An Américas Award Interview: Monica Brown

Buenas! As the school year winds down we are delighted to share another Américas Award interview, this time speaking with Monica Brown. Recently, her book, Lola Levine, Drama Queen, was selected as a Bluebonnet Award Finalist – and she just published the fourth book in her chapter book series, Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean. Be sure to keep an eye out this September for her new book, Frida and her Animalitos, illustrated by John Parra!

~Hania

Vamos-a-Leer-Interview-Monica-Brown.pngMonica Brown is an accomplished children’s book author whose works inspire children and young readers to think deeply, beautifully, and critically about the world around them.

Among the many praises bestowed upon her works, the Américas Award has been twice awarded to her, including for Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People in 2012 and My Name is Celia / Me llamo Celia in 2004.  The repeated accolades and starred reviews she has received all attest to her ability to create beautiful, moving books that encourage empathy and understanding among young readers. Inspired by her Peruvian-American heritage and a desire to share Latino/a stories with children, she writes, as she explains, “from a place of deep passion, job, and commitment to producing the highest possible quality of literature for students.”

Here, the author converses with Hania Mariën of the Vamos a Leer blog as she poses questions about Brown’s work, her inspirations, and the importance of bringing Latinx literature into the classroom. For more information, including publications and supporting educational resources, visit http://www.monicabrown.net.

May, 2017

HANIA MARIËN: You mention that Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match was rejected many times. Since its publication you have published several other books featuring Marisol. What do you think allowed for this eventual publishing success? Can we attribute it in part to a growing awareness of the need for more diverse characters or is there more to it?

MarisolMONICA BROWN: With Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/no combina it took a small, multicultural children’s press based in San Francisco to take that “risk” of publishing a children’s book that talked honestly about the multiracial experience.  That press was Children’s Book Press, now an imprint of the equally visionary publishers Lee and Low.  I’ve been privileged to work with principled editors with courage and vision—trailblazers like Adriana Dominguez, Gabby Baez Ventura, and Nikki Garcia, among other amazing women.

HANIA MARIËN: You say that bilingual books offer “moments of multiple literacy.” Can you tell us a bit more about what you mean by that?

MONICA BROWN: Bilingual books offer the chance for readers to see two beautiful languages side by side on the page.  In Latinx families, there are often generational differences in terms of language. In my family for example, my mother’s first language is Spanish and second language is English. For me it’s the reverse. My Peruvian grandmother spoke only Spanish. A bilingual book allows children to enjoy reading times in two languages, in one, or the other, and also to acquire more language skills as children learn from contextualization and observing the art.

HANIA MARIËN: In an interview with La Bloga you mention that you put a great deal of time and effort into library research for your biographies as part of an effort to honor the histories of people whom the official record has often overlooked.  Do you ever have to look beyond the library for information about their lives? How do you translate your findings into “living” characters?

 MONICA BROWN: In my other life, I’m a literature professor, so I welcome the researchneruda aspects of my children’s biographies.  Some of it involves traditional research and in other cases I rely on interviews, film, creative works and even music.  For my biography Pablo Neruda, Poet of the People, for example, I read his collected words—his gift for language and lyricism inspired, and I hope, infused my writing. Listening to Tito Puente and Celia Cruz’s music was a central part of my creative process in trying to capture their spirit between the pages of a book!

HANIA MARIËN: You say you want all children to feel that their only limitation is their own imagination, and that it is our jobs as teachers, writers, artists and activists to make sure that this is true. What factors (beyond students’ imagination) do you believe currently present the most pressing limitations for children’s future?

MONICA BROWN: I think we have many challenges in terms of public education. We need more funding to provide smaller class sizes, a livable wage for teachers (a huge problem in my state of Arizona), resources for English language learners, as well as culturally representative curriculum that reflects the incredibly diverse history (and population) of children living in the United States. We’ve all heard of information poverty, but I worry equally about imagination poverty. Our children need access to literature, music, and the arts. They need books to model, inspire, instill pride, and affirm.  Books to inspire dreams and aspiration. When I tell the story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez (Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez/Lado a Lado: la historia de Dolores Huerta y Cesar Chavez) or introduce, bold, creative characters like Marisol McDonald (Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/no combina, Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash/ y la fiesta sin equal, and Marisol McDonald and the Monster/y el monstruo) and Lola Levine (The Lola Levine Chapter book Series), I hope children feel more free in their identity, less limited by the stereotypical gendered and racial images they encounter in their everyday life.

HANIA MARIËN: Lastly, drawing upon your dedication to preserving and promoting cultures of the Américas, is there any advice or inspiration you can offer to the teachers reading this interview who may have young Latino/a students in their classrooms?

MONICA BROWN: Teachers can save lives, and they certainly shape young lives.  I was very lucky to have a tía who was a kindergarten teacher who gave me wonderful books at young age and led me on this path—a life built around words, stories, narrative, cultural celebration and creative expression. Books matter. Creativity matters. The opportunity to inspire young minds is a gift.  My advice is to offer books that reflect our Latinx student’s culture and proud heritage, and books that affirm bilingualism. This will counter messages of hate, anti-immigrant and “English only” rhetoric that have been even more blatant under our current administration. I am the proud child of an immigrant. We are here and we are staying. We all have different stories, but can be proud of a collective of care, nurturing, and pride in and for our children.

 


Book images and author photograph reprinted courtesy of the author directly from Monica Brown’s website. 

February 10th | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! This week’s Week in Review focuses on resources that look at questions such as, what does it mean to be a teacher, and what responsibilities does that entail, especially in these times? I really hope the resources are of help to you, I always love gathering the materials and learning with you.

A Talk with Teachers: Revisiting James Baldwin’s Vision for Education is an article shared by Teaching for Change. Here is a snippet of Baldwin’s view of education and teachers, “one of the paradoxes of education was that precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience, you must find yourself at war with your society. It is your responsibility to change society if you think of yourself as an educated person.”

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December 9th | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! Winter break is about to start, so this is is my last post for this year. It is an honor for me to share all of these resources. I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings to all of us. I hope the coming holidays bring you peace, happiness, serenity, and excitement.

– Our Facebook friends Latinos in Kid Lit shared Creating a Diverse Book Legacy: Interview with Culture Chest Founder. “We are a humble startup with big dreams of promoting culture through books, toys, and other avenues.”

– Also, Lee & Low Books shared their top 5: Getting in the Winter Spirit Reading List. I
personally like the book The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

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September 18th | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! I hope everyone is doing well considering the climactic circumstances we are under. I am sending you positive vibes and lots of love.

— Teaching Tolerance shared Developing Empathy resources for Pre K- 12 teachers.

– Our Américas Award friends shared on their Facebook page an important article that highlights the reality of diverse children’s book. BookRiot Justina Ireland questions “Where Are All the YA Books for Kids of Color: September Edition.”

— Also, on their Facebook page Lee & Low Books shared “12 YA Books with Characters of Color and LGBTQ Characters.”

-Here is a review of the advance reader’s copy of The Distance Between Us, a memoir for the young readers shared by our friends in Facebook, Latinxs in Kid Lit. “The Distance Between Us thrums with novelistic tension and detail, offering chiseled portraits of individuals and rendering the settings they come from in vivid form.”

Cuatrogatos shared the book trailer to El Viejito del Sillón, a book by Antonio Orlando Rodríguez published in Mexico.

– Lastly, Anansesem: The Caribbean Children’s Literature Magazine shared that “Books Have The Power to Include, to Exclude and to Create Heroes.” “All children should be seen. No child should have to qualify for entry into the world of picture books. They are powerful. They have the power to include, to exclude and to create heroes.”


Image: Candles. Reprinted from Flickr user Amranur Rahman under CC©.

November 11th | Week in Review

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Hola a todos! This Week in Review is quite long, but I assure you it is full of resources and knowledge that needs to be shared.

ColorLines shared a recent snippet from the show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, inviting readers to “Watch John Oliver Break Down How School Resegregation Hurts Students.” “Black and Latino children are more likely to attend school with inexperienced teachers who are then less likely to offer a college prep curriculum… [and are] 6 times as likely to be in poverty schools.”

— Lee & Low’s blog, The Open Book, shared a post on “Books as Bricks: Building a Diverse Classroom Library and Beyond,” which offers a list of recommendations for teachers looking to diversify their class and school libraries.

– The Horn Book published an article on “Decolonizing Nostalgia: When Historical Fiction Betrays Readers of Color” by Sarah Hannah Gómez, in which she writes: “Omitting nonwhites from episodic historical fiction and the everyday history that informs our lives today says that the only contribution by people of color to society is conflict. Deleting them from the continuous line of history is a lie that perpetuates this insidious myth. And middle-grade historical fiction has a long way to go to acknowledge this betrayal to readers and attempt to overcome it.”

— The blog, Reading While White, shared a guest post with one of our favorite authors, Yuyi Morales, who discusses “Day of the Dead, Ghosts, and the Work We Do as Writers and Artists.” Morales offers a beautiful discussion of her personal practices related to Día de los Muertos and the implications of its distortion in the general media and children’s books.

– The Facebook page Raising Race Conscious Children shared the article,
Telling Poor, Smart Kids That All It Takes Is Hard Work to Be as Successful as Their Wealthy Peers is a Blatant Lie,” which explores how these students face systemic disadvantages even though they work hard.

— Also, Fundación Cuatrogatos recommends the book Corre que te pillo. Juegos y juguetes, which pulls together 27 games and toys that have existed since the early century in Latin America and other regions around the world

The Zinn Education Project just shared The #NoDAPL syllabus for high school and adults. This resource contextualizes how the current resistance in North Dakota is tied to a “broader historical, political, economic, and social context going back over 500 years to the first expeditions of Columbus” and features the practices of “Indigenous peoples around the world [who] have been on the frontlines of conflicts like Standing Rock for centuries.” “

— From We Need Diverse Books, we learned of the recent article, “The Case of the Missing Books/ 10 Years of Data,” written by children’s book author and artist Maya Gonzalez to highlight the lack of diversity in children’s literature over the last decade.d. “The graph below shows the children’s books that were missing by POC and Indigenous people in the children’s book industry over the last 10 years.”

Lee & Low Books just released Rainbow Weaver/Tejedora del arcoíris. The story is about a Mayan young girl named Ixchel and her quest to create a beautiful weaving from unusual materials.

— Lastly, Teaching Tolerance shared What We’re Reading This Week: November 4, a list of resources for critical and conscientious teaching in middle and high school classrooms.

Abrazos,
Alin Badillo


Image: Street Art. Reprinted from Flickr user ARNAUD_Z_VOYAGE under CC©.

Voces: Diverse Books or Honest Books?

Saludos friends!

As you might have gathered from my recent introductory post, I’m coming to Vamos a Leer with a deep commitment to finding diverse literature and bringing it directly to classrooms. I hope in the coming months to use the blog to share the voices of others who are equally if not even more deeply committed to this cause. But before I dive into that effort, I wanted to take a minute and tap into the bigger questions that underlie all this work.

I’m going to start with an assumption with which I think many of our readers would agree: We need diverse books.  But what are diverse books? How do we pick them? And how do we use them?Updated info graphic.jpg

A couple of years ago I started working in an after school program at a bilingual elementary school in Oregon. In my conversations with educators I learned that there were a variety of questions and concerns that commonly prevent diverse books from being used in the classroom.

In her article and conversation with two other authors earlier this year, Tanwi Nandini Islam wondered whether all the “buzz” about diversity had made the word become hollow. Daniel José Older, author of the young adult novel Shadowshaper (previously reviewed by Katrina), told her: “I’m fighting for diverse books, I’m fighting for honest books. When we have books or shows about New York City and it’s all white folks, there’s a lie inherent to that. It’s a question of honesty.”

When I was working with the school, though, I heard a common set of responses: But how do I (as an educator, a librarian, an administrator, a parent) find this diverse and honest representation in books? How do I pick a book about a group I don’t know anything about? How do I choose “quality” diverse books? What do I do if a book has stereotypes? What if I say something wrong? It turns out many educators and others around the country are asking similar questions.

Luckily, there are a growing number of resources to help you out – whether you are a parent, a friend,  an educator, or someone who just loves to read (and of course, none of these are mutually exclusive!).

To start, check out this short Oregon-based video called Choosing Diverse Literature that hopes to address some of these concerns! (Friendly disclaimer: I helped produce it and owe a great deal to all those who made the project possible!)

Ready to choose and use diverse books in your own classroom? Here are some more tips and resources to help get you started:

  1. It’s helpful to start by considering how books can act as mirrors and windows – Rudine Sims Bishop’s theory of books as Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors can help you start to think of books in this way. You can hear her talk about this idea in an interview with Reading Rockets.
  2. Why are diverse books important in your classroom? Katie Cunningham’s guest post on Lee and Low’s blog explains why mirror and window books are important for all readers.
  3. Okay, I get it – diverse books are important – but how do I choose them? Educators at the University of North Carolina have created a critical lens to help educators make diverse and equitable choices about the books they choose for the classroom. Their lens combines the “mirrors and windows” theory with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s single story frame to consider issues of equity and power.
  4. Ready to consider how reflective your own book collection is? Sam Kane, a school librarian committed to anti-bias education and a participant and facilitator in S.E.E.D (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) groups tells us about how she is creating her own windows and mirrors collection, and provides some questions and guidance to get you started.
  5. Keep your eyes peeled for We Need Diverse Books’ new Our Story App which will aim to help educators and children identify quality books with diverse characters, themes, and by multicultural authors. The app will launch in January of 2017!

For further reading about diverse books:

Buena suerte,

Hania

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Lee & Low Book Tour: Mamá The Alien/Mamá la Extraterrestre

mama the alienSaludos todos! Today I would like to take the time to feature a new release, Mamá The Alien/Mamá la Extraterrestre, written by René Colato Laínez and illustrated by Laura Lacámara. We’re proud to highlight Laínez and Lacámara’s work as part of a blog tour organized by one of our favorite publishers, Lee & Low Books. Vamos a Leer is participating alongside a whole host of superb Latinx-focused blogs, including The Latina Book Club, Mommy Maestra, Latinaish, Pragmatic Mom, Reading Authors, and The Logonauts.

Lee and Low Books is the largest multicultural children’s book publisher in the country, and, naturally, a consistent source of the books we feature on the  Vamos a Leer blog. To celebrate the release of this book, and highlight its important discussion of the terms “illegal” and “alien,” Lee & Low recently invited Laínez to write a guest post titled “No More ‘Illegal Aliens’ ” on their blog, The Open Book.  I highly recommend that you visit their blog to read Laínez’s own words, but here’s a snippet that stood out strongly to us here at Vamos a Leer:

My goal as a children’s books author is to produce strong multicultural children’s literature; stories where minority children are portrayed in a positive way, where they see themselves as heroes, and where they dream and hope for the future. I wanted to write authentic stories of Latin American children living in the United States.

This objective resonates strongly with our own mission, and only reinforces this book’s potential to serve as a valuable resource to young readers. We strongly refute the practice of dehumanizing immigrants beneath such misleading terms as “illegal” or “alien,” let alone the two combined. If you’re not familiar with the effort to do away with these words, you can gain a basic grasp by reading Lee & Low’s post on “Diversity 102: The Library of Congress Battle Over ‘Illegal Alien‘” and watching this TEDBlog presentation on “Rethinking the term ‘illegal’ immigrant: Because people can’t be illegal.”

MAMA_THE_ALIEN_spread_2But that’s part of a bigger discussion meriting much more time. For the moment, I’m going to redirect attention back to our featured title. Here’s the publisher’s summary:

When Mama’s purse falls on the floor, Sofia gets a peek at Mama’s old Resident Alien card and comes to the conclusion that Mama might be an alien from outer space. Sofia heads to the library to learn more about aliens. Some are small and some are tall. Some have four fingers on each hand and some have large, round eyes. Their skin can be gray or blue or green. But Mama looks like a human mother! Could she really be an alien? Sofia is still puzzling out this mystery when she sees an alien-looking Mama one night. It turns out Mama is doing a beauty treatment so she will look her best for her citizenship ceremony. That’s when Sofia realizes that in English, an alien can be someone from another planet, and it can also be a person from another country. Just like Mama! Filled with imagination and humor, Mamá the Alien/Mamá la extraterrestre is a lighthearted immigration tale and a celebration of family, no matter where that family comes from. Even if its outer space!

Both author and illustrator are remarkable. Laínez has long been a favorite author of ours here at Vamos a Leer. When Kalyn was writing her post on 10 Bilingual Children’s Books About Immigration, we were hard pressed not to include every book that Laínez has written. In addition, Lorraine delighted in pairing two of his beautiful books in her review post, ¡Mira, Look!: My Shoes and I, & From North to South. You can learn more about this award-winning children’s book author from El Salvador by visiting Laínez’s official website.

MAMA_THE_ALIEN_spread_3Similarly, Laura Lacámara is also another favorite of ours here. She’s a Cuban-born, award-winning illustrator whom we’ve featured previously on the blog with our review of the beautifully written and illustrated (she did both!) children’s book, Dalia’s Wondrous Hair / El cabello maravilloso de Dalia.  To find out more about her, visit her official website.

Together Laínez and Lacámara have put together a memorable book that explores some of the most complex and sensitive aspects of immigration. And thanks to Lee & Low, we’re able to help bring it to your bookshelf. The publisher is offering a FREE copy to Vamos a Leer readers. Just leave us a comment below by next Friday, August 27, 2016, and we’ll enter you in the drawing.

Stay tuned for more award-winning features, as well as my upcoming, September book reviews!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images taken from Lee & Low Books

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