figure is harder yet. Somehow, Otheguy does it. She manages to weave simple descriptions of Martí’s experiences into and alongside references to the broader history, politics, and cultural moments that shaped his philosophy. An epilogue at the end provides even more information about his life. This attention to detail is itself enough for the book to merit a prime bookshelf spot, but Otheguy does more than just situate him in history. Her carefully chosen verses also allow students to see the person behind the figure, and particularly his love of the naturalworld. With Earth Day upon us, it’s timely to read how she explores how the natural world influenced his philosophy.

This attention to the natural world is particularly evident inOtheguy’s descriptions of Martí’s time in the United States. During Martí’s exile to New York, he soon came to realize that the American’s fixation withmoney created a sense of indifference and apathy which he could not tolerate. In order to escape the city and its materiality, Martí would go tothe Catskill Mountains, where he would walk and write.Otheguy describes the Catskill Mountains as Martí’s way of dwelling in Cuba fromafar – the pine trees of rural New York forests paralleling Cuba’s palm trees and beaches. A love of homeland becomes a literal love for the land, leading to the notion that it was his time in the New York countryside which recharged Martí and prompted him to return to Cuba to fight for his people.

Stanzas taken directly from Martís work, Versos sencillos, ring boldly from each page and reinforce the nuanced importance of the landscape. Here, for instance, with few words he somehow manages to speak at once to the natural beauty of the New York and Cuban landscapes and his estranged longing for home:

“Mi verso es de un verde claro

Y de un carmín encendido:

Mi verso es un ciervo herido

Que busca en el monte amparo.

 

My song is of the palest green

And the fieriest crimson:

My song is a wounded deer                                                          

That in the countryside, seeks safety.”

Vidal’s soft and colorful illustrations perfectly accompany the words of both Otheguy and Martí. Her depictions of the New York and Cuban countryside, of battlefields and urban spaces and of pain andcelebration are breathtaking and dynamic. As much as each individual image is striking, it is her choice of juxtaposition that lingers. Images of rolling hills are matched by horses charging into battle.

At the end of the book, the Acknowledgments section allows Otheguy to tell readers how she places herself in relation to Martí and of her family’s experience as Cuban Americans in New York. She writes:

“This book was inspired by my parents, who read me stories from La edad de oro and who embody every day the capacity to hold two homelands, two cultures, and two languages within oneself. When I was a child, they talked endlessly about their lives in Cuba, while staying ever-present in the very different lives my brother and sister and I  shared. I hope this book captures my love for the palm trees of my parents’ homeland and the oak trees of nuestro Nueva York; I hope this book also conveys what it means to me that Martí, too, knew, loved, and was inspired by these two places.” Young readers who come from families and households that share multiple languages, places, and people may well relate to both Martí’s and Otheguy’s lives.

Here are some resources for you to check out while working with this book in the classroom:

  • PBS has a short documentary about Mosé Martí
  • Here is a lesson plan for using two of Martí’s poems and one of his letters
  • Here you can hear Martí’s famous poem, Versos Sencillos, read aloud. Excerpts of this poem are found throughout Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad.
  • To help make connections between Martí and the present day, check out this informal piece from the Huffington Post on “What My Millenial Students Can Learn from José Martí
  • If you’d like to pair this title with other books on Cuba or other biographies, you might want to peruse Teaching for Change’s compiled Social Justice Books.

For those interested in the book itself, we suggest checking out:

I hope you enjoy this book as much as we do!

Saludos,

Kalyn


Images modified from Martí’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad

¡Mira, Look!: Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics

¡Buenos días! Continuing with National Poetry Month, today we will be taking a look at Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López. Engle’s work is wonderful to read at any time, but seems even more apt right now given that she is currently serving (2017-2019) as the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate. People who hold this position aim “to raise awareness that young people have a natural receptivity to poetry and are its most appreciative audience, especially when poems are written specifically for them.”

In this particular book, Engle invites and inspires young readers with a collection of poems about 18 different Hispanics who lived between the years of 1713 and 2011. The people whom she highlights come from a variety of backgrounds, and they worked in many different fields. What they share in common is that they left an important impact on our world, and they are from the Americas.

Before I dive further into the review, I want to have a short conversation about the term “Hispanic” and how it’s used in the book. This is one of many terms that have been chosen by or applied to peoples of Spanish and Latin American descent, alongside terms such as Chicano, Latino, Latinx, Mexicano, Mestizo and Spanish, among others. The use of these terms, including who gets to choose them and why they choose them, is part of a much larger history than we can offer here. Nonetheless we want to pause to acknowledge their complexity and offer at least a starting point for understanding the use of the term “Hispanic” in Bravo!

“Hispanic” first appeared in the 1970s on the US Census, after activists had lobbied for the use of an umbrella category that would more thoroughly document the breadth of Spanish-speaking individuals in the US. Previously, individuals had either marked themselves as “White” or identified by their country of birth. In current parlance, “Hispanic” has evolved into a much more complicated word whose meaning changes depending on the context. It can be interpreted as neutral, hegemonic, politically-charged, inclusive, or exclusive. We’ve included resources further below in case you want to tease apart some of the implications surrounding it. In the case of Bravo, Engle uses the term in a positive sense and interprets it fluidly, beginning the book with this note to her readers:

“This is not a book about the most famous Hispanics. These poems are about a variety of amazing people who lived in geographic regions now included in the modern United States. They are people who have faced life’s challenges in creative ways. Some were celebrated in their lifetimes but have been forgotten by history. Others achieved lasting fame…”

She then goes on to highlight the achievements of both well-known and less famous Hispanics throughout time. Some of the impactful Hispanic people she highlights include: Juan de Miralles from Cuba, who helped America achieve independence from England; the fierce Juana Briones who was born in Spanish California and was a rancher, healer and midwife; Mexican-American botanist Ynés Mexía; Aída de Acosta from Cuba, who was the first female pilot; and Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, who was a New Mexican teacher, nutritionist and writer. After highlighting each historical figure, Engle writes a poem encompassing even more Hispanics who have had a large impact on our world today. It would be an endless job of fitting so many heroes into one book, and one can sense her struggle with wanting to include and celebrate as many people as she can.

Alongside Engle’s writing, Rafael López’s illustrations are magnificent. With simple outlines and saturated colors, he captures the lively personalities that shine through Engle’s poetry, and uses carefully chosen background elements to tease out details of their lives. For example, in the illustration of botanist Ynés Mexía, she is surrounded by plants and flowers. Luis Agassiz Fuertes, painter of birds, is surrounded by birds and stands in front of a background of trees. Juana Briones, healer, rancher and herbalist, stands in a field amid herbs.

This book would be great to use while working with classroom units involving poetry. Each poem is told from a first person point-of-view, which demonstrates a specific approach to writing a poem that might segue well with encouraging students to bring their own voice and experience into the classroom conversation. It could also encourage students to study historical figures and envision their experiences. For example, here is the poem Engle wrote about Paulina Pedroso (1845-1925, Cuba):

 

“José Martí and all the other exiled poets

meet in my Florida home, where they recite

beautiful verses, and discuss ways to bring freedom

to our homeland.

They call me a heroine for creating

a friendship society of black and white cubanos,

all of us living in exile, where we help each other,

and help the needy – orphans, widows, the poor…

 

When my friend and I walk arm in arm,

it is a wordless statement of equality,

Martí’s light skin and my dark skin

side by side.”

 

Below are a few lesson plans involving poetry that I suggest checking out to accompany Bravo!:

  • readwritethink.org has some great lesson plan ideas and resources for using during National Poetry Month.
  • The Poetry Foundation has a variety of resources, including poems for children in particular. Poems by Margarita Engle outside of those found in Bravo! are on this website.
  • On her website, Margarita Engle has two videos with tips for teaching poetry to children.

Given that Bravo! centers around individual stories and we are inviting you to use it as a tool for focusing on your students’ stories, it might be worthwhile to bring in an activity from Rethinking School’s book, Reading, Writing and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word, by Linda Christensen.  While the whole book can be purchased as a PDF for $14.95, a sample lesson plan is available for free. It’s called “To Say the Name is to Begin the Story,” and it offers a community building lesson on the personal and cultural significance of naming. Check out the book link for the lesson plan and related resources.

Returning briefly to the above conversation about Hispanic and Latino/Latinx, here are a few quick resources to add to the conversation (note: we’re not suggesting that you use these as definitive sources):

Finally, if you enjoy Engle’s work as much as we do, you might appreciate reading our reviews of her other books, including Drum Dream Girl and Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal, in addition to our educator’s guides for The Surrender Tree / El árbol de la rendición (available in both Spanish and English), Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck, and The Lightning Dreamer. We also posted an interview with Margarita Engle that I recommend checking out. And we also recommend you head over to Latinx in Kid Lit for their complementary review of Bravo.

We hope you enjoy this book as much as we did, and that it will be useful for you in the classroom during National Poetry Month and beyond!

Saludos,

Kalyn


Images modified from: Bravo: Poems About Amazing Hispanics

¡Mira, Look!: Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México

¡Buenos días! In honor of Women’s History Month, throughout all of March we will be writing posts featuring strong female characters and authors! Today I will review Duncan Tonatiuh’s book, Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México. This book tells the true story of Amalia Hernández (1917-2002), founder of the world-renowned dance company, Ballet Folklórico de México.

In Hernández’s era, it was assumed that most women would become schoolteachers, if they chose a profession at all. Hernández, however, chose to follow her passion and instead became one of the world’s most recognized dancers and choreographers. Sh­­e was also a researcher, manager, and dance teacher. Born in Mexico, Hernández’s was versed from a young age in formal ballet and Spanish flamenco. Unsatisfied with these early teachings, she then went on to learn about Mexico’s many traditional and indigenous dances. Afterward, she melded this breadth of experience into a new form of dance known as ballet folklórico, fusing ballet and modern dance techniques with the movements and costumes of Mexico’s traditional dances. Finding her initial performances to be well received, she went on to found her company, the Ballet Folklórico de México, in 1952.

Photograph by JT

While it would be easy to focus solely on Hernández and her iconic imagery, Tonatiuh does more. He offers an homage to the broader collective knowledge and history of dance in Mexico, and pays close attention to the indigenous history underlying Hernandez’s work.

“The danzas y bailes [Amalia] saw in the villages were for ceremonial purposes, like celebrating a patron saint or hoping for a good harvest. Other times, the dances happened so people could have fun and meet new friends. However, the dance pieces Ami was creating were meant to be performances, for audiences to watch in a theater. Ami used her skills as a choreographer and her knowledge of both ballet and modern dance to make the pieces innovative and beautiful.”

In the Author’s Note, Tonatiuh places Hernández’s rise to fame within the context of Mexico’s Indigenismo period, when the Mexican government encouraged recognition of indigenous peoples and Mexico’s indigenous past.Tonatiuh also brings up the question of appropriation and misrepresentation of folkloric dances, an issue which Hernández was forced to face with her rise to fame.

In addition to emphasizing the historical complexities of the Ballet Folklorico, Tonatiuh also draws attention to its worldwide influence by noting that Mexican dances are performed today in the United States and elsewhere. Young readers are thus encouraged to recognize the fluidity of culture, tradition, and peoples across geographic borders.

With his signature style of illustrations and meticulous research, Tonatiuh has brought to life this captivating herstory of a woman of color whose life’s work has become iconic around the world. It is a fitting tribute to a woman whose legacy is tremendous, and can be seen in practice every week and weekend at the famous Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, where her company, the Ballet Folklórico de México, continues to perform.

En fin, we highly recommend putting this book into the hands of young readers who will be inspired by Hernández’s perseverance and creativity!

 

To learn more about this art form as a whole, consider visiting:

For those who might want to use the book in the classroom, here are lesson plans to accompany Danza!:

On a similar note, given that Hernández was a contemporary of the Mexican muralist movement, it might be interesting to discuss her life in relation to the work of the painters of that time, from Diego Rivera to Frida Kahlo and others. Here are a few resources to help in that comparison:

Lastly, if you find Tonatiuh’s work as captivating as we do, you might enjoy our review of his book, The Princess and the Warrior, and our educator guides to Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote and Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation. Fellow Vamos blogger, Hania, also posted an interview with Duncan Tonatiuh to discuss his work and its importance in the classroom.

Saludos,

Kalyn


Images Modified From: Danza!

 

¡Mira, Look!: Ada’s Violin

¡Buenos días!

Today’s book fits in perfectly with our theme of love for community. Ada’s Violin, written by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport, tells the true story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay. The story is told through the eyes of Ada Ríos, a young girl living in the town of Cateura, Paraguay. In 2017, this book won the Américas Award for its engaging representation of Latin America and its usefulness for K-12 classrooms.

Cateura is the home of the largest landfill in Paraguay; it is the place where the trash of the country’s capital, Asunción, isdumped. Most of the inhabitants of Cateura make a living bygathering recyclables and treasures from the landfill. The story tells about how Ada’s abuela registers Ada and her younger sister for music classes with señor Favio Chávez. Favio came to Cateura as an environmental engineer to teach safety measures to those working in the landfill. During his time in Cateura, he took an interest in the children of the workers and began a music class. When the class did not have enough instruments for everyone who signed up, Favio creatively decided to enlist a local carpenter, Nicolas Gómez, for help. Together, they made instruments from objects they found in the landfill. Thus, the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay was born.

This book demonstrates how a community is able to make the best of a difficult situation, and even thrive. It teaches the importance of dreaming big and believing in oneself. Furthermore, it shows the importance of support and coming together. Lastly, throughout it all, it contradicts stereotypes of impoverished communities as lacking agency.

The author’s note tells of the amazing successes that the Recycled Orchestra has had, in addition to the way that its community has remained at the center of that success. The money that the orchestra makes has gone back into the community to better the lives of the musicians’ families. And this grassroots-driven success continues to grow, with the orchestra starting out as a class of 10 and now consisting of some 200 students.

Wern Comport’s illustrations accompany the descriptions of daily life in Cateura beautifully. The colors and texture reflect the complex, textured, day-to-day of the characters. Furthermore, Wern Comport’s use of torn pieces of paper simulates the recycled nature of the orchestra itself.

This book could be accompanied by a number of different lessons in the classroom. It depicts the concept of recycling in a unique way, showing kids that what we throw in the trash has to go somewhere and that it always affects somebody. Our choices and actions matter! For slightly older students, that conversation can segue into deeper discussions about environmental racism – leading to larger-scale implications of how societies and countries choose where to leave their refuse, why, and what happens to it after it’s “abandoned.” On this topic, educators might appreciate watching Vic Munoz’s documentary, Wasteland, which documents a community’s efforts in Rio de Janeiro to recapture the garbage there, much as the people do in Cateura.

The book can also be accompanied by the documentary about The Recycled Orchestra, titled Landfill Harmonic.

At the end of the book, Hood lists a few websites, including that of The Recycled Orchestra Exhibit at the Musical Instrument Museum, in addition to the website of the actual Orchestra: Orquesta de Reciclados de Cateura.

The book also lists three videos to check out:

Saludos,

Kalyn


Images Modified from: Ada’s Violin: Pages 1, 18, 22, 31

¡Mira, Look!: Malaika’s Costume

Buenos días!

We are excited to be back with our book reviews. Throughout the semester we will be interweaving book reviews in both English and Spanish, between our new blog member, Santi, and me. Santi will be writing reviews in Spanish, and I will be writing them in English. Since it’s February, the month of love, we will start by bringing you book reviews surrounding the theme of love for community.

Today we are excited to bring you a review of Malaika’s Costume, written by Nadia L. Hohn and illustrated by Irene Luxbacher. This book is an Honorable Mention recipient of the 2017 Américas Award. It tells the story of Malaika, a young girl in Jamaica living with her granny while her mummy works in Canada to provide for them. In the story, Malaika is struggling with not having a costume for carnival, one of the most exciting festivals in her town. Malaika’s worries and frustrations with the costume are interwoven with missing her mummy, struggling to allow her granny to fill that motherly role, and optimistic expectations of no longer having financial issues since her mummy is working in Canada. In the end, Malaika and her granny find a resolution and Malaika dances beautifully in Carnival.

Luxbacher’s illustrations are absolutely breathtaking. I appreciated Malaika’s imaginative rendering of cold and snowy Canada, and how it contrasts her warm and colorful Jamaican hometown. The imaginative aspect of the illustrations mirrors Malaika’s personality. Hohn’s book as a whole explains important issues that countless children face with parents working from afar to provide for their families.

Also, her description of complex relationships from a child’s perspective is refreshing and necessary within today’s multicultural society. Furthermore, Malaika’s day-to-day interactions with neighbors and extended family members give us cultural insight to life in small-town Jamaica. Hohn includes definitions of different words she uses for understanding the cultural context of the text, including explanations of different types of music, instruments, characters and foods. Although the story is told from Malaika’s point of view, the last page’s illustration allows us to place her mother within the story, and better understand her love for her daughter.

I highly recommend checking out Nadia Hohn’s biography on her website. Nadia’s passion for children’s book diversity led her to publish Malaika’s Costume.

She teaches French, music, and the arts at the Africentric Alternative School where she has been an inaugural staff member since its opening in 2009.  She has taught in Toronto public schools since 2003. Out of her classroom and personal experiences, Hohn crafted edited two literary resources for teaching about Black heritage to grades 4-8, titled SANKOFA, which could be great for teaching this month, given that we are entering Black Heritage Month. Out of the resources in the guide, the SANKOFA Music book would pair well with Malaika’s Costume. While the music book must be purchased, Hohn also offers a number of free strategies for how to engage students with Malaika’s story.

Teachers interested in using this book with their students might also turn to the Smithsonian’s educator materials, particularly their lesson plan (grades 3-5), titled “The Sounds of an Island: Jamaican Music for the Classroom.” You can also explore excerpts of calypso rock songs by the famous Jamaican calypsonians, Horace Johnson & The Eagle Star, on the Smithsonian Folkways site. For quick reference, here is a full audio recording of Horace Johnson’s music. These resources pair with Malaika’s Costume given that this colorful children’s book is as much about music and dance as it is about family. During the Carnival celebrations that inspired the book, the street is full of soca and calypso – musical traditions that are explained on the website for the Trinidad and Tobago’s National Library and Information System.

If you enjoyed this book, we recommend that you check out the sequel, Malaika’s Winter Costume. Here is a promotional video for the sequel, which shows photos of Carnival in Jamaica.

Saludos,

Kalyn

 


Images Modified From Malaika’s Costume: Pages 3, 7, 29, 30

New Year triumphs and obstacles

¡Buenos días!

Before we begin our weekly book reviews next month, we want to start off the new year discussing the importance and optimism conveyed by the December ruling in Arizona regarding ethnic studies programs in public schools. On December 26, 2017, federal appeals court judge Wallace Tashima ruled the 2010 law banning ethnic studies programs in Tucson schools unconstitutional; Tashima ruled that the ban violated both the 1st Amendment’s freedom of speech and the 14th Amendment, as he deemed the law racially motivated, obstructing equal protection. The said ban was directed primarily at Mexican Studies programs, and it had led to Tucson’s dissolving of the Mexican American Studies program in 2012 due to the holding of state funds. In this ruling, the judge stated that the said law can no longer be enforced, and that the Tucson Unified School District cannot be punished or threatened for ignoring the law.

For more information, check out this article in the LA Times.

Nonetheless, alongside this triumph, immigrant students continue to face extraordinary challenges. The Trump administration’s recent announcement that the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) of Salvadorans who have been authorized to live and work in the United States since calamitous earthquakes in 2001 has been revoked. Close to 200,000 Salvadorans who have called the United States home for over fifteen years will have to leave the United States by September of 2019. The Temporary Protected Statuses of Haitians and Nicaraguans were also revoked a few weeks ago by the Trump administration, affecting about 59,000 Haitians and 2,500 Nicaraguans. At the same time, our government continues to belabor and postpone supportive action for the recipients of DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. These policy changes, and lack thereof, risk tearing apart families and seriously affect our students and communities. It is important that we keep them forefront in our thoughts and actions as we begin a new year, and remember that even in the smallest of actions like choosing a book for our students, we are fighting for the rights of peoples and families from all nations who are part of this country.

We start this new year with these successes and obstacles forefront – both experiences encouraging us to push for the rights and uplifting of all peoples. In the midst of the crazy and difficult world in which we live, it is important that we celebrate the victories that support our communities across the Americas, that we fight unjust policies, and that we continue to honor our different histories. Here on the blog we will continue by celebrating lesser told narratives through our daily work, perseverance and appreciation for diverse voices.

Saludos,

Kalyn

¡Feliz año!

Happy New Year!

We hope everyone enjoyed the holidays these past few weeks. Here at Vamos a Leer we are busy preparing for this semester’s blog posts. In the meantime, we would like to share Latinx in Kid’s Lit’s post of 2018 Titles By/For/About Latinx!! We hope you enjoy exploring these new books! Stay tuned for more content starting in February!


Saludos,

Kalyn