Saludos todos! This week we are kicking off our February themes of love, including romantic love, love of self, love of community, and love of country by featuring My Tata’s Remedies/ Los remedios de mi tata. This wonderful story emphasizes themes of love through community and family support, but also of self love and care by showcasing various natural remedies that have been passed on through various generations of a young boy’s family. Aside from this unique and engaging narrative, My Tata’s Remedies/ Los remedios de mi tata also won the 2016 Pura Belpre Honor Book for Illustration. This bilingual story, written by Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford and illustrated by Antonio Castro, is a sequel to its precursor, My Nana’s Remedies/Los Remedios De Mi Nana, now narrating the herbal remedies and natural medicinal recipes of the young protagonist’s grandfather rather than his grandmother. This informative tale is best for ages 4-11, though its abundant, non-fictional information may also be interesting for older readers.
¡Hola a todos! Happy Children’s Book Day! I hope that the resources this week are of use to you.
– For those of you in higher education teaching about social movements, check out Remezcla’s article, What the Women’s March on Washington Meant For Young Latinx. “Only time will tell. I, for one, will be holding on to the hope and the magic that Saturday gave me.”
—Watch 6-Year-Old Sophie Cruz Give One of the Best Speeches of The Women’s March provided to us by Rethinking Schools. “Let us fight with love, faith and courage so that our families will not be destroyed. … !Si se puede! Si se puede!…”
¡Hola a todos! The month has passed by very fast. As we end September, think about the accomplishments and hard work people have done in just this one month to advocate for diverse literature and how much work still remains.
— Our Facebook friends Latinos in Kid Lit just shared the cover reveal of The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra. The release date is March 7, 2017. Keep your eye out for this book that’s expected to “crack up kids and grown-ups.”
–Our friends at Lee & Low Book celebrated their 25th anniversary this year, so we would like to congratulate them for encouraging diversity in kids literature.
— Congratulations to Sandra Cisneros and Rudolfo Anaya for receiving a National Medal from President Obama for their contribution to Latino Literature. Check out the rest of NBC News’s list of all the Latinos Who Were Honored With National Medals for Diverse Art, Humanities.
– Lastly, in Facebook, Rethinking Schools encourages us to find out more about the Zinn Education Project- Teaching A People’s History. “Zinn’s work offers an alternative perspective that students need in order to think more critically about key issues in history,” expressed commenter William Thomas.
Image: Esperanza. Reprinted from Flickr user JoelleW under CC ©.
Here’s our review of this month’s featured novel, Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal. I’m really looking forward to discussing it with our book group next Monday. If you’re an Albuquerque local, we’d love to have you join us!
Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal
Written by Margarita Engle
Published by HMH Books For Young Readers, 2014
Age level: 12 years and up
One hundred years ago, the world celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, which connected the world’s two largest oceans and signaled America’s emergence as a global superpower. It was a miracle, this path of water where a mountain had stood—and creating a miracle is no easy thing. Thousands lost their lives, and those who survived worked under the harshest conditions for only a few silver coins a day.
From the young “silver people” whose back-breaking labor built the Canal to the denizens of the endangered rainforest itself, this is the story of one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, as only Newbery Honor-winning author Margarita Engle could tell it.
Without fail, one of the most striking aspects of Engle’s work is her commitment to bringing little or unknown historical figures and periods to life. Since Engle often writes about Cuba, I was surprised when I heard she had written a book about the Panama Canal. But as I learned more about the story, the choice in topic made perfect sense. Admittedly, I knew very little about the history of the Panama Canal. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m alone in that. On Vamos a Leer we frequently reference the idea of the ‘rewriting’ of history. Having now read Silver People, I believe the minimal attention given to the creation of the Panama Canal in our k-12 curricula is an example of one such rewriting.
During the fall students across the U.S. often learn about exploration, conquest, and colonization. They study explorers such as Columbus, de Gama, Cortes, and Lewis and Clark — who are all portrayed as courageous heroes. We’ve talked a great deal on Vamos a Leer about ways in which to provide a more balanced account and understanding of Conquest and Colonization. As I read Engle’s Silver People I realized how relevant her book is to that same conversation. The conquest and colonization of the Americas didn’t stop 500 years ago. It’s been a continual and ongoing process, and Silver People calls attention to this. The construction of the Panama Canal represents some of the most problematic and troublesome aspects of U.S. foreign policy. More than likely, this is one reason why it’s so often glossed over in our textbooks.
This is exactly why a book like Silver People is so important and necessary. Engle brings to life the flora, fauna, and people of a historical period many would prefer not to delve into too deeply. Often, if the Panama Canal is mentioned in textbooks at all, it’s in reference to what a miraculous accomplishment it was. It’s heralded as a pivotal point in the transformation of trade and travel between the U.S. and Latin America. Yet we fail to question what it cost to create such a feat. Engle’s novel offers an answer to this question.
Told from multiple points of view, Silver People recounts the story of the building of the Panama Canal. Engle gives voice to Jamaican and Cuban laborers, overseers, Panamanians, American politicians, and the animals, insects, and plants of the Canal zone. Everyone and everything’s experience is considered. Through the use of both fictional and historical characters, the book provides an excellent example of the ways in which primary source documents and historical and scientific research can be used in creative writing.
In Dr. Laura Harjo’s introduction to the LAII’s recent screening of the film Tambien la Lluvia, she talked about how the effects of colonialism can be seen through the commodification of human beings (such as through the use of slave labor and slave wages) and the deadening of land as it became property that could be owned. I can’t help but connect these ideas to Silver People. Through the voices of the laborers, overseers, engineers, and politicians, Engle brings to light the racism and White privilege that drove the construction of the Panama Canal. Consider the following told from Theodore Roosevelt’s perspective: “All around me, workers with shovels/ are making the mud fly, the white/ Americans supervising while black/ islanders dig, on hillsides/ so steep/ and unstable/ that it would be a real/ waste to risk wrecking valuable machines” (p. 96). The value of one’s life was determined by a racial hierarchy that sounds very similar to sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s contemporary work on the tri-racial system. The darker one’s skin, the more expendable his or her life was. The Canal laborers were further commodified as they became a tourist attraction: “Towering trees are chopped down/ to build more and more railroad tracks,/ and more gold houses, silver barracks,/ and fancy hotels, so that tourists/ can stare down in elegant safety/ from the high, sturdy rim/ of our danger” (p. 111). In the Author’s Note, Engle discusses the similarities between Canal Zone Apartheid and Jim Crow Laws. This is an important connection, as it not only contextualizes the Panama Canal through a (hopefully) more well-known US historical period, but also points to the way in which the US exports its racism.
One of the more unique pieces of Engle’s book is the very vivid way in which she shows the living nature of the land of Panama. I know my students would have really enjoyed reading from the point of view of the howler monkeys, the three-toed sloth, or the trees. The nature-based voices show the ecological devastation of the Canal’s construction. The wilderness areas of the country survived, but, as Engle shows, they suffered great harm in the process.
The hope is that when we use books like Silver People, where multiple points of view and perspectives are considered and given voice, we are creating opportunities for our students and readers to both reflect and develop empathetic responses as they increase their understanding of the complexities of our history. I’m also hopeful that the experience of reading books like Silver People helps our students to see the truth in statements like that of Augusto, who writes: “No one cares because no one knows. If our history is ever to be told, we must tell it ourselves. Like howlers in the forest, we must lift our voices about the noise of thunder and dynamite. Dear friends, amigos queridos, write your memories; help me howl our wild truth” (p. 250).
If you’ve had the chance to read Silver People, 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.
We also have Educator’s Guides available for each of Engle’s books that we’ve featured as part of our book group. The links below will take you to the classroom resources.
- The Surrender Tree
- The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist
- Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck
- Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings
Until next week,
Here’s our review of this month’s featured novel, Enchanted Air. I had such a great time discussing it with our book group last night. They loved it as much as I did! It’s a perfect book for this month’s focus on Women’s History, and may even give you some great ideas for April’s National Poetry Month.
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings
Written by Margarita Engle
Published by Atheneum Books For Young Readers, 2015
Age level: 12 years and up
In this poetic memoir, which won the Pura Belpré Author Award, acclaimed author Margarita Engle tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War.
Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not.
Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?
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
Age level: Adult
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.
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
Paint a mural. Start a battle. Change the world.
Sierra Santiago planned an easy summer of making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears… Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on.
With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one — and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family’s past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for generations to come.
Full of a joyful, defiant spirit and writing as luscious as a Brooklyn summer night, Shadowshaper introduces a heroine and magic unlike anything else in fantasy fiction, and marks the YA debut of a bold new voice.
Older’s Shadowshaper has received wide-acclaim, and after reading it, it’s easy to see why. There aren’t many books out there that do what this one does. I’m not sure I’ve ever read an urban fantasy book, certainly not for young adults. I also can’t think of a single fantasy book whose characters are based almost entirely on a group of urban youth of color. As we talk more and more about the need for authentic and quality diverse literature in the classroom, it’s easy to see why a book like this is so important. Continue reading