¡Mira, Look!: Napí

¡Buenos días! Today we will move further south in Mexico to a small Mazateca village in the state of Oaxaca with the children’s book, Napí,  written by the Mexican muralist/activist Antonio Ramírez and illustrated by Mazateca artist/activist Domi (Domitila Domínguez). The two have worked together as partners and activists, particularly within the context of indigenous activism and the Zapatista movement in Mexico, and together founded the Colectivo Callejero (the Streetwise Collective) in 1982.

Napí tells the story of a Mazateca girl of the same name. In the story, Napí introduces herself and takes us into her world of home, life, family and dreams. She carefully and intimately shows us different elements of her village; these elements are normal parts of her day to day life, however, her descriptions, accompanied by Domi’s captivating illustrations, demonstrate that there is nothing mundane about them. Napí moves along through the pages, illuminating the beauty of plants, animals and other elements of nature.

Napí describes her family, plants and animals with love and warm respect, and her depictions portray how the elements of nature, such as the large ceiba tree outside of her home, take care of her, and she trusts in them to do so. It is the ceiba tree that brings Napí dreams. Napí cherishes her dreams and explains them with excitement. Throughout the book we get the overall feeling that Napí is in a familiar, loving and supporting environment. As De Colores reviewer Bevery Slapin explains, “She [Napí] says she is poor, but that is belief by the richness of her land, her culture, and the community of which she is a valued part.”

The simple and direct language in the book is well-accompanied by Domi’s expressive, deep and colorful illustrations. Together they allow the reader to connect to Napí and her world. One of my favorite components of this story is that it expresses so much depth and understanding of such a small area, particularly by describing one place in particular at different times of day. Almost everything happens next to the river – Napí’s mother (Naa in Mazatec) braids her hair beside the river; Napí’s grandfather tells her stories there; during a certain time of day, that spot on the river is orange; during another time of day, it is purple; during her dreams it is similarly present. Napí associates each color with emotion and memory, illuminating the power of place.

In sum, I highly recommend this book for both your school and home libraries. Domi’s illustrations are breathtaking and could surely be used for inspiration with watercolors in the classroom. Ramírez’s descriptions of Mazatec life through the eyes of a young girl are also beautiful and inspiring. While the text does not ignore issues with poverty, it emphasizes value of family (human and non-human) and place. In this way, unlike many children’s books published in the US, this book neither romanticizes poverty nor lingers on it as a defining characteristic.

If you can’t get enough of Napí, you can continue to adventure with her in Ramírez and Domi’s other two books, Napí va a la montaña/Napi Goes to the Mountain, and Napí funda un pueblo/Napí Makes a Village. They are available in English and Spanish.

Here is a video about Mazatec traditions published by the Mexican State Center of Languages and Indigenous Cultures. It is spoken in Spanish. And here is another video of a poem spoken in Mazatec, accompanied by photos of the Mazatec region. It is important to also note that there are several different dialects of Mazatec.

Finally, this could be a good opportunity to talk about the recent earthquake disaster that happened in Oaxaca on September 7, 2017 and the importance of support and solidarity during these trying times. PBS has some available teaching materials about earthquakes that I recommend checking out. Also, here is an article titled “Los heroes del terremoto – Materials for Spanish teachers,” which elaborates on the effects of the earthquakes, describes personal stories of everyday people and support networks, and more.

Saludos,

Kalyn

¡Mira, Look!: The Princess and the Warrior

¡Buenos días!

November is Native American Heritage Month.  Typically, this means that the internet is flooded with underwhelming and endless lists of books highlighting “Indians and Pilgrims” – using this as the only opportunity throughout the year to discuss indigenous peoples of the US, and typically through a distorted lens.

We’re taking a different route, one that will celebrate the lesser-told stories of individual cultures and stories among Indigenous peoples of the Americas.

A brief aside: There are amazing educators out there who are debunking, challenging, and critiquing how to teach Native American Heritage Month in the classroom. A few of them offer resources that we wanted to put at your fingertips: Check Your Curriculum? Are Native Americans in the Past Tense? by Zinn Education Project; Some Thoughts About Native American Month and Thanksgiving by Debbie Reese of the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog; and the Rethinking Columbus guide from Rethinking Schools. These are just a few. As you find others, please add them to the comments below.

Since we at Vamos a Leer have been engaging in this conversation every November for the past few years, we’ve compiled other resources that may be useful to you. You might consider checking out our content on teaching about Indigenous Peoples, as well as our related materials on Rethinking Thanksgiving. And finally, you might refer, too, Reading Roundup of “10 Books About Indigenous Peoples of Latin America” – some of which we’ll cover in more depth in this month’s reviews.

We begin our reviews this month with the children’s book, The Princess and the Warrior, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. This title is an Illustrator Honor Book of the 2017 Pura Belpré Award and a Commended Title for the 2017 Américas Award, among others.

In this book, Tonatiuh tells his own version of the legend of Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl, which are the two volcanoes southeast of Mexico City. Tonatiuh recounts the legend of how these volcanoes came to be, but adds his own twist to this well-known Mexican story.

The book is a love story about the beautiful princes Itza, who falls in love with a warrior, Popoca. Itza’s father, the emperor, prefers that Itza marry a powerful tlatoani, or ruler, rather than a simple soldier. However, he concedes that if Popoca is able to defeat Jaguar Claw of the neighboring area, with whom they have been at war, Itza and Popoca can marry. Although Popoca fights bravely and eventually triumphs over Jaguar Claw, a twist in the plot leads Itza to believe that Popoca has actually been defeated. In her grief, Itza drinks a special octli (fermented beverage) and cannot be awoken. Popoca, grief stricken, lays her on a bed of flowers and remains by her side throughout time. And that is how the two volcanoes came to be. As Kirkus Reviews writes, it’s a story “equal parts melancholic and transcendent – a genuine triumph.” Continue reading

¡Mira, Look!: The Llama’s Secret: A Peruvian Legend

¡Buenos días! We will close out this month’s Peruvian theme with The Llama’s Secret: A Peruvian Legend, written and adapted by Argentina Palacios and illustrated by Charles Reasoner. The book is also available in Spanish.

The author, Palacios, builds the following story: a family in the Peruvian highlands has a llama that they cherish very much. The llama makes their lives much easier, particularly because it is able to transport things necessary for the family’s day to day activities. One day, the llama will not eat, even after the father of the family takes him to various fields of enticing grass. Finally, the llama explains to the father that a great flood is coming, and that they need to walk to the highest mountain with his family in order to escape it. Along the way, the llama tells all of the animals they encounter about the flood. As a result, pairs of animals walk in a line to the top of the mountain. The most stubborn of the animals, the foxes, do not believe the llama’s tale. The disbelieving foxes go leisurely, so slowly that in the end the tips of their tails stay in the water. It is for that reason that foxes have black-tipped tails. While the animals are atop the mountain, and just as the lake nearly reaches them, everything goes dark; they are experiencing a solar eclipse. During this time, the animals are afraid that Inti, the sun, has died. However, the llama assures them that it is only resting in the waters of the great lake, Mamacocha.

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¡Mira, Look!: La muerte del sol y otros cuentos del antiguo Perú

¡Bueno días!

Rostworowski coverToday I will be continuing our Peruvian adventures with María Rostworowski’s book of stories, titled La muerte del sol y otros cuentos del antiguo Perú (The Death of the Sun and Other Stories from Ancient Peru). The book is written in Spanish and consists of 6 short stories, each between 3 and 6 pages of text in length. It is worth noting that María Rostworowski  (1915-2016) was a notable Peruvian historian whose work focused largely on pre-Spanish Peru and the Incan Empire. This children’s book is one of several which she wrote. Illustrated by Peruvian artist Beatriz Chung,  this lovely edition includes illustrations that are bright, lighthearted and filled with people, animals and elements of the natural world. Both the text and illustrations give life to natural beings.

I am excited to share this book not only because of its historical content, but also because of its geographical breadth. Many times our children’s books overly simplify depictions of a country or people, yet this book captures some of Peru’s vast ecological diversity by spanning the desert coast, Amazonian jungle, highland Andes, and so on. Continue reading

¡Mira, Look!: Kusikiy: A Child from Taquile, Peru

kusikiy final

¡Buenos días! After having spent the past three months in Cusco, Peru learning the Quechua language and conducting research for my master’s thesis, I’ve decided to focus on Peru for the ¡Mira, Look! book reviews this month. I hope to share with you how my experiences in Peru have influenced my perception of these children’s books!

I’ll be kicking off the Peruvian children’s book reviews with Kusikiy: A Child from Taquile, Peru, written and illustrated by Mercedes Cecilia. The book is about a child named Kusikiy and his environment on Taquile Island of Lake Titicaca. The story begins with an introduction of the different family members’ household and societal roles, in addition to traditions situated on Taquile Island. The illustrations are colorful and filled with symbols and images integral to highland Peruvian life, such as potatoes, wool, looms, thatched roofs, hummingbirds and musical instruments like the quena. In the story, Kusikiy worries about the delayed arrival of the rains for the continuance of the agricultural cycle. Thus, he embarks upon a journey to help with the appearance of the Llama Constellation, which announces the yearly arrival of the rainy season in highland Peru.

Kusikiy draws attention to how the “trees are wilting, the birds are silent and the wind is hot and dry,” demonstrating the interconnectedness of all aspects of life and the environment with the agricultural cycle, which directs Andean life. The first person Kusikiy looks to for guidance in his search for the Llama Constellation is his great grandmother, Yatiri, emphasizing the necessary role of elders in the community as knowledge-keepers. He then looks to his great grandfather, Kuriwallpa, for help in finding the Llama Constellation. In the end, Kusikiy decides “to bring an offering to the APU, the Guardian Spirit of the Great Glacier” to ask him for rain. His mother suggests that he “bring an offering of flowers, potatoes and quinoa for the APU.”

After his fantastical journey to the glacier, Kusikiy is able help bring the rains to Taquile Island. With the coming of the Llama Constellation and the rain, community members spend the night dancing and playing music. The book highlights the importance of actions associated with the agricultural cycle, and how each being and element of the Taquile environment has a purpose in its continuance. It also demonstrates the importance of celebration with the changing of the seasons. Continue reading

¡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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