¡Mira Look!: Haiti My Country

Image result for haiti my countrySaludos todos! This week I will be reviewing Haiti My Country, a collection of poems written by a variety of Haitian school children, illustrated by Rogé and translated from the French by Solange Messier. As we continue with our February theme of love, including love of self, love of community, and love of others, to name a few, this book resonates primarily with themes of love of country and love of nature. Through each individual and unique poem, these children express pride in their country, adoration for its natural beauty, and, ultimately, the love that they have for themselves and for their own particular identities.

haiti-1This book on Haiti also harkens us back to my February posts from last year, where I used Black History Month as an opportunity to focus my book reviews for the month on books about Haiti, a country that is sometimes overlooked in our studies of Latin America. Of course, Afro-Latino culture and populations are prominent in all countries of Latin America, however Haiti’s history and society stands apart, as the majority of the population is made up of Afro-descendents, and it was the first country in the Americas to lead a successful slave rebellion. Some of my posts from last year include, Sélavi / That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope, Eight Days, A Story of Haiti, Running the Road to ABC, and Children of Yayoute. You may also be interested in Keira’s post on Resources to Teach about Haiti and Afro-Caribbean Cultures, or  Charla‘s post on Teaching about Haiti with Love. While Haiti My Country fits in with out general theme of love for this month, it also helps us remember and link back to some great resources and teaching plans from last year.

haiti-5The introduction of Haiti My Country, written by Dany Laferrière, provides some geographical and historical context for this collection of poems:

After the ongoing deforestation of the last few decades came a succession of cyclones, deadly floods, and then the horrific earthquake. I should clarify that these poems were written before the earthquake of January 12, 2010. What’s more, the region where these young poets live has been largely unaffected by the calamities that I have just mentioned. The natural landscapes that surround these teenagers inspire such dreams that visitors are often surprised they originated in Haiti.

haiti-2Laferrière notes that when he reads novels he can usually discern the age of the author based on a variety of cultural and historical context clues; however, with poetry it is different. He remarks that one of the enchanting and even mysterious aspects of these poems is that the poets themselves are so young, yet their words evoke such wisdom.

haiti-3One of the things that I find especially beautiful about this book is Rogé’s stunning, detailed, and humanistic portraits. Each portrait is presented on the adjacent page of the poem, depicting the poem’s author. The children are smiling, and resting their faces in an expression of serenity and tranquility; however, sometimes their expressions bear a degree of mystery, a complacent smile that hides a deeper truth: “The illustrator (I say illustrator and not painter because these portraits force us to think rather than to look) seems to be trying to resolve a deep mystery behind the faces that are suddenly unreadable.” According to Lafereire, one of the most poignant aspects of this book is the combination of the magical scenes painted by the children’s poetry, and the portraits of their calm, tranquil faces, coupled with the unavoidable context of poverty and devastation that has plagued Haiti for years.  He explains, “Such energy inhabits these adolescents! It overflows and consoles us, even as unfathomable sadness invades our hearts. Their vitality is irresistible. But as heavenly as the setting is, it does not distract them from the human condition.”

haiti-4Nonetheless, Laferrière also notes that these stunning portraits help paint a more holistic image of Haiti, the natural beauty of the country, articulated through the poems, and the endearing faces of its children, the faces of hope and the future. Again, what is so compelling about this collection is what is said and what is not said, the sweet smile on the face of a Haitian adolescent, and the tinge of sadness in her deep, dark eyes. This poignant duality is felt in a poem by Annie Hum: “Magnificent country becomes/ Broken land/ All smiles are lost.”  Yet these poems are also imbued with inspiring hope and faith in the future, in the future that these children will bring: “Everything is born, everything lives, everything perishes./ But this country, her exceptional natural beauty–/ I want her to live forever.” Another poem, shown beside the portrait of a somber looking boy starts with “I dream” and concludes with “I do not want to see these things in dreams/ But in reality…”  That poem alone is reason enough to use the book in the classroom–what a wonderful writing prompt that line could be!

For those of you interested in learning more about contemporary Haiti, here are some additional links:

For those of you interested in learning more about the book’s artist, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned for more great books!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice

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10 Children’s and YA Books about Sung & Unsung Latin@ Heroes

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Hello all!

In case you missed Keira’s Sobre Enero post, this month’s theme honors the many individuals, real or imagined, who populate the rich landscape of Latin@ literature for children and young adults.  This month’s Reading Roundup brings together a few of these heroes, both sung and unsung, whose actions inspired positive change.  While it is a monumental task to choose just a few of the many wonderful books that are out there, I’ve narrowed down the list to books that will encourage our students and children to honor their own truths. I also hope that these books will help expand the literary canon beyond those heroes whose stories are taught repeatedly. The books below encompass a diverse panorama of experiences, accomplishments, and outcomes.  To name a few, these remarkable figures displayed their passion through art, literature, activism, and even by simply passing on their knowledge to new generations.   May you enjoy these works as much as I enjoyed finding them!

Happy New Year!

Abrazos,
Colleen

Sélavi, That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope
Written and Illustrated by Youme Landowne
Published by Cinco Puntos Press
ISBN: 0-938317-84-9
Age level: 5-7 years old

Description (from Good Reads):

The true story of Selavi (“that is life”), a small boy who finds himself homeless on the streets of Haiti. He finds other street children who share their food and a place to sleep. Together they proclaim a message of hope through murals and radio programs. Now in paper, this beautifully illustrated story is supplemented with photographs of Haitian children working and playing together, plus an essay by Edwidge Danticat. Included in the 2005 ALA Notable Children’s Book List and the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List.

Youme Landowne is an artist and activist who has worked with communities in Kenya, Japan, Haiti, and Cuba to make art that honors personal and cultural wisdom. She makes her home in Brooklyn, New York, and rides her bike everywhere.

My thoughts:

When reflecting on cultural heroes, it can be easy to focus on already established and well-known figures.  In this, we often miss the opportunity to learn of the everyday heroes who have greatly impacted their communities, improved quality of life for others, and prompted justice in the face of adversity.  Sélavi, That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope written and illustrated by Youme Landowne, beautifully exemplifies all of the above.  This bold and genuine true story reminds us that our actions make a difference, and that together we are stronger.  As those in the story know, “Alone…we may be a single drop of water, but together we can be a mighty river.”

selaviThis award winning book is presented in two parts: first, a narrative of children protagonists who prompted change in their community and, second, a historical reflection on Haiti written by Edwidge Danticat, an author whom we greatly admire on the Vamos blog.  I hope that you get to read Landowne’s book honoring the strength of the Haiti’s children and community.  If you’re in need of a bit more convincing, however, I invite you to read Alice’s thoughtful and comprehensive review.

Viva Frida
Written and Illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Photographed by Tim O’Meara
Published by Roaring Brook Press
ISBN: 978-1-59643-603-9
Age level: Grades K-3

Description (from Good Reads):

Frida Kahlo, one of the world’s most famous and unusual artists is revered around the world. Her life was filled with laughter, love, and tragedy, all of which influenced what she painted on her canvases.

Distinguished author/illustrator Yuyi Morales illuminates Frida’s life and work in this elegant and fascinating book.

My thoughts:

I became an instant fan of author and artist Yuyi Morales in my first month contributing to this blog when I read, Niño Wrestles the World.  And with each subsequent work that I find of hers, I continue to be enchanted by both her artistry and simplicity of prose; Viva Frida is no exception to this.  The book’s art consists of stop-motion puppets that beautifullyfrida capture symbols present in Frida Kahlo’s life and paintings, including la casa azul, deers, calaveras, Diego Rivera, and her pet dog and monkey.  The bilingual prose is sparse, but manages to convey her bold spirit.  For those young readers unfamiliar with the life and works of Frida Kahlo, they may not grasp the symbolism or understand how the words relate to her life.  Yet, this does not minimize the book’s impact, as it really does stand alone and context feels secondary.  A concluding mini biography of Frida’s life helps lend background info.

For a more extensive review of this book, please check out Lorraine’s ¡Mira Look! post from 2015.  As a highlight from her post, I can’t help but share a short video about how Yuyi Morales created the artwork for this visually stunning book!

That’s Not Fair: Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice /¡No es justo!: La lucha de Emma Tenayuca por la justicia
Written by Carmen Tafolla and Sharyll Teneyuca
Illustrated by Terry Ybáñez
Published by Wings Press
ISBN: 978-0-916727-33-8

Description (from Good Reads):

A vivid depiction of the early injustices encountered by a young Mexican-American girl in San Antonio in the 1920’s, this book tells the true story of Emma Tenayuca. Emma learns to care deeply about poverty and hunger during a time when many Mexican Americans were starving to death and working unreasonably long hours at slave wages in the city’s pecan-shelling factories. Through astute perception, caring, and personal action, Emma begins to get involved, and eventually, at the age of 21, leads 12,000 workers in the first significant historical action in the Mexican-American struggle for justice. Emma Tenayuca’s story serves as a model for young and old alike about courage, compassion, and the role everyone can play in making the world more fair.

My thoughts:

I really enjoyed this book.  Within the first pages, it becomes abundantly clear why Emma Tenayuca’s biographical story about Emma Tenayuca, a young, Mexican-American activist, story must be included in a post about heroes.   For this post, I would like to highlight Alice’s excellent review of It’s Not Fair/¡No es justo!  She writes:

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.

In her post, you will also find detailed historical information about Emma Tenayuca as well as additional resources that can be used for further teaching.

Tomás and the Library Lady
Written by Pat Mora
Illustrated by Raul Colón
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
ISBN: 0-679-80401-3
Age level: Ages 5-7

Description (from Pat Mora):

Tomás is a son of migrant workers. Every summer he and his family follow the crops north from Texas to Iowa, spending long, arduous days in the fields. At night they gather around to hear Grandfather’s wonderful stories. But before long, Tomás knows all the stories by heart. “There are more stories in the library,” Papa Grande tells him. The very next day, Tomás meets the library lady and a whole new world opens up for him. Based on the true story of the Mexican-American author and educator Tomás Rivera, a child of migrant workers who went on to become the first minority Chancellor in the University of California system, this inspirational story suggests what libraries–and education–can make possible. Raul Colón’s warm, expressive paintings perfectly interweave the harsh realities of Tomás’s life, the joyful imaginings he finds in books, and his special relationships with a wise grandfather and a caring librarian.

My thoughts:

Some readers may recall that in celebration of National Hispanic Heritage month, Vamos featured Tomás and the Library Lady.  For the post, Alice wrote an excellent review highlighting the life of Tomás Rivera, provides links to educational resources, and thoughtfully summarizes the book.  Indeed, it is a wonderful fit for honoring the life and works of Tomas Rivera.  Additionally, it is a superb example for this month’s theme of paying homage to the heroes that have inspired us.  In the case of Tomás and the Library Lady, written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Raul Colón, there are multiple “unsung heroes” to be recognized, including the farmworkers and his family.  However, the real hero of this book is “the library lady;” the person whom unknowingly impacted and shaped the life of author and educator, Tomás Rivera.  This very touching book teaches young readers that small actions can have big outcomes!  If you have not yet had a chance to share this book with a student or your own child, please do so – you won’t be disappointed!

A Library for Juana: The World of Sor Juana Inés
Written by Pat Mora
Illustrated by Beatriz Vidal
Published by Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 0-375-90643-6
Age level: 5-8 years old

Description (from Good Reads):

Juana Inés was just a little girl in a village in Mexico when she decided that the thing she wanted most in the world was her very own collection of books, just like in her grandfather’s library. When she found out that she could learn to read in school, she begged to go. And when she later discovered that only boys could attend university, she dressed like a boy to show her determination to attend. Word of her great intelligence soon spread, and eventually, Juana Inés was considered one of the best scholars in the Americas–something unheard of for a woman in the 17th century.

Today, this important poet is revered throughout the world and her verse is memorized by schoolchildren all over Mexico.

My thoughts:

Perhaps my admiration for Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz makes me partial in choosing this book about her, but I do so proudly!  Author Pat Mora and illustrator Beatriz Vidal do an excellent job representing this incredible scholar, poet, and activist and advocate.  The story beginsjuana with Juana Inés’ life as child and captures her instinctive thirst of learning.  And although we get the sense that this characteristic love of knowledge is innate to her – that she is truly someone extraordinary – the story’s inspirational tone is not lost on the reader; encouraging us, too, to ask questions, dig for answers, challenge norms, and live up to what we believe is our full potential.  The story of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is one that every young person should learn about, particularly our young girls.  I am so happy that Pat Mora’s book, A Library for Juana: The World of Sor Juana Inés, makes this possible.

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
Written and Illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1054-4
Age level: Ages 7-12

Description (from Good Reads):

Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.

My thoughts:

For the sake of stating the obvious, Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & her Family’s Fight for Desegregation, is an incredibly important book.  Despite my studies in Chicanx history and literature, I (somewhat abashedly) did not know of Sylvia Mendez and her family prior to reading Duncan Tonatiuh’s award winning book.  The Mendez v. Westminster School District case is not only important to Mexican American history; it is profoundly significant to the history of the U.S. and to the “canon” of civil rights activists who have contributed to creating a more just society.  I am deeply thankful to authors such as Tonatiuh, who bring the stories of often unknown heroes to light and make them accessible to young readers.

To read more on Tonatiuh’s, Separate is Never Equal and for classroom resources, head on over to the Katrina’s review and educator’s guide.           

The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist
Written by Margarita Engle
Published by Houghton Mifflin Publishing Company
ISBN: 978-0-547-80743-0
Age level: Ages 11-13

Description (from Good Reads):

Opposing slavery in Cuba in the nineteenth century was dangerous. The most daring abolitionists were poets who veiled their work in metaphor. Of these, the boldest was Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, nicknamed Tula. In passionate, accessible verses of her own, Engle evokes the voice of this book-loving feminist and abolitionist who bravely resisted an arranged marriage at the age of fourteen, and was ultimately courageous enough to fight against injustice. Historical notes, excerpts, and source notes round out this exceptional tribute.

My thoughts:

Margarita Engle’s stunning novel in verse, The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist, introduces readers to a lesser known historical figure and hero.  This Pura Belpré Honor Book is well worth the read and Katrina’s review beautifully articulates why we should all learn about Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Tula):

Tula is a powerful character, not just because of what she believed, but because of how she chose to stand up for those beliefs.  She fought for equality and human rights through her stories and her poetry.  She used the power of words as a means to change the minds of those around her.  How valuable a lesson for the students in our classrooms—that our words are one of the most powerful tools we have for fighting against the things that try to hold us back.  I’ll leave you with the words from Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda that inspired the title of the book— “The slave let his mind fly free, and his thoughts soared higher than the clouds where lightning forms.”

Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa
Written by Veronica Chambers
Illustrated by Julie Maren
Published by Dial
ISBN: 0803729707
Age level: Grades 2 – 4

Description (from Good Reads):

Everyone knows the flamboyant, larger-than-life Celia, the extraordinary salsa singer who passed away in 2003, leaving millions of fans brokenhearted. Now accomplished children’s book author Veronica Chambers gives young readers a lyrical glimpse into Celia’s childhood and her inspiring rise to worldwide fame and recognition. First-time illustrator Julie Maren truly captures the movement and the vibrancy of the Latina legend and the sizzling sights and sounds of her legacy

My thoughts:

I simply had to include Celia Cruz in this list!  Why?  She is a phenomenal artist beloved across the globe and if you can’t tell, I am a fan.    And lucky for us readers, author Veronica Chambers and illustrator Julie Maren bring her story to life in Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa.  I really enjoyed this children’s book on Celia Cruz; it is beautifully illustrated, introduces readers to her childhood personality, and touches on – although briefly- the political climate in Cuba.  Many of us are well aware of Celia Cruz and her importance, and it never hurts to have one more resource to help celebrate and remember her life. Musicians, and their music, are always excellent educational tools!

If you’re curious for more on this book, check out Lorraine’s ¡Mira Look! post.  And for more on Celia, head on over to Jake’s WWW post!

My Tata’s Remedies/Los remedios de mi tata
Written by Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford
Illustrated by Antonio Castro L.
Published by Cinco Puntos Press
ISBN: 978-1-935955-91-7
Age level: Ages 7-11

Description (from Good Reads):

Aaron has asked his grandfather Tata to teach him about the healing remedies he uses. Tata is a neighbor and family elder. People come to him all the time for his soothing solutions and for his compassionate touch and gentle wisdom. Tata knows how to use herbs, teas, and plants to help each one. His wife, Grandmother Nana, is there too, bringing delicious food and humor to help Tata’s patients heal.  An herbal remedies glossary at the end of the book includes useful information about each plant, plus botanically correct drawings.

tataMy thoughts:

My Tata’s Remedies/Los remedios de mi tata, written by Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford and illustrated by Antonio Castro L., is a great representation of “everyday heroes.”  In the case of this beautifully illustrated and bilingual book, that hero is Aaron’s Tata Gus.  Tata Gus lovingly imparts culture, tradition, and knowledge by teaching his grandson about his healing remedies and his profound understanding of plants.  Along the way, Aaron also learns about Tata Gus’ own childhood and what it means to be a part of a community.   This thoughtful book encourages us – and our kiddos – to reflect on who are the “everyday heroes” in our own lives.

The Storyteller’s Candle/La velita de los cuentos
Written by Lucía González
Illustrated by Lulu Delacre
Published by Children’s Book Press
ISBN: 0892392223

Description (from Lee & Low Books):

The winter of 1929 feels especially cold to cousins Hildamar and Santiago—they arrived in New York City from sunny Puerto Rico only months before. Their island home feels very far away indeed, especially with Three Kings’ Day rapidly approaching.

But then a magical thing happened. A visitor appears in their class, a gifted storyteller and librarian by the name of Pura Belpré. She opens the children’s eyes to the public library and its potential to be the living, breathing heart of the community. The library, after all, belongs to everyone—whether you speak Spanish, English, or both.

The award-winning team of Lucía González and Lulu Delacre have crafted an homage to Pura Belpré, New York City’s first Latina librarian. Through her vision and dedication, the warmth of Puerto Rico came to the island of Manhattan in a most unexpected way.

My thoughts:

I would be remiss to not include Pura Belpré in this month’s theme.  She is an exceptional figure that had a direct impact on the communities that she served, the library patrons, and more broadly, on the world of Latino/a Children’s and Young Adult literature as the namesake of the, “Pura Belpré Award.”  Lucía González’s, The Storyteller’s Candle/La velita de los cuentos, excellently introduces the world to Belpré’s talents as a storyteller, her love for community, and how she creatively inspired young Latinos/as to let their imaginations run wild!  Author and illustrator Lulu Delacre provides beautiful artwork to accompany this thoughtful story.  I hope your interest is piqued!  In need of a little more information?  Read Alice’s awesome ¡Mira Look! review!

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¡Mira, Look!: Author’s Corner: Edwidge Danticat

edwidge danticatSaludos 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.

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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.

Writers’ Words: Edwidge Danticat

Claire of the Sealight Danticat

¡Buenos días!

I hope everyone is having a great Thursday! In celebration of this month’s featured book, Claire of the Sea Light, I’ve brought you a visual quote by Edwidge Danticat.

I hope you enjoy it!

¡Saludos!
Kalyn

¡Mira, Look!: Author’s Corner: Edwidge Danticat

edwidge danticat

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

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Book Review: Claire of the Sea Light

Here’s our review of this month’s featured novel, Claire of the Sealight.  If you’re an Albuquerque local join us on April 18th to discuss the book. Look forward to seeing you!

Claire of the Sea Light
Written by Edwidge Danticat
Published by Vintage Books, 2013
ISBN: 978-0307472274
Age level: Adult

Book Summary

From the best-selling author of Brother, I’m Dying and The Dew Breaker: a stunning new work of fiction that brings us deep into the intertwined lives of a small seaside town where a little girl, the daughter of a fisherman, has gone missing.

Claire Limyè Lanmè—Claire of the Sea Light—is an enchanting child born into love and tragedy in Ville Rose, Haiti. Claire’s mother died in childbirth, and on each of her birthdays Claire is taken by her father, Nozias, to visit her mother’s grave. Nozias wonders if he should give away his young daughter to a local shopkeeper, who lost a child of her own, so that Claire can have a better life.

But on the night of Claire’s seventh birthday, when at last he makes the wrenching decision to do so, she disappears. As Nozias and others look for her, painful secrets, haunting memories, and startling truths are unearthed among the community of men and women whose individual stories connect to Claire, to her parents, and to the town itself. Told with piercing lyricism and the economy of a fable, Claire of the Sea Light is a tightly woven, breathtaking tapestry that explores what it means to be a parent, child, neighbor, lover, and friend, while revealing the mysterious bonds we share with the natural world and with one another. Embracing the magic and heartbreak of ordinary life, it is Edwidge Danticat’s most spellbinding, astonishing book yet.

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