Saludos todos and welcome to our first October book review!
As in the past several years, we’re using the month of October to reflect on the many ways in which death is honored, acknowledged, and remembered in different Latin American countries. Our monthly focus is prompted in part by the upcoming Día de los Muertos, but also more broadly by the seasonal shift into autumn – a time of transition and change.
Last year we used this opportunity to feature books that discussed Día de los Muertos celebrations and cautionary legends such as those about La Llorona. This year, however, we have decided to expand these themes to focus more loosely on death as a general concept — the experience of love and loss, the process of grief and healing, and, particularly, the ways in which educators can help students through these tough moments. This month our books will feature protagonists who experience grief, and identify books that explore the concept of death in different cultures. This last theme is the focus of today’s book, Light Foot/ Pies ligeros.
¡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.
– Blood Orange Press has begun a campaign to publish books where “people of color and Native communities can tell their own story.” If you want to support them, their project is titled #ReadInColor.
— 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 ©.
Saludos todos! Our book for this week is Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes, written by Juan Felipe Herrera and illustrated by Raúl Colón (the same illustrator from last week’s book, Tomás and the Library Lady). Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes won the Pura Belpré Honor Book award for narrative in 2015, and perfectly embodies this month’s endeavor of honoring exceptional Latinos in children’s literature, as well as in society as a whole.
Each chapter of this wonderful compilation of portraits narrates the life and work of a Latinx hero, ranging from iconic activists such as Dolores Huerta and César Chávez, to trail-blazing intellectuals such as Sonia Sotomayor and Tomás Rivera, to some of my own personal idols, such as contemporary singer Joan Baez and 1920s author Julia de Burgos.
As more and more people begin to talk about the need for diversity in our classroom curricula and literature, we must remember that diversity can’t exist just for diversity’s sake. Conversations in our classrooms around diversity can intentionally or unintentionally lead to the perpetuation of stereotypes and labels. As Colleen pointed out in last week’s post identity is complex. She asks an important question: 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? While we want to teach about the multitude of cultures, ethnicities, and races that make up our classroom, our nation, and our world, we also want to make sure that we are providing the space for our students to express and identity both their cultural background and their own uniqueness.
One way to accomplish this is to build a strong classroom community. It won’t happen overnight, but in the long run it’s always worth the time and effort. Lee and Low Books just shared a free unit on “Building Classroom Community Unit for Kindergarten.” Based on eight different read-aloud books, the lessons provide in-depth literacy engagement while also encouraging students to connect through sharing about themselves and learning about others. The lessons can be easily adapted for older children as well.
Saludos todos! This week we are taking the time to feature the renowned, Cuban-American author, Oscar Hijuelos, and his body of work. Like with our previous authors, we take this time to feature the breadth of the author’s collective oeuvre, as well as the more personal aspects of his life and legacy.
Oscar Hijuelos (1951-2013) is a Cuban-American author who wrote several adult and young adult books, mostly focusing on Latin American protagonists or themes. Hijuelos was the first Latino to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction when he was recognized for his 1989 novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, which was turned into a movie in 1992. Hijuelos also won the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature in 2000. Through his iconic work, Hijuelos endures as a prominent figure of Latino literature, describing the immigrant experience, questions of identity, and the many hurdles of communication, through witty and endearing prose.
A New York Times piece remembering Hijuelos after his death reflects upon the narrative style and insightful perspectives that appear throughout his novels:
In novels like “Our House in the Last World” (1983), which traces a family’s travails from Havana in 1939 to Spanish Harlem; “Mambo Kings,” about the rise and fall of the Castillo brothers, Cesar, a flamboyant and profligate bandleader, and his ruminative trumpeter brother, Nestor; and “The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien” (1993), about several generations of a Cuban-Irish family in Pennsylvania, he wrote about the non-native experience in the United States from a sympathetic, occasionally amused perspective and with a keen eye for detail in his period settings.
Saludos todos! This week we are continuing our themes of nature and environmental awareness with another great read. The book for this week is The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Aliona Bereghici. This book follows the life of renowned bird painter, Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874–1927), including his bicultural upbringing, his worldly travels, and his absolute love for birds. As some of you may remember from my previous post on Margarita Engle, she, too, is an avid bird-watcher, botanist and advocate for nature conservation and environmentalism. Written in Engle’s characteristic poetic style, this book celebrates the beauty of nature, and the pursuit of one’s dreams.
The book is divided up into a series of poems that read like prose, illustrating Engle’s classic, stylistic fusion. Every two pages there is a new title and with an artful use of enjambment and rhyme, Engle narrates the life and work of the wonderful bird artist. Engle, like with many of her other books, expertly combines art and imagination with nonfictional information that will undoubtedly educate young readers in more ways than one. According to a review by Good Reads, “Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874–1927) is now known as the father of modern bird art. He traveled with many scientific expeditions all over the world. His best-known works—paintings for habitat exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History in New York—are still beloved by visitors today. His art helped to encourage wildlife conservation, inspiring people to celebrate and protect the world of wings.” Indeed, Engle’s book joins in Fuertes’ mission of encouraging wildlife conservation and reveling in the beauty of our world’s diverse flora and fauna. Here at Vamos a Leer, we, too, would like to join in the choir and celebrate the natural habitats of the world, while inspiring readers and educators to participate in and encourage environmental conservationism and wildlife protection.
¡Feliz viernes a todos!
Thank you kindly for joining me again to read about our lovely planet this week! We have made it to April and Earth Day is just around the corner on the 22nd. Earth Day is important for many reasons, just one of which is to highlight the problems our environments are facing today as a result of our ever-changing climate. While Latin American countries are only responsible for a small amount of carbon emissions, the environments in Latin America appear to be among those most impacted by the changes. Because Latin America is a region full of diverse ecosystems, from rainforest to tropics and everything in between, the effects small changes to the climate have had in the region are particularly devastating. The Latin Times’ Susmita Baral compiled a slideshow that shows the environmental devastation in twenty Latin American countries as part of the article entitled “Earth Day 2015: Find Out What Environmental Problems 20 Latin American Countries Face.” Using this resource in class in the upcoming weeks will help illustrate the importance of taking action to preserve our environments, not just on April 22nd, but every day. We hope the slideshow will initiate the conversation in the classroom, and help bring real life changes to the foreground so students see the importance of taking action.
The next resource highlights three Latin American countries who have taken action to preserve their environments: Costa Rica, Brazil, and Mexico. Using these three countries as examples, discussions could focus on fossil fuels and their impact on the environment and alternative energy sources that are renewable and less detrimental. Considering Costa Rica, Brazil, and Mexico use many different kinds of renewable energy sources, like solar, wind, and hydro power, classroom discussion will be enriched with real life examples of such alternatives. While we frequently look to the Global South as an example of a developing or underdeveloped region of the world, this would be a great way to incorporate Latin America into the classroom in a positive light; as an example of forerunners in implementing renewable energy, of what policy changes that protect the environment should look like, and providing proof that renewable energy is accessible!
We hope these examples help illustrate the kind of environmental problems that make Earth Day so necessary. If nothing else, we hope you can use these resources in the classroom to provide depth and real life scenarios to your environmental and energy source discussions in the coming weeks.
With warmest wishes,
Image. Photo of Renewable Energy. Retrieved from Resource Lessons under CC.
Saludos todos! As many of you know, once a month we like to take the time to give special attention to our featured authors and their writing. This week we are featuring Edwidge Danticat, the prolific, inspiring author of many children’s, young adult, and adult books, whom many of you may also recognize from several of my previous ¡Mira, Look! posts. Danticat is originally from Haiti and her books often deal with the culture of Haiti and the immigrant experience, providing a wealth of information on the country’s history, culture and current events.
Here is a short synopsis from Goodreads of Danticat’s life and her abundant accomplishments:
Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti and moved to the United States when she was twelve. She is the author of several books, including Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah Book Club selection; Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist; and The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner. She is also the editor of The Butterfly’s Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States and The Beacon Best of 2000: Great Writing by Men and Women of All Colors and Cultures
Saludos, todos! Our featured book for this week is Sélavi / That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope, written and illustrated by Youme. This creative non-fiction book tells the story of young orphan children living in Haiti. Left parent-less due to fighting, violence, and poverty, these children band together and become a family of their own. This beautiful tale of love, compassion and goodwill narrates the real-life story of an orphan boy, Sélavi, and other children like him who created their own orphanage, extending a hand to all those other children in need. Eventually these same orphaned children began a radio show called Radyo Timoun, where they, to this day, advocate for children’s rights.
At the back of the book is an essay written by Edwidge Danticat, one of the most prominent and prolific contemporary Haitian writers, sharing some personal experiences and historical context to frame Youme’s story. As many of you know, we frequently feature Danticat’s books on our blog. In this particular essay, she notes that “My birthplace, Haiti, is a land of incredible beauty, but for many, it is also a place of great sadness.” Youme’s tale does a lovely job of embodying these two dualities—the laments of many of Haiti’s children, as well as their inspiring courage, hope and beauty.
Danticat also shares some historical facts: “In 1804, the slaves (of Haiti) revolted and won their independence, making Haiti the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere. Along with the American Revolution, Haiti’s was the only successful rebellion in North America.” Danticat’s essay continues with additional information on both Haiti’s history and contemporary Haiti, contributing a valuable component to this story and especially to the use of this story in the classroom. Finally, Danticat’s essay concludes with one final wish: “Being a child of Haiti myself, I can only hope that Sélavi’s story will be repeated in the lives of many other children, among them future writers, radio and television journalists, who will continue to tell—and show—their stories in such moving and powerful ways that the rest of the world will no longer be able to neglect them.” Youme’s story is one attempt at elevating and drawing attention to these children’s powerful stories. Continue reading