En la Clase: Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra

Talking with Mother Earth | Jorge Argueta | Vamos a LeerIn this week’s En la Clase we’re looking at Jorge Argueta’s children’s book Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra.  This bilingual poetry book not only speaks to this month’s theme of  diversity within Latinx identity, but is also an excellent resource for those teaching a critical history of conquest and colonization.  As with last week’s featured book, Argueta’s poetry is simple but powerful.  It elicits both critical thought and personal reflection.  Through these autobiographical poems we learn about Tetl:

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

In last week’s En la Clase, we discussed the importance of authentic cultural referents in children’s literature.  Argueta’s book demonstrates why this is so powerful.  Too often when we discuss native cultures and Indigenous peoples in our classrooms, it’s done in the past tense, as if they no longer exist.  In Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra readers learn about the childhood of Jorge Tetl Argueta who identifies as Pipil Nahua.  Argueta writes his poems in first person present tense.  While this may seem an insignificant choice, it’s not.  The explicit and implicit messages sent through the language in our children’s books are powerful.  The use of third person, past tense, or passive language can perpetuate ideas such as Indigenous peoples no longer exist, they have no agency, or they are to blame for the violence that is/was enacted upon them.  For more on this conversation, see Jean Paine Mendoza’s article “Goodbye, Columbus: Take Two” from A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children October is often the month in which students learn about Columbus, exploration, conquest and colonization.  It’s important to model for our students how to critique the oppressive messages conveyed in both the fiction and non-fiction literature they read on these topics, and to provide them examples of empowering narratives such as Argueta’s.

Discussion Suggestions:Talking with Mother Earth | Jorge Argueta | Vamos a Leer

Written in a child’s voice, Argueta’s poems are not only engaging reads for younger audiences, they are empowering.  It’s heartbreaking to read about the racist bullying that Tetl endured:

“Cracked-foot Indian,”
my schoolmates used to call me
and laugh at my bare feet.

“Flea-bitten Indian,”
they would call me
and pull on my hair
long and dark as the night
“Indian called down from the hill
by the beat of a drum,”
they would tease me and while the teacher
wrote on the blackboard, they would hit my back.

But, when we continue to live in a society that claims to be color-blind or post-racial, there is something powerful about naming this racism and the stereotypes being perpetuated.  Tetl’s words reveal a vulnerability that provides the space to discuss bullying and racism in a very open way.  This type of bullying continues to happen in classrooms and playgrounds across the nation.  While it’s certainly a complex problem, it’s not going to get any better until we’re willing to have the sometimes hard and uncomfortable conversations about racism in our classrooms.  Argueta’s book provides one way in which to do that.  We talk frequently about literature providing mirrors, windows, and doors.  Here, students who have been bullied are provided a protagonist who speaks both to the experience and how he chose to overcome it. We can also hope that those who have acted as bullies will begin to reflect on the causes and consequences of their behavior.

Talking with Mother Earth | Jorge Argueta | Vamos a LeerIn Dr. Laura Harjo’s introduction to the LAII’s recent screening of the film Tambien la Lluvia, she talked about how one of the effects of conquest, colonization, and colonialism can be seen through the deadening of land as it became property that could be owned.  Argueta’s poetry together with Lucía Ángela Pérez’s beautiful illustrations offer a much different view of land.  Here, Mother Earth is something both alive and powerful.  Exposed to a powerful counter narrative through the introduction to Nahua beliefs and spirituality, readers will hopefully develop a greater appreciation for Earth and the many facets of nature that we often take for granted, such as the wind, sun, water, or plants.

Activity Suggestions:

There’s a lot you could do with the book beyond a read aloud.  These ideas are just a start.  It’s certainly an excellent mentor text for poetry writing.  Argueta discusses his own childhood experiences with both openness and vulnerability.  Using this as a model, ask students to think about a hurtful experience they’ve had.  Perhaps they’ve been bullied, or they have bullied another student.  This could become the inspiration for their own poem.  It’s also an excellent text to use to teach nature poetry.  Ask students to think about the ways in which we take different elements of nature for granted.  Then, choosing one of these elements, each student can write their own poem as Argueta did. If time permits, have students illustrate their poems.  Then, create a class book of the poetry for display.

We’re not alone in thinking this is a wonderful book.  It has received both the  International Latino Book Award and Américas Book Award.

As always, I’d love to hear what your students think about the book!

Katrina

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Reading Roundup: 10 Latino Children’s Books Celebrating the Natural World

Aprils 2016 Reading Roundup¡Buenos días!

In celebration of Earth Day, this month I have put together a list of books involving Latin America and the natural world. While creating this list, I was continually thinking about our everyday interactions with nature. This month is the perfect time for openly and beautifully reflecting on what it means to interact with the earth, and I hope that these books will provide a platform to do so. These books are a celebration of the natural world, including plants, animals, the sun and the sky. In addition, they draw connections to conservation, life cycles, food and medicines. I hope everyone finds them inspiring!

¡Saludos!
Kalyn

Parrots Over Puerto Rico
Written by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore
Collages by Susan L. Roth
Published by Lee & Low Books Inc.
ISBN: 9781620140048
Age Level: 6-11

Above the treetops of Puerto Rico flies a flock of parrots as green as their island home. . . . These are Puerto Rican parrots. They lived on this island for millions of years, and then they nearly vanished from the earth forever.

Puerto Rican parrots, once abundant, came perilously close to extinction in the 1960s due to centuries of foreign exploration and occupation, development, and habitat destruction. In this compelling book, Roth and Trumbore recount the efforts of the scientists of the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program to save the parrots and ensure their future. Woven into the parrots’ story is a brief history of Puerto Rico itself, from before the first human settlers to the present day.

With striking collage illustrations, a unique format, and engaging storytelling, Parrots Over Puerto Rico invites readers to witness the amazing recovery efforts that have enabled Puerto Rican parrots to fly over their island once again.

My thoughts:
I absolutely loved this book, and it is perfect for teaching Earth Day! Roth’s collages are incredibly captivating and I could not help but take time looking at their details. This book ties the history of the Puerto Rican parrots to the history of Puerto Rico itself, therefore teaching about the effect that actions in history have on the environment. Just like Puerto Rico’s history of colonialism and becoming a commonwealth state of the United States, the Puerto Rican parrots have had a difficult history, and they have survived and continue to persevere. This book also tells about the need for intervention in order to prevent the extinction of the parrots by depicting human efforts to save the parrots. It tells in detail the processes that scientists and conservationists have taken towards saving these birds, and at the end of the book there are photos of the efforts with nonfictional descriptions. In addition, Lee & Low Books has a guide for educators that I encourage you to check out! Continue reading

Reading Roundup: 10 Books about Latin American and Latina Women

 

Reading Roundup March

 

¡Buenos días!

I hope everyone is having a great week! Beginning this month, we will be bringing you our Reading Roundup list at the beginning of the month, so that you’ll have more time to include them in your classroom themes. Nonetheless, we hope you are able to incorporate these books into your classes all year long! As Keira explained in her Sobre Marzo post, we are celebrating Women’s History Month and I therefore present to you books with strong Latin American and Latina female characters While this list cannot possibly encompass all of the wonderful books out there with positive women role models, we hope that it can be a start. In addition, if you have any relevant books to suggest, please comment and let us know! In this Reading Roundup, we aim at encompassing a mix of both well-known and everyday women’s narratives. In addition, all of the authors are women. While the majority of these books do not delve deeply into the complexity of gender, gender roles and expectations are addressed in a few of the young adult books listed, like in Gabi, A Girl in Pieces and Under the Mesquite. We hope that you enjoy these books and find them valuable for your classrooms!

¡Saludos!
Kalyn  Continue reading

Reading Roundup: 10 Books About Indigenous Peoples of Latin America

Nov 2015 Indigenous Peoples

¡Buenos días!

I hope everyone is having a great Thanksgiving! The Reading Roundup I’ve created this month involves books about Indigenous peoples of Latin America. With all of the stereotyped Pilgrims and Indians floating around, I hope that these books can be of use in the classroom for depicting a more accurate view of Native peoples and cultures in the Americas. I personally enjoyed reading and writing about these books, and I hope you enjoy them too!

Saludos,
Kalyn

Continue reading