Book Group Recap: Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

¡Feliz (casi) primavera, lectores y educadores!

This month, we discussed Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s Under the Mesquite (Grades 7-12; Lexile 990L) at our book group. This is a very heartwarming read about Lupita, a high schooler who experiences and overcomes challenges both at home with her family and at school with her peers. Lupita’s experiences and challenges are very relatable to readers of all ages. Click here to view our book guide. For extended notes on Under the Mesquite, check out our previous post about it by clicking here.

McCall begins Under the Mesquite with a definition of the mesquite tree that attests to its strength and resilience to endure harsh climates and its adaptability. It becomes clear from the beginning of the text that this resilient tree symbolizes this key theme that we see as Lupita is put in tough situations and valiantly overcomes these challenges.

Consider creating a memory box as a way to extend Under the Mesquite with your class! As Lupita grows and faces different difficulties in her life, she journals her memories of her mother, family, friends and cities in her blue book. Her interest in saving the memories of loved ones allows her to write stories that will revive the moments. It is from the desire of keeping the memories of her loved ones that the activity of memory box is thought. Students will put a drawing, an object, a photograph, a note and other things in a box that keeps the memories of their loved ones, places or moments of their lives. And finally, they will keep this box in their classroom as a door that will lead them to the memories.

Join us next month! On April 9th, we will meet at Ponderosa Brewing (1761 Bellamah Ave NW) to discuss Juana and Lucas by: Juana Medina. (Grades 2-4)

Recap of This Month’s Book and Sneak Peak for the Upcoming Titles

¡Feliz febrero, lectores y educadores!

This month’s book was They Call Me Güero, by David Bowles (Grades 5-8; Lexile: 850L). This read was a very contemporary and engaging read about a middle schooler nicknamed Güero, who shares his experiences as a border kid, and how he navigates between being Mexican and American. Some of the key themes that Bowles has incorporated in this great read include migration, diversity and Latinx cultural traditions. Middle school readers will find this text very relevant and relatable thanks to the details, topics and perspectives that Bowles has utilized.

For Güero and his family, transnational migration between Mexico and the U.S. is deeply ingrained into their familial history and identity. Despite their long history as a border family, Güero shares the tensions and stigma that his family encounters as they go between Mexico and the U.S. In addition to Güero’s experiences, Bowles also includes some of the traumatic experiences of migration through Andrés, one of Güero’s classmates, who confides in Güero about his scary journey from Honduras. In our book group discussion, the consensus was that Bowles succeeded in providing a realistic, and current image of migration and the stigma that often accompanies it, which makes this text relatable to readers who share these experiences.
In addition to sharing migration narratives, Bowles also excels in incorporating diversity and cultural traditions in the text to celebrate diverse cultures. For instance, while introducing his friend group to the reader, Güero describes his friends as a group of diverse nerds in that they each have different cultural backgrounds yet share the same interests in reading and their studies. They Call Me Güero celebrates the reality that today’s classrooms across the U.S. are incredibly diverse and alludes to ways in which educators are integrating diversity into school curriculum (through Güero’s “woke” teachers!).
In Güero’s poems, he describes his normal day-to-day experiences that include his strong familial bonds and his admiration for his grandmother who taught him to read and to be strong, his challenges in school (e.g. dealing with bullies and crushes) and outside of school, the traditions and celebrations that are integral to Güero and his family, and more! Güero’s depiction of traditions and childhood memories led book group attendees to reminisce on our memories spending time with grandparents and learning about life from their stories, attending misa as young, antsy children, making (and breaking!) cascarones, and how these experiences have stuck with us. All in all, we highly recommend They Call Me Güero for its lightheartedness and relevance to today’s middle schoolers.
Click here for the book guide!

Mark your calendar for our next meetings!

*Please note that this semester, we are using rotating locations* Join us to discuss the following books; no need to have read the whole book or even a page. All book groups will run from 4-5:30p–latecomers are always welcome!

On March 5th, we will meet at Humble Coffee Downtown (505 Central Ave NW) to discuss Under the Mesquite by: Guadalupe Garcia McCall. (Grades 6-12)

On April 9th, we will meet at Ponderosa Brewing (1761 Bellamah Ave NW) to discuss Juana and Lucas by: Juana Medina. (Grades 2-4)

Vamos a Leer | Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle | Book Review

On May 4th, we will meet at High and Dry Brewing (529 Adams St. NE) to discuss Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle and Edel Rodriguez. (Grades 7-9)

Vamos a Leer is back!

¡Hola a tod@s, y bienvenidos al año escolar 2019-20!  

We hope that your school year is off to a great start so far!  I have been working hard to update the blog with the selected books for this year’s book group and to include the option to view and request our book and thematic sets directly from the blog. Please check out the menu tabs at the top of the main page to see what we have available for teachers and submit your requests early and often! I am also working on some resources to promote Latinxs in STEM (spoiler!)

Last Monday, we had our first book group meeting to discuss Margarita Engle’s recent novel, Jazz Owls: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots. This great read takes place in Los Ángeles during the ‘40s when the chaos of the Zoot Suit Riots (or, as Engle aptly calls them: “the Sailor Riots”) was ensuing between U.S. servicemen and Mexican-American teens. Our group consensus was that Jazz Owls is a quick read that presents a variety of perspectives—from “zooters” and “patriotic girls”  to police officers and reporters—as the plot unveils! 

We loved all the history that is tied into Jazz Owls in addition to all the key themes that could easily engage students in discussion, such as racism/ prejudice and challenging traditional gender roles. Our educators said they would like to use the text in class to teach varying perspectives and to get students engaged with the text by predicting what characters might do next. For more historical context and ideas of how you can incorporate this great read into the classroom, check out this guide for Jazz Owls. Read Engle’s Jazz Owls and let us know what you think!  

Our next book will be Jenny Torres Sánchez’s Because of the Sun, which discusses the struggles Dani faces when her mother is killed, and she is then forced to move from The Sunshine State (Florida) to The Land of Enchantment (New Mexico) to live with her aunt. Will she be enchanted by her new home?? We look forward to seeing you at Red Door Brewery‘s Downtown location (509 Central Ave SE) next month to discuss this great read!  Register here, it’s free!

¡Hasta pronto, lectores y educadores! 

Ericka 

¡Mira, Look!: El Flamboyán amarillo/The yellow flame tree

Queridos lectores,

Para celebrar el mes de la poesía, hemos escogido el libro El Flamboyán amarillo escrito por la poeta puertorriqueña Georgina Lázaro e ilustrado por la galardonada autora e ilustradora Lulu Delacre. Este libro también cuenta con una versión en inglés llamada The yellow flame tree, ambas fueron publicadas por primera vez en 1996 y reeditadas en el 2016.

Este hermoso poema nos cuenta la historia de una madre y su hijo quienes, maravillados ante la belleza de un árbol conocido como Flamboyán amarillo, deciden compartir un momento y meriendan bajo su sombra. Tanto el lenguaje poético como las ilustraciones hechas en pastel seco pintan para el lector una imagen tierna y nostálgica a la vez que nos muestran la niñez del protagonista.

 Esta historia no nos muestra solamente la belleza de un árbol único, si no el amor maternal y la importancia que nuestra “primera maestra” tiene en nuestras vidas. Puesto que el niño, no solamente encantado con el color del árbol, si no con la admiración que su madre muestra ante la naturaleza, decide recoger una semilla y plantarla en una maceta en su casa.

De cierta manera, el árbol era un personaje más en la casa de los personajes y bajo el cuidado del niño y las instrucciones de la madre, la planta crece hasta convertirse en un árbol. Con paciencia y mucho cuidado el árbol crece durante años a la par del niño. De esta manera se muestra un profundo amor hacia la naturaleza por parte de la autora que va de la mano con la idea de la importancia que hay en inculcar a los niños el respeto y la valía que hay en ella.

Este es uno de los puntos que la autora recalca en una nota al final del libro, una de las semillas que ella ha plantado en este libro, es la esperanza de que los lectores descubramos “la poesía que hay en la naturaleza” y que se despierte en nosotros “el deseo de cuidarla.”

Un día se cumple el sueño de los protagonistas y el árbol florece. Al final, para sorpresa de todos, el flamboyán en su jardín no es color amarillo si no rojo. De acuerdo a la autora, esto se debe a el material genético del árbol. En Puerto Rico hay varios Flamboyanes amarillos de color rojo, algo que la ilustradora puso cuidado en no develar en sus ilustraciones. Delacre quería mostrarnos el paisaje de la isla, pero dejar para el final del libro este detalle para que sintamos la sorpresa que sintió el niño. Una sorpresa que nos muestra que aunque nuestros planes no siempre funcionen como los ideamos, no los hace menos bellos ni menos valederos.

Este poema aparentemente sencillo, contiene varios regalos para los lectores que se van develando a lo largo del libro. El amor maternal, la historia de un árbol común en ciertas áreas de Latinoamérica, y la importancia de compartir proyectos y momentos con los niños e inculcarles respeto y cariño hacia la naturaleza. De igual forma, la historia nos incentiva a buscar más información sobre el árbol y sobre los paisajes de Puerto Rico.

-Para más información sobre la autora, visite su página web

-Para más información sobre la ilustradora, visite su página oficial

Nos vemos pronto,

Carolina

¡Mira, Look!: Pasando páginas / Turning Pages: My Life Story

Queridos lectores,

Continuing with our celebration of Women’s History Month, the next book we have chosen is Turning Pages: My Life Story by Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. This autobiographical children’s book is actually written by Sotomayor and is illustrated by the award-winning Puerto Rican author and illustrator, Lulu Delacre. It is also available as a Spanish edition, Pasando páginas: La historia de mi vida.

The book opens with a description of Sotomayor’s bilingual and bi-worldly upbringing. Since childhood, she had to balance both English and Spanish, both New York where she was born, and Puerto Rico where her parents came from. Sotomayor’s story reflects in this way the story of many other girls who grew up in the Bronx, or in other parts of the world, whose parents are migrants, and grow up hearing of places that maybe they themselves have never been to. But still, they share a profound love for this plac; it constitutes a part of their own story and imaginary, and they have inherited a type of longing for it.

Sotomayor’s memories of family gatherings and her grandmother reciting nostalgic poems about her home in a faraway island, marked the beginning of her love for words. Through hardships and different life experiences, books were her constant friend, marking a path of discovery of our world, and of fictional ones.

This book shows us a complicated and beautifully interwoven narrative of struggle, sorrow, a child’s encounter with hardship, the powerful impact that family has in our lives, and the importance of books and education. Lulu Delacre’s illustrations entwines images of book pages with that of life experiences, and at one a point in the story the steps that Sotomayor takes towards a court house and her future as justice, are book pages.

 “every book I ever read took me the next step I needed to go in school and in life”

The love she has for them is all around her. Sotomayor mentions two particularly important books. In school she learned the importance of laws for society after reading Lord of the Flies, and about compassion and when she read the Bible. For her, “books were lenses, bringing into focus truths about the world around me.” An idea that goes hand in hand with the illustrations. Sometimes they show a landscape or a building and as a lens or a zoom, the image of Sotomayor’s story, which gives us the feeling of her life being one marked by a multitude of experiences.

 Turning Pages shows us the many pieces of the puzzle that make up Sotomayor’s story, marked by a feeling of wanderlust, resilience, and love of family. Before the story begins, and after it ends, there are several photos that show us her life. At the beginning there are pictures of her as a child and at the end pictures of her professional life and, in both, she is sharing moments with friends and family.

For more information about the book, watch this PBS interview with Sotomayor and this book trailer video.

Nos vemos pronto,

Carolina



Citation: All the above images were done by Lulu Delacre, and are from the book Turning Pages: My Life Story by Sonia Sotomayor.

¡Mira, Look!: Featured Author: Daniel Alarcón

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This week I am really excited to introduce you to one of my favorite authors (journalists, essayists, soccer enthusiasts) Daniel Alarcón, the author of our first adult Vamos a Leer book, Lost City Radio.

Alarcón, born in Lima, Peru in 1977, is an American author who currently resides in San Francisco, California. Alarcón grew up in Birmingham, Alabama and earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Columbia University and a Master’s from the renowned Iowa Writer’s Workshop. His books include War by Candlelight, a finalist for the 2005 PEN/Hemingway Award, and Lost City Radio, winner of the PEN USA award in 2008. He is Executive Producer of Radio Ambulante, a Spanish language narrative journalism podcast – telling Latin America’s stories in a very similar fashion to ‘This American Life.’ In 2010 The New Yorker included Alarcón in their best 20 writers under 40 list, and his most recent novel, At Night We Walk in Circles, was a finalist for the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award. Continue reading