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.

Needless to say, there is absolutely room for poetry in both formal and informal settings.  I was introduced to poetry in the classroom and not long after, I carried it with me into my home.  For this, I am entirely grateful to those teachers.  For those of you who are not sure how to introduce poetry into your classroom or simply would like new ideas, please check out the Academy of American Poets website.  You will find a wealth of resources, including: information about National Poetry Month, ideas for how to celebrate, as well as easily searchable lessons plans for elementary through high school aged students.  I also invite you to check out the work that Vamos a Leer has done around poetry.  For starters, you can find an excellent resource that Katrina has compiled in her En la Clase post titled, Rhythm and Resistance: Teaching Poetry for Social Justice.  Additionally, this month’s Reading Roundup will highlight several previous Vamos a Leer posts which both focus on poetry and provide information about authors, activity ideas, and other relevant content.  Here’s to making this month an extra special one for your students and/or children!

Happy reading and writing everyone!

Colleen

Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates risueños y otros poemas de primavera
Written by Francisco X. Alarcón
Illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez
Published by Children’s Book Press
ISBN: 978-0892391998
Age level: Ages 6-11

Description (from Good Reads):

Tomatoes laugh, chiles explode, and tortillas applaud the sun! With joy and tenderness, delight and sadness, Alarcón’s poems honor the wonders of life and nature: welcoming the morning sun, remembering his grandmother’s songs, paying tribute to children working in the fields, and sharing his dream of a world filled with gardens. Artist Maya Christina Gonzalez invites us to experience the poems with her lively cast of characters–including a spirited grandma, four vivacious children, and playful pets who tease and delight. Follow them from page to page as they bring each poem to colorful life. Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems is a verbal and visual treat, giving us twenty opportunities to see everything for the first time.

My thoughts:

This is not the first time that Alarcón’s Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates risueños y otros poemas de primavera has been featured on the Vamos blog.  In 2015, Lorraine wrote an excellent ¡Mira Look! post that offers a well-rounded overview of the book as well as thoughtful resources for the classroom!  Here, I would like to say that I am happy to re-feature this award-winning, bilingual work.  Not only are the themes of family and nature always in season, this is an excellent way to introduce poetry to young readers.  Happy (re)reading!

Round is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes
Written by Rosanne Thong
Illustrated by John Parra
Published by Chronicle Books
ISBN: 9781452106168
Age level: Ages 3-5

Description (from Good Reads):

Round are tortillas and tacos, too Round is a bowl of abuela’s stew. In this lively picture book, children discover a world of shapes all around them: Rectangles are ice-cream carts and stone metates, triangles are slices of watermelon and quesadillas. Many of the featured objects are Latino in origin, but all are universal in appeal. With rich, boisterous illustrations, a fun-to-read rhyming text, and an informative glossary, this playful concept book will reinforce the shapes found in every child’s day!

My thoughts:

Although Thong’s Round is a Tortilla does not fall within the “traditional” likeliness of a poetry book –its lyrical nature and playful use of words makes for a perfect fit to this month’s theme.  As Katrina writes in her En la Clase post, the book “really inspire[s] the reader to be fully aware of all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures around them;” skills that are essential for any developing poet.  Additionally, within Katrina’s post you will find some excellent ways to link this (and Thong’s other highly recommended book, Green is a Pepper) to poetry.  For an overview of both Round is a Tortilla and Green is a Pepper, head on over to Lorraine’s review!

Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra
Written by Jorge Argueta
Illustrated by Lucía Ángela Pérez
Published by Groundwood Books
ISBN: 978-0888996268
Age level:  Ages 5-8

Description (from Good Reads):

Tetl’s skin is brown, his eyes are black, and his hair is long. He’s different from the other children, whose taunts wound him deeply, leaving him confused and afraid. But Tetl’s grandmother knows the ancient teachings of their Aztec ancestors, and how they viewed the earth as alive with sacred meaning. With her help, he learns to listen to the mountains, wind, corn, and stones. Tetl’s journey from self-doubt to proud acceptance of his Nahuatl heritage is told in a series of powerful poems, beautifully expressed in both English and Spanish. Vivid illustrations celebrate nature’s redemptive powers, offering a perfect complement to the poignant story.

My thoughts:

I am always a fan of Argueta’s work and Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra is no exception.  This masterfully written and colorfully illustrated bilingual book of poetry focuses on self-love and nature.  What I find to be particularly valuable about this book, however, is that it challenges dominant ideas of what is considered acceptable and ‘the norm.’  This books invites us to look within ourselves to discover who we are and love ourselves not despite this, but because of this!  This book is also a great way to explore the theme of (de)colonization.  For more ideas on how to incorporate this theme and get a general sense of the book, please see Lorraine’s ¡Mira Look! post.

Somos como los nubes/We Are Like the Clouds
Written by Jorge Argueta
Illustrated by Alfonso Ruano
Published by Groundwood Books
ISBN: 978-1554988495
Age level: Ages 7-12

Description (from Good Reads):

Why are young people leaving their country to walk to the United States to seek a new, safe home? Over 100,000 such children have left Central America. This book of poetry helps us to understand why and what it is like to be them.

This powerful book by award-winning Salvadoran poet Jorge Argueta describes the terrible process that leads young people to undertake the extreme hardships and risks involved in the journey to what they hope will be a new life of safety and opportunity. A refugee from El Salvador’s war in the eighties, Argueta was born to explain the tragic choice confronting young Central Americans today who are saying goodbye to everything they know because they fear for their lives. This book brings home their situation and will help young people who are living in safety to understand those who are not.

Compelling, timely and eloquent, this book is beautifully illustrated by master artist Alfonso Ruano who also illustrated The Composition, considered one of the 100 Greatest Books for Kids by Scholastic’s Parent and Child Magazine.

My thoughts:

As mentioned above, I am a fan of Argueta!  In a time when migration and borders are the forefront of everyone’s minds, this book feels particularly salient.  Undoubtedly, it challenges much of the political rhetoric around those who make their way into the US by humanizing and articulating the realities of why people immigrate.  The verses are simple, yet extraordinarily powerful.  Additionally, Alfonso Ruano’s artwork is simply captivating.  For a more in depth review of Somos como los nubes/We Are Like the Clouds, head on over to the Kirkus Review.

Poesía eres tú
Written by F. Isabel Campoy
Illustrated by Marcela Calderón
Published by Santillana USA
ISBN: 978-1631139642
Age level: Ages 7-10

Description (from Amazon):

For decades, F. Isabel Campoy has been delighting us with her poetry in various publications. Here, we can enjoy all of it. An endless party!

My thoughts:

I am sure that many Vamos readers are familiar with the award winning author and educator, F. Isabel Campoy.   Being fairly new to the field of children’s literature, I am just beginning to familiarize myself with her work – and I am delighted to be doing so!  Campoy’s Spanish language poetry anthology, Poesía eres tú, is diverse in themes; playful in sound, cadence, and rhythm; and rich in colorful art!  You can find a sampling of some of the poems at the publisher’s, Santillana USA, website.  I also encourage you to explore Campoy’s website, where you will find a wealth of books that she has both written and co-written (with Alma Flor Ada, below) in English, Spanish, and both!

Todo es una canción
Written by Alma Flor Ada
Illustrated by Maria Jesus Alvarez
Published by Alfaguara Infantil
ISBN: 978-1616051730
Age level:  Ages 7 and up

Description (from Santillana USA):

This delightful book gathers a selection of the most notable poems written by Alma Flor Ada—Latina writer, teacher, and passionate advocate for bilingual and bicultural education in the U.S. Organized by curriculum themes, this anthology is a fundamental tool for teachers who rely on imagination, play, and creativity to expand concepts and to enrich students’ vocabulary. Some of the themes included in the anthology are the parts of the body, numbers, vowels, family, animals, the city and the countryside, food, nature, bilingualism, and much more.

My thoughts:

Similar to F. Isabel Campoy, I am just beginning to discover the prolific writings of author, poet, and educator Alma Flor Ada.  Todo es una canción, an anthology of Ada’s poems, has been a great way to get acquainted!  The Spanish language book offers educators a variety of themes to work with in the classroom and young readers a wealth of ideas for writing their own poems.  And in case you are in need of additional education resources (who isn’t?) please head over to her website and explore videos, activity pages, and learn about the other books she has authored, or co-authored (with F. Isabel Campoy)!

Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the United States
Edited by Lori Marie Carlson with Introduction by Oscar Hijuelos
Published by Square Fish
ISBN: 978-1250016782
Age level: Ages 8-12

 Description (from Good Reads):

Here are the sights, sounds, and smells of Latino culture in America in thirty-six vibrant, moving, angry, beautiful and varied voices, including Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisneros, Luis J. Rodríguez, Gary Soto, and Martín Espada.

Presented in both English and Spanish, each poem helps us to discover the stories behind the mangoes and memories, prejudice and fear, love and life–how it was and is to grow up Hispanic in America….

My thoughts:

For exploring poetry with older readers, educators will find Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the United States to be an invaluable collection.  This bilingual book of poetry brings together diverse voices from the Latin@ community with writings that invite adolescent and older readers to think about their own stories of growing up.  Overall, I really enjoyed the poetry within this book.  I do, however, think this book may be more appropriate for 12 and up, as some of the poems are more mature in content – despite the indicated age level of 8-12.  What are your thoughts?

CrashBoomLove: A Novel in Verse
Written by Juan Felipe Herrera
Published by University of New Mexico Press
ISBN: 978-0826321145
Age level: Grades 9-12

Description (from Good Reads):

In this novel in verse–unprecedented in Chicano literature–renowned poet Juan Felipe Herrera illuminates the soul of a generation. Drawn from his own life as well as a lifetime of dedication to young people, CrashBoomLove helps readers understand what it is to be a teen, a migrant worker, and a boy wanting to be a boy.

Sixteen-year-old Cesar Garcia is careening. His father, Papi Cesar, has left the migrant circuit in California for his other wife and children in Denver. Sweet Mama Lucy tries to provide for her son with dichos and tales of her own misspent youth. But at Rambling West High School in Fowlerville, the sides are drawn: Hmongs vs. Chicanos vs. everybody vs. Cesar, the new kid on the block.

Precise and profound, CrashBoomLove will appeal to and resonate with high school readers across the country.

A California farmworker kid’s season in hell, told through fast-verse lines that careen to the beat of a fiery heart.

My thoughts:

As Katrina writes in her En la Clase post, novel in verse is an excellent way to introduce young people to poetry.  Juan Felipe Herrera’s book, CrashBoomLove: A Novel in Verse, is a great option.  The narrative, featuring a male protagonist, offers a glimpse into the challenges of being a young person when there is a lot going on around you.  The themes – along with the element of grittiness – are certainly something that my younger self would have appreciated reading about.  Additionally, it is novels (in-verse) such as these that can further encourage young people to reflect on their own stories, their own experience, and their own surroundings; prompting their creative ability to think of their lives in poetic terms.  Consider including this one on shelves if it’s not already!

Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics
Written by Margarita Engle
Illustrated by Rafael López
Published by Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-0805098761
Age level: Ages 8-12

Description (from Good Reads):

Musician, botanist, baseball player, pilot—the Latinos featured in this collection come from many different countries and from many different backgrounds. Celebrate their accomplishments and their contributions to a collective history and a community that continues to evolve and thrive today!

Biographical poems include: Aida de Acosta, Arnold Rojas, Baruj Benacerraf, César Chávez, Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, Félix Varela, George Meléndez, José Martí, Juan de Miralles, Juana Briones, Julia de Burgos, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Paulina Pedroso, Pura Belpré, Roberto Clemente, Tito Puente, Ynes Mexia, Tomás Rivera

My thoughts:

Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics, written by Margarita Engle is a unique look into the lives of influential and inspiring Latin@s.   Like many of the books on this list, Bravo! can serve multiple purposes.  Not only does it introduce poetry, it also teaches about people that are often overlooked in our school text books.  I certainly learned about several people that I did not know about, including botanist, Ynés Mexía, from Mexico and arms dealer, Juan de Miralles, from Cuba.  Rafael López’s artwork is also stunning!

Under the Mesquite
Written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Published by Lee & Low Books
ISBN: 978-1600604294
Age level: Ages 14-17

Description (from Good Reads):

Lupita, a budding actor and poet in a close-knit Mexican American immigrant family, comes of age as she struggles with adult responsibilities during her mother’s battle with cancer in this young adult novel in verse.

When Lupita learns Mami has cancer, she is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of her close-knit family. Suddenly, being a high school student, starring in a play, and dealing with friends who don’t always understand, become less important than doing whatever she can to save Mami’s life.

While her father cares for Mami at an out-of-town clinic, Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. As Lupita struggles to keep the family afloat, she takes refuge in the shade of a mesquite tree, where she escapes the chaos at home to write. Forced to face her limitations in the midst of overwhelming changes and losses, Lupita rediscovers her voice and finds healing in the power of words.

Told with honest emotion in evocative free verse, Lupita’s journey toward hope is captured in moments that are alternately warm and poignant. Under the Mesquite is an empowering story about testing family bonds and the strength of a young woman navigating pain and hardship with surprising resilience.

My thoughts:

Under the Mesquite, written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, has been highlighted several times on the Vamos blog throughout the years.  With good reason, too!  Winner of the Pura Belpré Award, this novel in verse is a riveting read and great way to introduce and encourage poetry with high school aged readers.  Here, I would like to turn to Katrina’s thoughts on the book from 2013, because they are just as applicable and meaningful today:

Under the Mesquite is a beautiful book.  While it was a quick read, it lingered in my mind.  I found myself continuing to think about it days after I’d finished it.  It’s a book that is certainly worth a second (or even third) read.  The first time through I was engrossed in the story, only subconsciously aware of the beauty and simplicity of McCall’s verse. When I returned to the  novel later, I found myself incredibly moved by the imagery and sentiments conveyed through McCall’s words.  I think Lyn Miller-Lachmann describes it best in her own review: “. . .one of the most achingly beautiful novels I’ve read in a long time. It is a story from the heart, not written to fit into a marketing category but to remember, to honor, and to bear witness.”

An Américas Award Interview: Duncan Tonatiuh

¡Feliz primavera! I’m thrilled to share another Américas Award interview with you, this time featuring Duncan Tonatiuh. Two of his books, Esquivel!: Space-Age Sound Artist and The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes were chosen to receive Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Awards in 2017. Read on to learn more!

-Hania

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Duncan Tonatiuh (toh-nah-teeYOU) is the author-illustrator of The Princess and the Warrior, Funny Bones, Separate Is Never Equal, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote, Diego Rivera: His World and Ours and Dear Primo. He is the illustrator of Esquivel! and Salsa. His books have received multiple accolades, among them the Pura Belpré Medal, the Sibert Medal, The Tomás Rivera Mexican-American Children’s Book Award, The Américas Award, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award and the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book Award.

For more about his work, visit http://www.duncantonatiuh.com.

 

 

MARCH 29, 2017

HANIA MARIËN: You have an author name pronunciation guide on your website – can I ask how often your name has been mispronounced? Do you remember any particular experiences that stuck with you?

DUNCAN TONATIUH: It gets mispronounced very often. It is not hard to say Toh-nah-tee-YOU, but if you read Tonatiuh in English it looks odd. I sometimes tell people to not look at the name when they say it.

Tonatiuh means sun or god of the sun in the Nahuatl language, which is the language the Aztecs spoke. Tonatiuh is actually my middle name. Since my artwork is inspired by Pre-Columbian art I decided to sign my books Duncan Tonatiuh because I feel that it represents well what my artwork and books are about.

HANIA MARIËN: Did you read a lot with your family growing up? Do you remember any particular stories that inspired you?

DUNCAN TONATIUH: There were a lot of books around in my house when I was a kid. Some of the first books I remember reading are Horton Hatches an Egg, The Little Prince, and a book about a Mexican woodcutter called Macario. When I was in third grade I was really into the Choose Your Own Adventure series. My interest in reading and writing definitely began when I was a kid.

HANIA MARIËN: Can you elaborate on why you believe the stories you choose to write about are relevant to all students?

DUNCAN TONATIUH: I hope that my books are relevant to all children. I think they are definitely important for Latinx children. In the U.S. only about 3% of all the children’s books that are published every year are about or written by a Latinx, even though we are one of the largest groups in U.S. I think it is important for Latinx children to see themselves in books because it lets them know that their culture, their voices and experiences are valuable and important.

I hope my books are relevant to non Latinx children too. When children learn through books about people different than themselves they are less likely to have prejudices or be afraid of them when they are adults. I think that books can help children learn that we are all humans regardless of our skin color, national or ethnic background, religion, physical abilities or sexual preferences.

HANIA MARIËN: How can honoring the past help us understand the present? How and why might this be important at this moment in time?

DUNCAN TONATIUH: I made a book called Separate Is Never Equal about Mendez v. Westminster, a civil rights case that desegregated schools in California in the 1940’s. At the time Latinx children in many parts of the Southwest were not allowed to attend school with white children. I made that book for two main reasons. One is that it is an important piece of American History that not many people know about. The other reason is that although segregation is no longer legal the way it was in the 40’s, there is still a lot of segregation that happens in schools in the U.S. today.

According to a recent study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA African-American and Latinx children are twice as likely to attend a school where the majority of the students are poor and where less than 10% of the students are white. Their schools therefore tend to have less resources and less experienced teachers. I think that the story of the Mendez family can show students that it took courageous people to stand up against the prejudices that were prevalent at the time. I think it is a very important lesson today, given all the hostility that we see –especially from the current administration—towards Latinxs, Muslims, the LGBTQ community and other groups.

HANIA MARIËN: When you write a book, what is it you ultimately hope to share with your readers?
DUNCAN TONATIUH: I try to make books that are entertaining and interesting. My books tend to have an educational component too. Sometimes they teach young readers about art, history or social justice. But hopefully they do so in a way that is enjoyable and that doesn’t feel forced. As an author-illustrator sometimes I’m invited to visit different schools. When I present at a school I try to talk with the students and I try not to talk down at them. I share with them my process for making a book and tell them about what inspired me to become an author/illustrator. I hope that my love for reading, writing and drawing encourages them to enjoy and work on those things themselves. Hopefully my books have a similar effect.

HANIA MARIËN: In Separate is Never Equal you chronicle Sylvia Mendez’s family’s efforts to end school segregation in California. It’s clear that our schools still do not provide equal opportunities to learn for all students. In your opinion, how and to what extent do we see the legacies of Brown vs. Board of Education and Mendez vs. Westminster in our education system today? In your opinion, where do we go from here (i.e. what shifts would you like to see in education)?

DUNCAN TONATIUH: There is a lot of segregation in schools in the U.S. today. It is a big problem and I am not sure what the solution is. I think one important step though, is to acknowledge the issue and talk about it. I think a lot of people are blind to this problem or choose to ignore it. Learning about cases like the Mendez case and the Brown case helps people see how segregation has affected students in the past. It can also be a way to start discussing the current situation and think of steps we can all take to create a more fair landscape for students.

HANIA MARIËN: How might a teacher use this book to generate discussion about the legacy of school segregation with middle or high school students?

DUNCAN TONATIUH: I think the book can serve as a good introductory text. The Américas Award has created a wonderful educator’s guide with different ways to use the book in the classroom. You can find a link to it and  to other guides the Américas Award has created here: http://claspprograms.org/pages/detail/62/Teaching-Resources The guide is designed for elementary school students. It includes a list of complementary literature, though, and some of the literature it mentions is geared towards young adults.

I think the book can spark discussions but also projects. It is very exciting for me when students use my books as a jumping off point. After reading Separate Is Never Equal a group of fourth graders in Texas told me they were going to analyze who went to their school and whether it was segregated in comparison to other schools in their district. I think it would be interesting for middle school and high school students to take on similar projects.

HANIA MARIËN: In a TedX presentation you mention that migration is one of the key issues that concern Mexico and the United States. What advice would you give to teachers interested in discussing current events and policy decisions related to migration with their students?

DUNCAN TONATIUH: I think my book Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote can be a good discussion starter. The book is an allegory of the dangerous journey migrants often go through to reach the U.S. The book also shows how difficult it is for families to be separated. We hear the word immigration often in the media but we rarely hear about those aspects. When discussing immigration politicians often talk in statistics about the economy, or worse they use immigrants as scapegoats and claim they are terrorists and drug traffickers. In reality immigrants are some of the hardest working people and take on some of the most grueling jobs.

It is hard to keep up with the Trump administration and all the policy decisions they are making. I think immigration should be thought of as a humanitarian crisis, not as an issue of national security. People don’t leave their homes and risk their lives in an extremely dangerous journey to a foreign country because they want to. They do so because they are surrounded by poverty and violence at home and can’t find a better option.

HANIA MARIËN: Congratulations on your recent 2017 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book Award. Can you tell us a little bit about this most recent book and why you wrote it?

DUNCAN TONATIUH: I received two honorable mentions for illustration from the Pura Belpré Award this year. One was for Esquivel! which was written by Susan Wood and published by Charlesbridge. The book is a about a very creative and groovy Mexican composer named Juan García Esquivel. I had fun listening to Esquivel’s music and looking at fashion from the time to inform my drawings. I enjoyed creating hand-drawn type for different pages.

The other honorable mention was for The Princess and the Warrior. I am the author. It was published by Abrams. The book is my own version of a legend that explains the origin of two volcanoes located in central Mexico: Iztaccíhuatl, the sleeping woman, and Popocatépetl, the smoky mountain. The story has some similarities to Sleeping Beauty and to Romeo and Juliet, but it is set in the Pre-Columbian world. I really enjoy fables and fairy tales, but most of the ones I know or have read come from the European tradition. I think it is important to learn and celebrate folk tales from other cultures and traditions too. I first heard the legend of the volcanoes when I was a kid. I recalled it recently and I wanted to share it with young readers today.

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¡Mira Look!: Martina the Beautiful Cockroach

Image result for martina the beautiful cockroachSaludos todos! This week we are concluding our monthly theme of love with Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, an adaptation of an old Cuban folktale, written by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Michael Austin. This book won recognition as a Pura Belpré Honor Book. According to the introduction of the book, this folktale is one of the best known in Latin America, but versions of this classic tale also exist in other regions of the world. Nonetheless, Deedy takes this traditional tale, and its familiar themes, and intertwines it with her own creative twists and childhood memories. This in itself is one of the beautiful things about traditional folktales—their themes and plots have become so familiar to most people that they can be retold and adapted across countries, cultures and individual experiences to reflect both common sentiments of society, and the particular lives of individuals. Martina the Beautiful Cockroach deals primarily with themes of romantic love, but also of familial love, as young Martina relies on the advice of her wise abuela in choosing a future spouse. This charming story conveys themes of respect, compatibility, and family love, and is bound to make any reader smile as they follow the journey of Martina the beautiful cockroach.

martina-1 martina-2The story begins with a scene of the young Martina with her family inside their lamp post home. The warm hues of the illustrations evoke feelings of comfort and good company, while also accentuating witty details, such as a sofa made of a can of beans, a staircase made of books, and a stamp as a wall-hanging portrait. Martina has just turned 21 years old, and her family thinks that it is now time for her to find a husband. Her wise abuela tells her to go up to the balcony to await her suitors. Since Martina is stunningly beautiful, the entire town is abuzz with talk about marrying her: “Soon all Havana—from the busy sidewalks of El Prado to El Morro castle—was abuzz with the news.” However, her abuela also tells her to use the famous “coffee test” to pick the right suitor. When a suitor comes to speak to her, Martina must “accidentally” spill coffee on their shoes, and watch how they react. Based on their reaction, she will see how they will act towards her when they are angry. If they lose their temper and act disrespectfully, then they are not the right suitor. Although Martina is skeptical of her abuela’s eccentric advice, she follows it nonetheless.

martina-3 martina-4The first to come speak to Martina is Don Gallo, the rooster. The rooster has “splendid shoes,” and exclaims, “Caramba! You really are a beautiful cockroach. I will look even more fabulous with you on my wings!” But when Martina “accidently” spills coffee on his shoes, he erupts in a fury, insulting her and her “clumsiness”: “Clumsy cockroach! I will teach you better manners when you are my wife!” Alas, Don Gallo has failed the coffee test. Martina tells him cooly, “A most humble offer, senor, but I cannot accept. You are much too cocky for me.” These little play on words continue throughout the story, adding a layer of humor to an already charming and endearing story. While portraying the all-too-human sensations of searching for love and finding love, this story also self-consciously highlights the witty absurdity of the anthropomorphized characters: “Daintily, she sat down/ and crossed her legs,/ and crossed her legs,/ and crossed her legs.” As one suitor comes after the next, Martina grows more and more appreciative of her abuela’s unique advice.   Many of her suitors do not react kindly to having coffee spilt on their shoes, and this little experiment enables her to see each suitor’s true colors.

martina-5Finally, Martina spots a cute little mouse who’s been waiting in the bushes below the whole time. Martina, instantly drawn to him, goes to speak to him, but not before her abuela brusquely reminds her, “Don’t forget the coffee!” The little mouse blushes while speaking to Martina and tells her that although she is very beautiful, his eyes are not very good; his ears, however, are very sharp and he knows that she is “strong and good”: “Then he squinted sweetly. ‘Who cares if you are beautiful?’” Although this old folktale relies on old traditions of courting suitors, the values that it conveys—mutual respect, kindness, and a focus on internal values rather than external appearances—are timeless and remain important for any couple to this day. Although Martina is reluctant to try the coffee test this time, she does as her abuela says. Just as she is about to spill the coffee on the mouse’s shoes, though, he surprises her by doing something none of the other suitors have done. So as not to ruin the ending, which is my favorite part of the story, I will leave it at that. But in the end, Martina ends up falling in love with the most unassuming suitor, while also realizing how important her Cuban roots and family traditions really are.

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

Stay tuned for an introduction to our March themes and for more great reads!

Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images modified from: Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, pages 3, 7, 9, 11, 18

February 3rd | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! I really hope you find the resources I shared helpful. I know it was enjoyable collecting them.

Latinos in Kid Lit shared a book review of When the Moon Was Ours by Anna Marie McLemore. We haven’t read this one yet at Vamos a Leer, but it looks really interesting: “Teaching this novel opens up the opportunity to research different legends, traditions, and cultural practices in relation to gender plurality and sexuality.”

Fundacion Cuatrogatos posted En busca de un tiempo prometido by Irene Vasco. This is an article about la exclusión educativa en Colombia que tiene profundas raíces históricas, dice sr. Vasco (historical educational exclusion in Colombia as expressed by Ms. Vasco).

— Also, congratulations to Raúl Gonzalez III for winning the 2017 Pura Belpré Award for Illustration! “Raúl Gonzales was born in El Paso, Texas and grew up going back and forth between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, México.”

–Here is a review of the book Collected Poems 1975-2015 by John Robert Lee, Anansesem advisory board member, shared via Anansesem: The Caribbean Children’s Literature Magazine. With National Poetry month fast approaching, it may be a valuable classroom resource to consider using: “The journey the poems tell is from the young man enthused with the energy of the radical decolonizing spirit of the 1970s…”

— Additionally, Raising Race Conscious Children posted Talking about slavery through a lens of resistance. The article poses some important questions and answers, such as“What do students really need to know about slavery? They need to learn historical details about slavery as a felt experience that both impacts and empowers them.”

– Lastly, Remezcla shared These Anti-Princess Books Give Young Girls Badass Latina Heroines to Look Up To. We couldn’t say it better: “ While Donald Trump may think that a woman’s beauty is the only thing that matters…Two Argentine women in the publishing industry were fed up with that antiquated (and incorrect) notion, and especially with the way it manifests in classic children’s books that paint female protagonists as weaklings who need to be saved.”

Abrazos,
Alin Badillo


Image: Ballet Folklorico Performers. Reprinted from Flickr user HGxxYB under CC©.

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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

Sélavi, That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope
Written and Illustrated by Youme Landowne
Published by Cinco Puntos Press
ISBN: 0-938317-84-9
Age level: 5-7 years old

Description (from Good Reads):

The true story of Selavi (“that is life”), a small boy who finds himself homeless on the streets of Haiti. He finds other street children who share their food and a place to sleep. Together they proclaim a message of hope through murals and radio programs. Now in paper, this beautifully illustrated story is supplemented with photographs of Haitian children working and playing together, plus an essay by Edwidge Danticat. Included in the 2005 ALA Notable Children’s Book List and the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List.

Youme Landowne is an artist and activist who has worked with communities in Kenya, Japan, Haiti, and Cuba to make art that honors personal and cultural wisdom. She makes her home in Brooklyn, New York, and rides her bike everywhere.

My thoughts:

When reflecting on cultural heroes, it can be easy to focus on already established and well-known figures.  In this, we often miss the opportunity to learn of the everyday heroes who have greatly impacted their communities, improved quality of life for others, and prompted justice in the face of adversity.  Sélavi, That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope written and illustrated by Youme Landowne, beautifully exemplifies all of the above.  This bold and genuine true story reminds us that our actions make a difference, and that together we are stronger.  As those in the story know, “Alone…we may be a single drop of water, but together we can be a mighty river.”

selaviThis award winning book is presented in two parts: first, a narrative of children protagonists who prompted change in their community and, second, a historical reflection on Haiti written by Edwidge Danticat, an author whom we greatly admire on the Vamos blog.  I hope that you get to read Landowne’s book honoring the strength of the Haiti’s children and community.  If you’re in need of a bit more convincing, however, I invite you to read Alice’s thoughtful and comprehensive review.

Viva Frida
Written and Illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Photographed by Tim O’Meara
Published by Roaring Brook Press
ISBN: 978-1-59643-603-9
Age level: Grades K-3

Description (from Good Reads):

Frida Kahlo, one of the world’s most famous and unusual artists is revered around the world. Her life was filled with laughter, love, and tragedy, all of which influenced what she painted on her canvases.

Distinguished author/illustrator Yuyi Morales illuminates Frida’s life and work in this elegant and fascinating book.

My thoughts:

I became an instant fan of author and artist Yuyi Morales in my first month contributing to this blog when I read, Niño Wrestles the World.  And with each subsequent work that I find of hers, I continue to be enchanted by both her artistry and simplicity of prose; Viva Frida is no exception to this.  The book’s art consists of stop-motion puppets that beautifullyfrida capture symbols present in Frida Kahlo’s life and paintings, including la casa azul, deers, calaveras, Diego Rivera, and her pet dog and monkey.  The bilingual prose is sparse, but manages to convey her bold spirit.  For those young readers unfamiliar with the life and works of Frida Kahlo, they may not grasp the symbolism or understand how the words relate to her life.  Yet, this does not minimize the book’s impact, as it really does stand alone and context feels secondary.  A concluding mini biography of Frida’s life helps lend background info.

For a more extensive review of this book, please check out Lorraine’s ¡Mira Look! post from 2015.  As a highlight from her post, I can’t help but share a short video about how Yuyi Morales created the artwork for this visually stunning book!

That’s Not Fair: Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice /¡No es justo!: La lucha de Emma Tenayuca por la justicia
Written by Carmen Tafolla and Sharyll Teneyuca
Illustrated by Terry Ybáñez
Published by Wings Press
ISBN: 978-0-916727-33-8

Description (from Good Reads):

A vivid depiction of the early injustices encountered by a young Mexican-American girl in San Antonio in the 1920’s, this book tells the true story of Emma Tenayuca. Emma learns to care deeply about poverty and hunger during a time when many Mexican Americans were starving to death and working unreasonably long hours at slave wages in the city’s pecan-shelling factories. Through astute perception, caring, and personal action, Emma begins to get involved, and eventually, at the age of 21, leads 12,000 workers in the first significant historical action in the Mexican-American struggle for justice. Emma Tenayuca’s story serves as a model for young and old alike about courage, compassion, and the role everyone can play in making the world more fair.

My thoughts:

I really enjoyed this book.  Within the first pages, it becomes abundantly clear why Emma Tenayuca’s biographical story about Emma Tenayuca, a young, Mexican-American activist, story must be included in a post about heroes.   For this post, I would like to highlight Alice’s excellent review of It’s Not Fair/¡No es justo!  She writes:

This book is an excellent contribution to our effort to diversify the immigrant                 narrative, as it exposes not only the initial hardships of immigrating to the U.S., but also the myriad of injustices and human rights abuses that have existed and still do exist for Mexican-Americans upon arrival in the U.S. Emma Tenayuca, from a very young age, recognizes the importance of education and the unfairness of the society around her. Her sympathetic viewpoint, coupled with a focused desire to redress wrongs, leads her to become a pioneer for Mexican-American rights in the U.S.

In her post, you will also find detailed historical information about Emma Tenayuca as well as additional resources that can be used for further teaching.

Tomás and the Library Lady
Written by Pat Mora
Illustrated by Raul Colón
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
ISBN: 0-679-80401-3
Age level: Ages 5-7

Description (from Pat Mora):

Tomás is a son of migrant workers. Every summer he and his family follow the crops north from Texas to Iowa, spending long, arduous days in the fields. At night they gather around to hear Grandfather’s wonderful stories. But before long, Tomás knows all the stories by heart. “There are more stories in the library,” Papa Grande tells him. The very next day, Tomás meets the library lady and a whole new world opens up for him. Based on the true story of the Mexican-American author and educator Tomás Rivera, a child of migrant workers who went on to become the first minority Chancellor in the University of California system, this inspirational story suggests what libraries–and education–can make possible. Raul Colón’s warm, expressive paintings perfectly interweave the harsh realities of Tomás’s life, the joyful imaginings he finds in books, and his special relationships with a wise grandfather and a caring librarian.

My thoughts:

Some readers may recall that in celebration of National Hispanic Heritage month, Vamos featured Tomás and the Library Lady.  For the post, Alice wrote an excellent review highlighting the life of Tomás Rivera, provides links to educational resources, and thoughtfully summarizes the book.  Indeed, it is a wonderful fit for honoring the life and works of Tomas Rivera.  Additionally, it is a superb example for this month’s theme of paying homage to the heroes that have inspired us.  In the case of Tomás and the Library Lady, written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Raul Colón, there are multiple “unsung heroes” to be recognized, including the farmworkers and his family.  However, the real hero of this book is “the library lady;” the person whom unknowingly impacted and shaped the life of author and educator, Tomás Rivera.  This very touching book teaches young readers that small actions can have big outcomes!  If you have not yet had a chance to share this book with a student or your own child, please do so – you won’t be disappointed!

A Library for Juana: The World of Sor Juana Inés
Written by Pat Mora
Illustrated by Beatriz Vidal
Published by Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 0-375-90643-6
Age level: 5-8 years old

Description (from Good Reads):

Juana Inés was just a little girl in a village in Mexico when she decided that the thing she wanted most in the world was her very own collection of books, just like in her grandfather’s library. When she found out that she could learn to read in school, she begged to go. And when she later discovered that only boys could attend university, she dressed like a boy to show her determination to attend. Word of her great intelligence soon spread, and eventually, Juana Inés was considered one of the best scholars in the Americas–something unheard of for a woman in the 17th century.

Today, this important poet is revered throughout the world and her verse is memorized by schoolchildren all over Mexico.

My thoughts:

Perhaps my admiration for Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz makes me partial in choosing this book about her, but I do so proudly!  Author Pat Mora and illustrator Beatriz Vidal do an excellent job representing this incredible scholar, poet, and activist and advocate.  The story beginsjuana with Juana Inés’ life as child and captures her instinctive thirst of learning.  And although we get the sense that this characteristic love of knowledge is innate to her – that she is truly someone extraordinary – the story’s inspirational tone is not lost on the reader; encouraging us, too, to ask questions, dig for answers, challenge norms, and live up to what we believe is our full potential.  The story of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is one that every young person should learn about, particularly our young girls.  I am so happy that Pat Mora’s book, A Library for Juana: The World of Sor Juana Inés, makes this possible.

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
Written and Illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1054-4
Age level: Ages 7-12

Description (from Good Reads):

Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.

My thoughts:

For the sake of stating the obvious, Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & her Family’s Fight for Desegregation, is an incredibly important book.  Despite my studies in Chicanx history and literature, I (somewhat abashedly) did not know of Sylvia Mendez and her family prior to reading Duncan Tonatiuh’s award winning book.  The Mendez v. Westminster School District case is not only important to Mexican American history; it is profoundly significant to the history of the U.S. and to the “canon” of civil rights activists who have contributed to creating a more just society.  I am deeply thankful to authors such as Tonatiuh, who bring the stories of often unknown heroes to light and make them accessible to young readers.

To read more on Tonatiuh’s, Separate is Never Equal and for classroom resources, head on over to the Katrina’s review and educator’s guide.           

The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist
Written by Margarita Engle
Published by Houghton Mifflin Publishing Company
ISBN: 978-0-547-80743-0
Age level: Ages 11-13

Description (from Good Reads):

Opposing slavery in Cuba in the nineteenth century was dangerous. The most daring abolitionists were poets who veiled their work in metaphor. Of these, the boldest was Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, nicknamed Tula. In passionate, accessible verses of her own, Engle evokes the voice of this book-loving feminist and abolitionist who bravely resisted an arranged marriage at the age of fourteen, and was ultimately courageous enough to fight against injustice. Historical notes, excerpts, and source notes round out this exceptional tribute.

My thoughts:

Margarita Engle’s stunning novel in verse, The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist, introduces readers to a lesser known historical figure and hero.  This Pura Belpré Honor Book is well worth the read and Katrina’s review beautifully articulates why we should all learn about Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Tula):

Tula is a powerful character, not just because of what she believed, but because of how she chose to stand up for those beliefs.  She fought for equality and human rights through her stories and her poetry.  She used the power of words as a means to change the minds of those around her.  How valuable a lesson for the students in our classrooms—that our words are one of the most powerful tools we have for fighting against the things that try to hold us back.  I’ll leave you with the words from Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda that inspired the title of the book— “The slave let his mind fly free, and his thoughts soared higher than the clouds where lightning forms.”

Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa
Written by Veronica Chambers
Illustrated by Julie Maren
Published by Dial
ISBN: 0803729707
Age level: Grades 2 – 4

Description (from Good Reads):

Everyone knows the flamboyant, larger-than-life Celia, the extraordinary salsa singer who passed away in 2003, leaving millions of fans brokenhearted. Now accomplished children’s book author Veronica Chambers gives young readers a lyrical glimpse into Celia’s childhood and her inspiring rise to worldwide fame and recognition. First-time illustrator Julie Maren truly captures the movement and the vibrancy of the Latina legend and the sizzling sights and sounds of her legacy

My thoughts:

I simply had to include Celia Cruz in this list!  Why?  She is a phenomenal artist beloved across the globe and if you can’t tell, I am a fan.    And lucky for us readers, author Veronica Chambers and illustrator Julie Maren bring her story to life in Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa.  I really enjoyed this children’s book on Celia Cruz; it is beautifully illustrated, introduces readers to her childhood personality, and touches on – although briefly- the political climate in Cuba.  Many of us are well aware of Celia Cruz and her importance, and it never hurts to have one more resource to help celebrate and remember her life. Musicians, and their music, are always excellent educational tools!

If you’re curious for more on this book, check out Lorraine’s ¡Mira Look! post.  And for more on Celia, head on over to Jake’s WWW post!

My Tata’s Remedies/Los remedios de mi tata
Written by Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford
Illustrated by Antonio Castro L.
Published by Cinco Puntos Press
ISBN: 978-1-935955-91-7
Age level: Ages 7-11

Description (from Good Reads):

Aaron has asked his grandfather Tata to teach him about the healing remedies he uses. Tata is a neighbor and family elder. People come to him all the time for his soothing solutions and for his compassionate touch and gentle wisdom. Tata knows how to use herbs, teas, and plants to help each one. His wife, Grandmother Nana, is there too, bringing delicious food and humor to help Tata’s patients heal.  An herbal remedies glossary at the end of the book includes useful information about each plant, plus botanically correct drawings.

tataMy thoughts:

My Tata’s Remedies/Los remedios de mi tata, written by Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford and illustrated by Antonio Castro L., is a great representation of “everyday heroes.”  In the case of this beautifully illustrated and bilingual book, that hero is Aaron’s Tata Gus.  Tata Gus lovingly imparts culture, tradition, and knowledge by teaching his grandson about his healing remedies and his profound understanding of plants.  Along the way, Aaron also learns about Tata Gus’ own childhood and what it means to be a part of a community.   This thoughtful book encourages us – and our kiddos – to reflect on who are the “everyday heroes” in our own lives.

The Storyteller’s Candle/La velita de los cuentos
Written by Lucía González
Illustrated by Lulu Delacre
Published by Children’s Book Press
ISBN: 0892392223

Description (from Lee & Low Books):

The winter of 1929 feels especially cold to cousins Hildamar and Santiago—they arrived in New York City from sunny Puerto Rico only months before. Their island home feels very far away indeed, especially with Three Kings’ Day rapidly approaching.

But then a magical thing happened. A visitor appears in their class, a gifted storyteller and librarian by the name of Pura Belpré. She opens the children’s eyes to the public library and its potential to be the living, breathing heart of the community. The library, after all, belongs to everyone—whether you speak Spanish, English, or both.

The award-winning team of Lucía González and Lulu Delacre have crafted an homage to Pura Belpré, New York City’s first Latina librarian. Through her vision and dedication, the warmth of Puerto Rico came to the island of Manhattan in a most unexpected way.

My thoughts:

I would be remiss to not include Pura Belpré in this month’s theme.  She is an exceptional figure that had a direct impact on the communities that she served, the library patrons, and more broadly, on the world of Latino/a Children’s and Young Adult literature as the namesake of the, “Pura Belpré Award.”  Lucía González’s, The Storyteller’s Candle/La velita de los cuentos, excellently introduces the world to Belpré’s talents as a storyteller, her love for community, and how she creatively inspired young Latinos/as to let their imaginations run wild!  Author and illustrator Lulu Delacre provides beautiful artwork to accompany this thoughtful story.  I hope your interest is piqued!  In need of a little more information?  Read Alice’s awesome ¡Mira Look! review!

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10 Latinx Children’s Books on Food as Culture and Heritage

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Buenos días a todas y todos,

I hope this day finds you each doing well!

As the holidays near, we are invited to reflect on the significance that such days play in our own lives and in the lives of others.  We are reminded that the way we experience holidays differs from those around us: from one family to the next, one culture to the next, and from one generation to the next.  Notwithstanding these differences, there remains a constant and a uniting force: food.

The important role that food plays in cultural heritage is without a doubt something to which we each can relate.  What dishes are common in your culture and that of your students?  What experiences and memories do you and your students have in cooking those dishes?  Can you recall gathering the ingredients?  The smells?  The flavors?  This month’s Reading Roundup list will celebrate farms, water, mercados, ingredients, the act of cooking, and the joys of sharing meals with family, friends, and community al estilo latinoamericano.

Lastly, if you are interested in American Indian literature that touches on the theme of Thanksgiving, visit the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog, which offers a list of recommended books!

I hope you enjoy this month’s selection and feel motivated to use the books with your own children and/or students!

Mis saludos,
Colleen

El gusto del mercado mexicano/A Taste of the Mexican Market
Written and Illustrated by Nancy María Grande Tabor
Published by Charlesbridge, 1996
ISBN: 978-0-88106-820-7
Age level: 3-7 years old

Description (from Goodreads):

Let’s visit a Mexican market!

Along the way you can compare, weigh, count, and learn about culture and customs. From bunches of hanging bananas and braids of garlic to pyramids of melons and baskets of sweet cheese, this Mexican market is full of fun and surprises.

Colorful cut-paper art sets the scene for a creative way to build new vocabulary for beginning readers of Spanish or English.

My thoughts:

This bilingual book, written and illustrated by Nancy María Grande Tabor, is enjoyable.  For me, El gusto del mercado mexicano stuck out because its focus is not only on common foods (vegetables, fruits, and meats) used in Mexican cooking, but because it invites us to experience the mercado.  By showing how ingredients are weighed and gathered, as well as the many items beyond food that can be found in the mercado, we learn about this essential and vibrant place. There is an interactive component to this book as well, which makes it all the more fun.  This book would likely be an effective way to learn both English and Spanish vocabulary also, as it is simply written and the words are all accompanied by illustrations. If you’re intrigued, be sure to keep an eye out for Alice’s coming review of this book!

Anna Carries Water
Written by Olive Senior
Illustrated by Laura James
Published by Tradewind Books, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-896580-60-9
Age level: 4-8

Description (from Tradewind Books):

Anna fetches water from the spring every day, but she can’t carry it on her head like her older brothers and sisters. In this charming and poetic family story set in Jamaica, Commonwealth Prize-winning author Olive Senior shows young readers the power of determination, as Anna achieves her goal and overcomes her fear.

My thoughts:

How can one talk about food as cultural heritage and not include water?  For this reason, I am pleased to have come across Anna Carries Water, written by Olive Senior and illustrated by Laura James.  The book’s tone was set after reading the author’s dedication: “For all the little water carriers of the world.”  For me, it inspired an immediate appreciation for what the following pages held.  The imagery and emotions that are expressed through simple and subtle language make this book all the more unique.  We get to follow Anna in her journey of traversing Mister Johnson’s field, confronting the scary cows, joining the neighborhood children, and learn about this Caribbean community’s relationship with water.  This book can also help our students or children to think about our relationship with water: Where does the water that we use come from?  How is it used?  Do the characters in the book use water the same way we do?  What different and what’s the same?

I really enjoyed this book and hope you do as well.

The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred
Written by Samantha R. Vamos
Illustrated by Rafael López
Published by Charlesbridge, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-58089-242-1
Age level: 5-11

Description (from Charlesbridge):

A bilingual celebration with a delicious ending.

This is the story of how the farm maiden and all the farm animals worked together to make the rice pudding that they serve at the fiesta. With the familiarity of “The House That Jack Built,” this story bubbles and builds just like the ingredients of the arroz con leche that everyone enjoys. Cleverly incorporating Spanish words, adding a new one in place of the English word from the previous page, this book makes learning the language easy and fun.

Rafael López covers each page with vibrant, exuberant color, celebrating tradition and community.

Back matter includes a glossary of Spanish words and a recipe for arroz con leche—perfect for everyone to make together and enjoy at story time

My thoughts:

Written by Samantha R. Vamos, The Cazeula That the Farm Maiden Stirred is a rhythmic cooking tour of the delicious dessert, arroz con leche.  Although a common dessert throughout Latin America, this dish can be found worldwide with regional variations.  And for those of us familiar with the yummy pudding, this book provides a warm reminder of its sweet aroma and sounds of bubbling, boiling goodness!  The illustrator, Rafael López (also of Yum! ¡MmMm! ¡Qué Rico!) does an exquisite job of adding layers of life, color, and texture to this already fun book.  A few of the highlights from this book are its effortless use of Spanish vocabulary and the arroz con leche recipe in the back.  I suggest sharing this recipe with a little one, or sharing your own family’s rice pudding recipe!

¡Bien provecho!

Green is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors
Written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong
Illustrated by John Parra
Published by Chronicle Books LLC, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4521-0203-0
Age level: 4-7

Description (from Chronicle Books):

Green is a chile pepper, spicy and hot. Green is cilantro inside our pot. In this lively picture book, children discover a world of colors all around them: red is spices and swirling skirts, yellow is masa, tortillas, and sweet corn cake. Many of the featured objects are Latino in origin, but all are universal in appeal. With rich, boisterous illustrations, a fun-to-read rhyming text, and an informative glossary, this playful concept book will reinforce the colors found in every child’s day!

My thoughts:

Green is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors delightfully adds Spanish vocabulary into the theme of food as cultural heritage.  This fun book, written by Roseanne Greenfield Throng, touches not only on common ingredients in Latin American cooking, but incorporates holidays, music, family, and fiesta.  John Parra’s illustrations are lively, colorful, and create a vivid portrayal of the community.  This book can be used as a way to explore how our students or children celebrate special days or holidays.  Are there traditional foods that are eaten?  What is their favorite dish?  What sorts of decorations are used?  With whom are these special days celebrated?  How would they illustrate their holidays or parties?  This simple book allows for an enjoyable reflection of our own celebrations and can be a fun sharing activity!

You are also invited to check out Roseanne Greenfield Throng’s, Round is a Tortilla.  Lorraine has a very nice review on it and it is equally as enjoyable! Katrina has also featured these two books in an En la Clase post from last year, when she discussed “Gratitude, Awareness, and Poetry for the Classroom.”

Guacamole
Written by Jorge Argueta
Illustrated by Margarita Sada
Translated by Elisa Amado
Published by Groundwood Books
ISBN: 978-1-55498-133-5
Age level: 5-7

Description (from Goodreads):

Following on the success of Sopa de frijoles / Bean Soup and Arroz con leche / Rice Pudding is Jorge Argueta’s third book in our bilingual cooking poem series — Guacamole — with very cute, imaginative illustrations by Margarita Sada.

Guacamole originated in Mexico with the Aztecs and has long been popular in North America, especially in recent years due to the many health benefits of avocados. This version of the recipe is easy to make, calling for just avocados, limes, cilantro and salt. A little girl chef dons her apron, singing and dancing around the kitchen as she shows us what to do. Argueta’s gift in seeing beauty, magic and fun in everything around him makes this book a treasure — avocados are like green precious stones, salt falls like rain, cilantro looks like a little tree and the spoon that scoops the avocado from its skin is like an excavating tractor.

As in the previous cooking poems, Guacamole conveys the fun and pleasure of making something delicious and healthy to eat for people you really love. A great book for families to enjoy together

My thoughts:

Jorge Argueta is an author whom Vamos is very proud to showcase and whose work has been featured several times on the Vamos blog.  Keira’s 2012 ¡Mira Look! post provides some general information on him, however, if you’re interested in learning more about this award winning author, check out his website.

His numerous cooking poems are a perfect fit for this month’s theme.  I chose Guacamole for two reasons in particular:  1) who doesn’t enjoy a yummy helping of guacamole?  One might argue it can accompany any dish! 2) I relished in Margarita Sada’s artwork!  This bilingual book is an excellent way to share a cooking experience with any child.  With skillful crafting, the directions to make guacamole are surprisingly clear and easy to read.  Jorge Argueta also thoughtfully marks the sections that require adult help with an asterisk.  Are there any other ingredients that you would like to add to the guacamole that you’ll make?  You can be as creative as you’d like!

It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden
Written and photographed by George Ancona
Illustrated by Students of Acequia Madre Elementary School
Published by Candlewick Press, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7636-5392-7
Age level: 5-7

Description (from Goodreads):

At an elementary school in Santa Fe, the bell rings for recess and kids fly out the door to check what’s happening in their garden. As the seasons turn, everyone has a part to play in making the garden flourish. From choosing and planting seeds in the spring to releasing butterflies in the summer to harvesting in the fall to protecting the beds for the winter. Even the wiggling worms have a job to do in the compost pile! On special afternoons and weekends, neighborhood folks gather to help out and savor the bounty (fresh toppings for homemade pizza, anyone?). Part celebration, part simple how-to, this close-up look at a vibrant garden and its enthusiastic gardeners is blooming with photos that will have readers ready to roll up their sleeves and dig in.

My thoughts:

This was a very special book for me.  As a native of Santa Fe and a proud New Mexican, I was thrilled to see our rich agricultural tradition on display in, It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden.  This non-fiction work takes readers through the seasons and highlights just how fun gardening can be!  Despite the lack of colorful illustrations typically found in children’s books, this book will still be a joy to read with a young child; the artwork from the Acequia Madre Elementary School students as well as the photography of author, George Ancona, are important for a different reason – they make the story truly feel grounded and real.  By exploring the photographs and encouraging curiosity in the gardening process, this book can serve as a fun way to engage with readers.  I found this book to be a unique way to foster interest and excitement about growing food, learning about the environment, and eating nutritiously.

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale
Written and Illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers,
ISBN: 9781419705830
Age level: 5-7 years old

Description (from Goodreads):

In this allegorical picture book, a young rabbit named Pancho eagerly awaits his papa’s return. Papa Rabbit traveled north two years ago to find work in the great carrot and lettuce fields to earn money for his family. When Papa does not return, Pancho sets out to find him. He packs Papa’s favorite meal—mole, rice and beans, a heap of warm tortillas, and a jug of aguamiel—and heads north. He meets a coyote, who offers to help Pancho in exchange for some of Papa’s food. They travel together until the food is gone and the coyote decides he is still hungry . . . for Pancho!
Duncan Tonatiuh brings to light the hardship and struggles faced by thousands of families who seek to make better lives for themselves and their children by illegally crossing the border.

My thoughts:

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale, is an award winning children’s book written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh.  Simply put, it is outstanding.  Unlike the other books in this month’s list, this selection does not overtly related to the theme, as it truly is a “migrant’s tale.”  However, when thinking upon the theme of food as cultural heritage, I found this book to fit right in.  Without a doubt, this book strengthens the relationship between food and home.  I am not referring to “home” as a location, but rather the bonds and emotions that are evoked; that of family, friends, culture, heritage, memories, smells, and all of the other links that keep us connected, even when we are literally, far from home.  This simple book is really quite profound.  It is beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully written.  Please check out Katrina’s, En la Clase post discussing the book in more detail and offering ideas for classroom use.

Tamalitos
Written by Jorge Argueta
Illustrated by Domi
Translated by Elisa Amado
Published by Groundwood Books, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-55498-300-1
Age level: 4-7 years old

Description (from Goodreads):

In his fourth cooking poem for young children, Jorge Argueta encourages more creativity and fun in the kitchen as he describes how to make tamalitos from corn masa and cheese, wrapped in cornhusks. In simple, poetic language, Argueta shows young cooks how to mix and knead the dough before dropping a spoonful into a cornhusk, wrapping it up and then steaming the little package. He once again makes cooking a full sensory experience, beating on a pot like a drum, dancing the corn dance, delighting in the smell of corn . . . And at the end, he suggests inviting the whole family to come and enjoy the delicious tamalitos “made of corn with love.” Domi’s vivid paintings, featuring a sister and her little brother making tamalitos together, are a perfect accompaniment to the colorful text.

My thoughts:

I couldn’t help but include another one of Jorge Argueta’s cooking poems. Tamalitos, colorfully illustrated by Domi, is a stunning representation of food as cultural heritage.  This is especially notable in the first few pages when he speaks about the importance of corn: “Our indigenous ancestors ate/tamalitos made from corn. / It also says in the Popol Vuh, /the sacred book of the Maya, /that the first men and women were made of corn.”  This simple ingredient provides an enduring link from past to present and remains an integral part of cultural identity.  And fortunately for us, we also learn how to make tamales through Argueta’s beautiful Spanish and English prose.  Lorraine wrote a thoughtful and more detailed review on Tamalitos, please read it here.    And then, check out the book for yourself!

What Can You Do with a Paleta?/¿Qué puedes hacer con una paleta?
Written by Carmen Tafolla
Illustrated by Magaly Morales
Published by Dragonfly Books, 2009
ISBN: 978-0385-75537-5
Age level: 3-7 years old

Description (from Goodreads):

Where the paleta wagon rings its tinkly bell and carries a treasure of icy paletas in every color of the sarape…

As she strolls through her barrio, a young girl introduces readers to the frozen, fruit-flavored treat that thrills Mexican and Mexican-American children. Create a masterpiece, make tough choices (strawberry or coconut?), or cool off on a warm summer’s day–there’s so much to do with a paleta.

My thoughts:

This bilingual book, written by Carmen Tafolla and illustrated by Magaly Morales, celebrates the joys of the paleta while we journey through the neighborhood.  This book truly is a delight to read!  In fact, I had a big smile on my face while reading.  I may have been unconsciously smiling back at all the wonderfully illustrated faces.  The artwork lends dimension to the text and helps create a lively community filled with activity, laughter, and play.  The punctuation and short sentences also encourage a cheerful and energetic flow to the reading, which any kiddo will be sure to enjoy!

Yum! ¡MmMm! ¡Qué Rico! Americas’ Sproutings
Written by Pat Mora
Illustrated by Rafael López
Published by Lee & Low Books, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-58430-271-1
Age level: 5-8

Description (from Lee & Low Books):

Smear nutty butter,
then jelly. Gooey party,
my sandwich and me.

Peanuts, blueberries, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and more — here is a luscious collection of haiku celebrating foods native to the Americas. Brimming with imagination and fun, these poems capture the tasty essence of foods that have delighted, united, and enriched our lives for centuries. Exuberant illustrations bring to life the delicious spirit of the haiku, making Yum! ¡Mmmm! ¡Qué rico! an eye-popping, mouth-watering treat. Open it and dig in!

My thoughts:

We at Vamos really love this book!  In fact, it was featured last November in Alice’s ¡Mira Look! post.  In her thorough and thoughtful review, she writes, “…Pat Mora takes us on a gastronomic journey of the Americas through a series of fun haikus. Each poem focuses on a crop native to these continents, culminating in a full harvest of celebration and praise. The descriptions of food and cuisine alongside the bright, multicolored illustrations at once awaken the senses while guiding readers through the history of agriculture in the Americas.”  It is clear how this delightful book effortlessly fits into the theme of food as cultural heritage.  And for those of us that are fans of Rafael López’s artwork, we are in for another visual adventure!

 

 

Reading Roundup: Loss and Resolution in Latinx YA Literature

Vamos a Leer | Loss and Resolution in Latinx YA LiteratureBuenos días a todas y todos,

Happy fall!  I hope this finds you each doing well and enjoying the changing of seasons.

Fall, my favorite time of year!  For me, it is characterized not only by the falling leaves, the crisp air, and the distinct scents that come with the changing temperature, but also with a gentle nostalgia, heightened reflection, and sense of calm.  In accordance with our theme for this month, we’re honoring this moment of reflection by pulling together a Reading Roundup that highlights strong protagonists who have experienced some form of loss and resolution in their lives. We hope that this will also be good preparation for teachers who are looking for resources that can help bring these difficult topics into the classroom.

For those of you familiar with the blog, you might notice that many of the titles in this month’s Reading Roundup look similar. All are drawn from our list of featured titles, which means that they’re all YA titles with accompanying educator’s guides.

For those seeking titles on this theme for younger readers, be sure to check out Alice’s ¡Mira, Look! posts throughout the month.

Despite the ever-growing TBR list that you surely have, I hope that you get to check out one or more of the books mentioned today.  As is inherit in the themes of loss and resolution, the books are often heavy and deal with challenging subject matter, but all are excellently written and absolutely vale la pena.

Let us know what you think!

Mis saludos,
Colleen

Caminar
Written by Skila Brown
Published by Candlewick Press, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-7636-6515-6
Age level: Age 10 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Carlos knows that when the soldiers arrive with warnings about the Communist rebels, it is time to be a man and defend the village, keep everyone safe. But Mama tells him not yet — he’s still her quiet moonfaced boy. The soldiers laugh at the villagers, and before they move on, a neighbor is found dangling from a tree, a sign on his neck: Communist. Mama tells Carlos to run and hide, then try to find her. . . . Numb and alone, he must join a band of guerillas as they trek to the top of the mountain where Carlos’s abuela lives. Will he be in time, and brave enough, to warn them about the soldiers? What will he do then? A novel in verse inspired by actual events during Guatemala’s civil war, Caminar is the moving story of a boy who loses nearly everything before discovering who he really is.

My thoughts:

In contrast to many of the other books on this list that focus on individual loss, Caminar, written by Skila Brown, focuses on the collective.  This novel in verse is both beautiful and crushing.  Set amidst the Guatemala civil war, we get to know many of the people living in Carlos’ village, and we too suffer the collective loss taking place.  For those of us familiar with the horrors that took place during this time, there may be pause on this book.  However, it is a coming of age story and contains within it an innate redemptive element.  This award winning work also provides a tremendous opportunity to discuss a wide range of themes and serves as a great introduction to poetry.  Katrina has some great suggestions for topics to explore and ways to discuss this book in the classroom

The Farming of Bones
Written by Edwidge Danticat
Published by Soho Press, Inc. 1998
ISBN: 978-1-61695-349-2
Age level:  High school to adult

Description (from Goodreads):

The Farming of Bones begins in 1937 in a village on the Dominican side of the river that separates the country from Haiti. Amabelle Desir, Haitian-born and a faithful maidservant to the Dominican family that took her in when she was orphaned, and her lover Sebastien, an itinerant sugarcane cutter, decide they will marry and return to Haiti at the end of the cane season. However, hostilities toward Haitian laborers find a vitriolic spokesman in the ultra-nationalist Generalissimo Trujillo who calls for an ethnic cleansing of his Spanish-speaking country. As rumors of Haitian persecution become fact, as anxiety turns to terror, Amabelle and Sebastien’s dreams are leveled to the most basic human desire: to endure. Based on a little-known historical event, this extraordinarily moving novel memorializes the forgotten victims of nationalist madness and the deeply felt passion and grief of its survivors.

My thoughts:

Edwidge Danticat’s book, The Farming of Bones, is a power narrative about the persistence of memory and the determination to carry on.  Beautifully composed, the novel is characterized well in Publisher’s Weekly review: “Danticat gives us fully realized characters who endure their lives with dignity, a sensuously atmospheric setting and a perfectly paced narrative written in prose that is lushly poetic and erotic, specifically detailed.”  Like other books on this list, The Farming of Bones may present a challenge for teacher’s trying to use this book in their classrooms.   And like the other books, Vamos believes that it is well worth the effort.  As there is not yet an Educator’s Guide for Danticat’s novel, we invite those of you in the Albuquerque area to join in the educator’s book group in reading The Farming of Bones on December 12, 2016.  We’d love to see you there!  *A little side note: this book does contain some sexual imagery.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces
Written by Isabel Quintero
Published by Cinco Puntos Press, 2014
ISBN: 1935955950
Age level:  Grades 9 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

My thoughts:

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is Isabel Ouintero’s debut coming of age novel, and it is good!  Like some of the other novels in this month’s list, Gabi’s loss is both striking and subtle.  Written as a diary, this book is genuine and bold, honest and powerful, jarring and hilarious.  Katrina’s review highlights some of the complexities of the book and also gives meaningful ways to discuss these very real and difficult topics; check it out.  Because of the book’s accessibility, ease of reading, and its confrontation of taboo subjects, my bet is that many high school aged youth will find it enticing.  I know that this book would have greatly appealed to me in my high school years.

In Darkness
Written by Nick Lake
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-61963-122-9
Age level: Ages 14 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

In darkness I count my blessings like Manman taught me. One: I am alive. Two: there is no two. In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake a boy is trapped beneath the rubble of a ruined hospital: thirsty, terrified and alone. ‘Shorty’ is a child of the slums, a teenage boy who has seen enough violence to last a lifetime, and who has been inexorably drawn into the world of the gangsters who rule Site Soleil: men who dole out money with one hand and death with the other. But Shorty has a secret: a flame of revenge that blazes inside him and a burning wish to find the twin sister he lost five years ago. And he is marked. Marked in a way that links him with Toussaint l’Ouverture, the Haitian rebel who two-hundred years ago led the slave revolt and faced down Napoleon to force the French out of Haiti. As he grows weaker, Shorty relives the journey that took him to the hospital, a bullet wound in his arm. In his visions and memories he hopes to find the strength to survive, and perhaps then Toussaint can find a way to be free…

My thoughts:

Nick Lake’s YA novel, In Darkness, has won several awards including the Américas Award Commended Title (2013) and the Michael L. Printz Award (2013).  From these accolades alone, we can surmise that this is an important book; however, what prompted this selection for the list is the way it deals with the themes of death and loss.  Un aviso, this can be a challenging book to read, both because of the difficult (and often harsh) subject matter as well as for the structure.  The book oscillates between the characters of l’Ouverture and Shorty, with the latter written in what reads like his stream-of-consciousness.

The other motivation for choosing this book is because it introduces the often ignored historical figure, Toussaint l’Ouverture.  Katrina has written a thoughtful review of In Darkness and also discusses the value of incorporating a cast of characters such as these, both real and fiction, into the classroom.  And if there is any lingering doubt about how to process this book with your students, please see the educator’s guide.

The Meaning of Consuelo
Written by Judith Ortiz Cofer
Published by Beacon Press, 2003
ISBN: 978-0-8070-8387-1
Age level:  Young Adult

Description (from Goodreads):

The Signe family is blessed with two daughters. Consuelo, the elder, is thought of as pensive and book-loving, the serious child-la niña seria-while Mili, her younger sister, is seen as vivacious, a ray of tropical sunshine. Two daughters: one dark, one light; one to offer comfort and consolation, the other to charm and delight. But, for all the joy both girls should bring, something is not right in this Puerto Rican family; a tragedia is developing, like a tumor, at its core.

In this fierce, funny, and sometimes startling novel, we follow a young woman’s quest to negotiate her own terms of survival within the confines of her culture and her family.

My thoughts:

By the end of the first page, I was hooked.   The story is compelling and without a doubt, it effortlessly jams the reader into the difficult experiences that families can face.  The Meaning of Consuelo is much more than the trajedia that we learn of, as it also encapsulates the “loss” of self that many of us experience as we begin to grow away from we are expected to be.  Alternatively, this book allows for a regrowth into who we are.  Ortiz Cofer’s writing style makes this book easily accessible and sets a quick pace for the novel.  Both simple and complex, this compelling novel should be introduced to young readers.  Katrina has written a wonderful review on The Meaning of Consuelo and also articulates the wealth of themes that can be explored.

Out of Darkness
Written by Ashley Hope Pérez
Published by Carolrhoda Lab, 2015
ISBN: 1467742023
Age level: Grades 9 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

“This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?”

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 latest YA novel, Out of Darkness, is stunning.  And I use “stunning” in its most literal form – you may very well be left stunned!  As SLJ writes, “… [It] is wide-eyed testimony to the undeniable best and unrelenting worst of humanity; turning away (or turning off) is never an option.”  Despite this being a longer book, the chapters read quickly with each focusing on one of the main characters.  Perez’s uncompromising exploration of race, love, and the “forbidden” may leave one feeling devastated, but still, it is worth the read.  If you’re in the Albuquerque area and wondering if this would be a good fit for your classroom, or if you simply want to soak in another good read, please join the LAII’s Book Group on October 10 to experience this book for yourself!

The Queen of Water
Written by Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinango
Published by Ember, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-375-85936-2
Age level:  14 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Born in an Andean village in Ecuador, Virginia lives with her large family in a small, earthen-walled dwelling. In her village of indígenas, it is not uncommon to work in the fields all day, even as a child, or to be called a longa tonta—stupid Indian—by members of the ruling class of mestizos, or Spanish descendants. When seven-year-old Virginia is taken from her village to be a servant to a mestizo couple, she has no idea what the future holds.

In this poignant novel based on a true story, acclaimed author Laura Resau has collaborated with María Virginia Farinango to recount one girl’s unforgettable journey to self-discovery. Virginia’s story will speak to anyone who has ever struggled to find his or her place in the world. It will make you laugh and cry, and ultimately, it will fill you with hope.

My thoughts:

Within the first chapter of The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinango, it is clear how this award winning novel fits into this month’s theme; the loss is immediately present, but rest assured, resolution comes.  While this is technically simple to read and moves at a relatively quick pace, its content makes it a difficult book to swallow.  It is made more moving when one realizes that this is based on a true story and takes place in the 1980s.  Katrina great review on this book and discusses different ways that it can be used in the classroom and is also accompanied with an educator’s guide to support the process.

Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood
Written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Cinco Puntos Press, 2004
ISBN: 978-1-933693-99-6
Age level: Grade 9 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

The Hollywood where Sammy Santos lives is not one of glitz and glitter, but a barrio at the edge of a small New Mexico town. In the summer before his senior year, Sammy falls in love with the beautiful, independent, and intensely vulnerable Juliana. Sammy’s chronicle of his senior year is both a love story and a litany of loss, the tale of his love not only for Juliana but for their friends, a generation from a barrio: tough, innocent, humorous, and determined to survive

My thoughts:

Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s first YA novel, Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood, is hard-hitting, raw, and potent.  Unabashedly, it explores a teenager’s confrontation with issues of race, poverty, family, love and loss.  While this is an excellent piece of YA literature that I believe is extremely valuable read for young people to read, it can be a complicated one to introduce into the classroom.  For a better sense of the book’s complexities and how to discuss the subject matter with students, please read Katrina’s review from 2012 and its accompanying educator’s guide.  This will undoubtedly help clear up (if any) doubts or concerns related to the book.  It is well worth the read!

Shadowshaper
Written by Daniel José Older
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-545-59161-4
Age level:  Grades 9 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Cassandra Clare meets Caribbean legend in SHADOWSHAPER, an action-packed urban fantasy from a bold new talent.

Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.

My thoughts:

This selection may initially feel far from the theme, however, it was chosen for its unique perspective on loss. Although the protagonist, Sierra, loses her grandmother before the story ever opens, the loss leaves lingering effects and reminds us that losing a loved one can impact a family in many ways. In the case of Shadowshaper, written by Daniel José Older, the loss experienced is that of history, space, and community.  This all too common occurrence may be something we or our students have experienced.   But thankfully, this book gives us Sierra, who models how to overcome such loss through both real and magical connections to her past!

I will also add that this book has been featured multiple times on Vamos.  Be sure to check out how the all the ways that this book can be used by reading Katrina’s review, Kalyn’s Reading Roundup, and Alice’s ¡Mira Look! Author’s Corner posts.

Under the Mesquite
Written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Published by Lee & Low Books, 2011
ISBN: 9781600604294
Age level: Grades 4 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Lupita, a budding actor and poet in a close-knit Mexican American immigrant family, comes of age as she struggles with adult responsibilities during her mother’s battle with cancer in this young adult novel in verse.

When Lupita learns Mami has cancer, she is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of her close-knit family. Suddenly, being a high school student, starring in a play, and dealing with friends who don’t always understand, become less important than doing whatever she can to save Mami’s life.

While her father cares for Mami at an out-of-town clinic, Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. As Lupita struggles to keep the family afloat, she takes refuge in the shade of a mesquite tree, where she escapes the chaos at home to write. Forced to face her limitations in the midst of overwhelming changes and losses, Lupita rediscovers her voice and finds healing in the power of words.

Told with honest emotion in evocative free verse, Lupita’s journey toward hope is captured in moments that are alternately warm and poignant. Under the Mesquite is an empowering story about testing family bonds and the strength of a young woman navigating pain and hardship with surprising resilience

My thoughts:

Garcia McCall’s book, Under the Mesquite, is a beautiful representation of our ability to thrive despite life’s unpredictable and sometimes painful occurrences.  This YA novel in verse is skillfully written; its language, while simple and accessible, invites readers to experience a complex range of emotions.  We become a part of Lupita’s world, traversing through the challenges of friendship, family, culture, and self-discovery.  It is clear by having won the Pura Belpré Author Medal (2012), the William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist (2012) and most recently, the Tomás Rivera Children’s Book Award (2013), that Garcia McCall’s first novel is one to read!  For more comprehensive thoughts about Under the Mesquite, check out Katrina’s excellent review.  And for the teachers among us, please see our educator’s guide for tips on using the book in the classroom.