(Re-)Building Community Through Conversations and Stories

Immigration is a frequent topic here at Vamos a Leer, as well as on the news. On Friday, January 27th, President Trump signed an executive order to help “protect Americans from ‘terrorist’ attacks.” This order suspended immigration from several Muslim-majority countries, and indefinitely banned Syrians (including refugees) from entering the United States. He has also announced his plans to carry out his campaign promise of building a wall on the United States/Mexico border.

Teaching Tolerance has put together some sources to support teachers in talking about current events, and write that “schools with immigrant, undocumented and refugee students are likely to see heightened anxieties and fears among students due to two executive orders:

1) a directive to start immediate construction on a border wall with Mexico and

2) a 90-day ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, and a 120-day suspension on refugee admissions into the United States (indefinitely for Syrian refugees).”

It is crucial to recognize that many students are living in fear for themselves, families and/or friends. Addressing these concerns is of utmost importance in creating a safe and welcoming learning environment for students.  While some of the resources we’re sharing here are not explicitly connected to Latin America, we’re posting them because we are committed to social justice for all students.  We believe in fostering an authentic community where all our students feel safe and valued.

Understanding each other – and valuing both our similarities and differences – is a first step in this process. At Vamos a Leer we strongly believe that books and stories can play a role in this process.

Below are a couple of resources you may find useful in building community in your classroom through stories.

Use these resources to offer facts and perspectives that can help correct misinformation, improve school safety and offer examples of how students across the country have responded in the face of Islamophobia.

  • Expelling Islamophobia
    A magazine feature story that explains why anti-hate and anti-bullying policies aren’t enough in the fight against Islamophobia in schools.
  • What Is the Truth About American Muslims?
    A publication co-produced by the Interfaith Alliance and the Religious Freedom Project of the First Amendment Center that debunks damaging stereotypes about Muslims in the United States. It also includes a section on religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution.
  • Extreme Prejudice
    A magazine feature story about why it’s necessary to teach about religious radicalism. The story has an accompanying lesson-based
    toolkit.
  • Dressing in Solidarity
    A magazine feature story about a school that rallied around its Muslim students after an anti-Muslim hate crime.
  • Youth United! Enough Is Enough
    A video feature about a school that lost a student to an anti-Muslim hate crime and how, after the tragedy, his classmates took action to establish a community-wide culture of respect, love and understanding. (Great for sharing with kids!)
  • Religious Diversity in the Classroom: Fostering a Culture of Respect
    A webinar co-produced by TT and the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding about how to make your classroom a safe learning space for students of all religious and nonreligious beliefs.
  • Debunking Stereotypes About Muslims and Islam
    A classroom lesson in which students learn about Muslims in the United States and explore how religions are similar and
  • Confronting Students’ Islamophobia
    A blog post about a teacher’s reaction when her students resisted meeting a Muslim children’s book author.
  • Don’t Look Away From Garissa
    A blog post about an Islamic extremist attack on a Kenyan university and the implications for students and teachers in the United States when only the negative stories about Islam make it into the news.

I hope that these resources can support your efforts of resistance to the single stories that will continue to circulate the media and our nation in the coming months.

Hania

 

 

 

¡Mira Look!: Two White Rabbits

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « two white rabbits by jairo buitrago »Saludos todos, and welcome back to our weekly Mira, Look book reviews! I hope everyone had a relaxing and enjoyable winter holiday.

Our theme for this month is “unsung heroes,” including lesser-known biographies, as well as the cherished yet occasionally overlooked heroes of our personal lives—parents, siblings, teachers and other timeless inspirations. Our first book for the month, Two White Rabbits, written by Mexican author Jairo Buitrago and illustrated by Colombian artist Rafael Yockteng tells the story of a father who courageously brings his daughter across the U.S.-Mexico border. This week we are focusing on this book to honor and celebrate all of the moms and dads who’ve made sacrifices and taken risks for the sake of their children. However, while focusing on the unsung heroes in our personal lives, this book also broaches the topic of unnamed victims (within the context of immigration and refugee rights), providing a double-edged focal point for this story, as well as this month’s themes. As a result, we are kicking off 2017—a fresh start from what was, for many people, a tumultuous and anxiety-inducing year—with books that focus our attention on the people, icons, heroes large and small, and even victims that are often overlooked, unsung, unnamed, or forgotten.

white-rabbits-2This picture book’s narrative style uniquely reflects the characteristics of many graphic novels, allowing much of the story to be told through its images. This particularity nicely complements our featured book for the month and the subject of our January 9th book club, Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White, which is a compelling graphic novel focused on an Argentine family in the US (making it another story of crossing borders, though with quite a different take). Moreover, the illustrations in Two White Rabbits, created with thin, ink-drawn contours and textured, scratchy, digitized cross-hatching, immediately evoke the artistic style of graphic novel illustrations.

white-rabbits-1This simple yet compelling story narrates the immigrant journey of a young girl and her father as they cross through Central America to come to the United States. Although it is made clear through various context clues—the landscape and geography of the illustrations, big signs written in Spanish, and the phenotypes of the characters—that this is a Central American migration, the family’s country of origin is never specified, nor is their destination. In effect, the story produces a seemingly-generic, non-descript story of immigration, reflecting the all-too-common occurrence of this real-life narrative. As noted by Kirkus Reviews, “In leaving readers with much to wonder about, the book packs the most powerful of punches.”  The story expertly captures the white-washing of immigrant narratives, both within literature and the media, as well as through legal and political responses (or lack thereof).

white-rabbits-5Two White Rabbits focuses on one family amongst the hundreds of thousands who make this perilous journey each year. This immigrant narrative is so common that it cannot be confined to any one family or any one individual; rather, it is lived and experienced by countless families and individuals. This story’s vagueness is one of its most sophisticated strengths, emerging as a poignant critique on human, immigrant and refugee rights. Although immigrants and refugees and, generally speaking, human beings, should never be reduced to mere numbers, identifiable only through saddening statistics, this compelling story reminds us that, lamentably, they often are.

white-rabbits-4The story begins with a two-page spread of a little girl riding on the shoulders of her father, their arms spread out like wings as they run down the street with warm grins on their faces. The background is completely white, negative space, and instead of seeing a presumed backdrop of a city or town, all we see is the road, the sidewalk, and the girl with her dad. The words read: “When we travel, I count what I see.”  The narration is from the first-person perspective of the little girl. On the next page is another two-page spread with no words. The little girl and her father are bent down looking at the ground, where several hens and baby chicks scamper about.  The words on the previous page, “I count what I see,” subtly invite readers to count what they see on this wordless spread of images. Young readers could count how many baby chicks they see, how many hens, how many brown hens, how many white hens. This style invites readers to take the time to “read” the illustrations, number what they see, and make detailed observations. The beginning pages immediately set the tone for the book as a whole, letting readers know that the images are crucial for understanding the story. Again, as mentioned in the preceding paragraph, this picture book has the hallmarks of a graphic novel, with sparse, vague words that rely heavily on the storytelling ability of the images.

The abundant white, negative space that we see on the first page continues throughout the story. Detailed images stop short, giving way to blank, white nothingness. This visual technique could be criticized for its vagueness and imprecision, it can also be seen as a powerful reinforcement of the broader narrative, serving to symbolize the imminent erasure of this family’s experiences.

white-rabbits-6This pattern continues throughout the rest of the book: sparse words appear on one page, followed by a two-page spread of just images on the next. Not only does this approach contribute to the symbolism and literary poignancy of the story, but it also creates a wonderful exercise in counting, observation, and interpretation for young readers. The deliberate silences of the narrative, and the simplicity of the story line as a whole, grants teachers the opportunity to fill in these blanks with their students through a variety of potential lesson plans and activities: for example, a lesson on immigration narratives and refugee rights (for older students, perhaps); a lesson on the geographical landscapes of Central America (for intermediate students); or a lesson on counting and verbal description (for younger students).

white-rabbits-7Buitrago dedicates this book to “my dear Adriana/ and the invisible walkers through/ the countries.” The mistreatment of and negligence towards South American immigrants, who are often, in fact, refugees, has stripped them of even more human rights, and rendered them “invisible walkers through countries,” non-identifiable statistics, and, ultimately, a phenomenon in need of urgent attention.

This book is at once simple and complex, generic and diverse, sweet and chilling, all of which contributes to its success. As a whole, it expertly renders difficult topics accessible and enriching for young children, reminding us, through it all, of the amazing power of the unsung heroes in our personal lives.

For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, or learning more about the author and illustrator, here are some additional resources:

¡Hasta pronto!
Alice

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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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5 Latino/a Children’s and YA Books Honoring Immigrant Experiences in the Winter Season

 

2016-December-Reading-RoundUp.pngBuenos días a todas y todos,

The Vamos a Leer theme for this month, as written in Keira’s Sobre Deciembre post, is focused on winter celebrations.  I was eager to explore children’s and YA literature around this topic in hopes of finding books that are reflective of the diverse familial celebrations, religious and spiritual practices, and cultural traditions throughout Latin America.  However, it would be disingenuous to state that this eagerness remained after learning the outcome of the election.  Rather, like many others, I began to reflect on the multiple uncertainties that our communities face.  More specifically, what will the future hold for those that are from other countries and living in the United States?  With everything that I read being filtered through this lens, I decided it was best to reframe the theme a bit.

This month’s reading selection will focus on Latinos/as living within the US, with ties to another country, and who experience the holidays and winter season differently because of this.  The books below are diverse in narrative, yet are connected by the common thread of living in dual worlds.  My hope is that this book selection not only validates these experiences, but can provide some comfort to our students and children.

Happy reading and happy holidays!

Un abrazo,

Colleen

Alfredito Flies Home
Written by Jorge Argueta
Illustrated by Luis Garay
Translated by Elisa Amado
Published by Groundwood Books
ISBN: 978-0-88899-585-8
Age level:  4-9 years old

Description (from House of Anansi Press):

Alfredito and his family are getting ready to return to their old home in El Salvador for Christmas, their first time back since they left as refugees. But they will make this trip on a plane; the first time any of them has ever flown. The excitement mounts as they drive to the airport, get on the plane and fly up into the air, each step bringing an increasing level of amazement. But the greatest moment of all is when they finally arrive and their beloved relatives meet them. Their old house looks and feels as it always did. The smells, the food, the new puppies, the familiar plants and flowers fill Alfredito’s heart with a sense of belonging and joy.

My thoughts:

alfreditoAlfredito Flies Homes captures a young boy’s excitement as he prepares to return to El Salvador for Christmas and his reflection of how he felt upon coming to the US four years earlier.  In contrast to the other Argueta books that I have read, Alfredito Flies Home is much more serious in tone.  It thoughtfully represents the complex emotions felt when one has two countries which they call home.  The sincerity of everyday moments expressed within the book through both the prose and artwork is captivating.  The realistic illustrations by Garay beautifully complement the sentiments in the text as well.  He also does a wonderful job at highlighting the blending of two cultures, as in the image of the artwork hanging in Afredito’s home in the US.  Aside from simply enjoying this book, I recommend it here because its versatile approach means that it can be used to discuss multiple topics in both the classroom and at home.

This book has an English and Spanish version.

Salsa Stories
Written and Illustrated by Lulu Delacre
Published by Scholastic Press
ISBN: 0-590-63118-7
Age level: Grades 2-5

Description (from Scholastic):

Carmen Teresa’s house rocks to the beat of Salsa music as grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and neighbors from all over Latin America arrive in their Silver Spring, Maryland home. Together they cook, gossip, play dominos, dance, and enjoy the warmth of this special New Year’s Day celebration.

When Dona Josepha gives Carmen Teresa a blank notebook as a present, the guests suggest that she fill it with stories that they remember from their own childhoods. And from there, everyone from this charming cast of characters has a unique story to tell.
When everyone is finished, Carmen Teresa has her own idea of how she will fill her book. She has enjoyed everyone’s stories. But since she loves to cook, and each storyteller has mentioned foods associated with the particular occasion in their stories, she decides to create a cook book and write down all of their recipes. And, of course, recipes are included at the end of the book.

My thoughts:

One for the YA readers!  In spirit with last month’s theme of food as cultural heritage, Salsasalsa-stories Stories is a great representation of the vital role food plays in maintaining culture and acting as the link that connects so many together, despite where one is living.  Through collecting family recipes, our protagonist, Carmen Teresa, figured out her own way to preserve her family’s rich histories.  Salsa Stories, written and illustrated by Lulu Delacre, is a great read.  Delacre does an excellent job at creating a holiday environment that feels life-like: the commotion, the sounds, the smells.  Represented in the book are several different Latin American countries and, lucky for us readers, we get to try out some recipes from a few of them.  I’m looking forward to trying to make “Mamá’s Yuca con Mojo Criollo.”

Lastly, please check out how Delacre created the impressive artwork for Salsa Stories!

Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid
Written and Illustrated by Xavier Garza
Published by Cinco Puntos Press
ISBN: 9781933693248
Age level: Grades K-4

Description (from Cinco Puntos Press):

Let’s welcome Santa’s newest helper: his cousin Pancho, a farmer living down in South Texas who is so smart he speaks Spanish and English. Back in the day, Pancho was a mariachi singer with a whole lot of style and a fancy sombrero. But as the years passed, Pancho got, well, a little older and a little wider all around. Then one night his primo Santa Claus showed up. Santa needed some help! Pancho volunteered. And then, poof, Santa transformed Pancho into the resplendent Charro Claus with his incredibly Flying Burritos. And Charro Claus, it turns out, even had his own surprise elf—his nephew Vincente!
All Christmas Eve, Vincente and Pancho deliver toys to the boys and girls on the border. Neither rain, cloudy skies, wire fences nor concrete walls keep them from covering every inch of their newly assigned territory. And they don’t forget a single town or city. How could they? The border is their home.

My thoughts:

charroXavier Garza, the award-winning author from Texas, writes and illustrates another great story.  Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid is a fun read!  This bilingual book provides a refreshing perspective to the Santa Claus narrative: burros en vez de deer, lucha libre masks, mariachi, and cheer!  Most importantly, however, is its focus on the border; a place where the adjoining of two worlds is most profoundly felt, and unfortunately often overlooked or forgotten.  Beverly Slapin in her De Colores post says it best: “I’d like to see every child living in the towns on both sides of the outrageous, forbidding, miles-long barb-wired fence—and especially, every refugee child held in the border-town detention centers—own a copy of this book. They could all use a little magic, right about now.”

Thank you, Xavier Garza for introducing us to Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid!

Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems/ Iguanas en la nieve y otros poemas de invierno
Written by Francisco X. Alarcón
Illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez
Published by Children’s Book Press
ISBN: 0-89239-168-5

Description (from Lee & Low Books):

In their final collection of seasonal poetry, poet Francisco X. Alarcón and artist Maya Christina Gonzalez invite us to celebrate winter—by the seashore, in the magic city of San Francisco, and in the ancient redwood forests of the Sierras.

We see a city where people are bridges to each other and children sing poetry in two languages. A family frolic in the snow reminds the poet of the iguanas playing by his grandmother’s house in Mexico. We are dazzled by the promise of seedling redwoods—like all children—destined to be the ancestors of tomorrow.

Artist Maya Christina Gonzalez has once again created a spirited family of children and adults who swing their way through colorful pages. Collages of old maps of Mexico and California provide intriguing backgrounds, and fun-loving iguanas peek out at us from the most surprising places.

My thoughts:

Alarcón’s Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems/Iguanas en la nieve y otros poemas de invierno is a wonderful celebration of winter in San Francisco.  The simple, yet reflective iguanaspoems honor the season, history, family and community (animal friends included), migrant workers, la nochebuena, and bilingualism.  This collection of poetry promotes a reverence for diversity, a connection to where we came from before finding ourselves where we are, and the beauty that this difference creates in our communities.  “I dreamed/a city open/to the sea/soaking her feet/in a bay/friendly/very joyful/and kind/with bridges ready to/embrace us all/a city/where people/become/bridges/to each/other.” Gonzalez’s artwork contributes to the vibrancy and joy to the poems.  I especially enjoyed finding the iguana on each page, bundled up in its winter clothes.

As mentioned in the description, Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems/Iguanas en la nieve y otros poemas de invierno, is a part of a collection of poems.  Please check out Alarcón’s and Gonzalez’s other works as well.  Lorraine wrote an excellent review on one!

Thank you, Francisco X. Alarcón, for having shared your gift with all of us.

When Christmas Feels Like Home
Written by Gretchen Griffith
Illustrated by Carolina Farias
Published by Albert Whitman and Company
ISBN: 978-0-8075-8871-7
Age level: 4 -8 years old

Description (from Albert Whitman and Company):

After moving from a small village in Mexico to a town in the United States, Eduardo is sure it will never feel quite like home. The other children don’t speak his language and they do not play fútbol. His family promises him that he will feel right at home by the time Christmas comes along, when “your words float like clouds from your mouth” and “trees will ride on cars.” With whimsical imagery and a sprinkling of Spanish vocabulary, Gretchen Griffith takes readers on a multicultural journey with Eduardo who discovers the United States is not so different from Latin America and home is wherever family is.

My thoughts:

I will start by saying that there are some minor drawbacks to the story — readers will notchristmas get a sense of where Eduardo and his family are coming from (despite the above description saying Mexico), the Spanish felt a little clumsy, and there are no gritty experiences to be overcome – it is an “easy” book in many ways.  Yet, I found it to also be a lovely book: creative in its prose, thoughtful in its representation of the sharing of cultures and the changing seasons, and with a sort of universal-feel to it.  It is a story to which many can relate. It is also beautifully illustrated.  When Christmas Feels Like Home is a “feel good” story.  Its focus on a welcoming community, intercultural exchange, friendship, and family are all qualities and values that I can get behind!

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¡Mira Look!: Miracle on 133rd Street

Image result for miracle on 133rd street lesson plansSaludos todos! I hope everyone had a nice and relaxing Thanksgiving break! This week we’re continuing with our November themes of food and the cultural importance of food while also transitioning into our brief December focus on winter celebrations. We’ve spent November highlighting the importance of food in cultural celebrations and rituals as well as community environments, which has been a nice way for us to bridge the celebrations of late October and early November such as Day of the Dead, late November celebrations such as Thanksgiving, and December celebrations such as Christmas and Las Posadas.

133rd-1 Our book for this week, Miracle on 133rd Street, written by Sonia Manzano and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, focuses on the frantic energy of the yuletide season, as a family tries to find space for their holiday roast. The oven is too small in the family’s tiny, New York City apartment, forcing them to journey through the halls of their apartment complex, seeking help from their diverse neighbors, all of whom are also anticipating and preparing for their own holiday celebrations. The plot of finding space for the holiday roast is what drives the story showing how food facilitates community and brings people together. Food is at the crux of this exciting and endearing plot, as it is for many of us celebrating the holidays.

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Voces: Affirmation and Validation in the Aftermath of the Election

In the aftermath of the election I struggled to think of what I could write that related to books. As much as I love books, they seemed all of the sudden insignificant, a resource incapable of addressing and/or combating the stories of hatred and hurt I was hearing in the news and on social media.

Books do not possess magical fixing capacities. It follows that they are not going to fix the deeply embedded “isms” in our society. Yet, I find myself turning to books for solace – in search of alternative realities, inspiration or affirmation.

As a white blonde woman, affirmation in books is relatively easy to find. However, in this moment in time it is not I who needs to find this affirmation and validation. I stand by my friends and fellow students – whose communities have been the target of repeated insults and mounting hate crimes – in search of ways to amplify their voices over mine, to affirm and validate their experiences.

In her recent infographic narrating The Case of the Missing Books/10 years of data, Maya Christina Gonzalez outlines the “State of Emergency” in which we currently find ourselves – one in which the chronic absence of voices of Asian Pacific Americans, American Indians, African Americans, Latinx Americans, Multi-ethnic Americans, LGBTQUIA and disabled people diminishes and denies a sense of self and creative power. Unfortunately these effects are echoed and (re)produced by the rhetoric surrounding the election.

I reiterate: people are hurting, and books alone are not going to fix the beliefs and structures that (re)produce this hurt. However, I do believe that books can play a role in supporting students. Reading is one pastime that can affirm and validate student experiences. As educators we are ideally positioned to provide opportunities for students to see themselves in the books they read, and to learn about other in the process. We’ve known We Need Diverse Books in and out of the classroom. But as Jayson Flores wrote on November 9th, This Presidential Election Proves That We Need Diverse Books More than Ever.

In his article last week titled Why I’m Done Talking About Diversity, author Marlon James made an important point: while it’s great to talk about solutions and discuss other points of view, “the problem with all this conversation, is that it is all we do.” As we reflect on Ali Michael’s article, What Do We Tell the Children, we can consider how our classrooms affirm and validate who our students are. James urges us to do more than consider; we must do. We must move beyond telling they are valued, that we will protect them, that we stand by their families, that silence is dangerous; we must take actions to show them that they are valued, that we will protect and value their communities’ voices, that silencing historically absent voices is dangerous and (re)produces inequalities.

Books are only one small piece in a large puzzle. But they are one place to start.

Abrazos,

Hania

Author’s Corner: Cristina Henríquez

Image result for cristina henriquezSaludos todos! I’m popping in to share with you some information about Cristina Henríquez, the author of our November book group title, The Book of Unknown Americans. According to her personal website, The Book of Unknown Americans “was a New York Times Notable Book of 2014 and one of Amazon’s Top 10 Books of the Year.” In addition, “It was the Daily Beast Novel of the Year, a Washington Post Notable Book, an NPR Great Read, a Target Book of the Month selection, and was chosen one of the best books of the year by BookPage, Oprah.com, and School Library Journal. It was also longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.”

Henríquez earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and participatedin the the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa. She currently lives in Illinois, and is a prolific writer for various literary magazine and journals. Some of her other works include The World In Half (a novel) and Come Together, Fall Apart: A Novella and Stories, which was a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection.

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