An Américas Award Interview: Duncan Tonatiuh

¡Feliz primavera! I’m thrilled to share another Américas Award interview with you, this time featuring Duncan Tonatiuh. Two of his books, Esquivel!: Space-Age Sound Artist and The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes were chosen to receive Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Awards in 2017. Read on to learn more!

-Hania

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Duncan Tonatiuh (toh-nah-teeYOU) is the author-illustrator of The Princess and the Warrior, Funny Bones, Separate Is Never Equal, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote, Diego Rivera: His World and Ours and Dear Primo. He is the illustrator of Esquivel! and Salsa. His books have received multiple accolades, among them the Pura Belpré Medal, the Sibert Medal, The Tomás Rivera Mexican-American Children’s Book Award, The Américas Award, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award and the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book Award.

For more about his work, visit http://www.duncantonatiuh.com.

 

 

MARCH 29, 2017

HANIA MARIËN: You have an author name pronunciation guide on your website – can I ask how often your name has been mispronounced? Do you remember any particular experiences that stuck with you?

DUNCAN TONATIUH: It gets mispronounced very often. It is not hard to say Toh-nah-tee-YOU, but if you read Tonatiuh in English it looks odd. I sometimes tell people to not look at the name when they say it.

Tonatiuh means sun or god of the sun in the Nahuatl language, which is the language the Aztecs spoke. Tonatiuh is actually my middle name. Since my artwork is inspired by Pre-Columbian art I decided to sign my books Duncan Tonatiuh because I feel that it represents well what my artwork and books are about.

HANIA MARIËN: Did you read a lot with your family growing up? Do you remember any particular stories that inspired you?

DUNCAN TONATIUH: There were a lot of books around in my house when I was a kid. Some of the first books I remember reading are Horton Hatches an Egg, The Little Prince, and a book about a Mexican woodcutter called Macario. When I was in third grade I was really into the Choose Your Own Adventure series. My interest in reading and writing definitely began when I was a kid.

HANIA MARIËN: Can you elaborate on why you believe the stories you choose to write about are relevant to all students?

DUNCAN TONATIUH: I hope that my books are relevant to all children. I think they are definitely important for Latinx children. In the U.S. only about 3% of all the children’s books that are published every year are about or written by a Latinx, even though we are one of the largest groups in U.S. I think it is important for Latinx children to see themselves in books because it lets them know that their culture, their voices and experiences are valuable and important.

I hope my books are relevant to non Latinx children too. When children learn through books about people different than themselves they are less likely to have prejudices or be afraid of them when they are adults. I think that books can help children learn that we are all humans regardless of our skin color, national or ethnic background, religion, physical abilities or sexual preferences.

HANIA MARIËN: How can honoring the past help us understand the present? How and why might this be important at this moment in time?

DUNCAN TONATIUH: I made a book called Separate Is Never Equal about Mendez v. Westminster, a civil rights case that desegregated schools in California in the 1940’s. At the time Latinx children in many parts of the Southwest were not allowed to attend school with white children. I made that book for two main reasons. One is that it is an important piece of American History that not many people know about. The other reason is that although segregation is no longer legal the way it was in the 40’s, there is still a lot of segregation that happens in schools in the U.S. today.

According to a recent study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA African-American and Latinx children are twice as likely to attend a school where the majority of the students are poor and where less than 10% of the students are white. Their schools therefore tend to have less resources and less experienced teachers. I think that the story of the Mendez family can show students that it took courageous people to stand up against the prejudices that were prevalent at the time. I think it is a very important lesson today, given all the hostility that we see –especially from the current administration—towards Latinxs, Muslims, the LGBTQ community and other groups.

HANIA MARIËN: When you write a book, what is it you ultimately hope to share with your readers?
DUNCAN TONATIUH: I try to make books that are entertaining and interesting. My books tend to have an educational component too. Sometimes they teach young readers about art, history or social justice. But hopefully they do so in a way that is enjoyable and that doesn’t feel forced. As an author-illustrator sometimes I’m invited to visit different schools. When I present at a school I try to talk with the students and I try not to talk down at them. I share with them my process for making a book and tell them about what inspired me to become an author/illustrator. I hope that my love for reading, writing and drawing encourages them to enjoy and work on those things themselves. Hopefully my books have a similar effect.

HANIA MARIËN: In Separate is Never Equal you chronicle Sylvia Mendez’s family’s efforts to end school segregation in California. It’s clear that our schools still do not provide equal opportunities to learn for all students. In your opinion, how and to what extent do we see the legacies of Brown vs. Board of Education and Mendez vs. Westminster in our education system today? In your opinion, where do we go from here (i.e. what shifts would you like to see in education)?

DUNCAN TONATIUH: There is a lot of segregation in schools in the U.S. today. It is a big problem and I am not sure what the solution is. I think one important step though, is to acknowledge the issue and talk about it. I think a lot of people are blind to this problem or choose to ignore it. Learning about cases like the Mendez case and the Brown case helps people see how segregation has affected students in the past. It can also be a way to start discussing the current situation and think of steps we can all take to create a more fair landscape for students.

HANIA MARIËN: How might a teacher use this book to generate discussion about the legacy of school segregation with middle or high school students?

DUNCAN TONATIUH: I think the book can serve as a good introductory text. The Américas Award has created a wonderful educator’s guide with different ways to use the book in the classroom. You can find a link to it and  to other guides the Américas Award has created here: http://claspprograms.org/pages/detail/62/Teaching-Resources The guide is designed for elementary school students. It includes a list of complementary literature, though, and some of the literature it mentions is geared towards young adults.

I think the book can spark discussions but also projects. It is very exciting for me when students use my books as a jumping off point. After reading Separate Is Never Equal a group of fourth graders in Texas told me they were going to analyze who went to their school and whether it was segregated in comparison to other schools in their district. I think it would be interesting for middle school and high school students to take on similar projects.

HANIA MARIËN: In a TedX presentation you mention that migration is one of the key issues that concern Mexico and the United States. What advice would you give to teachers interested in discussing current events and policy decisions related to migration with their students?

DUNCAN TONATIUH: I think my book Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote can be a good discussion starter. The book is an allegory of the dangerous journey migrants often go through to reach the U.S. The book also shows how difficult it is for families to be separated. We hear the word immigration often in the media but we rarely hear about those aspects. When discussing immigration politicians often talk in statistics about the economy, or worse they use immigrants as scapegoats and claim they are terrorists and drug traffickers. In reality immigrants are some of the hardest working people and take on some of the most grueling jobs.

It is hard to keep up with the Trump administration and all the policy decisions they are making. I think immigration should be thought of as a humanitarian crisis, not as an issue of national security. People don’t leave their homes and risk their lives in an extremely dangerous journey to a foreign country because they want to. They do so because they are surrounded by poverty and violence at home and can’t find a better option.

HANIA MARIËN: Congratulations on your recent 2017 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book Award. Can you tell us a little bit about this most recent book and why you wrote it?

DUNCAN TONATIUH: I received two honorable mentions for illustration from the Pura Belpré Award this year. One was for Esquivel! which was written by Susan Wood and published by Charlesbridge. The book is a about a very creative and groovy Mexican composer named Juan García Esquivel. I had fun listening to Esquivel’s music and looking at fashion from the time to inform my drawings. I enjoyed creating hand-drawn type for different pages.

The other honorable mention was for The Princess and the Warrior. I am the author. It was published by Abrams. The book is my own version of a legend that explains the origin of two volcanoes located in central Mexico: Iztaccíhuatl, the sleeping woman, and Popocatépetl, the smoky mountain. The story has some similarities to Sleeping Beauty and to Romeo and Juliet, but it is set in the Pre-Columbian world. I really enjoy fables and fairy tales, but most of the ones I know or have read come from the European tradition. I think it is important to learn and celebrate folk tales from other cultures and traditions too. I first heard the legend of the volcanoes when I was a kid. I recalled it recently and I wanted to share it with young readers today.

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(Re-)Building Community Through Conversations and Stories

Immigration is a frequent topic here at Vamos a Leer, as well as on the news. On Friday, January 27th, President Trump signed an executive order to help “protect Americans from ‘terrorist’ attacks.” This order suspended immigration from several Muslim-majority countries, and indefinitely banned Syrians (including refugees) from entering the United States. He has also announced his plans to carry out his campaign promise of building a wall on the United States/Mexico border.

Teaching Tolerance has put together some sources to support teachers in talking about current events, and write that “schools with immigrant, undocumented and refugee students are likely to see heightened anxieties and fears among students due to two executive orders:

1) a directive to start immediate construction on a border wall with Mexico and

2) a 90-day ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, and a 120-day suspension on refugee admissions into the United States (indefinitely for Syrian refugees).”

It is crucial to recognize that many students are living in fear for themselves, families and/or friends. Addressing these concerns is of utmost importance in creating a safe and welcoming learning environment for students.  While some of the resources we’re sharing here are not explicitly connected to Latin America, we’re posting them because we are committed to social justice for all students.  We believe in fostering an authentic community where all our students feel safe and valued.

Understanding each other – and valuing both our similarities and differences – is a first step in this process. At Vamos a Leer we strongly believe that books and stories can play a role in this process.

Below are a couple of resources you may find useful in building community in your classroom through stories.

Use these resources to offer facts and perspectives that can help correct misinformation, improve school safety and offer examples of how students across the country have responded in the face of Islamophobia.

  • Expelling Islamophobia
    A magazine feature story that explains why anti-hate and anti-bullying policies aren’t enough in the fight against Islamophobia in schools.
  • What Is the Truth About American Muslims?
    A publication co-produced by the Interfaith Alliance and the Religious Freedom Project of the First Amendment Center that debunks damaging stereotypes about Muslims in the United States. It also includes a section on religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution.
  • Extreme Prejudice
    A magazine feature story about why it’s necessary to teach about religious radicalism. The story has an accompanying lesson-based
    toolkit.
  • Dressing in Solidarity
    A magazine feature story about a school that rallied around its Muslim students after an anti-Muslim hate crime.
  • Youth United! Enough Is Enough
    A video feature about a school that lost a student to an anti-Muslim hate crime and how, after the tragedy, his classmates took action to establish a community-wide culture of respect, love and understanding. (Great for sharing with kids!)
  • Religious Diversity in the Classroom: Fostering a Culture of Respect
    A webinar co-produced by TT and the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding about how to make your classroom a safe learning space for students of all religious and nonreligious beliefs.
  • Debunking Stereotypes About Muslims and Islam
    A classroom lesson in which students learn about Muslims in the United States and explore how religions are similar and
  • Confronting Students’ Islamophobia
    A blog post about a teacher’s reaction when her students resisted meeting a Muslim children’s book author.
  • Don’t Look Away From Garissa
    A blog post about an Islamic extremist attack on a Kenyan university and the implications for students and teachers in the United States when only the negative stories about Islam make it into the news.

I hope that these resources can support your efforts of resistance to the single stories that will continue to circulate the media and our nation in the coming months.

Hania

 

 

 

An Américas Award Interview: Margarita Engle

Saludos! We’re excited to start the new year by bringing you a second Américas Award interview, this time speaking with Margarita Engle. We’re delighted to have the chance to talk with Margarita about her work and the importance of Latino/Latin American children’s and YA literature. We hope you enjoy, and keep an eye out for her 2017 releases (including All the Way to Havana, Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics, and The Flying Girl: How the First Woman Pilot Learned to Soar).

~Hania


vamos-a-leer-interview-margarita-engle-finalMargarita Engle is an acclaimed children’s book author of many award-winning books written in verse. Before embarking on her journey as a poet and novelist, she pursued studies in botany and agronomy – a background that influences many of h­er works to be rich with descriptions of natural resources and an emphasis on ecological preservation and appreciation.

Among her many accolades, Engle has been recognized several times over by the Américas Award. In 2016 alone, her memoir, Enchanted Air, and children’s book, Drum Dream Girl, were Commended Titles. In 2015, her historical novel, Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal, was an award winner. In earlier years, the A­méric­­as Award has recognized in similar form the exceptional contributions that Engle makes to Latin American and Latino children’s and YA literature.

Here, the author converses with Hania Mariën of the Vamos a Leer blog as she poses questions about the Engle’s ties to Cuba and how her background has influenced her work. For more about Engle’s work, including publications and supporting educational resources, visit http://www.margaritaengle.com/. This interview is also available as a PDF.

Lastly, if you’re piqued by Margarita’s answers here, you may enjoy hearing/reading other interviews with her:

“Finding the Poetry in History: A Lecture” (video) – VOCA: The University of Arizona Poetry Center
Discussion with Margarita Engle (video) – VOCA: The University of Arizona Poetry Center
Interview with Margarita Engle (written) – Yarn: Young Adult Review Network
Interview with Margarita Engle: One Voice, Two Voices (written) – BookPage
Neighboring Nations | Margarita Engle on Her Work, Cuba, and the History that Binds Us (written) – School Library Journal

DECEMBER 5, 2016

HANIA MARIËN: You’ve mentioned that many of your stories (including The Wild Book) wildbookwere inspired by your grandmother. Do you think her voice comes out in your writing? How might teachers use your books as springboards to encourage students to explore their family histories through writing?

MARGARITA ENGLE: The Wild Book was inspired by stories my grandmother told me about her childhood, and Enchanted Air is my own childhood memoir, but most of my verse novels are based on first person accounts written by historical figures such as Juan Francisco Manzano (The Poet Slave of Cuba), Fredrika Bremer (The Firefly Letters), Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (The Lightning Dreamer), and Antonio Chuffat (Lion Island).  I do think teachers can use The Wild Book and Enchanted Air to encourage students to interview older family members.  Perhaps the best way to do this is to call it time travel.  My memoir and all my historical novels are written in present tense specifically for the purpose of bringing the past back to life.

HANIA MARIËN: In an interview with Colorín Colorado you mention that you gradually combined your love for the outdoors with writing. How did you learn that writing and the sciences were not mutually exclusive? How can teachers encourage students to bridge their passions with writing?

silverMARGARITA ENGLE: As a botanist and agronomist, it always feels natural for me to include plants and animals in my verse novels about people.  In certain books, such as The Surrender Tree and Silver People, wilderness actually feels like a character in the plot.  I’m enthusiastic about STEAM education, so I would encourage teachers to take their students outdoors for little walks, or to show them videos of natural habitats, and let them wonder how it feels to be a tree or a bird.

HANIA MARIËN: Mountain Dog was inspired by your husband’s volunteer work in the Sierra Nevada forests. Summer Birds focused on one of the earliest female scientists and explorers and was selected for Scholastic Knowledge Quest. Most recently you’ve written about the lesser known ornithologist Louise Fuerte in Sky Painter. What role do you believe (historical and/or fictional) narratives play in science education? Do you think (historical and/or fictional) narratives can play a role in all curricular subjects?skypainter.jpg

MARGARITA ENGLE: I love to write picture book biographies about great scientists who have been forgotten by history.  Several are included in Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics, which will be published by Holt in March, and is beautifully illustrated by Rafael López.  I think history text books have a tendency to check off categories such as ‘bird artist,’ leaving room for no one but Audubon. On the other hand, children are smart enough to know that the world needs more than one bird artist. Fuertes pioneered the painting of living birds in flight, ending the tradition of killing and posing birds. That is an accomplishment children respect and admire. I do think historical narratives can play a role in any area of study.  For instance, can you name a Latino Nobel prize-winning medical researcher, or the wildlife biologist who established our National Park conservation policies?  The first is Venezuelan-American, Baruj Benacerraf, and the second is Salvadoran-American, George Meléndez Wright, both included in Bravo!  These are inspirational figures who can serve as role models for children.  Women are even more likely to be omitted from history books.  In Bravo!, I’ve included Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, New Mexico’s pioneering nutritionist, and Ynés Mexía, a Mexican-American plant explorer.

HANIA MARIËN: As a writer you’ve said you were influenced by several Latin American “magic realistic” poets including Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges, Jose Martí and Rubén Darío. Can you share a bit about why those particular writers were so influential or inspiring?

MARGARITA ENGLE: Whenever I’m asked about poets, I just start listing names, because there are so many. Martí and Darío actually precede magic realism, and I also love Dulce María Loynaz from Cuba, and some of the twentieth century poets from Spain, such as Antonio Machado and Jorge Guillén.  I find each of these writers to be inspiring on a particular day, in a certain mood, when I absolutely need to read a verse about freedom, or flying horses, or walking beside a river.  One of my favorite contemporary English-language poets is Mary Oliver, because I find her odes to nature so comforting.

HANIA MARIËN: Freedom is a recurring theme in your books. In an interview with Colorín Colorado you mention that you wrote several of your longer books with a “transitional age in mind” – when readers begin to seek “mature topics, such as freedom and justice.” What make “freedom” and “justice” “mature” topics? At what age do you believe kids can (or should) be exposed to thinking about these ideas? How can books (yours or others) enrich these conversations in the classroom?

MARGARITA ENGLE: Freedom and justice are accessible to very young children primarily in the form of a personal story, such as my picture book, Drum Dream Girl.  Older children and teens are able to grasp broader, more general aspects that cover longer periods of time.  When I say “mature,” I’m not just referring to images of violence from history, but to concepts of time.  Very young preschool children don’t understand centuries, because they haven’t even grasped the difference between yesterday and tomorrow.

HANIA MARIËN: The latest election cycle has generated discussions and debates about the boundaries of freedom of speech. How can educators engage students in discussions that support such freedoms but also respect the outcomes of freedom of expression?

MARGARITA ENGLE: This is a heartbreaking dilemma.  I think we are in a moment of history when it would be unfair to ask Latino and Muslim children to utilize their freedom of expression without caution, because they have been directly threatened by a screaming man on the television screen, a man who is now extremely powerful.  In a memoir unit, facts revealed about families could place them on lists for deportation or internment.  Tragically, it’s very likely that hostile classmates will be encouraged to report certain groups to their parents.  This is a time for teaching poetic devices, showing children how to use metaphors, so that emotions can be expressed indirectly, without placing oneself in danger.  It’s the way poets survive in repressive regimes.

HANIA MARIËN: There has been a lot of rhetoric recently around students feeling unsafe lionand/or uncertain about their futures in and out of the classroom. You say one thing you have noticed about people who are doing amazing things in history is that they “made hopeful choices in situations that seemed hopeless.” What “hopeful” choices can youth and educators make to create supportive communities and classrooms that affirm and validate student experiences?

MARGARITA ENGLE: I think educators can use history to show how people found hope.  There are so many examples of nonviolent heroes who used words to change the world.  Even though history’s mistakes keep getting repeated, history’s freedom advocates always respond.

HANIA MARIËN: Recent events, including the U.S. presidential election and the death of Fidel Castro, present a renewed necessity for understanding the relations between Cuba and the United States. If you were a parent or teacher interested in broaching this topic with youth, how might you structure that conversation? Where would you start?

MARGARITA ENGLE: Cuba has been marginalized by the U.S. for so long that it’s necessary to show a map, even when speaking to adults. The map makes it clear that this is one of our closest neighbors, and that neighbors can be friends.  I’m always saddened when children ask me, “What is Cuba?” instead of, “Where is Cuba?” That means they haven’t studied their close neighbor in class.  Recently I met a high school U.S. History teacher who actually thought that Cuba was still a protectorate of the U.S., like Puerto Rico.  That means she was taught incorrectly.  Ignorance is passed from generation to generation.

HANIA MARIËN: When seeking a perspective on Cuban culture that’s suitable for classroom use, we often turn to your work and that of Alma Flor Ada. Are there other authors or resources that you would recommend?

MARGARITA ENGLE: Thank you! That makes me very happy.  Meg Medina’s Mango, Abuela, and Me is a wonderful picture book about the Cuban-American experience that could be used for any immigration unit.

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HANIA MARIËN: We want to draw attention to some of your books and hear what’s on the horizon for you. My colleague, Keira Philipp, returned from her trip to the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) raving about your new book, Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics  having seen an advance copy (we also learned that it will have a starred review from the School Library Journal!). Keira also heard about your forthcoming book, All the Way to Havana. Can you speak a bit about these projects, their inspirations and where you’re headed from here?

MARGARITA ENGLE: I’m so grateful for her interest!  Since I already mentioned Bravo! above, I’ll focus on All the Way to Havana, beautifully illustrated by Mike Curato.  This is one of the most unusual author-illustrator relationships, because he went to Havana, stayed with my cousins for a week, rented an old car, and rode all the way to Trinidad, in order to make sure his art would be authentic.  It’s a story about a boy and his family driving from the countryside to the city, fixing their car along the way.  It’s a tribute to poor people everywhere, who keep their possessions working because they can’t afford to buy new ones. In addition, I have Miguel’s Brave Knight, a picture book about Miguel de Cervantes, coming out from Peachtree in August, 2017, with absolutely gorgeous illustrations by Raúl Colón.  I wrote it in honor of the power of imagination to offer hope in times of trouble.

I’m a bit embarrassed about the way things have worked out, with three beautiful picture books in the same year.  I wrote them at different times, but somehow they’ve converged.  I hope librarians and educators will order all of them, instead of choosing just one, because they’re for different age groups, about very different subjects. In October, 2017, Atheneum will publish Forest World, an adventurous middle grade novel set in contemporary Cuba, with a strong environmental theme.  It’s a family reunion story, with siblings meeting for the first time, after one parent has lived in Miami, and one in rural Cuba.

surrender-tree-bilingualHANIA MARIËN: For some time now, The Surrender Tree/El árbol de la rendición was your only work available in a bilingual edition. Recently, we’ve been ecstatic to hear about the Spanish language editions coming out, from Enchanted Air to Drum Dream Girl.  Can you speak a little about how this shift has come about and what prompted it?

MARGARITA ENGLE: Thank you!  The publishing world seems willing to experiment at this moment in time, but this has happened before, and it won’t last unless people buy the books—not just mine, but bilingual books and Spanish editions in general.  The brilliant translation of Enchanted Air, by Alexis Romay, will come out in August.  Bravo! will have a Spanish edition.  A middle grade historical fantasy called Morning Star Horse/El caballo Lucero (also translated by Alexis Romay) will be released next month by HBE Publishing, an innovative new small press which is actually making a choice of three separate editions available—English, Spanish, or bilingual.  I feel blessed!

HANIA MARIËN: Lastly, drawing upon your dedication to preserving and promoting Latino/a culture, Cuban and beyond, is there any advice or inspiration you can offer to the teachers reading this interview who may have young Latino/a students in their classrooms?

MARGARITA ENGLE: I hope teachers can help all students enjoy reading about a wide variety of cultures, backgrounds, and experiences.  I hope they can help children feel curious about the whole world.

 


Book images reprinted from Margarita Engles’ website.

Author image of Margarita Engle adapted from photograph by Cybele Knowles, 2014, courtesy of The University of Arizona Poetry Center. Photography copyright Arizona Board of Regents.

 

 

 

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An Américas Award Interview: Alma Flor Ada & F. Isabel Campoy

Saludos! Here at Vamos a Leer we’re excited to share a new initiative with you. Beginning with this post, we’re endeavoring to connect you, our dear readers, with the authors and illustrators whom we most admire and whose work we feature here on the blog. Many of the authors and illustrators are recipients of the Américas Award, having been recognized either as award winners, honorable mentions, or commended titles. The fact that many of our favorite authors are Américas Award recipients should come as no surprise, since the Américas Award was founded in order to encourage and commend authors, illustrators and publishers who produce quality children’s and young adult books that portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States, and to provide teachers with recommendations for classroom use. Indeed, the Américas Award has been formative in shaping our work here at Vamos a Leer.

Given this natural partnership, we’re bringing these interviews to you in collaboration with the Américas Award and are beyond thrilled to begin with the renowned Alma Flor Ada, whose 2015 young adult memoir, Island Treasures: Growing Up in Cuba, was recognized as an Américas Award Commended Title, and her prolific writing partner and equally distinguished colleague, F. Isabel Campoy.

To print this article, please see the Vamos a Leer: An Américas Award Interview with Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy

An Américas Award Interview: Alma Flor Ada & F. Isabel Campoy

Alma Flor Ada is a Professor Emerita at alma-flor-picthe University of San Francisco; an internationally award-winning author of over 200 books for young readers; and a leading mentor and philosopher of bilingual education in the United States. Her work has centered in topics of critical pedagogy, bilingual and multicultural education, literacy and biliteracy, and authorship.

F. Isabel Campoy is an author of numerous children’s books in the areas of poetry, theater, stories, biographies, and art; a researcher who has published extensively in pursuit of bringing to the curriculum an awareness of the richness of the Hispanic culture; and an educator who specializes in the areas of literacy and home school interaction, topics on which she lectures nationally.

Here, the authors converse with Hania Mariën of the Vamos a Leer blog as she poses questions about their respective and collaborative publications and the need for preserving and valuing cultural heritage and history. For more about their work, including publications and supporting educational resources, visit Alma Flor Ada’s website and F. Isabel Campoy’s website.

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Voces: Affirmation and Validation in the Aftermath of the Election

In the aftermath of the election I struggled to think of what I could write that related to books. As much as I love books, they seemed all of the sudden insignificant, a resource incapable of addressing and/or combating the stories of hatred and hurt I was hearing in the news and on social media.

Books do not possess magical fixing capacities. It follows that they are not going to fix the deeply embedded “isms” in our society. Yet, I find myself turning to books for solace – in search of alternative realities, inspiration or affirmation.

As a white blonde woman, affirmation in books is relatively easy to find. However, in this moment in time it is not I who needs to find this affirmation and validation. I stand by my friends and fellow students – whose communities have been the target of repeated insults and mounting hate crimes – in search of ways to amplify their voices over mine, to affirm and validate their experiences.

In her recent infographic narrating The Case of the Missing Books/10 years of data, Maya Christina Gonzalez outlines the “State of Emergency” in which we currently find ourselves – one in which the chronic absence of voices of Asian Pacific Americans, American Indians, African Americans, Latinx Americans, Multi-ethnic Americans, LGBTQUIA and disabled people diminishes and denies a sense of self and creative power. Unfortunately these effects are echoed and (re)produced by the rhetoric surrounding the election.

I reiterate: people are hurting, and books alone are not going to fix the beliefs and structures that (re)produce this hurt. However, I do believe that books can play a role in supporting students. Reading is one pastime that can affirm and validate student experiences. As educators we are ideally positioned to provide opportunities for students to see themselves in the books they read, and to learn about other in the process. We’ve known We Need Diverse Books in and out of the classroom. But as Jayson Flores wrote on November 9th, This Presidential Election Proves That We Need Diverse Books More than Ever.

In his article last week titled Why I’m Done Talking About Diversity, author Marlon James made an important point: while it’s great to talk about solutions and discuss other points of view, “the problem with all this conversation, is that it is all we do.” As we reflect on Ali Michael’s article, What Do We Tell the Children, we can consider how our classrooms affirm and validate who our students are. James urges us to do more than consider; we must do. We must move beyond telling they are valued, that we will protect them, that we stand by their families, that silence is dangerous; we must take actions to show them that they are valued, that we will protect and value their communities’ voices, that silencing historically absent voices is dangerous and (re)produces inequalities.

Books are only one small piece in a large puzzle. But they are one place to start.

Abrazos,

Hania

The Day After: What Do We Tell the children?

Dear friends,

Last night I watched the states turn red across the map and I was overwhelmed by feelings of uncertainty. I received call after call, message after message of friends calling me in tears. I, like many others, was stunned. In the face of that disbelief come true, I began to wonder: what will school look like tomorrow? What are we supposed to say? What am I supposed to say to friends calling me in tears?

As we enter our classrooms, today and in the coming weeks, we must recognize that many students feel unsafe and vulnerable in their own country and classrooms, and that this fear is not conducive to living nor learning. As educators we are supposed to remain “neutral,” but we need not remain silent in that neutrality. It is crucial we do speak, that we make space for conversations, and that we listen.

But how do we do this? Where do we start? What do we say, and how do we say it?

While I don’t have the answers, I recognize that no one has the answers – only ideas. It is with this in mind I share with you two resources to support you in the coming weeks:

“Teach them, third, how to be responsible members of a civic society. Teach them how to engage in discussion—not for the sake of winning, but for the sake of understanding and being understood. Students need to learn…to question taken-for-granted assumptions, to see their own biases, to take feedback, to challenge one another. We need to teach students how to disagree—with love and respect. These skills will be priceless in the coming months and years as we work to build a democratic society that protects the rights of all people ― regardless of the cooperation or resistance those efforts face from the executive branch.”

  • Some guidance from Teaching Tolerance’s post The Day After:
    • Begin within. Prepare yourself first to engage in difficult conversations surrounding the various topics—racism, civil rights, immigration and so forth—that the election has raised. Then develop a game plan to do so with students. The distinct life experiences, cultures, languages and backgrounds represented in your classroom can lead to high-stakes conversations that are uncomfortable at times. Work to draw a connection between the diversity of our country and the diversity in your classroom.
    • Get back to instruction. This is not to imply that you have pushed instruction aside, but the election season has taken its toll on us all. So think of this as a time to press “reset.” Try new instructional strategies. Talk to a fellow educator about a lesson that works well in their class. Use a new read aloud or app. Step outside of your box and go for that project or unit you always wanted to try. Focusing on delivering new, exciting instructional content to your kids is a way to reinvigorate the classroom and yourself.
    • Strengthen your classroom community. Think about the go-to strategies for building a classroom community. Choose some activities in which students build relationships and understanding with each other. For example, play a collaborative game together or break out a classic morning meeting book. These types of activities can help transcend politics and breathe life into a divided classroom.
    • Create space for reflection. As adults, we have our hopes for what this next presidency will accomplish. We have specific issues that are personal and close to us. The same is true for your students. Share with them your thoughts, and allow them to share theirs with you and their classmates. Students are often more apt to put these types of thoughts down on paper, so consider a related journaling activity.
    • Discuss what respect means. In a recent Teaching Tolerance survey, teachers mentioned over 500 times that respect is the number one rule in their classrooms. Think about spending some time breaking down the essence of respect with students. What is it? Who gets it and why give it? Find ways to encourage students to pay respect to the democratic process and the office of the presidency itself, regardless of who occupies the executive seat. Emphasize that using a critical lens and holding our elected officials accountable is not the same as being disrespectful or uncivil.
    • Look—and plan—ahead. New presidential administrations tout goals for their “first 100 days” in office. There is a great deal of strategic planning involved. How about the next 100 days in your classroom? What will you focus on? What standards will you cover? What accomplishments await your students at the end? Consider involving students in 100-day plans of their own (for example, class projects or individualized plans to reach a reading level or similar achievement).
    • Talk about losing with grace. One candidate will lose this election, and countless people will have poured their time, energy and hopes into that person’s campaign. Take the opportunity to talk with your students about what happens when you try really hard for something—and you don’t get it. This could be in sports, academics, personal relationships or something else. Remind them that we all lose and confront failure, but it’s how we recover that matters.

Wishes of strength in the coming weeks,

Hania

Voces: Diverse Books or Honest Books?

Saludos friends!

As you might have gathered from my recent introductory post, I’m coming to Vamos a Leer with a deep commitment to finding diverse literature and bringing it directly to classrooms. I hope in the coming months to use the blog to share the voices of others who are equally if not even more deeply committed to this cause. But before I dive into that effort, I wanted to take a minute and tap into the bigger questions that underlie all this work.

I’m going to start with an assumption with which I think many of our readers would agree: We need diverse books.  But what are diverse books? How do we pick them? And how do we use them?Updated info graphic.jpg

A couple of years ago I started working in an after school program at a bilingual elementary school in Oregon. In my conversations with educators I learned that there were a variety of questions and concerns that commonly prevent diverse books from being used in the classroom.

In her article and conversation with two other authors earlier this year, Tanwi Nandini Islam wondered whether all the “buzz” about diversity had made the word become hollow. Daniel José Older, author of the young adult novel Shadowshaper (previously reviewed by Katrina), told her: “I’m fighting for diverse books, I’m fighting for honest books. When we have books or shows about New York City and it’s all white folks, there’s a lie inherent to that. It’s a question of honesty.”

When I was working with the school, though, I heard a common set of responses: But how do I (as an educator, a librarian, an administrator, a parent) find this diverse and honest representation in books? How do I pick a book about a group I don’t know anything about? How do I choose “quality” diverse books? What do I do if a book has stereotypes? What if I say something wrong? It turns out many educators and others around the country are asking similar questions.

Luckily, there are a growing number of resources to help you out – whether you are a parent, a friend,  an educator, or someone who just loves to read (and of course, none of these are mutually exclusive!).

To start, check out this short Oregon-based video called Choosing Diverse Literature that hopes to address some of these concerns! (Friendly disclaimer: I helped produce it and owe a great deal to all those who made the project possible!)

Ready to choose and use diverse books in your own classroom? Here are some more tips and resources to help get you started:

  1. It’s helpful to start by considering how books can act as mirrors and windows – Rudine Sims Bishop’s theory of books as Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors can help you start to think of books in this way. You can hear her talk about this idea in an interview with Reading Rockets.
  2. Why are diverse books important in your classroom? Katie Cunningham’s guest post on Lee and Low’s blog explains why mirror and window books are important for all readers.
  3. Okay, I get it – diverse books are important – but how do I choose them? Educators at the University of North Carolina have created a critical lens to help educators make diverse and equitable choices about the books they choose for the classroom. Their lens combines the “mirrors and windows” theory with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s single story frame to consider issues of equity and power.
  4. Ready to consider how reflective your own book collection is? Sam Kane, a school librarian committed to anti-bias education and a participant and facilitator in S.E.E.D (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) groups tells us about how she is creating her own windows and mirrors collection, and provides some questions and guidance to get you started.
  5. Keep your eyes peeled for We Need Diverse Books’ new Our Story App which will aim to help educators and children identify quality books with diverse characters, themes, and by multicultural authors. The app will launch in January of 2017!

For further reading about diverse books:

Buena suerte,

Hania

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