¡Mira, Look!: Con el sol en los ojos/ With the Sun in My Eyes

Image result for with the sun in my eyes jorge lujanSaludos todos! This week we are kicking off April with a wonderful, spring-timey book. Our themes for April are the Earth and nature in celebration of Earth Day and also poetry in celebration of National Poetry Month. Although not all of my books for this month will be able to combine both of these themes so nicely, this week’s book indeed does. Con el sol en los ojos/ With the Sun in My Eyes, written by an Argentinian poet, Jorge Lujan, and illustrated by an Iranian artist, Morteza Zahedi, is a lovely story (written as a collection of poems) about a young boy and girl who discover the world and all of its natural beauty: “In this book of short poems, a young boy and girl find wonder, magic, beauty and humor in everything around them.” Although this book at first glance may seem sweet and simplistic, the poetry can be difficult to understand for younger children and the degree of artistic license and creativity used in this book might make it more interesting and enriching for older children (years 9-12).

The book opens with a quote by Walt Whitman that can guide readers in their subsequent readings of the poems: “There was a child went forth every day,/ And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became.” This quote expresses the beautiful way in which children can become absorbed by their surroundings, and how the details of our environment, which sometimes allude us busy adults, are not lost on children and their wonderful creativity and imagination.

The first poem is told from perspective of one of the children as he describes the street where he lives and the trees surrounding his home: “My street is like the trunk of an almond tree/ that blossoms somewhere else./ Who knows if its roots reach down/ into the eastern sky./ Who knows if this house is a nest/ built between trunk and branch./ Who knows if at the tips of its branches/ mysterious fruits are ripening…/ Does anybody know?/ Who knows.” This short and sweet poem emphasizes themes of interconnectedness, as well as the supreme unknown about nature and its complex systems. This element of mystery emphasizes the awe of young children, but also the grandeur of the natural world. The comparison between a street (that is man-made) and an almond tree also shows how we cannot remove ourselves from the natural world, but must learn to live alongside it with respect.

Like with many poetry books for children, this book could be used in a lesson on poetry and writing poetry. However, this particular book could also be used with themes of nature, climate change, and eco-friendly habits. As our earth is consistently breaking record-high temperatures, ice caps are melting, and air pollution is affecting the health of people, especially children, it is important to teach our kids eco-friendly habits early on, and to raise awareness about how our everyday actions impact the earth. While this may be a somewhat difficult topic, using interesting and fun activities such as poetry and illustrations could be a way to render it more palpable for young children.

Zahedi’s simplistic but beautiful illustrations could also inspire lessons on art, such as illustrations to accompany the students’ poems. According to a review from Goodreads, “Once again Jorge Luján brings young readers a lyrical and joyful collection of poems. Morteza Zahedi’s powerful illustrations in densely saturated colors perfectly complement the poems’ subtle explorations.” Both the poetry and the illustrations in this lovely collection invite creativity, daydreams, imagination, and self-reflection. This collection is perfect for teachers looking to inspire the creative instinct of their students, while also teaching them about the natural world and the importance of preserving it.

For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, and finding ways to teach eco-friendly habits to children, here are some additional links:

Stay tuned for more great reads!

Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images Modified from: Con el sol en los ojos/ With the Sun in My Eyes pages 4, 7 9, 13, 14

¡Mira, Look!: Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre

Saludos todos! This week we are concluding our March theme of women and Women’s History Month with another great read. Last week I featured the Coleccion Antiprincesas, which provides readers with biographies of underrepresented and under-studied historical Latina heroines. This week, however, we are switching gears a bit, focusing more on the courage and determination of young girls in our everyday lives. The book for this week is Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre, written by Tom Luna and illustrated by Laura Alvarez. This wonderful story focuses on a young, female protagonist who has to learn how to navigate her complicated emotions in a difficult situation. Not only does this book show young readers how to cope with separation and heartache, it also counters stereotypes and challenges negative representations of women and girls by portraying a young girl whose empathy and emotional sensibility is not a flaw or a nuisance, but, ultimately, one of her greatest virtues.

This book tells the story of young Camila and her beloved abuelo, Felix, who lives far away in Veracruz, Mexico: “It had been two years since he left San Antonio to return home to Veracruz.” Camila reflects on the bittersweet memories of her grandfather playing his favorite guitar, the requinto, and how he would sing her lullabies when she was a little baby: “He had a deep beautiful voice and played the requinto with an almost angelic touch.” Although the plot following the female protagonist challenges typical, negative representations of women and girls, the character description of the grandfather also challenges expectations of men and boys. The grandfather is sensitive, artistic, loving and participates actively in caring for his grandchild, taking her on outings to the zoo and the park, to name a few, all the while singing or whistling tunes from Veracruz.

Although Camila misses her grandfather greatly, her parents say that they do not have enough money to afford a trip to Veracruz to visit him. However, one day, deciding to take matters into her own hands, young Camila hops on her bike determined to ride the 938 miles to Veracruz to see her dear grandfather: “‘I’m going to see Grandpa Felix in Veracruz,’ said Camila with a defiant stance.” As one would imagine, Camila’s mother quickly intervenes and tells her to come back home, that she can’t ride her bike all the way to Veracruz, but that one day they’ll have enough money saved up for a visit. Although Camila’s immediate solution to her grandfather’s absence is, of course, not one that I or parents and educators would likely recommend to their students, this scene does illustrate Camila’s determination and her willingness to try to solve her problem independently. This scene also serves as a contrast to Camila’s eventual, more reasonable solution to her feelings, showing readers Camila’s learning curve and her progress in figuring out both what her feelings are and what to do about them.

After her failed attempt at biking 938 miles to Veracruz, and her mother’s brief scolding, Camila decides that a more appropriate response might be to write a letter to her grandfather and ask him to be her pen pal. This solution is also one arrived at entirely by Camila herself, further emphasizing her independence and her ability to learn and navigate tough situations on her own: “She went into her room, pulled out her diary and decided then and there that she would write to her grandfather and ask him to write her back.” What I also particularly love about this scene is the mention of Camila’s journal-writing as a catalyst for her emotional development and decision-making. As an avid writer and “journaler” myself, I, too, have found this to be a very useful strategy in coping with tough situations, sorting out my thoughts and feelings, and figuring out how to proceed. Moreover, as the story continues in a somewhat epistolary format, composed of letters between Camila and her grandfather, teachers could conduct various lessons based on two forms of writing: first, letter-writing and the epistolary novel form, and, second, journal writing. As an exercise in writing and verbal expression, teachers could ask their students to write in a journal every day. Teachers could also conduct exercises in letter-writing and, especially for foreign language students, teach their students proper opening and closing statements, such as “Querido abuelo/ Dear grandpa.” This story is entirely bilingual, which is especially useful for comparing the letter-writing format between English and Spanish. In addition, the simplistic illustrations found within this book could also inspire students to create drawings of their own to accompany their journal entries or letters. As noted by a School Library Journal review, “Rough-hewn, heavily brushed paintings tracking Camila’s progress to adulthood and Grandpa’s to gray-haired old age accompany narrative passages of English over Spanish.” In this story, the prose is just as important as the illustrations in conveying the passing of time, and both Camila’s physical and emotional growth.

Towards the end of the story we see Camila grown up to be a young, 18-year-old woman. Her family still has not been able to save enough money to go to Veracruz, but Camila is determined to go nonetheless: “On the day Camila turned 18, she was in her room with photos of her grandfather all around. She was working now and saving her money. Her family never did go to Veracruz but Camila was saving to go on her own.” This scene again reinforces Camila’s agency and independence, her ability not only to work hard towards a self-determined goal, but also to eventually travel on her own.What I find especially powerful about this scene is the way in which it emphasizes “ambition” as not only working towards professional and academic goals, but also towards emotional and interpersonal goals. Oftentimes “emotional labor,” or the work that one puts into emotionally supporting others, is unconsciously expected of women while also being undervalued, unrecognized and unremunerated, in both the home and the workplace. This heartwarming scene emphasizes the hard work that Camila put into sustaining a relationship with her grandfather over the years, as well as her grandfather’s boundless joy and appreciation upon finally seeing her arrive in Veracruz (belated spoiler alert!).

All in all, this book is a wonderful resource for teaching a variety of subjects from writing and correspondence, to emotional development and maturity.  Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre challenges typical representations of gender roles through children’s literature, empowering both young girls and boys.

For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned to an introduction to our April themes and more great reads!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images Modified from Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre: Pages 7, 9, 14, 15, 21

¡Mira Look!: Conoce a Gabriela Mistral/ Get to Know Gabriela Mistral

Image result for conoce a gabriela mistralSaludos todos! This week we are starting our March theme of women in children’s literature, in celebration of Women’s History Month. Our book for this week is Get to Know Gabriela Mistral, written by Georgina Lazaro Leon and illustrated by Sara Helena Palacios. This bilingual book is part of a series of “Conoce a…/ Get to Know….” books that provide children with biographies of well-known, and sometimes lesser-known, Hispanic heroes.

Gabriela Mistral was a Chilean author and poet and she was the first Latin American author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945. Although Mistral is indeed very well-known within the literary community, outside of the literary community she is often eclipsed by some of her twentieth century male contemporaries, such as Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges. This informative story traces Mistral’s life, both her childhood and her work as a writer, and even introduces readers to some of her lovely poetry, ultimately putting the spotlight on a timeless woman, a Latin American hero and literary icon.

Gabriela Mistral was the Chilean author’s pseudonym and the story refers to the protagonist by her original name, Lucila. Young Lucila grew up in a small Andean village and at a young age her father “disappeared,” walking out on her mother and the family. Lucila lived with a sadness in her heart. She was timid, but pensive, sweet and always reading or writing: “And that’s how Lucila grew up: solitary, quiet and sometimes sad.” She started writing at a very young age, which when she adopted her pseudonym, Gabriela Mistral.

After her father’s disappearance, Lucila and her mother went to go live with her grandmother for a while. Lucila’s grandmother was a great inspiration to her, a strong and independent woman who served as her role model and even her muse for many of her poems: “This grandmother was a big, strong woman, strange and silent. She read the future in the stars and was very religious. She supported herself by embroidering ornaments for the church.” Growing up without her father, Lucila derived most of her support, guidance, and encouragement from the women in her life— her sturdy, inspirational grandmother, her compassionate mother, and her sharp older sister, who worked as a teacher in her town.

Each paragraph or page of this book is complemented by a quote or section from one of Gabriela Mistral’s poems. This wonderful narrative style not only exposes readers to examples of Mistral’s poetry, but also shows how her poetry was deeply influenced by and intertwined with her personal life. Leon pairs each paragraph with a section of Mistral’s poetry that bares similar themes to the part of her personal life being narrated in that moment. As a result, Mistral’s life experiences and identity, and her art are inseparable.

This narrative focuses primarily on Lucila’s childhood, the parts of her life that are most relevant and understandable for young readers. Readers can identify with her quirkiness, her solitude and even her early and persistent sadness. The story ends with Lucila all grown up working as a teacher: “She was a girl who was a teacher before she was a woman; a woman who without children of her own became the mother of all the children she taught, writing for them with such tenderness, sharing her message of love, peace, brother- and sisterhood. She was a woman who wrote for you and for all children, in the hope that you would learn to love words and enjoy them just as she did from a very young age.” Much of Mistral’s work reflected both her love of children and her strong feminist values. As Leon’s narrative also reflects, Mistral defined herself and her life primarily by her work, her craft, her intellect, and her dedication to helping children, rather than the gender roles that were expected of her as a woman.

This story makes a point of focusing most specifically on the ways in which Mistral’s life related to children, her own childhood and her work as a teacher, rather than on the other more esoteric aspects of Mistral’s life, her award-winning work, her political engagement in Chile and abroad, and her literary colleagues and collaborators. As such this story presents Mistral’s life and work as sources of inspiration and motivation for young children, an objective that many of us educators and bloggers here at Vamos a Leer can relate to: “She was a woman who wrote for you and for all children, in the hope that you would learn to love words and enjoy them just as she did from a very young age.”

For those of you interested in learning more about the author/illustrator, here are some additional links:

Stay tuned for more great reads about wonderful women!

Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images Modified from: Conoce a Gabriela Mistral/ Get to Know Gabriela Mistral, pages 4, 8, 11, 17

¡Mira Look!: Moví la mano/ I Moved my Hand

movi-la-manoSaludos todos! This week I will be reviewing Moví la mano/ I Moved my Hand, written by Argentinian author Jorge Lújan and illustrated by French artist Mandana Sadat, as our last January book on “unsung heroes.” So far this month I’ve reviewed children’s books that focus on heroic and fearless parents, lesser-known cultural icons, like Tito Puente, who were also active humanitarians, and brave firefighters whose invaluable work sometimes goes unnoticed. However, this week’s “unsung heroes” are children themselves.

la-mano-1Moví la mano/ I Moved my Hand tells the story of a young girl whose imagination, creativity and drive hold the power to change the world around her: “When a little girl moves her hand, she discovers the world and her power to change and create it anew.” Lújan’s story reads as a bilingual Spanish/English poem, complemented by Sadat’s stunning illustrations. Every one of the female protagonist’s actions, moving, shaking, stirring and swirling, to name a few, is met by a magical effect, the creation of a lake, finding the moon, and soaring through the sky. This fantastical narrative and its equally enchanting illustrations serve as a metaphor for the infinite potential at the hands of young children: “an empowering and inspiring tribute to children’s magical possibilities.” As a result, this beautiful book helps us honor and celebrate the infinite potential and imagination of young children, the “unsung heroes” of the future, as well as their magical ability to find and create beauty in the world around them.

la-mano-2The first two pages create a spread of two side-by-side illustrations showing the little girl standing in the middle of the living room in her pink tutu and her parents watching lovingly from the couch. The illustrations are done in black, white and gray hues with just a small splash of color for the girl’s tutu, her ballet slippers, and Lújan’s text. Already, this use of color and contrast shows how two distinct forms of art, the little girl’s dance and Lújan’s poetry, can light up a room, alter the ordinary, and dazzle an audience.

The meta-fictional dynamic found within this text— the parents portrayed as audience members for their daughter’s dance performance, and the story’s readers as audience members of Lújan’s narrative— exemplifies the ways in which children can be part of the audience, readers of this text, but also part of the performance, as dancers, writers, artists, or whatever they choose. On the following page, the protagonist’s imaginative journey and artistic performance take center stage, and the detailed, “real life,” black and white world starts to fade as additional splashes of color start to emerge. The image of her parents sitting on the couch, which previously occupied the entire first page, now appears as a silhouette in the distant corner of the next page. The presence of the girl’s parents in this story shows them as loving and supportive but also respectful of her independence and her ability to create things of her own.

la-mano-3As the story progresses, readers will notice more and more splashes of color as bright orange fish and rainbow unicorns appear against the black backdrop. As noted by Kirkus Reviews, the black backdrop serves as a canvas, a stage or a blank sheet of paper, waiting for the artist’s hand to take control: “Digitally collaged creatures done in colored pencil, ink and crayon interact with the precocious ballerina, who creates a universe with a wave of her hand…” All three forms of art found within this wonderful story— Lújan’s poetry, Sadat’s illustrations, and the protagonist’s dance— interact to create an enchanting mix of color, rhyme and movement.

Kirkus Reviews also notes the existentialist undertones of this picture book: “A tutu-clad child encounters existentialism through movement in this 47-word poem by award-winning Argentine poet Luján.” Although the basic tenets of existentialism—that one’s destiny is not predetermined, but, rather, reliant on one’s own independent actions—are surely too abstract for young children, when simplified and synthesized, as they are in this picture book, they serve as empowering reminders that children are in la-mano-4control of their lives, and capable of dreaming big. In addition, some of the actions described in the book appear rather simple and mundane, yet their reactions are grandiose and fantastical: “Toque la la luna y rodo en el cielo./ I touched the moon/ and it rolled through the night.” Just a gentle touch can set the moon traveling throughout the starry night. Again, this is a reminder of the infinite magic and potential waiting at the hands of children. A child’s actions, creations or ambitions don’t have to be monumental and sensational for their effects to be meaningful and magical.

la-mano-5The story ends with another two page spread mimicking the one found at the beginning of the book. After the protagonist’s journey she is welcomed home by the loving embrace of her two parents and her world has returned to its black and white palette. The following pages show the same living room, but now the lights have been turned off (the room is mostly shades of black and gray) and the family has presumably gone to bed. Out of the corner of the room emerges a rainbow unicorn who skips off across the black canvas, presumably in search of its own destiny. These final illustrations are shown without words, but they speak volumes nonetheless, reminding young readers that even once the day is done and they’ve gone to bed, the magic and beauty that they’ve contributed to this world lives on.

For those of you interested in learning more about the author and illustrator, here are some additional links:

Stay tuned for more great reads and an introduction to February’s themes!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images Modified from Moví la mano/ I Moved my Hand: Pages 2, 3, 8, 12, 13

January 27th | Week in Review

2017-01-27-01.png¡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!…”

– Our friends Teaching for Change posted Protests: Sites for Education and Organizing. “ … But from what I could see, there appeared to be little conscious effort to use those demonstrations as organizing tools in effective ways that were second nature to us back in the bad old days.”

— Latinos in Kid Litshared the Book Review: The Smoking Mirror by David Bowles. “David Bowles’s Pura Belpré honor book, The Smoking Mirror, is a fast-paced, masterful journey through Aztec mythology and pre-Columbian Mexican history.”

Lee and Low Books announced that Junior Library Guild is a sponsor for Multicultural Children’s Book Day. Andre Thorne VP of Marketing expressed, “We believe that every student should have access to terrific books that reflect the diversity of this nation”

Latinas for Latino Lit shared .R.J. Palacio and Meg Medina Talk Diversity and Children’s Books. Meg Medina shares her view on children and the importance of reading. She says, “I think if you’re in a school that doesn’t have Latino students you probably need my books more than anyone else. Because that may be the best chance those students have to meet and consider a story through the eyes of somebody who’s different than they are.”

– Lastly, here is an Open Letter to Teachers Everywhere shared by Teaching Tolerance. “Imagine the power of educators valuing dissent and affirming what students can achieve rather than magnifying what they can’t.”

Abrazos,
Alin Badillo


Image: Fireworks. Reprinted from Flickr user PsychaSec under CC©.

¡Mira, Look!: Fire! ¡Fuego! Brave Bomberos!

bomberosSaludos todos! We are continuing our theme of “unsung heroes” this week with Fire! ¡Fuego! Brave Bomberos!, written by Susan Middleton Elya and illustrated by Dan Santat.  This heartwarming and inspiring story celebrates the courageous firemen and women who put their lives at risk every day to keep their neighborhoods safe. As the fire squad rushes to attend to a burning house, and to rescue a gato (cat) from the menacing flames, the entire neighborhood crowds around, cheering and supporting their local firefighters, emphasizing themes of community, camaraderie and support.

As Kirkus Reviews notes in a review of the book, the theme of firefighters is not especially unique among children’s books; however, Elya’s story diversifies this common narrative by interspersing her rhythmic poetic prose with Spanish words. The context clues and illustrations help non-Spanish-speaking students understand the meaning of the Spanish vocabulary, but Elya has also included a glossary at the back of the book to further facilitate a novice reading of the text.

bomberos-1In addition, this story’s lead firefighter, the person who ultimately saves the gato from the house, is a firewoman, showing readers that women, too, can be firefighters and, more specifically, can be strong, brave and unafraid of getting their hands dirty: “Gato safely on the ground,/ kitty besos all around./ ‘You’re our hero!’ cheer los niños/ as they give the cat cariños./ Says Carlota, caked with grime,/ ‘At your service, any time.” The illustration shows Carlota beeming with pride at the center of a group of elated children. Her firefighter colleagues, both men and women, are shown in the background smiling proudly at Carlota’s success. This noticeable dynamic empowers women in more ways than one, showing readers that women can also be firefighters, but also showing readers how the work environment and the dynamics amongst colleagues in male-dominated professions don’t have to be filled with hostility or subtle forms of oppression. In other words, Carlota’s heroism shines through the community and the narrative, and is acknowledged and encouraged by her male colleagues. Furthermore, before Carlota begins climbing up the later to save the kitten, her male colleagues are excitedly volunteering for a chance to be a hero: “I’ll go. I’ll go. Let me try!” But Carlota interjects—“Hey, compadres, momentito! Let me save that poor gatito.” Again, Elya skillfully evokes a work dynamic where men and women work respectfully and successfully side by side, and women are offered equal opportunities at success.

bomberos-3 bomberos-2Kirkus Reviews also comments upon the success of Santat’s illustrations: “Santat’s illustrations also help to set this firefighter book apart. From the first page, he thrusts readers into the action with up-close views created with colored pencil, water on ink print, fire and Photoshop. His firefighters are real people with needs, interests and fears, who sweat and get dirty.” Indeed, Santat’s detailed illustrations humanize these brave firefighters who are sometimes overlooked or whose work is sometimes underestimated in our daily lives. Santat’s aesthetic details show readers the physical labor and strain of fighting fires, as well as the range of emotions—fear, adrenaline, pride—that run across the faces of these brave men and women as they keep their neighborhoods safe.

bomberos-4The final scene of the book also emphasizes the reality of work as a firefighter. Although the story focuses on a heart-warming moment of heroism, the daily life of firefighters is not always so thrilling, and often involves late-night calls, strange hours, and sleep-less nights: “Just as todos drift to sleep,/ Dispatch makes its noisy bleep./ Late-night fire call has begun. / ¡EMERGENCIA! 911!/ Off they go to fight un fuego–/ Brave bomberos. Hasta luego!” While this closing scene reminds readers of the tireless work of the brave bomberos, it is also a nice way to close the narrative—although the story has ended, the hard work of the bomberos continues on.

For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional links:

For more information about the author and illustrator, here are some additional links:

Stay tuned for more great reads!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images Modified from Fire! ¡Fuego! Brave Bomberos!: Pages 5, 8, 9, 16

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¡Mira Look!: Tito Puente, Mambo King/ Rey del Mambo

tito puenteSaludos todos! This week we are continuing our theme of unsung heroes, or lesser-known figures, with Tito Puente, Mambo King/ Rey del mambo, written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Rafael López. This lively book narrates the biography of renowned Puerto-Rican/New Yorker musician, Tito Puente, and the lasting impact that he has had on Hispanic-American heritage. Although Tito Puente was a beloved and iconic musician, he is not as well known outside of the Hispanic-American community.Tito Puente, Mambo King/ Rey del mambo is a bilingual picture book that is best for ages 4-7. It won the Pura Belpre Honor Book for illustration in 2014.

tito 1Brown and López have collaborated before to write My Name Is Celia (2004), a children’s book biography of Celia Cruz, the spectacular, Cuban jazz singer, and one of many iconic musicians with whom Tito Puente worked alongside. In the back of Tito Puente, Mambo King/ Rey del mambo, Brown includes a brief, non-fictional biography where she mentions Tito Puente’s many, star-studded collaborations: “He collaborated with the most famous Latin musicians of the twentieth century, including Machito, Santana, Willie Bobo, Gloria Estefan, La Lupe, and especially Celia Cruz.” Yet many of these names have gained more recognition in the U.S. than Tito Puente himself.

tito 2This wonderful, colorful story centers on a timeless Latino idol and the musical webs of talent, heritage and friendship that he spun. In general, this book focuses on the collaborations of inspirational Latino icons and their wonderful contributions to the world of music and the arts.

tito 5The brief biography provided by Brown also mentions Tito Puente’s humanitarian endeavors: “Tito founded the Tito Puente Educational Foundation, which offers scholarships to students to study music at the Juilliard School of Music. He wanted to inspire other young musicians to pursue their dreams.” In effect, Tito Puente is a particularly fitting Latino figure to feature both here on our blog, and in your classrooms, given his immense dedication to the lives, educations and creative spirits of young children. While Tito Puente spent much of his career collaborating and connecting with other prominent Latino musicians, that care and comradery that was such an integral part of his life and work lives on in the children whose lives he has touched.

tito 3These themes of community, care and shared heritage are wholly apparent not only in Tito Puente’s actual life story, but also in this book’s narration, and throughout the award-winning illustrations. According to a review from Kirkus Reviews: “Multihued swirls and plumes emanate from Tito’s timbales and drumsticks; Celia Cruz (a frequent collaborator) soars in a costume whose fuchsia feathers seem to morph from the sea green waves below.” Indeed, the radiant illustrations not only capture the melody and joviality of Tito Puente’s rhythms, but also the community and culture associated with music, the power of songs to bring people together, and the unifying heritage of moving lyrics, memorable beats, and inspirational figures. López’s warm palets, dazzling patterns and designs, and beaming faces capture Puente’s gifted ability to light up a room. In essence, Tito Puente’s music and Rafael López’s art, though very different in nature, breadth, and time, exemplify two different types of wonderful Latino art, and the comforting and convivial sensations that they can both inspire.

tito 4Through this lovely story, music appears as the narrative thread that runs through every scene and phase of Tito Puente’s life. This not only reflects the immense influence that music had on him, but also provides a consistent theme that can help young children follow the storyline more easily. In addition, the short and sweet, rhythmic syllables of the text will have young readers excitedly breezing through the literary challenge, bouncing from page to page as they exercise their novice reading skills. With Lopez’s vibrant illustrations, one can almost hear Puente’s contagious music, making readers want to dance and skip right through the text. As a result, this book could be especially useful for challenging younger, less-advanced readers, since the liveliness of the text would disguise a difficult task as a fun, light-hearted activity.

While the rhythm of the story is emotionally uplifting, many of the themes are equally inspirational and encouraging. The beginning of the story places quite a bit of emphasis on Puente’s childhood, banging “spoons and forks on pots and pans, windowsills and cans,” and creating beats that would resonate throughout his entire Spanish Harlem community. This focus on Puente’s early years is also important for young readers, who will identify with young Puente’s abounding creativity and ambitious dreams, and look to both his success and humility for inspiration. Children and adults alike can learn from Tito Puente’s life story, his persistent work ethic and resounding humanity. This book is a treat in more ways than one, educating young readers through a fun, light-hearted introduction to the history of Latin American music.

For those of you interested in learning more about the author and illustrator, here are some additional links:

For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional links:

Thank you for welcoming me back as a guest blogger this month!

Saludos,

Alice