¡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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¡Mira, Look!: Fire! ¡Fuego! Brave Bomberos!

bomberosSaludos todos! We are continuing our theme of “unsung heroes” this week with Fire! ¡Fuego! Brave Bomberos!, written by Susan Middleton Elya and illustrated by Dan Santat.  This heartwarming and inspiring story celebrates the courageous firemen and women who put their lives at risk every day to keep their neighborhoods safe. As the fire squad rushes to attend to a burning house, and to rescue a gato (cat) from the menacing flames, the entire neighborhood crowds around, cheering and supporting their local firefighters, emphasizing themes of community, camaraderie and support.

As Kirkus Reviews notes in a review of the book, the theme of firefighters is not especially unique among children’s books; however, Elya’s story diversifies this common narrative by interspersing her rhythmic poetic prose with Spanish words. The context clues and illustrations help non-Spanish-speaking students understand the meaning of the Spanish vocabulary, but Elya has also included a glossary at the back of the book to further facilitate a novice reading of the text.

bomberos-1In addition, this story’s lead firefighter, the person who ultimately saves the gato from the house, is a firewoman, showing readers that women, too, can be firefighters and, more specifically, can be strong, brave and unafraid of getting their hands dirty: “Gato safely on the ground,/ kitty besos all around./ ‘You’re our hero!’ cheer los niños/ as they give the cat cariños./ Says Carlota, caked with grime,/ ‘At your service, any time.” The illustration shows Carlota beeming with pride at the center of a group of elated children. Her firefighter colleagues, both men and women, are shown in the background smiling proudly at Carlota’s success. This noticeable dynamic empowers women in more ways than one, showing readers that women can also be firefighters, but also showing readers how the work environment and the dynamics amongst colleagues in male-dominated professions don’t have to be filled with hostility or subtle forms of oppression. In other words, Carlota’s heroism shines through the community and the narrative, and is acknowledged and encouraged by her male colleagues. Furthermore, before Carlota begins climbing up the later to save the kitten, her male colleagues are excitedly volunteering for a chance to be a hero: “I’ll go. I’ll go. Let me try!” But Carlota interjects—“Hey, compadres, momentito! Let me save that poor gatito.” Again, Elya skillfully evokes a work dynamic where men and women work respectfully and successfully side by side, and women are offered equal opportunities at success.

bomberos-3 bomberos-2Kirkus Reviews also comments upon the success of Santat’s illustrations: “Santat’s illustrations also help to set this firefighter book apart. From the first page, he thrusts readers into the action with up-close views created with colored pencil, water on ink print, fire and Photoshop. His firefighters are real people with needs, interests and fears, who sweat and get dirty.” Indeed, Santat’s detailed illustrations humanize these brave firefighters who are sometimes overlooked or whose work is sometimes underestimated in our daily lives. Santat’s aesthetic details show readers the physical labor and strain of fighting fires, as well as the range of emotions—fear, adrenaline, pride—that run across the faces of these brave men and women as they keep their neighborhoods safe.

bomberos-4The final scene of the book also emphasizes the reality of work as a firefighter. Although the story focuses on a heart-warming moment of heroism, the daily life of firefighters is not always so thrilling, and often involves late-night calls, strange hours, and sleep-less nights: “Just as todos drift to sleep,/ Dispatch makes its noisy bleep./ Late-night fire call has begun. / ¡EMERGENCIA! 911!/ Off they go to fight un fuego–/ Brave bomberos. Hasta luego!” While this closing scene reminds readers of the tireless work of the brave bomberos, it is also a nice way to close the narrative—although the story has ended, the hard work of the bomberos continues on.

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

For more information about the author and illustrator, here are some additional links:

Stay tuned for more great reads!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images Modified from Fire! ¡Fuego! Brave Bomberos!: Pages 5, 8, 9, 16

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¡Mira Look!: Two White Rabbits

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « two white rabbits by jairo buitrago »Saludos todos, and welcome back to our weekly Mira, Look book reviews! I hope everyone had a relaxing and enjoyable winter holiday.

Our theme for this month is “unsung heroes,” including lesser-known biographies, as well as the cherished yet occasionally overlooked heroes of our personal lives—parents, siblings, teachers and other timeless inspirations. Our first book for the month, Two White Rabbits, written by Mexican author Jairo Buitrago and illustrated by Colombian artist Rafael Yockteng tells the story of a father who courageously brings his daughter across the U.S.-Mexico border. This week we are focusing on this book to honor and celebrate all of the moms and dads who’ve made sacrifices and taken risks for the sake of their children. However, while focusing on the unsung heroes in our personal lives, this book also broaches the topic of unnamed victims (within the context of immigration and refugee rights), providing a double-edged focal point for this story, as well as this month’s themes. As a result, we are kicking off 2017—a fresh start from what was, for many people, a tumultuous and anxiety-inducing year—with books that focus our attention on the people, icons, heroes large and small, and even victims that are often overlooked, unsung, unnamed, or forgotten.

white-rabbits-2This picture book’s narrative style uniquely reflects the characteristics of many graphic novels, allowing much of the story to be told through its images. This particularity nicely complements our featured book for the month and the subject of our January 9th book club, Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White, which is a compelling graphic novel focused on an Argentine family in the US (making it another story of crossing borders, though with quite a different take). Moreover, the illustrations in Two White Rabbits, created with thin, ink-drawn contours and textured, scratchy, digitized cross-hatching, immediately evoke the artistic style of graphic novel illustrations.

white-rabbits-1This simple yet compelling story narrates the immigrant journey of a young girl and her father as they cross through Central America to come to the United States. Although it is made clear through various context clues—the landscape and geography of the illustrations, big signs written in Spanish, and the phenotypes of the characters—that this is a Central American migration, the family’s country of origin is never specified, nor is their destination. In effect, the story produces a seemingly-generic, non-descript story of immigration, reflecting the all-too-common occurrence of this real-life narrative. As noted by Kirkus Reviews, “In leaving readers with much to wonder about, the book packs the most powerful of punches.”  The story expertly captures the white-washing of immigrant narratives, both within literature and the media, as well as through legal and political responses (or lack thereof).

white-rabbits-5Two White Rabbits focuses on one family amongst the hundreds of thousands who make this perilous journey each year. This immigrant narrative is so common that it cannot be confined to any one family or any one individual; rather, it is lived and experienced by countless families and individuals. This story’s vagueness is one of its most sophisticated strengths, emerging as a poignant critique on human, immigrant and refugee rights. Although immigrants and refugees and, generally speaking, human beings, should never be reduced to mere numbers, identifiable only through saddening statistics, this compelling story reminds us that, lamentably, they often are.

white-rabbits-4The story begins with a two-page spread of a little girl riding on the shoulders of her father, their arms spread out like wings as they run down the street with warm grins on their faces. The background is completely white, negative space, and instead of seeing a presumed backdrop of a city or town, all we see is the road, the sidewalk, and the girl with her dad. The words read: “When we travel, I count what I see.”  The narration is from the first-person perspective of the little girl. On the next page is another two-page spread with no words. The little girl and her father are bent down looking at the ground, where several hens and baby chicks scamper about.  The words on the previous page, “I count what I see,” subtly invite readers to count what they see on this wordless spread of images. Young readers could count how many baby chicks they see, how many hens, how many brown hens, how many white hens. This style invites readers to take the time to “read” the illustrations, number what they see, and make detailed observations. The beginning pages immediately set the tone for the book as a whole, letting readers know that the images are crucial for understanding the story. Again, as mentioned in the preceding paragraph, this picture book has the hallmarks of a graphic novel, with sparse, vague words that rely heavily on the storytelling ability of the images.

The abundant white, negative space that we see on the first page continues throughout the story. Detailed images stop short, giving way to blank, white nothingness. This visual technique could be criticized for its vagueness and imprecision, it can also be seen as a powerful reinforcement of the broader narrative, serving to symbolize the imminent erasure of this family’s experiences.

white-rabbits-6This pattern continues throughout the rest of the book: sparse words appear on one page, followed by a two-page spread of just images on the next. Not only does this approach contribute to the symbolism and literary poignancy of the story, but it also creates a wonderful exercise in counting, observation, and interpretation for young readers. The deliberate silences of the narrative, and the simplicity of the story line as a whole, grants teachers the opportunity to fill in these blanks with their students through a variety of potential lesson plans and activities: for example, a lesson on immigration narratives and refugee rights (for older students, perhaps); a lesson on the geographical landscapes of Central America (for intermediate students); or a lesson on counting and verbal description (for younger students).

white-rabbits-7Buitrago dedicates this book to “my dear Adriana/ and the invisible walkers through/ the countries.” The mistreatment of and negligence towards South American immigrants, who are often, in fact, refugees, has stripped them of even more human rights, and rendered them “invisible walkers through countries,” non-identifiable statistics, and, ultimately, a phenomenon in need of urgent attention.

This book is at once simple and complex, generic and diverse, sweet and chilling, all of which contributes to its success. As a whole, it expertly renders difficult topics accessible and enriching for young children, reminding us, through it all, of the amazing power of the unsung heroes in our personal lives.

For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, or learning more about the author and illustrator, here are some additional resources:

¡Hasta pronto!
Alice

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¡Mira Look!: A Taste of the Mexican Market/ El gusto del mercado mexicano

mexican-marketSaludos todos! This week we are continuing our November themes of food, and specifically its cultural importance, with another great read, El gusto del Mercado Mexicano/ A Taste of the Mexican Market, written and illustrated by Nancy Maria Grande Tabor. This wonderfully interactive book is great for celebrating food, includingthe vibrant colors of fruits and vegetables, the textures of different nuts, and the distinct shapes of different meats and fishes. It also  engages kids in valuable exercises in counting, describing what they see, and learning new vocabulary on food and the different ways to prepare food. The book even won the Scientific American Young Readers Book Award for its variegated educational import.

mercado-1The pages are structured as a type of interactive game. The first page, for example, shows the front wall of a market with words that read, “En una visita a Mexico se pueden comer muchas comidas diferentes. Ven conmigo al Mercado mexicano. Mi canasta esta vacia y aqui tengo  la lista de compras. Vamos!/ On a visit to Mexico you can eat many different foods. Come with me to the Mexican market. My basket is empty and here is the shopping list. Let’s go!” On the sides of the page readers see a long list of items to be found in the market. As the book progresses, the narration guides readers on an instructive journey through the Mexican market, addressing the young reader directly with a didactic and playful tone: “Vamos a encontrar las frutas que tenemos en nuestra lista/ Let’s find the fruits on our list.” The narration also engages readers by asking them direct questions, prompting dialogue and reflection between the reader and his/her peers, parent or teacher: “Hay frutas en el Mercado mexicano que nunca has visto?/ Does the Mexican market have any fruits you have never seen before?” Not only do these questions encourage readers to engage more with the text, they also stimulate intercultural observation, reflecting on what is new or foreign to them, what is different between the market in Mexico and the market that they are accustomed to.

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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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¡Mira, Look!: My Abuela is Sick

mi-abuela-is-sick

Saludos todos! This week we will be reviewing a book that has recently come out and was a finalist for the International Latino Book Awards in both the category of “Best Educational Children’s Picture Book—English” and “Most Inspirational Children’s Picture Book—English.” My Abuela is Sick, written by Jennifer Bisignano and illustrated by Gaston Hauviller, tells the story of a young, female protagonist who confronts the reality of her ailing, dying grandmother, which is likely also her first encounter with death. Keeping in line with our themes for the month, this book is especially useful for young children to begin discussing and conceptualizing death, and for those already struggling with these experiences, to find solace in the shared experience of a relatable protagonist. The book may also aid teachers looking for resources to help their students through difficult times.

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