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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September 18th | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! I hope everyone is doing well considering the climactic circumstances we are under. I am sending you positive vibes and lots of love.

— Teaching Tolerance shared Developing Empathy resources for Pre K- 12 teachers.

– Our Américas Award friends shared on their Facebook page an important article that highlights the reality of diverse children’s book. BookRiot Justina Ireland questions “Where Are All the YA Books for Kids of Color: September Edition.”

— Also, on their Facebook page Lee & Low Books shared “12 YA Books with Characters of Color and LGBTQ Characters.”

-Here is a review of the advance reader’s copy of The Distance Between Us, a memoir for the young readers shared by our friends in Facebook, Latinxs in Kid Lit. “The Distance Between Us thrums with novelistic tension and detail, offering chiseled portraits of individuals and rendering the settings they come from in vivid form.”

Cuatrogatos shared the book trailer to El Viejito del Sillón, a book by Antonio Orlando Rodríguez published in Mexico.

– Lastly, Anansesem: The Caribbean Children’s Literature Magazine shared that “Books Have The Power to Include, to Exclude and to Create Heroes.” “All children should be seen. No child should have to qualify for entry into the world of picture books. They are powerful. They have the power to include, to exclude and to create heroes.”


Image: Candles. Reprinted from Flickr user Amranur Rahman under CC©.

Book Review: Out of Darkness

out of darknessHere’s our review of this month’s featured novel, Out of Darkness.  It prompted great discussion at our monthly book group.  I can’t wait to hear what our online community thinks of it! Keira and I had the pleasure of meeting Hope Pérez at September’s Américas Award ceremony where she was one of the recipients of this year’s award.  She’s absolutely wonderful! If you have the opportunity to hear her speak or meet her, take advantage of it! You’ll be glad you did.

Out of Darkness
Written by Ashley Hope Pérez
Published by Carolrhoda Lab, 2015
ISBN: 978-1467742023
Age level: 15 and up

Book Summary

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them.

“No Negroes, Mexicans, or dogs.”

They know the people who enforce them.

“They all decided they’d ride out in their sheets and pay Blue a visit.”

But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

“More than grief, more than anger, there is a need. Someone to blame. Someone to make pay.”

Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

My Thoughts

Ashley Hope Pérez’s Out of Darkness is a book that is both beautiful and brutal. I’ve come to refer to these kinds of books as brutiful. The first time I started it, I put it down. I got to page 40 and thought, I can’t do this right now. I was hooked, but I also had a pretty strong feeling about where it was going, and I didn’t want to go there. Admittedly, that’s evidence of my own privilege. I get to choose when, where, and how I engage with a story such as Out of Darkness because it’s not reflective of my own life experience. It’s not a mirror for me; instead it’s more of a window, or perhaps a door.

Despite the significant number of honors and award it’s received (see the end of the post for a list), some continue to question the book’s appropriateness for high school students because it deals with racism, racial violence, and sexual abuse. I understand this. There is the idea that we must protect the innocence of our students for as long as possible. But I think we need to stop and unpack this idea of protection and childhood innocence. When we look more critically at this notion, we must address a number of questions: Who gets to remain innocent? Whom or what are we protecting when we refuse to give voice to the trauma many of our students experience? As Malinda Lo notes, “It is natural to want to protect young people from horrible truths, but all too often we forget to question whom exactly are these young people we want to protect? Typically, they’re white. Young people of color have already experienced racism; they are beyond this kind of protection.” Bringing to light the stories of those who have been silenced or marginalized can be painful, but that doesn’t mean that those stories shouldn’t be told. Too many of our students have had similar experiences, and it’s our job to create the spaces for them to process these experiences.

As the We Need Diverse Books movement continues to reiterate, we all deserve to have empowered protagonists that reflect our own realities. To not provide those for our students is to create a shame of invisibility. According to Brené Brown (2008), “Invisibility is about disconnection and powerlessness. When we don’t see ourselves reflected back in our culture, we feel reduced to something so small and insignificant that we’re easily erased from the world of important things. Both the process of being reduced and the final product of that process—invisibility—can be incredibly shaming.” As if living through racism, sexism, bullying, or sexual, emotional, and physical abuse isn’t painful enough, we add another layer of shame in erasing these experiences from the literature we use in our classrooms. For more on this topic, check out The Atlantic’s recent article How Banning Books Marginalizes Children.

Recently I’ve noticed a flurry of articles discussing the importance of teaching empathy to our students (you can read more about this here, here, here, and here). I think this is a significant part of discussing appropriate literature and the protection of our students. No one is advocating for the use of Out of Darkness in an elementary or middle school classroom. School Library Journal suggests it is for grades 9 and up. For the majority of high school students, I’d argue this could be an incredibly powerful reading, and not just for those who find themselves reflected in the characters. It’s just as important for those who don’t. If we believe empathy is an essential skill, as research continues to suggest, then we must expose our students to stories and points of view that are different from their own.  There’s more I could write about here, but for the sake of time, I’ll direct you to Hope Pérez’s article “Embracing Discomfort in YA Literature.”

I’m sure we’re all familiar with iterations of the following famous quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (Santayana, 1905). Our current situation of race relations in the U.S. didn’t occur in a vacuum. There is a history of racism and white privilege that we continue to gloss over in our classroom curricula. We’ve all heard the saying “History is written by the victors.” I’m afraid that as long as we continue to read the victors’ versions, we’re going to continue to make the same mistakes. Books like Out of Darkness provide the opportunity to read another version, a narrative counter to what is often presented in mainstream literature and textbooks.

Out of Darkness is a profoundly affecting book. There is a continued state of suspense that keeps the book moving forward and will be sure to keep students engaged. While I can’t speak for young adult readers, my guess is the majority of adult readers know where the book is headed. The injustice is painful. Hope Pérez creates characters the reader truly cares about. Yes, they’re fictional, but, as Hope Pérez writes in the “Author’s Note,” the suffering these characters endure is based on similar documented events throughout the South. So, while fictional, the stories of Naomi, Wash, Beto, and Cari provide an understanding of what life was like in the South during this historical period.

They say, “Once a teacher, always a teacher.” While not in the classroom now, I continue to evaluate books based on what they could accomplish in a classroom setting. What can be taught through the book? What discussions can be broached? What can students learn through the book? How might we be changed through the process of reading the book? The discussion above has touched on a number of issues Out of Darkness addresses, but there are a few more that I’d like to mention. Racism and abuse are explicit themes throughout the book, but there is also a critique of sexism and gender norms that is perhaps more implicit. Henry (the father/stepfather) represents a more stereotypical social norm of masculinity. He’s a “man’s man”—he hunts, he works, and he expects to be unquestionably waited on and obeyed by the women in his home. He’s also one of the most unstable and mentally unhealthy characters in the book. He attempts to force Beto into taking on this same type of masculinity. But Beto resists. Beto doesn’t conform to this social norm, and that may be part of why he survives, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

The book also provides an engaging context for teaching about fiction and non-fiction and the ways in which those boundaries can be blurred through historical fiction. Hope Pérez’s “Author’s Note” is useful here, particularly in discussing why one may choose to write a fictional account of an historical event and how this could be a more effective way to teach about a period in history.

If your students have read or will read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Out of Darkness provides the opportunity for an interesting comparative study as both are tragedies about star-crossed lovers. “The Gang” is an interesting character in Out of Darkness. As both Shakespeare and many of the Greek dramatists use a Chorus, students familiar with either of these could do a comparative study on the role of these group characters. “The Gang” in Out of Darkness provides a segue to critically discuss groupthink and its role in bullying.

The list of awards, honors, and starred reviews for Hope Pérez’s most recent novel continues to grow. Out of Darkness has received the Michael L. Printz Honor for Excellence in Young Adult Literature (2016), the Tomás Rivera Book Award (2016), and the Américas Award (2016).  It was also listed as a School Library Journal Best Book of 2015, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2015, a 2016 Top Ten TAYSHAS selection, and a Spirit of Texas book. It received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal and was praised in the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

For more information on the author, read Alice’s recent post all about Ashley Hope Pérez.

If you’ve had the chance to read Out of Darkness, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Just leave a comment below.

If you’re an educator, our Educator’s Guide Page has resources for using the book in the classroom. The Américas Award is currently creating a guide to accompany the book and we will update our page as soon as it’s available.

Until next week,

–Katrina

UPDATE:

Based on various conversations we’ve had about the book and its use in the classroom, we thought we’d provide both background on why we believe it’s so important that books that deal with topics such as those discussed in Out of Darkness be used in the classroom, and resources that can be used to support teachers and students who read the book.

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a colleague who had worked at the local Rape Crisis Center. During this conversation I was made aware of some shocking and gut wrenching statistics on sexual abuse in New Mexico (NM).

Statistics compiled from Sex Crimes Trends in New Mexico: An Analysis of Data from The New Mexico Interpersonal Violence Data Central Repository 2010-2014, and New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey (YRRS) High School Survey Results Bernalillo County Grades 9-12, 2015

Out of Darkness deals with the issue of sexual abuse, and many have questioned whether or not it is appropriate to use in schools because of this. When I look at the statistics above, it seems very clear to me how important it is that we use books like Out of Darkness in our classrooms. Given the high probability that we will have students in our classes who are or have been victims of sexual abuse, we must provide the spaces that allow them to process these experiences and seek any help or support that they may need.

Obviously, no educator should introduce a book like Out of Darkness without significant forethought and planning. After speaking with a colleague who has experience in offering classroom outreach and training on sexual assault and related issues, we have a few recommendations for ways that educators could prepare for teaching this book:

First, we would suggest that the educator contact the school’s social worker or counselor and let them know that she/he will be using the book in the classroom, and that it deals with issues of sexual violence and abuse.

Second, for our NM teachers, we suggest contacting the Rape Crisis Center. They have staff trained to come into high school classrooms and do presentations on these topics. Teachers using literature dealing with themes of sexual abuse regularly arrange these presentations so that students have a context from which to understand the topics they are reading and discussing. During these presentations, the Rape Crisis Center staff can also speak to students about the services in the community available for survivors of sexual violence. If you are not a local NM teacher, we would suggest seeking out your local resource center(s) before implementing the book in the classroom.

Third, we suggest viewing the documentary Audrie & Daisy. The film is an urgent real-life drama that examines the ripple effects on families, friends, schools and communities when two underage young women find that sexual assault crimes against them have been caught on camera. It takes a hard look at American teenagers who are coming of age in this new world of social media bullying, spun wildly out of control. It is currently (as of October 2016) available to stream on Netflix.

Fourth, have an alternate reading available. Our colleague from the Rape Crisis Center pointed out that when someone has had their power taken away from them through sexual violence, it is very, very important for there to be options in how they want to heal from that experience. For some survivors, reading a book like Out of Darkness will be empowering. For others, it may trigger PTSD, in which case it is of great importance that they have an alternative option.

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¡Mira, Look!: Author’s Corner: Ashley Hope Pérez

ashley-hope-perezSaludos todos! This week we are taking the time to feature Ashley Hope Pérez, a wonderful author whose book, Out of Darkness, is our featured title for this month. Katrina and Keira even had the pleasure of meeting Hope Pérez recently when they were in Washington, DC, celebrating her receipt of the Américas Award.

Out of Darkness, Hope Pérez’s most recent book, has been acknowledged with a range of awards and accolades, including, in addition to the Américas Award, the 2016 Printz Honor for Excellence in Young Adult Literature and the 2016 Tomás Rivera Book Award. Out of Darkness is our featured book in October and we’re looking forward to discussing it later tonight at our monthly meeting at Tractor Brewing.

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Reading Roundup: Loss and Resolution in Latinx YA Literature

Vamos a Leer | Loss and Resolution in Latinx YA LiteratureBuenos días a todas y todos,

Happy fall!  I hope this finds you each doing well and enjoying the changing of seasons.

Fall, my favorite time of year!  For me, it is characterized not only by the falling leaves, the crisp air, and the distinct scents that come with the changing temperature, but also with a gentle nostalgia, heightened reflection, and sense of calm.  In accordance with our theme for this month, we’re honoring this moment of reflection by pulling together a Reading Roundup that highlights strong protagonists who have experienced some form of loss and resolution in their lives. We hope that this will also be good preparation for teachers who are looking for resources that can help bring these difficult topics into the classroom.

For those of you familiar with the blog, you might notice that many of the titles in this month’s Reading Roundup look similar. All are drawn from our list of featured titles, which means that they’re all YA titles with accompanying educator’s guides.

For those seeking titles on this theme for younger readers, be sure to check out Alice’s ¡Mira, Look! posts throughout the month.

Despite the ever-growing TBR list that you surely have, I hope that you get to check out one or more of the books mentioned today.  As is inherit in the themes of loss and resolution, the books are often heavy and deal with challenging subject matter, but all are excellently written and absolutely vale la pena.

Let us know what you think!

Mis saludos,
Colleen

Caminar
Written by Skila Brown
Published by Candlewick Press, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-7636-6515-6
Age level: Age 10 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Carlos knows that when the soldiers arrive with warnings about the Communist rebels, it is time to be a man and defend the village, keep everyone safe. But Mama tells him not yet — he’s still her quiet moonfaced boy. The soldiers laugh at the villagers, and before they move on, a neighbor is found dangling from a tree, a sign on his neck: Communist. Mama tells Carlos to run and hide, then try to find her. . . . Numb and alone, he must join a band of guerillas as they trek to the top of the mountain where Carlos’s abuela lives. Will he be in time, and brave enough, to warn them about the soldiers? What will he do then? A novel in verse inspired by actual events during Guatemala’s civil war, Caminar is the moving story of a boy who loses nearly everything before discovering who he really is.

My thoughts:

In contrast to many of the other books on this list that focus on individual loss, Caminar, written by Skila Brown, focuses on the collective.  This novel in verse is both beautiful and crushing.  Set amidst the Guatemala civil war, we get to know many of the people living in Carlos’ village, and we too suffer the collective loss taking place.  For those of us familiar with the horrors that took place during this time, there may be pause on this book.  However, it is a coming of age story and contains within it an innate redemptive element.  This award winning work also provides a tremendous opportunity to discuss a wide range of themes and serves as a great introduction to poetry.  Katrina has some great suggestions for topics to explore and ways to discuss this book in the classroom

The Farming of Bones
Written by Edwidge Danticat
Published by Soho Press, Inc. 1998
ISBN: 978-1-61695-349-2
Age level:  High school to adult

Description (from Goodreads):

The Farming of Bones begins in 1937 in a village on the Dominican side of the river that separates the country from Haiti. Amabelle Desir, Haitian-born and a faithful maidservant to the Dominican family that took her in when she was orphaned, and her lover Sebastien, an itinerant sugarcane cutter, decide they will marry and return to Haiti at the end of the cane season. However, hostilities toward Haitian laborers find a vitriolic spokesman in the ultra-nationalist Generalissimo Trujillo who calls for an ethnic cleansing of his Spanish-speaking country. As rumors of Haitian persecution become fact, as anxiety turns to terror, Amabelle and Sebastien’s dreams are leveled to the most basic human desire: to endure. Based on a little-known historical event, this extraordinarily moving novel memorializes the forgotten victims of nationalist madness and the deeply felt passion and grief of its survivors.

My thoughts:

Edwidge Danticat’s book, The Farming of Bones, is a power narrative about the persistence of memory and the determination to carry on.  Beautifully composed, the novel is characterized well in Publisher’s Weekly review: “Danticat gives us fully realized characters who endure their lives with dignity, a sensuously atmospheric setting and a perfectly paced narrative written in prose that is lushly poetic and erotic, specifically detailed.”  Like other books on this list, The Farming of Bones may present a challenge for teacher’s trying to use this book in their classrooms.   And like the other books, Vamos believes that it is well worth the effort.  As there is not yet an Educator’s Guide for Danticat’s novel, we invite those of you in the Albuquerque area to join in the educator’s book group in reading The Farming of Bones on December 12, 2016.  We’d love to see you there!  *A little side note: this book does contain some sexual imagery.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces
Written by Isabel Quintero
Published by Cinco Puntos Press, 2014
ISBN: 1935955950
Age level:  Grades 9 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

My thoughts:

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is Isabel Ouintero’s debut coming of age novel, and it is good!  Like some of the other novels in this month’s list, Gabi’s loss is both striking and subtle.  Written as a diary, this book is genuine and bold, honest and powerful, jarring and hilarious.  Katrina’s review highlights some of the complexities of the book and also gives meaningful ways to discuss these very real and difficult topics; check it out.  Because of the book’s accessibility, ease of reading, and its confrontation of taboo subjects, my bet is that many high school aged youth will find it enticing.  I know that this book would have greatly appealed to me in my high school years.

In Darkness
Written by Nick Lake
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-61963-122-9
Age level: Ages 14 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

In darkness I count my blessings like Manman taught me. One: I am alive. Two: there is no two. In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake a boy is trapped beneath the rubble of a ruined hospital: thirsty, terrified and alone. ‘Shorty’ is a child of the slums, a teenage boy who has seen enough violence to last a lifetime, and who has been inexorably drawn into the world of the gangsters who rule Site Soleil: men who dole out money with one hand and death with the other. But Shorty has a secret: a flame of revenge that blazes inside him and a burning wish to find the twin sister he lost five years ago. And he is marked. Marked in a way that links him with Toussaint l’Ouverture, the Haitian rebel who two-hundred years ago led the slave revolt and faced down Napoleon to force the French out of Haiti. As he grows weaker, Shorty relives the journey that took him to the hospital, a bullet wound in his arm. In his visions and memories he hopes to find the strength to survive, and perhaps then Toussaint can find a way to be free…

My thoughts:

Nick Lake’s YA novel, In Darkness, has won several awards including the Américas Award Commended Title (2013) and the Michael L. Printz Award (2013).  From these accolades alone, we can surmise that this is an important book; however, what prompted this selection for the list is the way it deals with the themes of death and loss.  Un aviso, this can be a challenging book to read, both because of the difficult (and often harsh) subject matter as well as for the structure.  The book oscillates between the characters of l’Ouverture and Shorty, with the latter written in what reads like his stream-of-consciousness.

The other motivation for choosing this book is because it introduces the often ignored historical figure, Toussaint l’Ouverture.  Katrina has written a thoughtful review of In Darkness and also discusses the value of incorporating a cast of characters such as these, both real and fiction, into the classroom.  And if there is any lingering doubt about how to process this book with your students, please see the educator’s guide.

The Meaning of Consuelo
Written by Judith Ortiz Cofer
Published by Beacon Press, 2003
ISBN: 978-0-8070-8387-1
Age level:  Young Adult

Description (from Goodreads):

The Signe family is blessed with two daughters. Consuelo, the elder, is thought of as pensive and book-loving, the serious child-la niña seria-while Mili, her younger sister, is seen as vivacious, a ray of tropical sunshine. Two daughters: one dark, one light; one to offer comfort and consolation, the other to charm and delight. But, for all the joy both girls should bring, something is not right in this Puerto Rican family; a tragedia is developing, like a tumor, at its core.

In this fierce, funny, and sometimes startling novel, we follow a young woman’s quest to negotiate her own terms of survival within the confines of her culture and her family.

My thoughts:

By the end of the first page, I was hooked.   The story is compelling and without a doubt, it effortlessly jams the reader into the difficult experiences that families can face.  The Meaning of Consuelo is much more than the trajedia that we learn of, as it also encapsulates the “loss” of self that many of us experience as we begin to grow away from we are expected to be.  Alternatively, this book allows for a regrowth into who we are.  Ortiz Cofer’s writing style makes this book easily accessible and sets a quick pace for the novel.  Both simple and complex, this compelling novel should be introduced to young readers.  Katrina has written a wonderful review on The Meaning of Consuelo and also articulates the wealth of themes that can be explored.

Out of Darkness
Written by Ashley Hope Pérez
Published by Carolrhoda Lab, 2015
ISBN: 1467742023
Age level: Grades 9 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

“This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?”

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them.

“No Negroes, Mexicans, or dogs.”

They know the people who enforce them.

“They all decided they’d ride out in their sheets and pay Blue a visit.”

But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

“More than grief, more than anger, there is a need. Someone to blame. Someone to make pay.”

Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

My thoughts:

Ashley Hope Pérez’s latest YA novel, Out of Darkness, is stunning.  And I use “stunning” in its most literal form – you may very well be left stunned!  As SLJ writes, “… [It] is wide-eyed testimony to the undeniable best and unrelenting worst of humanity; turning away (or turning off) is never an option.”  Despite this being a longer book, the chapters read quickly with each focusing on one of the main characters.  Perez’s uncompromising exploration of race, love, and the “forbidden” may leave one feeling devastated, but still, it is worth the read.  If you’re in the Albuquerque area and wondering if this would be a good fit for your classroom, or if you simply want to soak in another good read, please join the LAII’s Book Group on October 10 to experience this book for yourself!

The Queen of Water
Written by Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinango
Published by Ember, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-375-85936-2
Age level:  14 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Born in an Andean village in Ecuador, Virginia lives with her large family in a small, earthen-walled dwelling. In her village of indígenas, it is not uncommon to work in the fields all day, even as a child, or to be called a longa tonta—stupid Indian—by members of the ruling class of mestizos, or Spanish descendants. When seven-year-old Virginia is taken from her village to be a servant to a mestizo couple, she has no idea what the future holds.

In this poignant novel based on a true story, acclaimed author Laura Resau has collaborated with María Virginia Farinango to recount one girl’s unforgettable journey to self-discovery. Virginia’s story will speak to anyone who has ever struggled to find his or her place in the world. It will make you laugh and cry, and ultimately, it will fill you with hope.

My thoughts:

Within the first chapter of The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinango, it is clear how this award winning novel fits into this month’s theme; the loss is immediately present, but rest assured, resolution comes.  While this is technically simple to read and moves at a relatively quick pace, its content makes it a difficult book to swallow.  It is made more moving when one realizes that this is based on a true story and takes place in the 1980s.  Katrina great review on this book and discusses different ways that it can be used in the classroom and is also accompanied with an educator’s guide to support the process.

Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood
Written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Cinco Puntos Press, 2004
ISBN: 978-1-933693-99-6
Age level: Grade 9 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

The Hollywood where Sammy Santos lives is not one of glitz and glitter, but a barrio at the edge of a small New Mexico town. In the summer before his senior year, Sammy falls in love with the beautiful, independent, and intensely vulnerable Juliana. Sammy’s chronicle of his senior year is both a love story and a litany of loss, the tale of his love not only for Juliana but for their friends, a generation from a barrio: tough, innocent, humorous, and determined to survive

My thoughts:

Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s first YA novel, Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood, is hard-hitting, raw, and potent.  Unabashedly, it explores a teenager’s confrontation with issues of race, poverty, family, love and loss.  While this is an excellent piece of YA literature that I believe is extremely valuable read for young people to read, it can be a complicated one to introduce into the classroom.  For a better sense of the book’s complexities and how to discuss the subject matter with students, please read Katrina’s review from 2012 and its accompanying educator’s guide.  This will undoubtedly help clear up (if any) doubts or concerns related to the book.  It is well worth the read!

Shadowshaper
Written by Daniel José Older
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-545-59161-4
Age level:  Grades 9 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Cassandra Clare meets Caribbean legend in SHADOWSHAPER, an action-packed urban fantasy from a bold new talent.

Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.

My thoughts:

This selection may initially feel far from the theme, however, it was chosen for its unique perspective on loss. Although the protagonist, Sierra, loses her grandmother before the story ever opens, the loss leaves lingering effects and reminds us that losing a loved one can impact a family in many ways. In the case of Shadowshaper, written by Daniel José Older, the loss experienced is that of history, space, and community.  This all too common occurrence may be something we or our students have experienced.   But thankfully, this book gives us Sierra, who models how to overcome such loss through both real and magical connections to her past!

I will also add that this book has been featured multiple times on Vamos.  Be sure to check out how the all the ways that this book can be used by reading Katrina’s review, Kalyn’s Reading Roundup, and Alice’s ¡Mira Look! Author’s Corner posts.

Under the Mesquite
Written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Published by Lee & Low Books, 2011
ISBN: 9781600604294
Age level: Grades 4 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Lupita, a budding actor and poet in a close-knit Mexican American immigrant family, comes of age as she struggles with adult responsibilities during her mother’s battle with cancer in this young adult novel in verse.

When Lupita learns Mami has cancer, she is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of her close-knit family. Suddenly, being a high school student, starring in a play, and dealing with friends who don’t always understand, become less important than doing whatever she can to save Mami’s life.

While her father cares for Mami at an out-of-town clinic, Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. As Lupita struggles to keep the family afloat, she takes refuge in the shade of a mesquite tree, where she escapes the chaos at home to write. Forced to face her limitations in the midst of overwhelming changes and losses, Lupita rediscovers her voice and finds healing in the power of words.

Told with honest emotion in evocative free verse, Lupita’s journey toward hope is captured in moments that are alternately warm and poignant. Under the Mesquite is an empowering story about testing family bonds and the strength of a young woman navigating pain and hardship with surprising resilience

My thoughts:

Garcia McCall’s book, Under the Mesquite, is a beautiful representation of our ability to thrive despite life’s unpredictable and sometimes painful occurrences.  This YA novel in verse is skillfully written; its language, while simple and accessible, invites readers to experience a complex range of emotions.  We become a part of Lupita’s world, traversing through the challenges of friendship, family, culture, and self-discovery.  It is clear by having won the Pura Belpré Author Medal (2012), the William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist (2012) and most recently, the Tomás Rivera Children’s Book Award (2013), that Garcia McCall’s first novel is one to read!  For more comprehensive thoughts about Under the Mesquite, check out Katrina’s excellent review.  And for the teachers among us, please see our educator’s guide for tips on using the book in the classroom.

En la Clase: A Perfect Season for Dreaming/Un Tiempo Perfecto Para Soñar

PerfectSeasonforDreaming_cover_72dpiIt’s no secret that we’re huge fans of Benjamin Alire Sáenz at Vamos a Leer.  We love his poetry, adult fiction, young adult novels, and children’s literature.  As we continue to highlight resources and literature that present nuanced interpretations of Latinx identity, this week’s En la Clase is all about Sáenz’s bilingual children’s book A Perfect Season for Dreaming/Un Tiempo Perfecto Para Soñar

Cinco Puntos Press offers the following description of the book: “An old man tells his granddaughter about the nine most beautiful dreams of his lifetime.  So, what exactly is the perfect season for dreaming? For Octavio Rivera, it’s summer, when the sky is so blue and a few lovely clouds come floating along to decorate it. It turns out that Octavio Rivera is a beautiful dreamer. And on these first long days of summer, he is visited by some very interesting dreams. But Octavio doesn’t tell anyone about his dreams, not after the first one, not after the second, not after the next or the next or the next. Finally, though, he can’t stand it anymore and he wants to tell someone so bad that his heart hurts. He decides that the only one he can trust with his dreams, the only one who won’t make fun of him for being too old or eating too much chorizo, the only one who will understand is his young granddaughter Regina because she also has beautiful and fantastic dreams.  And that sets Octavio Rivera free to enjoy one last long and lovely dream.”

At a glance, it may seem like a simple counting book, but it’s so much more, making it appropriate even for children who are long past learning their numbers.  This is a book that is not only beautifully written and illustrated, but provides authentic, engaging, culturally relevant content as well.

Culturally relevant pedagogy (also referred to as culturally responsive teaching or multicultural education) has quickly become one of A Perfect Season for Dreaming | Benjamin Alire Saenzthe new buzz terms in education over the past decade.  Many cite Gloria Ladson Billings as the scholar who brought the concept to the forefront of educational conversation and research.  For Ladson Billings, one of the key pieces to culturally relevant pedagogy is that it “empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes” (The Dreamkeepers).  Woven throughout Octavio Rivera’s dreams are cultural referents that will speak to many Latinx, Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano, and Hispanic children.  Many will recognize the Spanish guitars, blooming desert cacti, armadillos, and marachi singers as familiar cultural references.  Children from the Southwest will delight in seeing some of their own hometowns mentioned in the story, as Denver, El Paso, Júarez, Lubbock, and Tucson all make appearances in the text.  Esau Andrade Valencia’s illustrations bring the surrealistic dreams to life, offering authentic colorful desert landscapes.  For students who aren’t familiar with any of this, the reading allows them to experience and learn about something new in a way that doesn’t perpetuate damaging cultural stereotypes.

Discussion Suggestions:

While young readers will certainly appreciate the structure and rhythm of the counting book, the simple text provides the opportunity to discuss so much more.  One of the more special elements of the story is Octavio’s relationship with his six-year-old granddaughter.  She is the only one he trusts to share his dreams with.  Their relationship provides the opportunity to introduce students to issues of ageism and breakdown many of the labels and stereotypes applied to the very old or the very young.  Ask students to think about the kinds of stereotypes we have about people who are older or younger. What words or pictures do they associate with those who are very old or very young? Then, ask them if they have a friend who is much older or younger. Does this person fit these stereotypes? What is their relationship like with that person? Ask them to think about why Octavio only chooses to share his dreams with his granddaughter.  Have them imagine that they have an older friend like Octavio.  What kinds of things could they share with that friend that they might not be able to share with someone their own age? Discuss these ideas as a class.

A Perfect Season for Dreaming | Benjamin Alire Saenz

Activity Suggestions:

When asked about the book, Sáenz wrote, “As a boy, I always hoped that when we broke the piñata at a party, that all sorts of beautiful things would come flying out.  Nothing ever came out but candy.  I suppose I wrote this book to set the world right.”  The fantastical, surreal, and magical nature of the book makes it perfect for the beginning of the year.  Often times the first month or two of the school year is focused on the teaching and establishing of routines, procedures, and expectations.  While necessary, all of this does little to encourage or build creativity.  A book like this offers a counterbalance.  It offers a celebration of the power of dreaming, something we don’t often talk about in our classrooms.  It’s also a chance for students to tap into their imaginations and practice a little inspired inventiveness.  Use the book’s text and imagery as a model.  Copying the dreaming premise of the book, ask students to create a counting book using their own cultural referents blended together with other fantastical elements.  If time is short, assign each student one number and have them create a page just for that number.  Then, combine each student’s page to create a class counting book.  If possible, have them visit a younger class and read their book to that class.

We’re not alone in thinking this is a wonderful book.  It has received a number of awards and honors, including the Kids’ Indie Next List (Winter 2008-09); Tejas Star Book Award; Paterson Prize; Best Book for Children; Texas Institute of Letters (TIL); Bank Street’s Best Children’s Books of the Year (2009); and Américas Book Award Honor Book (2009).

As always, if you’ve used the book with your students, we’d love to hear about it.  If your students make their own counting books, we’d love to see their creations! Just post a picture in the comments below.  Children’s art and writing is one of my most favorite things to see!

Until next week,

Katrina

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September 16th | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! I hope you have a good weekend. Enjoy the materials for this week. I know I had a really fun time gathering them. Let me know what you think, I would love to hear your thoughts.

– As the 50th anniversary of UNESCO’s founding of International Literacy Day, we wanted to share with you The Literacy Project, where they honor past and present efforts to reduce literacy at a global scale.

– Our Américas Award friends shared on their Facebook page an important article that highlights the reality of diverse children’s book. BookRiot’s Justina Ireland questions “Where Are All the YA Books for Kids of Color: September Edition.”

— Also, on their Facebook page Teaching for Change shared a story of a school that questioned, “How Diverse is Our Classroom Library?”

–Here is a quick six-minute read on Where to Find “Diverse” Children’s Books by Melissa Giraud, co-founder of EmbraceRace.

— Congratulations to Cuban-American author Meg Medina and Mexican-American author Anna-Marie McLemore who are on the prestigious 2016 National Book Awards Longlist: Young People’s Literature

– Lastly, again from Teaching for Change, we discovered the Smithsonian’s Global Folklorist Challenge where young people between the ages 8-18 are challenging and inspired to interview the elders in their community.

Abrazos,
Alin Badillo


Image: Latin American Flags. Reprinted from Flickr user Steven Damron under CC ©.

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