Educator’s Guide: The Color of My Words

The Color of My Words by Lynn Joseph

The Color of My Words by Lynn Joseph is the selection for the LAII’s Vamos a Leer book group meeting scheduled for February 2nd, 2015.

The following information comprises a standards-based educator’s guide that the LAII has produced to support using The Color of My Words (HarperCollins, 2001) in the classroom.  The standards are not included here, but are included with the lesson plans in the PDF. The complete guide is available for download at no cost: Vamos a Leer Color of My Words Educators Guide. To read our thoughts on the novel, see our book review.


Twelve-year-old Ana Rosa is a blossoming writer growing up in the Dominican Republic, a country where words are feared. Yet there is so much inspiration all around her- watching her brother search for a future, learning to dance and to love, and finding out what it means to be part of a community- that Ana Rosa must write it all down. As she struggles to find her own voice and a way to make it heard, Ana Rosa realizes the power of her words to transform the world around her- and to transcend the most unthinkable of tragedies.


  • Int’l Reading Association – Notable Book for a Global Society
  • ALA Notable Children’s Book
  • Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of
    Social Studies
  • CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2010
  • 2010 IRA Notable Books for a Global Society
  • Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature
  • Jane Addams Book Award Honor Book


Born in Petit Valley, Trinidad, Joseph began her journey into creative writing with poetry at the age of eight. At nine her family moved to the United States, but Joseph would return to Trinidad each summer where she continued to write. She often refers to having felt as though she lived in two different worlds.

As a young writer, her work won contests and was published in literary magazines and newspapers. She was editor of her high school and college newspapers. Joseph graduated from the University of Colorado and was hired to work at a prestigious publishing house. She went on to receive an advanced degree in law and eventually practiced at a top law firm.

On her website, she writes that “Eventually, I took a hiatus from law and traveled back and forth between New York and the Dominican Republic researching and writing The Color of My Words for two years. That country dazzled me. I loved the music, the people, and the culture–it all reminded me of Trinidad….I felt as if the Dominican Republic was calling me. So, I went by myself and traveled around exploring and meeting people. The Color of My Words was the result of those encounters.” 

After writing the Color of My Words, Joseph returned to work as a trial lawyer in New York. Her experience during the 9/11 attacks affected her so deeply that she stopped writing. “I left New York and relocated with my sons to a tiny island in the Caribbean: Water Island, far from the troubles of the world… It was years before I started writing again. Sometimes in life you just have nothing to say.”

Later, Joseph moved back to New York with her family, where she currently resides and works as a part-time lawyer and full-time writer. She published a second YA novel after Color of My Words and is working on yet another that tackles the theme of cyber-bullying from the perspective of a mixed-raced protagonist. Anecdotally, she credits her return to writing to an Eminem’s song ‘Not Afraid’ which, she says, “woke me up-his incredible intensity got me writing seriously again.”

Joseph’s newest novel, Flowers in the Sky, is a striking story about a girl who must leave her home in the Dominican Republic for an uncertain future in New York City. Among her other books for young adults are Jump Up Time and An Island Christmas, as well as the paired A Wave in Her Pocket and The Mermaid’s Twin Sister. She has also written a number of children’s books, including Fly, Bessie, Fly; Coconut Kind of Day, and Jasmine’s Parlour Day.

Writing for the blog Allison’s Book Bag, Joseph offered her thoughts about diversity in young adult literature in a post titled “Writing Across Racial/Cultural Barriers for Authentic Multicultural Storytelling.”

Check out Lynn Joseph’s website for more information about the author


The following lesson plans are comprised of two sections:

  • A short section of suggested activities that can be used before, during or after the reading of the novel which are organized thematically by different subject areas
  • Guided reading questions organized by parts of the book and extended response writing prompts.  These questions have been written to support the types of reading and critical thinking skills required in standardized reading comprehension tests. The following key words and skills are highlighted: analyze, infer, evaluate, describe, support, explain, summarize, compare, contrast and predict.

In addition to the lesson plans and activities included here, check out other curricula:

Social Studies and History

Background on the Dominican Republic:

  • In “Geography of the Caribbean” students will use the Geography of the Caribbean video (or other resource on the Dominican Republic/Caribbean), the Internet, and library sources to learn about the geography and culture of the Caribbean. They will learn about the importance of tourism to the region and create descriptive postcards; and use their descriptive postcards to share their knowledge of the different Caribbean nations and to discuss some of the issues the islands face. As tourism plays an important role in the book, both as Ana Rosa’s family’s livelihood and a main reason for the conflict between the village and the government, this would be a great activity to deepen students’ understanding of the importance of tourism for the Dominican Republic, and both the pros and cons to depending upon this as a means of economic stimulation. Found at:
  • History of the Dominican Republic is a travel site that provides quite a bit of legitimate information on the general history of the Dominican Republic. It includes information on the Taínos, Spanish conquest and settlement, and post independence history, including the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. This site contains lengthy text that is best utilized when forming content for a classroom discussion. Found at:


  • Kennedy Center’s ArtsEdge created the lesson plan “Baila! Latin Dance in the Spanish Classroom.” In this lesson students will demonstrate and learn about the Latin dances of salsa, mambo, merengue, rumba, cha cha, bachata, and samba through oral group presentations on each dance. Students will also research and present information about the countries from which the dances originated. Using Spanish, students will write written reports on their respective dances and their countries of origin and will provide answers to classmates’ questions (in Spanish, English optional) regarding their presentations. Found at:

Where I’m From Poetry:

I first read about the “Where I’m From” poem in Linda Christensen’s Reading, Writing and Rising Up (Rethinking Schools, 2000, pages 18-22).  As I read the poems in The Color of My Words I was reminded of this activity (check out our blog post on it here). Ana Rosa’s poems in the book are about who she is, and the significant events that shape her childhood. The “Where I’m From” poem would allow students to do the explore the same ideas. Below are various lesson plans and resources for “Where I’m From” poetry available online.

Guided Reading Questions

Wash Day | Pages 2-9

  • What style is the beginning of this chapter written in? What do we learn from this poem? What day is wash day? What happens on wash day? Does your family have a wash day? How does your family wash their clothes? (p. 2-3)
  • Re-read the poem. Does is sound like Ana Rosa likes to the laundry? How do you think she feels about doing the laundry with Mami? How would you feel? (p. 2-3)
  • Why is wash day special to Ana Rosa? (p. 3)
  • What one thing has Ana Rosa shared with Mami that no one else knows? (p. 4)
  • Does Mami encourage Ana Rosa to be a writer? (p. 4-5)
  • What do you think it means when Ana Rosa says “In daylight, silence is louder and angrier than at any other time” (p. 6)?
  • Re-read pages 7-9. Think about what Mami says: “You are this river, Ana Rosa, but you must flow softly around the rocks on your way to meet the sea. There you can do as you wish” (p. 7). Now, think about what Ana Rosa says about writers dying in the Dominican Republic and silence being a form of self-defense. What is Mami telling Ana Rosa or warning her about? Why is Mami scared?

Words | Pages 10-23

  • What do you think Ana Rosa means about her words walking away? (p. 10)
  • What is it that Ana Rosa wants more than anything? Can you imagine what it would be like to not have paper to write on? Why can’t Ana Rosa get a notebook just for her poems? (p. 11)
  • Why can’t Ana Rosa have Guario’s notebook? What does Guario do? (p. 12)
  • What does Ana Rosa do when she finds herself alone with Guario’s notebook? (p. 13-15)
  • What happens the next morning when Guario realizes that his notebook is missing? (p. 16-18)
  • Do you think that Mami knows what happened to the notebook (p. 17) Why do you think Mami makes such a special lunch? What effect does it have on the family? (p. 19-21)
  • How does the family solve the problem of Guario’s notebook? (p. 21)
  • How does Guario respond when Ana Rosa admits what she’s done? (p. 22-23)
  • What do Guario and Ana Rosa both have in common? (Hint: it’s a feeling) (p. 22)
  • Have you ever wanted something as bad as Ana Rosa wants a notebook and Guario wants a future? What was it? Were you able to get it?

The Gri Gri Tree | Pages 24-43

  • How does Ana Rosa feel when she’s in her Gri Gri Tree? (p. 24-25)
  • Why do people think that there is something wrong with Ana Rosa? (p. 25-26)
  • What can Ana Rosa see from the Gri Gri Tree? (p. 27-28)
  • What surprising thing does Ana Rosa see from the Gri Gri tree one day? (p. 28) How do her neighbors and family react when she tells them? What changes their minds? (p. 29-33)
  • Why doesn’t Ana Rosa rush to tell anyone the second time she sees the sea monster? (p. 32)
  • Do you think that the sea monster is really a monster? What else could it be?
  • There is some disagreement among the neighbors as to whether or not they should let anyone know about the sea monster. What are the two opinions? (p. 34-35)
  • Who suggests that Ana Rosa should write the story about the sea monster? What do we learn about Mami from this? (p. 37)
  • How does the community respond to Ana Rosa’s story? How is this a turning point for Ana Rosa and her writing? (p. 40-42)
  • Why do you think that Ana Rosa names the sea monster Guario? Explain. (p. 43)

Merengue Dream | Pages 43-59

  • What is Ana Rosa describing in her merengue poem? (p. 43)
  • What are the merengue, salsa and bachata? (p. 44)
  • Does it sound like music is an important part of life in the Dominican Republic? (p. 44)
  • Describe what Ana Rosa’s neighborhood looks like. (p. 44)
  • What happens on Guario’s paydays? (p. 46)
  • Why does Ana Rosa love and hate the fiesta days? (p. 47-48)
  • How does Ana Rosa’s Papi change on fiesta days? What is he like? What is the cause of this change? (p. 46,49-50)
  • How is Papi different the morning after the fiesta? What is his plan for Ana Rosa? (p. 51-52)
  • How does Ana Rosa do with the dance lessons? What does she mean when she says “that words could not help me”? (p. 52-53)
  • Where does Papi take Ana Rosa on the second day of dance lessons? Why do you think he chooses the sea? (p. 56-58)
  • In the end, does Ana Rosa learn how to dance? (p. 59)
  • What does this chapter tell us about the kind of person Papi is?

My Brother’s Friend | Pages 60-77

  • Just from reading the poem on pages 60-61, describe how Ana Rosa feels about her brother’s best friend. Predict what you think this chapter will be about.
  • What is the one thing that can distract Ana Rosa from her writing? (p. 61)
  • How does Ana Rosa describe what loving Angel is like? What does she compare it to? (p. 62) Have you ever loved something or someone in a similar way?
  • How are Angel and Guario different? (p. 63-64)
  • Describe the Nochebuena traditions. (p. 65)
  • Why is Ana Rosa more excited than usual for this particular Nochebuena? (p. 65-67)
  • What happens when Angela, Guario and Ana Rosa arrive at the party? Who does Angel notice? How does this make Ana Rosa feel? (p. 71-72)
  • How does Guario attempt to comfort Ana Rosa at the party? What does this demonstrate about their relationship? (p. 73-75)
  • Do you think that Guario has never really loved anyone? Or is he trying to protect Ana Rosa by not telling her the truth? (p. 75-76)
  • Joseph is foreshadowing something with the last sentence: “What I didn’t know was that my own future was galloping toward me like a riderless horse, and with it were a lot of questions that only I could answer” (p. 77). Make a prediction: what do you think might happen to Ana Rosa and her family?

One Sunday | Pages 78-93

  • Re-read Ana Rosa’s poem “One Sunday.” Predict what you think she’s going to find out that changes her and who she thinks she is? (p. 78-79)
  • What does Ana Rosa love about Sundays? What does she fear about Sundays? (p. 79-82)
  • What does Papi say over and over to Mami? To Ana Rosa? (p. 82)
  • Who does Ana Rosa encounter on her way home from school? What does he say to her? What does he give her? (p. 83-84)
  • How does Mami respond to the treats? What does she think Ana Rosa has done? Does it help when Ana Rosa explains that she didn’t steal the money? (p. 84-86)
  • Who is the man on the mule? What does Mami explain about this man? (p. 87-88)
  • How does Ana Rosa respond to the news about her father? (p. 89-90)
  • What does Ana Rosa realize about Mami? (p. 92)
  • How does Ana Rosa choose to use words to help her and her family deal with this news about her father? (p. 92-93)
  • Do you think that Papi suspected he wasn’t Ana Rosa’s father? Think about the things he repeated over and over on the beach. Does this tell us anything?

The Colors of Power | Pages 94-125

  • How does Ana Rosa’s family respond to her poem? (p. 95)
  • What really helped the family get over the news of Ana Rosa’s father? (p. 95)
  • How long have the people in Ana Rosa’s village lived there? (p. 96)
  • What kinds of promises does the man talking to the crowd make? (p. 96)
  • How does Guario become the leader of the villagers? (p. 97-98)
  • What is it like in the village during election time? What sorts of things do you see during this time? (p. 99)
  • What are birthdays usually like in Ana Rosa’s family? Why does Ana Rosa think this one might be different? (p. 100-101)
  • What does Ana Rosa want to do more than anything when she turns 13? What does this say about her relationship with Guario? (p. 101)
  • Who is Guario named after? How does Ana Rosa think this affects him? (p. 102-103)
  • What does Mr. Moreno tell the villagers when he returns? (p. 104)
  • What gesture changes the history of the village? What happens to the village because of this? (p. 105)
  • What does Mr. Moreno reveal right before he leaves? (p. 106)
  • Why do you think Mami cries over Ana Rosa’s article? Why does she become silent? (p. 110-11)
  • Who is coming to the village on Ana Rosa’s birthday? (p. 113-114)
  • As soldiers of words why is the resistance of the village not enough? (p. 114)
  • How do the neighbors prepare to defend their village? (p. 116-117)
  • What does Ana Rosa see from her Gri Gri tree? (p. 119-122)
  • What does La Guardia bring with them that the neighbors cannot fight so easily? (p. 121-123)
  • What happens to Guario? (p. 125)

The Color of My Words | Pages 126-138

  • Where does Ana Rosa stay in the aftermath of Guario’s death? Why do you think she does this? (p. 127)
  • What does Ana Rosa decide to do as punishment for her brother’s death? Do you think that Ana Rosa should be punishing herself for what happened? (p. 129)
  • How do things change after Guario’s death? (p. 130-131)
  • Why do you think Mami and Papi think it’s important to celebrate Ana Rosa’s birthday? Does Ana Rosa want to celebrate? Why not? (p. 131-132)
  • What does Ana Rosa get for her birthday? Whose idea was it? (p. 134-135)
  • How does Ana Rosa respond to the gift? What does Mami say to her? (p. 135)
  • Why does Ana Rosa decide to write again? What will she write? (p. 138)

Reflective Writing Questions

  • Re-read the following quote from the beginning of the book: “Sometimes you have no control over what will happen next, as I discovered the year I was twelve years old—but sometimes you do. And when you do, that’s when it is time to take charge because you sure don’t know when the chance will come again” (p. 1) Think of a time that you felt you had no control over a situation or what was going to happen. Describe the context of the situation. How did it make you feel? Now, think of a time when you did have the chance to “take charge” or you had some control over what would happen. Did you take advantage of your power to affect change in the situation? Describe the context of this situation. How did it make you feel?
  • For Ana Rosa the beach is the one place that it is hard for her to be unhappy, despite all of the pain of losing her brother. Do you have a place like that? Where is it? Re-read Ana’s description of the beach on pages 136-137. Her description uses lots of sensory details so that the reader can almost imagine that he or she is also at the beach. Describe your happy place using sensory details that make a reader feel like he or she is there with you.
  • Guario defines future as “something special you do with your life” (p. 102). What do you want to do with your future? Guario is always looking for his future. What do you hope to find in your future? What is something special that you want to do with your life?
  • Think about Mami and the role she plays in the novel. Mami doesn’t usually say much, but she’s still a very powerful presence in the novel. Describe the kind of person you think Mami is. Explain why she is so important in the novel. Explain how she can have such an important role even if she doesn’t say as much as the others.
  • Imagine that you are given a typewriter like Ana Rosa. Whose story would you tell? Whose story must the world know? Write that person’s life story.
  • Think about the poems that begin each chapter. Which poem is your favorite? Why? Write a poem that shares in some way an important part of your childhood.
  • The village resists the government’s attempt to take their land from them. Do you think they win that battle with the government? What was the cost? Do you think it was worth it?


Written by staff at the UNM Latin American & Iberian Institute (LAII), Vamos a Leer Educators Guides provide an excellent way to teach about Latin America through literacy.  Each guide is based upon a book featured in the Vamos a Leer book group.  For more materials that support teaching about Latin America in the classroom, visit the LAII website. This guide was prepared January 2015 by Lorraine Archibald, LAII Graduate Assistant, and Katrina Dillon, LAII Project Assistant.


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