Saludos todos! This week we are concluding the month of March, Women’s History Month, with a sweet, heart-warming tale about a girl, her grandma, and the company of a pet parrot. This week’s book, Mango, Abuela and Me (ages 4-7), written by Meg Medina and illustrated by Angela Dominguez, narrates the beautiful relationship between two generations of women, and the way in which their love and familial bond ultimately surmounts their linguistic and cultural barriers. When the protagonist, Mia’s “far-away Abuela,” comes to live with them in the United States, Mia has to find a way to establish a relationship with her grandmother. Despite Mia’s Spanish not being good enough “to tell her the things an Abuela should know,” and Abuela’s English being “too pequito,” the two find a way to surpass these difficulties and conquer intercultural barriers through love, loyalty, and creativity. While exploring the intercultural challenges that many bicultural children face, this story also celebrates the day-to-day influence of positive, loving women in the lives of young children. Although many of our previous books for this month focused on extolling and celebrating larger-than-life women, this book takes us to a more familiar place: the sweet and simple experiences of an intergenerational family.
The beginning of the story introduces Mia’s Abuela who comes to stay with the family, “leaving behind her sunny house that rested between two snaking rivers.” Although her home country is never named, readers can assume by her knowledge of Spanish that she is from Latin America. Additionally, the description of water and a warm climate may lead readers to assume that she is specifically from the Caribbean. Nonetheless, the lack of specificity enables a variety of readers from a variety of backgrounds to identify with Mia and her “far-away” Abuela. Although, of course, the immigrant experience is different for everyone, this book captures many of the familiar struggles of adapting to a new language and new home. Even I, for example, having a grandmother who lives in France, can identify with this story and the perplexing contradictions of familial closeness and cultural dissonance.
Saludos, todos! This week we are featuring Doña Flor: A Tall Tale about a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart, written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Raúl Colón. This wonderful story falls perfectly in line with this month’s theme of Women’s History Month, focusing on positive representations of women in children’s literature and our appreciation for the women in our every-day lives. With Doña Flor, Mora narrates the story of a giant, benevolent woman, literally aggrandizing and extolling the female protagonist. Doña Flor challenges many unfortunate yet common ideas—that women should take up less space, speak less loudly and opine less frequently—by featuring a goddess-like woman who is unapologetically large and undeniably cherished. In effect, Mora’s story captures a childlike perspective of awe and admiration, reminding readers of the larger-than-life women in their own lives.
Doña Flor: A Tall Tale about a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart (ages 6-8) is a “tall tale” that uses a series of hyperboles to create an exaggerated and fantastical story. Doña Flor is a beloved member of her community, assisting all her friends and neighbors in any way she can. She carries the children on her back when they’re late to school; she makes giant-sized tortillas for everyone to eat, and always functions as a conciliatory, amiable force amongst the village people. And, finally, when a little mountain lion frightens the village by roaring into a hollowed out log, the fearless Doña Flor finds the cat, makes him purr and smile instead of roar and menace, and ultimately teaches him how to get along with the other village animals and people.
Saludos, todos! This week we are featuring Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López. As some of you may remember, we recently featured Margarita Engle in our Author’s Corner, where we gave you some biographical information, as well as some resources for exploring and teaching some of her works in young adult and children’s literature. In Drum Dream Girl, Engle does not cease to amaze us yet again. With Drum Dream Girl (ages 3-8) we continue our March celebration of Women’s History Month and our theme of women’s rights and experiences in children’s literature, by focusing on the story of a lesser-known historical figure. Through her beautiful poetic prose, Engle tells the biographical tale of a young, Cuban girl who counters gender norms in order to become one of Cuba’s most iconic female drummers.
López’s stunning illustrations complement Engle’s lyrical prose in a culmination of female empowerment and pride. As illustrator López dedicates the book to his “architect mother, Pilo, whose courage opened the ceiling above her dreams,” readers are reminded of the strength and brilliance of older generations of women, paving the way towards freedom and rights for younger generations. This book strongly resonates with the legacy of women’s rights and empowerment throughout history, in the Americas and beyond.
Drum Dream Girl is based on the true story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl living in the 1930s who successfully struggled against the social stigma for female drummers, becoming one of Cuba’s great, historic musicians. Engle narrates the tale through concise, lyrical writing, consistent with her style of fusing poetry and prose: “But everyone/ on the island of music/ in the city of drumbeats/ believed that only boys/ should play drums/ so the drum dream girl/ had to keep dreaming/ quiet/ secret/ drumbeat/ dreams.” This style is both easy for younger readers to follow and digest, and lyrically pleasing for older readers or adults.
Saludos todos! Welcome to this month’s first blog post! Throughout the month of March we will be celebrating Women’s History Month by focusing our attention on wonderful women in history, literature and our every-day lives. More specifically, this month we will feature books about female icons in Latin America, the representation of women in indigenous folklore, and the every-day experiences of female protagonists in works of children’s literature. These books will celebrate the life and role of women in societies across the Americas, and the enduring inspiration of women’s history. Furthermore, with this month’s theme, we aim to diversify our understanding of Women’s History Month by focusing on timeless female icons and heroic activists, but also on the every-day women who have sustained life, love and culture over the years. Women worthy of recognition are all around us and this month we celebrate their infinite contributions.
We are starting the month off with Fiesta Femenina, Celebrating Women in Mexican Folktale, written by Mary-Joan Gerson and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez. In this collection, Gerson has compiled a series of Mexican folktales, drawing from Maya, Aztec, Mixtec and Yaqui traditions. The tales have been selected for their strong female protagonists, in an effort to highlight the role of women in Mexican folklore. Gerson explains her intentions in the introduction of the book: Continue reading
Written by Daniel José Older
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015
Age Level: 12 and up
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
¡Saludos, todos! Here is our second book for this month, again following the themes of civil rights and child activism. Our book for this week, That’s Not Fair! / ¡No Es Justo!: Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice/La lucha de Emma Tenayuca por la justicia, is a bilingual book written by Carmen Tafolla and Sharyll Tenayuca and illustrated by Terry Ybáñez. This compelling tale, best for grades 2-6, recounts the biographical story of Emma Tenayuca, a young, Mexican-American activist. This book is an excellent contribution to our effort to diversify the immigrant narrative, as it exposes not only the initial hardships of immigrating to the U.S., but also the myriad of injustices and human rights abuses that have existed and still do exist for Mexican-Americans upon arrival in the U.S. Emma Tenayuca, from a very young age, recognizes the importance of education and the unfairness of the society around her. Her sympathetic viewpoint, coupled with a focused desire to redress wrongs, leads her to become a pioneer for Mexican-American rights in the U.S.
The illustrations nicely complement the themes of the story, the rights of Mexican-American laborers and pecan-shellers, and reinforce Emma’s bold agency throughout. In a review of the book, Beverly Slapin of De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children, comments upon the illustrations: “Ybáñez’s full-bleed double-spread illustrations, rendered in watercolor and pen-and-ink on a palette of bold, flat colors with bright highlights, are reminiscent of traditional Mexican murals. While Emma’s red sweater on almost every page focuses the reader’s attention on the subject, the pecan trees and branches that frame each illustration focus the reader’s attention on the issue.” Indeed, the illustrations, as you can seen in the image to the right, subtly show images of trees (the border) and pecans (the illustration on the back wall), reminding readers of the issues at hand. Continue reading
Saludos, todos, and welcome back to our weekly book reviews! Now that we have all had some time to rest during the holidays, we are ready to delve into the spring semester with an especially powerful January theme: civil rights. Throughout the month we will focus on books about child activists and the ways in which young children can make a difference in the world. These books are inspiring to say the least, and will motivate any reader of any age to stand up for a cause that they believe in. Additionally, these books empower children and adolescents, reinforcing many of our values and objectives here at Vamos a Leer.
This week I will be reviewing Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation, written by Edwidge Danticat and illustrated by Leslie Staub. This book, best for ages 5-8, tells the story of a Haitian, immigrant family in the U.S. and a young girl who, amidst pain and separation, finds solace in her mother’s tales. As the protagonist overcomes some difficult challenges, she also learns to recognize the power of her own words.
The story centers on Saya, who is struggling with the separation from her mother, who has just been sent to “Sunshine Correctional” for not having “the right papers”. The name of the prison where Saya’s mom is being held reflects the practice of sugar-coating the real traumas that immigration laws and the separation of families inflict. In Danticat’s Author’s Note at the back of the book, she explains how this story is largely inspired by her own experiences as a child in Haiti dealing with the trauma of separation from her parents who moved to the U.S. Her parents tried to send for her and her brother, but could never succeed for they lacked “the right papers”. Danticat explains that she was always fascinated by “the idea of having the right papers” and how this abstract platitude weighed on many of her childhood memories: “As children in Haiti, my brother and I sometimes played writing games, making up passports, visas, and other documents that might one day reunite us with our parents.” Additionally, Danticat writes, “According to the Unites States’ Enforcement (ICE), the people Saya refers to as the immigration police, over 70,000 parents of American-born children have been jailed and deported in recent years. This book is dedicated to those children, who, like Saya, are dreaming of the day when their mother, or father, or both parents, will come home.” Danticat recreates her own childhood memories while infusing the story with elements of action, hope and change.
Saludos, todos! This week we will be showcasing the life and work of Daniel José Older, author of this month’s Featured Book, Shadowshaper. Shadowshaper has been hailed as one of the best new urban fantasies, and lauded for its diverse protagonists. However, Older is a man of many trades and, aside from his career as a young adult novelist, he is also a musician and composer. Older also spent nearly a decade working as a New York City paramedic, and he has turned some of the dispatches and memories from those years into creative non-fiction pieces, or “Ambulance stories.” Older’s time spent as a paramedic exposed him to a variety of social conditions and narratives, which, presumably, have influenced the political and sociological aspects of his creative work. His imaginative fantasy is grounded by real-world social critiques and commentaries. Older lives in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, which is also where his most recent novel, Shadowshaper, takes place.
According to a review of Shadowshaper by The New York Times, “In the best urban fantasy, the city is not just a backdrop, but functions as a character in its own right, offering up parallels between personal histories and histories of place. That is certainly true in Daniel José Older’s magnificent ‘Shadowshaper,’ which gives us a Brooklyn that is vital, authentic and under attack.” Indeed, Older’s own Brooklyn hometown emerges as a dynamic character full of artistic wonders and sociopolitical complexities, such as gentrification and racism. Continue reading
¡Saludos, todos! This week I will be reviewing The First Tortilla, written by Rudolfo Anaya, illustrated by Amy Córdova, and translated into Spanish by Enrique R. Lamadrid (one of our professors here at UNM!). This book review will conclude our November-themed books, as next week we turn our attention to our December discussions on winter celebrations. For now, though, we are focusing on this lovely, bilingual retelling of a Mexican legend, keeping in tune with our themes of food and family, as well as indigenous traditions. This story, with stunning illustrations and an endearing female protagonist, depicts the harvest season amongst a small, Aztec tribe. Readers will revel in the old legend, while learning of the need to respect nature and its resources. For those of you avid blog-readers, this review will surely remind you of some of our previous reviews on other works by Rudolfo Anaya, and his retellings of old myths and legends.
Best suited for ages 9-13, Anaya’s work tells the fictional tale of how a young girl’s courage saves her village from a terrible drought, and introduces corn to the peoples of Mesoamerica. Ultimately, the discovery of corn also leads to the creation of “the first tortilla“. The old legend, as well as Anaya’s rendition, reminds readers and listeners of the importance in giving thanks, and appreciating the land and the sustenance that it provides. Continue reading
“Though we tremble before uncertain futures/ may we meet illness, death and adversity with strength/ may we dance in the face of our fears.”
― Gloria E. Anzaldúa
Saludos, everyone! This week I will be reviewing another rendition of the Hispanic legend of La Llorona, continuing to draw from this month’s themes. Our featured book for the week is Prietita and the Ghost Woman, written by Gloria Anzaldúa and illustrated by Christina Gonzalez. Anzaldúa creates a feminist adaptation of the Hispanic legend by featuring strong, female protagonists, and portraying La Llorona as a benevolent spirit, rather than a haunting ghost. The female relationships in the story are loving and respectful, and women of all different ages look out for each other in a lovely constellation of female alliances.
The story is written in English with a Spanish translation on each page, as well as Spanish words peppered throughout the English text. When interspersing Spanish words, Anzaldúa has taken care to provide translations or context clues for English-language readers. For example, when Prietita asks Doña Lola for help, Doña Lola replies, “I’m sorry, mijita, I’m sorry, my child, but I’ve used up all the ruda I had and none of the neighbors grow it.” Continue reading