Libros Latin@s: Max Loves Muñecas! by Zetta Elliott

Reviewed by Ashley Hope Pérez MaxLovesMunecasCOVER

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION: Max wants to visit a beautiful boutique that sells handmade dolls, but he worries that other children will tease him. When he finally finds the courage to enter the store, Max meets Señor Pepe who has been making dolls since he was a boy in Honduras. Señor Pepe shares his story with Max and reminds him that, “There is no shame in making something beautiful with your hands. Sewing is a skill—just like hitting a baseball or fixing a car.” 

MY TWO CENTS: Max Loves Muñecas interweaves a number of topics: resisting the constraints of traditional gender roles, child homelessness, resourcefulness and resilience, and the value of cooperation and generosity. In the hands of a lesser writer, these many focal points might overpower a slim chapter book of 72 pages, but Zetta Elliott creates a richly textured narrative world and situations that give readers opportunities to pause, consider their own lives, and reflect on the power of individual choices.

The first and last chapters of the book focus on Max, a young American boy intrigued by the intricacy and beauty of the dolls in a neighborhood shop run by Señor Pepe. Despite his interest, Max fears teasing by his classmates; in fact, the book’s title comes from the teasing he endures. By the end of this book, however, Zetta Elliott turns “Max loves muñecas!” from a taunt into an affirmation as Señor Pepe invites Max to work as his apprentice. Although “Max loves muñecas!” powerfully captures a key shift in the book, it is somewhat misleading as a title because Max’s story serves primarily as a frame for Señor Pepe’s telling of his own experiences as a young boy in Honduras, which are the focus of the eight central chapters of the book.

MaxLovesMunecasImage1We first learn of Pepe’s life as a poor but happy boy living with a loving grandmother who earns money by cleaning a wealthy family’s home and selling rag dolls to tourists. When Pepe’s grandmother passes away, neighbors make arrangements and send a telegram, but no one comes to get him. After three days, the landlord sends him away. With nothing but a blanket, his grandmother’s sewing basket, and a handful of coins, Pepe strikes out on his own.

He briefly joins a band of street boys living under an overpass where each has a special skill he contributes to the group, but he remembers his grandmother’s admonitions: “You are not a street boy. You do not drift from place to place like a weed in the sea” (15). After a night on the streets, Pepe stops to help an elderly woman struggling to open the shutters to her doll shop. So begins his relationship with Señora Beatriz, who cautiously invites him into her shop, intrigued by his delight at the beauty of her dolls and impressed with his good manners and facility with simple sewing tasks. Pepe finds a place in her heart—and her home—and continues to develop his love for making beautiful things.

But of course there are bumps along the way, a number of which center on the difficulty of balaMaxLovesMunecasImage2ncing good intentions and generosity to others with responsibility and a concern for appearances. When Señora Beatriz sends Pepe out for lunch on their first day together, Melky, one of the street boys, recognizes him and runs over to join him. Pepe becomes preoccupied with Melky’s disheveled appearance, worrying that the señora might think he is a street boy, too, if she sees him with Melky. Pepe understands the boy’s hungry glances at the lunch bag, but his fear over damaging his opportunity with Señora Beatriz is what drives him to share his food: “If I give you some of my lunch, you have to promise to go away. You can’t let the señora see you—ever!” (33).

Later, when the señora goes out of town for the night, Pepe’s desire to surprise her leads him to attempt to finish a wedding dress using her cantankerous sewing machine. When it jams, his efforts to fix it result in a broken piece. Fearing a return to the streets if the señora discovers his disobedience and damage of the machine, he searches out Primo, the leader of the street boys, who is also an expert tinkerer. Primo can’t repair the broken piece without seeing the whole machine, and a new round of dilemmas opens up for Pepe as Melky and Primo follow him back to the señora’s house. He knows the señora would not want strangers in her house and worries that the street boys might get up to mischief, but he can’t see any way out of his problem without help. Far from wanting to steal from the señora, Primo and Melky fall in lMaxLovesMunecasImage3ove with the beautiful fabrics and deck themselves out in tiaras and veils. Primo succeeds at fixing the sewing machine, but the boys are so tired from their efforts they fall asleep at the kitchen table.

Once Señora Beatriz’s initial displeasure wears off, she is impressed by Primo’s technical abilities, charmed by young Melky, and pleased with the initiative and cooperation of all three boys. Ultimately, although only little Melky goes to school, all three boys gain the chance for a better life through their work for Señora Beatriz.

TEACHING TIPS: Max Loves Muñecas! is a good choice for upper elementary readers to explore on their own, and it would make an excellent read-aloud text (one chapter per session) for students across the elementary grades. The story highlights the boys’ spontaneous interest in dolls and fine fabrics, and it shows how following one’s passions can open doors. Max Loves Muñecas! also creates openings for students to discuss differences regarding schooling and child poverty in different communities and at different times. Finally, the book offers a number of scenarios where the “right” choice is relatively ambiguous, and these scenarios are ripe for exploration in conversation, journaling, drawing, or reenactment.

Although the handful of simple illustrations scattered through the book help provide a visual reference point for Pepe and Max’s adventures, there is still plenty of room for imagining and recreating scenes from the story. Students may especially benefit from guided exercises to help them imagine perspectives and experiences different from their own. Start with questions like, “What do you think Melky feels when Pepe makes him promise to never come to the señora’s shop?” or “Why is the señora disappointed when she first returns from her trip?” but take time exploring the other perspectives involved in a given moment in the narrative. When supported, even young children can stretch their capacity for empathy and perspective-taking beyond identifying with the protagonist.

MaxLovesMunecas_Zetta Zetta Elliott is the award-winning author of stories for children, YA novels, and poetry, plays, and essays for adults. Born and raised in Canada, she has lived in the US for 20 years and earned a PhD in American Studies from NYU in 2003. Her picture book, Bird, won the Honor Award in Lee & Low Books’ New Voices Contest and the Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers. Her latest YA novel, The Deep, was published in November 2013. She is an advocate for greater diversity and equity in publishing, and to this end she has published several illustrated books for younger readers—including Max Loves Muñecas—under her own imprint, Rosetta Press. She currently lives in Brooklyn. Visit her online at www.zettaelliott.com

MaxLovesMunecas_MauricioPhotoMauricio J. Flores was born in 1988 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where he currently resides. Trained as an architect, he has worked extensively as a freelance illustrator and web designer. When he’s not drawing, he enjoys listening to a vast spectrum of music genres, studying languages, and reading epic fantasy novels and comics. Visit him at http://mjflores.visioncomicshn.com/.

Libros Latin@s: Celebrating Matt de la Peña

The release of The Hunted on Tuesday marked Matt de la Peña’s tenth published book, so we thought it was time to celebrate the prolific author, who has given us high-voltage stories with deep and believable Latino characters. Along with a handful of others, such as Margarita Engle and Julia Alvarez, Matt is a triple threat in the kid lit world, having authored picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels. His rich body of work is known for sharply crafted YA novels that have captured a Pura Belpré honor and other important awards. His picture book Last Stop on Market Street hit the NY Times Bestseller List. In addition, he has been a proponent of increased diversity in children’s literature and is on the advisory committee for We Need Diverse Books. For more information about Matt, visit his website. For an intro to his YA novels, here’s a Latin@s in Kid Lit round-up.

The LivingTHE LIVING

Who is that man at the ship rail and why does he utter such cryptic words to Shy Espinoza before jumping to his death? With this irresistible hook, Matt de la Peña launches a post-apocalyptic coming of age series that begins with The Living and continues with The Hunted, and bursts with all the tension, intrigue, romance and fast-paced action of a cinematic thriller.

Shy is a San Diego teenager. He takes a summer job on a cruise ship to help his single mom pay the bills. Shortly before he sets sail, his grandmother dies a painful death from Romero disease, a mysterious ailment sweeping towns along the California-Mexico border. One of Shy’s coworkers, a super-hot chica named Carmen, has lost a family member to the same disease. When a cataclysmic earthquake hits California, a series of giant tsunamis shatters the cruise ship and takes many passengers and crew members to their graves. Shy ends up on a lifeboat, with a slew of new challenges: circling sharks, rotting corpses and a snobby rich girl whose father owns Lasotech, a pharmaceutical firm with apparent connections to the man at the rail. When the lifeboat reaches an island, Shy allows himself a sigh of relief. But that’s an illusion. A new fight for life has begun.

The HuntedTHE HUNTED

When Shy and three other cruise-ship survivors finally reach the California coast, they discover a landscape of stunning devastation. (In order to preserve suspense for those who haven’t read The Living, I’ll refrain from naming all the survivors.) In the aftermath of the earthquake and the spread of Romero disease, social order in the quarantined West Coast states has broken down. Armed vigilantes and criminal gangs roam the streets and highways, killing anyone they suspect is infected. Shy and his friends set off on foot for Arizona. They’re on a mission to deliver precious vials of anti-Romero vaccination developed by Lasotech to health officials outside the quarantine zone. Judging by radio reports, Shy’s own family is unlikely to have survived the double whammy of disease and earthquake, but he must shake off such worries to defeat more immediate concerns, namely, bounty hunters on motorcycles roving the desert for a teenager named Shy Espinoza.

BALL DON’T LIEball-dont-lie

Matt de la Peña nails the basketball scene and the gritty world of foster homes in this guy-friendly book packed with action, tension, and emotion. Multiple story lines come together in a dramatic ending that is not at all forced. I love how the author takes on numerous issues–pinning hopes on athletics, interracial relationships, obsessive compulsive disorder, prostitution–without making this an “issue” book. Because at bottom, what it’s really about is Sticky, a ball-playing foster kid who wants to treat his girl right and can’t keep himself out of trouble.

 

 

 

Mexican WhiteboyMEXICAN WHITEBOY 

From the author of Ball Don’t Lie comes another excellent book that nails baseball but is about much more.

Danny is wicked gifted when it comes to baseball–he can knocks baseballs out of the park, and his pitching maxes out the meter at the local fair even when he was smashed. But he couldn’t throw anything but wild pitches at the tryouts at his prep school, and not even he can understand why.

His number one theory, though, is that things would be different if his dad were still around. Not just baseball, either. If his dad hadn’t left, then maybe Danny wouldn’t be stuck feeling stupid when his relatives in National City tell jokes in Spanish. (Danny’s mom, who’s white, can’t help him out in that department.) The official word is that Danny’s dad took off to Ensenada, Mexico, but it starts looking like there’s more to the story than that as Danny spends the summer with his dad’s family in National City, a mostly Latino pocket of greater San Diego.

But the eventual revelation regarding Danny’s dad is much less important than Danny figuring out how to be himself, a task made a little easier with the jokey, easy-going crew his cousin Sofia hangs with. Danny’s best friend turns out to be Uno, the same half-black, half-Mexican kid who welcomed Danny to the neighborhood by busting his face at the beginning of the summer. Things are good–but they’re also ugly, the way things are in real life. What matters is that Danny starts finding his footing in that real life, and baseball takes its place as one bad-ass game that helps him bring things into focus without beating up on himself.

I will save youI WILL SAVE YOU

Kidd Ellison has done a terrible thing and look where it’s landed him–in solitary confinement. The trouble started with Devon, a bad-news friend from the group home where Kidd got sent after his mother died. Kidd is part Mexican and comes from the wrong side of the tracks, and Devon, who’s cut from the same background, easily exploits Kidd’s desire to fit in socially. Against his better judgment, Kidd jumps into a shoplifting spree and other ill-advised activities, but Devon is capable of far worse. Why can’t Kidd see the light and shake him off?

Luckily, certain people in Kidd’s life exert the opposite pull, like María, his former counselor at the group home, and Mr. Red, an aging surfer dude with a generous streak, who gives him a job at a beach camp. Then there’s Olivia, a pretty girl living with her own set of scars, who offers Kidd real friendship and just maybe romantic interest.

The books that Olivia reads challenge Kidd’s assumptions about fate, inevitability and self-determination. De la Peña ingeniously uses Kidd’s entries in a “philosophy of life” notebook and his reactions to the literature Olivia introduces as opportunities to plumb Kidd’s backstory and deeper self. This is how we learn that no matter how troubled he may be, Kidd truly wants to figure things out. A short story by Haruki Murakami and the memoir The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean-Dominique Bauby, help him frame some of life’s biggest questions. He writes in his notebook: “Were people who they were ‘cause of their genes, or was it more to do with where they were born, and who their parents were, and what they saw growing up.” These are the questions of an honest seeker. Of course, Devon is chillingly skilled at throwing Kidd off the seeker path. Kidd, please get away from Devon, before it’s too late!

WE WERE HERE

After a tragic incident, 16-year-old Miguel Castaneda is sent to a group home for a year. Soon after he arrives, he escapes with Mong and Rondell, and they all head to the Mexican border with the hope of forgetting the past and starting over. Memories and guilt, however, are not easy to shake. Miguel can’t forget what happened no matter how much distance he puts between himself and home. Although temporarily free from juvi, hes not free from punishment. The physical and personal journey force Miguel to process what happened and come to a place of acceptance. Mong and Rondell are battling their own demons, too, as the three make their way to the border. De la Peña’s characters are complex and force us to consider the softer sides of tough boys who have been through a lot and committed crimes. Through them, we consider the a person layers and their potential for healing and change beyond the moments that are documented on records and land them in trouble.

Here are the covers for Matt de la Peña’s other books:

      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Latino Intl

The 2015 International Latino Book Awards Finalists!

Below are the 2015 finalists for the 17th Annual International Latino Book Awards in the children’s, youth, and young adult categories. If you click on the images, you will be taken to Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon for more information. The Awards are produced by Latino Literacy Now, an organization co-founded by Edward James Olmos and Kirk Whisler, and co-presented by Las Comadres para las Americas and Reforma, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos. The Awards themselves will be June 27 in San Francisco as part of the ALA Conference. Click here for the complete list, which includes adult fiction and nonfiction. Congratulations and good luck to all of the finalists!

Best Latino Focused Children’s Picture Book: English

cover-maria  18465502

Best Latino Focused Children’s Picture Book: Spanish or Bilingual

23242348  20640741  23058499

Best Children’s Fiction Picture Book: English

20759593    20262585  18106361  20763795  18209399

Best Children’s Fiction Picture Book: Bilingual

The Dance Recital by Jill Barletti

18654384  20837127  23218636  20763960

Best Children’s Fiction Picture Book: Spanish

22929028  25246378  22750429

Best Children’s Nonfiction Picture Book: English

boy Zorro for New Books  18405521  18465502

Best Children’s Nonfiction Picture Book: Spanish or Bilingual

    

Best Educational Children’s Picture Book: English

    18465502

Best Educational Children’s Picture Book

23218636  23173378  18009252

Best Educational Children’s Picture Book: Spanish or Bilingual

Esto es mio!    

Most Inspirational Children’s Picture Book: English

18465502

Most inspirational Children’s Picture Book: Spanish or Bilingual

23058499  20837127  

Best Youth Latino Focused Chapter Book

21928995  

Best Youth Chapter Fiction Book

17571252  18166935  

Best Educational Youth Chapter Book

  

Most Inspirational Youth Chapter Book

 

Best Young Adult Latino Focused Book: English

IslandCover.png  22620580

Best Young Adult Latino Focused Book: Spanish or Bilingual

 Micaela, Adalucía, Cholita Prints and Publishing Company

Best Young Adult Fiction Book: English

18048909  22715444  18222731  22097606  13515320  18079898

Best Young Adult Fiction Book: Spanish or Bilingual

 Micaela, Adalucía, Cholita Prints and Publishing Company

Best Young Adult Nonfiction Book

Best Educational Young Adult Book

 Barrio Writers: Empowering Teens Through Creative Writing

 Micaela, Adalucía, Cholita Prints and Publishing Company

Most Inspirational Young Adult Book

Dream to Achieve: 15 Key Skills That Empower You to Succeed in Today's Challenging World  The Sparrow and The Frog

Best Book Written by a Youth

Best Children’s Picture Book Translation: Spanish to English

Best Children’s Picture Book Translation: English to Spanish

    

Best First Book: Children’s and Youth: English

  19505581  22174131  23756784

Best First Book: Children’s and Youth: Spanish or Bilingual

18832549  

Teacher-Author Diana Lee Santamaria On Promoting Literacy & Self-Publishing

Childrens book, school, teach, kids, learning, DLee's World, DLee, Diana Santamaria Childrens book, buy now, learn colors, teach, DLee's World, DLee, by Diana Santamaria Childrens book, teach counting, lesson plans, DLee's World, DLee, by Diana Santamaria Childrens book, teach counting, lesson plans, DLee's World, DLee, by Diana Santamaria

By Diana Lee Santamaria

Hi, everyone! I am so honored to be a guest writer on Latin@s in Kid Lit. My name is Diana Lee Santamaria and I am a newly self-published children’s author of DLee’s World Books. DLee’s World is a series of learning books that I created for children ages three to five. Since I struggled with issues of illiteracy growing up, I designed my books with bright colors, playful rhyme schemes, and diverse characters to promote literacy, diversity, and most importantly, fun.

Literacy is extremely important to me considering that more and more children
seem to display a lack of interest in literacy education. As a result, according to the most recent statistics
on literacy provided by the National Center of Educational Statistics, about 50% of adults in the United States read at or below basic proficiency level. Therefore, issues of literacy are still a huge factor in our society today. Who knows where I would have been, had my father not taught me? If he never realized my problem and wasn’t so determined for me not to follow in his educational struggles, I may not have graduated from college, become a teacher, or even a children’s writer.  Therefore, I created my books with the intent to help increase children’s interest in literacy at an early age. Literacy is all around us, from reading a sign while driving to ordering take-out. We are constantly put in positions where we have to read and show that we comprehend what we read. It is vital, therefore, that we promote reading and learning in children while they are young to aid in chances of future success.

The first four DLee’s World books are entitled DLee’s Color Hunt, DLee’s Outdoor Countdown, DLee’s First Day of School, and DLee’s Nighttime Scare. These books touch upon learning objectives, such as primary and secondary colors, counting and numeral recognition, dealing with new experiences, and fears of the dark. As an educator for seven years with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education, I used my professional experiences, educational background, along with my own childhood experiences to bring each and every story to life. Currently I have written eleven other DLee stories, which I will hopefully be publishing within the next few years. In my mind the story possibilities with DLee’s World are endless. Since I have taught preschool for many years now, I know first-hand what objectives and relevant topics are typical and important to learn for that age group. As a result, I have a journal dedicated to those ideas, which I am consistently referring back to.

I officially self-published and began marketing in August of 2014. I chose to self-publish after doing lots of research and speaking to fellow educators and professionals who had also published literary works of art. The articles that I was finding shared a lot of negative aspects on attempting to publish through a large publishing company. I kept reading about the difficulty in getting a company to publish children’s literature even if your book is worthwhile. But that was not the only downside. From what I read and found to be true through my own research, most publishing houses do not accept unsolicited manuscripts; therefore I would have had to find an agent. Now although I found a list of agents through the Society of Children’s Book Writers (SCWBI), which I became a member of, everything takes time and everything costs money. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to wait for a response considering that I may never get one or be waiting months on months. Additionally, I read about publishing through a larger company and the issue of not having full rights to your work. So I definitely considered the option of publishing the traditional route. But after all things considered, I decided to self-publish. My thoughts were that I would self-publish and market myself enough to build a following of parents and children that would eventually lead me to traditional publishing routes. My thinking was and still is that if I build enough of a fan base maybe a publishing company will come find me. Who knows how far fetched that is, but I figure I have nothing to lose. Hence, why I decided to give self-publishing a shot. Even still, I did send my work out to some publishing companies in hopes of a response. I have yet to receive one, but I remain positive!

latina, author, teacher, latina, authorIt’s ironic because if you would have asked me what I would be doing when I got out of college, I would have never imagined I would be a teacher, let alone a children’s writer. As an undergrad, I studied Speech Communications and always had a passion for all areas of the arts. I loved writing poetry, drawing, painting, singing, and acting. My dream, however, was to become a famous singer and later an actress! But I thought it would be more realistic to get a career in public relations relating to entertainment. Then, while I was doing an internship at a small entertainment company, I came across a woman who mentioned teaching and that idea sewed a seed that led me to pursue a pre-kindergarten to third grade teaching certification. From there, I began teaching and decided to earn a master’s degree in children's book series, latina, authorearly childhood education. While teaching, I was always reading to my students and at times was lacking the literary resources that not only hit the topic I wanted to teach but also relevancy to increase connection and overall understanding for my students. So one day, I decided to write a silly story about shapes. I wrote the story and then just left it there until one day, I read it to a friend. She really enjoyed the story and encouraged me to keep writing. I never really considered myself a writer, but that night I went home and the words began to pour out of me! I started analyzing the children in my classroom, the books they enjoyed along with the standards required for preschoolers to learn. And that is how DLee’s World came to be.

teacher, latina, author, From the use of my childhood nickname (given to me by my mother), to the use of my childhood image along with images of those who have impacted in my life, DLee’s World is very much a part of me. I have dedicated much time and effort to perfect DLee’s World books so that they are not only educational and fun for children but also useful for parents and educators. Subsequently, I have devised lesson plans that coincide with each learning book, available for free download on my website.

Recently, I have been doing free readings at libraries, schools, and bookstores throughout the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania areas. It’s been such a fun experience, and I’ve been receiving many positive reviews from both parents and kids! I absolutely love what I am doing and hope to continue to share my efforts with children, parents, and teachers worldwide. My books can be found on www.dleesworld.com and Amazon.

Libros Latin@s: Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School

 

13170031By Kimberly Mach

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BACK OF THE BOOK:

Dear Parents and Teachers:

This is a work of fiction. There is no Prank and Trick Association at Fountain Point Middle School. And you absolutely will not find instructions on how to log in to a top-secret prank instruction website anywhere on these pages. All we do is make pickles. OK?

Sincerely,

Ben Diaz

President, The League of Pickle Makers

MY TWO CENTS: Now, if the description above won’t get a child to pick up a book, I’m not sure what will.

Kim Baker had me laughing from the first page. The book opens with this line: Can I trust you? She had me hooked right there, with all that the question implies.

There are so many ways to talk about Pickle because it really is a perfect middle-grade novel. Kids will laugh out loud, and they may even go scrambling to create their own prank clubs. Beyond the laughter, they will identify with the ever-changing landscape of middle school friendships. Ben Diaz, the main character, creates a Prank Club, under the guise of a Pickle Makers Club. Due to an earlier incident, Ben does not invite his best friend Oliver into the club. (Oliver’s grandmother is the school principal and Oliver, well, Ben thinks Oliver just can’t be trusted to keep the secret.) Reading it, I found myself wondering what the halls of my school would look like if there were bubbles in the fountains or impromptu parties in the classrooms. Throughout the mayhem, lessons are woven in. Ben learns about himself, his new friends, and just how ‘off’ we can be when we try to label each other, but most of all he learns what kind of friendship he and Oliver really have. Spoiler alert: It’s made of the strong stuff. There are lessons here in action and reaction, consequences and the impact of our decisions, and they are all told masterfully through the eyes and comedy of young Ben Diaz.

As an adult reader, what resonated with me was the very real problem of what isn’t in our history books. For Pioneer Day, Ben and his friends have to present something pickled for the Pioneer Fair. If they don’t, they will lose their funding from the PTA and that will be the end of the Pickle Club and the secret Prank Club.

What to do? Ben turns to his family. They frequently serve escabeche, or pickled vegetables, at their Mexican restaurant. Ben sees that escabeche can be their entry for the fair. Then Ben hesitates. He asks the kind of question that many of our children who do not see themselves reflected on the pages of history books wonder about: Were there Mexican pioneers?

Ben goes on to say: “I’ve never seen any in the pictures. It’s always just a bunch of white guys.” And then later, the realization that, “It doesn’t mean they weren’t there.” Ben begins searching.

The time period for our children is different from that of my youth. In my youth, we may have asked the question, but because of available resources, we probably could not have answered it, at least not in a timely fashion. The internet has allowed people and organizations to post information and share resources in a much more efficient manner. When Ben wonders about pioneers from Mexico, he does not have to go far to find that reliable source. Instead of spending an afternoon at the town hall archives, he can answer it with the click of a button. As an adult, I could not escape the implications of Ben’s memory when he recalls being criticized in kindergarten for using the brown paper to make his Pilgrims for Thanksgiving. There are so many who were skimmed over in the history books, but the information is there if we ask the questions. Step one is teaching our children to ask. Where are the women in this picture? Who worked in the factories? Why does this city have a Spanish name? What happened when native peoples went to reservations? Ben chooses to share an authentic pickling recipe from Mexico. It may not be the pickle recipe people were expecting at the fair, but it is delicious and the scene, of course, is memorable. Trust me, you’ll be cheering for him when he has a conversation with Principal Lebonsky about traditional recipes.

TEACHING TIPS: This book would be an excellent read-aloud in the classroom, appropriate for grades 3-6. It can be enjoyed for the humor and story, or a teacher can choose to take the lessons further.

Language Arts: Life-size character sketches are one extension idea. Brief descriptions of each character are on the front jacket of the book. Many children will see themselves reflected in the personalities and the ethnicities of Ben and his friends. Traits can be filled in as readers follow the story, with life-size versions being presented at the end.

Social Studies: Many upper elementary and early middle school grades study pioneer days as part of their curriculum. Reading Pickle may encourage students to ask the important questions and to look more deeply at the pictures of people in their own state and communities.

The escabeche could be the beginning to a small unit on preserving food both in the past and now. Compare and contrast, how did Native Americans preserve food? When were other methods introduced?  What are traditional foods of the region? How are they preserved today?  The possibilities are endless here.

Enjoy the book. Readers of all ages will love it. When you are done, visit Kim Baker’s website at http://kimbakerbooks.com/ and enjoy her voice and humor there.

Pickle is Kim Baker’s debut novel and has already received five awards including the Louisiana Young Reader’s Choice 2015 nominee, 2014-2015 Texas Blue Bonnet Award Nominee, and the 2013 SCBWI West Crystal Kite award.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Pickle visit your local library or bookstore. Also, check out WorldCat.orgIndieBound.orgGoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Kimberly Mach has been teaching for sixteen years and holds two teaching certificates in elementary and secondary education. Her teaching experience ranges from grades five to twelve, but she currently teaches Language Arts to middle school students. It is a job she loves. The opportunity to share good books with students is one that every teacher should have. She feels privileged to be able to share them on a daily basis.

Mixed Up: Author Kim Baker Navigates a Bicultural Narrative

By Kim Baker

I’m bicultural. My grandparents on my mom’s side eloped and migrated from Mexico to New Mexico where they had babies and my grandpa worked in the coal mines until, lungs destroyed, they moved again to East Los Angeles for better weather. My uncle can tell you about how cramped it was with all the kids in the backseat. Sunshine couldn’t save my grandpa, but most of my family is still around the area. My dad is Anglo and from Texas. His side of the family has been in the states so long, nobody knows for sure from where they originally migrated. So, like lots of people, I’ve got a mixed ethnicity. Culture is a weird thing. It’s shared customs and distinct experiences. I’m ridiculously pale, and I have my husband’s surname so people are often surprised to hear about my Mexican heritage. When people do find out (and I’m pretty open about it), sometimes we play stereotype bingo and they ask questions to see if I meet their preconceived qualifications (Do I have a big family? Yes. Do I like spicy foods? …Yes. Do I listen to mariachi? Please stop.).

I consider myself Latina, and proud. This is me, the grouchy one covering her face in front, with a small portion of my family. My cousin Joey is mortified that I share this picture because he is self-conscious about how much leg he’s showing in those cutoffs.

Maciasfamily

Now I feel guilty about sharing it, so I will also tell you that later that day I threw up an Orange Julius at the mall and tried to hide it under a t-shirt rack. That’s worse than knobby knees.

When I was a lonely kid, books were my escape. I never really saw myself in books until I was older. There’d be bits in stories here and there (e.g. A kid in the book loved horses, and I was a horse nut. Harriet was overly curious about people? Me, too!). And maybe, in part, because of how I didn’t see myself as a whole in books as a kid, I often feel different and separate from those around me. Feeling abnormal in itself is a pretty shared understanding (We’re ALL weirdos!), but having a bicultural identity certainly magnifies the experience. Granted, I was getting most of my books from a Wyoming library that underestimated its Latino population by at least a few, so there were probably more stories out there than I wasn’t finding.

I grew up in Wyoming, where I could count the other non-Anglo kids at my school on one hand. My mom missed her family, missed the sunshine, missed seeing people like her, so we’d drive to East L.A. in the summertime to visit. My grandma and aunts would make all of the foods we couldn’t get in Wyoming and bring my favorite orejas from the panadería. Some of my cousins would tease me about my pale skin (I look just like my dad.), so I’d sit on the porch and watch my also shy uncle tend his jasmine and geraniums while the rest of the family visited inside. You could hear them laughing all the way down the block. We’d go back to Wyoming and I’d ride horses, trudge through snow, and eat American foods. The taco shells and beans in my hometown grocery store were labeled as “Spanish Foods.” I always felt a bit disconnected and different, no matter where I was. My parents split up and I lived with my mom in New Mexico and California. I was in primarily Latino communities, but still stood apart because of my Anglo features. Kids called me gringa and worse. I read more. My school didn’t have a library, the town didn’t have a bookstore, and the public library’s shelves were pretty spare, but I found what I could. I identified with S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders being from the wrong side of the tracks, but found nothing about Mexican-American kids or mixed culture kids. I would have been overjoyed to find Matt de la Peña’s Mexican Whiteboy or Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, A Girl in Pieces as a teen.

13170031The protagonist in my first book, Pickle, is straight up Mexican American. The main character in my next novel is a mixed Latino like me, and writing has been a little bit more of a personal journey. I’ve taken a little longer with it, because I want to do it right. There’s so much I want to include, and I’m still working on how much serves the story. I know that there are other writers out there who balance between environments and depend on cultural code-switching to find their way. And there are kids that are looking for those stories, that need them. Books are touchstones. Identity, displacement, and belonging are important themes in middle grade and YA fiction that can reach all readers. The crazy thing about the loneliness of feeling different from our peers is that it’s probably one of our most communal traits. So, as a writer, I’ll continue to write about Latino kids and put little pieces of myself and my world in there. I implore you to do the same. And putting your truth into stories isn’t necessarily autobiographical. I think the best stories come from combining what you love with what you wish there was a story about.

Every kid should be able to find mirrors on the bookshelves, and it’s especially crucial for those of us who might struggle to fit into their worlds. Let’s put more stories out there, because you can’t always tell who might need them.

 

BakerBWheadshotKim’s debut middle grade novel, Pickle (Macmillan), was a finalist for the 2013 Children’s Choice Awards, Book of the Year (5th and 6th grade), one of Mamiverse’s Top 50 Latino Children’s Books You Should Know, and the recipient of the 2013 SCBWI Crystal Kite West award. She lives with her family in Seattle and can often be found in the woods, despite a chronic fear of bears. Find out more at www.kimbakerbooks.com.