Book Review: Names on a Map

Book Review | Names on a Map by Benjamin Alire Saenz | Vamos a Leer

A little late, but better than never.  We wanted to be sure to share with you our thoughts on February’s featured book before the month is over! En la Clase will be back this Friday.

Names on a Map
Written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Harper Perennial, 2008
ISBN: 978-0061285691
Age level: Adult

Book Summary

The Espejo family of El Paso, Texas, is like so many others in America in 1967, trying to make sense of a rapidly escalating war they feel does not concern them. But when the eldest son, Gustavo, a complex and errant rebel, receives a certified letter ordering him to report to basic training, he chooses to flee instead to Mexico. Retreating back to the land of his grandfather—a foreign country to which he is no longer culturally connected—Gustavo sets into motion a series of events that will have catastrophic consequences on the fragile bonds holding the family together.

Told with raw power and searing bluntness, and filled with important themes as immediate as today’s headlines, Names on a Map is arguably the most important work to date of a major American literary artist.

My Thoughts

Like everything else I’ve read by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Names on a Map does not disappoint. He tells a captivating story that is simultaneously beautiful and devastating. For me, reading one of his books is always a deeply moving experience. Recently, I heard the term brutiful used to describe something that is both beautiful and brutal at the same time. While brutiful certainly doesn’t do justice to the aesthetic or lyricism of Sáenz’s writing, I think the idea of the word captures an important aspect of what makes his work so outstanding.  For those familiar with Sáenz’s other novels, you may find his characters here comfortingly familiar as they seem to have pieces of Sammy, Gigi, Aristotle, and Dante, among others. Continue reading


En la Clase: A BadA** Retelling of the Mexican Revolution

Pancho VillaThis week’s En la Clase highlights another activity from our most recent curriculum project: Viva la Revolución: An Educator’s Guide to the Mexican Revolution. This activity is inspired by Ben Thompson’s BadA** descriptions of important historical figures. We’re particularly fond of his entry on Pancho Villa.  Please be aware: There is liberal use of profanity in Thompson’s writing; it is not appropriate for all audiences and should be pre-screened before any part of it is used in a classroom setting or with students.

We so enjoyed Thompson’s site that we decided to have a little fun and try to write our own (cleaner and less explicit) BadA** version of the Mexican Revolution.  The teachers at our workshop seemed to think students would really like it.  The purpose of the activity is to provide students a more detailed overview of the events and people of the Mexican Revolution through reading the provided hand-out “BadA** Retelling of the Mexican Revolution.” This is a simplified version of the Mexican Revolution that has been written in a more ‘teen-age friendly, tongue in cheek’ style. It can be used in conjunction with textbook readings or other materials written about the Mexican Revolution. I’ve included a portion of our retelling below with the lesson plan at the end.  Click here to access the pdf of the entire retelling and the lesson plans.

A BadA** Retelling of the Mexican Revolution:
Continue reading

En la Clase: A Mexican Revolution Role Play Scavenger Hunt

A few weeks ago we had a wonderful professional development workshop on the Mexican Revolution for which we created “Viva la Revolución: An Educator’s Guide to the Mexican Revolution.”  This was such a fun and creative project, and I’m really excited about the materials that we put together.  We’re still adding some things and making changes, but I wanted to share some of the activities here on the blog so you all can get an taste of what the completed guide will be like.  I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we have!  You can also access our entire guide here, but it will be changing some over the next month or so,  be sure to check back later for the final version.

Today, I wanted to share one of my favorite activities–The Scavenger Hunt.  It got rave reviews from our teachers at the workshop and we absolutely loved creating it.  It’s also a great activity to do at the beginning of a unit on the Mexican Revolution because it doesn’t require much background knowledge on the Revolution, and it introduces students to the important players in an interactive way.  This activity is inspired by and adapted from Rethinking School’s “The U.S.-Mexico War Tea Party” found in The Line Between Us (Wisconsin: Rethinking Schools, 2006).

Spanning more than ten years, the Mexican Revolution is a complex historical event that involved numerous individuals. The scavenger hunt activity will introduce students to many of these individuals, and the various motivations of those individuals participating in or resisting the Revolution. Each student will take on the role of one individual involved in the Mexican Revolution. Then, using the provided questionnaire hand-out, students will move around the room interviewing classmates in order to appropriately answer all of the questions on the hand-out.  Click here for a pdf the cardscomplete activity. I’ve shared images of some of the pages from the activity, which are included in the pdf.


  • Scavenger hunt roles, cut up (one for each student in the class)
  • Blank nametags (enough for every student in the class)
  • Copies of “The Mexican Revolution Scavenger Hunt” hand-out for every student

Continue reading

WWW: Mexican Revolution – The Storm that Swept Mexico

ZapataOur outreach team recently partnered with Instituto Cervantes of Albuquerque, the Mexican Consulate of Albuquerque, the Spanish Resource Center of Albuquerque, and the National Hispanic Cultural Center to put together a workshop for teachers, discussing how to incorporate the Mexican Revolution into middle and high school classrooms.

Frankly, I had no idea how difficult it is to learn about this cataclysmic event in Mexican history.

Plainly, the Revolution meant—and continues to mean—different things to different people. Diverse groups with contradictory goals were involved in the fight against Porfirio Díaz. Those who took up arms were farmers, miners, professionals, artisans, businessmen, and career soldiers. Some clung tightly to abstract principles such as “liberty,” while others demanded labor protections or the immediate restoration of indigenous lands. Some sought only to rid the community of the local hacendado, while others reacted in principle against three decades of Díaz’s ironclad rule. Folks routinely traversed armies or switched sides altogether. Alliances formed and fragmented. With few exceptions, the leaders of the Revolution were assassinated or exiled by political opponents.  Continue reading