¡Mira, Look! The Patchwork Garden/ Pedacitos de huerto and It’s Our Garden

Saludos todos! This week we are celebrating Earth Day with two wonderful books, which I will be reviewing side by side. The first book, The Patchwork Garden/ Pedacitos de huerto, written by Diane de Anda and illustrated by Oksana Kemarskaya, is a bilingual, fictional picture book that tells the sweet and inspirational story of a young girl who, with the help of her dear Abuela, learns to cultivate a garden and grow her own vegetables in the middle of her urban neighborhood. The second book, It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden, written by George Ancona, is a non-fictional book equally sweet and inspirational, that tells the story of a group of children right here in New Mexico who grew and took care of their own vegetable garden. Together these two books can inspire readers of all ages to grow their own vegetables in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner. And, just as Abuela says in The Patchwork Garden, “‘They taste much sweeter than the ones you buy in the store.’”

The Patchwork Garden/ Pedacitos de huerto, tells the story of a young girl whose wise Abuela teaches her how to cultivate a healthy and fruitful garden, despite some modern-day challenges: “‘I wish I could have my own vegetable garden,’ replied Toña, ‘but there’s nothing but cement around our apartment building.’” Abuela reassures her, telling her that all you need is a small plot of land– a garden can be beautiful, no matter how small. With this information, Toña realizes that there is a little patch of dirt behind the neighborhood church that might be suitable for her garden, so she goes to ask Father Anselmo for permission to use it, adding that he can take as many colorful, sweet vegetables as he’d like: “‘Ah,’ said Father Anselmo, thinking of the fresh salads and steamed vegetables, ‘beautiful and healthy.’” As Toña and her Abuela embark on their journey of organizing a plan for their garden, they enlist the help and support of the community, simultaneously teaching others about sustainable living and healthy eating, while also fortifying their community bonds.

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¡Mira, Look!: The Shark and the Parrotfish

Image result for the shark and the parrotfishSaludos todos! This week we are continuing our theme of nature in celebration of this month’s Earth Day with another great read. The Shark and the Parrotfish and Other Caribbean Fables, written by Mario Picayo and illustrated by Cherise Ward is a lovely collection of fables that take place in various parts of the Caribbean, incorporating characters based on all of the region’s abundant and diverse flora and fauna. This book is perfect for this month’s theme as it embraces many of nature’s wonders, while also anthropomorphizing animals and insects, reminding us of our closeness to nature, and helping readers sympathize with many species’ current plight of habitat destruction and resource scarcity. The setting of the Caribbean is also conducive for this month’s discussions on climate change, conservation, and eco-friendly living, as this region of the world, arguably one of the most beautiful and biodiverse, has also been one of the most affected by environmental exploitation, species extinction, and ecological destruction. Furthermore, as explained in the introduction of this book, each story is a fable, meaning that it contains a moral or a lesson to readers. As we take this month to reflect on the state of our planet and many of its glorious ecosystems, let us also reflect on the moral of this collection as a whole, as well as all of this month’s books: to save our ecosystems, care for our planet, and live responsibly.

In a note to the reader at the beginning of the book, the author introduces the genre of the fable, and explains many of the fable’s characteristics, such as being passed down from generation to generation, and usually including a moral or a lesson for the reader: “A fable is a story, but it is a special kind of story that teaches a lesson. We call that lesson a moral. Many fables are about animals and plants that talk and act like people.” The author also explains how Aesop is one of the most well-known fable-writers, but how this collection, rather than focusing on a European or African heritage, like many of Aesop’s stories, focuses on the Caribbean: “But I was born in the Caribbean, not in Africa or Europe, so my stories don’t have lions, foxes, or grapevines. Mine have mongooses, genip trees, and sharks.” Here we see how the fables’ focus on the Caribbean’s diverse flora and fauna is not only something that makes these fables so fascinating and intriguing, but also something that makes them distinctly Caribbean. In other words, our natural surroundings are not just a matter of environmental concern, but also of cultural identity, patrimony, and heritage. When we jeopardize and endanger earth’s species and the natural habitats of the world, we stand to lose not only our rich ecosystems, but also our culture, our national identities, memories, and ways of life.

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¡Mira, Look!: Con el sol en los ojos/ With the Sun in My Eyes

Image result for with the sun in my eyes jorge lujanSaludos todos! This week we are kicking off April with a wonderful, spring-timey book. Our themes for April are the Earth and nature in celebration of Earth Day and also poetry in celebration of National Poetry Month. Although not all of my books for this month will be able to combine both of these themes so nicely, this week’s book indeed does. Con el sol en los ojos/ With the Sun in My Eyes, written by an Argentinian poet, Jorge Lujan, and illustrated by an Iranian artist, Morteza Zahedi, is a lovely story (written as a collection of poems) about a young boy and girl who discover the world and all of its natural beauty: “In this book of short poems, a young boy and girl find wonder, magic, beauty and humor in everything around them.” Although this book at first glance may seem sweet and simplistic, the poetry can be difficult to understand for younger children and the degree of artistic license and creativity used in this book might make it more interesting and enriching for older children (years 9-12).

The book opens with a quote by Walt Whitman that can guide readers in their subsequent readings of the poems: “There was a child went forth every day,/ And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became.” This quote expresses the beautiful way in which children can become absorbed by their surroundings, and how the details of our environment, which sometimes allude us busy adults, are not lost on children and their wonderful creativity and imagination.

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¡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.

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¡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!

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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.

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¡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.

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