¡Mira Look!: Haiti My Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more great books!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice

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¡Mira Look!: Two White Rabbits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

¡Hasta pronto!
Alice

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Feliz Año Nuevo y Sobre Enero: Celebrating Lesser Known Stories & Unsung Heroes in Children’s and & YA Latin@ Literature

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Feliz año nuevo a tod@s! We’re excited to come back in 2017 with a renewed dedication to sharing and celebrating the wealth of literature focused on Latin@ experiences in children’s and YA books. We start the year inspired by the outpouring of community-focused sentiments and social justice emphases that have emerged in the last two months. With this in mind, we’ve decided that now is a good time to focus in on a conversation about social change and how it happens. How do we achieve a more just and equitable world? A world that prioritizes multicultural experiences and backgrounds rather than denigrating differences?

Though these questions merit much larger conversations than we can engage in here, we can offer at least one approach: to think of change as something brought about not only by famous, charismatic leaders, but more so by thousands of individual actions. We’re talking about actions that may be public or private, societal or familial, formal or informal, quiet or loud, compassionate or fierce, to name but a few of the many variations. To get at what this spectrum of change looks like in practice, we’re using the month of January to move beyond traditional heroes and to consider lesser known stories and “unsung heroes” in children’s and YA Latin@ literature.What are the stories in Latin@ literature that can spark change and inspire young readers?

We hope you’ll join us along our journey now and in the coming months. As always,  thanks for being here and we look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas!

En solidaridad,
Keira


Image: Adapted from photograph of mural commemorating the Madres de la Plaza del Mayo in Argentina.  Reprinted via CC © from Flickr user Seven Resist.

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¡Mira, Look!: Author’s Corner: Edwidge Danticat

edwidge danticatSaludos todos! As many of you know, once a month we like to take the time to give special attention to our featured authors and their writing.This week we are featuring Edwidge Danticat, the prolific, inspiring author of many children’s, young adult, and adult books, whom many of you may also recognize from several of my previous ¡Mira, Look! posts. Danticat is originally from Haiti and her books often deal with the culture of Haiti and the immigrant experience, providing a wealth of information on the country’s history, culture and current events.

Here is a short synopsis from Goodreads of Danticat’s life and her abundant accomplishments:

Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti and moved to the United States when she was twelve. She is the author of several books, including Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah Book Club selection; Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist; and The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner. She is also the editor of The Butterfly’s Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States and The Beacon Best of 2000: Great Writing by Men and Women of All Colors and Cultures.

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Abolish Columbus Day

sioux-1Saludos todos! As many parts of the country recently celebrated Columbus Day, and we are quickly approaching Thanksgiving, we wanted to take the time to draw attention to a new educational campaign, Abolish Columbus Day, created by the Zinn Education Project (a project of Teaching for Change and Rethinking Schools). Teaching for Change and Rethinking Schools are both excellent resources for educators interested in multicultural teaching, diverse literature and social justice, and we’ve featured their resources many times here on the blog. This initiative aims at rethinking Columbus Day and the way in which our history remembers the genocide and continued colonial practices against the indigenous peoples in the United States and Latin America.

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September 30th | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! The month has passed by very fast. As we end September, think about the accomplishments and hard work people have done in just this one month to advocate for diverse literature and how much work still remains.

Blood Orange Press has begun a campaign to publish books where “people of color and Native communities can tell their own story.” If you want to support them, their project is titled #ReadInColor.

— Our Facebook friends Latinos in Kid Lit just shared the cover reveal of The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra. The release date is March 7, 2017. Keep your eye out for this book that’s expected to “crack up kids and grown-ups.”

–Our friends at Lee & Low Book celebrated their 25th anniversary this year, so we would like to congratulate them for encouraging diversity in kids literature.

— Congratulations to Sandra Cisneros and Rudolfo Anaya for receiving a National Medal from President Obama for their contribution to Latino Literature. Check out the rest of NBC News’s list of all the Latinos Who Were Honored With National Medals for Diverse Art, Humanities.

– Lastly, in Facebook, Rethinking Schools encourages us to find out more about the Zinn Education Project- Teaching A People’s History. “Zinn’s work offers an alternative perspective that students need in order to think more critically about key issues in history,” expressed commenter William Thomas.

 


Image: Esperanza. Reprinted from Flickr user JoelleW under CC ©.

WWW: Social Justice through Music: Suni Paz and Her Música con Conciencia

Suni-PazThanks to Alice’s review of Margarita Engle’s Drum Dream Girl, we’re inspired this week to feature another woman from Latin America who’s used music as a tool for social justice. In the case of Drum Dream Girl, we learn about the Chinese-African-Cuban drummer, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who broke gender divisions in Cuba during the mid-20th century when drumming was believed to be a man’s purview. For this post, we want to draw your attention to another real-life woman, Suni Paz, an Argentinean singer and songwriter who has similarly used music as a tool for social change.

Much like Millo, Paz seems to have been born a musician, and one with a natural talent for teaching and sharing her music with others. Earlier in her life, during the 1960s and ‘70s, she used her music as a tool for engaging in social protest, singing in support, as Smithsonian Folkways describes it, “of United Farm Workers movement, dignity and freedom for Latina women, amnesty for Latin American political prisoners, and education for Latino children in the United States.” Later in life, she adapted her social consciousness-raising music to better suit children and classrooms, spreading her joy of Latin American culture and language among audiences spread throughout the Americas. A unique collaboration with two authors, Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy (whom we deeply admire), introduced her moving music to many more young people.

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