¡Mira Look!: Under the Lemon Moon

Image result for under the lemon moonSaludos todos! This week we are continuing our monthly theme of love with an especially heart-warming book, Under the Lemon Moon, written by Edith Hope Fine and illustrated by Rene King Moreno.  This lovely story specifically focuses on themes of forgiveness, generosity and personal growth, expanding our theme of love to include other feelings, values, and personal goals.

This book takes place in the Mexican countryside and the English narration is interspersed with Spanish vocabulary words. Fine has provided an index at the beginning of the book to help non-Spanish speaking readers puzzle through the Spanish interjections.  Not only will students learn lessons on patience, forgiveness, and compassion, but they‘ll also get exposure to new vocabulary, while practicing using an index as a tool for comprehension.

lemon-1The story starts by introducing the female protagonist, Rosalinda, who has started to grow her very own lemon tree in the backyard. One night she hears something rustling outside.  When she goes with her pet hen, Blanca, to investigate, she sees a “man with hunched shoulders” picking all the lemons off her tree and stuffing them into a sack before scurrying away into the night. Rosalinda is furious: “Her lemons. From her tree.” As Rosalinda is learning to take care of her plants and her pets, reinforcing feelings of pride, care and responsibility, her sense of possession also starts to get the best of her.  In portraying this delicate balance, Fine shows how important it is for children to have things that they can take care of on their own, that they can be proud of and responsible for, while also showing how this is in itself a learning experience and an opportunity for growth: Rosalinda asks herself, “Who is the Night Man? Why does he take my lemons?”

lemon-2The next morning Rosalinda finds that not a single lemon is left on her tree. The branches are bare and the leaves have a yellow, sickly tinge to them: “Rosalinda crooned a sad song as Blanca brawked along. She loved her lemon tree almost as much as she loved Bianca.” As the week goes by Rosalinda notices that the leaves on her precious lemon tree are turning more yellow, and starting to fall off, and she begins to worry that the tree is dying. When she goes to her parents for comfort they suggest that maybe a friend or a neighbor could help, or her dear abuela. Rosalinda’s parents are kind and compassionate and try their best to soothe her worries, while also encouraging her to find a creative solution on her own.Throughout the story, Rosalinda’s agency and independence are consistently reinforced: “Rosalinda set out.” Ultimately, the story culminates in Rosalinda resolving her own predicament in a way that is both gratifying for herself and compassionate towards others.

lemon-3As Rosalinda talks to various people in her neighborhood they each give her tips on how to care for a tree, watering it and even talking to it to make it feel better. But Rosalinda has already done all of these things and nothing has worked. Rosalinda takes good care of her plants and has already tried everything that she can think of. Finally, though, she goes to speak to her wise abuelita. Her abuela tells her that she’ll light a candle for her tree, something Rosalinda has not tried yet, and that maybe the candle will summon La Anciana, a wise old spirit known for making things grow. Abuela “eased the worries from Rosalinda’s forehead with her warm palm,” and proceeds to lovingly tell her the legend of La Anciana. Little does Rosalinda know, as she awaits La Anciana and her powers to make her tree grow, she also awaits her wise words and her powers to make her, Rosalinda, grow and mature.

lemon-4As Rosalinda makes her way back home she stops by the local market. As she walks by all of the stands she notices the Night Man. He’s sitting in front of a stand selling lemons, her lemons! Just as Rosalinda begins shivering with rage and fear, La Anciana appears, “her wrinkles deep, her eyes gentle.”  After listening to Rosalinda’s predicament, La Anciana agrees, “to take your lemons was wrong,” but then adds, “Perhaps he had a need.” Indeed, when Rosalinda goes back to the market the next day she notices that the Night Man’s hands are rough and hardened by tough work, and his family beside him looks hungry and disheveled.

Before leaving, La Anciana tells Rosalinda how to cure her tree, and, after following her instructions, Rosalinda wakes up the next day to find her tree overflowing with big, juicy lemons. She loads them up in a crate and takes them to the market, generously handing them out to everyone she sees, her neighbors, her friends, and even complete strangers. Finally, she stops by the Night Man’s stand. Rosalinda hands him her last lemon. She tells the night man to “siembra las semillas,” or “plant the seeds,” so that he can grow a lemon tree of his own. The Night Man thanks her and when Rosalinda leaves, her feelings of anger and worry from a week prior are now replaced by feelings of love and joy: “Rosalinda felt content, too. Except for one fat hen, Rosalinda’s cart was empty, but her heart was as full as a lemon moon.”

lemon-5This beautiful story shows readers the power of forgiveness and generosity, and how sometimes, by taking care of others, we ultimately take care of ourselves. With Moreno’s stunning illustrations, this book exudes a calming tone that encourages readers and young children to reflect upon their feelings and the feelings of others. Moreno’s illustrations have also appeared on our blog before with my book review of Uncle Monarch and the Day of the Dead, which is also a lovely, calming story about the flourishing wisdom of young children. In Under the Lemon Moon, the protagonist embarks on a journey of personal growth and maturity that ultimately teaches her to care not only for her own plants and pets, but also for her neighbors and for the people around her. In the end, the best way to feel as round and full as a lemon moon or a shimmering lemon tree is to spread kindness and generosity to the people around us.

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

Stay tuned for more great books!

Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images Modified from Under the Lemon Moon: Pages 9, 14, 17, 21 and 26

¡Mira Look!: Haiti My Country

Image result for haiti my countrySaludos todos! This week I will be reviewing Haiti My Country, a collection of poems written by a variety of Haitian school children, illustrated by Rogé and translated from the French by Solange Messier. As we continue with our February theme of love, including love of self, love of community, and love of others, to name a few, this book resonates primarily with themes of love of country and love of nature. Through each individual and unique poem, these children express pride in their country, adoration for its natural beauty, and, ultimately, the love that they have for themselves and for their own particular identities.

haiti-1This book on Haiti also harkens us back to my February posts from last year, where I used Black History Month as an opportunity to focus my book reviews for the month on books about Haiti, a country that is sometimes overlooked in our studies of Latin America. Of course, Afro-Latino culture and populations are prominent in all countries of Latin America, however Haiti’s history and society stands apart, as the majority of the population is made up of Afro-descendents, and it was the first country in the Americas to lead a successful slave rebellion. Some of my posts from last year include, Sélavi / That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope, Eight Days, A Story of Haiti, Running the Road to ABC, and Children of Yayoute. You may also be interested in Keira’s post on Resources to Teach about Haiti and Afro-Caribbean Cultures, or  Charla‘s post on Teaching about Haiti with Love. While Haiti My Country fits in with out general theme of love for this month, it also helps us remember and link back to some great resources and teaching plans from last year.

haiti-5The introduction of Haiti My Country, written by Dany Laferrière, provides some geographical and historical context for this collection of poems:

After the ongoing deforestation of the last few decades came a succession of cyclones, deadly floods, and then the horrific earthquake. I should clarify that these poems were written before the earthquake of January 12, 2010. What’s more, the region where these young poets live has been largely unaffected by the calamities that I have just mentioned. The natural landscapes that surround these teenagers inspire such dreams that visitors are often surprised they originated in Haiti.

haiti-2Laferrière notes that when he reads novels he can usually discern the age of the author based on a variety of cultural and historical context clues; however, with poetry it is different. He remarks that one of the enchanting and even mysterious aspects of these poems is that the poets themselves are so young, yet their words evoke such wisdom.

haiti-3One of the things that I find especially beautiful about this book is Rogé’s stunning, detailed, and humanistic portraits. Each portrait is presented on the adjacent page of the poem, depicting the poem’s author. The children are smiling, and resting their faces in an expression of serenity and tranquility; however, sometimes their expressions bear a degree of mystery, a complacent smile that hides a deeper truth: “The illustrator (I say illustrator and not painter because these portraits force us to think rather than to look) seems to be trying to resolve a deep mystery behind the faces that are suddenly unreadable.” According to Lafereire, one of the most poignant aspects of this book is the combination of the magical scenes painted by the children’s poetry, and the portraits of their calm, tranquil faces, coupled with the unavoidable context of poverty and devastation that has plagued Haiti for years.  He explains, “Such energy inhabits these adolescents! It overflows and consoles us, even as unfathomable sadness invades our hearts. Their vitality is irresistible. But as heavenly as the setting is, it does not distract them from the human condition.”

haiti-4Nonetheless, Laferrière also notes that these stunning portraits help paint a more holistic image of Haiti, the natural beauty of the country, articulated through the poems, and the endearing faces of its children, the faces of hope and the future. Again, what is so compelling about this collection is what is said and what is not said, the sweet smile on the face of a Haitian adolescent, and the tinge of sadness in her deep, dark eyes. This poignant duality is felt in a poem by Annie Hum: “Magnificent country becomes/ Broken land/ All smiles are lost.”  Yet these poems are also imbued with inspiring hope and faith in the future, in the future that these children will bring: “Everything is born, everything lives, everything perishes./ But this country, her exceptional natural beauty–/ I want her to live forever.” Another poem, shown beside the portrait of a somber looking boy starts with “I dream” and concludes with “I do not want to see these things in dreams/ But in reality…”  That poem alone is reason enough to use the book in the classroom–what a wonderful writing prompt that line could be!

For those of you interested in learning more about contemporary Haiti, here are some additional links:

For those of you interested in learning more about the book’s artist, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned for more great books!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice

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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

En la Clase: A Perfect Season for Dreaming/Un Tiempo Perfecto Para Soñar

PerfectSeasonforDreaming_cover_72dpiIt’s no secret that we’re huge fans of Benjamin Alire Sáenz at Vamos a Leer.  We love his poetry, adult fiction, young adult novels, and children’s literature.  As we continue to highlight resources and literature that present nuanced interpretations of Latinx identity, this week’s En la Clase is all about Sáenz’s bilingual children’s book A Perfect Season for Dreaming/Un Tiempo Perfecto Para Soñar

Cinco Puntos Press offers the following description of the book: “An old man tells his granddaughter about the nine most beautiful dreams of his lifetime.  So, what exactly is the perfect season for dreaming? For Octavio Rivera, it’s summer, when the sky is so blue and a few lovely clouds come floating along to decorate it. It turns out that Octavio Rivera is a beautiful dreamer. And on these first long days of summer, he is visited by some very interesting dreams. But Octavio doesn’t tell anyone about his dreams, not after the first one, not after the second, not after the next or the next or the next. Finally, though, he can’t stand it anymore and he wants to tell someone so bad that his heart hurts. He decides that the only one he can trust with his dreams, the only one who won’t make fun of him for being too old or eating too much chorizo, the only one who will understand is his young granddaughter Regina because she also has beautiful and fantastic dreams.  And that sets Octavio Rivera free to enjoy one last long and lovely dream.”

At a glance, it may seem like a simple counting book, but it’s so much more, making it appropriate even for children who are long past learning their numbers.  This is a book that is not only beautifully written and illustrated, but provides authentic, engaging, culturally relevant content as well.

Culturally relevant pedagogy (also referred to as culturally responsive teaching or multicultural education) has quickly become one of A Perfect Season for Dreaming | Benjamin Alire Saenzthe new buzz terms in education over the past decade.  Many cite Gloria Ladson Billings as the scholar who brought the concept to the forefront of educational conversation and research.  For Ladson Billings, one of the key pieces to culturally relevant pedagogy is that it “empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes” (The Dreamkeepers).  Woven throughout Octavio Rivera’s dreams are cultural referents that will speak to many Latinx, Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano, and Hispanic children.  Many will recognize the Spanish guitars, blooming desert cacti, armadillos, and marachi singers as familiar cultural references.  Children from the Southwest will delight in seeing some of their own hometowns mentioned in the story, as Denver, El Paso, Júarez, Lubbock, and Tucson all make appearances in the text.  Esau Andrade Valencia’s illustrations bring the surrealistic dreams to life, offering authentic colorful desert landscapes.  For students who aren’t familiar with any of this, the reading allows them to experience and learn about something new in a way that doesn’t perpetuate damaging cultural stereotypes.

Discussion Suggestions:

While young readers will certainly appreciate the structure and rhythm of the counting book, the simple text provides the opportunity to discuss so much more.  One of the more special elements of the story is Octavio’s relationship with his six-year-old granddaughter.  She is the only one he trusts to share his dreams with.  Their relationship provides the opportunity to introduce students to issues of ageism and breakdown many of the labels and stereotypes applied to the very old or the very young.  Ask students to think about the kinds of stereotypes we have about people who are older or younger. What words or pictures do they associate with those who are very old or very young? Then, ask them if they have a friend who is much older or younger. Does this person fit these stereotypes? What is their relationship like with that person? Ask them to think about why Octavio only chooses to share his dreams with his granddaughter.  Have them imagine that they have an older friend like Octavio.  What kinds of things could they share with that friend that they might not be able to share with someone their own age? Discuss these ideas as a class.

A Perfect Season for Dreaming | Benjamin Alire Saenz

Activity Suggestions:

When asked about the book, Sáenz wrote, “As a boy, I always hoped that when we broke the piñata at a party, that all sorts of beautiful things would come flying out.  Nothing ever came out but candy.  I suppose I wrote this book to set the world right.”  The fantastical, surreal, and magical nature of the book makes it perfect for the beginning of the year.  Often times the first month or two of the school year is focused on the teaching and establishing of routines, procedures, and expectations.  While necessary, all of this does little to encourage or build creativity.  A book like this offers a counterbalance.  It offers a celebration of the power of dreaming, something we don’t often talk about in our classrooms.  It’s also a chance for students to tap into their imaginations and practice a little inspired inventiveness.  Use the book’s text and imagery as a model.  Copying the dreaming premise of the book, ask students to create a counting book using their own cultural referents blended together with other fantastical elements.  If time is short, assign each student one number and have them create a page just for that number.  Then, combine each student’s page to create a class counting book.  If possible, have them visit a younger class and read their book to that class.

We’re not alone in thinking this is a wonderful book.  It has received a number of awards and honors, including the Kids’ Indie Next List (Winter 2008-09); Tejas Star Book Award; Paterson Prize; Best Book for Children; Texas Institute of Letters (TIL); Bank Street’s Best Children’s Books of the Year (2009); and Américas Book Award Honor Book (2009).

As always, if you’ve used the book with your students, we’d love to hear about it.  If your students make their own counting books, we’d love to see their creations! Just post a picture in the comments below.  Children’s art and writing is one of my most favorite things to see!

Until next week,

Katrina

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¡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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En la Clase: Super Cilantro Girl/La Superniña del Cilantro

Super Cilantro Girl | Juan Felipe HerreraAs more and more people begin to talk about the need for diversity in our classroom curricula and literature, we must remember that diversity can’t exist just for diversity’s sake.  Conversations in our classrooms around diversity can intentionally or unintentionally lead to the perpetuation of stereotypes and labels.  As Colleen pointed out in last week’s post identity is complex.  She asks an important question: How does one meaningfully capture the range of cultural practices, traditions, languages, religions, geography, race, and ethnicity – just to name a few – of those who identify as Latinx?  While we want to teach about the multitude of cultures, ethnicities, and races that make up our classroom, our nation, and our world, we also want to make sure that we are providing the space for our students to express and identity both their cultural background and their own uniqueness.

One way to accomplish this is to build a strong classroom community.  It won’t happen overnight, but in the long run it’s always worth the time and effort.  Lee and Low Books just shared a free unit on “Building Classroom Community Unit for Kindergarten.”  Based on eight different read-aloud books, the lessons provide in-depth literacy engagement while also encouraging students to connect through sharing about themselves and learning about others.  The lessons can be easily adapted for older children as well.

The LAII also has a curriculum unit on “Educating Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students.”  These lessons focus on teaching younger students about race, culture, difference, acceptance, and respect, all things that can contribute to a stronger classroom community.

The literature we use in our classrooms is such an important tool for ensuring that we provide portrayals of identity that show how complex it really is.  Keira mentioned in her Sobre Septiembre post that as we highlight Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re also looking to diversify and expand beyond the stereotypical or superficial conversations that can be associated with any heritage month.

With this in mind, in today’s En la Clase, I’m sharing some ideas on how to use the Super Cilantro Girl | Juan Felipe Herrerachildren’s book Super Cilantro Girl/La Superniña del Cilantro with your students.  This bilingual book was written by Juan Felipe Herrera, the 2015-2016 US Poet Laureate, and illustrated by Honorio Robledo Tapia.  It was published a number of years ago, but I just came across it a few weeks ago.  In case it’s new to you as well, here’s a short description:

“What happens when a small girl suddenly starts turning green, as green as a cilantro leaf, and grows to be fifty feet tall? She becomes Super Cilantro Girl, and can overcome all obstacles, that’s what! Esmeralda Sinfronteras is the winning super-hero in this effervescent tale about a child who flies huge distances and scales tall walls in order to rescue her mom. Award-winning writer Juan Felipe Herrera taps into the wellsprings of his imagination to address and transform the concerns many first-generation children have about national borders and immigrant status. Honorio Robledo Tapia has created brilliant images and landscapes that will delight all children.”

Not only is it a book that I think students will really enjoy, but it provides a number of opportunities for discussing themes relevant to identity and community.  When we talk about the purpose of diverse literature, we highlight the ways in which literature is like a door, a window, or a mirror.  It can allow students to see a world different than their own, provide them some way to experience it, and/or act as a mirror in which they see their own reflection.  Super Cilantro Girl/La Superniña del Cilantro can provide all of this.  For students who have experienced what it’s like to have families separated by borders and immigration, the book will speak to all of the emotions they’ve felt as they’ve worried about far-away family members.  For those who’ve never experienced this, the book allows them to begin to think about what this may be like, providing the means to understand a different point of view and practice the skill of empathy.

Super Cilantro Girl | Juan Felipe HerreraAll of this is done through the story of a young girl who becomes her own superhero.  Comic books have been critiqued for their largely white, male protagonists, but in this one, our superhero is a young Mexican American girl whose superpower comes from a plant indigenous to Mexico.  This undoes so many stereotypes, and it’s essential that these aspects of the book be discussed with students.

Too often literature portrays children as if they have no agency or power.  Herrera’s Super Cilantro Girl/La Superniña del Cilantro reinforces the idea of student agency and empowerment, and shows how Esmeralda creates something beautiful with her power when she transforms the border.

While the book can obviously be used in a unit exploring immigration or the U.S-Mexico border, I think it’s also a perfect book for exploring identity and diversity. . .and what student doesn’t want to turn themselves into a superhero?

After reading and discussing the book, ask students to think about the kind of superhero they would want to be.  Esmeralda’s transformation is triggered by her mother’s situation.  Encourage students to think about an issue or situation they wish they had a superpower to fix.  In many superhero stories, the superpower comes from a scientific lab or something otherworldly, but Esmeralda’s comes from an everyday plant.  What commonplace item from their own lives could give them a superpower?  Give students time to brainstorm and discuss their ideas with a partner, small group, or the whole class.  Then, have each student create an illustration of himself or herself as a superherSuper Cilantro Girl | Juan Felipe Herrerao.  This could even be a fun twist on the self-portraits we often have students do at the beginning of the year for Open House displays.  Once they’ve created their visual representation, ask them to write their own superhero story based on the theme or problem they brainstormed earlier.  If time allows, students can create their own comic book or graphic novel.

If you get the chance to do this with your students, I would LOVE to see their superheroes! I know I’ve only scratched the surface of what could be done with this book.  If you’ve read the book or used it in your classroom, I’d love to hear your thoughts (and so would our other teacher readers).  Just leave a comment down below.

For other suggestions on great children’s literature that explores identity, check out Colleen’s Reading Roundup of 10 Books with Diverse Latinx Perspectives and Alice’s İMira, Look! posts highlighting Pura Belpré winners.

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