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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¡Mira, Look!: Featured Author: Isabel Quintero

Vamos a Leer | ¡Mira, Look! Featured Author: Isabel QuinteroIsabel Quintero is the author behind the now relatively well-known Gabi, A Girl in Pieces. If you haven’t heard of it yet, just check out some of the award lists from the School Library Journal, the Tomás Rivera Book Award, YALSA, Booklist Best Books, and the Américas Award, among others.

Despite being a new author to the publishing world writ large, Quintero is not new to the field of writing. As she describes on her blog, she has been dedicated to writing poetry and fiction throughout her life. Writing is, in her words, “not a luxury. It is a necessity for my being, for my happiness. It makes me whole.” Not surprisingly, this fascination and dedication to the writing process seems to have permeated Quintero’s professional life. Cinco Puntos Press explains in her biography that she is
“an elementary school library technician and loves sharing her passion for the written word with students. She also teaches community college part time and works as a freelance writer for the Arts Connection of San Bernardino. Quintero works as events coordinator for Orange Monkey Publishing and assistant editor for Tin Cannon, a literary journal.”  Certainly a literary theme seems to run throughout her various roles in life. Continue reading

Book Review: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces
Written by Isabel Quintero
Published by Cinco Puntos Press 2014
ISBN:  1935955950
Age Level: 14 and up

Book Summary:

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.

July 24

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

My Thoughts:

Over the last six months rave reviews of Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, A Girl in Pieces were popping up everywhere. As excited as I was to finally read it, I was also a little hesitant. I didn’t want to be disappointed by expectations that were set too high. I had nothing to worry about. Told from Gabi’s point of view, the book is honest, authentic, endearing, and funny. I enjoyed the book so much that I was sad to see it end. I’m fairly certain that my neighbors may think I’m crazy now, as I sat on my porch cackling out loud as I read it. Continue reading

Book Review: Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood–Our Mexican Graffiti

"Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood," written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood is the story of one teenage boy’s coming-of-age, but at the same time, it’s so much more than that.  Denise Chávez explains, “Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood is our American Graffiti. No, that’s not right. It’s our Mexican Graffiti.”  It’s a statement about life—life as a Mexican teenager living in a small town in the United States in the late 1960s.  Sammy Santos lives in the Hollywood barrio of Las Cruces, New Mexico.  The novel is the story of his senior year of high school—the year he must deal with the violent death of his girlfriend, the reality of the enduring poverty of his family, the racist policies of his high school, and the consequences of the Vietnam War.  While set in the 1960s, it’s a book that I believe will speak strongly to our students today.  In fact, I wish I had read this book sooner, before my years as a middle school teacher.  I saw older versions of my students in its pages. Continue reading

¡Mira, Look!: ¡Sí, se puede! / Yes, we can!

I don’t mean to deluge you with endless ¡Mira, Look! postings, but I have one last tidbit to share with you before next week: ¡Sí, se puede! This is a particularly special book for me to post about, because the book’s illustrator, Francisco Delgado, is actually joining us next week in Albuquerque to lead a professional development workshop for teachers.  He’s going to present on “Teaching About the Border and Social Justice With Art” on Tuesday, April 10, 2012, from 5-8 p.m. at the LAII.  Talk about an exciting speaker!

Delgado’s work is broad, encompassing a range of community interests, social activism, education, and art.  ¡Sí, se puede! is indicative of those interests.  The book covers a serious topic (the “Justice for Janitors” strike that took place in L.A. April, 2000), with sensitivity.  Cinco Puntos Press, the book’s publisher, describes it with the following: “Carlitos’ mother is a janitor. Every night while he sleeps, his mother cleans in one of the skyscrapers in downtown L.A. One night, his mamá explains that she can’t make enough money to support him and his abuelita the way she needs to unless she makes more money as a janitor. She and the other janitors have decided to go on strike. Will he support her and help her all he can? Of course, Carlitos wants to help but he cannot think of a way until he sees his mother on TV making a speech in support of the strike. Finally, Carlitos knows how he can show his mamá how proud he is of her. He and the other children in his class make posters and Carlitos joins the marchers with a very special sign for his mom! Si, Se Puede! has an essay written by acclaimed author Luis J. Rodriguez about Dolores Sanchez, one of the women involved in the L.A. Janitor’s Strike. The book also has a poster with a poem by Rodriquez, and information about unions directed to grades 4-6.”

This book, much like The Streets Are Free, is an excellent resource for discussing social justice action and agency with your students.  Check it out through the Zinn Education Project, where there’s also a link to an article by Linda Christensen of Rethinking Schools talking about how to use the book in all grades!