¡Mira, Look!: Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre

Saludos todos! This week we are concluding our March theme of women and Women’s History Month with another great read. Last week I featured the Coleccion Antiprincesas, which provides readers with biographies of underrepresented and under-studied historical Latina heroines. This week, however, we are switching gears a bit, focusing more on the courage and determination of young girls in our everyday lives. The book for this week is Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre, written by Tom Luna and illustrated by Laura Alvarez. This wonderful story focuses on a young, female protagonist who has to learn how to navigate her complicated emotions in a difficult situation. Not only does this book show young readers how to cope with separation and heartache, it also counters stereotypes and challenges negative representations of women and girls by portraying a young girl whose empathy and emotional sensibility is not a flaw or a nuisance, but, ultimately, one of her greatest virtues.

This book tells the story of young Camila and her beloved abuelo, Felix, who lives far away in Veracruz, Mexico: “It had been two years since he left San Antonio to return home to Veracruz.” Camila reflects on the bittersweet memories of her grandfather playing his favorite guitar, the requinto, and how he would sing her lullabies when she was a little baby: “He had a deep beautiful voice and played the requinto with an almost angelic touch.” Although the plot following the female protagonist challenges typical, negative representations of women and girls, the character description of the grandfather also challenges expectations of men and boys. The grandfather is sensitive, artistic, loving and participates actively in caring for his grandchild, taking her on outings to the zoo and the park, to name a few, all the while singing or whistling tunes from Veracruz.

Although Camila misses her grandfather greatly, her parents say that they do not have enough money to afford a trip to Veracruz to visit him. However, one day, deciding to take matters into her own hands, young Camila hops on her bike determined to ride the 938 miles to Veracruz to see her dear grandfather: “‘I’m going to see Grandpa Felix in Veracruz,’ said Camila with a defiant stance.” As one would imagine, Camila’s mother quickly intervenes and tells her to come back home, that she can’t ride her bike all the way to Veracruz, but that one day they’ll have enough money saved up for a visit. Although Camila’s immediate solution to her grandfather’s absence is, of course, not one that I or parents and educators would likely recommend to their students, this scene does illustrate Camila’s determination and her willingness to try to solve her problem independently. This scene also serves as a contrast to Camila’s eventual, more reasonable solution to her feelings, showing readers Camila’s learning curve and her progress in figuring out both what her feelings are and what to do about them.

After her failed attempt at biking 938 miles to Veracruz, and her mother’s brief scolding, Camila decides that a more appropriate response might be to write a letter to her grandfather and ask him to be her pen pal. This solution is also one arrived at entirely by Camila herself, further emphasizing her independence and her ability to learn and navigate tough situations on her own: “She went into her room, pulled out her diary and decided then and there that she would write to her grandfather and ask him to write her back.” What I also particularly love about this scene is the mention of Camila’s journal-writing as a catalyst for her emotional development and decision-making. As an avid writer and “journaler” myself, I, too, have found this to be a very useful strategy in coping with tough situations, sorting out my thoughts and feelings, and figuring out how to proceed. Moreover, as the story continues in a somewhat epistolary format, composed of letters between Camila and her grandfather, teachers could conduct various lessons based on two forms of writing: first, letter-writing and the epistolary novel form, and, second, journal writing. As an exercise in writing and verbal expression, teachers could ask their students to write in a journal every day. Teachers could also conduct exercises in letter-writing and, especially for foreign language students, teach their students proper opening and closing statements, such as “Querido abuelo/ Dear grandpa.” This story is entirely bilingual, which is especially useful for comparing the letter-writing format between English and Spanish. In addition, the simplistic illustrations found within this book could also inspire students to create drawings of their own to accompany their journal entries or letters. As noted by a School Library Journal review, “Rough-hewn, heavily brushed paintings tracking Camila’s progress to adulthood and Grandpa’s to gray-haired old age accompany narrative passages of English over Spanish.” In this story, the prose is just as important as the illustrations in conveying the passing of time, and both Camila’s physical and emotional growth.

Towards the end of the story we see Camila grown up to be a young, 18-year-old woman. Her family still has not been able to save enough money to go to Veracruz, but Camila is determined to go nonetheless: “On the day Camila turned 18, she was in her room with photos of her grandfather all around. She was working now and saving her money. Her family never did go to Veracruz but Camila was saving to go on her own.” This scene again reinforces Camila’s agency and independence, her ability not only to work hard towards a self-determined goal, but also to eventually travel on her own.What I find especially powerful about this scene is the way in which it emphasizes “ambition” as not only working towards professional and academic goals, but also towards emotional and interpersonal goals. Oftentimes “emotional labor,” or the work that one puts into emotionally supporting others, is unconsciously expected of women while also being undervalued, unrecognized and unremunerated, in both the home and the workplace. This heartwarming scene emphasizes the hard work that Camila put into sustaining a relationship with her grandfather over the years, as well as her grandfather’s boundless joy and appreciation upon finally seeing her arrive in Veracruz (belated spoiler alert!).

All in all, this book is a wonderful resource for teaching a variety of subjects from writing and correspondence, to emotional development and maturity.  Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre challenges typical representations of gender roles through children’s literature, empowering both young girls and boys.

For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned to an introduction to our April themes and more great reads!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images Modified from Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre: Pages 7, 9, 14, 15, 21

March 10th | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! Here are some timely resources that I hope will be of use to you. Unfortunately, next week I’ll be absent from the blog because it’s our spring break, but I’ll definitely be back the following week with more to share.

As a side note (but an important one!), we want to take a moment to add our  voices to the chorus of advocates who are incensed that the Zinn Education Project would be banned in Arkansas. Here at Vamos we’re devout supporters of their efforts to teach students the diverse histories of this nation. Check out the preceding link not only to learn more about what’s happening, but also for suggestions on how to support the Zinn Education Project in its valuable work!

– Here is a recent article on “America’s Forgotten History of Illegal Deportations.” It offers some uncomfortable parallels between historical and current immigration policies and conversations.

— From Remezcla, here are 20 Can’t-Miss Movie Picks From the San Diego Latino Film Festival that “highlight Latin American and US Latino culture.” The films are diverse and cover important topics, from migration to identity.

– The U.S. Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, offered his thoughts recently on America’s current climate, the importance of poetry, and “what Americans should be reading now.”

— Where do Boys Belong in Women’s History Month? is a question our friends at Lee and Low Books have raised, along with ideas “to think about when teaching women’s history so both boys AND girls grow and learn.”

–If you are teaching about Caribbean culture, race and racism, immigration and exile, or strong female protagonists, you might appreciate learning about a new Haitian YA novel that hits on all of those issues – and more. From Anansesem: The Caribbean Children’s Literature Magazine, we found a remarkable interview with Ibi Zoboi, a Haitian writer, as she talks about her book, American Street, in which she shares the migration story of a young woman, Fabiola Toussaint.

– Lastly, Latinos in Kid Lit posted a book review of The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera, a YA novel that touches on “issues of peer pressure, family expectations, gender bias, and community.”

Abrazos,
Alin Badillo


Image: Teaching for Change. Reprinted from Flickr user Teaching for Change under CC©.

March 3rd | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! Happy beginning of March! Here are various resources that I am glad to share.

– Just for kicks, I thought you might enjoy Remezcla’s compilation of recipes for perros calientes: Journey Through Latin America’s Weird and Wonderful Hot Dog Creations. My mouth was watering!

– Also by Remezcla, here is an Intimate Look at Las Patronas, the Mexican Women Who Feed Migrants Traveling on La Bestia.

– Check out Teaching For Change’s initiative to provide A Book Every Day in honor of Women’s History Month and to “highlight grassroots women’s history.”

– The Children’s Cooperative Book Center (CCBC) recently released their “Multicultural Statistics for 2016.” As with most years, the breakdown is a reminder that the world of publishing. “Two broad categories–Asian/Pacifics and Latinos–saw a notable jump in numbers this year for both ‘by’ and ‘about.’ The numbers for African and African Americans and First/Native Nations remained disappointingly static or dropped. Those mixed numbers reflect our mixed feelings: It’s both an exciting and frustrating time for multicultural literature advocates.”

Bustle revealed the cover of Celia C. Pérez’s forthcoming novel, The First Rule of Punk. We’re excited by the accompanying book description, which reads “novel about a 12-year-old Latina girl who causes anarchy at her middle school when she forms a punk band book” and equally hyped to learn that the publication was the result of an entirely Latina creative group – from author to cover illustrator and everyone in between!!

– Given the conversation on “fake news,” this Teaching Tolerance post on Learning How to Know in 2017 from Teaching ToleranceLastly, from Teaching Tolerance seems apropos. “The devaluing of shared truth, deepening political polarization and the mainstreaming of hate have created a steeper climb toward the goal of helping students evaluate and think critically about the content they consume. Educators thus need to better understand how students access and integrate information, and how media works.”

-If you are teaching about immigration you might want to share NY Time’s publication of Vizguerra’s piece on Why She Will Not Leave. “Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement refused to extend my stay of deportation. I sought sanctuary in the church because, like that of millions of other immigrants, my future in this country was thrown into doubt.”

– Finally, we’ve just now heard about the #OwnVoices hashtag and social movement effort started last year. It’s a movement that complements We Need Diverse Books. You can read more about it via Kayla Whaley’s piece, #Own Voices: Why We Need Diverse Authors in Children’s Literature, on the Read Brightly blog, where she writes that “Given the history of marginalized groups being spoken about, and for, in all areas of society, it’s especially important that we don’t ignore diverse voices by focusing only on diverse content.”

Abrazos,
Alin Badillo


Image: #NiUnaMenos. Reprinted from Flickr user Laura Moraña under CC©.

(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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