10 Children’s and YA Books Celebrating Latinx Poetry and Verse

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Hello all –

I am thrilled to be celebrating National Poetry Month with you!  As with many of you, poetry holds a dear place in my heart.  As a young person, I recall writing poem after poem and finding such liberation in exploring my voice, playing with syntax and line breaks, and testing out vocabulary that had yet to find a place in my daily life.  Poetry allowed for a freedom and creativity that was unmatched in other mediums.  And because of this, I believe that writing poetry enables us to develop our own voice, author our own truths, and honor our own experiences; all of which play an integral part in a young person’s social, emotional, and cognitive development.

Needless to say, there is absolutely room for poetry in both formal and informal settings.  I was introduced to poetry in the classroom and not long after, I carried it with me into my home.  For this, I am entirely grateful to those teachers.  For those of you who are not sure how to introduce poetry into your classroom or simply would like new ideas, please check out the Academy of American Poets website.  You will find a wealth of resources, including: information about National Poetry Month, ideas for how to celebrate, as well as easily searchable lessons plans for elementary through high school aged students.  I also invite you to check out the work that Vamos a Leer has done around poetry.  For starters, you can find an excellent resource that Katrina has compiled in her En la Clase post titled, Rhythm and Resistance: Teaching Poetry for Social Justice.  Additionally, this month’s Reading Roundup will highlight several previous Vamos a Leer posts which both focus on poetry and provide information about authors, activity ideas, and other relevant content.  Here’s to making this month an extra special one for your students and/or children!

Happy reading and writing everyone!

Colleen

Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates risueños y otros poemas de primavera
Written by Francisco X. Alarcón
Illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez
Published by Children’s Book Press
ISBN: 978-0892391998
Age level: Ages 6-11

Description (from Good Reads):

Tomatoes laugh, chiles explode, and tortillas applaud the sun! With joy and tenderness, delight and sadness, Alarcón’s poems honor the wonders of life and nature: welcoming the morning sun, remembering his grandmother’s songs, paying tribute to children working in the fields, and sharing his dream of a world filled with gardens. Artist Maya Christina Gonzalez invites us to experience the poems with her lively cast of characters–including a spirited grandma, four vivacious children, and playful pets who tease and delight. Follow them from page to page as they bring each poem to colorful life. Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems is a verbal and visual treat, giving us twenty opportunities to see everything for the first time.

My thoughts:

This is not the first time that Alarcón’s Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates risueños y otros poemas de primavera has been featured on the Vamos blog.  In 2015, Lorraine wrote an excellent ¡Mira Look! post that offers a well-rounded overview of the book as well as thoughtful resources for the classroom!  Here, I would like to say that I am happy to re-feature this award-winning, bilingual work.  Not only are the themes of family and nature always in season, this is an excellent way to introduce poetry to young readers.  Happy (re)reading!

Round is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes
Written by Rosanne Thong
Illustrated by John Parra
Published by Chronicle Books
ISBN: 9781452106168
Age level: Ages 3-5

Description (from Good Reads):

Round are tortillas and tacos, too Round is a bowl of abuela’s stew. In this lively picture book, children discover a world of shapes all around them: Rectangles are ice-cream carts and stone metates, triangles are slices of watermelon and quesadillas. Many of the featured objects are Latino in origin, but all are universal in appeal. With rich, boisterous illustrations, a fun-to-read rhyming text, and an informative glossary, this playful concept book will reinforce the shapes found in every child’s day!

My thoughts:

Although Thong’s Round is a Tortilla does not fall within the “traditional” likeliness of a poetry book –its lyrical nature and playful use of words makes for a perfect fit to this month’s theme.  As Katrina writes in her En la Clase post, the book “really inspire[s] the reader to be fully aware of all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures around them;” skills that are essential for any developing poet.  Additionally, within Katrina’s post you will find some excellent ways to link this (and Thong’s other highly recommended book, Green is a Pepper) to poetry.  For an overview of both Round is a Tortilla and Green is a Pepper, head on over to Lorraine’s review!

Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra
Written by Jorge Argueta
Illustrated by Lucía Ángela Pérez
Published by Groundwood Books
ISBN: 978-0888996268
Age level:  Ages 5-8

Description (from Good Reads):

Tetl’s skin is brown, his eyes are black, and his hair is long. He’s different from the other children, whose taunts wound him deeply, leaving him confused and afraid. But Tetl’s grandmother knows the ancient teachings of their Aztec ancestors, and how they viewed the earth as alive with sacred meaning. With her help, he learns to listen to the mountains, wind, corn, and stones. Tetl’s journey from self-doubt to proud acceptance of his Nahuatl heritage is told in a series of powerful poems, beautifully expressed in both English and Spanish. Vivid illustrations celebrate nature’s redemptive powers, offering a perfect complement to the poignant story.

My thoughts:

I am always a fan of Argueta’s work and Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra is no exception.  This masterfully written and colorfully illustrated bilingual book of poetry focuses on self-love and nature.  What I find to be particularly valuable about this book, however, is that it challenges dominant ideas of what is considered acceptable and ‘the norm.’  This books invites us to look within ourselves to discover who we are and love ourselves not despite this, but because of this!  This book is also a great way to explore the theme of (de)colonization.  For more ideas on how to incorporate this theme and get a general sense of the book, please see Lorraine’s ¡Mira Look! post.

Somos como los nubes/We Are Like the Clouds
Written by Jorge Argueta
Illustrated by Alfonso Ruano
Published by Groundwood Books
ISBN: 978-1554988495
Age level: Ages 7-12

Description (from Good Reads):

Why are young people leaving their country to walk to the United States to seek a new, safe home? Over 100,000 such children have left Central America. This book of poetry helps us to understand why and what it is like to be them.

This powerful book by award-winning Salvadoran poet Jorge Argueta describes the terrible process that leads young people to undertake the extreme hardships and risks involved in the journey to what they hope will be a new life of safety and opportunity. A refugee from El Salvador’s war in the eighties, Argueta was born to explain the tragic choice confronting young Central Americans today who are saying goodbye to everything they know because they fear for their lives. This book brings home their situation and will help young people who are living in safety to understand those who are not.

Compelling, timely and eloquent, this book is beautifully illustrated by master artist Alfonso Ruano who also illustrated The Composition, considered one of the 100 Greatest Books for Kids by Scholastic’s Parent and Child Magazine.

My thoughts:

As mentioned above, I am a fan of Argueta!  In a time when migration and borders are the forefront of everyone’s minds, this book feels particularly salient.  Undoubtedly, it challenges much of the political rhetoric around those who make their way into the US by humanizing and articulating the realities of why people immigrate.  The verses are simple, yet extraordinarily powerful.  Additionally, Alfonso Ruano’s artwork is simply captivating.  For a more in depth review of Somos como los nubes/We Are Like the Clouds, head on over to the Kirkus Review.

Poesía eres tú
Written by F. Isabel Campoy
Illustrated by Marcela Calderón
Published by Santillana USA
ISBN: 978-1631139642
Age level: Ages 7-10

Description (from Amazon):

For decades, F. Isabel Campoy has been delighting us with her poetry in various publications. Here, we can enjoy all of it. An endless party!

My thoughts:

I am sure that many Vamos readers are familiar with the award winning author and educator, F. Isabel Campoy.   Being fairly new to the field of children’s literature, I am just beginning to familiarize myself with her work – and I am delighted to be doing so!  Campoy’s Spanish language poetry anthology, Poesía eres tú, is diverse in themes; playful in sound, cadence, and rhythm; and rich in colorful art!  You can find a sampling of some of the poems at the publisher’s, Santillana USA, website.  I also encourage you to explore Campoy’s website, where you will find a wealth of books that she has both written and co-written (with Alma Flor Ada, below) in English, Spanish, and both!

Todo es una canción
Written by Alma Flor Ada
Illustrated by Maria Jesus Alvarez
Published by Alfaguara Infantil
ISBN: 978-1616051730
Age level:  Ages 7 and up

Description (from Santillana USA):

This delightful book gathers a selection of the most notable poems written by Alma Flor Ada—Latina writer, teacher, and passionate advocate for bilingual and bicultural education in the U.S. Organized by curriculum themes, this anthology is a fundamental tool for teachers who rely on imagination, play, and creativity to expand concepts and to enrich students’ vocabulary. Some of the themes included in the anthology are the parts of the body, numbers, vowels, family, animals, the city and the countryside, food, nature, bilingualism, and much more.

My thoughts:

Similar to F. Isabel Campoy, I am just beginning to discover the prolific writings of author, poet, and educator Alma Flor Ada.  Todo es una canción, an anthology of Ada’s poems, has been a great way to get acquainted!  The Spanish language book offers educators a variety of themes to work with in the classroom and young readers a wealth of ideas for writing their own poems.  And in case you are in need of additional education resources (who isn’t?) please head over to her website and explore videos, activity pages, and learn about the other books she has authored, or co-authored (with F. Isabel Campoy)!

Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the United States
Edited by Lori Marie Carlson with Introduction by Oscar Hijuelos
Published by Square Fish
ISBN: 978-1250016782
Age level: Ages 8-12

 Description (from Good Reads):

Here are the sights, sounds, and smells of Latino culture in America in thirty-six vibrant, moving, angry, beautiful and varied voices, including Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisneros, Luis J. Rodríguez, Gary Soto, and Martín Espada.

Presented in both English and Spanish, each poem helps us to discover the stories behind the mangoes and memories, prejudice and fear, love and life–how it was and is to grow up Hispanic in America….

My thoughts:

For exploring poetry with older readers, educators will find Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the United States to be an invaluable collection.  This bilingual book of poetry brings together diverse voices from the Latin@ community with writings that invite adolescent and older readers to think about their own stories of growing up.  Overall, I really enjoyed the poetry within this book.  I do, however, think this book may be more appropriate for 12 and up, as some of the poems are more mature in content – despite the indicated age level of 8-12.  What are your thoughts?

CrashBoomLove: A Novel in Verse
Written by Juan Felipe Herrera
Published by University of New Mexico Press
ISBN: 978-0826321145
Age level: Grades 9-12

Description (from Good Reads):

In this novel in verse–unprecedented in Chicano literature–renowned poet Juan Felipe Herrera illuminates the soul of a generation. Drawn from his own life as well as a lifetime of dedication to young people, CrashBoomLove helps readers understand what it is to be a teen, a migrant worker, and a boy wanting to be a boy.

Sixteen-year-old Cesar Garcia is careening. His father, Papi Cesar, has left the migrant circuit in California for his other wife and children in Denver. Sweet Mama Lucy tries to provide for her son with dichos and tales of her own misspent youth. But at Rambling West High School in Fowlerville, the sides are drawn: Hmongs vs. Chicanos vs. everybody vs. Cesar, the new kid on the block.

Precise and profound, CrashBoomLove will appeal to and resonate with high school readers across the country.

A California farmworker kid’s season in hell, told through fast-verse lines that careen to the beat of a fiery heart.

My thoughts:

As Katrina writes in her En la Clase post, novel in verse is an excellent way to introduce young people to poetry.  Juan Felipe Herrera’s book, CrashBoomLove: A Novel in Verse, is a great option.  The narrative, featuring a male protagonist, offers a glimpse into the challenges of being a young person when there is a lot going on around you.  The themes – along with the element of grittiness – are certainly something that my younger self would have appreciated reading about.  Additionally, it is novels (in-verse) such as these that can further encourage young people to reflect on their own stories, their own experience, and their own surroundings; prompting their creative ability to think of their lives in poetic terms.  Consider including this one on shelves if it’s not already!

Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics
Written by Margarita Engle
Illustrated by Rafael López
Published by Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-0805098761
Age level: Ages 8-12

Description (from Good Reads):

Musician, botanist, baseball player, pilot—the Latinos featured in this collection come from many different countries and from many different backgrounds. Celebrate their accomplishments and their contributions to a collective history and a community that continues to evolve and thrive today!

Biographical poems include: Aida de Acosta, Arnold Rojas, Baruj Benacerraf, César Chávez, Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, Félix Varela, George Meléndez, José Martí, Juan de Miralles, Juana Briones, Julia de Burgos, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Paulina Pedroso, Pura Belpré, Roberto Clemente, Tito Puente, Ynes Mexia, Tomás Rivera

My thoughts:

Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics, written by Margarita Engle is a unique look into the lives of influential and inspiring Latin@s.   Like many of the books on this list, Bravo! can serve multiple purposes.  Not only does it introduce poetry, it also teaches about people that are often overlooked in our school text books.  I certainly learned about several people that I did not know about, including botanist, Ynés Mexía, from Mexico and arms dealer, Juan de Miralles, from Cuba.  Rafael López’s artwork is also stunning!

Under the Mesquite
Written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Published by Lee & Low Books
ISBN: 978-1600604294
Age level: Ages 14-17

Description (from Good Reads):

Lupita, a budding actor and poet in a close-knit Mexican American immigrant family, comes of age as she struggles with adult responsibilities during her mother’s battle with cancer in this young adult novel in verse.

When Lupita learns Mami has cancer, she is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of her close-knit family. Suddenly, being a high school student, starring in a play, and dealing with friends who don’t always understand, become less important than doing whatever she can to save Mami’s life.

While her father cares for Mami at an out-of-town clinic, Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. As Lupita struggles to keep the family afloat, she takes refuge in the shade of a mesquite tree, where she escapes the chaos at home to write. Forced to face her limitations in the midst of overwhelming changes and losses, Lupita rediscovers her voice and finds healing in the power of words.

Told with honest emotion in evocative free verse, Lupita’s journey toward hope is captured in moments that are alternately warm and poignant. Under the Mesquite is an empowering story about testing family bonds and the strength of a young woman navigating pain and hardship with surprising resilience.

My thoughts:

Under the Mesquite, written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, has been highlighted several times on the Vamos blog throughout the years.  With good reason, too!  Winner of the Pura Belpré Award, this novel in verse is a riveting read and great way to introduce and encourage poetry with high school aged readers.  Here, I would like to turn to Katrina’s thoughts on the book from 2013, because they are just as applicable and meaningful today:

Under the Mesquite is a beautiful book.  While it was a quick read, it lingered in my mind.  I found myself continuing to think about it days after I’d finished it.  It’s a book that is certainly worth a second (or even third) read.  The first time through I was engrossed in the story, only subconsciously aware of the beauty and simplicity of McCall’s verse. When I returned to the  novel later, I found myself incredibly moved by the imagery and sentiments conveyed through McCall’s words.  I think Lyn Miller-Lachmann describes it best in her own review: “. . .one of the most achingly beautiful novels I’ve read in a long time. It is a story from the heart, not written to fit into a marketing category but to remember, to honor, and to bear witness.”

October 14th | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! Here is the latest Week in Review:

– Our friends at Lee & Low Books posted on their blog an Alternative History Book List. The list is part of acknowledging Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day, for which, they write, “we are offering a series of blog posts that look at pieces of history that have been hidden, silenced, altered, or swept under the rug.”

Teaching Tolerance shared on their Facebook page The Problem with Columbus ‘Discovering’ America. “The idea of a holiday to celebrate the people who lived in the Americas before Christopher Columbus ever set foot there got its start in the 1970s.”

Teaching for Change recommended on their Facebook page the new children’s book “Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds.” By Jorge Terl Argueta and illustrated by Alfonso Ruano. The book “describes the challenges of leaving one’s homeland and the journey north.”

–Also, Lee & Low Books shared  a piece by one of our favorite authors, Guadalupe García McCall, in which she discusses reasons why some History is Not on Text Books.

–Thanks to our friends at the Tulane University’s Stone Center, we discovered Google’s latest Arts and Culture initiative: the Latino Heritage and Cultures project, which offers a wide range of resources, “from ancient artifacts to contemporary street art, [to] explore the depth and diversity of Latino cultures.”

– Lastly, Rethinking Schools shares 9 Teaching Resources that Tell The Truth About Columbus. “States and cities are increasingly recognizing Indigenous Peoples, but appropriate and readily available lesson plans have fallen behind the trend.”

Abrazos,
Alin

p.s. We’re sending this out just a bit ahead of time, as UNM is on Fall Break today and tomorrow! Enjoy the autumn weather!!


Image: Illustration, Somos como las nubes / We are like the clouds  by Jorge Argueta and Alfonso Ruano.

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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.

For those of you familiar with the blog, you might notice that many of the titles in this month’s Reading Roundup look similar. All are drawn from our list of featured titles, which means that they’re all YA titles with accompanying educator’s guides.

For those seeking titles on this theme for younger readers, be sure to check out Alice’s ¡Mira, Look! posts throughout the month.

Despite the ever-growing TBR list that you surely have, I hope that you get to check out one or more of the books mentioned today.  As is inherit in the themes of loss and resolution, the books are often heavy and deal with challenging subject matter, but all are excellently written and absolutely vale la pena.

Let us know what you think!

Mis saludos,
Colleen

Caminar
Written by Skila Brown
Published by Candlewick Press, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-7636-6515-6
Age level: Age 10 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Carlos knows that when the soldiers arrive with warnings about the Communist rebels, it is time to be a man and defend the village, keep everyone safe. But Mama tells him not yet — he’s still her quiet moonfaced boy. The soldiers laugh at the villagers, and before they move on, a neighbor is found dangling from a tree, a sign on his neck: Communist. Mama tells Carlos to run and hide, then try to find her. . . . Numb and alone, he must join a band of guerillas as they trek to the top of the mountain where Carlos’s abuela lives. Will he be in time, and brave enough, to warn them about the soldiers? What will he do then? A novel in verse inspired by actual events during Guatemala’s civil war, Caminar is the moving story of a boy who loses nearly everything before discovering who he really is.

My thoughts:

In contrast to many of the other books on this list that focus on individual loss, Caminar, written by Skila Brown, focuses on the collective.  This novel in verse is both beautiful and crushing.  Set amidst the Guatemala civil war, we get to know many of the people living in Carlos’ village, and we too suffer the collective loss taking place.  For those of us familiar with the horrors that took place during this time, there may be pause on this book.  However, it is a coming of age story and contains within it an innate redemptive element.  This award winning work also provides a tremendous opportunity to discuss a wide range of themes and serves as a great introduction to poetry.  Katrina has some great suggestions for topics to explore and ways to discuss this book in the classroom

The Farming of Bones
Written by Edwidge Danticat
Published by Soho Press, Inc. 1998
ISBN: 978-1-61695-349-2
Age level:  High school to adult

Description (from Goodreads):

The Farming of Bones begins in 1937 in a village on the Dominican side of the river that separates the country from Haiti. Amabelle Desir, Haitian-born and a faithful maidservant to the Dominican family that took her in when she was orphaned, and her lover Sebastien, an itinerant sugarcane cutter, decide they will marry and return to Haiti at the end of the cane season. However, hostilities toward Haitian laborers find a vitriolic spokesman in the ultra-nationalist Generalissimo Trujillo who calls for an ethnic cleansing of his Spanish-speaking country. As rumors of Haitian persecution become fact, as anxiety turns to terror, Amabelle and Sebastien’s dreams are leveled to the most basic human desire: to endure. Based on a little-known historical event, this extraordinarily moving novel memorializes the forgotten victims of nationalist madness and the deeply felt passion and grief of its survivors.

My thoughts:

Edwidge Danticat’s book, The Farming of Bones, is a power narrative about the persistence of memory and the determination to carry on.  Beautifully composed, the novel is characterized well in Publisher’s Weekly review: “Danticat gives us fully realized characters who endure their lives with dignity, a sensuously atmospheric setting and a perfectly paced narrative written in prose that is lushly poetic and erotic, specifically detailed.”  Like other books on this list, The Farming of Bones may present a challenge for teacher’s trying to use this book in their classrooms.   And like the other books, Vamos believes that it is well worth the effort.  As there is not yet an Educator’s Guide for Danticat’s novel, we invite those of you in the Albuquerque area to join in the educator’s book group in reading The Farming of Bones on December 12, 2016.  We’d love to see you there!  *A little side note: this book does contain some sexual imagery.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces
Written by Isabel Quintero
Published by Cinco Puntos Press, 2014
ISBN: 1935955950
Age level:  Grades 9 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

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.

My thoughts:

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is Isabel Ouintero’s debut coming of age novel, and it is good!  Like some of the other novels in this month’s list, Gabi’s loss is both striking and subtle.  Written as a diary, this book is genuine and bold, honest and powerful, jarring and hilarious.  Katrina’s review highlights some of the complexities of the book and also gives meaningful ways to discuss these very real and difficult topics; check it out.  Because of the book’s accessibility, ease of reading, and its confrontation of taboo subjects, my bet is that many high school aged youth will find it enticing.  I know that this book would have greatly appealed to me in my high school years.

In Darkness
Written by Nick Lake
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-61963-122-9
Age level: Ages 14 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

In darkness I count my blessings like Manman taught me. One: I am alive. Two: there is no two. In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake a boy is trapped beneath the rubble of a ruined hospital: thirsty, terrified and alone. ‘Shorty’ is a child of the slums, a teenage boy who has seen enough violence to last a lifetime, and who has been inexorably drawn into the world of the gangsters who rule Site Soleil: men who dole out money with one hand and death with the other. But Shorty has a secret: a flame of revenge that blazes inside him and a burning wish to find the twin sister he lost five years ago. And he is marked. Marked in a way that links him with Toussaint l’Ouverture, the Haitian rebel who two-hundred years ago led the slave revolt and faced down Napoleon to force the French out of Haiti. As he grows weaker, Shorty relives the journey that took him to the hospital, a bullet wound in his arm. In his visions and memories he hopes to find the strength to survive, and perhaps then Toussaint can find a way to be free…

My thoughts:

Nick Lake’s YA novel, In Darkness, has won several awards including the Américas Award Commended Title (2013) and the Michael L. Printz Award (2013).  From these accolades alone, we can surmise that this is an important book; however, what prompted this selection for the list is the way it deals with the themes of death and loss.  Un aviso, this can be a challenging book to read, both because of the difficult (and often harsh) subject matter as well as for the structure.  The book oscillates between the characters of l’Ouverture and Shorty, with the latter written in what reads like his stream-of-consciousness.

The other motivation for choosing this book is because it introduces the often ignored historical figure, Toussaint l’Ouverture.  Katrina has written a thoughtful review of In Darkness and also discusses the value of incorporating a cast of characters such as these, both real and fiction, into the classroom.  And if there is any lingering doubt about how to process this book with your students, please see the educator’s guide.

The Meaning of Consuelo
Written by Judith Ortiz Cofer
Published by Beacon Press, 2003
ISBN: 978-0-8070-8387-1
Age level:  Young Adult

Description (from Goodreads):

The Signe family is blessed with two daughters. Consuelo, the elder, is thought of as pensive and book-loving, the serious child-la niña seria-while Mili, her younger sister, is seen as vivacious, a ray of tropical sunshine. Two daughters: one dark, one light; one to offer comfort and consolation, the other to charm and delight. But, for all the joy both girls should bring, something is not right in this Puerto Rican family; a tragedia is developing, like a tumor, at its core.

In this fierce, funny, and sometimes startling novel, we follow a young woman’s quest to negotiate her own terms of survival within the confines of her culture and her family.

My thoughts:

By the end of the first page, I was hooked.   The story is compelling and without a doubt, it effortlessly jams the reader into the difficult experiences that families can face.  The Meaning of Consuelo is much more than the trajedia that we learn of, as it also encapsulates the “loss” of self that many of us experience as we begin to grow away from we are expected to be.  Alternatively, this book allows for a regrowth into who we are.  Ortiz Cofer’s writing style makes this book easily accessible and sets a quick pace for the novel.  Both simple and complex, this compelling novel should be introduced to young readers.  Katrina has written a wonderful review on The Meaning of Consuelo and also articulates the wealth of themes that can be explored.

Out of Darkness
Written by Ashley Hope Pérez
Published by Carolrhoda Lab, 2015
ISBN: 1467742023
Age level: Grades 9 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

“This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?”

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them.

“No Negroes, Mexicans, or dogs.”

They know the people who enforce them.

“They all decided they’d ride out in their sheets and pay Blue a visit.”

But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

“More than grief, more than anger, there is a need. Someone to blame. Someone to make pay.”

Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

My thoughts:

Ashley Hope Pérez’s latest YA novel, Out of Darkness, is stunning.  And I use “stunning” in its most literal form – you may very well be left stunned!  As SLJ writes, “… [It] is wide-eyed testimony to the undeniable best and unrelenting worst of humanity; turning away (or turning off) is never an option.”  Despite this being a longer book, the chapters read quickly with each focusing on one of the main characters.  Perez’s uncompromising exploration of race, love, and the “forbidden” may leave one feeling devastated, but still, it is worth the read.  If you’re in the Albuquerque area and wondering if this would be a good fit for your classroom, or if you simply want to soak in another good read, please join the LAII’s Book Group on October 10 to experience this book for yourself!

The Queen of Water
Written by Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinango
Published by Ember, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-375-85936-2
Age level:  14 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Born in an Andean village in Ecuador, Virginia lives with her large family in a small, earthen-walled dwelling. In her village of indígenas, it is not uncommon to work in the fields all day, even as a child, or to be called a longa tonta—stupid Indian—by members of the ruling class of mestizos, or Spanish descendants. When seven-year-old Virginia is taken from her village to be a servant to a mestizo couple, she has no idea what the future holds.

In this poignant novel based on a true story, acclaimed author Laura Resau has collaborated with María Virginia Farinango to recount one girl’s unforgettable journey to self-discovery. Virginia’s story will speak to anyone who has ever struggled to find his or her place in the world. It will make you laugh and cry, and ultimately, it will fill you with hope.

My thoughts:

Within the first chapter of The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinango, it is clear how this award winning novel fits into this month’s theme; the loss is immediately present, but rest assured, resolution comes.  While this is technically simple to read and moves at a relatively quick pace, its content makes it a difficult book to swallow.  It is made more moving when one realizes that this is based on a true story and takes place in the 1980s.  Katrina great review on this book and discusses different ways that it can be used in the classroom and is also accompanied with an educator’s guide to support the process.

Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood
Written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Cinco Puntos Press, 2004
ISBN: 978-1-933693-99-6
Age level: Grade 9 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

The Hollywood where Sammy Santos lives is not one of glitz and glitter, but a barrio at the edge of a small New Mexico town. In the summer before his senior year, Sammy falls in love with the beautiful, independent, and intensely vulnerable Juliana. Sammy’s chronicle of his senior year is both a love story and a litany of loss, the tale of his love not only for Juliana but for their friends, a generation from a barrio: tough, innocent, humorous, and determined to survive

My thoughts:

Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s first YA novel, Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood, is hard-hitting, raw, and potent.  Unabashedly, it explores a teenager’s confrontation with issues of race, poverty, family, love and loss.  While this is an excellent piece of YA literature that I believe is extremely valuable read for young people to read, it can be a complicated one to introduce into the classroom.  For a better sense of the book’s complexities and how to discuss the subject matter with students, please read Katrina’s review from 2012 and its accompanying educator’s guide.  This will undoubtedly help clear up (if any) doubts or concerns related to the book.  It is well worth the read!

Shadowshaper
Written by Daniel José Older
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-545-59161-4
Age level:  Grades 9 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Cassandra Clare meets Caribbean legend in SHADOWSHAPER, an action-packed urban fantasy from a bold new talent.

Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.

My thoughts:

This selection may initially feel far from the theme, however, it was chosen for its unique perspective on loss. Although the protagonist, Sierra, loses her grandmother before the story ever opens, the loss leaves lingering effects and reminds us that losing a loved one can impact a family in many ways. In the case of Shadowshaper, written by Daniel José Older, the loss experienced is that of history, space, and community.  This all too common occurrence may be something we or our students have experienced.   But thankfully, this book gives us Sierra, who models how to overcome such loss through both real and magical connections to her past!

I will also add that this book has been featured multiple times on Vamos.  Be sure to check out how the all the ways that this book can be used by reading Katrina’s review, Kalyn’s Reading Roundup, and Alice’s ¡Mira Look! Author’s Corner posts.

Under the Mesquite
Written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Published by Lee & Low Books, 2011
ISBN: 9781600604294
Age level: Grades 4 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Lupita, a budding actor and poet in a close-knit Mexican American immigrant family, comes of age as she struggles with adult responsibilities during her mother’s battle with cancer in this young adult novel in verse.

When Lupita learns Mami has cancer, she is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of her close-knit family. Suddenly, being a high school student, starring in a play, and dealing with friends who don’t always understand, become less important than doing whatever she can to save Mami’s life.

While her father cares for Mami at an out-of-town clinic, Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. As Lupita struggles to keep the family afloat, she takes refuge in the shade of a mesquite tree, where she escapes the chaos at home to write. Forced to face her limitations in the midst of overwhelming changes and losses, Lupita rediscovers her voice and finds healing in the power of words.

Told with honest emotion in evocative free verse, Lupita’s journey toward hope is captured in moments that are alternately warm and poignant. Under the Mesquite is an empowering story about testing family bonds and the strength of a young woman navigating pain and hardship with surprising resilience

My thoughts:

Garcia McCall’s book, Under the Mesquite, is a beautiful representation of our ability to thrive despite life’s unpredictable and sometimes painful occurrences.  This YA novel in verse is skillfully written; its language, while simple and accessible, invites readers to experience a complex range of emotions.  We become a part of Lupita’s world, traversing through the challenges of friendship, family, culture, and self-discovery.  It is clear by having won the Pura Belpré Author Medal (2012), the William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist (2012) and most recently, the Tomás Rivera Children’s Book Award (2013), that Garcia McCall’s first novel is one to read!  For more comprehensive thoughts about Under the Mesquite, check out Katrina’s excellent review.  And for the teachers among us, please see our educator’s guide for tips on using the book in the classroom.

WWW: Book Trailers for Latino Children’s Literature

Hello, all,

This week I’m highlighting a feature that’s emerged in the era of online books and accompanying digital promotional campaigns: book trailers.

Book trailers, in case you haven’t heard of them, are video trailers for books.  Pretty simple.  They are videos meant to help potential readers become engaged and get excited. Book trailers are interesting in both a before and after sense.  Before a reader ever picks up a book, the trailer may provide the impetus for him or her to actually open the cover and flip through the pages.   After a reader has finished a book, the book trailer concept allows him or her another avenue to express and react – many book trailers come not from the big publisher behind the book, but rather from individual readers who post a video on a community video service like YouTube. Continue reading

Book Review: Summer of the Mariposas

"Summer of the Mariposas," by Guadalupe Garcia McCall.Summer of the Mariposas
Written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Published by Tu Books (Lee and Low), 2012
ISBN:   9781600609008
Age Level: Grades 5 and Up

Description (From GoodReads):

When Odilia and her four sisters find a dead body in the swimming hole, they embark on a hero’s journey to return the dead man to his family in Mexico. But returning home to Texas turns into an odyssey that would rival Homer’s original tale.

With the supernatural aid of ghostly La Llorona via a magical earring, Odilia and her little sisters travel a road of tribulation to their long-lost grandmother’s house. Along the way, they must outsmart a witch and her Evil Trinity: a wily warlock, a coven of vicious half-human barn owls, and a bloodthirsty livestock-hunting chupacabras. Can these fantastic trials prepare Odilia and her sisters for what happens when they face their final test, returning home to the real world, where goddesses and ghosts can no longer help them?

Summer of the Mariposas is not just a magical Mexican American retelling of The Odyssey, it is a celebration of sisterhood and maternal love.

My thoughts:  Continue reading

Our Next Good Read. . .Summer of the Mariposas

Thanks so much to all of you who joined us at book group last night.  I really enjoyed discussing Gringolandia, as was made so clear through our conversation, it’s an important book for our classrooms, touching on so many relevant themes.  And we’re not done with the conversation yet–we’ll be talking about the book throughout the month.  We’re very excited to be sharing an interview with the author, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, tomorrow!! Be sure to check it out and add any of your own questions in the comments.  If you couldn’t make it last night, feel free to share your thoughts about the book here on the blog.  If you missed it earlier, we’ve posted our own review here.

Below you’ll find the announcement for next month’s book.

Join us September 9th at Bookworks from 5:00-7:00 pm to discuss our next book.  We Summer of the Mariposasare reading Summer of the Mariposas (Grades 5 and up) by Guadalupe Garcia McCall.  Under the Mesquite was a favorite of our book group last year, so I’m excited to hear what everyone thinks about McCall’s latest book! Continue reading

Book Giveaway!! Summer of the Mariposas

Summer of the Mariposas 2We’re giving away a copy of Summer of the Mariposas written by Guadalupe Garcia Mcall–our featured novel for September’s book group meeting!! It would be a great book to use in your classroom as part of a unit on Día de los Muertos.  Check out the following from School Library Journal:

“. . .Written in the style of magic realism, this is an enchanting look at Mexican mysticism, coupled with the realistic celebration of the true meaning of family. The sisters’ relationships are believably drawn, and the juxtaposition of modern realities and ancient Aztec mythology elucidates the importance of the spiritual side of life in Latin cultures. The plot is well paced, with the illicit nature of the girls’ entry into Mexico adding drama to their adventure. While some readers may find the interweaving of the magical elements somewhat unsettling at first, they are sure to be intrigued by both the unusual qualities of the mythical characters and the sense of adventure that lies behind every twist and turn of the girls’ revelatory journey. As with McCall’s Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low, 2011), this is a peek into Mexican American culture, but its ties to the supernatural add an interesting dimension.”–Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, The Naples Players, FL

It looks like another interesting read–a great addition to any personal or classroom library! To be entered in the giveaway, just comment on any post on the blog by September 1st.  Everyone who comments between July 29th and September 1st will be entered in the drawing.  If your name is chosen, we’ll email you ASAP about mailing the book to you.

Don’t forget, we also raffle off a copy of the following month’s featured novel at each book group meeting.  So if you’re an Albuquerque local, join us for a chance to win!

Good luck!