Reviewed by Marianne Snow
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK (from Arte Público Press): Francisco looks out his bedroom window and thinks about his home back in El Salvador. He misses his friends and playing in the village’s park. He wants to fly a kite near his new home in the U.S., but his mother can’t afford one.
“If Mamá can’t buy me a kite, maybe I can make one,” he thinks. Picking up a bag, Francisco leaves the apartment in search of treasures that he can use for his project. He finds purple cellophane, a pile of string and a broken model airplane. In his apartment building’s recycling area, Francisco discovers other useful items that people have thrown away. He can’t wait to spread out all the goodies and start building his very own cometa!
Soon Francisco is testing his creation in Sunnydale Park. He makes it fly up and down, spin in the air, even make loops! The colorful toy catches the attention of a man who runs a recycled goods store. He wants to sell Francisco’s kites in his shop! But can Francisco really find enough material to make them? And will he be able to deliver them in time?
MY TWO CENTS: I love how Alicia Klepeis so deftly and unassumingly weaves together a variety of topics in this dual language book. With themes like homesickness, immigration, recycling, ingenuity, and family, Francisco’s Kites might easily become cluttered or scattered, but it’s not. Instead, it’s a simple story about a boy who creatively channels his past experiences – flying kites in his former home in El Salvador – to establish himself in windy Chicago, spend quality time with his mom, meet new people, and work on saving the earth. Readers will enjoy following the inventive Francisco, learning about kites, and maybe even picking up some information about Salvadoran food (pupusas – yum!). Meanwhile, Gary Undercuffler’s charmingly retro – but still fresh, clean, and colorful – illustrations add to the airy, buoyant tone of the book.
Another perk of this book is its message about recycling, which is delivered clearly without being heavy-handed. As they observe Francisco resourcefully collecting trash and other used objects to make kites, readers will learn about repurposing, a recycling strategy that anyone can try. These days, we know about the benefits of recycling, and no doubt children constantly hear about it at school. But many neighborhoods, towns, and even larger cities don’t have accessible, user-friendly services and resources like curbside pickup or community recycling bins. If kids don’t have access to these services at home, it’s important for them to learn about other options – like repurposing, which can provide them with fun, easy ways to help the earth and feel like they’re making a difference. When young readers pick up a book like Francisco’s Kites, who knows how they’ll be inspired?
TEACHING TIPS: Teachers who want to foster their students’ interests in recycling can use Francisco’s Kites as a platform for a hands-on, interdisciplinary learning unit. In addition to this book, teachers can share other texts about recycling of various genres and formats (non-fiction, poetry, news articles, videos), and students can discuss how repurposing used materials can not only prevent waste from piling up in landfills, but also help people save money as they reuse instead of buying new. Next comes collecting used materials – either at home or at school – and turning them into some kind of magnificent art project.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): I arrived on this planet on a fall day in 1971. My mom delivered me at a big hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. She stayed home with me until I went to school. My dad was a 5th and 6th grade teacher. I spent my entire childhood in Woburn, Massachusetts on a quiet dead-end road. An only child, I was somewhat of a bookworm. I was always a bit nervous about school and spent a lot of my time doing homework until I graduated from college.
Right after I finished college, I got an internship at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. I loved that job for many reasons. The work was interesting, I got to go to great films and concerts nearly every week and… I met my husband (a fellow intern) there. We’ve been married nearly 20 years now. When my internship ended, I started graduate school to become a teacher. I taught middle school geography for several years in Massachusetts. Then I moved to upstate New York and stayed home with my three children for about ten years before becoming a writer. I now write almost full-time for kids and plan to do that for as long as possible. I love this job!
Marianne Snow is a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, where she researches Latin@ picture books, representations of Latin@ people in nonfiction children’s texts, and library services for Spanish-speaking children and families. Before moving to Georgia, she taught Pre-K and Kindergarten in her home state of Texas and got her master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at Texas A&M University. In her spare time, she enjoys obnoxiously pining for Texas, exploring Georgia, re-learning Spanish, and blogging at Critical Children’s Lit.