With the Fire on High

By Laura Acevedo

Who, What, Where?

Laura Acevedo tells the story of an aspiring Afro-Boricua chef and teen mom in the heart of Philadelphia, in With the Fire on High.  Emoni, in her senior year of high school faces one of life’s toughest challenges, growing up and learning how to continue following her passion. Emoni juggles parenting, working and being a full time student when she takes a leap of faith and joins a cooking class as her senior elective, with the opportunity to travel to Spain. This book is a wonderful coming of age story that portrays its protagonist as a capable, loving and independent young woman who need a little help from her friends and family along the way.

Amazon.com: With the Fire on High (Audible Audio Edition): Elizabeth  Acevedo, Elizabeth Acevedo, Hot Key Books: Audible Books & Originals

Principle Themes

Some of the principle themes in the book are (1) cooking as a form of connection (2) family, and (3) Afro-Boricua identity. Emoni’s biggest passion is cooking, and throughout the book the dishes she makes are not only a way to connect with people but to also express and evoke emotions. Family is an important theme in Emoni’s intergenerational household, from being a mom herself to living under Abuela’s roof and a father back on the island of Puerto Rico, family relationships and their dynamics are a central part of With the Fire on High. The last principle theme is Afro-Boricua identity, and how Emoni navigates through different spaces in a world that’s quick to put is into boxes.

Discussion Questions

  1. Describe Emoni’s relationship to cooking? How does it define her life? What does it add to her life?
  2. Where is home for Emoni and how does she describe it? What does home mean to her?
  3. What is the difference between chosen family and nuclear family? Do you consider anyone part of your chosen family? Who does Emoni choose as her family? How do these people contribute to her life?
  4. How does young motherhood shape and change Emoni’s life? What kind of challenges does she face and how does she work to overcome them?

Age: 13-17 years old

Region: USA: Philadelphia

Language: English

Additional Resources

  1. Check out the author’s website: http://www.acevedowrites.com/
  2. Sample lesson for teaching With the Fire on High: https://readingwithrelevance.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/With-the-Fire-on-High-Sample-Lesson.pdf
  3. Reading guide questions: https://www.bookbrowse.com/reading_guides/detail/index.cfm/book_number/3952/with-the-fire-on-high

The Caiman

By María Eugenia Manrique Illustrated by Ramón París

Le caïman, de Maria Eugenia Manrique, illustrations de Ramon Paris (La  Martinière Jeunesse, 2020 pour la traduction française, 2019 pour l'édition  originale en espagnol) – L'île aux trésors – Lectures et aventures

Who? What? Where?

The Caiman is a delightful children’s book about a Venezuelan clock maker who rescues an orphaned baby caiman and raises her as his own child. Faoro is a local jewelry store owner living in a small Venezuelan town whose rivers are occupied by many caimans of all sizes. Unfortunately, their skins are highly prized by hunters leaving many orphaned alligators behind. A group of children find a baby caiman one day but none of them are brave enough to take it home. Faoro intercepts the young caiman and names her Night because of her dark skin. He then raises her as his own, inviting the local children to come visit whenever they wish. Night walks through life with Faoro, meeting his future wife Angela who she happily accepts as a match for Faoro.

The Caiman (María Eugenia Manrique) – The Baby Bookworm

The odd family of three live happily together until Faoro suddenly falls ill and passes away. Night is so heartbroken by the loss of her surrogate father that she hides in a closet and refuses to eat for months. She is eventually coaxed out of her despair by Angela’s singing prompting the two to form a deeper bond in honor of their lost loved one Faoro. Angela and Night grow old together keeping eachother company and hosting the locals who never grow old of their reptilian neighbor. The Caiman tells the story of love and loyalty across boundaries that previously seemed impossible to breach.

LA CAIMANA. MARÍA EUGENIA MANRIQUE - IL. RAMÓN PARÍS. Libro en papel.  9788494885983 LIBRERIA 9 3/4

María Eugenia Manrique and Ramón París illuminate the life of José Faoro an Italian man who moved to María’s hometown of San Fernando de Apure. He opened a jewelry store where he repaired jewelry and clocks in addition to preparing natural medicinal remedies for people and animals alike. Faoro was known to raise exotic animals in his home where he treated them like family. He suddenly passed away from a heart attack in 1972 leaving behind his wife Angela and Night the caiman. Night lived on with Angela for another 20 years after Faoro passed eventually succumbing to a heart attack exactly like Faoro in 1992. María Eugenia Manrique does an exquisite job of bringing her own experience to light, honoring the real life story of José Faoro and his caiman daughter Night.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why did Faoro save Night when she was a baby?
  2. How did Faoro and Night’s lives change once they were united?
  3. What is unique about Faoro and Night’s relationship?
  4. What kind of wild animals live around you?

Ages: 5-8

Region: Venezuela

Language: Available in English and Spanish

Main Themes

Family, wildlife, loss, love, acceptance

Additional Resources

María Eugenia Manrique’s Website

Ramón París Website

More Children’s Books set in Venezuela

Child of the Flower-Song People

Written by Gloria Amescua Illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuth

Who? What? Where?

This is a beautifully illustrated book about the life of Luz Jiménez, a woman who came from a Nahua family in Milpa Alta, Mexico. Gloria Amescua takes us on a journey of Luz’s early life set in the early 1900’s living in Milpa Alta with her Nahua community where she practices traditional Nahua customs passed

Child of the Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua -  Kindle edition by Amescua, Gloria, Tonatiuh, Duncan. Children Kindle eBooks  @ Amazon.com.

down from generation to generation. She is surrounded by sacred mountains and streams, her world is illuminated by the stars and nature around her, and she is reminded that although her people lost their land when Cortés arrived, they did not disappear. She learns traditional skills such as grinding corn in a metate and how to weave using her toes. She understands the bounty of nature and how to use it for herself and her people. Luz struggles with being left out of school because of her Indigenous heritage until she is required to attend  a school which works to strip her of her culture and instill Spanish customs in her people. Although Luz is forced to assimilate to European norms, her light is not diminished, it is emboldened. She begins to combine her love for education and her ancient Nahua knowledge passed to her from older generations. She decides to become a teacher but her dreams are interrupted by the Mexican Revolution which devastated her town and forced her surviving family to flee to Mexico City. There her family struggles to sustain themselves, earning money any way they can. While in Mexico City, Luz begins to display her traditional practices for famous artist who begin to paint, photograph, and sculpt her. She sees a shift in the way people look at Indigenous people and she seizes the opportunity to control the narrative. By modeling for artists she teaches them about her culture becoming the teacher she always wanted to be. She later teaches at a university where she works with scholars to promote an understanding of Indigenous culture while protecting and passing on her native language, Nahuatl

Child of the Flower-Song People, 2021) - Indigenous & First Nations Kids  Books - Strong Nations

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Luz Jiménez was a real woman who influenced Mexican culture by tapping into the art of her era. She was painted by Diego Rivera and other artists of his caliber ensuring a new appreciation and respect for Nahua culture in America. By exposing herself and her customs the idea of Mexico began to change, incorporating Indigenous culture and history into the narrative.

This is a great book for 3-6 graders. It is a unique opportunity to teach a part of Indigenous history through an illustrated children’s book. The illustrations are beautiful and reflect Aztec style. There is a glossary at the end of the book allowing students to learn new words and a timeline reflecting the life of Luz Jiménez.

Additional Resources:

Meet the author recording with Gloria Amescua

Gloria Amescua talks about her motivation for writing this book (youtube)

Illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh’s website

Nahuatl Dictionary

Separate is Never Equal Book Guide (by Duncan Tonatiuth)

The Education of Margot Sanchez

The Education of Margot Sanchez
By Lilliam Rivera

Who? What? Where?

This is a thoroughly enjoyable book for ages 14+. Anyone reading this can relate to the trials and errors of being a teenager caught between two worlds, desperately trying to find where she fits in. Margot Sanchez is a Puerto Rican girl going to a private prep school in New York City where she betrays those closest to her including herself to try to fit in with the cool girls. Her family owns two grocery stores securing them a spot in the middle class. Her parents want the best for her which manifests itself in their judgement of those living in the Bronx. Margot and her brother Junior silently suffer from the pressure their parents put on them to be the children they can be proud of and show of to the neighbors. In an attempt to fit in with the cool girls at Somerset Prep, Margot stole her father’s credit card and ran up a bill. She was caught and as punishment had to work at her father’s grocery story, Sanchez and Sons in the Bronx, for the summer. This conflicts with Margot’s summer plans to party in the Hamptons with all the other popular students from Somerset. While working for her father’s grocery store Margot meets influential folks from the Bronx who open her eyes to the issues that affect the lives of those living in the neighborhood. Although she spends most of her summer judging, lying, stealing, and betraying to fit into one world where she slowly loses herself, she ends up waking up to the realities around her and accepting herself for who she is, learning that honesty will serve her and those around her the best.

Themes: Coming of age, gentrification, family, immigration, fitting in, relationships, drug abuse, friendship, class conflict, activism, culture

The Education of Margot Sanchez confronts many serious issues such as infidelity and drug abuse making this book suitable for older teens. Lilliam Rivera uses some swear words.

Additional Resources:

NPR article and interview with Lilliam Rivera

Book review from Latinx in Kid Lit

Author’s website

Postcolonial Love Poem

Natalie Diaz (Graywolf Press 2020)

Who? What? Where?

Natalie Diaz, a queer Mojave poet, creates work of art in her latest publication, Postcolonial Love Poem. Her poems seamlessly move from realism to the fantastic, she writes about love in all its forms. What it means to love and unlove. The Mojave or Aha Makav, have experienced a double colonization, that of the Spanish and later the Anglo settlers of the United States. In Postcolonial Love Poem, colonialism is a constant specter, for all things have been impacted by its logic. She explores the body as a place of life and simultaneously the site of the colonial wound. Diaz encourages simultaneous readings throughout the text, incorporating multiple languages without fanfare, she works along the borderlands of language. She calls the reader into the text through her vivid imagery and range of emotions her words evoke. Below are some of my personal favorites from the collection:

“These Hands, If Not Gods”

“American Arithmetic”

“They Don’t Love you Like I Love You”

“Like Church”

“10 Reasons Why Indians are good at Basketball”

Principle Themes:

Among the most impactful theme’s of the book are Diaz’s: exploration of the body, wound(s), and translation. The body is a recurring theme throughout her poems, featured as a place of love, a site of nature, and heavily focuses on the hip and all its purposes. The concept of wound surfaces throughout, in connection to colonialism as well as in relation to her brother. Lastly, translation is used to create polysemic meanings throughout. Diaz unearths that which is untranslatable, combines the use of words from multiple languages, and situates the body within these translations. One example of her translations is her use of the song Maps by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in her poem “They Don’t Love You Like I Love You”. Diaz lifts the lyrics from the song and translates them in a new context, specific to her experience, creating a palimpsest of new meanings. Diaz’s whole collection is largely a palimpsest, creating and recreating love and its meanings in the postcolonial.

More Resources:

Check out the Author’s website: https://www.nataliegermainediaz.com/

A conversation with the author about her work: https://theadroitjournal.org/issue-thirty-two/natalie-diaz-interview/

Diaz reads “Manhattan is a Lenape Word”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEGxc9ZeCPk

Spirit Run

by Noe Alvarez

Who, What, Where?

Spirit Run is a non-fiction book written by Noe Alvarez. It takes places on The Peace and Dignity Journey throughout the Americas, a sacred Indigenous run as a way to honor ancestors, create connection amongst indigenous communities of the Americas, and as a form of healing. The run poses more than a few challenges for Noe along the way, but his persistence propels him through the United States and into Mexico. Raised in the farming town of Yakima, Washington, as the child of immigrants, Noe’s poignant and honest memoir of his youth and upbringing paints a vibrant picture of a first-generation youth unsure of where he belongs and in search of himself. Spirit run is a miraculous journey about a young mans’ leap of faith and the relationship he makes with himself and others along the way.

Principle Themes

Some common themes throughout the text were first generation identity, both as a U.S. citizen and in higher education, and working-class community and experiences in rural Washington. Noe’s parents work hard jobs that are physically demanding and don’t offer benefits or pay that their work deserves, Noe’s class identity is a central theme throughout that informs his perspective on justice and why he runs in the first place. Noe is the first in his family to attend higher education and is the first in his family to be born in the United States, these identities surface throughout the book, and could not be described in a nutshell more astutely than, “We create pacts over french fries and tacos, and stack onto our shoulders the kinds of promises that weigh on first-generation youth: to be the ones who save our families from things like poverty, deportation, and harsh labor conditions”.

Discussion Questions:

How do we see labor rights and immigrants’ rights intersect in this book?

What are some of the non-corporal challenges Noe faces along his journey?

What inspired you about this book?

More Resources:

Peace and Dignity Journeys: http://societyofnativenations.org/pdj.html

Spirit Run Website: https://www.spiritrunbook.com/

La Bruja Azul

Escrito por Alane Adams (Sparkpress 2021)

¿Quien? ¿Dónde? ¿Qué?

La Bruja Azul se enfoque en el cuento de una joven bruja huérfana Abigail y su búsqueda para convertirse en una de las mejores brujas de su época. Mientras tanto Abigail tiene que enfrentarse con la matona Endera y sus amigas quienes quieren verla fracasar. Sin embargo, Abigail y su amigo balfin, Hugo, tienen otros asuntos mas importantes en que enfrentar, los dos están intentando a aprender el porque detrás del fuego azul de Abigail y la historia misteriosa de su familia. De repente encuentran que Abigail estará en grave peligro si los demás se dan cuenta del color de su magia, pero el porque aun no lo saben.  La Bruja Azul esta lleno de aventura, misterio y bestías fantásticas. Es el primer libro en la serie de Las brujas de Orkeney, así que la aventura no tiene que acabar al final del primer libro.

Temas principales:

Los temas principales del libro son (1) la amistad, (2) el descubrimiento del ser y (el coraje). La amistad es uno de los temas principales, Abigail se hace amiga con Hugo quien le acompaña en sus aventuras y cree en las habilidades de ella, los dos apoyan al otro en momentos de necesidad, demuestran lo importante es de tener amigos quien creen en ti. Otro tema es el descubrimiento de ser, Abigail tiene que no solo creer en si misma pero también sus habilidades, en sus aventuras Abigail aprenda mas sobre ella y como quiere ser de persona y bruja. El ultimo tema es el coraje, a lo largo del libro Abigail y Hugo tiene que usar coraje para hacer lo bueno y para enfrentarse a las bestias, las matonas y lo malo en el mundo de las brujas. Es una habilidad que aumenta en cada desafío que Abigail tiene que superar.

Más recursos

Beast Rider

By María Elena Fontanot de Rhoads  and Tony Johnston

Who/What/Where/Why + Principle Themes

Beast Rider is an excellent book to introduce students to the hardships faced by those who migrate to the United States every year in large numbers. We follow Manuel’s journey through his thoughts and experiences. We get an intimate portrayal of the obstacles he faces and often feel like we are riding the beast right beside him. Manuel faces the lowest of lows finding respite in a few helpful souls he encounters along the way. The pull of family bonds are distinct as Manuel is drawn to Los Angeles to be with his brother but once he arrives he is tugged back home by the ones he left behind. Exploitation of undocumented workers is illustrated by Manuel’s experience trying to earn money to help out around the house. Tony Johnston and Maria Elena Fontandt de Rhoads show the duality of young people facing the journey north. Manuel has to grow up fast as he faces gangs and ladrones along the way while he is still so much a child as he snaps photos from his imaginary camera his friend Cejas gifted him. Finally, the sense of community that Manuel finds along the way is central to Beast Rider. He wouldn’t survive the journey if it weren’t for the people he met in the most desperate of times, who took him under their wing. While this book presents us with difficult topics, they are necessary to incorporate into the classroom. Manuel is only 12 when he starts his journey as a beast rider. His perspective is relative and relatable to middle school and high school students making the topic of immigration/migration via Beast Rider an approachable subject for students. It is a thought provoking and important piece that is crucial for the times.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some reasons beast riders decide to leave their homes and head North?
  2. Do you think Manuel found what he was looking for in the United States? Why/Why not?
  3. What did Manuel learn along the way?
  4. What does Manuel’s experience tell us about immigration and migration?

Amazonia: Indigenous Tales from Brazil

Retold by Daniel Munduruku (Groundwood Books, 2013)


Who? What? Where?

Amazonia: Indigenous Tales from Brazil retold by Daniel Munduruku, is an anthology of myths from the Amazonia region, featuring the tales of the Bororo, Manao, Anambé and many more. The myths help us make sense of central themes and mysteries to humanity such as: love, family, greed, and the origin stories of the world we all inhabit. Amazonia centers on the various sets of knowledge of indigenous people of the region and offers insight into new ways of seeing and making sense of the human experience. Illustrated by Nikolai Popov, the Amazonias come to life in the illustrations of serpents, leopards and bat-people. These myths will not only inspire you but will cause you to marvel at the wonder and beauty of this earth, and of those who inhabit it.

Amazonia: Indigenous Tales from Brazil seeks to get close to and reconnect the different types of knowledge that have been suppressed from people’s imaginations. It reminds us of the importance of bringing together humankind, offering each and every reader one end of the thread that binds us to each other to the great web of life” (Munduruku 9).

Principle Themes:

The anthology opens with the origin story of the Munduruku, a father and son who emerge from the darkness, and soon discover the rest of humanity. This however, is not the only origin story throughout the text, there are many others, ones that tell the beginning of how reptiles came to be, the tobacco plant, and how the Manao learned to make Tapioca flower from the cassava root. Greed is a recurring trope, from Ceuci, the Witch who Ate a Lot, an Anambé myth, to the Parrot Who Sings Kra-Kra-Kra, a Bororo myth. Stories of love and vengeance are featured prominently as well. Two brothers, the children of a woman and a jaguar, seek revenge for their mother’s death. Another features the story of a jealous husband in the Pequi Tree myth when he discovers his wives are having an affair with the Alligator. These myths locate emotions of the human experience and turn them into opportunities of understanding more about ourselves, they locate us amongst the animals and environments we know and live in, teaching us of our place in the world in relation to everything around us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some common themes you see throughout the book?
  2. What kind of relationships did you see between humans and animals?
  3. What animals were new to you? What do you picture them to look like?
  4. Which myth was your favorite and why?

More Resources:

  1. Facts about the Amazon: https://www.natgeokids.com/uk/discover/geography/physical-geography/amazon-facts/
  2. Teachers guide to teaching about Native American storytelling (lesson plans included): https://www.pbs.org/circleofstories/educators/index.html
  3. Lesson plan on bringing Native American legends and myths to the classroom through art: https://teachers.yale.edu/curriculum/viewer/initiative_17.01.06_u

Caravan to the North: Misael’s Long Walk  

By: Jorge Argueta Illustrated by: Manuel Monroy

Who? Where? What? Misael Martinez is a Salvadoran boy who is leaving his home with his family to head North in search of a better, safer life. Misael’s life in El Salvador was centered around family and the land. They took pride in cultivating corn and connecting to the earth. Things became tainted when the violence and the gangs began to penetrate their world. It was no longer safe for children in their barrio. Misael and his family are joined by many others in the caravan north. Families, children traveling alone, women and men, all on a journey together for the same reasons. They start out their journey from Plaza Divina Salvador del Mundo and head north through Guatemala and on to Mexico. They encounter many kind folks along the way and some who are not so kind.  The caravan arrives in Tijuana with high hopes. As they approach the wall it becomes clear that getting to the other side is impossible, leaving many with broken dreams of the north and a longing for their homes back in El Salvador.

Jorge Argueta paints the picture of the experience of those migrating in the caravan to the north in verse. Each part of the journey is described from the point of view of Misael. We follow his experience as it reflects those of the migrants he is traveling with. The reader is yanked along the rollercoaster of emotions from excitement and hope to sadness and despair. Caravan to the North is an important story that underscores the reality of many people from Latin America today. The book provides valuable insight into the reasons people migrate and the harrowing journeys they endure to seek safety, opportunity, freedom, and well-being for themselves and their families.  By using the point of view of a boy on the journey, Jorge Argueta presents the complicated theme of migration in an approachable way for middle school and high school students.

Primary Themes: migration, family, community, expectations vs reality, current events

Resources for using Caravan to the North in the classroom:

https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?tid=68278 Teaching books has comprehensive activities and info about Caravan to the North.

http://jorgetetlargueta.weebly.com/ For more information about the author Jorge Argueta including his other works and resources for the classroom.

https://www.ilctr.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Teaching-Immigration-with-the-Immigrant-Stories-Project-FINAL_opt.pdf The University of Minnesota Immigration History Research Center’s “Teaching Immigration with the Immigration Stories Project.” A great resource for ideas on how to incorporate immigration topics into the classroom.