January 13th | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! I hope your holiday celebrations were blessed and unforgettable. As we start the New Year, I want to take this opportunity to share our excitement here at Vamos a Leer about the many recent and forthcoming titles by and about Latin@s. We’re adding lots of these titles to our TBR list and thought you might want to, too. Enjoy!

Remezcla shared on their page the Top 15 2016 Must Reads From Latin America and Latino Authors. “The list below is 15 of the best books published in the U.S. by Latinx writers this year — it includes books in translation (so many books in translation!) Latin-American writers, and a lot of debut authors.”

– Our Latinx in Kid Lit friends shared their 2016 Favorites List: Libros Latinxs. “This year’s releases offered picture books that we found irresistible, early reader/chapter books that charmed us to the core, and works of fiction and nonfiction sure to thrill middle-grade and YA readers.”

-Also, The Cooperative Children’s Book Center shared their Best 2016 Reading Choices. “CCBC Choices 2016 is a fully annotated listing of 259 books published in 2015 for birth through high school and recommended by the CCBC professional staff.”

— Spoiler, Latinx in Kid Lit shared a sneak preview of their 2017 Titles By/For/About Latinx Reading Review List.

– Lastly, please keep an eye out for future materials by the campaign Queen Girls- Stories of real women turned into fairy tales! Started by two women who weren’t pleased with their children’s reading options, the organization’s mission is “to reach as many kids as possible and distribute donated books [and to partner]with local and international organizations who are fighting illiteracy and empowering girls.” They’re not Latin@-focused, but their protagonists are all people of color and we applaud the organizers’ efforts to break apart the traditional canon of children’s literature!

Abrazos,
Alin Badillo


Image: Ballet Folklorico Performers. Reprinted from Flickr user Natasha Collins under CC©.

 

Feliz Año Nuevo y Sobre Enero: Celebrating Lesser Known Stories & Unsung Heroes in Children’s and & YA Latin@ Literature

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Feliz año nuevo a tod@s! We’re excited to come back in 2017 with a renewed dedication to sharing and celebrating the wealth of literature focused on Latin@ experiences in children’s and YA books. We start the year inspired by the outpouring of community-focused sentiments and social justice emphases that have emerged in the last two months. With this in mind, we’ve decided that now is a good time to focus in on a conversation about social change and how it happens. How do we achieve a more just and equitable world? A world that prioritizes multicultural experiences and backgrounds rather than denigrating differences?

Though these questions merit much larger conversations than we can engage in here, we can offer at least one approach: to think of change as something brought about not only by famous, charismatic leaders, but more so by thousands of individual actions. We’re talking about actions that may be public or private, societal or familial, formal or informal, quiet or loud, compassionate or fierce, to name but a few of the many variations. To get at what this spectrum of change looks like in practice, we’re using the month of January to move beyond traditional heroes and to consider lesser known stories and “unsung heroes” in children’s and YA Latin@ literature.What are the stories in Latin@ literature that can spark change and inspire young readers?

We hope you’ll join us along our journey now and in the coming months. As always,  thanks for being here and we look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas!

En solidaridad,
Keira


Image: Adapted from photograph of mural commemorating the Madres de la Plaza del Mayo in Argentina.  Reprinted via CC © from Flickr user Seven Resist.

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November 4th | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! The readings for this week are a mix between celebrating Día de los Muertos and bilingual education. I really hope you enjoy them.

After Nearly 2 Decades, Californians Revisit Ban On Bilingual Education. “Our children live in Spanish-speaking families, Spanish-speaking neighborhoods, and listen to Spanish television when they’re home. If school refuses to teach them English, where are they going to learn it? They’re not going to go to college if they don’t have academic English down well.”

– Our Teaching for Change friends shared on Facebook their favorite bilingual children’s book (and one of ours!), Just a Minute!: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book, in celebration of Día de los Muertos.

— Also on Facebook, Latinas for Latino Lit shared their list of chapter Books with Latina Protagonists.

–Here are 21 Of The Most Powerful Things Ever Said About Being An Immigrant shared by our friends at We Need Diverse Books. Warsan Shire writes, “You have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

– Lastly, from Remezcla, we discovered 5 Virtual Día de los Muertos Altars to Women Who Defined Music History that you can share in your classroom.

Abrazos,
Alin Badillo


Image: Día de los Muertos Art. Reprinted from Flickr user Kubetwo under CC©.

Book Review: Out of Darkness

out of darknessHere’s our review of this month’s featured novel, Out of Darkness.  It prompted great discussion at our monthly book group.  I can’t wait to hear what our online community thinks of it! Keira and I had the pleasure of meeting Hope Pérez at September’s Américas Award ceremony where she was one of the recipients of this year’s award.  She’s absolutely wonderful! If you have the opportunity to hear her speak or meet her, take advantage of it! You’ll be glad you did.

Out of Darkness
Written by Ashley Hope Pérez
Published by Carolrhoda Lab, 2015
ISBN: 978-1467742023
Age level: 15 and up

Book Summary

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 Out of Darkness is a book that is both beautiful and brutal. I’ve come to refer to these kinds of books as brutiful. The first time I started it, I put it down. I got to page 40 and thought, I can’t do this right now. I was hooked, but I also had a pretty strong feeling about where it was going, and I didn’t want to go there. Admittedly, that’s evidence of my own privilege. I get to choose when, where, and how I engage with a story such as Out of Darkness because it’s not reflective of my own life experience. It’s not a mirror for me; instead it’s more of a window, or perhaps a door.

Despite the significant number of honors and award it’s received (see the end of the post for a list), some continue to question the book’s appropriateness for high school students because it deals with racism, racial violence, and sexual abuse. I understand this. There is the idea that we must protect the innocence of our students for as long as possible. But I think we need to stop and unpack this idea of protection and childhood innocence. When we look more critically at this notion, we must address a number of questions: Who gets to remain innocent? Whom or what are we protecting when we refuse to give voice to the trauma many of our students experience? As Malinda Lo notes, “It is natural to want to protect young people from horrible truths, but all too often we forget to question whom exactly are these young people we want to protect? Typically, they’re white. Young people of color have already experienced racism; they are beyond this kind of protection.” Bringing to light the stories of those who have been silenced or marginalized can be painful, but that doesn’t mean that those stories shouldn’t be told. Too many of our students have had similar experiences, and it’s our job to create the spaces for them to process these experiences.

As the We Need Diverse Books movement continues to reiterate, we all deserve to have empowered protagonists that reflect our own realities. To not provide those for our students is to create a shame of invisibility. According to Brené Brown (2008), “Invisibility is about disconnection and powerlessness. When we don’t see ourselves reflected back in our culture, we feel reduced to something so small and insignificant that we’re easily erased from the world of important things. Both the process of being reduced and the final product of that process—invisibility—can be incredibly shaming.” As if living through racism, sexism, bullying, or sexual, emotional, and physical abuse isn’t painful enough, we add another layer of shame in erasing these experiences from the literature we use in our classrooms. For more on this topic, check out The Atlantic’s recent article How Banning Books Marginalizes Children.

Recently I’ve noticed a flurry of articles discussing the importance of teaching empathy to our students (you can read more about this here, here, here, and here). I think this is a significant part of discussing appropriate literature and the protection of our students. No one is advocating for the use of Out of Darkness in an elementary or middle school classroom. School Library Journal suggests it is for grades 9 and up. For the majority of high school students, I’d argue this could be an incredibly powerful reading, and not just for those who find themselves reflected in the characters. It’s just as important for those who don’t. If we believe empathy is an essential skill, as research continues to suggest, then we must expose our students to stories and points of view that are different from their own.  There’s more I could write about here, but for the sake of time, I’ll direct you to Hope Pérez’s article “Embracing Discomfort in YA Literature.”

I’m sure we’re all familiar with iterations of the following famous quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (Santayana, 1905). Our current situation of race relations in the U.S. didn’t occur in a vacuum. There is a history of racism and white privilege that we continue to gloss over in our classroom curricula. We’ve all heard the saying “History is written by the victors.” I’m afraid that as long as we continue to read the victors’ versions, we’re going to continue to make the same mistakes. Books like Out of Darkness provide the opportunity to read another version, a narrative counter to what is often presented in mainstream literature and textbooks.

Out of Darkness is a profoundly affecting book. There is a continued state of suspense that keeps the book moving forward and will be sure to keep students engaged. While I can’t speak for young adult readers, my guess is the majority of adult readers know where the book is headed. The injustice is painful. Hope Pérez creates characters the reader truly cares about. Yes, they’re fictional, but, as Hope Pérez writes in the “Author’s Note,” the suffering these characters endure is based on similar documented events throughout the South. So, while fictional, the stories of Naomi, Wash, Beto, and Cari provide an understanding of what life was like in the South during this historical period.

They say, “Once a teacher, always a teacher.” While not in the classroom now, I continue to evaluate books based on what they could accomplish in a classroom setting. What can be taught through the book? What discussions can be broached? What can students learn through the book? How might we be changed through the process of reading the book? The discussion above has touched on a number of issues Out of Darkness addresses, but there are a few more that I’d like to mention. Racism and abuse are explicit themes throughout the book, but there is also a critique of sexism and gender norms that is perhaps more implicit. Henry (the father/stepfather) represents a more stereotypical social norm of masculinity. He’s a “man’s man”—he hunts, he works, and he expects to be unquestionably waited on and obeyed by the women in his home. He’s also one of the most unstable and mentally unhealthy characters in the book. He attempts to force Beto into taking on this same type of masculinity. But Beto resists. Beto doesn’t conform to this social norm, and that may be part of why he survives, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

The book also provides an engaging context for teaching about fiction and non-fiction and the ways in which those boundaries can be blurred through historical fiction. Hope Pérez’s “Author’s Note” is useful here, particularly in discussing why one may choose to write a fictional account of an historical event and how this could be a more effective way to teach about a period in history.

If your students have read or will read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Out of Darkness provides the opportunity for an interesting comparative study as both are tragedies about star-crossed lovers. “The Gang” is an interesting character in Out of Darkness. As both Shakespeare and many of the Greek dramatists use a Chorus, students familiar with either of these could do a comparative study on the role of these group characters. “The Gang” in Out of Darkness provides a segue to critically discuss groupthink and its role in bullying.

The list of awards, honors, and starred reviews for Hope Pérez’s most recent novel continues to grow. Out of Darkness has received the Michael L. Printz Honor for Excellence in Young Adult Literature (2016), the Tomás Rivera Book Award (2016), and the Américas Award (2016).  It was also listed as a School Library Journal Best Book of 2015, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2015, a 2016 Top Ten TAYSHAS selection, and a Spirit of Texas book. It received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal and was praised in the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

For more information on the author, read Alice’s recent post all about Ashley Hope Pérez.

If you’ve had the chance to read Out of Darkness, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Just leave a comment below.

If you’re an educator, our Educator’s Guide Page has resources for using the book in the classroom. The Américas Award is currently creating a guide to accompany the book and we will update our page as soon as it’s available.

Until next week,

–Katrina

UPDATE:

Based on various conversations we’ve had about the book and its use in the classroom, we thought we’d provide both background on why we believe it’s so important that books that deal with topics such as those discussed in Out of Darkness be used in the classroom, and resources that can be used to support teachers and students who read the book.

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a colleague who had worked at the local Rape Crisis Center. During this conversation I was made aware of some shocking and gut wrenching statistics on sexual abuse in New Mexico (NM).

Statistics compiled from Sex Crimes Trends in New Mexico: An Analysis of Data from The New Mexico Interpersonal Violence Data Central Repository 2010-2014, and New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey (YRRS) High School Survey Results Bernalillo County Grades 9-12, 2015

Out of Darkness deals with the issue of sexual abuse, and many have questioned whether or not it is appropriate to use in schools because of this. When I look at the statistics above, it seems very clear to me how important it is that we use books like Out of Darkness in our classrooms. Given the high probability that we will have students in our classes who are or have been victims of sexual abuse, we must provide the spaces that allow them to process these experiences and seek any help or support that they may need.

Obviously, no educator should introduce a book like Out of Darkness without significant forethought and planning. After speaking with a colleague who has experience in offering classroom outreach and training on sexual assault and related issues, we have a few recommendations for ways that educators could prepare for teaching this book:

First, we would suggest that the educator contact the school’s social worker or counselor and let them know that she/he will be using the book in the classroom, and that it deals with issues of sexual violence and abuse.

Second, for our NM teachers, we suggest contacting the Rape Crisis Center. They have staff trained to come into high school classrooms and do presentations on these topics. Teachers using literature dealing with themes of sexual abuse regularly arrange these presentations so that students have a context from which to understand the topics they are reading and discussing. During these presentations, the Rape Crisis Center staff can also speak to students about the services in the community available for survivors of sexual violence. If you are not a local NM teacher, we would suggest seeking out your local resource center(s) before implementing the book in the classroom.

Third, we suggest viewing the documentary Audrie & Daisy. The film is an urgent real-life drama that examines the ripple effects on families, friends, schools and communities when two underage young women find that sexual assault crimes against them have been caught on camera. It takes a hard look at American teenagers who are coming of age in this new world of social media bullying, spun wildly out of control. It is currently (as of October 2016) available to stream on Netflix.

Fourth, have an alternate reading available. Our colleague from the Rape Crisis Center pointed out that when someone has had their power taken away from them through sexual violence, it is very, very important for there to be options in how they want to heal from that experience. For some survivors, reading a book like Out of Darkness will be empowering. For others, it may trigger PTSD, in which case it is of great importance that they have an alternative option.

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Guía del educador: El árbol de la rendición

¡Saludos a todo/as!

The-Surrender-TreeEspero y estén muy bien. Estoy muy emocionada por presentarles la guía del educador en español de esta semana. El libro se llama El árbol de la rendición por Margarita Engle. Pueden encontrar el guía en la página principal de Educator’s Guides, pero el link directo a la página en español también está disponible aquí. Recuerden que las guías del educador también están disponibles en PDF en la misma página, y obviamente en los dos idiomas.

Ojalá disfruten de este libro y del guía!


Hello everyone!
I hope you are all doing well. I am excited to present this week’s Spanish-language Educator’s Guide for the week. The book is called The Surrender Tree/El árbol de la rendición by Margarita Engle. You can find the Spanish-language guide in the Educator’s Guide main page, but the direct link to the Spanish page is also available here. Remember that the guides are also available in PDF form on the same page, and obviously are available in both languages.

I hope you enjoy this book and its guides!

Hasta la próxima,

Valeria

¡Mira Look!: Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes

portraitsSaludos todos! Our book for this week is Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes, written by Juan Felipe Herrera and illustrated by Raúl Colón (the same illustrator from last week’s book, Tomás and the Library Lady). Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes won the Pura Belpré Honor Book award for narrative in 2015, and perfectly embodies this month’s endeavor of honoring exceptional Latinos in children’s literature, as well as in society as a whole.

Each chapter of this wonderful compilation of portraits narrates the life and work of a Latinx hero, ranging from iconic activists such as Dolores Huerta and César Chávez, to trail-blazing intellectuals such as Sonia Sotomayor and Tomás Rivera, to some of my own personal idols, such as contemporary singer Joan Baez and 1920s author Julia de Burgos.

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Book Review: Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal

Vamos a Leer | Featured Book | Silver People by Margarita EngleHere’s our review of this month’s featured novel, Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal.  I’m really looking forward to discussing it with our book group next Monday. If you’re an Albuquerque local, we’d love to have you join us!

Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal
Written by Margarita Engle
Published by HMH Books For Young Readers, 2014
ISBN: 978-0544109414
Age level: 12 years and up

Book Summary

One hundred years ago, the world celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, which connected the world’s two largest oceans and signaled America’s emergence as a global superpower. It was a miracle, this path of water where a mountain had stood—and creating a miracle is no easy thing. Thousands lost their lives, and those who survived worked under the harshest conditions for only a few silver coins a day.

From the young “silver people” whose back-breaking labor built the Canal to the denizens of the endangered rainforest itself, this is the story of one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, as only Newbery Honor-winning author Margarita Engle could tell it.

My Thoughts

Without fail, one of the most striking aspects of Engle’s work is her commitment to bringing little or unknown historical figures and periods to life.  Since Engle often writes about Cuba, I was surprised when I heard she had written a book about the Panama Canal. But as I learned more about the story, the choice in topic made perfect sense. Admittedly, I knew very little about the history of the Panama Canal.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m alone in that. On Vamos a Leer we frequently reference the idea of the ‘rewriting’ of history. Having now read Silver People, I believe the minimal attention given to the creation of the Panama Canal in our k-12 curricula is an example of one such rewriting.

During the fall students across the U.S. often learn about exploration, conquest, and colonization. They study explorers such as Columbus, de Gama, Cortes, and Lewis and Clark — who are all portrayed as courageous heroes. We’ve talked a great deal on Vamos a Leer about ways in which to provide a more balanced account and understanding of Conquest and Colonization. As I read Engle’s Silver People I realized how relevant her book is to that same conversation. The conquest and colonization of the Americas didn’t stop 500 years ago. It’s been a continual and ongoing process, and Silver People calls attention to this. The construction of the Panama Canal represents some of the most problematic and troublesome aspects of U.S. foreign policy. More than likely, this is one reason why it’s so often glossed over in our textbooks.

This is exactly why a book like Silver People is so important and necessary. Engle brings to life the flora, fauna, and people of a historical period many would prefer not to delve into too deeply. Often, if the Panama Canal is mentioned in textbooks at all, it’s in reference to what a miraculous accomplishment it was. It’s heralded as a pivotal point in the transformation of trade and travel between the U.S. and Latin America. Yet we fail to question what it cost to create such a feat. Engle’s novel offers an answer to this question.

Told from multiple points of view, Silver People recounts the story of the building of the Panama Canal. Engle gives voice to Jamaican and Cuban laborers, overseers, Panamanians, American politicians, and the animals, insects, and plants of the Canal zone. Everyone and everything’s experience is considered. Through the use of both fictional and historical characters, the book provides an excellent example of the ways in which primary source documents and historical and scientific research can be used in creative writing.

In Dr. Laura Harjo’s introduction to the LAII’s recent screening of the film Tambien la Lluvia, she talked about how the effects of colonialism can be seen through the commodification of human beings (such as through the use of slave labor and slave wages) and the deadening of land as it became property that could be owned. I can’t help but connect these ideas to Silver People. Through the voices of the laborers, overseers, engineers, and politicians, Engle brings to light the racism and White privilege that drove the construction of the Panama Canal. Consider the following told from Theodore Roosevelt’s perspective: “All around me, workers with shovels/ are making the mud fly, the white/ Americans supervising while black/ islanders dig, on hillsides/ so steep/ and unstable/ that it would be a real/ waste to risk wrecking valuable machines” (p. 96).  The value of one’s life was determined by a racial hierarchy that sounds very similar to sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s contemporary work on the tri-racial system. The darker one’s skin, the more expendable his or her life was. The Canal laborers were further commodified as they became a tourist attraction: “Towering trees are chopped down/ to build more and more railroad tracks,/ and more gold houses, silver barracks,/ and fancy hotels, so that tourists/ can stare down in elegant safety/ from the high, sturdy rim/ of our danger” (p. 111).  In the Author’s Note, Engle discusses the similarities between Canal Zone Apartheid and Jim Crow Laws. This is an important connection, as it not only contextualizes the Panama Canal through a (hopefully) more well-known US historical period, but also points to the way in which the US exports its racism.

One of the more unique pieces of Engle’s book is the very vivid way in which she shows the living nature of the land of Panama. I know my students would have really enjoyed reading from the point of view of the howler monkeys, the three-toed sloth, or the trees.  The nature-based voices show the ecological devastation of the Canal’s construction. The wilderness areas of the country survived, but, as Engle shows, they suffered great harm in the process.

The hope is that when we use books like Silver People, where multiple points of view and perspectives are considered and given voice, we are creating opportunities for our students and readers to both reflect and develop empathetic responses as they increase their understanding of the complexities of our history. I’m also hopeful that the experience of reading books like Silver People helps our students to see the truth in statements like that of Augusto, who writes: “No one cares because no one knows.  If our history is ever to be told, we must tell it ourselves.  Like howlers in the forest, we must lift our voices about the noise of thunder and dynamite.  Dear friends, amigos queridos, write your memories; help me howl our wild truth” (p. 250).

If you’ve had the chance to read Silver People, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Just leave a comment below.

If you’re an educator, our Educator’s Guide Page has resources for using the book in the classroom.

We also have Educator’s Guides available for each of Engle’s books that we’ve featured as part of our book group.  The links below will take you to the classroom resources.

Until next week,

–Katrina

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