Hip, Hip Hooray, it’s Día’s Birthday!

Feliz Cumple DIA

Look for an upcoming post about the joys of El Día de los Niños/El Día de los Libros. For more information about celebrating Día, visit the American Library Association.

Celebrating Pura Belpré Award Winners: The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan

PuraBelpreAward

The Pura Belpré Awards turns 20 this year! The milestone will be marked on Sunday, June 26, from 1:00-3:00 p.m. during the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. According to the award’s site, the celebration will feature speeches by the 2016 Pura Belpré award-winning authors and illustrators, book signings, light snacks, and entertainment. The event will also feature a silent auction of original artwork by Belpré award-winning illustrators, sales of the new commemorative book The Pura Belpré Award: Twenty Years of Outstanding Latino Children’s Literature, and a presentation by keynote speaker Carmen Agra Deedy

Leading up to the event, we will be highlighting the winners of the narrative and illustration awards. Today’s spotlight is on The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan, winner of the 2011 Pura Belpré Narrative Award. We have already highlighted Esperanza Rising, which won the 2002 Narrative Award.

 

Reviewed by Cecilia Cackley

DESCRIPTION (from Goodreads): Neftali finds beauty and wonder everywhere: in the oily colors of mud puddles; a lost glove, sailing on the wind; the music of birds and language. He loves to collect treasures, daydream, and write–pastimes his authoritarian father thinks are for fools. Against all odds, Neftali prevails against his father’s cruelty and his own crippling shyness to become one of the most widely read poets in the world, Pablo Neruda. This moving story about the birth of an artist is also a celebration of childhood, imagination, and the strength of the creative spirit.

MY TWO CENTS: As an object, The Dreamer has to be one of the most beautiful books ever created. Every detail—the silver on the cover, the words printed in green, the generous white space on each page and the precise, delicate illustrations by Peter Sís—combine to create a stunning work of art, even before you begin reading. I knew the name Pablo Neruda before I read this book, but other than a few poems from Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, I was not all that familiar with the Chilean poet’s life and work. This book is a fantastic introduction. Ryan is clear in her author’s note that The Dreamer is a work of fiction, and yet it seems perfectly plausible that Neftalí, the fictional main character (Neruda was born Neftalí Reyes and created his pen name as a young man), grew up to be the famous poet whose poems are included at the end of the text.

The Dreamer engages all the senses, as Ryan uses onomatopoeia and changing text size to indicate sound and her lush descriptions bring Neftalí and his family to life. Sís alternates between tiny spot drawings that require close scrutiny and sweeping spreads that go right to the edge of the page. The importance that nature holds for Neftalí is reflected in the chapter titles: Rain, Mud, Tree. Some of the most poignant moments come when Neftalí is engaging with the natural world, such as when he hears the chucao bird in the forest and when he tries his best to save a hurt swan in the lagoon. These moments of calm and curiosity are contrasted with his more difficult interactions with people, such as when he stutters to his father and endures abuse from the bully Guillermo. Yet as Neftalí gets older, he finds allies like his Uncle Orlando and his little sister Laurita and eventually has the strength to find ways around his father’s demand that he stop writing poetry. Each chapter ends with an open-ended question, in the same spirit as Neruda’s own question poems that encourages the reader to consider the characters and their choices and actions. Is fire born of words? Or are words born of fire? Where is the heaven of lost stories?

Neruda is said to be the most widely translated and well-known poet, not just in Latin-America but throughout the entire world. With this richly imagined childhood, Ryan celebrates the Latino cultural experience of Neruda and his work. Although fictional, The Dreamer captures Neruda’s spirit of wonder, curiosity and love for the world and inspires young readers to look at their surroundings with a poet’s eyes.

TEACHING TIPS: The Dreamer was published when I was still teaching third grade. I read it aloud to my students, so I can say with confidence that it is a wonderful book to share as a class! This book makes a great read-aloud, as the descriptions and slow pace of the story mean it works better for some readers broken up into smaller pieces. April is Poetry Month, a perfect time to share The Dreamer with students. I used it as the basis for two different poetry lessons, one about Neruda’s odes to objects and one using his Book of Questions poems. The episode from the book with the toy sheep (128-132) is a nice introduction to the importance Neruda placed on everyday objects and several of his odes are reproduced at the end of the book. Students can read these and other odes (or excerpts, as some of them are long) and then either individually or in small groups, write their own odes to objects that they feel are important.

With the question poems, I had students discuss them in small groups and then create a dramatic presentation of their poem in any way they chose. If you want to share more of Neruda’s objects with a class, the Fundación Pablo Neruda in Chile has photos of his houses online to look at. For younger students, Monica Brown’s picture book biography Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People is another good resource for separating fact from fiction. It might be a good idea to begin with Brown’s book as a way of introducing students to Neruda and giving them an overview of his life before starting The Dreamer.

Vocabulary is another good activity for this book and students can find new words or make lists of words they think are especially rich and vivid. The setting of Chile, possibly an unfamiliar country to students, is also an opportunity to make geography connections and students could find Temuco, Puerto Saavedra and Santiago de Chile on a map or GoogleEarth.

From her website

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pam Muñoz Ryan, a New York Times Bestselling author, has written over forty books, including the novels Esperanza Rising, Becoming Naomi León, Riding Freedom, Paint the Wind, The Dreamer, and Echo. She is the author recipient of the National Education Association’s Civil and Human Rights Award, the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award for Multicultural Literature, the Newbery Honor for Children’s Literature, and is twice the recipient of the Pura Belpré Medal and the Willa Cather Award.

Other selected honors include the PEN USA Award, the Américas Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor, and the Orbis Pictus Award. She was born and raised in Bakersfield, California, (formerly Pam Bell) holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from San Diego State University and lives near San Diego with her family.

RESOURCES:

Educator Guide from Vamos a Leer blog: https://teachinglatinamericathroughliterature.wordpress.com/october-2012-the-dreamer/

BookPage interview: https://bookpage.com/interviews/8572-pam-munoz-ryan#.VvNk4KsbRoM

Language Arts Journal of Michigan article: http://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1079&context=lajm

TeachingBooks.net Guest Blog: http://forum.teachingbooks.net/2010/05/guest-blogger-pam-munoz-ryan/

 

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.

Q&A with Author Diana López about NOTHING UP MY SLEEVE

 

By Marianne Snow Campbell

Today we’re very pleased to host a dialogue with Diana López in honor of her newest middle grades novel, Nothing Up My Sleeve, which released on April 19.  This book follows three friends – Dominic, Loop, and Z – as they discover the exciting world of stage magic one summer. It’s equal parts humor, character study, and magic lessons – a fun and fascinating read. After finishing Nothing Up My Sleeve (click here for our book review), I was definitely curious about Diana’s creative process, so I’m very grateful that she was able to answer these questions for me. Enjoy!

I love the backdrop of stage magic in Nothing Up My Sleeve.  What inspired you to explore this topic?

My husband, Gene, inspired me. I wouldn’t know the first thing about magic if it weren’t for him. He’s an aficionado with a great collection of magic books, props, and videos. Over the years, I’ve been a tagalong at magic lectures and conventions, including the TAOM convention that I write about. Magicians are so creative, and if you think about a magic performance, you’ll realize that it’s just another form of storytelling. How could I resist? I had to write this book! And I had so much fun finding magic tricks that resonated with the characters’ personal lives. This is what stories do—give us tools for coping and for celebrating life.

Another important source of inspiration comes from my nephews who turn absolutely everything into a competition. Think about it. Competitions are wonderful for writers because they have a built-in sense of conflict—you’re “fighting” against others but you’re also fighting against yourself as you work to problem-solve or overcome insecurities. In a sense, a competition is a form of story, too.

Also, could you describe your process in creating this book?

I carry a little notebook around and jot down bits of dialogue or names of interesting things. I sometimes take pictures, too. Anything that feels like a good detail for a story. The magic shop, Conjuring Cats, is completely inspired by JCR Magic in San Antonio, for example.

Eventually, I realized that I wanted to write about three boys at a magic competition. But who were they? What kind of magic did they do? What else were they dealing with? To find out, I had to do a lot of exploratory writing, stuff that never gets into the final novel. It’s my way of searching for voices. And with three boys, I needed three voices that were distinct.

Once I had the voice and general sense of where the book was going, I started drafting. I’m not an outliner. I prefer to write, rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite. Stuff gets moved around, deleted, added, and the story eventually works itself out. I know it’s not the most efficient way to write, but for me, it’s the most enjoyable.

What made you decide to use three narratives? How did you go about developing Dominic, Loop and Z?

My previous books follow one character, so using three narratives was a new experience for me. From the beginning, however, it felt like the best approach for this novel. I love competitions—sports, board games, reality shows like Survivor or Amazing Race. It’s fun to root for someone, but often, I find myself rooting for more than one person. Something similar happened when writing this book. I found myself rooting for all three boys, so I wanted to give each of them time on the stage.

Using three perspectives also gave me a chance to explore how different people learn a new skill and perform in front of audiences. I love the unique set of abilities and insecurities that accompany each character. One of my favorite experiences with this book was taking a classic sleight, like the French drop, and seeing how the boys used their personalities to create different versions of this one move.

As for developing the characters, Dominic, Loop, and Z are very loosely based on three of my nephews. I love to eavesdrop on their conversations, and I’ve had plenty of chances to witness how they fight and how they show affection. Writers harvest ideas and voices from their environment, and that’s exactly what I did. I even called my nephews when I was looking for creative insults like “Fungus Foot, Toilet Clogger, Slobber Boy, and Stink Bomb.” Yup, they get total credit for that.

What do you want readers to carry away from Nothing Up My Sleeve and your other middle-grades books, Confetti Girl, Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel, and Choke?

I want them to enjoy the books. Just have fun. It breaks my heart to hear young people (or anyone) complain that books are boring. If I can make people laugh or nod because they recognize a bit of themselves in the story, then I have done my job.

For readers who like to dig a little deeper, I’ve posted some discussion guides on my website. You can find them on the “classroom” page http://www.dianalopezbooks.com/classroom.php . Find a friend and have a book chat. Published books don’t belong to the authors anymore. They belong to the readers.

    

As an author and creative writing professor, you clearly know a thing or two about writing. What kind of advice would you like to give to aspiring young writers out there – especially writers who want to publish books that celebrate diverse experiences and perspectives?

Aspiring writers are probably tired of hearing this, but it bears repeating because it’s so true. The best way to improve your writing is to read, read, read. And if you’re interested in celebrating diverse perspectives, then buy those titles. Do a little research to discover writers from your community, and then support them. We need to let publishers know that there’s a real interest in these books.

The second bit of advice is to pay attention to the world around you. Just read the signs, watch the people at parks or malls, browse the aisles at grocery stores. Examine familiar places as if seeing them for the first time. The diversity is built-in, and these are the details you want to capture in your books.

Since you published your first book, have you seen a change in the quality/quantity of diverse books published?

Yes, there’s an enthusiastic call for diverse books right now. I’m thinking of the We Need Diverse Books Campaign, and I’m seeing more diversity in our award-winners. This makes me very happy.

But, we still have a long way to go. I grew up in a working class, Mexican American family, a group that is still underrepresented. Here is a population statistic from “A Demographic Portrait of Mexican-Origin Hispanics in the United States” by Ana Gonzalez-Barrera and Mark Hugo Lopez: “Mexicans are by far the largest Hispanic-origin population in the U.S., accounting for nearly two-thirds (64%) of the U.S. Hispanic population in 2012.” Two-thirds of the Hispanic population in this country! I haven’t done the research, but I’m curious. If you took all the books published by Latinos in this country, what percentage will be by Mexican Americans?

So, moving in the right direction? Yes. But are we there yet? No. That’s why it’s an exciting time to be a writer and an advocate for diverse books.

Do you have any new book projects in the works?  Can you share anything about these projects?

Right now, I’m working hard to spread the news about NOTHING UP MY SLEEVE. I like to write short stories, too, so I’m using the time between book projects to finish and polish some shorter pieces I’ve been working on.

I was so excited to find out about CentroVictoria!  Tell us about your work there.

Photo credit: Todd Yates

Photo credit: Todd Yates

CentroVictoria is supported by the University of Houston-Victoria, where I work. Its founding director is Dagoberto Gilb, author of BEFORE THE END, AFTER THE BEGINNING. Our goal is to promote Mexican American literature and art. Right now, we’re doing this in two ways. One is the publication of an annual magazine called HUIZACHE. It’s a beautiful magazine, and I highly recommend it for people interested in Latino literature. Please visit our website http://huizachemag.org/ to learn more. The second way we promote the literature is to help educators. Dagoberto and his son, Ricardo Gilb, edited a textbook that was just released by Bedford St. Martin’s. It’s called MEXICAN AMERICAN LITERATURE: A PORTABLE ANTHOLOGY, a great resource for those who want a taste of important works and a sense of how the literature has changed. Dagoberto and Ricardo did a phenomenal job. For my part, I wrote an instructor’s manual full of discussion questions. It’s available as a downloadable pdf file.

To learn more about me, my books, and my work with CentroVictoria, please visit my website at www.dianalopezbooks.com

 

 

MarianneMarianne Snow Campbell is a doctoral student at The University of Georgia, where she researches nonfiction children’s books about Latin@ and Latin American topics and teaches an undergraduate course on children’s literature. Before graduate school, she taught pre-K and Kindergarten in Texas, her home state. She misses teaching, loves critters, and can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Celebrating Pura Belpré Winners: Spotlight on Writer & Illustrator Yuyi Morales

 

PuraBelpreAwardThe Pura Belpré Awards turns 20 this year! The milestone will be marked on Sunday, June 26, from 1:00-3:00 p.m. during the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. According to the award’s site, the celebration will feature speeches by the 2016 Pura Belpré award-winning authors and illustrators, book signings, light snacks, and entertainment. The event will also feature a silent auction of original artwork by Belpré award-winning illustrators, sales of the new commemorative book The Pura Belpré Award: Twenty Years of Outstanding Latino Children’s Literature, and a presentation by keynote speaker Carmen Agra Deedy

Leading up to the event, we will be highlighting the winners of the narrative and illustration awards. Today’s spotlight is on Yuyi Morales, winner of the 2015 Pura Belpré Illustration Award for Viva Frida, the 2014 Illustration Award for Niño Wrestles the World, the 2009 Illustration Award for Just in Case, the 2008 Award for Illustration for Los Gatos Black on Halloween, and the 2004 Illustration Award for Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book.

We have already covered Viva Frida and Niño Wrestles the World. Below, we highlight the others:

 

Reviews by Cecilia Cackley

Descriptions (all from Goodreads): Los Gatos Black on Halloween: Under October’s luna, full and bright, the monsters are throwing a ball in the Haunted Hall. Las brujas come on their broomsticks. Los muertos rise from their coffins to join in the fun. Los esqueletos rattle their bones as they dance through the door. And the scariest creatures of all aren’t even there yet! This lively bilingual Halloween poem introduces young readers to a spooky array of Spanish words that will open their ojos to the chilling delights of the season.

Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book: In this original trickster tale, Señor Calavera arrives unexpectedly at Grandma Beetle’s door. He requests that she leave with him right away. “Just a minute,” Grandma Beetle tells him. She still has one house to sweep, two pots of tea to boil, three pounds of corn to make into tortillas — and that’s just the start! Using both Spanish and English words to tally the party preparations, Grandma Beetle cleverly delays her trip and spends her birthday with a table full of grandchildren and her surprise guest. This spirited tribute to the rich traditions of Mexican culture is the perfect introduction to counting in both English and Spanish. The vivacious illustrations and universal depiction of a family celebration are sure to be adored by young readers everywhere.

Just in Case: Yuyi Morales takes us on a new journey with Señor Calvera, the skeleton from Day of the Dead celebrations. Señor Calvera is worried. He can’t figure out what to give Grandma Beetle for her birthday. Misunderstanding the advice of Zelmiro the Ghost, Señor Calvera decides not to get her one gift, but instead one gift for every letter of the alphabet, just in case. Una Acordéon: An accordion for her to dance to. Bigotes: A mustache because she has none. Cosquillas: Tickles to make her laugh… only to find out at the end of the alphabet that the best gift of all is seeing her friends.

MY TWO CENTS: First of all, I want to take a moment and talk about just how much of a force Yuyi Morales is in picture book illustration. She has won a third of the 15 Pura Belpré Medals for illustration that have been awarded since 1996. In addition, she has won two illustration honors and one narrative honor, bringing her total to eight awards, nearly twice as many as any other artist and all since 2004. That is a huge achievement, and a testament to the vision, craft, and beauty that Morales puts into her work. There is no one quite like her working in picture books today.

All three of these picture books feature Morales’ acrylic paintings, with touches of the mixed-media that has become more prominent in her recent work. Each also has a fantastical element, from the various monster creatures in Los Gatos Black on Halloween to Señor Calavera in Just a Minute and Just in Case.

In Los Gatos Black on Halloween, the colors are layered, allowing some characters to be visible through the transparent ghosts and building up as more and more ghostly characters join what eventually becomes the monster ball in an old abandoned house. The color palette is dark and rich, contrasting the glowing moon and night sky with colored tombstones and the interior of the old mansion. Morales plays with scale and perspective to lend an otherworldly look to the spreads; sometimes we only see a pair of legs dangling over a broomstick or the round face of a ghost as its tail extends right off the page.

 

 

 

The colors in Just a Minute are brighter and the spreads less crowded than Los Gatos Black on Halloween, but the story they tell is just as dynamic. This was Morales’ first project as both author and artist, and she keeps the story moving at a fast pace as Grandma goes from cleaning to cooking, to decorating. Subtle touches of color make Señor Calavera a less scary figure for the youngest readers, including the flowers for eyeballs and the expressive mouth that finally turns into a smile. As befits a heroine who is using action to delay Señor Calavera, Grandma Beetle’s poses are precise and sharp, whether she is placing cheese in a frying pan or leaning over to put pots in the oven. Grandma’s eyes and face express her cleverness and care as she watches Señor Calavera from across the room or gives a wink while chopping up fruit. Perspective shifts reinforce the upside-down nature of this story; the floor of Grandma’s house seems to tilt as we first see Señor Calavera in close-up, peeking over her shoulder and then far away in the corner of the room, stamping his foot in frustration. The little cat’s reactions to Señor Calavera are a humorous touch, and readers will enjoy finding it on each spread, looking curious, tentative or scared, depending on the page. Readers will love the final note left by Señor Calavera and cheer for Grandma Beetle, who was so resourceful in buying herself a little more time on Earth.

Morales brings more texture and mixed media to the illustrations in Just in Case, her second effort as both author and artist. Perhaps because most of the action in the book takes place in the cemetery, rather than in Grandma’s house, the backgrounds are looser and the characters float around on the page. The new character Zelmiro the ghost blends in with the background color on each spread as he advises Señor Calavera on what to give Grandma Beetle for her birthday. The list of presents grows with the alphabet, and Morales keeps things interesting by not just including objects such as the accordion but also actions such as cosquillas (tickles) and natural phenomena like niebla (fog). One of my favorite things about this book is that it follows the Spanish, rather than the English alphabet, including letters I learned as a child, like ‘Ch’, ‘Ll’ and ‘Ñ’. Depending on where you are in the Spanish-speaking world, ‘ch’ and ‘ll’ aren’t taught as separate letters anymore, so it was nice to see them here! Some of the presents are words commonly taught in Spanish classes, such as ‘escalera’ or ‘semilla,’ but others are more colloquial and region-specific like ‘granizado’ and ‘ombligo.’ The specificity in both language and image are lovely. Careful readers will note that the historieta (comic book) that Señor Calavera gives Grandma is a handmade version of Morales’ earlier book Just a Minute and will also find the reason for the spectacular bicycle crash that ruins all the presents.

From ghosts to skeletons to grandmothers cooking elaborate birthday feasts, these three picture books showcase Morales’ talents at depicting both the light and dark in Latino culture.

TEACHING TIPS: Los Gatos Black on Halloween is a wonderful choice for a storytime, especially events connected to the holiday. Both Just a Minute and Just in Case are also perfect for reading aloud, as well as excellent teaching tools for counting and the alphabet. Morales has various activities for mask and puppet making on her website and the actions of Just a Minute in particular are perfect for acting out with younger readers. Just in Case is an excellent mentor text for classes working on writing their own culture-specific alphabet books. Just a Minute could also be used as a writing tool, with students inventing their own ways of making Death wait just a little longer.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Yuyi Morales
is a Mexican author, illustrator, artist, and puppet maker. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Physical Education from the University of Xalapa, México and used to host her own Spanish-language radio program for children in San Francisco, California.She has won numerous awards for her children’s books, including the Caldecott Honor for Viva Frida, Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award for Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book (2004) and Los Gatos Black on Halloween (2008), the Pura Belpré Author Honor for Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book (2009), the Pura Belpré Illustrator Award for Viva Frida (2015), Niño Wrestles the World (2014) Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book (2004), Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book (2009) and Los Gatos Black on Halloween (2008), and Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor for My Abuelita (2010) and Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez (2004). Morales divides her time between the San Francisco area and Veracruz, Mexico. Her next picture book, Thunder Boy Jr. (written by Sherman Alexie), will be published in May 2016.

RESOURCES:

Activities with Señor Calavera on Morales’ website: http://www.yuyimorales.com/muerte.htm

Teacher’s Guide from Chronicle: http://www.chroniclebooks.com/landing-pages/pdfs/Just_A_min.pdf

Americas Award resources: http://www.lindakreft.com/Americas/pdf/voices_minute.pdf

Elementary lesson on culture using Just in Case: http://team33culture.weebly.com/uploads/8/9/8/4/8984769/lesson_plan.pdf

Vamos a Leer blog on Los Gatos Black on Halloween: https://teachinglatinamericathroughliterature.wordpress.com/2014/10/22/en-la-clase-los-gatos-black-on-halloween-2/

Recent PW interview: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-authors/article/63359-yuyi-morales.html

And as a bonus, here is a video from Yuyi about why she loves picture books:

 

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.

Celebrate Earth Day By Reading Kid Lit Books As An Ecocritic

 

By Marianne Snow Campbell

Earth Day is here again!  It’s a time to honor the natural world that surrounds us, consider how we can take better care of the environment, and take action keep our planet healthy and beautiful. In schools, many teachers and students will join together to read and discuss books with environmentalist lessons – The Lorax, The Great Kapok Tree, a variety of picture books about recycling and picking up litter. Last year, Lila Quintero Weaver shared a beautiful post about books celebrating “Latin@ Heroes of the Planet” and other “Earth Day-friendly books with Latin@ connections.” I love the strong messages that these texts carry and believe that they should play a prominent role in educating children about conservation and ecology.

However, reading literature with overt lessons about the earth isn’t the only method for learning about environmentalism. There’s another, somewhat subtler, approach – ecocriticism. Ecocriticism is a form of literary analysis that investigates how literature depicts nature and, ideally, inspires readers to take action to keep the natural environment healthy. But it’s not just for literature scholars – kids of all ages can be ecocritics, too!

To start an ecocritical analysis, choose a book that depicts nature but isn’t about ecological themes like conservation, recycling, and saving the earth.  For example, I like to use Maya Christina González’s Call Me Tree / Llámame árbol, a poetic, bilingual picture book that celebrates the strength and beauty of trees, as well as humans’ connections with these majestic plants.

Throughout the book, the narrator, a child, embodies nature by pretending to be a tree. They begin as a seed nestled in the earth. Slowly, they sprout from the earth and stretch toward the sky, just like a young sapling. As the child/tree grows, they are joined by other children, who also identify as diverse, strong, leafy forest residents:

“Trees!

More and more trees

Trees and trees

Just like me!

 

¡Árboles!

Más y más árboles

Árboles y árboles

¡Iguales a mí!”

 

To explore a book like Call Me Tree / Llámame árbol with an ecocritical lens, young readers can ponder questions (adapted from Dobie, 2011) that facilitate thinking about nature and readers’ relationship with the earth:

  • How do the author and illustrator depict nature in this text?
  • What is/are the relationship/s between humans and nature in this text?
  • What does this text tell you about nature?
  • Do you agree with this text’s representation of nature?  Why or why not?
  • Does this text make you want to do something to help the environment?  Why or why not? What do you want to do, and how can you accomplish these goals?

Let’s apply those questions to Call Me Tree / Llámame árbol. When I consider these questions in relation to this book, I’m filled with awe and gratitude for the trees that surround me. I love how González depicts trees and humans as equals. In both the text and the illustrations, she presents children and trees as one and the same; people are trees, and trees are people. Nature isn’t a commodity for us to consume. This representation makes me rethink my responsibility for the environment and how I should treat nature as I want to be treated. Trees care for me by cleaning the air, providing shade, and sharing their beauty, so shouldn’t I do more to care for trees? Even though Call Me Tree isn’t about conservation, it certainly makes me want to do my part to respect and sustain the natural world.

Doing ecocriticism can benefit kids in a variety of ways. By analyzing and evaluating representations of nature in texts, they’ll flex their critical thinking muscles. Moreover, ecocriticism’s blending of environmental science and literary studies can help science lovers get more into literature (and vice versa). Also, readers who enjoy expressing themselves creatively can take ecocritical analysis a step further by creating their own nature poetry, art, music, and drama.

 The best news? There are tons of literature by Latinx and Latin American authors that kids can explore with an ecocritical lens. Below are some great books for readers of all ages that feature various types of nature motifs. (Special thanks to Lila Quintero Weaver, Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, Cindy L. Rodriguez, and Cecilia Cackley for their rich contributions to this list of suggested books!)

 

Picture Books

It’s Our Garden (George Ancona)

Kids get their hands dirty and grow food for their community in this nonfiction tale about a school garden.


Prietita and the Ghost Woman / PRIETITA Y LA LLORONA
(Gloria Anzaldúa, Maya Christina Gonzalez)

Prietita wanders the South Texas woods seeking a medicinal plant for her ailing mother.  What will happen when she meets la Llorona?

 

Domitila y el mar (Nina Basich, Teresa Martínez)

After receiving a postcard from her uncle, who’s vacationing at the beach, Domitila can’t get the sea out of her head. (Text in Spanish.)

Domitila

 

Un pueblo lleno de bestias (Francisco Hinojosa, Manuel Monroy)

A group of overprotected children escape their stifling village and create their own community in the desert. (Text in Spanish.)

 

I Know the River Loves Me / Yo sé que el río me ama (Maya Christina Gonzalez)

Can a child and a river be best friends?  Of course!

 

Talking with Mother Earth / Hablando con Madre Tierra (Jorge Argueta, Lucía Angela Pérez)

In this sumptuous collection of poetry, Argueta explores his childhood connections with the earth.

 

Chavela and the Magic Bubble (Monica Brown, Magaly Morales)

Magical bubble gum takes Chavela back in time to visit a grove of sapodilla trees and the people who harvest their chicle in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

 

Middle Grades Books

Silver People: VOICES OF THE PANAMA CANAL (Margarita Engle)

This collection of poems about the construction of the Panama Canal is narrated not only by humans, but also by animals and plants.

 

The Dreamer (Pam Muñoz Ryan)

As an adult, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda often incorporated nature into his work.  This account follows the young Neruda (born Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto) and his encounters with the natural world.

 

Esperanza Rising (Pam Muñoz Ryan)

Forced off of their wealthy ranch in Mexico, Esperanza and her mother immigrate to California to work the land.

 

Where the Flame Trees Bloom (Alma Flor Ada)

Natural imagery permeates Alma Flor Ada’s stories of her childhood in Cuba.

 

My Ocean: A Novel of Cuba (Enrique Pérez Díaz)

Struggling to understand why friends and family are leaving Cuba for the United States, Enrique seeks solace and comfort in the ocean.

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Young Adult Books

I Will Save You (Matt de la Peña)

The beach plays a central role in this mysterious, psychological novel.

 

The Living (Matt de la Peña)

Earthquakes, tsunamis, and disease give readers a different perspective of nature in this intense thriller.

 

Under the Mesquite (Guadalupe García McCall)

Wrestling with her mother’s cancer diagnosis and the responsibility of caring for her siblings, Lupita seeks refuge and resilience in the shade of a tree.

 

The Vicious Deep (Zoraida Córdova)

Nature meets fantasy!  Tristan has always loved the water – a love that begins to make sense when he discovers that he’s heir to an underwater kingdom.

 

Out of Darkness (Ashley Hope Pérez)

The East Texas woods are a place of safety for Naomi and Wash as they cope with violence and racism.

 

 

MarianneMarianne Snow Campbell is a doctoral student at The University of Georgia, where she researches nonfiction children’s books about Latin@ and Latin American topics and teaches an undergraduate course on children’s literature. Before graduate school, she taught pre-K and Kindergarten in Texas, her home state. She misses teaching, loves critters, and can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Celebrating Pura Belpré Award Winners: Spotlight on Julia Alvarez

 

PuraBelpreAwardThe Pura Belpré Awards turns 20 this year! The milestone will be marked on Sunday, June 26, from 1:00-3:00 p.m. during the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. According to the award’s site, the celebration will feature speeches by the 2016 Pura Belpré award-winning authors and illustrators, book signings, light snacks, and entertainment. The event will also feature a silent auction of original artwork by Belpré award-winning illustrators, sales of the new commemorative book The Pura Belpré Award: Twenty Years of Outstanding Latino Children’s Literature, and a presentation by keynote speaker Carmen Agra Deedy

Leading up to the event, we will be highlighting the winners of the narrative and illustration awards. Today’s spotlight is on Julia Alvarez, the winner of the 2004 Pura Belpré Narrative Award for Before We Were Free and the 2010 Narrative Award for Return to Sender.

Reviews by Cindy L. Rodriguez

BEFORE WE WERE FREE

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: Anita de la Torre never questioned her freedom living in the Dominican Republic. But by her 12th birthday in 1960, most of her relatives have emigrated to the United States, her Tío Toni has disappeared without a trace, and the government’s secret police terrorize her remaining family because of their suspected opposition of el Trujillo’s dictatorship.

Using the strength and courage of her family, Anita must overcome her fears and fly to freedom, leaving all that she once knew behind.

From renowned author Julia Alvarez comes an unforgettable story about adolescence, perseverance, and one girl’s struggle to be free.

MY TWO CENTS: Anyone who has read Julia Alvarez’s adult novels will enjoy the connections made in Before We Were Free to How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies. In Before We Were Free, Alvarez explores the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic through the eyes of Anita de la Torre, a 12-year-old girl in 1960 whose family slowly reduces in number during the novel. Some, like her cousins, the Garcias, flee the country, while others go missing or are arrested. In the beginning, Anita has little knowledge of politics and the underground movement to assassinate Trujillo. In fact, at the start of the novel, Anita looks to El Jefe’s picture at times when she needs strength. She slowly becomes more aware that life under Trujillo has become increasingly dangerous for many, including her own family members who are a part of the movement to kill the dictator.

One moment of shocking clarity comes when Trujillo attends a party and becomes attracted to her fifteen-year-old sister. The family goes into emergency mode and manages to get her sister out of the country before Trujillo can take her in every sense of the word. Anita’s increased understanding leaves her confused and literally shocked into silence. The once-talkative girl slips into silence, at times even forgetting words that were once simple and familiar. When Anita and her mother go into hiding after Trujillo’s assassination, she writes in her diary, but then erases the pages in case the secret police raid the home. She literally cannot say or write anything because of fear. At some point, Anita decides to write and not erase–or be erased. She wants someone to know she existed if she were ever taken away by the police.

Throughout the novel, Alvarez often refers to wings, birds, and flying in connection with the Mirabal sisters, the “Butterflies” who were murdered, and the fight for freedom that continued through Anita’s family and others. Anita not only takes flight from her home, but has to learn how to free herself internally, to spread her wings and fly despite her grief of losing family and everything she considered home.

A masterful storyteller, Alvarez makes a complex political situation accessible to younger readers through Anita, who faces political drama alongside normal 12-year-old milestones, like getting her period and having a first crush. Alvarez also sprinkles the narrative with other issues that she does not delve into deeper, but could be discussion starters for book clubs and students. For example, Anita’s family employs a black, superstitious Haitian maid. While she is loved like family, this dynamic should spark conversation about race and class issues within Latin American countries. Another example is when Anita begins school in New York City. She is placed in the second grade, despite her age, and her teacher calls her “Annie Torres.” This scene is like a one-two punch to the gut and should be examined further. Mental health is another issue touched upon that warrants further discussion. Anita talks about feeling empty and numb, and her mother takes tranquilizers to calm her nerves. The reader gets the idea that living under such conditions and surviving when family members did not will require years of emotional and psychological recovery.

TEACHING TIPS: Before We Were Free is a great option to include in a historical fiction unit in Language Arts or as a fictional option in a Social Studies class learning about different types of governments, Latin America, or under a theme such as “the fight for freedom.” Students often learn about the colonists’ fight against the British, but rarely learn about more recent struggles for democracy in other countries. The relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic could be explored, as well as the ideas mentioned above. Anita’s character development should be traced and analyzed, paying close attention to what triggers each of her changes and what finally prompts her to have the courage to embrace her new life.

RESOURCES:

Review from Vamos a Leer

Educator Guide from Vamos a Leer

Reader’s Guide from Penguin Random House

 

RETURN TO SENDER:

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: After Tyler’s father is injured in a tractor accident, his family is forced to hire migrant Mexican workers to help save their Vermont farm from foreclosure. Tyler isn’t sure what to make of these workers. Are they undocumented? And what about the three daughters, particularly Mari, the oldest, who is proud of her Mexican heritage but also increasingly connected to her American life. Her family lives in constant fear of being discovered by the authorities and sent back to the poverty they left behind in Mexico. Can Tyler and Mari find a way to be friends despite their differences?

In a novel full of hope, but with no easy answers, Julia Alvarez weaves a beautiful and timely story that will stay with readers long after they finish it.

MY TWO CENTS: Although Before We Were Free and Return to Sender are set in different countries, they have similarities. In Return to Sender, Mari and her family are migrant workers on a Vermont dairy farm. She encounters a mix of acceptance and scorn from her classmates, the townspeople, and even Tyler, at first. The chapters are shared between Mari (first person, often written in letters) and Tyler (third person), who reveals that he is confused about being a proud, patriotic American and knowing that his father is breaking the law by hiring undocumented workers. In addition to dealing with the varied reactions of the locals, Mari’s family worries about the whereabouts of her mother, who returned to Mexico but is supposed to be on her way back via a coyote. She has been unreachable, however, for several months. The family is also under constant threat of deportation. Complicating matters, Mari was born in Mexico, while her two younger sisters were born in the United States, which splits their feelings about where is home and how they would feel if they needed to return to Mexico.

Like Anita in Before We Were Free, Mari ends up in hiding and writing in a diary, after a raid by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ends with her parents being arrested. Also like Anita, Mari needs to find her voice and, in her case, she has to find the courage to speak on behalf of her family to government officials. Read together, students could explore the different reasons for immigration, as the families in the two novels come to the United States for different reasons–political asylum versus employment–yet the underlying reason is always the same–more opportunities for their children.

Things that struck me as odd were Mari’s heavy accent (I listened to the audio book), her lack of understanding of English “sayings,” and her fond memories of Mexico, considering she moved to the U.S. when she was 4 and has attended American schools. Based on my experience with ELL students, these details would have made more sense if Mari had been in the U.S. for only a few years, not the majority of her life.

Still, Return to Sender does a great job of offering various viewpoints on immigration and migrant workers on struggling American farms, and I like that Alvarez places her migrant workers in Vermont, where the author lives, as we most often read and hear about migrant workers in border states.

TEACHING TIPS: As mentioned above, students could read both novels and compare/contrast the characters and their experiences, as both face personal, familial, and political challenges. Return to Sender also allows students to learn more about immigration and migrant workers, particularly in New England. The title was taken from a real government operation to find and deport migrant workers, so students can research that particular policy while reading this fictional account. Both books also lend themselves to deep questions about freedom, rights, and who has access to these.

RESOURCES:

Educators guide from Random House

TeachingBooks.net has interviews and several links with more information about Alvarez and her work.

 

Jilia Avaraz receiving a medal from Barack ObamaABOUT THE AUTHOR: Julia Alvarez is an award-winning writer of poetry, essays, and novels and short stories for children and adults. Alvarez was born in New York City, but her family returned to the Dominican Republic when she was three months old. Her family became involved with the underground movement against dictator Rafael Trujillo. They left the country and returned to New York City in 1960. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College and earned her master’s in creative writing from Syracuse University. She is currently the writer in residence at Middle College and runs a sustainable coffee farm/literacy center in the Dominican Republic.

Her novels for adults include How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent, In the Time of Butterflies, iYo!In the Name of Salomé, and Saving the World. Her books for children include How Tía Lola Came to Visit/Stay, Before We Were Free, Finding Miracles, and Return to Sender. Alvarez has won numerous awards for her work, including the Pura Belpré and Américas Awards for her books for young readers, the Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature. In this picture, she is receiving the National Medal of the Arts from the National Endowment of the Arts, presented by President Barack Obama.