LAII K-12 Educator Newsletter: October

Happy fall, educators! We hope it’s been a great start to a new season for you and your students under these unusual circumstances. In our October newsletter, we share ideas and prepared lesson plans to help incorporate Hispanic and Latinx themes into your learners’ studies this month. ¡Disfrútalo! 

Join Us!: LAII K-12 Afro-Latinidad
Teacher Workshop Series

Join the LAII for the Institute’s first-ever teacher workshop series on Afro-Latinidad! Throughout the series, we’ll discuss a variety of Afro-Latinx cultures across Latin America, a range of spiritual and cultural Afro-Latinx traditions, and a diverse selection of historical Afro-Latinx figures. All three workshops will complement one another but can also stand alone so please join us for as many as you can!

Workshop Schedule:

Afro-Latinx Cultural Traditions
Friday, October 23 • 3:30 PM
Register at:

Significant Afro-Latinx Figures
Friday, December 4 • 3:30 PM
Register at:

Zooming in on Afro-Latinx Culture in Mexico
Friday, February 5 • 3:30 PM
Register at:

For more information or questions, contact us at

Current Events

October 12 – Indigenous People’s Day

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a holiday that celebrates and honors indigenous peoples and commemorates their histories and cultures. This activity guide about Indigenous Peoples’ Day for high school students includes an article from the Smithsonian paired with in-depth questions to assess comprehension. Following is an interactive vocabulary exercise based on the Smithsonian article and another article about Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The second article from NPR gives students another perspective on the holiday and asks them to consider the two articles to complete an opinion writing activity. 

Download the Indigenous People’s Day Activity Guide

November 1 & 2 – Día de los Muertos

Día de los Muertos is a day of commemoration – an opportunity for individuals to come together to focus on their loved ones who have passed away, and to honor, revere, and celebrate their memory. Far from the somber tones of many Western European or North American funeral services, Día de los Muertos is a time of celebration. It is believed that upon these two nights of the year the deceased may return and visit with the living.  In partnership with the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the LAII developed a curriculum guide to provide hands-on art activities and literacy exercises to bring Día de los Muertos to the classroom.

Download the Dia de los Muertos Activity Guide

November 11 – Veterans Day

Veterans Day is a federal holiday to honor those who have served in the United States Armed Forces. Did you know Hispanics and Latinos make up the second largest minority group that serves as active-duty military? This activity guide for middle school students includes an article about Sergeant Leroy Arthur Petry, who received the medal of honored followed by comprehension questions. Students will then watch the medal of honor ceremony paying close attention to extra details the article did not offer. A class discussion follows and, lastly an at home research activity where students learn about a Latino veteran and then share their findings with classmates. 

Download the Veterans Day Activity Guide


Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased In Eighteen Years?

Hello, all,

’tis the season, I suppose, to question the paucity of publishers working with multicultural children’s literature.  Yesterday I shared an NPR article with you and today I bring you a blog post from Lee & Low Book’s blog, The Open Book.  While we’re pondering the question here at Vamos a Leer and our readers are musing on it in their living rooms, classrooms, coffee shops, and libraries, Lee & Low went ahead to do a public poll of academics, authors, librarians, educators, and reviews to see “if they could put their fingers on the reason why the number of diverse books has not increased.”  And they didn’t poll just anyone – the people who offer answers in the blog post are among the top minds and writers working toward multicultural literature for children.

It’s a great, albeit troubling, read. Check it out here: Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased In Eighteen Years?



Do White-centric books sell better?

Hello, all,

I hope the summer months are treating you well.  In case you’re not using your free time to track NPR’s Morning Edition, I wanted to pop in here and share one of their recent articles.  It piqued my interest and may do the same for you.

“Do White-centric books sell better?” So asks a recent article, “As Demographics Shift, Kids’ Book Stay Stubbornly White,” by NPR.  The article aired on Morning Edition on June 25, 2013.  It points out an issue that forms the basis of many of our discussions here at Vamos a Leer – “that when it comes to diversity, children’s books are sorely lacking; instead of presenting a representative range of faces, they’re overwhelmingly white.” Continue reading

For Young Latino Readers, an Image is Missing

Hello everyone!

I thought I’d chime in for a moment and share an article that my colleagues from the Américas Award just passed along to me.  If you haven’t done so yet, check out the New York Time’s recent bit on “For Young Latino Readers, an Image Is Missing”.  The author, Motoko Rich, observes that the typical stories we read nowadays in our elementary classrooms (like the Magic Tree House or the Diary of a Wimpy Kid) are devoid of familiar images for our students of color. The issue of lack of representation in classroom texts is one which our blog constantly tries to redress, but it’s refreshing to see it appear in a mainstream newspaper.

We’re always on the lookout for research or articles like this one, so let us know if you hear of anyone else doing similar studies or tackling the topic!


Quick Bit: More resources on Latino Heritage Month and Rethinking Columbus

I just came across these resources and wanted to share them here, as both seem to be popular topics among our readers.

Latino Heritage Month and Hispanic Heritage Month Resource: The Zinn Education Project just recently wrote about one of our own Vamos a Leer featured authors: Margarita Engle.  They highlighted her book: Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba. They write, “This book of historical fiction by Margarita Engle for ages 10+ tells the story of refugee ships from Germany during WWII, turned away from the U.S. and Canada, that sailed on to Cuba. Despite an intense anti-Semitic propaganda campaign waged by German government agents in Cuba, and the fact that the island of Cuba was much smaller and poorer, Cuba took in 65,000 refugees. This is the same number as were taken in by the U.S.”  Their facebook page also lists a number of upcoming events in D.C. related to Latino literature, including the Americas Book Award on October 5th where you can meet Engle.

Rethinking Columbus Resource: Rethinking Schools editor Bill Bigelow recently wrote an interesting article for GOOD magazine.  Not only does he make a great argument for the need to Rethink Columbus, but also links the same ideological issues surrounding our teaching of Columbus to the recent attacks on Tucson’s Mexican-American Studies Program.  Check out Bigelow’s latest “If We Knew Our History” column for the Zinn Education Project at


More on National Hispanic Heritage Month: The Zinn Education Project

As many of our readers seem to be very interested in resources for teaching about Hispanic Heritage Month, I thought I’d write a quick post with links to more resources I’ve come across recently. If you haven’t read other posts we’ve shared on the topic, check out Ailesha’s and Cindy’s ideas.

Continue reading

Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood: Resources, Blogs, and other Thoughts

As you’ve probably read, we’re highlighting Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood for our August book group meeting.  The winners of our Book Give Away will be announced later this afternoon!! We’ll be posting our own review and our Educator’s Guide in the next two weeks, but I thought I’d share what other reviewers and bloggers have said about the book below.

Reading in Color is a great blog.  What makes it even better, is that it is written by a teen!! To give you a better idea of the purpose of the blog, I’ve shared the author’s own words below–

“Reading in Color is a book blog that reviews YA/MG books about people of color
(poc). There is a serious lack of books being reviewed by teens that are YA/MG
about people of color, I hope my blog is one step closer to filling in this
I started Reading in Color after I discovered the wonderful
world of book blogs. I loved being able to discuss books with fellow book
lovers. But I soon noticed that very few books about POC were being reviewed. I
wanted recommendations of YA books about POC, sometimes I got tired of reading
about the white norm. So I started this blog to get recommendations about YA
POC and share them with others. After all, I couldn’t be the only teen of color
who felt this way? Since starting my blog, I’ve been including MG that features

How often do we wish we’d know what our teen readers think about a book before we use it in class the first time? Here you can! Reading in Color reviewed Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood! Check it out to see what they said!

Three other blogs I really like also reviewed the book, so I’ve linked to them below. I hope these will give you a better sense of the book and it’s potential value if you’re considering reading it and/or using it in your classroom.

Female Heroines. . .

I just came across this article about books with female heroines.  As I was reading it I began to think of the heroines (and heros) that Alvarez offers us in her last two books that we’ve featured (Return to Sender and Before we were Free).  In both of these books she gives our young readers strong, reflective, sincere and honest female role models–something quite valuable for both our male and female students today.

Check out the article and tell me what you think. . .

Whether you fell asleep at night clutching a copy of “Ramona Quimby” or “Gone With The Wind,” the books we read as kids shape the women we become — sometimes in complicated ways.


Who are we really selling our books to?

ImageWe had some great conversations about Return to Sender at our first book group meeting earlier this week.  A particularly interesting discussion came up about the marketing of books for young adult readers, especially those books, like Return to Sender, aimed at our middle school students.  If you look at the new cover for Return to Sender, the children appear to be quite young–perhaps third or fourth grade?  Yet, the book’s target audience is 5th grade and up. Engaging our middle school students in reading can be hard enough, even with a good story, but covers like this aren’t helping us.  In fact, as one educator pointed out during our discussion, covers like this keep her students from reading some really great books.  While the story may be quite relevant and engaging, the cover is anything but something a young teenager wants to relate to.  Which led us to question–who are these books being marketed to? Are publishers attempting to sell to parents, teachers and librarians instead of the young adult readers themselves? We know publishers have figured out the power of a good cover for adult readers, and even older students–Twilight and The Hunger Games are just two examples of that. What can we as educators do about the situation?  How do we get our students to look past the covers?  How do we get publishers to market to our middle school readers instead of their parents and teachers?