¡Mira, Look!: Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre

Saludos todos! This week we are concluding our March theme of women and Women’s History Month with another great read. Last week I featured the Coleccion Antiprincesas, which provides readers with biographies of underrepresented and under-studied historical Latina heroines. This week, however, we are switching gears a bit, focusing more on the courage and determination of young girls in our everyday lives. The book for this week is Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre, written by Tom Luna and illustrated by Laura Alvarez. This wonderful story focuses on a young, female protagonist who has to learn how to navigate her complicated emotions in a difficult situation. Not only does this book show young readers how to cope with separation and heartache, it also counters stereotypes and challenges negative representations of women and girls by portraying a young girl whose empathy and emotional sensibility is not a flaw or a nuisance, but, ultimately, one of her greatest virtues.

This book tells the story of young Camila and her beloved abuelo, Felix, who lives far away in Veracruz, Mexico: “It had been two years since he left San Antonio to return home to Veracruz.” Camila reflects on the bittersweet memories of her grandfather playing his favorite guitar, the requinto, and how he would sing her lullabies when she was a little baby: “He had a deep beautiful voice and played the requinto with an almost angelic touch.” Although the plot following the female protagonist challenges typical, negative representations of women and girls, the character description of the grandfather also challenges expectations of men and boys. The grandfather is sensitive, artistic, loving and participates actively in caring for his grandchild, taking her on outings to the zoo and the park, to name a few, all the while singing or whistling tunes from Veracruz.

Although Camila misses her grandfather greatly, her parents say that they do not have enough money to afford a trip to Veracruz to visit him. However, one day, deciding to take matters into her own hands, young Camila hops on her bike determined to ride the 938 miles to Veracruz to see her dear grandfather: “‘I’m going to see Grandpa Felix in Veracruz,’ said Camila with a defiant stance.” As one would imagine, Camila’s mother quickly intervenes and tells her to come back home, that she can’t ride her bike all the way to Veracruz, but that one day they’ll have enough money saved up for a visit. Although Camila’s immediate solution to her grandfather’s absence is, of course, not one that I or parents and educators would likely recommend to their students, this scene does illustrate Camila’s determination and her willingness to try to solve her problem independently. This scene also serves as a contrast to Camila’s eventual, more reasonable solution to her feelings, showing readers Camila’s learning curve and her progress in figuring out both what her feelings are and what to do about them.

After her failed attempt at biking 938 miles to Veracruz, and her mother’s brief scolding, Camila decides that a more appropriate response might be to write a letter to her grandfather and ask him to be her pen pal. This solution is also one arrived at entirely by Camila herself, further emphasizing her independence and her ability to learn and navigate tough situations on her own: “She went into her room, pulled out her diary and decided then and there that she would write to her grandfather and ask him to write her back.” What I also particularly love about this scene is the mention of Camila’s journal-writing as a catalyst for her emotional development and decision-making. As an avid writer and “journaler” myself, I, too, have found this to be a very useful strategy in coping with tough situations, sorting out my thoughts and feelings, and figuring out how to proceed. Moreover, as the story continues in a somewhat epistolary format, composed of letters between Camila and her grandfather, teachers could conduct various lessons based on two forms of writing: first, letter-writing and the epistolary novel form, and, second, journal writing. As an exercise in writing and verbal expression, teachers could ask their students to write in a journal every day. Teachers could also conduct exercises in letter-writing and, especially for foreign language students, teach their students proper opening and closing statements, such as “Querido abuelo/ Dear grandpa.” This story is entirely bilingual, which is especially useful for comparing the letter-writing format between English and Spanish. In addition, the simplistic illustrations found within this book could also inspire students to create drawings of their own to accompany their journal entries or letters. As noted by a School Library Journal review, “Rough-hewn, heavily brushed paintings tracking Camila’s progress to adulthood and Grandpa’s to gray-haired old age accompany narrative passages of English over Spanish.” In this story, the prose is just as important as the illustrations in conveying the passing of time, and both Camila’s physical and emotional growth.

Towards the end of the story we see Camila grown up to be a young, 18-year-old woman. Her family still has not been able to save enough money to go to Veracruz, but Camila is determined to go nonetheless: “On the day Camila turned 18, she was in her room with photos of her grandfather all around. She was working now and saving her money. Her family never did go to Veracruz but Camila was saving to go on her own.” This scene again reinforces Camila’s agency and independence, her ability not only to work hard towards a self-determined goal, but also to eventually travel on her own.What I find especially powerful about this scene is the way in which it emphasizes “ambition” as not only working towards professional and academic goals, but also towards emotional and interpersonal goals. Oftentimes “emotional labor,” or the work that one puts into emotionally supporting others, is unconsciously expected of women while also being undervalued, unrecognized and unremunerated, in both the home and the workplace. This heartwarming scene emphasizes the hard work that Camila put into sustaining a relationship with her grandfather over the years, as well as her grandfather’s boundless joy and appreciation upon finally seeing her arrive in Veracruz (belated spoiler alert!).

All in all, this book is a wonderful resource for teaching a variety of subjects from writing and correspondence, to emotional development and maturity.  Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre challenges typical representations of gender roles through children’s literature, empowering both young girls and boys.

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

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

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images Modified from Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre: Pages 7, 9, 14, 15, 21

March 24th | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! I am happy to be back and to share with you all of these amazing resources.

– The folks over at the Américas Book Award Facebook page have been on fire with recommendations for diversifying Women’s History Month. Here are a few highlights from their posts:

— As we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month, here is the story behind La Galería Magazine’s highlight of 10 Dominican Women and Herstory.

– Also in honor of Women’s History Month, here are 7 Paraguayan Women Who Have Changed History, courtesy of Remezcla.

— This month the Brown Bookshelf blog is highlighting exemplary authors and illustrators every day. On Day 16, they reached out to learn more about Haitian-American illustrator Alix Delinois, whose beautiful illustrations have appeared in books such as Edwidge Danticat’s Eight Days: A Story of Haiti (which Alice reviewed for Vamos back in Feb. 2016)

Latinxs in Kid Lit favorably reviewed the recent YA novel The Only Road by Alexandra Díaz, noting that it’s “chilling and heart-wrenching in the best possible way. From the moment that Jaime’s beloved cousin Miguel is killed by a local gang, the Alphas, it is evident that this book is going to take its reader on a perilous journey, tagging along with Jaime as he flees his small town in Guatemala for the United States.”

— Though we know we’re preaching to the choir when we talk about the importance of being bilingual, here’s a recent article that backs up our enthusiasm: The Sooner You Expose a Baby to a Second Language, The Smarter They’ll Be. “A new study shows that babies raised in bilingual environments develop core cognitive skills like decision-making and problem-solving — before they even speak.”

– Throughout the US there seems to be an increase in hate speech. Nowhere is the issue more depressing and critical than in the K-12 classroom, where students are particularly at risk for such vitriol. For everyone grappling with this, here’s an article focused on The urgency of addressing the rise of racist hate speech in K-12 schools.

— As a response to the current administration’s threats to defund libraries throughout the nation, Lee and Low Books reminded us about these 8 Ideas for Educators to get Students Excited About the Public Library.

– Because it’s relevant never seems to go away, we wanted to share again a piece that we’ve discussed before. One of our favorite authors, Monica Brown, who’s also a professor at Northern Arizona University, shares her thoughts on The Power of Dehumanizing Language.

— Lastly, to end on a slightly positive note, we thought we’d highlight this news story from Colombia, even though it circulated back in 2015. ‘Trashy’ books: garbage collector rescues reading material for Colombian children. Let it remind us this week that one person and one book truly can change the world! “She used to read me stories every night,” said Gutierrez, who has traveled to book fairs in Mexico and Chile to share his experience of starting a library with discarded reading material. “To me, books are the greatest invention and the best thing that can happen to a human being.”

Abrazos
Alin Badillo


Image: Peace Art. Reprinted from Flickr user mbelle131under CC©.

¡Mira, Look!: Colección Antiprincesas

Image result for coleccion antiprincesasSaludos todos! I’m back with my weekly Mira, Look posts after a short time off for Spring Break. This month we have been celebrating Women’s History Month by featuring books about the wonderful women found throughout history and within our personal lives as well. This week I’ll be reviewing three books from the Colección Antiprincesas. This collection is meant to feature “grandes mujeres,” or prominent women in history, in order to show that women don’t have to be your typical “princess”; in fact, many of these women were so formidable precisely because they went against gender norms and fought for what they believed in.

The Colección Antiprincesas has received a lot of media attention, specifically through channels (blogs, magazines, etc.) that focus on Latinx literature for children, such as Remezcla’s post, These Anti-Princess Books Give Young Girls Badass Latina Heroines to Look up to. Since these new releases have been talked about so much within the children’s literature community, I thought it was a good idea to contribute my views and join in the discussion. Needless to say, we also greatly welcome the input of our readers in fostering a larger, dynamic discussion about this collection and Latinx children’s books in general!

The first book in the Colección Antiprincesas features Frida Kahlo, a timeless Mexican artist known for her captivating art, but also for her bold, individualistic style and her candid honesty in expressing the most personal aspects of her life, including chronic physical pain and heartbreak. Kahlo was also known for marching to her own beat and has turned into a renowned icon in Latin America and across the world for challenging beauty standards and social norms. Kahlo has been featured many times already on the blog, including Katrina’s Teaching about Frida Kahlo post, Lorraine’s book review on Viva Frida, and Neoshia’s book review on Frida Kahlo.

Although it would seem difficult to bring something new to the discussion after so many resources and books have already been published about Kahlo, the Colección Antiprincesas manages to do just that, thanks in large part to their unique format. Each double-page spread has an illustration that caters to the eyes of younger readers, along with more detailed historical information, discussion questions, and black and white archival photographs. The unusual format of this book makes it a bit difficult to use with younger readers or students reading independently; however, these books are perfect as a resource for teachers. Teachers could draw on the information from these books to teach about these prominent historical figures, incite discussion about the lives and work of these figures, and show images to attract the attention of students of a variety of ages. In addition, these books are monolingual and are written exclusively in Spanish, which means they serve a valuable purpose for bringing Latin American heroines to Spanish speaking audiences. A review by School Library Journal also comments upon this as an attribute of these books—they’re Spanish language books that are easy to get a hold of here in the U.S: “VERDICT An excellent choice for libraries seeking works in Spanish for elementary students, especially where biographies are needed.”

Although the multimedia, patch-work style of the book might make it hard for students reading or working independently, the varied information could lead teachers on a variety of lesson-plan trajectories. For example, one page of the Frida Kahlo book includes the definition of the art term, “surrealism,” along with examples of Kahlo’s work. This could lead teachers to a lesson plan on surrealist art where they compare Kahlo’s work to other surrealist artists, such as Salvador Dali. Another part of the book focuses on Kahlo’s activism fighting for the rights of workers in Mexico. This, too, could lead to an expansive lesson plan on the rights of workers throughout Mexican history, and of Mexican-American workers here in the U.S.

The second and third books of the collection feature Violeta Parra, contemporary Chilean composer and songwriter, and Juana Azurduy, Bolivian guerilla military leader born in the late 1700s. The format for these two books is the same as the first, with simplistic illustrations, historical information and educational definitions, such as “arte popular” (popular art), and “colonias” (colonies). Like with the first book, this information could lead to other related lessons on popular art in the Americas or the history of colonialism and liberation.

One of the wonderful things about these books is that, with the exception of Kahlo, they focus on Latina heroines who are not typically discussed and certainly not included in the classroom – even when discussing Latin American history! Admittedly, I had not heard of Violeta Parra or Juana Azurduy before reading these books. These books also don’t sugarcoat the hardships that these women went through in their lifetimes. Part of the “anti-princess” perspective of these books is precisely that they do not portray women as perfect and pretty; rather these books are straight forward when talking about their hardships, and the illustrations don’t “beautify” the women with western standards of beauty. School Library Journal also comments upon Saá’s illustrations: “The often graphic novel–like art—vibrant, bold colors outlined in black—depicts scenes from the text and enhances the view of the subjects as strong heroines.

Ultimately, these books are an excellent contribution to Spanish-language children’s books accessible here in the U.S., and to any collection of biographies of powerful Latina role models. Putting aside the critique that the unusual formatting could be a challenge for young readers, these books prove an excellent resources for educators looking to teach their students more about underrepresented Latina heroines.

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

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

Stay tuned for some more great reads!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images modified from: Coleccion Antiprincesas pages 4, 6, 7, 8, 13

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March 10th | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! Here are some timely resources that I hope will be of use to you. Unfortunately, next week I’ll be absent from the blog because it’s our spring break, but I’ll definitely be back the following week with more to share.

As a side note (but an important one!), we want to take a moment to add our  voices to the chorus of advocates who are incensed that the Zinn Education Project would be banned in Arkansas. Here at Vamos we’re devout supporters of their efforts to teach students the diverse histories of this nation. Check out the preceding link not only to learn more about what’s happening, but also for suggestions on how to support the Zinn Education Project in its valuable work!

– Here is a recent article on “America’s Forgotten History of Illegal Deportations.” It offers some uncomfortable parallels between historical and current immigration policies and conversations.

— From Remezcla, here are 20 Can’t-Miss Movie Picks From the San Diego Latino Film Festival that “highlight Latin American and US Latino culture.” The films are diverse and cover important topics, from migration to identity.

– The U.S. Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, offered his thoughts recently on America’s current climate, the importance of poetry, and “what Americans should be reading now.”

— Where do Boys Belong in Women’s History Month? is a question our friends at Lee and Low Books have raised, along with ideas “to think about when teaching women’s history so both boys AND girls grow and learn.”

–If you are teaching about Caribbean culture, race and racism, immigration and exile, or strong female protagonists, you might appreciate learning about a new Haitian YA novel that hits on all of those issues – and more. From Anansesem: The Caribbean Children’s Literature Magazine, we found a remarkable interview with Ibi Zoboi, a Haitian writer, as she talks about her book, American Street, in which she shares the migration story of a young woman, Fabiola Toussaint.

– Lastly, Latinos in Kid Lit posted a book review of The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera, a YA novel that touches on “issues of peer pressure, family expectations, gender bias, and community.”

Abrazos,
Alin Badillo


Image: Teaching for Change. Reprinted from Flickr user Teaching for Change under CC©.

Reading RoundUp: Diversifying Women’s History (Month) with Hispanic Stories


Hello, dear readers!

It’s not often that I get the chance to contribute TWICE to the blog in one week, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to chime in on the conversation about diversifying Women’s History Month. I’ve been humming to myself over here in the office as I’ve been digging into children’s and young adult literature focused on women’s history – and Hispanic women’s contributions to history, in particular. While there are beautiful books by and about women peppered throughout the blog and in our previous Reading RoundUp posts, for this month I had the pleasure of finding and compiling books based on real life heroines. These are books that highlight the groundbreaking, earth-shattering contributions and hard work of Hispanic/Latina/Chicana and indigenous women in the United States, Cuba, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guatemala, Paraguay, and Chile. Sometimes their work was an act of personal triumph; at other times, it revolutionized society.  Their achievements break barriers in music, labor rights, school segregation, literature, and art.  Across the spectrum, their stories are absolutely worthwhile.

As a caveat, I should add that I haven’t personally read all of the books on this list — like The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande, When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago, and Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood — but they’re stellar publications if others’ reviews are anything to go by.  If you should add them to your bookshelf, please let us know what you think. They’re certainly on our TBR list now.

Side note: The descriptions provided below are all reprinted from the publishers’ information.

Without further ado, here are 15 children’s and YA books that we hope will expand your classroom and home discussions about Women’s History Month!

En solidaridad,
Keira

p.s. Remember that Teaching for Change is offering a discount in their TFC non-profit, indie bookstore in honor of Women’s History Month. Just use the code Women2017 at checkout!

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Sobre Marzo: Más Resources for Teaching About Latinx and Latin American Women

Vamos a Leer | Más Resources for Teaching about Latinx and Latin American Women

Hola a tod@s!

This month we’re joining many around the country in celebrating Women’s History Month. Of course, we hope that the discussion of womyn (past, present, and future) can be constant and valued within the standard curriculum that’s used all year long, but we don’t deny that Women’s History Month provides a timely opportunity to hone in and heighten that effort. More than just acknowledging women, though, we want to draw attention to the diversity of women whose struggles and experiences have led us to the present day. Unfortunately, information that goes beyond the White (largely middle class and US-focused) experience is scarce. It’s rather hard to identify, let alone come by, resources that  shine a light on the breadth and depth of women’s experiences.

While they get some props for trying, even the Smithsonian Education division only goes so far toward remedying the lack of materials. On their Women’s History Teaching Resources site, for instance, they offer materials that focus on African American Women Artists and Native American Women Artists, but make no mention of Hispanic/Latina/Chicana women!  In all honesty, though, the portal was just recently launched and we can only hope that the content is still a work in progress.

On a more positive note, organizations such as Teaching for Change are making significant strides toward diversifying the conversation. Starting March 1st, they’re daily highlighting diverse books featuring women’s accomplishments every day AND offering a 20% discount on book purchases from their non-profit, indie bookstore (code Women2017). Check out their page on “Women’s History Month: A Book Every Day” for the details.

And courtesy of Colours of Us,  blog dedicated to multicultural children’s books, we’ve been enjoying “26 Multicultural Picture Books About Inspiring Women and Girls” and “32 Multicultural Picture Books about Strong Female Role Models

For our part, we’re going to bring you suggestions for worthwhile children’s and YA literature over the next few weeks, all with the goal of highlighting women’s accomplishments. Stay tuned for our blogging team’s thoughts and contributions! If you’re hard at work diversifying the conversation in your classroom, please share your experiences with us — we’d love to hear what you’re doing to change the world!

En solidaridad,
Keira

¡Mira Look!: Conoce a Gabriela Mistral/ Get to Know Gabriela Mistral

Image result for conoce a gabriela mistralSaludos todos! This week we are starting our March theme of women in children’s literature, in celebration of Women’s History Month. Our book for this week is Get to Know Gabriela Mistral, written by Georgina Lazaro Leon and illustrated by Sara Helena Palacios. This bilingual book is part of a series of “Conoce a…/ Get to Know….” books that provide children with biographies of well-known, and sometimes lesser-known, Hispanic heroes.

Gabriela Mistral was a Chilean author and poet and she was the first Latin American author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945. Although Mistral is indeed very well-known within the literary community, outside of the literary community she is often eclipsed by some of her twentieth century male contemporaries, such as Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges. This informative story traces Mistral’s life, both her childhood and her work as a writer, and even introduces readers to some of her lovely poetry, ultimately putting the spotlight on a timeless woman, a Latin American hero and literary icon.

Gabriela Mistral was the Chilean author’s pseudonym and the story refers to the protagonist by her original name, Lucila. Young Lucila grew up in a small Andean village and at a young age her father “disappeared,” walking out on her mother and the family. Lucila lived with a sadness in her heart. She was timid, but pensive, sweet and always reading or writing: “And that’s how Lucila grew up: solitary, quiet and sometimes sad.” She started writing at a very young age, which when she adopted her pseudonym, Gabriela Mistral.

After her father’s disappearance, Lucila and her mother went to go live with her grandmother for a while. Lucila’s grandmother was a great inspiration to her, a strong and independent woman who served as her role model and even her muse for many of her poems: “This grandmother was a big, strong woman, strange and silent. She read the future in the stars and was very religious. She supported herself by embroidering ornaments for the church.” Growing up without her father, Lucila derived most of her support, guidance, and encouragement from the women in her life— her sturdy, inspirational grandmother, her compassionate mother, and her sharp older sister, who worked as a teacher in her town.

Each paragraph or page of this book is complemented by a quote or section from one of Gabriela Mistral’s poems. This wonderful narrative style not only exposes readers to examples of Mistral’s poetry, but also shows how her poetry was deeply influenced by and intertwined with her personal life. Leon pairs each paragraph with a section of Mistral’s poetry that bares similar themes to the part of her personal life being narrated in that moment. As a result, Mistral’s life experiences and identity, and her art are inseparable.

This narrative focuses primarily on Lucila’s childhood, the parts of her life that are most relevant and understandable for young readers. Readers can identify with her quirkiness, her solitude and even her early and persistent sadness. The story ends with Lucila all grown up working as a teacher: “She was a girl who was a teacher before she was a woman; a woman who without children of her own became the mother of all the children she taught, writing for them with such tenderness, sharing her message of love, peace, brother- and sisterhood. She was a woman who wrote for you and for all children, in the hope that you would learn to love words and enjoy them just as she did from a very young age.” Much of Mistral’s work reflected both her love of children and her strong feminist values. As Leon’s narrative also reflects, Mistral defined herself and her life primarily by her work, her craft, her intellect, and her dedication to helping children, rather than the gender roles that were expected of her as a woman.

This story makes a point of focusing most specifically on the ways in which Mistral’s life related to children, her own childhood and her work as a teacher, rather than on the other more esoteric aspects of Mistral’s life, her award-winning work, her political engagement in Chile and abroad, and her literary colleagues and collaborators. As such this story presents Mistral’s life and work as sources of inspiration and motivation for young children, an objective that many of us educators and bloggers here at Vamos a Leer can relate to: “She was a woman who wrote for you and for all children, in the hope that you would learn to love words and enjoy them just as she did from a very young age.”

For those of you interested in learning more about the author/illustrator, here are some additional links:

Stay tuned for more great reads about wonderful women!

Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images Modified from: Conoce a Gabriela Mistral/ Get to Know Gabriela Mistral, pages 4, 8, 11, 17