Community Highlight: Anansesem Introduces Starred Review

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Hi all,

The summer months may seem quiet at times, but really there’s a veritable buzz of activity.  In the world of children’s literature, authors, illustrators, publishers, reviewers, librarians, and even teachers (whose summer breaks are rarely ever actual breaks) are hard at work pushing for diversity, representation and accuracy. Anansesem is in this vanguard.

A brief aside for those unfamiliar with the organization. In their own words,

Anansesem is an online magazine devoted to Caribbean children’s and young adult literature written by both new and established writers. It was founded in 2010 to encourage the writing and illustration of Caribbean literature for and by young people. Major issues are published twice a year in .pdf format while guest posts and online-only features are published throughout the year. 

We are proud to have published some of the most distinctive and distinguished voices in Caribbean literature for young people. Previous contributors to the ezine have included Alix Delinois, Floella Benjamin, Ibi Zoboi, Itah Sadu, Lynn Joseph, Margarita Engle, Nadia L. Hohn, Olive Senior, Tracey Baptiste, Vashanti Rahaman and Verna Wilkins. 

The ezine invites submissions of Caribbean short stories, poetry and illustrations for children regardless of the geographical location of either the author or characters. We also publish book reviews, interviews and non-fiction. Submissions by Caribbean citizens get first priority.

We’re huge fans of Anansesem here at Vamos a Leer, and frequently turn to them to help contextualize and better understand the Caribbean literature that crosses our desks. Their latest announcement has us even more over the moon than usual. They’ve introduced starred reviews! This means that they’re putting the power of meaningful and informed reviews back in the hands of the Caribbean community. Read more about why they’re doing this, what they aim to achieve, and how they’ll go about it, in the announcement from Summer Edward, Anansesem editor-in-chief: Introducing the Anansesem Starred Review (And Giving Caribbean Books For Young People The Reviews They Deserve).

Their May issue (forthcoming) introduces starred reviews for Marti’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad by Emma Otheguy and Beatriz Vidal, The Field by Baptiste Paul and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Mike Curato, and Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender. The issue also includes, among other items, spotlights on illustrators Lulu Delacre and Rosa Colán Guerra. Check their website for the full PDF (nominal cost associated) or a free sample of the publication.

Happy reading,
Keira

¡Mira, Look!: Martí’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad

¡Buenos días! Today’s book fits perfectly with both National Poetry Month and Earth Day. Martí’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad, written by Emma Otheguy, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal and translated by Adriana Domínguez, is a picture book biography  of the Cuban hero José Martí (1853-1985). It was published in 2017 by Lee & Low Press. Each page provides the text in English and Spanish, with Otheguy interspersing Martí’s own words alongside her narration of his life.

This book would be a wonderful contribution to children’s literature at any point, but it stands out in the present era as a timely resource for encouraging young readers to see injustice and seek change in the world around them. For a snapshot into why his life might inspire readers today, long after his death, the publisher’s description offers a useful biographical sketch:

As a young boy, Jose Martí traveled to the countryside of Cuba and fell in love with the natural beauty of the land. During this trip he also witnessed the cruelties of slavery on sugar plantations. From that moment, Martí began to fight for the abolishment of slavery and for Cuban independence from Spain through his writing. By age seventeen, he was declared an enemy of Spain and was forced to leave hisbeloved island. Martí traveled the world and eventually settled in New York City. But the longer he stayed away from his homeland, the sicker and weaker he became. On doctor’s orders he traveled to the Catskill Mountains, where nature inspired him once again to fight for freedom. Here is a beautiful tribute to Jose Martí, written in verse with excerpts from his seminal work, Versos sencillos. He will always be remembered as a courageous fighter for freedom and peace among all men and women.

Martí was a philosopher, poet, traveler, and, yes, “fighter for freedom and peace among all men and women.” His life is complicated and not easily conveyed to even adult readers, yet Otheguy, who is a scholar of Spain and colonial Latin America, has managed to do just that. In School Library Journal’s starred review, they acknowledged that she offers a “sensitive and poignant tribute to one of Latin America’s most important historical figure.”

Writing a children’s book is never easy. Writing a children’s book about a complex historical period and renowned figure is harder yet. Somehow, Otheguy does it. She manages to weave simple descriptions of Martí’s experiences into and alongside references to the broader history, politics, and cultural moments that shaped his philosophy. An epilogue at the end provides even more information about his life. This attention to detail is itself enough for the book to merit a prime bookshelf spot, but Otheguy does more than just situate him in history. Her carefully chosen verses also allow students to see the person behind the figure, and particularly his love of the naturalworld. With Earth Day upon us, it’s timely to read how she explores how the natural world influenced his philosophy.

This attention to the natural world is particularly evident inOtheguy’s descriptions of Martí’s time in the United States. During Martí’s exile to New York, he soon came to realize that the American’s fixation withmoney created a sense of indifference and apathy which he could not tolerate. In order to escape the city and its materiality, Martí would go tothe Catskill Mountains, where he would walk and write.Otheguy describes the Catskill Mountains as Martí’s way of dwelling in Cuba fromafar – the pine trees of rural New York forests paralleling Cuba’s palm trees and beaches. A love of homeland becomes a literal love for the land, leading to the notion that it was his time in the New York countryside which recharged Martí and prompted him to return to Cuba to fight for his people.

Stanzas taken directly from Martís work, Versos sencillos, ring boldly from each page and reinforce the nuanced importance of the landscape. Here, for instance, with few words he somehow manages to speak at once to the natural beauty of the New York and Cuban landscapes and his estranged longing for home:

“Mi verso es de un verde claro

Y de un carmín encendido:

Mi verso es un ciervo herido

Que busca en el monte amparo.

 

My song is of the palest green

And the fieriest crimson:

My song is a wounded deer                                                          

That in the countryside, seeks safety.”

Vidal’s soft and colorful illustrations perfectly accompany the words of both Otheguy and Martí. Her depictions of the New York and Cuban countryside, of battlefields and urban spaces and of pain andcelebration are breathtaking and dynamic. As much as each individual image is striking, it is her choice of juxtaposition that lingers. Images of rolling hills are matched by horses charging into battle.

At the end of the book, the Acknowledgments section allows Otheguy to tell readers how she places herself in relation to Martí and of her family’s experience as Cuban Americans in New York. She writes:

“This book was inspired by my parents, who read me stories from La edad de oro and who embody every day the capacity to hold two homelands, two cultures, and two languages within oneself. When I was a child, they talked endlessly about their lives in Cuba, while staying ever-present in the very different lives my brother and sister and I  shared. I hope this book captures my love for the palm trees of my parents’ homeland and the oak trees of nuestro Nueva York; I hope this book also conveys what it means to me that Martí, too, knew, loved, and was inspired by these two places.” Young readers who come from families and households that share multiple languages, places, and people may well relate to both Martí’s and Otheguy’s lives.

Here are some resources for you to check out while working with this book in the classroom:

  • PBS has a short documentary about Mosé Martí
  • Here is a lesson plan for using two of Martí’s poems and one of his letters
  • Here you can hear Martí’s famous poem, Versos Sencillos, read aloud. Excerpts of this poem are found throughout Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad.
  • To help make connections between Martí and the present day, check out this informal piece from the Huffington Post on “What My Millenial Students Can Learn from José Martí
  • If you’d like to pair this title with other books on Cuba or other biographies, you might want to peruse Teaching for Change’s compiled Social Justice Books.

For those interested in the book itself, we suggest checking out:

I hope you enjoy this book as much as we do!

Saludos,

Kalyn


Images modified from Martí’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad

October 6th | Week in Review

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Hola a todos,

It is a hard week for many around the country. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, and communities. For educators addressing this most recent violence in the classroom, please consider referring to Scholastic’s Resources for parents and educators for talking to children about the Las Vegas shooting. “No matter where you reside, it’s likely the young people you know will see the news headlines on television and online.” Like the quote says, it doesn’t matter where a person resides, children will be affected and classrooms should address this issue regardless of the subject being taught.

You might also consider this article addressing how to Harness Effects of Negative News on Young People using Literacy for Healing. “The right books and stories can open doors for meaningful conversations and propel young people toward civic engagement.”

And as we acknowledge Las Vegas, so we also acknowledge the ongoing recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and Mexico. For those who embrace this as a teachable moment, here is an excellent syllabus of essential tools for critical thinking about the Puerto Rican debt crisis.

Finally, for those who are turning the page to other conversations, here is a smattering of other recent resources and materials:

  • In a moment when traumatic stories and experiences are forefront, it’s important to take a moment and offer students a celebratory perspective of their cultures. Classroom Communities shared a personal note in this regard with their article on “Celebrating through Stories” during Hispanic Heritage Month.  “As a young African-American girl it was hard for me during the month of February when I felt that Black History month was spent learning about slavery and hardship. The celebratory aspect was often lost for me. As a teacher I have tremendous power over how students feel during these months of celebration. In our classroom community we choose to celebrate stories, authors, and people who represent this rich culture of beauty and strength.”
  • Remezcla’s 10 Books With Well-Developed, Complex Afro-Latino Characters.
  • Rethinking Schools shared how you can take the fight against white supremacy into schools. “…But more than that, we need a history that helps us learn how to move beyond tearing down statues and toward tearing down the racist system that those statues represent.”
  • For more resources for Hispanic Heritage Month, Colorín Colorado has a great book list for elementary schools.
  • If you would like to teach about Indigenous people, consider using animated shorts that celebrate 11 of Mexico’s Indigenous Languages.
  • Latinx in Kid Lit flipped the script and shared A Letter from Young Adult Readers to Latinx Writers About Race, Gender, and Other Issues. “I asked students to create suggestions of what they hoped to see in Latinx literature for youth. What follows is a list of suggestions gathered from our collective conversation and survey of Latinx literature for youth, including comments composed by my students for those who are currently writing and those who hope to write for young readers. Students also kept in mind those in publishing and award committees.”
  • And as a last note to send us with positive thoughts for the day, there are beautiful new books swirling around in the blogging world right now. A few that caught our eye:
    • From Latinx in Kid Lit, a book review of Martí’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad, written by Emma Otheguy and illustrated by Beatriz Vidal. “The back cover features an actual portrait of José Martí, and a quote: ‘And let us never forget that the greater the suffering, the greater the right to justice, and that the prejudices of men and social inequalities cannot prevail over the equality which nature has created’…beyond Cuba, Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad comes at an important time when even young readers are thinking about how we might make the world a more just place.”
    • From LGBTQ Reads, an interview with Anna-Marie McLemore, author of Wild Beauty, of which the author writes that “Wild Beauty is my bi Latina girls and murderous, enchanted gardens book. It’s the story in which I gave myself permission to go all in with the feel and setting of a fairy tale, but with the focus on the kind of girls we often see left out of fairy tales.”

 Image: We Can End Gun Violence. Reprinted from PA PENN Live under CC©.

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