¡Mira, Look!: Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre

Saludos todos! This week we are concluding our March theme of women and Women’s History Month with another great read. Last week I featured the Coleccion Antiprincesas, which provides readers with biographies of underrepresented and under-studied historical Latina heroines. This week, however, we are switching gears a bit, focusing more on the courage and determination of young girls in our everyday lives. The book for this week is Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre, written by Tom Luna and illustrated by Laura Alvarez. This wonderful story focuses on a young, female protagonist who has to learn how to navigate her complicated emotions in a difficult situation. Not only does this book show young readers how to cope with separation and heartache, it also counters stereotypes and challenges negative representations of women and girls by portraying a young girl whose empathy and emotional sensibility is not a flaw or a nuisance, but, ultimately, one of her greatest virtues.

This book tells the story of young Camila and her beloved abuelo, Felix, who lives far away in Veracruz, Mexico: “It had been two years since he left San Antonio to return home to Veracruz.” Camila reflects on the bittersweet memories of her grandfather playing his favorite guitar, the requinto, and how he would sing her lullabies when she was a little baby: “He had a deep beautiful voice and played the requinto with an almost angelic touch.” Although the plot following the female protagonist challenges typical, negative representations of women and girls, the character description of the grandfather also challenges expectations of men and boys. The grandfather is sensitive, artistic, loving and participates actively in caring for his grandchild, taking her on outings to the zoo and the park, to name a few, all the while singing or whistling tunes from Veracruz.

Although Camila misses her grandfather greatly, her parents say that they do not have enough money to afford a trip to Veracruz to visit him. However, one day, deciding to take matters into her own hands, young Camila hops on her bike determined to ride the 938 miles to Veracruz to see her dear grandfather: “‘I’m going to see Grandpa Felix in Veracruz,’ said Camila with a defiant stance.” As one would imagine, Camila’s mother quickly intervenes and tells her to come back home, that she can’t ride her bike all the way to Veracruz, but that one day they’ll have enough money saved up for a visit. Although Camila’s immediate solution to her grandfather’s absence is, of course, not one that I or parents and educators would likely recommend to their students, this scene does illustrate Camila’s determination and her willingness to try to solve her problem independently. This scene also serves as a contrast to Camila’s eventual, more reasonable solution to her feelings, showing readers Camila’s learning curve and her progress in figuring out both what her feelings are and what to do about them.

After her failed attempt at biking 938 miles to Veracruz, and her mother’s brief scolding, Camila decides that a more appropriate response might be to write a letter to her grandfather and ask him to be her pen pal. This solution is also one arrived at entirely by Camila herself, further emphasizing her independence and her ability to learn and navigate tough situations on her own: “She went into her room, pulled out her diary and decided then and there that she would write to her grandfather and ask him to write her back.” What I also particularly love about this scene is the mention of Camila’s journal-writing as a catalyst for her emotional development and decision-making. As an avid writer and “journaler” myself, I, too, have found this to be a very useful strategy in coping with tough situations, sorting out my thoughts and feelings, and figuring out how to proceed. Moreover, as the story continues in a somewhat epistolary format, composed of letters between Camila and her grandfather, teachers could conduct various lessons based on two forms of writing: first, letter-writing and the epistolary novel form, and, second, journal writing. As an exercise in writing and verbal expression, teachers could ask their students to write in a journal every day. Teachers could also conduct exercises in letter-writing and, especially for foreign language students, teach their students proper opening and closing statements, such as “Querido abuelo/ Dear grandpa.” This story is entirely bilingual, which is especially useful for comparing the letter-writing format between English and Spanish. In addition, the simplistic illustrations found within this book could also inspire students to create drawings of their own to accompany their journal entries or letters. As noted by a School Library Journal review, “Rough-hewn, heavily brushed paintings tracking Camila’s progress to adulthood and Grandpa’s to gray-haired old age accompany narrative passages of English over Spanish.” In this story, the prose is just as important as the illustrations in conveying the passing of time, and both Camila’s physical and emotional growth.

Towards the end of the story we see Camila grown up to be a young, 18-year-old woman. Her family still has not been able to save enough money to go to Veracruz, but Camila is determined to go nonetheless: “On the day Camila turned 18, she was in her room with photos of her grandfather all around. She was working now and saving her money. Her family never did go to Veracruz but Camila was saving to go on her own.” This scene again reinforces Camila’s agency and independence, her ability not only to work hard towards a self-determined goal, but also to eventually travel on her own.What I find especially powerful about this scene is the way in which it emphasizes “ambition” as not only working towards professional and academic goals, but also towards emotional and interpersonal goals. Oftentimes “emotional labor,” or the work that one puts into emotionally supporting others, is unconsciously expected of women while also being undervalued, unrecognized and unremunerated, in both the home and the workplace. This heartwarming scene emphasizes the hard work that Camila put into sustaining a relationship with her grandfather over the years, as well as her grandfather’s boundless joy and appreciation upon finally seeing her arrive in Veracruz (belated spoiler alert!).

All in all, this book is a wonderful resource for teaching a variety of subjects from writing and correspondence, to emotional development and maturity.  Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre challenges typical representations of gender roles through children’s literature, empowering both young girls and boys.

For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned to an introduction to our April themes and more great reads!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images Modified from Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre: Pages 7, 9, 14, 15, 21

¡Mira, Look!: Colección Antiprincesas

Image result for coleccion antiprincesasSaludos todos! I’m back with my weekly Mira, Look posts after a short time off for Spring Break. This month we have been celebrating Women’s History Month by featuring books about the wonderful women found throughout history and within our personal lives as well. This week I’ll be reviewing three books from the Colección Antiprincesas. This collection is meant to feature “grandes mujeres,” or prominent women in history, in order to show that women don’t have to be your typical “princess”; in fact, many of these women were so formidable precisely because they went against gender norms and fought for what they believed in.

The Colección Antiprincesas has received a lot of media attention, specifically through channels (blogs, magazines, etc.) that focus on Latinx literature for children, such as Remezcla’s post, These Anti-Princess Books Give Young Girls Badass Latina Heroines to Look up to. Since these new releases have been talked about so much within the children’s literature community, I thought it was a good idea to contribute my views and join in the discussion. Needless to say, we also greatly welcome the input of our readers in fostering a larger, dynamic discussion about this collection and Latinx children’s books in general!

The first book in the Colección Antiprincesas features Frida Kahlo, a timeless Mexican artist known for her captivating art, but also for her bold, individualistic style and her candid honesty in expressing the most personal aspects of her life, including chronic physical pain and heartbreak. Kahlo was also known for marching to her own beat and has turned into a renowned icon in Latin America and across the world for challenging beauty standards and social norms. Kahlo has been featured many times already on the blog, including Katrina’s Teaching about Frida Kahlo post, Lorraine’s book review on Viva Frida, and Neoshia’s book review on Frida Kahlo.

Although it would seem difficult to bring something new to the discussion after so many resources and books have already been published about Kahlo, the Colección Antiprincesas manages to do just that, thanks in large part to their unique format. Each double-page spread has an illustration that caters to the eyes of younger readers, along with more detailed historical information, discussion questions, and black and white archival photographs. The unusual format of this book makes it a bit difficult to use with younger readers or students reading independently; however, these books are perfect as a resource for teachers. Teachers could draw on the information from these books to teach about these prominent historical figures, incite discussion about the lives and work of these figures, and show images to attract the attention of students of a variety of ages. In addition, these books are monolingual and are written exclusively in Spanish, which means they serve a valuable purpose for bringing Latin American heroines to Spanish speaking audiences. A review by School Library Journal also comments upon this as an attribute of these books—they’re Spanish language books that are easy to get a hold of here in the U.S: “VERDICT An excellent choice for libraries seeking works in Spanish for elementary students, especially where biographies are needed.”

Although the multimedia, patch-work style of the book might make it hard for students reading or working independently, the varied information could lead teachers on a variety of lesson-plan trajectories. For example, one page of the Frida Kahlo book includes the definition of the art term, “surrealism,” along with examples of Kahlo’s work. This could lead teachers to a lesson plan on surrealist art where they compare Kahlo’s work to other surrealist artists, such as Salvador Dali. Another part of the book focuses on Kahlo’s activism fighting for the rights of workers in Mexico. This, too, could lead to an expansive lesson plan on the rights of workers throughout Mexican history, and of Mexican-American workers here in the U.S.

The second and third books of the collection feature Violeta Parra, contemporary Chilean composer and songwriter, and Juana Azurduy, Bolivian guerilla military leader born in the late 1700s. The format for these two books is the same as the first, with simplistic illustrations, historical information and educational definitions, such as “arte popular” (popular art), and “colonias” (colonies). Like with the first book, this information could lead to other related lessons on popular art in the Americas or the history of colonialism and liberation.

One of the wonderful things about these books is that, with the exception of Kahlo, they focus on Latina heroines who are not typically discussed and certainly not included in the classroom – even when discussing Latin American history! Admittedly, I had not heard of Violeta Parra or Juana Azurduy before reading these books. These books also don’t sugarcoat the hardships that these women went through in their lifetimes. Part of the “anti-princess” perspective of these books is precisely that they do not portray women as perfect and pretty; rather these books are straight forward when talking about their hardships, and the illustrations don’t “beautify” the women with western standards of beauty. School Library Journal also comments upon Saá’s illustrations: “The often graphic novel–like art—vibrant, bold colors outlined in black—depicts scenes from the text and enhances the view of the subjects as strong heroines.

Ultimately, these books are an excellent contribution to Spanish-language children’s books accessible here in the U.S., and to any collection of biographies of powerful Latina role models. Putting aside the critique that the unusual formatting could be a challenge for young readers, these books prove an excellent resources for educators looking to teach their students more about underrepresented Latina heroines.

For those of you interested in using these books in the classroom, here are some additional resources:

For those of you interested in learning more about the author and illustrator, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned for some more great reads!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images modified from: Coleccion Antiprincesas pages 4, 6, 7, 8, 13

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¡Mira Look!: Conoce a Gabriela Mistral/ Get to Know Gabriela Mistral

Image result for conoce a gabriela mistralSaludos todos! This week we are starting our March theme of women in children’s literature, in celebration of Women’s History Month. Our book for this week is Get to Know Gabriela Mistral, written by Georgina Lazaro Leon and illustrated by Sara Helena Palacios. This bilingual book is part of a series of “Conoce a…/ Get to Know….” books that provide children with biographies of well-known, and sometimes lesser-known, Hispanic heroes.

Gabriela Mistral was a Chilean author and poet and she was the first Latin American author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945. Although Mistral is indeed very well-known within the literary community, outside of the literary community she is often eclipsed by some of her twentieth century male contemporaries, such as Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges. This informative story traces Mistral’s life, both her childhood and her work as a writer, and even introduces readers to some of her lovely poetry, ultimately putting the spotlight on a timeless woman, a Latin American hero and literary icon.

Gabriela Mistral was the Chilean author’s pseudonym and the story refers to the protagonist by her original name, Lucila. Young Lucila grew up in a small Andean village and at a young age her father “disappeared,” walking out on her mother and the family. Lucila lived with a sadness in her heart. She was timid, but pensive, sweet and always reading or writing: “And that’s how Lucila grew up: solitary, quiet and sometimes sad.” She started writing at a very young age, which when she adopted her pseudonym, Gabriela Mistral.

After her father’s disappearance, Lucila and her mother went to go live with her grandmother for a while. Lucila’s grandmother was a great inspiration to her, a strong and independent woman who served as her role model and even her muse for many of her poems: “This grandmother was a big, strong woman, strange and silent. She read the future in the stars and was very religious. She supported herself by embroidering ornaments for the church.” Growing up without her father, Lucila derived most of her support, guidance, and encouragement from the women in her life— her sturdy, inspirational grandmother, her compassionate mother, and her sharp older sister, who worked as a teacher in her town.

Each paragraph or page of this book is complemented by a quote or section from one of Gabriela Mistral’s poems. This wonderful narrative style not only exposes readers to examples of Mistral’s poetry, but also shows how her poetry was deeply influenced by and intertwined with her personal life. Leon pairs each paragraph with a section of Mistral’s poetry that bares similar themes to the part of her personal life being narrated in that moment. As a result, Mistral’s life experiences and identity, and her art are inseparable.

This narrative focuses primarily on Lucila’s childhood, the parts of her life that are most relevant and understandable for young readers. Readers can identify with her quirkiness, her solitude and even her early and persistent sadness. The story ends with Lucila all grown up working as a teacher: “She was a girl who was a teacher before she was a woman; a woman who without children of her own became the mother of all the children she taught, writing for them with such tenderness, sharing her message of love, peace, brother- and sisterhood. She was a woman who wrote for you and for all children, in the hope that you would learn to love words and enjoy them just as she did from a very young age.” Much of Mistral’s work reflected both her love of children and her strong feminist values. As Leon’s narrative also reflects, Mistral defined herself and her life primarily by her work, her craft, her intellect, and her dedication to helping children, rather than the gender roles that were expected of her as a woman.

This story makes a point of focusing most specifically on the ways in which Mistral’s life related to children, her own childhood and her work as a teacher, rather than on the other more esoteric aspects of Mistral’s life, her award-winning work, her political engagement in Chile and abroad, and her literary colleagues and collaborators. As such this story presents Mistral’s life and work as sources of inspiration and motivation for young children, an objective that many of us educators and bloggers here at Vamos a Leer can relate to: “She was a woman who wrote for you and for all children, in the hope that you would learn to love words and enjoy them just as she did from a very young age.”

For those of you interested in learning more about the author/illustrator, here are some additional links:

Stay tuned for more great reads about wonderful women!

Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images Modified from: Conoce a Gabriela Mistral/ Get to Know Gabriela Mistral, pages 4, 8, 11, 17

¡Mira Look!: Martina the Beautiful Cockroach

Image result for martina the beautiful cockroachSaludos todos! This week we are concluding our monthly theme of love with Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, an adaptation of an old Cuban folktale, written by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Michael Austin. This book won recognition as a Pura Belpré Honor Book. According to the introduction of the book, this folktale is one of the best known in Latin America, but versions of this classic tale also exist in other regions of the world. Nonetheless, Deedy takes this traditional tale, and its familiar themes, and intertwines it with her own creative twists and childhood memories. This in itself is one of the beautiful things about traditional folktales—their themes and plots have become so familiar to most people that they can be retold and adapted across countries, cultures and individual experiences to reflect both common sentiments of society, and the particular lives of individuals. Martina the Beautiful Cockroach deals primarily with themes of romantic love, but also of familial love, as young Martina relies on the advice of her wise abuela in choosing a future spouse. This charming story conveys themes of respect, compatibility, and family love, and is bound to make any reader smile as they follow the journey of Martina the beautiful cockroach.

martina-1 martina-2The story begins with a scene of the young Martina with her family inside their lamp post home. The warm hues of the illustrations evoke feelings of comfort and good company, while also accentuating witty details, such as a sofa made of a can of beans, a staircase made of books, and a stamp as a wall-hanging portrait. Martina has just turned 21 years old, and her family thinks that it is now time for her to find a husband. Her wise abuela tells her to go up to the balcony to await her suitors. Since Martina is stunningly beautiful, the entire town is abuzz with talk about marrying her: “Soon all Havana—from the busy sidewalks of El Prado to El Morro castle—was abuzz with the news.” However, her abuela also tells her to use the famous “coffee test” to pick the right suitor. When a suitor comes to speak to her, Martina must “accidentally” spill coffee on their shoes, and watch how they react. Based on their reaction, she will see how they will act towards her when they are angry. If they lose their temper and act disrespectfully, then they are not the right suitor. Although Martina is skeptical of her abuela’s eccentric advice, she follows it nonetheless.

martina-3 martina-4The first to come speak to Martina is Don Gallo, the rooster. The rooster has “splendid shoes,” and exclaims, “Caramba! You really are a beautiful cockroach. I will look even more fabulous with you on my wings!” But when Martina “accidently” spills coffee on his shoes, he erupts in a fury, insulting her and her “clumsiness”: “Clumsy cockroach! I will teach you better manners when you are my wife!” Alas, Don Gallo has failed the coffee test. Martina tells him cooly, “A most humble offer, senor, but I cannot accept. You are much too cocky for me.” These little play on words continue throughout the story, adding a layer of humor to an already charming and endearing story. While portraying the all-too-human sensations of searching for love and finding love, this story also self-consciously highlights the witty absurdity of the anthropomorphized characters: “Daintily, she sat down/ and crossed her legs,/ and crossed her legs,/ and crossed her legs.” As one suitor comes after the next, Martina grows more and more appreciative of her abuela’s unique advice.   Many of her suitors do not react kindly to having coffee spilt on their shoes, and this little experiment enables her to see each suitor’s true colors.

martina-5Finally, Martina spots a cute little mouse who’s been waiting in the bushes below the whole time. Martina, instantly drawn to him, goes to speak to him, but not before her abuela brusquely reminds her, “Don’t forget the coffee!” The little mouse blushes while speaking to Martina and tells her that although she is very beautiful, his eyes are not very good; his ears, however, are very sharp and he knows that she is “strong and good”: “Then he squinted sweetly. ‘Who cares if you are beautiful?’” Although this old folktale relies on old traditions of courting suitors, the values that it conveys—mutual respect, kindness, and a focus on internal values rather than external appearances—are timeless and remain important for any couple to this day. Although Martina is reluctant to try the coffee test this time, she does as her abuela says. Just as she is about to spill the coffee on the mouse’s shoes, though, he surprises her by doing something none of the other suitors have done. So as not to ruin the ending, which is my favorite part of the story, I will leave it at that. But in the end, Martina ends up falling in love with the most unassuming suitor, while also realizing how important her Cuban roots and family traditions really are.

For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned for an introduction to our March themes and for more great reads!

Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images modified from: Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, pages 3, 7, 9, 11, 18

¡Mira Look!: Under the Lemon Moon

Image result for under the lemon moonSaludos todos! This week we are continuing our monthly theme of love with an especially heart-warming book, Under the Lemon Moon, written by Edith Hope Fine and illustrated by Rene King Moreno.  This lovely story specifically focuses on themes of forgiveness, generosity and personal growth, expanding our theme of love to include other feelings, values, and personal goals.

This book takes place in the Mexican countryside and the English narration is interspersed with Spanish vocabulary words. Fine has provided an index at the beginning of the book to help non-Spanish speaking readers puzzle through the Spanish interjections.  Not only will students learn lessons on patience, forgiveness, and compassion, but they‘ll also get exposure to new vocabulary, while practicing using an index as a tool for comprehension.

lemon-1The story starts by introducing the female protagonist, Rosalinda, who has started to grow her very own lemon tree in the backyard. One night she hears something rustling outside.  When she goes with her pet hen, Blanca, to investigate, she sees a “man with hunched shoulders” picking all the lemons off her tree and stuffing them into a sack before scurrying away into the night. Rosalinda is furious: “Her lemons. From her tree.” As Rosalinda is learning to take care of her plants and her pets, reinforcing feelings of pride, care and responsibility, her sense of possession also starts to get the best of her.  In portraying this delicate balance, Fine shows how important it is for children to have things that they can take care of on their own, that they can be proud of and responsible for, while also showing how this is in itself a learning experience and an opportunity for growth: Rosalinda asks herself, “Who is the Night Man? Why does he take my lemons?”

lemon-2The next morning Rosalinda finds that not a single lemon is left on her tree. The branches are bare and the leaves have a yellow, sickly tinge to them: “Rosalinda crooned a sad song as Blanca brawked along. She loved her lemon tree almost as much as she loved Bianca.” As the week goes by Rosalinda notices that the leaves on her precious lemon tree are turning more yellow, and starting to fall off, and she begins to worry that the tree is dying. When she goes to her parents for comfort they suggest that maybe a friend or a neighbor could help, or her dear abuela. Rosalinda’s parents are kind and compassionate and try their best to soothe her worries, while also encouraging her to find a creative solution on her own.Throughout the story, Rosalinda’s agency and independence are consistently reinforced: “Rosalinda set out.” Ultimately, the story culminates in Rosalinda resolving her own predicament in a way that is both gratifying for herself and compassionate towards others.

lemon-3As Rosalinda talks to various people in her neighborhood they each give her tips on how to care for a tree, watering it and even talking to it to make it feel better. But Rosalinda has already done all of these things and nothing has worked. Rosalinda takes good care of her plants and has already tried everything that she can think of. Finally, though, she goes to speak to her wise abuelita. Her abuela tells her that she’ll light a candle for her tree, something Rosalinda has not tried yet, and that maybe the candle will summon La Anciana, a wise old spirit known for making things grow. Abuela “eased the worries from Rosalinda’s forehead with her warm palm,” and proceeds to lovingly tell her the legend of La Anciana. Little does Rosalinda know, as she awaits La Anciana and her powers to make her tree grow, she also awaits her wise words and her powers to make her, Rosalinda, grow and mature.

lemon-4As Rosalinda makes her way back home she stops by the local market. As she walks by all of the stands she notices the Night Man. He’s sitting in front of a stand selling lemons, her lemons! Just as Rosalinda begins shivering with rage and fear, La Anciana appears, “her wrinkles deep, her eyes gentle.”  After listening to Rosalinda’s predicament, La Anciana agrees, “to take your lemons was wrong,” but then adds, “Perhaps he had a need.” Indeed, when Rosalinda goes back to the market the next day she notices that the Night Man’s hands are rough and hardened by tough work, and his family beside him looks hungry and disheveled.

Before leaving, La Anciana tells Rosalinda how to cure her tree, and, after following her instructions, Rosalinda wakes up the next day to find her tree overflowing with big, juicy lemons. She loads them up in a crate and takes them to the market, generously handing them out to everyone she sees, her neighbors, her friends, and even complete strangers. Finally, she stops by the Night Man’s stand. Rosalinda hands him her last lemon. She tells the night man to “siembra las semillas,” or “plant the seeds,” so that he can grow a lemon tree of his own. The Night Man thanks her and when Rosalinda leaves, her feelings of anger and worry from a week prior are now replaced by feelings of love and joy: “Rosalinda felt content, too. Except for one fat hen, Rosalinda’s cart was empty, but her heart was as full as a lemon moon.”

lemon-5This beautiful story shows readers the power of forgiveness and generosity, and how sometimes, by taking care of others, we ultimately take care of ourselves. With Moreno’s stunning illustrations, this book exudes a calming tone that encourages readers and young children to reflect upon their feelings and the feelings of others. Moreno’s illustrations have also appeared on our blog before with my book review of Uncle Monarch and the Day of the Dead, which is also a lovely, calming story about the flourishing wisdom of young children. In Under the Lemon Moon, the protagonist embarks on a journey of personal growth and maturity that ultimately teaches her to care not only for her own plants and pets, but also for her neighbors and for the people around her. In the end, the best way to feel as round and full as a lemon moon or a shimmering lemon tree is to spread kindness and generosity to the people around us.

For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned for more great books!

Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images Modified from Under the Lemon Moon: Pages 9, 14, 17, 21 and 26

¡Mira Look!: Haiti My Country

Image result for haiti my countrySaludos todos! This week I will be reviewing Haiti My Country, a collection of poems written by a variety of Haitian school children, illustrated by Rogé and translated from the French by Solange Messier. As we continue with our February theme of love, including love of self, love of community, and love of others, to name a few, this book resonates primarily with themes of love of country and love of nature. Through each individual and unique poem, these children express pride in their country, adoration for its natural beauty, and, ultimately, the love that they have for themselves and for their own particular identities.

haiti-1This book on Haiti also harkens us back to my February posts from last year, where I used Black History Month as an opportunity to focus my book reviews for the month on books about Haiti, a country that is sometimes overlooked in our studies of Latin America. Of course, Afro-Latino culture and populations are prominent in all countries of Latin America, however Haiti’s history and society stands apart, as the majority of the population is made up of Afro-descendents, and it was the first country in the Americas to lead a successful slave rebellion. Some of my posts from last year include, Sélavi / That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope, Eight Days, A Story of Haiti, Running the Road to ABC, and Children of Yayoute. You may also be interested in Keira’s post on Resources to Teach about Haiti and Afro-Caribbean Cultures, or  Charla‘s post on Teaching about Haiti with Love. While Haiti My Country fits in with out general theme of love for this month, it also helps us remember and link back to some great resources and teaching plans from last year.

haiti-5The introduction of Haiti My Country, written by Dany Laferrière, provides some geographical and historical context for this collection of poems:

After the ongoing deforestation of the last few decades came a succession of cyclones, deadly floods, and then the horrific earthquake. I should clarify that these poems were written before the earthquake of January 12, 2010. What’s more, the region where these young poets live has been largely unaffected by the calamities that I have just mentioned. The natural landscapes that surround these teenagers inspire such dreams that visitors are often surprised they originated in Haiti.

haiti-2Laferrière notes that when he reads novels he can usually discern the age of the author based on a variety of cultural and historical context clues; however, with poetry it is different. He remarks that one of the enchanting and even mysterious aspects of these poems is that the poets themselves are so young, yet their words evoke such wisdom.

haiti-3One of the things that I find especially beautiful about this book is Rogé’s stunning, detailed, and humanistic portraits. Each portrait is presented on the adjacent page of the poem, depicting the poem’s author. The children are smiling, and resting their faces in an expression of serenity and tranquility; however, sometimes their expressions bear a degree of mystery, a complacent smile that hides a deeper truth: “The illustrator (I say illustrator and not painter because these portraits force us to think rather than to look) seems to be trying to resolve a deep mystery behind the faces that are suddenly unreadable.” According to Lafereire, one of the most poignant aspects of this book is the combination of the magical scenes painted by the children’s poetry, and the portraits of their calm, tranquil faces, coupled with the unavoidable context of poverty and devastation that has plagued Haiti for years.  He explains, “Such energy inhabits these adolescents! It overflows and consoles us, even as unfathomable sadness invades our hearts. Their vitality is irresistible. But as heavenly as the setting is, it does not distract them from the human condition.”

haiti-4Nonetheless, Laferrière also notes that these stunning portraits help paint a more holistic image of Haiti, the natural beauty of the country, articulated through the poems, and the endearing faces of its children, the faces of hope and the future. Again, what is so compelling about this collection is what is said and what is not said, the sweet smile on the face of a Haitian adolescent, and the tinge of sadness in her deep, dark eyes. This poignant duality is felt in a poem by Annie Hum: “Magnificent country becomes/ Broken land/ All smiles are lost.”  Yet these poems are also imbued with inspiring hope and faith in the future, in the future that these children will bring: “Everything is born, everything lives, everything perishes./ But this country, her exceptional natural beauty–/ I want her to live forever.” Another poem, shown beside the portrait of a somber looking boy starts with “I dream” and concludes with “I do not want to see these things in dreams/ But in reality…”  That poem alone is reason enough to use the book in the classroom–what a wonderful writing prompt that line could be!

For those of you interested in learning more about contemporary Haiti, here are some additional links:

For those of you interested in learning more about the book’s artist, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned for more great books!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice

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¡Mira Look!: My Tata’s Remedies/ Los remedies de mi tata

my tata's remediesSaludos todos! This week we are kicking off our February themes of love, including romantic love, love of self, love of community, and love of country by featuring My Tata’s Remedies/ Los remedios de mi tata. This wonderful story emphasizes themes of love through community and family support, but also of self love and care by showcasing various natural remedies that have been passed on through various generations of a young boy’s family. Aside from this unique and engaging narrative, My Tata’s Remedies/ Los remedios de mi tata also won the 2016 Pura Belpre Honor Book for Illustration. This bilingual story, written by Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford and illustrated by Antonio Castro, is a sequel to its precursor, My Nana’s Remedies/Los Remedios De Mi Nana, now narrating the herbal remedies and natural medicinal recipes of the young protagonist’s grandfather rather than his grandmother. This informative tale is best for ages 4-11, though its abundant, non-fictional information may also be interesting for older readers.

tata 1My Tata’s Remedies/ Los remedios de mi tata reinforces the importance in respecting, admiring and preserving cultural heritage within a community or a family, but also of sharing and communicating that cultural heritage with others through acts of care and kindness. As the young, male protagonist learns of all the things his Tata can do with healing herbs, and the integral part that he plays in the community, he witnesses firsthand the power of tradition. Likewise, with the scientifically-correct illustrations of herbs and realistic recipes for healing, the book itself plays a role in passing on these old traditions to its readers. Overall, however, this story shows how the knowledge of one person can heal the aches and ailments of an entire community.

tata 2At the back of the book Rivera-Ashford includes three whole pages of plant encyclopedia, which was prepared by “Armando Gonzalez-Stuart, Ph.D. Professor of Herbal Medicine, El Paso Community College.” Each plant is show with its drawing, its scientific name, and a brief, yet highly informational description of its characteristics, where it’s found, and what it is used for. These descriptions also relate back to the story for context: “Creosote Bush. Tata used the branches to make a wash for Justin’s feet, to help against itching and ‘stinky feet.’ This plant has natural chemicals that can fight the fungus that causes athlete’s foot and other infections like ringworm, for example.”

tata 3Furthermore, these encyclopedia-like entries, like with the rest of the narration, are bilingual, including a full Spanish translation after each one, emphasizing the bicultural heritage of many Southwestern communities, and their traditional, natural remedies. The dual-language nature of the story and the encyclopedia entries also emphasizes one of the main themes of this story: communication. To ensure that this knowledge is passed on throughout the generations, they must be taught and told to others, in English or in Spanish.

tata 4On nearly each page of the story, a different community member or character comes to visit Tata and ask for his help with a variety of ailments. Not only is the reader (and Tata’s grandson) exposed to a variety of ailments and resources for curing them, but also to many different community portraits. Each person has a different background, a different story, and a different reason for seeking Tata’s help. Castro’s paintings expertly depict these portraits with realistic expressions, emotive shading and convincing detail.

tata 5In a review of My Tata’s Remedies/ Los remedies de mi tata, Goodreads comments upon Castro’s life and work: “Antonio Castro L. is nationally recognized for his illustrations of books by Joe Hayes. Teaming up with his son, book designer Antonio Castro H., he uses his exacting illustrative skills to bring to life this story of family and plants. Born in Zacatecas, Mexico, Antonio has lived in the Juarez–El Paso area for most of his life.” The stunning illustrations, which won this book the Pura Belpre award for illustration, compliment the narration’s reliance on non-fictional information by contributing highly realistic human portraits, and scientifically precise plant illustrations. The illustrations are nearly as detailed as the text and draw readers into the realistic community of the protagonist, his Tata and their ailing neighbors. The non-fictional aspect of both the narration and the illustrations further enables readers to think about their own familial or cultural traditions and how they can make more of an effort to learn about them. Finally the detailed portraits of all the community members humanize the various characters, reminding readers of why they love all of their own neighbors and their differences.

For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional links:

Stay tuned for more Pura Belpre awardee books!

Alice


Images modified from My Tata’s Remedies/ Los remedies de mi tata: Pages 7, 9, 13, 16, 17