An Américas Award Interview: Monica Brown

Buenas! As the school year winds down we are delighted to share another Américas Award interview, this time speaking with Monica Brown. Recently, her book, Lola Levine, Drama Queen, was selected as a Bluebonnet Award Finalist – and she just published the fourth book in her chapter book series, Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean. Be sure to keep an eye out this September for her new book, Frida and her Animalitos, illustrated by John Parra!

~Hania

Vamos-a-Leer-Interview-Monica-Brown.pngMonica Brown is an accomplished children’s book author whose works inspire children and young readers to think deeply, beautifully, and critically about the world around them.

Among the many praises bestowed upon her works, the Américas Award has been twice awarded to her, including for Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People in 2012 and My Name is Celia / Me llamo Celia in 2004.  The repeated accolades and starred reviews she has received all attest to her ability to create beautiful, moving books that encourage empathy and understanding among young readers. Inspired by her Peruvian-American heritage and a desire to share Latino/a stories with children, she writes, as she explains, “from a place of deep passion, job, and commitment to producing the highest possible quality of literature for students.”

Here, the author converses with Hania Mariën of the Vamos a Leer blog as she poses questions about Brown’s work, her inspirations, and the importance of bringing Latinx literature into the classroom. For more information, including publications and supporting educational resources, visit http://www.monicabrown.net.

May, 2017

HANIA MARIËN: You mention that Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match was rejected many times. Since its publication you have published several other books featuring Marisol. What do you think allowed for this eventual publishing success? Can we attribute it in part to a growing awareness of the need for more diverse characters or is there more to it?

MarisolMONICA BROWN: With Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/no combina it took a small, multicultural children’s press based in San Francisco to take that “risk” of publishing a children’s book that talked honestly about the multiracial experience.  That press was Children’s Book Press, now an imprint of the equally visionary publishers Lee and Low.  I’ve been privileged to work with principled editors with courage and vision—trailblazers like Adriana Dominguez, Gabby Baez Ventura, and Nikki Garcia, among other amazing women.

HANIA MARIËN: You say that bilingual books offer “moments of multiple literacy.” Can you tell us a bit more about what you mean by that?

MONICA BROWN: Bilingual books offer the chance for readers to see two beautiful languages side by side on the page.  In Latinx families, there are often generational differences in terms of language. In my family for example, my mother’s first language is Spanish and second language is English. For me it’s the reverse. My Peruvian grandmother spoke only Spanish. A bilingual book allows children to enjoy reading times in two languages, in one, or the other, and also to acquire more language skills as children learn from contextualization and observing the art.

HANIA MARIËN: In an interview with La Bloga you mention that you put a great deal of time and effort into library research for your biographies as part of an effort to honor the histories of people whom the official record has often overlooked.  Do you ever have to look beyond the library for information about their lives? How do you translate your findings into “living” characters?

 MONICA BROWN: In my other life, I’m a literature professor, so I welcome the researchneruda aspects of my children’s biographies.  Some of it involves traditional research and in other cases I rely on interviews, film, creative works and even music.  For my biography Pablo Neruda, Poet of the People, for example, I read his collected words—his gift for language and lyricism inspired, and I hope, infused my writing. Listening to Tito Puente and Celia Cruz’s music was a central part of my creative process in trying to capture their spirit between the pages of a book!

HANIA MARIËN: You say you want all children to feel that their only limitation is their own imagination, and that it is our jobs as teachers, writers, artists and activists to make sure that this is true. What factors (beyond students’ imagination) do you believe currently present the most pressing limitations for children’s future?

MONICA BROWN: I think we have many challenges in terms of public education. We need more funding to provide smaller class sizes, a livable wage for teachers (a huge problem in my state of Arizona), resources for English language learners, as well as culturally representative curriculum that reflects the incredibly diverse history (and population) of children living in the United States. We’ve all heard of information poverty, but I worry equally about imagination poverty. Our children need access to literature, music, and the arts. They need books to model, inspire, instill pride, and affirm.  Books to inspire dreams and aspiration. When I tell the story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez (Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez/Lado a Lado: la historia de Dolores Huerta y Cesar Chavez) or introduce, bold, creative characters like Marisol McDonald (Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/no combina, Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash/ y la fiesta sin equal, and Marisol McDonald and the Monster/y el monstruo) and Lola Levine (The Lola Levine Chapter book Series), I hope children feel more free in their identity, less limited by the stereotypical gendered and racial images they encounter in their everyday life.

HANIA MARIËN: Lastly, drawing upon your dedication to preserving and promoting cultures of the Américas, 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?

MONICA BROWN: Teachers can save lives, and they certainly shape young lives.  I was very lucky to have a tía who was a kindergarten teacher who gave me wonderful books at young age and led me on this path—a life built around words, stories, narrative, cultural celebration and creative expression. Books matter. Creativity matters. The opportunity to inspire young minds is a gift.  My advice is to offer books that reflect our Latinx student’s culture and proud heritage, and books that affirm bilingualism. This will counter messages of hate, anti-immigrant and “English only” rhetoric that have been even more blatant under our current administration. I am the proud child of an immigrant. We are here and we are staying. We all have different stories, but can be proud of a collective of care, nurturing, and pride in and for our children.

 


Book images and author photograph reprinted courtesy of the author directly from Monica Brown’s website. 

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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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.

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