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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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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Reading RoundUp: 10 Children’s and YA Books with Diverse Latinx Perspectives

 

Vamos a Leer¡Buenos días a todos y todas!

As mentioned in Keira’s Sobre Septiembre post, this month’s Reading Roundup is related to the theme of Hispanic Heritage Month. To guide the direction of this month’s book list, I decided that it was imperative for me to determine what I believe Hispanx/Latinx heritage to be. Initially the task seemed easy enough, as I have certainly carved out an understanding of how I define my own Chicana/Latina heritage. Yet, as I attempted to make connections on a grand scale, I found myself unable. I felt as though I were distilling the vibrancy of an entire collective of people down to a single ingredient, a generalization, and a superficiality.

How does one meaningfully capture the range of cultural practices, traditions, languages, religions, geography, race, and ethnicity – just to name a few – of those who identify as Latinx? How could I be so bold to answer for others the deeply personal question of how they define their heritage? I am only able to define my own.

After much thought, I decided that the best way to view the tapestry of “Hispanx/Latinx heritage” was to hang it up, step back, and explore each pictorial design individually. For that reason, this month’s list will be focused on literature that possesses strong and individual narratives; where the author’s experiences, values, and diversity can seep through the text, allowing their unique Latinidad to be known.

Some of the narratives are rooted in reality, as in Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White. Others are teeming with imagination and the fantastical, as in The Jumbies. Others still may be representative of someone’s reality, somewhere, as in ¡Sí! Somos Latinos/Yes! We are Latinos, or even Niño Wrestles the World.

I invite you to explore and articulate how you define your own unique heritage, or ask your students about theirs. Is the way you define your heritage different from that of your family? Is there literature that represents you? What would be an important element of your heritage that you would want to share with others?

I hope that you enjoy these books as I did and that the diversity within the Latinx experience abounds from their pages!

Mis saludos,

Colleen

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Book Review: Names on a Map

Book Review | Names on a Map by Benjamin Alire Saenz | Vamos a Leer

A little late, but better than never.  We wanted to be sure to share with you our thoughts on February’s featured book before the month is over! En la Clase will be back this Friday.

Names on a Map
Written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Harper Perennial, 2008
ISBN: 978-0061285691
Age level: Adult

Book Summary

The Espejo family of El Paso, Texas, is like so many others in America in 1967, trying to make sense of a rapidly escalating war they feel does not concern them. But when the eldest son, Gustavo, a complex and errant rebel, receives a certified letter ordering him to report to basic training, he chooses to flee instead to Mexico. Retreating back to the land of his grandfather—a foreign country to which he is no longer culturally connected—Gustavo sets into motion a series of events that will have catastrophic consequences on the fragile bonds holding the family together.

Told with raw power and searing bluntness, and filled with important themes as immediate as today’s headlines, Names on a Map is arguably the most important work to date of a major American literary artist.

My Thoughts

Like everything else I’ve read by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Names on a Map does not disappoint. He tells a captivating story that is simultaneously beautiful and devastating. For me, reading one of his books is always a deeply moving experience. Recently, I heard the term brutiful used to describe something that is both beautiful and brutal at the same time. While brutiful certainly doesn’t do justice to the aesthetic or lyricism of Sáenz’s writing, I think the idea of the word captures an important aspect of what makes his work so outstanding.  For those familiar with Sáenz’s other novels, you may find his characters here comfortingly familiar as they seem to have pieces of Sammy, Gigi, Aristotle, and Dante, among others. Continue reading

Writers’ Words: Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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Our Next Good Read: Names on a Map

Join us February 1 at names on a mapTractor Brewing from 5:00-7:00 pm to discuss our next book.  We are reading Names on a Map by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

Here’s a sneak peek into the book from Goodreads:

The Espejo family of El Paso, Texas, is like so many others in America in 1967, trying to make sense of a rapidly escalating war they feel does not concern them. But when the eldest son, Gustavo, a complex and errant rebel, receives a certified letter ordering him to report to basic training, he chooses to flee instead to Mexico. Retreating back to the land of his grandfather—a foreign country to which he is no longer culturally connected—Gustavo sets into motion a series of events that will have catastrophic consequences on the fragile bonds holding the family together.

Told with raw power and searing bluntness, and filled with important themes as immediate as today’s headlines, Names on a Map is arguably the most important work to date of a major American literary artist.
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Book Giveaway: Names on a Map

Vamos a Leer | Book GiveawayWe’re giving away a copy of Names on a Map written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz–our featured novel for the February book group meeting!! Check out the following from Goodreads:

The Espejo family of El Paso, Texas, is like so many others in America in 1967, trying to make sense of a rapidly escalating war they feel does not concern them. But when the eldest son, Gustavo, a complex and errant rebel, receives a certified letter ordering him to report to basic training, he chooses to flee instead to Mexico. Retreating back to the land of his grandfather—a foreign country to which he is no longer culturally connected—Gustavo sets into motion a series of events that will have catastrophic consequences on the fragile bonds holding the family together.

Told with raw power and searing bluntness, and filled with important themes as immediate as today’s headlines, Names on a Map is arguably the most important work to date of a major American literary artist.
Continue reading