Welcome Back! Our Reading List for the Year

Dear friends,

We’re excited to be back with you for the start of a new school year. Stay tuned for introductions to our current blogging team (with some returning from last year and others as fresh faces), news from the world of children’s lit for teachers, book reviews in English and Spanish, curated bibliographies, and more!

Today (September 10th) we’ll get underway with the 2018-2019 round of our local Vamos a Leer book group here in Albuquerque. Starting Monday (9/10), we’ll get together every month at Red Door Brewing in downtown Abq to enjoy a pint and discuss our favorite quotes. Join us if you’re local!

Below are the books that we’re looking forward to sharing with you. The complete list is the product of some amazing summertime days spent scouring the shelves and sifting through many worthwhile titles. Here’s a printable flyer for quick reference. Enjoy!!

Cheers,
Keira

SEPTEMBER 10th: The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez • Lee & Low Books, 2017 •
Grades 3-6

The First Rule of Punk

From debut author and longtime zine-maker Celia C. Pérez, The First Rule of Punk is a wry and heartfelt exploration of friendship, finding your place, and learning to rock out like no one’s watching.

There are no shortcuts to surviving your first day at a new school–you can’t fix it with duct tape like you would your Chuck Taylors. On Day One, twelve-year-old Malu (Maria Luisa, if you want to annoy her) inadvertently upsets Posada Middle School’s queen bee, violates the school’s dress code with her punk rock look, and disappoints her college-professor mom in the process. Her dad, who now lives a thousand miles away, says things will get better as long as she remembers the first rule of punk: be yourself.

The real Malu loves rock music, skateboarding, zines, and Soyrizo (hold the cilantro, please). And when she assembles a group of like-minded misfits at school and starts a band, Malu finally begins to feel at home. She’ll do anything to preserve this, which includes standing up to an anti-punk school administration to fight for her right to express herself!

OCTOBER 8th: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez • Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2017 • Grades 9+

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian meets Jane the Virgin in this poignant but often laugh-out-loud funny contemporary YA about losing a sister and finding yourself amid the pressures, expectations, and stereotypes of growing up in a Mexican-American home.

Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.

But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.

Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.

But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?

NOVEMBER 12th: The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya • Viking Books for Young Readers, 2017 • Grades 7+

The Epic Fail

Save the restaurant. Save the town. Get the girl. Make Abuela proud. Can thirteen-year-old Arturo Zamora do it all or is he in for a BIG, EPIC FAIL?

For Arturo, summertime in Miami means playing basketball until dark, sipping mango smoothies, and keeping cool under banyan trees. And maybe a few shifts as junior lunchtime dishwasher at Abuela’s restaurant. Maybe. But this summer also includes Carmen, a cute poetry enthusiast who moves into Arturo’s apartment complex and turns his stomach into a deep fryer. He almost doesn’t notice the smarmy land developer who rolls into town and threatens to change it. Arturo refuses to let his family and community go down without a fight, and as he schemes with Carmen, Arturo discovers the power of poetry and protest through untold family stories and the work of Jose Marti.

DECEMBER 10th: Wild Beauty by Anna-Maria McLemore • Feiwel & Friends, 2017 • Grades 7+

Wild Beauty

Love grows such strange things.

Anna-Marie McLemore’s debut novel The Weight of Feathers garnered fabulous reviews and was a finalist for the prestigious YALSA Morris Award, and her second novel, When the Moon was Ours, was longlisted for the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Now, in Wild Beauty, McLemore introduces a spellbinding setting and two characters who are drawn together by fate—and pulled apart by reality.

For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

JANUARY 14th: Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh by Uma Krishnaswami • Tú Books, 2017 • Grades 3-5

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Nine-year-old Maria Singh longs to play softball in the first-ever girls’ team forming in Yuba City, California. It’s the spring of 1945, and World War II is dragging on. Miss Newman, Maria’s teacher, is inspired by Babe Ruth and the All-American Girls’ League to start a girls’ softball team at their school. Meanwhile, Maria’s parents–Papi from India and Mama from Mexico–can no longer protect their children from prejudice and from the discriminatory laws of the land. When the family is on the brink of losing their farm, Maria must decide if she has what it takes to step up and find her voice in an unfair world. In this fascinating middle grade novel, award-winning author Uma Krishnaswami sheds light on a little-known chapter of American history set in a community whose families made multicultural choices before the word had been invented.

FEBRUARY 11th: Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera • Riverdale Avenue Books, 2016 • Grades 9 +

Juliet Takes a Breath

Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff.

Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle? With more questions than answers, Juliet takes on Portland, Harlowe, and most importantly, herself.

MARCH 11th: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo • HarperTeen, 2018 • Grades 7 +

The Poet X

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about.

With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

APRIL 8th: The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos • Carolrhoda Lab, 2018 • Grades 9 + 

The Disturbed Girls DictionaryMacy’s school officially classifies her as “disturbed,” but Macy isn’t interested in how others define her. She’s got more pressing problems: her mom can’t move off the couch, her dad’s in prison, her brother’s been kidnapped by Child Protective Services, and now her best friend isn’t speaking to her. Writing in a dictionary format, Macy explains the world in her own terms—complete with gritty characters and outrageous endeavors. With an honesty that’s both hilarious and fearsome, slowly Macy reveals why she acts out, why she can’t tell her incarcerated father that her mom’s cheating on him, and why her best friend needs protection . . . the kind of protection that involves Macy’s machete.

¡Mira, Look!: Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics

¡Buenos días! Continuing with National Poetry Month, today we will be taking a look at Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López. Engle’s work is wonderful to read at any time, but seems even more apt right now given that she is currently serving (2017-2019) as the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate. People who hold this position aim “to raise awareness that young people have a natural receptivity to poetry and are its most appreciative audience, especially when poems are written specifically for them.”

In this particular book, Engle invites and inspires young readers with a collection of poems about 18 different Hispanics who lived between the years of 1713 and 2011. The people whom she highlights come from a variety of backgrounds, and they worked in many different fields. What they share in common is that they left an important impact on our world, and they are from the Americas.

Before I dive further into the review, I want to have a short conversation about the term “Hispanic” and how it’s used in the book. This is one of many terms that have been chosen by or applied to peoples of Spanish and Latin American descent, alongside terms such as Chicano, Latino, Latinx, Mexicano, Mestizo and Spanish, among others. The use of these terms, including who gets to choose them and why they choose them, is part of a much larger history than we can offer here. Nonetheless we want to pause to acknowledge their complexity and offer at least a starting point for understanding the use of the term “Hispanic” in Bravo!

“Hispanic” first appeared in the 1970s on the US Census, after activists had lobbied for the use of an umbrella category that would more thoroughly document the breadth of Spanish-speaking individuals in the US. Previously, individuals had either marked themselves as “White” or identified by their country of birth. In current parlance, “Hispanic” has evolved into a much more complicated word whose meaning changes depending on the context. It can be interpreted as neutral, hegemonic, politically-charged, inclusive, or exclusive. We’ve included resources further below in case you want to tease apart some of the implications surrounding it. In the case of Bravo, Engle uses the term in a positive sense and interprets it fluidly, beginning the book with this note to her readers:

“This is not a book about the most famous Hispanics. These poems are about a variety of amazing people who lived in geographic regions now included in the modern United States. They are people who have faced life’s challenges in creative ways. Some were celebrated in their lifetimes but have been forgotten by history. Others achieved lasting fame…”

She then goes on to highlight the achievements of both well-known and less famous Hispanics throughout time. Some of the impactful Hispanic people she highlights include: Juan de Miralles from Cuba, who helped America achieve independence from England; the fierce Juana Briones who was born in Spanish California and was a rancher, healer and midwife; Mexican-American botanist Ynés Mexía; Aída de Acosta from Cuba, who was the first female pilot; and Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, who was a New Mexican teacher, nutritionist and writer. After highlighting each historical figure, Engle writes a poem encompassing even more Hispanics who have had a large impact on our world today. It would be an endless job of fitting so many heroes into one book, and one can sense her struggle with wanting to include and celebrate as many people as she can.

Alongside Engle’s writing, Rafael López’s illustrations are magnificent. With simple outlines and saturated colors, he captures the lively personalities that shine through Engle’s poetry, and uses carefully chosen background elements to tease out details of their lives. For example, in the illustration of botanist Ynés Mexía, she is surrounded by plants and flowers. Luis Agassiz Fuertes, painter of birds, is surrounded by birds and stands in front of a background of trees. Juana Briones, healer, rancher and herbalist, stands in a field amid herbs.

This book would be great to use while working with classroom units involving poetry. Each poem is told from a first person point-of-view, which demonstrates a specific approach to writing a poem that might segue well with encouraging students to bring their own voice and experience into the classroom conversation. It could also encourage students to study historical figures and envision their experiences. For example, here is the poem Engle wrote about Paulina Pedroso (1845-1925, Cuba):

 

“José Martí and all the other exiled poets

meet in my Florida home, where they recite

beautiful verses, and discuss ways to bring freedom

to our homeland.

They call me a heroine for creating

a friendship society of black and white cubanos,

all of us living in exile, where we help each other,

and help the needy – orphans, widows, the poor…

 

When my friend and I walk arm in arm,

it is a wordless statement of equality,

Martí’s light skin and my dark skin

side by side.”

 

Below are a few lesson plans involving poetry that I suggest checking out to accompany Bravo!:

  • readwritethink.org has some great lesson plan ideas and resources for using during National Poetry Month.
  • The Poetry Foundation has a variety of resources, including poems for children in particular. Poems by Margarita Engle outside of those found in Bravo! are on this website.
  • On her website, Margarita Engle has two videos with tips for teaching poetry to children.

Given that Bravo! centers around individual stories and we are inviting you to use it as a tool for focusing on your students’ stories, it might be worthwhile to bring in an activity from Rethinking School’s book, Reading, Writing and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word, by Linda Christensen.  While the whole book can be purchased as a PDF for $14.95, a sample lesson plan is available for free. It’s called “To Say the Name is to Begin the Story,” and it offers a community building lesson on the personal and cultural significance of naming. Check out the book link for the lesson plan and related resources.

Returning briefly to the above conversation about Hispanic and Latino/Latinx, here are a few quick resources to add to the conversation (note: we’re not suggesting that you use these as definitive sources):

Finally, if you enjoy Engle’s work as much as we do, you might appreciate reading our reviews of her other books, including Drum Dream Girl and Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal, in addition to our educator’s guides for The Surrender Tree / El árbol de la rendición (available in both Spanish and English), Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck, and The Lightning Dreamer. We also posted an interview with Margarita Engle that I recommend checking out. And we also recommend you head over to Latinx in Kid Lit for their complementary review of Bravo.

We hope you enjoy this book as much as we did, and that it will be useful for you in the classroom during National Poetry Month and beyond!

Saludos,

Kalyn


Images modified from: Bravo: Poems About Amazing Hispanics

Sobre Abril: Latinx Children’s Literature Celebrating the Natural World and the Beauty of Poetry

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Hola a tod@s!

As March and Women’s History Month wrap up, I’ve been pleasantly distracted by the birdsong outside my window, the patter of rain that passed over our desert city last night, and the many spring flowers bursting from the ground. With National Poetry Month coming next week, I’m compelled to think in poetic terms. This piece from Neruda seems appropriate:

La Primavera

El pájaro ha venido
a dar la luz:
de cada trino suyo
nace el agua.

Y entre agua y luz que el aire desarrollan
ya está la primavera inaugurada,
ya sabe la semilla que ha crecido,
la raíz se retrata en la corola,
se abren por fin los párpados del polen.

Todo lo hizo un pájaro sencillo
desde una rama verde.


The Spring

The bird has come
to give us light:
from each of its trills
water is born.

Between water and light, air unfolds.
Now the spring’s inaugurated.
The seed knows that it has grown
the root pictures the flower
and the pollen’s eyelids finally open.

All this done by a simple bird
on a green branch.

Here at Vamos a Leer we’re heartily embracing the sentiment of spring and poetry. In the coming weeks, we’ll share resources that highlight both, from children’s books that look at the natural world in a variety of ways to poetry for younger and older readers alike.

We hope you enjoy our findings as much we’ve enjoyed discovering them.

Cheers,
Keira

 

Sobre Febrero: Latinx Children’s Literature and Resources for Teaching Love of Self, Community, and World

Vamos a Leer | Sobre Febrero 2017

Hello, all!

In February we’ve turned to upcoming holidays and other celebrations as a means of shaping our emphases. Perhaps you’re thinking about these holidays and other celebrations right now and are pondering how to fit them into your classroom.  For Valentine’s Day, for instance, we were inspired to think about a more nuanced way to approach the holiday — one that moves us beyond candy hearts and red-tinted art projects. Our focus is going to be on love as a broader concept — love of self, of community, and of world. It’s a theme that seems more appropriate than ever given all of the negative sentiments and outright hatred circulating among at the moment.

Continue reading

January 20th | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! Today’s Week in Review is a bit longer than usual because there were so many valuable resources to share this week. The content has given me hope, and I hope it will do the same for you. Enjoy!

– The Zinn Education Project shared a new lesson plan to teach about the Reconstruction Era titled, Reconstructing the South: A Role Play. While a historical lesson, the themes are relevant today. “This role play asks students to imagine themselves as people who were formerly enslaved and to wrestle with a number of issues about what they needed to ensure genuine “freedom”: ownership of land—and what the land would be used for; the fate of Confederate leaders; voting rights; self-defense; and conditions placed on the former Confederate states prior to being allowed to return to the Union.”

Continue reading

Sobre Noviembre: Resources for Teaching about Latinx Food as Culture and Heritage

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Dear all,

We’re wrapping up our discussion of loss and resolution here at Vamos a Leer and turning our thoughts to November, when we’ll begin to tune in, as many of you likely will, to the upcoming holidays. And the thought of winter celebrations is prompting us to think deeply about the importance of food. In the next few weeks we’re going metaphorically to sink our teeth into the discussion of how food expresses and reinforces cultural practices. We hope you’ll relish these resources as much as we’ve enjoy gathering them.

As always, let us know if you have ideas and resources! We welcome your input.

Best,
Keira

p.s. I couldn’t resist the puns! Sorry! 🙂

 

October 21st | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! I am sorry for the technical difficulties last week! We promise not to send you the same post three times in a row again, even if we’re really excited about it.

Now that we’re back on schedule, here is the week in review. Let us know if we overlooked any marvelous resources!

— As we wrap up Hispanic Heritage Month, Read Diverse Books recommended a list of books to Read During and After Latinx Heritage Month. I’ve read A House of My Own by Sandra Cisneros and The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande, but clearly have a long list of TBR ahead of me!

– Our Rethinking School friends shared on their Facebook page an important article that highlights How the Stress of Racism Affects Learning.

— Also, on the blog Reading While White, Allie Jane Bruce shares Thoughts on Stereotypes and offers a perspective that we share here at Vamos a Leer: “…we need to pay attention when characters are given stereotypical traits.”

Latinx in Kid Lit shared an example of the positive influence of bilingual education in Californians, Having Curbed Bilingual Education, May Now Expand it. “What we want is for individual schools to be able to decide what they think is best for the students, whether that’s a dual language or some other way.”

– Over at the De Colores blog, we read a moving review of the children’s book Dos Conejos Blancos / Two White Rabbits written by Jairo Butrango and illustrated by Rafael Yockteng. Recently selected as an Américas Award Commended Title, this is a book to add to your collection!

— Lastly, Lee & Low Books shared the new Curated Books App by We Need Diverse Books. “OurStory is a database comprised of more than 1,200 curated books reflecting diverse characters and themes that librarians, educators, parents, and children can search for reading recommendations.”

Abrazos,

Alin Badillo


Image: Ballet Folklorico Performers. Reprinted from Flickr user Jennifer Janviere under CC©.