Book Review: My Shoes and I: Crossing Three Borders by René Colato Laínez, illus by Fabricio Vanden Broeck

 

Review by Sanjuana Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Young René’s mother has sent him a new pair of shoes from the United States. He loves his new shoes. “They walk everywhere I walk. They jump every time I jump. They run as fast as me. We always cross the finish line at the same time.”

René—with his new shoes—and his father set off on the long journey to meet his mother in the United States. He says goodbye to his friends in El Salvador, and “Uno, dos, tres, my shoes and I are ready to go.” The trip is difficult. They take buses and walk across El Salvador, into Guatemala and then into Mexico. His brand-new shoes lose their shine, turning dirty and gray. They become elephants, pushing against the wind; race cars, fleeing hungry dogs; swim shoes, escaping floods; and submarines, navigating through sticky mud. When holes appear on the soles of his shoes, his father won’t let him give up. “René, my strong boy, we want to be with Mamá.”

Sharing his own experiences, René Colato Laínez’s moving bilingual picture book brings to life the experiences of many young children who make the arduous journey from Central America to the United States in search of a better life.

MY TWO CENTS: This picture book was inspired by the author’s own journey as a child. This book is very similar to his book My Shoes and I (2010), but different in that it is a bilingual book and is the author’s journey as he crossed borders as a child. The English text in this book has been modified, and the Spanish version has been added. The text is simpler and intended for young readers. The book begins when, for Christmas, René receives a pair of shoes from his mother, who lives in the U.S. The book details the journey that René and his father take by focusing on what the shoes go through in traveling across three countries.

The book does not overtly describe the dangers in crossing borders, but there are some instances where hardships are described. One example of this is when René describes having to live in a dark trailer because his father loses his wallet in Mexico City. Another example is when they are crossing the Mexico/U.S. border and René states that the water comes up to this stomach and then to his shoulders. René and his father travel through El Salvador, Mexico, and finally cross the border into the U.S. where his mother is waiting.

The focus on the shoes throughout the book allows the author to tell about the journey, but not go into the arduous, dangerous details. The resiliency of the young boy is shown throughout the book as he continues his journey to be with his mother. In one case, Papá encourages him, “René, my strong boy, we want to be with Mamá. We won’t give up” (n.p.).

This book would be a great addition to a classroom unit about immigration. It specifically focuses on the border crossings and the long journey that families embark on to search for a new life. The book also addresses the desire that families have to be together and the dangers that families endure in search of a better life. The reprint of this book is timely as immigration, border crossings, and the journeys that children embark on continue to be scarce in children’s literature.

The author’s note at the end of the book tells the reader that this story is actually based on his life. René Colato Laínez shares some of the details that inspired him to write the book, such as the fact that this mother sent him a pair of shoes for his journey. The author also shares that, along with his father, they had to leave El Salvador due to the civil war in that country. At the end, René shares that he wrote this book to “tell readers about the hard journey that immigrant children and families face. They are escaping from violence and crime. Their journey is not a choice but a necessity to look for a better place, where they can accomplish their dreams”

INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR: I reached out to the author via social media to see if he would answer some questions about the book. Here are René’s responses to my questions:

This book is very similar to your wonderful book My Shoes and I. How is this one different?

René: My Shoes and I: Crossing Three Borders/ Mis zapatos y yo: Cruzando tres fronteras is a new edition of My Shoes and I. For this edition, the English text has been modified to have a bilingual version. The original text was longer, and, in order to have the English and the Spanish text on the same page, I did some edits. In My Shoes and I, the name of the boy is Mario. In this bilingual edition, I could use my name. The name of the protagonist is René.

Why is it important for you to tell your story?

René: Many children cross borders around the world everyday. They are escaping war, crime, or violence. It is hard to leave a country and your loved ones. As an author who had to cross borders, I want to give voice to the voiceless. I also want to tell readers that their journey is not a choice, but a necessity.

Many teachers shy away from having discussions focused on what are perceived as “difficult” topics. Why is it important for teachers to discuss issues such as immigration in the classroom?

René: In the news, children watch about numbers and politics, but they also need to know about real experiences. I think that children’s books are great for children to see what is beyond their windows and horizons. By telling children about immigration and other hard topics, we can build empathy in our children.

Please share anything else that you would like others to know about your new book?

René: I am so happy that this book is back in print and now it is bilingual. I hope that this book can touch the hearts of many readers.

RESOURCES: 

Teachers can visit the website below for information about the book

https://myshoesandi.weebly.com

PictureABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his website): I am René Colato Laínez, the Salvadoran award winning author of many bilingual/ multicultural children’s books. I have  a master’s degree from  Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for  Children & Young  Adults.

My goal as a writer is to produce good multicultural children’s literature; stories where minority children are portrayed in a positive way, where they can see themselves as heroes, and where they can dream and have hopes for the future. I want to write authentic stories of Latin American children living in the United States. Do you want to know more about me? Please read my long biography.

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Sanjuana C. Rodriguez is an Assistant Professor of Literacy and Reading Education in the Elementary and Early Childhood Department at Kennesaw State University. Her research interests include the early literacy development of culturally and linguistically diverse students, early writing development, literacy development of students who are emergent bilinguals, and Latinx children’s literature. She has published in journals such as Journal of Language and Literacy Education, Language Arts, and Language Arts Journal of Michigan.

Latinxs in Kid Lit at the Library: Interview with Librarian Yesenia Villar-Villalobos

 

By Sujei Lugo

The Latinxs in Kid Lit at the Library series is an occasional feature of this blog, featuring interviews with children’s library workers. In these interviews, we highlight the work librarians do for Latinx children’s literature, especially in libraries that serve Latinx communities. In case you’d like to catch up on previous posts, you can find links to them below this article. 

In this new entry, we talk with Yesenia Villar-Villalobos, a Mexican-American children’s librarian in Los Angeles, California.

Sujei: Tell us a bit about your background and identity.

Yesenia: I’m a first-generation Mexican-American, born and raised in East Los Angeles, California. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, and raised seven children on menial salaries. While I grew up in poverty, I was nearly an adult before I began to realize the true disparity of resources and opportunities that existed among my high school peers. However, what my parents couldn’t provide for me materially was far less significant than the perseverance and resilience they modeled while struggling to cover the family’s most basic of necessities. In fact, on my path to higher education I lacked an academic role model. Yet, my parents instilled in me what I truly needed: a willingness to endure hardship and uncertainty in order to achieve a goal.

Growing up in East Los Angeles, I never placed much emphasis on my ethnic identity.  Everyone around me was Latinx, mostly Mexican, so it wasn’t something I felt the need to address. However, now that I have entered the library world and function as a minority among my colleagues, I recognize the significance of my identity. I encompass a degree of cultural competency and lived experience that many of my colleagues do not. Because of this, I strive diligently to model cultural competency and advocate for more equitable services to Latinxs.

Sujei: What’s your current position, which type of library do you work in, and what is the demographic of the community?

Yesenia: I’m currently the children’s librarian for the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) at the Robert Louis Stevenson Branch Library in Boyle Heights. According to 2010 U.S. Census data, our community is 97.7% Hispanic or Latino, 86.5% of which are Mexican. Of the adults ages 25 and over, 38.6% have less than a 9th-grade education. It’s a highly dense working-class community with 71.1% of renter-occupied housing and also of large family sizes, with 14.8% of homes occupied by seven or more residents. The median income is $37,472, and the median income for families is $38,632, an alarmingly low figure considering how large families are.

Sujei: The librarians we’ve interviewed for this series often highlight their childhood reading experiences, including the impact of public libraries. What were your experiences like? 

Yesenia: Books were not something we had in our home. From a young age I developed a love of reading, but I never had the resources to explore books at home. Repeatedly, I would find myself reading cereal boxes, shampoo bottles, and the weekly church flyer. Once, in first grade, I sneaked a textbook out of class and read it cover-to-cover at home before discreetly returning it to the classroom. 

I wasn’t introduced to public libraries until sixth grade when a homework assignment required me to venture to my local public library. Neither my dad nor I had any knowledge about how a public library functioned or what resources were available there. At that time, the library-card application required a social security number. As an undocumented person who had been deported on multiple occasions in his early years in the U.S., my dad initially refused to fill out the application. But I begged and pleaded with him to get me a library card, and he finally gave in. 

That public library card remained unused until eighth grade, when I was sent to the counselor’s office for turning in a book report on a preschool-level book. Back then, the only book I had access to was Captain Kitty by Godfrey Lynn and Elizabeth Webbe, which I had bought at a yard sale for 10 cents. The counselor decided that since I frequently completed in-class assignments early, I would be allowed to visit the school library during class time. I had attended this school for nearly four years, and this was the first time I’d realized we had a library. That’s where I picked up a copy of Blubber by Judy Blume, because that was what a classmate was reading.

I never looked back. I read every book by Judy Blume in our school library. Then I started sneaking out of the house to visit the public library. I would take my backpack, check out as many Judy Blume books as I could fit in it, and then sneak back into my house. I devoured book after book in secret. I went to a third library in search of more Judy Blume books, but then realized I had read them all. I was devastated. At that time, I didn’t know librarians existed. I didn’t know I could ask questions or seek suggestions. I simply roamed the library aimlessly. Fortunately, I continued to find books to enjoy and became a lifelong reader.

Sujei: How can public libraries be more welcoming and engaging for Latinx immigrant families?

Yesenia: Cultural competency is severely lacking in library services. This is not something that can be taught in a single class or workshop, or through training. It takes ongoing effort to learn the customs of a community and find effective ways to communicate with them. This goes beyond speaking the same language. It requires attention to the dialect they use, the interests they share, and their spoken and unspoken needs. For example, when librarians translate materials at our branch, we involve the entire staff to ensure that the translations reflect the languages our patrons use. Spanish translations are plentiful—and there are so many ways to say the same phrase—but is that the phrase our patrons use?

Being relatable is key to extending a welcoming environment. When a branch is located in a community predominated by immigrants, we have to adopt the framework that public libraries may be a foreign concept for some patrons. As librarians, we are fully aware of the power a library offers toward improving the living standards of a community. But if the community is unaware, or worse, fearful of stepping inside the confines of a government building, what good does it serve? 

This is why I practice a type of guerrilla outreach, placing myself in situations outside the library where Latinxs congregate. I provide information in a visually appealing, linguistically relevant, and non-threatening format. I approach people face-to-face and leave myself open to questions. I don’t over-hype our services, since I’m fully aware of our limitations, but I do offer information in a way that entices the community to at least walk into the building. Additionally, I sometimes conduct programming outdoors, as an outreach tool to emphasize that the library is here to serve everybody, and that everybody is welcome. 

The programs I conduct are meant to involve the entire family. Because of large family sizes and limited access to childcare, I envision the entire family working as a unit to create, assemble, and invent. For example, a program I created three years ago using do-it-yourself slime continues to be my most popular family program. It regularly attracts from 100-200 participants. By using inexpensive household items, we allow kids, teens, parents, and even grandparents to engage in hands-on science and create their own toys in an incredibly fun manner.

Sujei: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a Latinx woman pursuing a career in children’s librarianship?

Yesenia: Some common themes that my Latina colleagues and I encounter are a lack of resources, limited cultural expectations, and the lack of representation. 

Let’s start with education. Even though I performed well during my entire K-12 schooling, I never considered college as an option, since I never imagined it financially possible. I began working at the age of 15, and by the time I was 18, I held the position of assistant manager at a retail store. I was earning a salary comparable to that of my parents, but was bored. I went to my local community college and inquired about taking classes. At the time, I had no intention of pursuing a degree, but simply wanted to continue learning. One day when I asked my mom for a ride to school, she asked, “ What are you going to school for? You’re pretty enough to get married.” This was the first time I realized the cultural expectations that my family had for me. Despite my intelligence, I was merely a woman.

After taking the assessment test at the East Los Angeles Community College (ELAC) I got placed in honors classes. While others doubted my capabilities, I began to believe in them. Then, when a financial-aid representative spoke to my honors class about financial aid, higher education started to feel like a more realistic opportunity. While I still hadn’t envisioned a degree as the end goal, I loved to learn and continued to attend school off-and-on while employed full-time. After three years, my counselor notified me that I had enough credits to transfer to a 4-year university for my bachelor’s degree. I had no idea what he was talking about; I had never heard of a bachelor’s degree. But I went home, looked it up in my dictionary and decided I would pursue it. 

Having never considered a profession, I was torn about what to pursue. Teacher? Social worker? Then one morning I woke up and the word “librarian” literally flew out of my mouth! It was so clear, I could see it right in front of my eyes. The library had made such a profound difference in my life. It had opened my eyes to new experiences and opportunities. No doubt my avid reading had improved the writing skills that placed me in the honors class that made going to college a real possibility. As I researched librarianship as a profession, I quickly discovered that it required a master’s degree. It was at that moment that I began to take my academic ambitions seriously. I enrolled in the California State University of Los Angeles (CSULA) with a major in Liberal Studies and a minor in Women’s Studies. I focused my education on the history of minorities in the U.S.— specifically, on the political and socio-economic conditions that hinder minorities from pursuing a higher education. I educated myself about the experiences faced by people like my parents, who are undocumented, under-educated, monolingual, and economically disadvantaged.

When I began library school at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) I was astonished by the lack of diversity. For the first time, my status as a Latina became center stage. Unknowingly, I was one of the few students interested in the information needs of Latinxs. I didn’t apply to UCLA with the intention of becoming an advocate for Latinxs and Spanish-speakers, but this is what developed through my experiences and research interests. Since then, I have encountered mentors that have helped me navigate through the library world and enhance my skills and abilities. While the number of Latinas in librarianship may still be low, I have encountered women who empower and elevate one another other to strive for success.

Sujei: Where does your library acquire Latinx children’s books, bilingual books and Spanish- language books? Which places to get books do you recommend?

Yesenia: Obtaining relevant Spanish literature is a challenge. Spanish publications by Latinx authors often print on such a short run that unless you learn about them immediately, you may lose the opportunity to purchase them for your collection. Additionally, the Latinx community is vast and the vernacular varies from country to country and region to region. In our library system there is a department dedicated to creating the list of Spanish materials available for purchase. We order materials from that list, and never get the opportunity to examine them first. More often than not, we’re unable to read reviews before purchasing. 

I prefer to purchase my Spanish materials in person. In Los Angeles there is a children’s bookstore that sells only materials in Spanish, and which come from countries all over Latin America. It’s called La Librería and it displays books from each country individually. As a librarian, I’m able to select materials in the dialect that best suits my community. In my opinion, this is the greatest children’s bookstore for Spanish materials in Los Angeles, and possibly, California. Although small in size, the selection is so great that I wonder why anyone would buy Spanish books elsewhere. Also, the staff is kind, passionate, and knowledgeable.

Sujei: Your favorite Latinx children’s books? 

Yesenia: I relate to books that reflect my Mexican-American culture. I speak Spanglish, so I prefer to read books that incorporate both English and Spanish. At my bilingual storytimes, in addition to alternating between books written in English and in Spanish, I also read books written in Spanglish. Some of my favorites include Señor Pancho Had a Rancho, written by René Colato Laínez and illustrated by Elwood Smith, and La Princesa and the Pea, written by Susan Middleton Elya and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal.

Explore our other interviews in this series, linked below. AND, if you’re a library worker serving a Latinx community and would like to share your experiences through an interview, we invite you to contact us! 

María F. Estrella, Cleveland Public Library

Angie Manfredi, Los Alamos County Public Library

Crystal Brunelle, Northern Hills Elementary School, Onalaska, Wisconsin 

Patricia Toney, San Francisco Public Library

About the interviewer: Sujei Lugo was born in New Jersey and raised in her parents’ rural hometown in Puerto Rico. She earned her Master’s in Library and Information Science degree from the Graduate School of Information Sciences and Technologies at the University of Puerto Rico and is a doctoral candidate in Library and Information Science at Simmons College, focusing her research on anti-racist children’s librarianship. She has worked as a librarian at the Puerto Rican Collection at the University of Puerto Rico, the Nilita Vientós Gastón House-Library in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the University of Puerto Rico Elementary School Library. Sujei currently works as a children’s librarian at the Boston Public Library. She is a member of REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking), American Library Association, and Association of Library Service to Children. Sujei can also be found on TwitterLetterboxd and Goodreads.

 

 

Book Review: Luca’s Bridge/El puente de Luca by Mariana Llanos, illus by Anna López Real

 

Review by Sanjuana Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: Luca has never lived outside the U.S., but when his parents receive a letter in the mail, the family must pack up and leave home for a strange land. Together in their car, Luca, his brother Paco, and their parents head across the border to Mexico, where his parents were born. Luca doesn’t understand why he must leave the only home he’s ever known, his friends, and his school. He struggles through lonely and disorienting times–reflected both in Real’s delicate, symbolic illustrations and through Llanos’ description of his dreams–and leans on music, memory, and familial love for support. Luca’s Bridge / El puente de Luca is a story for everyone about immigration, deportation, home, and identity.

MY TWO CENTS: Luca lives in the United States with his parents. One day his parents receive a letter in the mail letting them know that they must leave the U.S. The entire family chooses to stay together and they leave the U.S. to go live in Mexico. Luca has a difficult time understanding why they must leave and he thinks about his friends, his school, and how he doesn’t speak Spanish. When he arrives in Mexico, he sees the small house where they will live and he has a difficult time imagining a life there. Luca uses music to help him cope with his new reality. He plays the trumpet and the entire family dances to the music reminding the readers that there is hope in what may appear to be a hopeless situation.

This bilingual picture books is timely considering the anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States and the realities for many families experiencing family separation due to immigration status. It is particularly important because it addresses the situation of many families who are considered to have mixed-family status, meaning that some in the family are authorized to live in the U.S. (typcially children who are U.S. citizens) and others are not (typcially the parent or parents).

The story begins with the family leaving together and the father telling his sons the following: “Mami and I don’t have the papers we need to stay here… we have to go back to Mexico if we want to stay together.” In the picture book, Luca fears what it means to return to a country that he does not know. He thinks about his friends and even wonders what will happen when he returns to his country since he does not speak Spanish. What makes this books particularly special is that allows the reader to have some insight into the emotional toll that immigration takes on children. The illustrations includes hues of gray and speak to the emotions that Luca is feeling. At one point, when Luca is thinking about how he doesn’t speak Spanish, the books states that “Luca sobbed quietly until he ran out of tears.” Another instance of a strong emotion is when Paco, Luca’s older brother, yells, “They don’t want us here,” when their parents received the letter.

This books sheds a light on the decisions that families must make in situations where the parents are not allowed to stay in the U.S. In the case of Luca’s family, the parents decide that they must stay together. This decision allows the family to stay together, but the sadness of leaving the only home that Luca knows is heartbreaking. This is one of the few picture books that addresses the issue of deportation and the strong sentiments that families experience when forced to make decisions that impact the entire family. The books also sheds light on the emotions that children experience when faced with realities of immigration.

The backmatter includes the author’s note that discusses the difficulties of immigration, describes the process of deportation, and the realities of family separation. The author discloses that she is an immigrant and discusses the need to address immigration in a humane way.

RESOURCES:

Toolkit for Educators from Teaching Tolearnce on supporting immigrant families

https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/fall-2018/toolkit-for-this-is-not-a-drill

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Born in Lima, Peru, to two journalists, Mariana Llanos developed an early passion for writing and studied theater in the prestigious CuatroTablas school in Lima. She has lived in Oklahoma since 2002, where she worked as a teacher in a preschool center. In 2013, Mariana self-published her first book, Tristan Wolf, which won a Finalist in the 2013 Readers’ Favorite Book Award. Since then, she has published seven books independently in English and Spanish and through virtual technology has chatted with students from more than 150 schools around the world to promote literacy.

 

Anna Lopez photo 2ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Anna López Real is a freelance illustrator born in Guadalajara, Mexico. She spent her early years in a small town with a big lake, in a
bilingual home full of books, movies, diverse music and art. She has a degree Graphic Design from Universidad de Guadalajara. Since she was young, she has needed to feel colors, shadows, textures, and shapes with her own hands, which inspired her to use
traditional techniques. She is also the co-founder of a local stationary company. Her favorite place is the beach, and she loves to read and hang out with her family and her cats and dogs. She is passionate about human rights, animal rights and has a great
love for nature.

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Sanjuana C. Rodriguez is an Assistant Professor of Literacy and Reading Education in the Elementary and Early Childhood Department at Kennesaw State University. Her research interests include the early literacy development of culturally and linguistically diverse students, early writing development, literacy development of students who are emergent bilinguals, and Latinx children’s literature. She has published in journals such as Journal of Language and Literacy Education, Language Arts, and Language Arts Journal of Michigan.

 

Cover Reveal: Todos Iguales: Un Corrido de Lemon Grove/All Equal: A Ballad of Lemon Grove by Christy Hale

We are delighted to host the cover reveal for Christy Hale’s picture book, Todos Iguales: Un Corrido de Lemon Grove/All Equal: A Ballad of Lemon Grove, which will be published by Lee & Low Books.

Before we reveal the cover, here is some information about the author-illustrator, taken from her website:

 

Christy HaleAs a young child I resisted the temptation to make marks in books by drawing on a handy little pad of paper. I tore off my “illustrations” and tucked them along side the appropriate writing passage. By age ten I decided to become a writer and illustrator. At this time my best friend and I acted out all the books we loved. A favorite was Harriet the Spy. We dressed up in disguises, lurked around the neighborhood, and took notes of anything interesting we observed. Then we began writing and illustrating our own stories after school.

I have created books as long as I can remember. I studied calligraphy, bookbinding, letterpress and all other means of printing, typography, design, illustration, and desktop publishing.

I received a B.A. in Fine Arts and Masters in Teaching at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, then worked as an art educator for several years. I relocated to New York, earned a B.F.A. in illustration at Pratt Institute, then worked in publishing as a designer and art director. I taught at the Center for Book Arts and as an adjunct professor in the Communication Design department at Pratt Institute—all while beginning my illustration career. I’ve illustrated many books for children and now am writing stories as well.

At the end of 2001 I relocated to Northern California with my husband and daughter. I continue to work as a writer, illustrator, designer, art director, and as an educator—offering programs at museums, schools, libraries, and for staff development. I teach an online course in Writing for Picture Books through the illustration department at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

Now, here is some information about the book from the publisher:

Twelve-year-old Roberto Álvarez loved school. He, his siblings, and neighbors attended the Lemon Grove School in California along with the Anglo children from nearby homes. The children studied and played together as equals.

In the summer of 1930, the Lemon Grove School Board decided to segregate the Mexican American students. The board claimed the children had a “language handicap” and needed to be “Americanized.” When the Mexican families learned of this plan, they refused to let their children enter the new, inferior school that had been erected. They formed a neighborhood committee and sought legal help. Roberto became the plaintiff in a suit filed by the Mexican families. On March 12, 1931, the case of Roberto Álvarez v. the Board of Trustees of the Lemon Grove School District was decided. The judge ruled in favor of the children’s right to equal education, ordering that Roberto and all the other Mexican American students be immediately reinstated in the Lemon Grove School.

This nonfiction bilingual picture book, written in both English and Spanish, tells the empowering story of The Lemon Grove Incident–a major victory in the battle against school segregation, and a testament to the tenacity of an immigrant community and its fight for equal rights.

Finally, here is the cover of Todos Iguales: Un Corrido de Lemon Grove/All Equal: A Ballad of Lemon Grove:

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TODOS IGUALES FC hi res

The book releases August 13, 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

 

A Writer Belongs Everywhere: Stories from a Writing Workshop for Middle School Girls

 

By Tracey T. Flores, Ph.D.

On a hot evening in June, four Latina girls, Rocky, Reyna, Blanca and Elizabeth, entering ninth and tenth grade, and their parents, Valente, Samuel, Alma and Rose, gather at the local university for an evening of drawing, writing and sharing. In the small meeting room, sitting side-by-side at tables, girls and their parents busily sketch, in pencil and crayon, a drawing in response to the question: “Where are you from? / ¿De dónde eres?”

Walking around the room, I notice many different sketches. Rocky sketches a self-portrait of herself with wavy brown hair and blonde highlights. With a blue crayon, her father, Valente, sketches the flag of Honduras. Alma shows her daughter a sketch of the world with México at the center, as Blanca sketches a large brick house with two small girls with braids smiling in front of it. Rose colors the hair on her stick figure black, while her daughter, Elizabeth, draws a girl looking into a small mirror while putting makeup on her face. Samuel finishes his sketch of the U.S. flag and the flag of México, intersecting the shape of a heart between them, while his daughter, Reyna, colors the red tongue of the small dog she has sketched.

Rocky’s self-portrait

As families finish their sketches and begin sharing, the room becomes alive with stories. They share stories of family camping adventures, cherished memories of times spent with abuelitos, inside jokes shared between hermanas and of childhoods growing up in México y Honduras. Listening to each other, they nod in agreement, ask questions and connect through the collective telling and sharing of stories and histories.

Tonight is the first night that these Latina girls and their parents have come together to write and draw stories from their lived experiences. Over the next six weeks, as they participate in Somos Escritores/We are Writers, we will read and discuss a variety of bilingual (English/Spanish) print and digital texts, explore our experiences and histories, and use drawing, writing and oral storytelling as tools for self-expression and self-reflection. Somos Escritores is a writing workshop that brings Latina girls (grades 6-12) and their parents together for the intergenerational exchange of stories and knowledge through drawing, writing and oral storytelling.

After sharing our sketches, we read and discuss two poems, Where I’m From by George Ella Lyon and De Donde Yo Soy by Levi Romero. In these poems, poets explore their histories and describe through vivid language and detail all the people, places, moments and memories that shape who they are and how they walk in the world. These poems serve as an invitation for girls and their parents to further explore their lives while considering the ways their familial, cultural and linguistic histories shape who they are and who they are becoming. Finally, girls and their parents take their drawing to writing, using these poems as inspiration for crafting their own Where I’m From / De Donde Soy Yo poems.

Reyna wrote, “I’m from the family of whom love me very much. I’m from the land of the proud and brave. I’m from who I made myself to be.”

Samuel reads, “I am from a humble family, who lived poor but was rich in love.”

Blanca wrote, “I am from a not so perfect family, but from a family who is perfect in its own way.”

Holding her picture up, Alma shares, “Yo soy de un lugar cerca de la tierra y el amor de la galaxia.”

Alma’s sketch

As a facilitator and writer alongside girls and their parents in Somos Escritores, I have the honor and privilege of bearing witness to their lived experiences through our collective sharing of stories. Their stories welcome me into their lives, allowing me to learn about their experiences and realities in their own words. Through their stories, I learn about who they truly are, as Latinx girls, women and men, what matters most to them and what they envision for their futures.

I learn that Rocky, Reyna, Blanca and Elizabeth are fighting to be seen and heard. They are socially conscious girls who are aware of the negative stereotypes that society places upon them, as Latina girls. Through their actions and words, they are speaking to society in powerfully loud ways by excelling in school, cultivating their many passions and setting goals for their future selves. These girls refuse to be defined by society’s narrow definitions and views of who they are and what they are capable of achieving. Collectively they are working to be the change, the voice that our world needs.

I learn that Valente, Samuel, Alma and Rose are courageous, supportive and loving mothers and fathers. These parents provide their daughters with a solid foundation to pursue their passions and accomplish their goals. They work tirelessly, both on the job and at home, to meet their daughters’ personal, social, and academic needs.

At the close of our first workshop, I ask girls and parents to reflect upon why we must write and share our stories. Each girl and parent writes and shares their reflection, speaking to the importance of hearing different perspectives, realizing they are not alone and learning valuable life lessons. Finally, Valente is the last to share his reflection with the group. He reads, “I have to write because I want to be an example for my daughter and let her know my story and that I’m here.”

Note: Somos Escritores/We Are Writers was imagined from my work alongside my 2nd grade students in family writing workshops. This project is part of my dissertation work and has evolved into a writing workshop for Latina girls (grades 6-12). Twitter: @Las_Escritoras

Tracey T. Flores is an assistant professor of language and literacy in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a former English Language Development (ELD) and English Language Arts (ELA) teacher, working for eight years alongside culturally and linguistically diverse students and families in schools throughout Glendale and Phoenix Arizona. Her research interests include Latina girls’ language and literacy practices, family and community literacies and the writing instruction and development of Latinx youth. Tracey can be reached at: tflores@austin.utexas.edu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Piñata that the Farm Maiden Hung by Samantha R. Vamos, illus. by Sebastià Serra

 

Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: A band of helpful animals joins the farm maiden, a farmer, and a boy in order to make a piñata from scratch and decorate the plaza. But then everyone falls asleep in the warm afternoon sun…

…and no one fills the pinata that the farm maiden hung.

How will they finish in time for the party? And who is the party for?

This bilingual story borrows the familiar structure of “The House that Jack Built” and is a companion title to The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred, a Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book.

MY TWO CENTS: This is a must-have addition to your classroom library and curriculum! It highlights the significance and collaboration in Latinx celebrations, traditions, and community. I am infatuated with this book’s integration of culture and overall style in a familiar story structure from the first book, The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred. The farm maiden and her community members, who include the boy, horse, cat, goose, farmer, and sheep, all partake in sharing their contribution to make the centerpiece of the celebration. In this case, the centerpiece is the piñata. There are other essential pieces to complete the celebration like alebrijes, cascarones, and papel picado. The author does not explicitly tell the reader who this party is for or why, but the characters are enthusiastically working together to get it right!

The author and illustrator, however, give readers a clue into this celebration by placing on the first page a young girl in her room who then walks outside, with the remaining characters peeking out of the house. This is a great stopping point for inferring and predicting before the story begins!

The deliberate shading and bold layers of color accentuate character features and the beauty in the environment as the characters are preparing for a celebration. Throughout the story line, words in Spanish are emphasized in bold print and their definitions are included at the end of the book. Cultural representations include alebrijes (wood carvings), cascarones (confetti in eggshells), and papel picado (tissue paper flags). Characters also share humor and collaboration as they work together to make this moment as special as they can, even when they all take a nap and forget to fill the piñata! No worries, because as they say “Teamwork makes the dream work,” and a dream it sure was! The birthday girl walks in and is surprised by the beautiful, thoughtful setup, but most of all there is an intricate and colorful piñata! The story ends at it should whenever a piñata is in the story- time to hit and break it! Readers are invited to sing along in Spanish and English to La Canción de la Piñata/ The Piñata Song, one that is reminiscent in many Latinx childhood memories.

Overall, I am forever grateful for this, a book that authentically reflects a Latinx culture. While there was an absence of food, except for the cake, it highlighted other parts of the celebration that are just as important. The words in this book brought life to Spanish vocabulary words and to the illustrations that married with the theme of collaboration, teamwork, and love for special moments like birthdays. Most of all, it solidifies the symbolic meaning of the piñata, which is an experience that is meant to be shared with those who bring you joy and happiness.

TEACHING TIPS: Many of these teaching moments can be implemented in a grades K-5 setting, with a focus on the primary grades.

  • The repetitive nature in the text is perfect for reader participation and engagement in read alouds, especially in the early grade levels.
  • Readers can develop their inferring abilities, especially with the illustrations.
  • Focus on building vocabulary, not only focusing on the Spanish words that are introduced but also on verbs and descriptive language.
  • Readers can be invited to learn more about other traditions, centerpieces, and components that are essential in other cultural celebrations.
  • Students can learn to make a piñata!
    • Included at the end of a book, is a step-by-step guide to make a piñata. This pairs well with a lesson on reading the procedural text.
  • This book can also be combined in a unit to compare and contrast story lines and characters. Books in this unit can include The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred, as well as other stories similar to The House that Jack Built. Students can also be invited to write their own story that follows this structure.

 

Image result for samantha r vamosABOUT THE AUTHOR: Samantha R. Vamos is the author of the companion title for this book, The Cazeula That the Farm Maiden Stirred, a Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book. She also wrote Alphabet Boats, Alphabet Trains, and Alphabet Trucks. She lives with her family in California.

Listen to Samantha R. Vamos talk about this book, The Piñata That the Farm Maiden Hung, on her publisher’s podcast.

Link: (https://charlesbridge.blogspot.com/2019/01/charlesbridge-unplugged-19-samantha.html)

 

 

Image result for Sebastiá SerraABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Sebastià Serra is an award-winning artist who has illustrated more than 70 children’s books in Spain, Italy, France, UK, Portugal, Taiwan, Brazil, and the United States. Also, he has worked as a graphic designer for several television shows, family theatre, and many museums and cultural institutions. He lives in Barcelona, Spain.

 

 

 

 

img_0160ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-3 and also teaches an undergraduate college course in Children’s Literature. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never ending “to read” pile