Libros Latin@s: Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

22639675By Cindy L. Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown feels like a fish out of water when she and her parents move from Los Angeles to the farm they’ve inherited from a great-uncle. But farm life gets more interesting when a cranky chicken appears and Sophie discovers the hen can move objects with the power of her little chicken brain: jam jars, the latch to her henhouse, the entire henhouse….

And then more of her great-uncle’s unusual chickens come home to roost. Determined, resourceful Sophie learns to care for her flock, earning money for chicken feed, collecting eggs. But when a respected local farmer tries to steal them, Sophie must find a way to keep them (and their superpowers) safe.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer releases May 12 with Knopf Books for Young Readers.

MY TWO CENTS: It’s easy to love Sophie, the half-Latina main character in this middle grade novel that upgrades the “new girl in town” idea by adding cool, magical chickens and letters from the beyond. Sophie and her parents move from Los Angeles to a farm, left to them by her late Great-Uncle Jim. The farm, though, is “more like a big, boring garden. Dead-looking grapevines and blackbirds and junk piles and bugs, that’s it.” Sophie’s family is trying to start over after her dad lost his job.

In the novel, author Kelly Jones addresses issues such as unemployment, racism, and classism, but never in a heavy-handed way. Through her letters to her abuela, Uncle Jim, and Agnes from Redwood Farm Supply, Sophie talks about her family’s financial problems and the small town’s lack of diversity. “There aren’t any people around here–especially no brown people.” In another chapter, Sophie writes, “even though Mom was born here and speaks perfect English, she says you have to be twice as honest and neighborly when everyone assumes you’re an undocumented immigrant.” These moments, though, are not preachy. Instead, they are presented as things Sophie observes or wonders about as she navigates her bicultural reality and being the new girl–a city girl transplanted to a weed-choked farm with magical chickens.

And, for the record, the chickens are awesome. My favorite is the angry, telekinetic chicken. He’s so cute somehow even though he’s got the “if looks could kill” face all the time. Being responsible for the chickens helps Sophie to settle in and connect with her new surroundings. Caring for the chickens, and working hard to keep them safe from a thief, allows Sophie to develop her confidence.

What I really love about Sophie is that she’s a strong girl, but she’s also a quiet girl who isn’t afraid to admit when she’s sad or lonely. Being strong doesn’t always mean wielding weapons; sometimes it means going after a chicken thief or speaking in front of a crowd, even though it scares you. I think lots of middle grade readers will love this novel, which also has great illustrations, information about chickens throughout, and even a recipe for migas!

TEACHING TIPS: Language arts teachers could easily include this novel in a thematic literature circles unit with other stories about moving to new places, whether it’s to a new town or a new country.

Since Sophie writes letters throughout the novel, students could write and send personal letters to friends or family and formal business letters to local companies. In this electronic age, writing, sending, and receiving letters could be a fun activity for this generation of students, who may have seldom done this, if at all.

Asking a local farmer to visit the classroom, or taking students on a field trip, would be a wonderful experiential activity, especially for city students (like Sophie) who may have never visited a farm.

A classroom fiesta, complete with lots of eggs-based dishes and migas, using the recipe in the book, would be a wonderful and tasty way to end a unit.

Kelly JonesABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kelly Jones is a curious person, interested in chickens, magic, farm life, spies, sewing, the odd everyday bits of history, how to make sauerkraut, how to walk goats, superheroes and what makes them so super, recipes to make with a lot of eggs, anything with ghosts (particularly friendly ghosts), how to draw chickens that actually look like chickens, and any story she’s never heard before.

She’s also a writer: Her debut novel Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, about twelve-year-old Sophie and her magical chickens, is forthcoming from Knopf Books For Young Readers in May of 2015.

Her second book, Glamour, is set in 1818, England, about sixteen-year-old Annis, who would like to become a spy like her father and who does not see why the War Office should put up such a fuss (with bonus magical dressmaking!) is forthcoming from Knopf Books for Young Readers in Spring of 2017.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer visit your local library or bookstore. Also, check out WorldCat.orgIndieBound.orgGoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Three Ways to Help Bookstores & Libraries Talk About Your Book

By Kelly Jones

So, you’re a writer, and you’ve written a book. You’ve gotten feedback, polished it, and now it’s being published. Congratulations!

Or, maybe you found a book you love, and you want to help spread the word about it!

But, how do you get it into readers’ hands? For that, you may want some help from booksellers, librarians, and teachers. Here’s how to help them discover and share your book with readers!

1. Build a Booktalk

A “booktalk” is a tool to help readers decide if a book is right for them. If you can share a 30-second booktalk that librarians and booksellers can use with readers, that can make their jobs much easier!

Some ways booktalks are used:

  • A bookseller might pull 3-5 novels off a display and booktalk each of them to help a customer decide what to buy.
  • A school media specialist / librarian might booktalk a number of books for a class assignment, so kids can choose what to read.
  • A book club might solicit booktalks from members to choose the group’s next book.

22639675An example for my novel, Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmerwhich releases May 12 with Knopf Books for Young Readers:

Unusual Chickens is a book about twelve-year-old Sophie and her magic chickens. When Sophie’s dad loses his job, she and her parents move from Los Angeles to the Northern California farm they inherited. Sophie doesn’t feel like she fits in – she’s Latina and isn’t used to living in a mostly-white neighborhood – so she writes diary-like letters to her beloved abuela, who recently died. Pretty soon, she’s trying to keep a telekinetic chicken, an invisible chicken, and a super-fast chicken safe from a chicken thief, all while making a friend and getting to know her new community.”

What makes a good booktalk?

It’s conversational. Booktalks are part of a conversation about books; they should be an easy way to tell someone about your book, and they should feel natural to the speaker. Consider starting with words like “This is a book about…” “Imagine you are…” “What if…”

The first line hooks readers.

Sometimes even 30 seconds is too long, and you need a one-sentence booktalk. If you only got to share the first sentence of your booktalk, would that be enough to hook a reader? Work on it, then test it out on readers.

It’s memorable and intriguing. We all hear about hundreds of “great books” – what makes this book perfect for the right readers? What details will help readers remember it? How would a reader ask for this book? What makes it not only memorable, but intriguing to the perfect reader?

It gives the reader clues, so they can make a decision. Clues such as the age of the protagonist, the culture(s) in the story, the location, the genre, and what happens can all help the reader to decide whether the book sounds like something they’d like to read. I especially like to include clues that tell readers if a book might be a mirror (a book they can see themselves in) or a window (a world they’d like to experience through a book).  Unusual Chickens isn’t primarily about Sophie’s experience as a modern Latina girl – it’s about her magic chickens. But who she is can be an important clue for readers, so I include her heritage in my booktalk.

It contains specific details, but not too many. There are more cool details in any book than will fit in a booktalk – let some surprise and delight the reader who picks it up! Do include specific details – they’re what make your book different from all the others — but choose just a few, or the reader may be overwhelmed.

2. Build Your Local Book Community

So, you have a booktalk for your book! Now let’s find some booksellers and librarians to share it with.

Start local. Visit your local bookstore and/or library, and get to know the book people who work there! I like to start by finding people who like the books I like, and books that are similar to my book. I check displays and recommendations by staff, and ask the people who work there if anyone can recommend a book that’s similar to one I liked.

Share your book as part of your conversationI like to start conversations with a compliment (“What a beautiful display – I love that you’re celebrating diverse reads!”) or a question (“Can you help me find other middle grade novels about chickens?”) Once we’re talking about other writers’ books, I feel more comfortable talking about mine (“My book about a Latina girl and her magic chickens comes out in May from Random House – I’m so excited!”)

When someone asks about your book, share your booktalk. You want to memorize the basic details and be able to work them into a conversation, not read from a script. It doesn’t need to be exactly the same words every time – and it shouldn’t sound like you’re reciting a speech. (That isn’t how you’d tell your friends about your book, right?) If it’s too long for you to remember, no one else will remember it either – try a shorter one! This is your chance to help a bookseller or librarian pick which details to tell readers about. Pay attention to what intrigues them, what they ask about, and what they don’t seem as interested in.

3. Build Your Online Book Community

What if you don’t have a local bookstore, or you don’t feel comfortable talking to people in person about your book? Try finding booksellers and librarians online!

Use your booktalk online. People looking for more information about you and your book will find it and share it, if they find it on your blog or through social media and it intrigues them. Your booktalk can help book people share your book with readers even if they haven’t had a chance to read your book themselves yet.

Find your book people. Try the Twitter hashtag #librarylife, search for bookstores’ social media pages, read professional reviews such as School Library Journal, and pay attention to online mentions. What bookstores are hosting your favorite authors? Who gave your book a glowing review? What booksellers chose the Kids’ Indie Next titles? Are they on social media? Follow them! Who are they following? Follow them, too! (Latin@s in KidLit is an awesome starting place, of course!!)

Talk about other people’s books! Book people love to talk about books. So join in! Is a bookseller or librarian looking for book suggestions? Share one! Have you just read an amazing book, or learned about a book you’re excited to read – or that you think some readers might really love? Talk about it! Is there a book that inspired you? Share it! Challenge yourself to an extra-short booktalk of someone else’s book, using specific details rather than “great” or “awesome”.

Then, talk about your book, too! Sneak peeks, exciting moments, the kinds of details you share in your booktalk – these are all great to share on social media! But, do try to keep thinking about the reader’s perspective: What can you share that will help the perfect readers find your book, or share it with other readers? What will excite readers and convince them that this is a book they might love? Share that!

Happy booktalking!

Librarians, booksellers, and teachers: please share your thoughts! What helps you share books with readers? How can authors help you find the right readers for their books?

 

Kelly JonesKelly Jones is a curious person, interested in chickens, magic, farm life, spies, sewing, the odd everyday bits of history, how to make sauerkraut, how to walk goats, superheroes and what makes them so super, recipes to make with a lot of eggs, anything with ghosts (particularly friendly ghosts), how to draw chickens that actually look like chickens, and any story she’s never heard before.

She’s also a writer: Her debut novel Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, about twelve-year-old Sophie and her magical chickens, is forthcoming from Knopf Books For Young Readers in May of 2015.

Her second book, Glamour, is set in 1818, England, about sixteen-year-old Annis, who would like to become a spy like her father and who does not see why the War Office should put up such a fuss (with bonus magical dressmaking!) is forthcoming from Knopf Books for Young Readers in Spring of 2017.

Libros Latin@s: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

12000020By Eileen Fontenot

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

MY TWO CENTS: This book is a four-time award winner–and well deserved! What a moving book. Even days after I finished it, I would still think of Ari and Dante and their friendship, which grows into deeper feelings–how much they influenced each other’s lives over the course of a year, with events tenderly captured by Sáenz. The romantic type of love is not the only one Sáenz touches upon; familial love is also an important topic in the book. Both Dante’s and Ari’s relationships with their families are as complicated as their relationship with each other.

The story is set in 1987 and told from the point of view of Ari–despite this, the reader gains a full picture of Dante. We learn of Dante’s sweet quirks (like his distaste of wearing shoes) and his passion for literature and art. When Dante and Ari meet, Ari is cut off from others. His parents won’t talk about the details of his older brother’s incarceration, and his father is still fighting his demons stemming from his time fighting in Vietnam. He has no real friends. Dante’s openness and delight in the simple pleasures in life helps Ari break out of his self-enforced wall, ostensibly to hide his confusing emotions.

Sáenz packs in so much emotion in such simple and spare dialogue that conveys so much. There are no superfluous words; Sáenz’s writing is lean and packs a powerful emotional punch.

TEACHING TIPS: I would recommend this book to anyone – whether teenager or adult – who ever felt different. And that it’s OK to be that way. This is a universal tale. But besides being just a beautiful love story, the book’s themes include dealing with the feelings that come with an incarcerated sibling, a parent with emotional scars from war, and the challenges that come with being gay, male, and Mexican American. This book is for anyone who feels as if there’s not enough compassion in the world.

If librarians and teachers want to try a writing exercise inspired by this book, I would ask teens who have read the book if they can attempt to reproduce Sáenz’s succinct writing style. You can tell them it’s kind of like writing dialogue on Twitter or that it’s very close to poetry. Ask them to communicate as much as they can with as few words as possible.

AUTHOR (DESCRIPTION FROM INDIEBOUND): Benjamin Alire Sáenz is an American Book Award–winning author of poetry and prose for adults and teens. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was a Printz Honor Book, the Stonewall Award winner, the Pura Belpré Award winner, and won the Lambda Literary Award for Children’s/Young Adult Fiction. Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. His first novel for teens, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, was an ALA Top Ten Book for Young Adults and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His second book for teens, He Forgot to Say Goodbye, won the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, the Southwest Book Award, and was named a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. He teaches creative writing at the University of Texas, El Paso.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe visit your local library or bookstore. Also, check out WorldCat.orgIndieBound.orgGoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Eileenfontenot headshot Fontenot is a recent graduate of Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston. She works at a public library and is interested in community service and working toward social justice. A sci-fi/fantasy fan, Eileen was formerly a newspaper writer and editor.

Praise for Books Deemed Perfect for Reluctant Readers

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

Recently, a few 2015 debut author friends have had their books reviewed as being “good for reluctant readers,” and the question was, “Is this a good thing?” I jumped into that online conversation because I work all day, every day with reluctant readers at my full-time day job as a reading specialist in a large suburban middle school in Connecticut.

First, what is a reluctant reader? It’s a student who can read but chooses not to. They are not illiterate. They are aliterate. When it’s designated silent reading time, they fake read. If a movie has been made, they watch it first. They can get by on quizzes and tests by listening to the teacher and peers talk about the book. Reluctant readers are not unintelligent. Some make it through high school successfully, with good grades, without ever reading a book cover to cover.

For some students, however, a lack of reading for years can affect their fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills. A reluctant reader turns into a struggling reader. The achievement gap between struggling readers and their peers grows as the work becomes more rigorous and academic expectations increase. Across the nation, the students who represent the achievement gap are largely minority students from urban areas.

My school has about 900 students in grades 6-8. The vast majority of students read well above their grade level, so reluctant and/or struggling readers land in my class. Most of my students are Hispanic and almost all of them are either English Language Learners or students who have transferred to our district from nearby cities. The goal is for them not to need reading support. Getting them there can be a challenge because reading is something they do not enjoy.

The school year usually starts like this:

Me: Welcome to class!

Student: I don’t want to be in this class.

Me: How do you know? We haven’t even started yet.

Student: I hate reading.

Me: I know. That’s why you’re here. Everyone here hates to read, except for me, of course. It’ll be fun, I promise.

Student: How can it be fun if all we’re going to do is read?

Me: Well, that’s not all we’re going to do. We might take a break from reading to chit-chat like we are now, but yeah, we’re going to spend a lot of time reading.

Student: And you consider that fun?

Me: I do, and I think you will, too.

Student: Yeah, right. Good luck with that.

I’ve even had a few students cry on the first day of class and tell me they don’t want to be seen in the “stupid” class. I try to convince them it’s the best class in the building, but their discomfort is real and has been with them since they first started learning how to read and didn’t like it or were separated from their peers for extra help. The older they get, the more embarrassing this is. I do validate their feelings and their frustrations, and I equate it with my ongoing struggle with exercise.

I know it’s important, but I don’t like to do it. The longer I don’t do it, the more out of shape I get. If I decide it’s time to change my habits, it might be uncomfortable, even painful, but it will get easier with time. Eventually, I’ll be stronger and healthier. I may never love exercise, but I’ll do it because it’s good for me.

Some of my students are athletes or musicians or are engaged in some activity that requires an ongoing commitment, so they get my analogy. They understand that they may never love to read, but it’s important for their futures.

So, how to start? Me, I’ll start by walking my dog more now that winter is finally over. My students start by picking books they want to read, not books handed to them by a teacher. Some of them don’t even know where to begin. These are not the students who already have a favorite genre or author. Some of them don’t even know how to find a book in the library. All they’ve had is a longstanding feeling that reading is boring.

Enter books perfect for reluctant readers and teachers, booksellers, and librarians–the people who talk up books and place books in students’ hands.

For its annual Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers list, YALSA considers a book’s physical appearance, style, and content. The criteria are meant as suggestions, and they clearly state not all criteria may fit all books. Here are the things they consider when evaluating a book for reluctant readers.

1.  Physical Appearance

  • Cover – catchy, action-oriented, attractive, appealing, good “blurb”
  • Print style – sufficiently large for enjoyable reading
  • Format – appropriate and appealing balance of test and white space
  • Artwork/illustrations – enticing, realistic, demonstrated diversity

2.  Style

  • Clear writing that easily communicates without long convoluted sentences of sophisticated vocabulary
  • Acceptable literary quality and effectiveness of presentation
  • Simple vocabulary but not noticeably controlled

3.  Fiction

  • High interest “hook” in first 10 pages
  • Well-defined characters
  • Sufficient plot to sustain interest
  • Plot lines developed through dialog and action
  •  Familiar themes with emotional appeal for teenagers
  • Believable treatment
  • Single point of view
  • Touches of humor when appropriate
  • Chronological order

4.  Informational Books

  • Technical language acceptable if defined in context
  •  Accuracy
  • Objectivity

18263725In short, books perfect for reluctant readers have an attractive design, hook the reader early, are relatively easy to read, and are written in a way that keeps them reading. So, to the question, Is it a good thing to have my book called “perfect for reluctant readers”? I say, YES! Some of the titles on this year’s list include the Newbery winner The Crossover by Kwame Alexander and the Morris Award winner, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. That two of this year’s top prize winners are also good books for reluctant readers should settle any question about whether books for reluctant readers are somehow “less than” in the literary world.

If anything, I’d argue they achieve something special because book lovers will read just about anything or push through a novel, even if they’re not enjoying it entirely. Reluctant readers, though, are an author’s toughest critic. They will put a book down in a heartbeat if it doesn’t keep their interest. If you can capture a reluctant reader’s interest, that’s saying something. And if that reluctant reader goes on to read another book and then another, well, then I cry teacher tears of joy.

Getting these books into students’ hands is a crucial piece of the puzzle. During one-on-one conferences recently, I asked my students about what they were reading and why they chose it. ALL OF THEM said they chose the book because a teacher or librarian recommended it.

Wow, reality check time.

If I say, “This is a great book,” students will want to read it. Seems obvious, right? But, for those of us in this position, please realize the influence we have. We read lots of books as part of our jobs. We stand up in front of students, and we present a handful of books to them through book talks or when they ask for help to find a book. When we do this, they want to read them. The suggestions we make can turn non-readers into readers. This is serious.

So, which books are we recommending? Are we recommending the same books all the time? How diverse are our choices year to year in terms of genre, author, characters, content? Do we think there are girl books and boy books? Do we think there are books for students of color and books for all other students? These are important questions we should be asking ourselves because our answers will determine the books we champion. And the books we champion can become the books students, especially reluctant readers, choose to read.

For the record, here are some of the books my reluctant readers are currently reading and loving:

24048  12987986  17166339  6186357  18225810  Into the Wild (Warriors, #1)  After Tupac and D Foster

Libros Latin@s: Echo

 

22749539By Cecilia Cackley

DESCRIPTION (from Goodreads): Music, magic, and a real-life miracle meld in this genre-defying masterpiece from storytelling maestro Pam Muñoz Ryan.

Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.

Richly imagined and masterfully crafted, Echo pushes the boundaries of genre and form, and shows us what is possible in how we tell stories. The result is an impassioned, uplifting, and virtuosic tour de force that will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck.

MY TWO CENTS: Muñoz Ryan hits a sweet spot of historical fiction combined with a tiny bit of fantasy and a whole lot of heart in this new title. While the three separate narratives might seem overwhelming at first, they are never long-winded and large text and good formatting make things easy on the eyes. Muñoz Ryan introduces the reader to less familiar aspects of well-known historical events: laws regarding children with birth ‘defects’ in 1930’s Germany, conditions for orphans during the Depression in the US, and the segregation of schools in California for children of Mexican descent during World War II. All three main characters are easy to root for and their strength and determination makes happy coincidences and the final destination feel earned rather than magical. That harmonica though…what can I say? The power of music is mighty, a point Muñoz Ryan makes very clear. This is a great choice for middle grade readers, especially fans of historical fiction or stories involving music.

TEACHING TIPS: The historical settings make this a great title to connect to social studies units. It would also be a wonderful classroom read aloud. Teachers could assign groups to compile additional background research on the historical events mentioned in the text or on the harmonica and other musical instruments. Audio recordings would also be a great addition to the experience of the story.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pam Muñoz Ryan has written over thirty books for young people, from picture books for the very young to young adult novels, including the award winning Esperanza Rising, Becoming Naomi Leon, Riding Freedom, Paint the Wind, and The Dreamer. She is the National Education Association’s Author recipient of the Civil and Human Rights Award, the Virginia Hamilton award for Multicultural Literature, and is twice the recipient of the Willa Cather Literary Award for writing. She was born and raised in Bakersfield, California (formerly Pam Bell), received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at San Diego State University and now lives in North San Diego County with her family.

LINKS/OTHER INFO:

SLJ interview

Publisher’s Weekly interview

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

 

Cackley_headshotCecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington DC where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.

Latin@ Heroes of the Planet

by Lila Quintero Weaver

Views on Global WarmingFacts to contemplate and amaze: 1. A high percentage of Latin@s are persuaded that a connection exists between global warming and human activity. 2. A majority of Latin@s feel global warming carries an extreme or very serious potential to affect their lives.

According to the findings of a new poll conducted by The New York Times, in conjunction with Stanford University and Resources for the Future, an environmental research group, “Hispanics are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to view global warming as a problem that affects them personally. It also found that they are more likely to support policies, such as taxes and regulations on greenhouse gas pollution, aimed at curbing it.”

Pew Research PollThe article in the New York Times acknowledges that these findings challenge stereotypes about Latin@s, as well as common assumptions that saving the environment is of concern mostly to white liberals.

So where are the books for kids that highlight this vigorous interest among Latin@s in saving the environment? My answer: they’re not easy to find and it sometimes means digging within tables of contents to discover a chapter or two featuring Latin@s.

Here are a handful of kids’ books sure to inspire a new generation of Latin@ planet saviors. Consider adding them to your Earth Day observations (April 22).

HEROES OF THE ENVIRONMENT: TRUE STORIES OF PEOPLE WHO ARE HELPING TO PROTECT OUR PLANET, by Harriet Heroes of the EnvironmentRohmer

This nonfiction book for grades 4 and up celebrates the environmental triumphs achieved by a dozen unsung heroes of all ages located in various parts of the United States and Mexico. I’m giving it star billing because I feel it deserves wider attention. The environmental challenges the activists take on—from urban gardens to saving caribou—are as diverse as the heroes themselves. Of the twelve, three heroes are Latin@, two are Native American, two are African American, one is Asian American and the remaining four are white. Rohmer relates the story of each person’s activism in a short chapter illustrated with photos and art by Julie McLaughlin.

The determination, innovation and enterprising spirit shown by all twelve heroes is truly inspiring. Here is a brief recounting of one of their stories. Erica Fernandez is a young immigrant from Mexico who learns of plans by an Australian company to build a large processing station for liquefied natural gas near her new hometown in California. If the company’s plans go through, a large, potentially lethal gas line would run directly beneath her community. Using Spanish and broken English, Erica sets out to inform neighbors and elected officials about the grave risks. The outcry of the community eventually reaches the ears of the governor, who nixes plans for the gas line.

In addition to the stories already alluded to, you will also find:

  • A Hopi girl installing solar panels on her reservation
  • A teacher turning the protection of wetlands into a classroom project
  • A man designing a unique bio-digestive sewage-treatment system
  • A boy organizing the safe disposal of old electronics
  • A lucha libre warrior fighting to protect coastlines and waterways
  • A woman taking on the coal company responsible for destructive mountaintop removal in her West Virginia location
  • A Bronx resident turning the problem of construction-site trash into a cooperative business
  • A young woman inventing a device for purifying polluted water
  • A Louisiana woman pressuring an oil company to relocate an entire community victimized by toxic disposal

The quieter message of this book is thrilling to me: that anyone can make a difference to the health of our planet—people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and economic or educational levels.

Parrots PRPARROTS OVER PUERTO RICO, by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore

This ingeniously illustrated picture book about a parrot species brought to the brink of extinction and the valiant efforts underway to rescue it, has received well-deserved acclaim. The story of Puerto Rico’s iguaca parrots demonstrates the vulnerability of all biological species, especially to the encroachment of human activity. Over the course of centuries, natural enemies preyed on the iguaca’s nests and hurricanes damaged their forest habitats, but it was humans who posed the biggest threat, primarily by trapping the birds and destroying their nesting sites. In 1968, when the iguaca population stood at less than thirty, Puerto Ricans jumped into action to save the birds. Thanks to their efforts, iguaca parrots’ numbers are on the rise again. An afterword provides further details on the Parrot Recovery Program.

SAVING BIRDS: HEROES AROUND THE WORLD, by Peter Salmansohn and Peter W. KressSaving Birds

This book teaches young readers about preservation efforts on behalf of endangered birds in six locations around the world. One chapter focuses on a Latin American bird of legend, the quetzal. Like many animals of exceptional beauty, the quetzal has been exploited and poached. Furthermore, its habitat in Central America’s cloud forests is under threat by human activity, including deforestation and fires. Two men employed by a natural reserve in Chiapas, Mexico, called El Triunfo, set out to address the educational gaps surrounding the quetzal. Using puppet shows and books, they have recruited the support of children in villages throughout the region, teaching them to prize the quetzal and its forest home.

LUZ MAKES A SPLASH, by Claudia Dávila

Luz Makes a SplashHow can young readers learn about something as abstract as water conservation? This graphic novel for elementary grades introduces wise water-usage in a kid-friendly package. It’s part of a two-book series called The Future According to Luz. The companion book is entitled Luz Sees the Light. Luz Makes a Splash is built around an eponymous character and a community of friends and family whose lives are affected in multiple ways by scorching temperatures and drought conditions. Gardens are drying up. So is a city park and Luz’s favorite spring-fed pond. It turns out that a nearby soft-drink company is tapping groundwater to manufacture its cola products, and this contributes to the pond’s receding water level. A group of citizens mobilizes to address the problem. Meanwhile, Luz learns about rain barrels and a natural system for filtering household water used for cooking and washing (gray water). One of the story’s characters converts his sod lawn into a rock garden built around indigenous plants capable of thriving in drought conditions.

The author-illustrator of Luz Makes a Splash is Chilean-Canadian. She has made her energetic, intelligent and community-minded main character a Latina. Ethnic identity doesn’t figure into the story, but what a nice way to counteract stereotypes of Latin@s.

This is a book with a message. Some readers will find fault with its didactic approach and the fact that the characters are not given a broader story, but taken as a teaching tool, it delivers solid information that can be used to launch explorations into drought, government-enforced water restrictions, and smart solutions for reducing water waste and keeping gardens green during low-water conditions.

*****

The focus of this post is Latin@ activism for earth-friendly causes, but a growing number of works on the Latin@ kid lit bookshelf celebrate the planet.

final Silver People cover-1Margarita Engle can be counted on to inject nature, naturalists, biodiversity, and environmental conservation in nearly all her books and has received recognition for her stand on these issues. Recently, Green Earth Book Awards shortlisted Silver People for its 2015 honors. Congratulations, Margarita!

 

 

 

 

 

Two of Margarita’s 2015 releases embrace the wonders of nature.

Orangutanka   Sky Painter

For more Earth Day-friendly books with Latin@ connections, check out these additional selections:

Animals Iguazy   River Loves Me      My Brother Needs a Boa   desert-is-my-mother

Need classroom resources related to the field of environmental activism?

Click here for information on The Américas Latino Eco Festival. Don’t overlook Mujeres de la Tierra, an inspiring group of activists located in California.

For additional insights on the environmental heroes and projects featured in this post, check out these resources:

Omar Freilla is a New Yorker who appears in Heroes of the Environment. Here’s an article about his work.

Erica Fernanadez is another of the true-life characters in Heroes of the Environment. Here’s a video about her campaign for a cleaner environment:

As a follow up on Saving Birds, don’t miss this spectacular video of quetzals caring for their young.

And for young children, don’t forget Dora the Explorer’s cousin Diego, a passionate advocate for the environment!