Poets and Poems: #NationalPoetryMonth

Hello, all!

Our wonderful children’s book reviewer, Alice, is away from the blog this week. In  place of her review, we thought we’d share this beautiful resource developed by Bookology Magazine: Poetry Mosaic.

In honor of #NationalPoetryMonth, Bookology has invited authors to read their original poetry and is compiling the recordings into a mosaic of poets and poetry, with a new author highlighted each day. All of the poets selected are amazing, but here are a few of our Vamos a Leer favorites: Jorge Argueta, Pat Mora, and Margarita Engle. Argueta and Engle read both English and Spanish versions of their poems, so this is an even better start to the day for our bilingual readers. Take your pick of language!

Jorge Tetl Argueta     Pat Mora     Margarita Engle
Hope you enjoy this poetic start to the day as much as we did!

Cheers,
Keira

10 Children’s and YA Books Celebrating Latinx Poetry and Verse

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Hello all –

I am thrilled to be celebrating National Poetry Month with you!  As with many of you, poetry holds a dear place in my heart.  As a young person, I recall writing poem after poem and finding such liberation in exploring my voice, playing with syntax and line breaks, and testing out vocabulary that had yet to find a place in my daily life.  Poetry allowed for a freedom and creativity that was unmatched in other mediums.  And because of this, I believe that writing poetry enables us to develop our own voice, author our own truths, and honor our own experiences; all of which play an integral part in a young person’s social, emotional, and cognitive development.

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Sobre Marzo: Más Resources for Teaching About Latinx and Latin American Women

Vamos a Leer | Más Resources for Teaching about Latinx and Latin American Women

Hola a tod@s!

This month we’re joining many around the country in celebrating Women’s History Month. Of course, we hope that the discussion of womyn (past, present, and future) can be constant and valued within the standard curriculum that’s used all year long, but we don’t deny that Women’s History Month provides a timely opportunity to hone in and heighten that effort. More than just acknowledging women, though, we want to draw attention to the diversity of women whose struggles and experiences have led us to the present day. Unfortunately, information that goes beyond the White (largely middle class and US-focused) experience is scarce. It’s rather hard to identify, let alone come by, resources that  shine a light on the breadth and depth of women’s experiences.

While they get some props for trying, even the Smithsonian Education division only goes so far toward remedying the lack of materials. On their Women’s History Teaching Resources site, for instance, they offer materials that focus on African American Women Artists and Native American Women Artists, but make no mention of Hispanic/Latina/Chicana women!  In all honesty, though, the portal was just recently launched and we can only hope that the content is still a work in progress.

On a more positive note, organizations such as Teaching for Change are making significant strides toward diversifying the conversation. Starting March 1st, they’re daily highlighting diverse books featuring women’s accomplishments every day AND offering a 20% discount on book purchases from their non-profit, indie bookstore (code Women2017). Check out their page on “Women’s History Month: A Book Every Day” for the details.

And courtesy of Colours of Us,  blog dedicated to multicultural children’s books, we’ve been enjoying “26 Multicultural Picture Books About Inspiring Women and Girls” and “32 Multicultural Picture Books about Strong Female Role Models

For our part, we’re going to bring you suggestions for worthwhile children’s and YA literature over the next few weeks, all with the goal of highlighting women’s accomplishments. Stay tuned for our blogging team’s thoughts and contributions! If you’re hard at work diversifying the conversation in your classroom, please share your experiences with us — we’d love to hear what you’re doing to change the world!

En solidaridad,
Keira

An Américas Award Interview: Margarita Engle

Saludos! We’re excited to start the new year by bringing you a second Américas Award interview, this time speaking with Margarita Engle. We’re delighted to have the chance to talk with Margarita about her work and the importance of Latino/Latin American children’s and YA literature. We hope you enjoy, and keep an eye out for her 2017 releases (including All the Way to Havana, Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics, and The Flying Girl: How the First Woman Pilot Learned to Soar).

~Hania


vamos-a-leer-interview-margarita-engle-finalMargarita Engle is an acclaimed children’s book author of many award-winning books written in verse. Before embarking on her journey as a poet and novelist, she pursued studies in botany and agronomy – a background that influences many of h­er works to be rich with descriptions of natural resources and an emphasis on ecological preservation and appreciation.

Among her many accolades, Engle has been recognized several times over by the Américas Award. In 2016 alone, her memoir, Enchanted Air, and children’s book, Drum Dream Girl, were Commended Titles. In 2015, her historical novel, Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal, was an award winner. In earlier years, the A­méric­­as Award has recognized in similar form the exceptional contributions that Engle makes to Latin American and Latino children’s and YA literature.

Here, the author converses with Hania Mariën of the Vamos a Leer blog as she poses questions about the Engle’s ties to Cuba and how her background has influenced her work. For more about Engle’s work, including publications and supporting educational resources, visit http://www.margaritaengle.com/. This interview is also available as a PDF.

Lastly, if you’re piqued by Margarita’s answers here, you may enjoy hearing/reading other interviews with her:

“Finding the Poetry in History: A Lecture” (video) – VOCA: The University of Arizona Poetry Center
Discussion with Margarita Engle (video) – VOCA: The University of Arizona Poetry Center
Interview with Margarita Engle (written) – Yarn: Young Adult Review Network
Interview with Margarita Engle: One Voice, Two Voices (written) – BookPage
Neighboring Nations | Margarita Engle on Her Work, Cuba, and the History that Binds Us (written) – School Library Journal

DECEMBER 5, 2016

HANIA MARIËN: You’ve mentioned that many of your stories (including The Wild Book) wildbookwere inspired by your grandmother. Do you think her voice comes out in your writing? How might teachers use your books as springboards to encourage students to explore their family histories through writing?

MARGARITA ENGLE: The Wild Book was inspired by stories my grandmother told me about her childhood, and Enchanted Air is my own childhood memoir, but most of my verse novels are based on first person accounts written by historical figures such as Juan Francisco Manzano (The Poet Slave of Cuba), Fredrika Bremer (The Firefly Letters), Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (The Lightning Dreamer), and Antonio Chuffat (Lion Island).  I do think teachers can use The Wild Book and Enchanted Air to encourage students to interview older family members.  Perhaps the best way to do this is to call it time travel.  My memoir and all my historical novels are written in present tense specifically for the purpose of bringing the past back to life.

HANIA MARIËN: In an interview with Colorín Colorado you mention that you gradually combined your love for the outdoors with writing. How did you learn that writing and the sciences were not mutually exclusive? How can teachers encourage students to bridge their passions with writing?

silverMARGARITA ENGLE: As a botanist and agronomist, it always feels natural for me to include plants and animals in my verse novels about people.  In certain books, such as The Surrender Tree and Silver People, wilderness actually feels like a character in the plot.  I’m enthusiastic about STEAM education, so I would encourage teachers to take their students outdoors for little walks, or to show them videos of natural habitats, and let them wonder how it feels to be a tree or a bird.

HANIA MARIËN: Mountain Dog was inspired by your husband’s volunteer work in the Sierra Nevada forests. Summer Birds focused on one of the earliest female scientists and explorers and was selected for Scholastic Knowledge Quest. Most recently you’ve written about the lesser known ornithologist Louise Fuerte in Sky Painter. What role do you believe (historical and/or fictional) narratives play in science education? Do you think (historical and/or fictional) narratives can play a role in all curricular subjects?skypainter.jpg

MARGARITA ENGLE: I love to write picture book biographies about great scientists who have been forgotten by history.  Several are included in Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics, which will be published by Holt in March, and is beautifully illustrated by Rafael López.  I think history text books have a tendency to check off categories such as ‘bird artist,’ leaving room for no one but Audubon. On the other hand, children are smart enough to know that the world needs more than one bird artist. Fuertes pioneered the painting of living birds in flight, ending the tradition of killing and posing birds. That is an accomplishment children respect and admire. I do think historical narratives can play a role in any area of study.  For instance, can you name a Latino Nobel prize-winning medical researcher, or the wildlife biologist who established our National Park conservation policies?  The first is Venezuelan-American, Baruj Benacerraf, and the second is Salvadoran-American, George Meléndez Wright, both included in Bravo!  These are inspirational figures who can serve as role models for children.  Women are even more likely to be omitted from history books.  In Bravo!, I’ve included Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, New Mexico’s pioneering nutritionist, and Ynés Mexía, a Mexican-American plant explorer.

HANIA MARIËN: As a writer you’ve said you were influenced by several Latin American “magic realistic” poets including Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges, Jose Martí and Rubén Darío. Can you share a bit about why those particular writers were so influential or inspiring?

MARGARITA ENGLE: Whenever I’m asked about poets, I just start listing names, because there are so many. Martí and Darío actually precede magic realism, and I also love Dulce María Loynaz from Cuba, and some of the twentieth century poets from Spain, such as Antonio Machado and Jorge Guillén.  I find each of these writers to be inspiring on a particular day, in a certain mood, when I absolutely need to read a verse about freedom, or flying horses, or walking beside a river.  One of my favorite contemporary English-language poets is Mary Oliver, because I find her odes to nature so comforting.

HANIA MARIËN: Freedom is a recurring theme in your books. In an interview with Colorín Colorado you mention that you wrote several of your longer books with a “transitional age in mind” – when readers begin to seek “mature topics, such as freedom and justice.” What make “freedom” and “justice” “mature” topics? At what age do you believe kids can (or should) be exposed to thinking about these ideas? How can books (yours or others) enrich these conversations in the classroom?

MARGARITA ENGLE: Freedom and justice are accessible to very young children primarily in the form of a personal story, such as my picture book, Drum Dream Girl.  Older children and teens are able to grasp broader, more general aspects that cover longer periods of time.  When I say “mature,” I’m not just referring to images of violence from history, but to concepts of time.  Very young preschool children don’t understand centuries, because they haven’t even grasped the difference between yesterday and tomorrow.

HANIA MARIËN: The latest election cycle has generated discussions and debates about the boundaries of freedom of speech. How can educators engage students in discussions that support such freedoms but also respect the outcomes of freedom of expression?

MARGARITA ENGLE: This is a heartbreaking dilemma.  I think we are in a moment of history when it would be unfair to ask Latino and Muslim children to utilize their freedom of expression without caution, because they have been directly threatened by a screaming man on the television screen, a man who is now extremely powerful.  In a memoir unit, facts revealed about families could place them on lists for deportation or internment.  Tragically, it’s very likely that hostile classmates will be encouraged to report certain groups to their parents.  This is a time for teaching poetic devices, showing children how to use metaphors, so that emotions can be expressed indirectly, without placing oneself in danger.  It’s the way poets survive in repressive regimes.

HANIA MARIËN: There has been a lot of rhetoric recently around students feeling unsafe lionand/or uncertain about their futures in and out of the classroom. You say one thing you have noticed about people who are doing amazing things in history is that they “made hopeful choices in situations that seemed hopeless.” What “hopeful” choices can youth and educators make to create supportive communities and classrooms that affirm and validate student experiences?

MARGARITA ENGLE: I think educators can use history to show how people found hope.  There are so many examples of nonviolent heroes who used words to change the world.  Even though history’s mistakes keep getting repeated, history’s freedom advocates always respond.

HANIA MARIËN: Recent events, including the U.S. presidential election and the death of Fidel Castro, present a renewed necessity for understanding the relations between Cuba and the United States. If you were a parent or teacher interested in broaching this topic with youth, how might you structure that conversation? Where would you start?

MARGARITA ENGLE: Cuba has been marginalized by the U.S. for so long that it’s necessary to show a map, even when speaking to adults. The map makes it clear that this is one of our closest neighbors, and that neighbors can be friends.  I’m always saddened when children ask me, “What is Cuba?” instead of, “Where is Cuba?” That means they haven’t studied their close neighbor in class.  Recently I met a high school U.S. History teacher who actually thought that Cuba was still a protectorate of the U.S., like Puerto Rico.  That means she was taught incorrectly.  Ignorance is passed from generation to generation.

HANIA MARIËN: When seeking a perspective on Cuban culture that’s suitable for classroom use, we often turn to your work and that of Alma Flor Ada. Are there other authors or resources that you would recommend?

MARGARITA ENGLE: Thank you! That makes me very happy.  Meg Medina’s Mango, Abuela, and Me is a wonderful picture book about the Cuban-American experience that could be used for any immigration unit.

poems

HANIA MARIËN: We want to draw attention to some of your books and hear what’s on the horizon for you. My colleague, Keira Philipp, returned from her trip to the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) raving about your new book, Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics  having seen an advance copy (we also learned that it will have a starred review from the School Library Journal!). Keira also heard about your forthcoming book, All the Way to Havana. Can you speak a bit about these projects, their inspirations and where you’re headed from here?

MARGARITA ENGLE: I’m so grateful for her interest!  Since I already mentioned Bravo! above, I’ll focus on All the Way to Havana, beautifully illustrated by Mike Curato.  This is one of the most unusual author-illustrator relationships, because he went to Havana, stayed with my cousins for a week, rented an old car, and rode all the way to Trinidad, in order to make sure his art would be authentic.  It’s a story about a boy and his family driving from the countryside to the city, fixing their car along the way.  It’s a tribute to poor people everywhere, who keep their possessions working because they can’t afford to buy new ones. In addition, I have Miguel’s Brave Knight, a picture book about Miguel de Cervantes, coming out from Peachtree in August, 2017, with absolutely gorgeous illustrations by Raúl Colón.  I wrote it in honor of the power of imagination to offer hope in times of trouble.

I’m a bit embarrassed about the way things have worked out, with three beautiful picture books in the same year.  I wrote them at different times, but somehow they’ve converged.  I hope librarians and educators will order all of them, instead of choosing just one, because they’re for different age groups, about very different subjects. In October, 2017, Atheneum will publish Forest World, an adventurous middle grade novel set in contemporary Cuba, with a strong environmental theme.  It’s a family reunion story, with siblings meeting for the first time, after one parent has lived in Miami, and one in rural Cuba.

surrender-tree-bilingualHANIA MARIËN: For some time now, The Surrender Tree/El árbol de la rendición was your only work available in a bilingual edition. Recently, we’ve been ecstatic to hear about the Spanish language editions coming out, from Enchanted Air to Drum Dream Girl.  Can you speak a little about how this shift has come about and what prompted it?

MARGARITA ENGLE: Thank you!  The publishing world seems willing to experiment at this moment in time, but this has happened before, and it won’t last unless people buy the books—not just mine, but bilingual books and Spanish editions in general.  The brilliant translation of Enchanted Air, by Alexis Romay, will come out in August.  Bravo! will have a Spanish edition.  A middle grade historical fantasy called Morning Star Horse/El caballo Lucero (also translated by Alexis Romay) will be released next month by HBE Publishing, an innovative new small press which is actually making a choice of three separate editions available—English, Spanish, or bilingual.  I feel blessed!

HANIA MARIËN: Lastly, drawing upon your dedication to preserving and promoting Latino/a culture, Cuban and beyond, 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?

MARGARITA ENGLE: I hope teachers can help all students enjoy reading about a wide variety of cultures, backgrounds, and experiences.  I hope they can help children feel curious about the whole world.

 


Book images reprinted from Margarita Engles’ website.

Author image of Margarita Engle adapted from photograph by Cybele Knowles, 2014, courtesy of The University of Arizona Poetry Center. Photography copyright Arizona Board of Regents.

 

 

 

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10 Children’s and YA Books about Sung & Unsung Latin@ Heroes

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Hello all!

In case you missed Keira’s Sobre Enero post, this month’s theme honors the many individuals, real or imagined, who populate the rich landscape of Latin@ literature for children and young adults.  This month’s Reading Roundup brings together a few of these heroes, both sung and unsung, whose actions inspired positive change.  While it is a monumental task to choose just a few of the many wonderful books that are out there, I’ve narrowed down the list to books that will encourage our students and children to honor their own truths. I also hope that these books will help expand the literary canon beyond those heroes whose stories are taught repeatedly. The books below encompass a diverse panorama of experiences, accomplishments, and outcomes.  To name a few, these remarkable figures displayed their passion through art, literature, activism, and even by simply passing on their knowledge to new generations.   May you enjoy these works as much as I enjoyed finding them!

Happy New Year!

Abrazos,
Colleen

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Reading RoundUp: 10 Children’s and YA Books with Diverse Latinx Perspectives

 

Vamos a Leer¡Buenos días a todos y todas!

As mentioned in Keira’s Sobre Septiembre post, this month’s Reading Roundup is related to the theme of Hispanic Heritage Month. To guide the direction of this month’s book list, I decided that it was imperative for me to determine what I believe Hispanx/Latinx heritage to be. Initially the task seemed easy enough, as I have certainly carved out an understanding of how I define my own Chicana/Latina heritage. Yet, as I attempted to make connections on a grand scale, I found myself unable. I felt as though I were distilling the vibrancy of an entire collective of people down to a single ingredient, a generalization, and a superficiality.

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? How could I be so bold to answer for others the deeply personal question of how they define their heritage? I am only able to define my own.

After much thought, I decided that the best way to view the tapestry of “Hispanx/Latinx heritage” was to hang it up, step back, and explore each pictorial design individually. For that reason, this month’s list will be focused on literature that possesses strong and individual narratives; where the author’s experiences, values, and diversity can seep through the text, allowing their unique Latinidad to be known.

Some of the narratives are rooted in reality, as in Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White. Others are teeming with imagination and the fantastical, as in The Jumbies. Others still may be representative of someone’s reality, somewhere, as in ¡Sí! Somos Latinos/Yes! We are Latinos, or even Niño Wrestles the World.

I invite you to explore and articulate how you define your own unique heritage, or ask your students about theirs. Is the way you define your heritage different from that of your family? Is there literature that represents you? What would be an important element of your heritage that you would want to share with others?

I hope that you enjoy these books as I did and that the diversity within the Latinx experience abounds from their pages!

Mis saludos,

Colleen

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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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