Book Review: Somos Como Las Nubes / We Are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta

 

Reviewed by Sanjuana C. Rodriguez, PhD

28957208DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: An eloquent and moving account of the tragic migrations of thousands upon thousands of children who are leaving their homes in Central America, often alone, to seek refuge in the United States. Why are they going and how does it feel to be one of them? What is this terrible trip like? What do their hopes and dreams for safety, a new life and a loving reception mean to them?

A refugee from El Salvador’s war in the eighties, Jorge Argueta was born to explain the distressing choice confronting young Central Americans today who are saying goodbye to everything they know because they fear for their lives.

This book is beautifully illustrated by master artist Alfonso Ruano.

MY TWO CENTS: Somos Como Las Nubes/ We are Like the Clouds is a moving collection of bilingual free verse poems. This is one of the few books that I have encountered about the heartbreaking experiences of children who leave their homes to embark on their journey to the United States. This collection of poetry begins with poetry depicting the experiences and sights of the children’s home countries. The poetry then shifts to the journey that children take to get to the United States. The author includes poems that describe the fears of traveling on La Bestia (a fast moving moving train that many migrants use to travel), discuss being accompanied by “coyotes,” and describe children’s feelings as they cross the deserts.  I’ll share one of the most powerful poems about the journey titled “Las Chinamas”. The word Chinamas refers to the border between El Salvador and Guatemala.

When we crossed

the border at Las Chinamas

I saw the river Paz.

Its water runs smiling

between the rocks.

Here the cenzontles (mockingbirds)

never stop singing.

 

I remembered

our schoolyard,

the gualcalchillas, (small songbirds)

and my teacher

Miss Celia.

 

I remembered my mother,

my brothers,

my sisters.

Who knows

when I will see them again.

I look at the sky

and think,

we are like the clouds.

 

What I loved about this book is that there is message of hope in knowing that children are resilient, but the author does not hold back in depicting the heartbreak that goes along with leaving a home country. The book allows the reader to the experience the treacherous journey to the United States through the eyes and wonder of a child. The pictures in this book are also stunningly beautiful. The pictures depict the children’s home countries, families crossing borders, and children laying on the soft sand in the desert. The final poems in the book offer hope. In the poem “Fear,” a mother tells her child in his dream, “This is not a dream, you are in my arms.” The child has arrived to his destination in Los Angeles.

I shed tears when I read this book. It is heartbreaking and it is a poignant reminder that children are children and that there are difficult decisions that children should not have to make. In my opinion, what makes this book even more powerful is that it is written by Jorge Argueta. The author’s note at the beginning of the book shares Jorge’s own experience of fleeing El Salvador and coming to the United States. He shares his inspiration for writing the book by stating, “Like the clouds, our children come and go. Nothing and no one can stop them”.

TEACHING TIPS: This book is an invitation to learn about the harsh realities that children face when they leave their homes and embark on the difficult journey to the United States. It would be a great addition to any classroom library. It would be an excellent book to add to text sets about immigration or refugees. Teachers can also use this book to teach children about writing through difficult situations. It can also be used to show students how illustrations can enhance poetry as this book is beautifully illustrated.

To find Somos Como Los Nubes / We Are Like the Clouds, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Image result for jorge arguetaABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jorge Tetl Argueta is a celebrated Salvadoran poet and writer whose bi-lingual children’s books have received numerous awards. His poetry has appeared in anthologies and textbooks. He won the America’s Book Award, among other awards for his first collection of poems for children, A Movie in My Pillow. He was the Gold Medal Award winner in the 2005 National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) for Moony Luna/Luna, Lunita Lunera. His other works for children include Xochitl and the Flowers, 2003 America’s Award Commended Title, Trees are Hanging from the SkyZipitioTalking with Mother EarthThe Little Hen in the City and The Fiesta of the Tortillas.

 

Alfonso RuanoABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Alfonso Ruano was born in 1949 in Toledo, Spain. He studied painting at the School of Fine Arts in Madrid. He has published about 20 books for children and has received multiple awards for his work.

 

 

 

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.

Spotlight on Latina Illustrators Part 4: Carolyn Dee Flores, Christina Rodriguez, and Jacqueline Alcántara

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the fourth in a series of posts spotlighting Latina illustrators of picture books. Some of these artists have been creating children’s books for many years, while others will have their first book out this year. They come from many different cultural backgrounds, but all are passionate about connecting with readers through art and story. Please look for their books at bookstores and libraries!

Carolyn Dee Flores

Carolyn Dee Flores grew up around the world and now lives in San Antonio, Texas. She worked as a computer analyst, rock musician and composer prior to becoming an illustrator of children’s books. She illustrated Dale, dale, dale: una fiesta de números/Hit it, hit it, hit it: a fiesta of numbers and Canta, Rana, Canta/ Sing Froggie Sing, which were both named to the Tejas Star Reading list. Her illustrations for the book Daughter of Two Nations won a Skipping Stones Honor Award. Her most recent work can be seen in the book Una Sorpresa para Teresita/ A Surprise for Teresita, published in October 2016 by Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Publico Press.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A:   My Uncle Rey. He was a professional artist. He made me realize it was something you could do. Be an artist for a living.

When I was little, I used to go over to my grandmother’s house and see his drawings and paintings framed on the wall and I would think, “How on earth does someone get that good?” Later, I found out he had gone to art school and become an artist for the Air Force. When he passed away, my aunt gave me his art books. I read every page … over and over and over. That’s when I first learned about Goya and Rembrandt and Velázquez. It meant everything to me.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium. 

A: Oil. Oil. And then oil. I am very excited about a new technique I developed for painting with oil on cardboard. It completely saturates the board until it looks like brushed felt. It also enables me to control the bleed and dry quickly. This is the first time I have been able to get those intense colors that you get with oil paints – in an illustration. I use this process in my new book “A Surprise for Teresita” which comes out this month.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: They are a child’s very first glimpse into all the possibilities of being a human being. Whether it is stepping into the Wizard of Oz, or a Dr. Seuss landscape, or playing with the pigeon in Mo Willems’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus – or going to a playground down the block – the reality for a child is the same. The world is full of color, and rhythm and courageous deeds and breathtaking imagination. Picture books affirm a child’s vision … forever. Nothing could be more important than that!

Dale, Dale, Dale / Hit It, Hit It, Hit It Cover  Canta, Rana, Canta / Sing, Froggie, Sing Cover  

 

Christina Rodriguez

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Christina Rodriguez lives in Rhode Island and has illustrated more than twelve books for children. She is a three time nominee for the Tejas Star Book Award. Among the books she has illustrated are Un día con mis tias/ A Day with my Aunts, Mayte and the Bogeyman, We are Cousins/ Somos primos, The Wishing Tree and Adelita and the Veggie Cousins.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: I became a children’s book illustrator thanks to the adults who steered me in that direction as a child: from my dad who taught me how to draw horses as a child, to my teachers who encouraged my love of art and reading, and finally to my mother for supporting my decision to go to art school at RISD.  Without the continuous support of the role models in my life, I might not be where I am today.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I have two favorite mediums: digital and watercolors. Watercolor painting was one of the first techniques I learned, but I didn’t really get into it until college, when it became a safer alternative to oil paints (the fumes were giving me headaches). Most of my books are done in a mixture of watercolors, watercolor pencils, and gouache -an opaque type of watercolors – that gives me a lot of control in the details and the ability to add depth and texture. I also carry a travel-sized watercolor paint box with my sketchbook everywhere I go.

My other favorite medium is digital: I’ve illustrated a few books completely in Adobe Photoshop, from sketches to finished art. Many book illustrators incorporate digital programs into their workflows at some point, whether it’s resizing sketches, or cleaning up and enhancing finished paintings. I use a Microsoft Surface Pro which makes creating digital illustrations even easier.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: They introduce children to many rich and important concepts at a young age: a love of reading and art, active listening, and critical thinking of complex subjects while in a safe place. Picture books can provide the foundation upon which a rich education can be built.

  Mayte and the Bogeyman/Mayte y El Cuco Cover  We Are Cousins/Somos Primos Cover    Adelita and the Veggie Cousins/Adelita y Las Primas Verduritas Cover

 

Jacqueline Alcántara

photo credit @eyeshotchaJacqueline Alcántara is a freelance author and illustrator who previously taught high school art and photography. She won the inaugural We Need Diverse Books Illustrator Mentorship Award in 2016. Her first book is The Field which will be published in 2018 by NorthSouth Books.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: For as long as I can remember, I loved drawing, cutting, gluing, painting, inventing characters, and writing stories. As a kid, my mom would take me down to the Art Institute’s kids programs, and I still remember the texture of the paper they gave me, and how excited I felt about creating art inside the museum. When I was in high school, my dad took me to Honduras a few times, and each time, we visited with one his best friends who happened to be a fantastic painter and brilliant musician. His name was Carlos Brizzio, and he quickly became the coolest person in the world to me. By the time I finished high school, I knew I wanted to work within “the arts,” even if I hadn’t yet figured out what that meant.

After I graduated from college, I worked as an art teacher, and I decided that I wanted to combine my love of art  and kids, and pursue children’s illustration. Lots of artists have inspired me along the way, but my first loves, beyond Quentin Blake and Chris Van Allsburg, were Dalí, Picasso, and Redon. I still look at a lot of art and visit my favorite paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, but now I’m mostly inspired by silly things that happen throughout the day, serious things that are happening in the world, and all of the beauty that I find in between.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: At this point in time, I’m most in love with markers and gouache. I love gouache because of the opaque/flat feeling of the color. I like that it’s an old medium as well—that it has history and depth. I started using markers recently, when I became interested in fashion illustration. Markers allow you to work fast and consistently, and I love the way they layer on top of one another  to almost look and feel like watercolors, or digital painting. I use Photoshop for almost all of my illustrations to collage, experiment, and play with light, color and composition.

Mixed media is so much fun because you can have a plan for your piece, but so much is still left to chance and experimentation, which is exciting when you’re creating a piece, and so satisfying when it’s complete.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: Along with TV and movies, books are largely responsible for how we formulate our ideas about people, cultures, and especially, ourselves from an early age. The stories and characters we read in picture books represent some  of the first ways in which we begin to explore these things, and those impressions stick with us, whether consciously or subconsciously, for a very long time. Picture books ask questions about our world and ourselves and can provide us with comfort, curiosity, hope and empathy. But my favorite part is  the details, and the magical way in which the words and pictures can tell the same story while saying different things. I also love that children can “read” a picture book even before they are ready to read the text, and how repeated readings help them to discover the details, thought, humor and care that goes into the process of creating them. Picture books are important because they help us to visualize our pasts and futures, as they feed our imagination.

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johnnydancing_web

 

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Books to Look For:

Dale, dale, dale: una fiesta de números/Hit it, hit it, hit it: a fiesta of numbers by Carolyn Dee Flores

Canta, Rana, Canta/ Sing Froggie Sing by Carolyn Dee Flores

Una Sorpresa para Teresita/ A Surprise for Teresita by Carolyn Dee Flores

Un día con mis tias/ A Day with my Aunts illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Mayte and the Bogeyman illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

We are Cousins/ Somos primos illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Adelita and the Veggie Cousins illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

culturechest2

Creating a Diverse Book Legacy: Interview with Culture Chest Founder

The climate in our country at present makes it increasingly urgent for us to bring diverse portrayals of diverse peoples to young readers. In addition to the resources we promote through schools, libraries, and other communities, there’s a new kid on the block, a subscription service called Culture Chest, which provides books that highlight diverse experiences geared toward readers aged 3-8. Several subscription options are available.

Here are some highlights of my chat with Rose Espiritu, founder of Culture Chest.

LKL: Tell us the mission behind Culture Chest. What does it bring to the work of diversifying children’s literature?

Rose: Two years before beginning Culture Chest, I was working on a documentary about parenting someone of a different race. I interviewed over one hundred interracial families as well as those brought together through transracial adoption. Many families explained the difficulties of finding books with characters that looked like their children. While filming, I interviewed a young Latina girl who was adopted by a Caucasian family when she was born. She told me about a book that described the adoption process and compared it to a “birthing video.”  It was the only explanation she had for how she came to be. Through her, I realized the importance of children’s literature.

culturechestboxRose: As a second generation immigrant of Nigerian and Filipino descent, I struggled with finding literature about my heritage when I was growing up. I created Culture Chest to help people learn about themselves and other cultures. I wanted to provide a resource for parents to teach their children about the world within the comfort of their own homes.

I think of Culture Chest as a social venture, and I want to support the diversification of children’s books. The goal is to show publishing companies that folks want diverse stories with cultural relevance which will hopefully prompt them to invest more resources towards supporting authors from diverse backgrounds.

LKL: How do you select the books?culturechest1

Rose: I consult with children’s book reviews and testimonials as well as books that I personally enjoy. I look for books written by diverse and emerging authors who have a personal connection to their work. At Culture Chest, we do not look for books where characters “happen” to be a person of color. We want stories with cultural relevance that encourage children to love other cultures.

LKL: What are some of your favorite books by or about Latinxs? 

In children’s books, one favorite is The Gullywasher by Joyce Rossi. The book is a
grandfather telling a tall tale about how he got older. I was super close to my lolo (grandfather) and it reminded me of that special bond.

 

Tito Puente, Mambo King by Monica Brown is a fun vibrant story of about Tito Puente banging on pots and pans as a child. I’ve seen many children light up after reading it to them! We featured this title in our September box.

garciagirlsFor older readers, I love How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Álvarez. I immediately related to this book and its themes of pressure to assimilate, racial identity, and the immigrant experience. I love the fact that it is told from the perspective of four girls. It felt like snapshots of the past. I was introduced to the time of Trujillo and the political unrest in the Dominican government that led to their family fleeing to America. This book had adventure, laughter, and stories everyone with strict Catholic roots can relate to.

LKL: What else should readers know about Culture Chest?

We are a humble startup with big dreams of promoting culture through books, toys, and other avenues. Traveling to other countries and reconnecting with my heritage as an adult has helped me become a much more self-assured, confident person. My parents immigrated to this country, so their goal was to be American. As an American, I feel I have to work twice as hard to hold onto my heritage. I know others share this desire. Our goal is to help make it easier for parents and children to engage with their culture.

LKL: How can folks learn more about what you do? 

Please join to our email list and connect with us on Twitter at @CultureChest. You can also find us on Facebook and at our website. Learn more and subscribe at culturechest.com, and use the promo code WELCOME to get 10% off as a new subscriber.

 

Educating Children and Young People for Joy and Justice: A Guest Post by Author and Teacher Ann Berlak

img_0265_2

All art in this article is by Daniel Comacho for Joelito’s Big Decision/La gran decisión de Joelito by Ann Berlak.

By Ann Berlak

To prepare children and young people to participate in the construction of a more just and joyful future, we must tell them stories that make the invisible visible and unsettle what is taken for granted.

 “Everything in the mainstream media suggests that popular resistance is ridiculous…unless it is far away, long ago.”

Solnit (2016)

Poverty is increasing worldwide in the face of unimaginable wealth for the very few. Talk of the public good has been almost silenced, public services are rapidly being privatized and the environment degraded, and we have come to take as normal wars without end. Yet, though largely obscured by mainstream media and by schooling at all levels, movements for climate, racial, and economic justice are sweeping the globe.

Given these realities, what stories should we tell young people to prepare them to participate in social transformation?

 Stories that reveal:

  • how the decisions and actions of each of us affect the lives and actions of others, often in hidden ways
  • how differences of power in the hierarchies of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and disability—differences that may be initially invisible– affect how we and others experience our lives differently (empathy)
  • how to connect the dots between everyday injustices and the social forces that create and sustain them—for example, societal dynamics that create the vast extremes of wealth and poverty
  • how ordinary people acting together can create a more just and joyful world
  • that joining with others to create a more just future is a joyful life option for each of us

img_0268-2Aren’t children too young to think about social and political issues? Should we interfere with children’s innocence by prematurely exposing them to the darker sides of life?

Which children are we talking about here? Certainly not those children who already experience despair, who go to bed hungry, whose parents can’t find jobs. Acknowledging these realities means acknowledging the experiences of children and young people who are often marginalized in school and in children’s fiction.

When adults are silent about the social, political, and economic dynamics of society, children internalize the perspectives that dominate public discourse and begin to believe, for example, that people get rich because they are smarter or work harder. They learn to blame “the victim,” and to normalize war, violence, and astounding inequalities.

This is disastrous for privileged children as well as for members of groups that are on the downside of the prevailing power imbalances. Both groups drift toward the belief that this is how things have always been and how they must continue to be, and these convictions become quite resistant to change. As the tree is bent, the tree grows.

joelito-cover-two-boysJoelito’s Big Decision/ La gran decisión de Joelito

For thirty years, I taught prospective elementary school teachers. My primary intention was to challenge them to think about what kind of future they wanted to construct through what they taught. What should schooling in their classrooms be for, beyond preparing children to be “college and career ready”?

After I retired, I went back into classrooms as a guest social-justice teacher. This experience reconfirmed my belief that if given any encouragement at all, children and young people will eagerly engage in dialogue about the social, political, and economic issues that surround and shape them.

I also realized that when adults don’t address these issues, children construct their own explanations for what they see around them, and that they weave these from the dominant ideologies of the society. For example, the children I taught had a variety of explanations for how and why some people get rich: They “won the lottery,” “worked hard at school,” “were really smart.” Of course, many also believed the inverse—that people who are poor do not work hard, or are not smart—even when these beliefs conflicted with their own first-hand experiences.

Eventually, I decided to write a storybook for children that would help teachers and parents spark lively conversations like the ones I had as a social-justice teacher, and elicit looks of surprise that conveyed “ah-ha” experiences that are our rewards as teachers. The result is the bilingual, beautifully illustrated and timely Joelito’s Big Decision/ La gran decisión de Joelito. It’s about a boy, a burger, a friendship, and the fight to raise the minimum wage. The book’s illustrator is Daniel Camacho. José Antonio Galloso provided the translation.

img_0267Our book tells the tale of Joelito, who eats dinner at MacMann’s Burger Restaurant with his family every Friday. The story begins one Friday when he finds his best friend Brandon and Brandon’s parents at the restaurant entrance, holding up signs saying, “Low Pay is Not OK,” and “Fight for 15,” and urging the hungry Joelito not to eat at MacMann’s tonight.

Our book explains the sources of income inequality in a way that young children can understand—Brandon’s dad tells Joelito, “I would have to work for 500 years to earn what Mr. MacMann earns in one year” —and shows that people working together are making history today.

Why don’t parents and teachers talk more about economic inequality with children and young people?

The school curriculum is increasingly controlled by the 1%. This control militates against schools teaching children and young people to question the huge discrepancies of wealth and power. Because the structure of our economy offers most people an uncertain economic future, many parents are preoccupied with their children becoming “college and career ready.” Readiness is often reduced to achieving high scores on standardized tests, while preparing children for active citizenship and critical thinking increasingly falls by the wayside.

img_0264_2Hope

We hope that literary gatekeepers—parents, teachers, caregivers, and librarians will include among the stories that they share with children depictions of ordinary people working together toward a better future. The bookshelves in our classrooms, libraries, and homes are crowded with the tales of solitary heroes and heroines fighting battles in worlds of fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. Stories of contemporary people in the trenches for social change belong on those bookshelves, too.

 

 

 

IMG_0297Author Ann Berlak has been a teacher and teacher educator for over fifty years. She envisions schools as places where children learn to become active, caring participants in the creation of a world that works for everyone. Joelito’s Big Decision/La gran decisión de Joelito was selected for the 2016-2017  California Reads list of teacher recommended books. Keep up with current news about Joelito on Facebook.

Illustrator Daniel Camacho lives and works in Oakland, California. His at-home studio is filled with ongoing projects, and is usually open to visitors upon request. He teaches art to elementary and middle school students and works to promote an awareness of Mexican/Latino culture through his participation with the Oakland Museum of California, the Spanish Speaking Unity Council, local public libraries and other community based organizations. Learn more about Daniel from his official website.

Translator José Antonio Galloso was born in Lima, Peru. He is a writer, photographer, and a bilingual teacher with studies in audiovisual communication, Spanish, and writing. He has published poetry and fiction and his works have been included in several anthologies. His photographic work, which he considers an extension of his writing, has been exhibited and published in different galleries, printed media and online. He has been living in the Bay Area since 2002.

Celebrating Pura Belpré Winners: Spotlight on Author-Illustrator Carmen Lomas Garza

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 Carmen Lomas Garza, the winner of the 2000 Pura Belpré Illustration Medal for Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas and Pura Belpré Honors for Illustration for Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia in 1996 and In My Family / En mi familia in 1998.

Review by Marianne Snow Campbell

DESCRIPTIONS FROM THE PUBLISHERS:

Magic Windows CoverMagic Windows: Through the magic windows of her cut-paper art, Carmen shows us her family, her life as an artist, and the legends of her Aztec past. We look into Carmen’s studio and see her paint a Mexican jarabe tapatío dancer; we glimpse the hummingbirds that cross the US-Mexico border to taste the sweet nectar of the cactus flowers; and we watch Carmen teach her nieces and nephews how to make their own magic windows. Magic Windows is a continuing tribute to family and community as well as a way for Carmen to connect future generations to their ancestors by teaching and sharing with them this traditional folk art.

Check out the book discussion and activity guide created by Lindsay Harris and Haley Rugger with Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo, provided by the University of Alabama School of Library and Informational Studies.

 

Family Pictures is the story of Carmen Lomas Garza’s girlhood in Kingsville, Texas: celebrating birthdays, making tamales, picking cactus, and confiding to her sister her dreams of becoming an artist. These day-to-day experiences are told through fifteen paintings and stories, each focusing on a different aspect of Carmen’s traditional Mexican American culture growing up. The paintings and stories reflect the author’s strong sense of family and community and demonstrate how her mother’s love and hard work helped Carmen achieve her dream. For the hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans, Carmen Lomas Garza offers a book that reflects their lives and cultural traditions. For others, this beautiful work will offer insights into a fascinating life and a rich community. Sandra Cisneros provided the introduction and Pat Mora the afterword for this touchstone of Latino children’s literature. This book is bilingual (English and Spanish).

Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia Cover

 

In My Family / En mi familia: In her eagerly-awaited second book for children, In My Family / En mi familia, internationally-renowned artist Carmen Lomas Garza takes us once again to her hometown of Kingsville, Texas, near the border with Mexico. Through vibrant paintings and warm personal stories, Carmen brings to life more loving memories of growing up in a traditional Mexican American community: eating empanadas, witnessing the blessing on her cousin’s wedding day, and dancing to the conjunto band at the neighborhood restaurant. In My Family / En mi familia is Carmen Lomas Garza’s second book of family pictures, a continuing tribute to the loving family and community that shaped her childhood—and her life.

For effective strategies on incorporating students’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds into social studies curricula, check out the article “Developing Literacy through Culturally Relevant Texts” by Dr. Iliana Alanís in Social Studies and the Young Learner (2007) from the National Council for the Social Studies.  Pair In My Family with the author study guide Carmen Lomas Garza: Chicana Author and Illustrator by Deborah J. Francis, part of The Alma Project, a cultural infusion model by Denver Public Schools.

In My Family Cover

 

MY TWO CENTS: “At the age of thirteen I decided to become a visual artist and pursue every opportunity to advance my knowledge of art in institutions of higher education. The Chicano Movement of the late 1960s inspired the dedication of my creativity to the depiction of special and everyday events in the lives of Mexican Americans based on my memories and experiences in South Texas. I saw the need to create images that would elicit recognition and appreciation among Mexican Americans, both adults and children, while at the same time serve as a source of education for others not familiar with our culture.”

With this artist’s statement, Carmen Lomas Garza sums up everything I appreciate about her autobiographical children’s books. They’re real. They’re confident. They’re hopeful. In all three of her Pura Belpré award winners – Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas, Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia, and In My Family / En mi familia – Garza uses traditional media alongside her own words to represent her memories and celebrate common Mexican American cultural practices. While engaging with these exquisite images and clear, simple (and bilingual!) captions, readers of any cultural background can learn something about life in 1950s Kingsville, Texas and compare and contrast their own experiences with the artist’s.

Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas, which won the Belpré Award in 2000, provides readers with an intricate introduction to the art of papel picado, the traditional Mexican art of paper cutting that began with Mexico’s indigenous communities.

Papel picado decorations for Mexican Independence Day celebrations, Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico. Photo by Alejandro Linares Garcia.

Papel picado decorations for Mexican Independence Day celebrations, Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico. Photo by Alejandro Linares Garcia.

 

While traditional papel picado pieces often feature geometric and/or symbolic designs, Garza’s paper cutouts represent moments from her life: making paper flowers with her family, catching horned frogs, helping her grandfather water his garden.

Detail from Offering for Antonio Lomas / Ofrenda para Antonio Lomas on the back cover of Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas.

Detail from Offering for Antonio Lomas / Ofrenda para Antonio Lomas on the back cover of Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas.

According to Magic Windows’ introduction, Garza learned how to craft traditional papel picado with scissors from her mother and then, after decades of practice, began fashioning the larger, more representational pieces found in this book with a craft knife. I just can’t believe she cut all of these detailed, elaborate works by with her own two hands. Can you imagine the love, patience, and dedication it took to complete them? “These pieces are like magic windows,” she states. “When you look through them, you can see into another world.” What I see is a deep love for her family rendered with absolute care and skill. You can’t get much more magical than that.

In Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia and In My Family / En mi familia, Garza’s Belpré honor winners, we can see that same care and love channeled through a very different artistic medium – painting. Both of these books contain several paintings of the artist’s childhood memories coupled once again with bilingual captions that explain the significance of each work. Page after page treats readers to sumptuous, folk-art-style snapshots of family gatherings, tender moments, and humorous scenes.

Detail from Quinceañera on the back cover of Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia.

Detail from Quinceañera on the back cover of Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia.

I’m just going to put it out there – Carmen Lomas Garza’s books for children are my absolute favorites. 100%, no joke. Their simplicity, honesty, and artistry make them the perfect package for me, and I know there are plenty of kids out there who will appreciate her straightforward, positive, oftentimes funny depictions of her experiences as well. The universal themes of love and family that appear in each magnificent yet humble work of art can hook any child that picks up these books. As Sandra Cisneros says in her introduction to Family Pictures, enjoying Garza’s art is like “pressing our face against the window screens and peeking inside our house. These are family pictures. And it doesn’t matter if your family is from Kingsville or Cairo, Sarajevo or Katmandu. They are your family’s pictures too. Tell me, which one is you?”

Detail from Watermelon / Sandía on the back cover of Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia.

Detail from Watermelon / Sandía on the back cover of Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia.

 

TEACHING TIPS:

  • Carmen Lomas Garza’s books are excellent models for autobiographical writing and art. After reading any of these award-winning books, let students create their own artistic representation of a personal memory (using their choice of medium, if possible) and write an autobiographical story to accompany the art.
  • Explore the rich history and modern practice of creating papel picado with students. Making Magic Windows, Garza’s companion book to Magic Windows, provides plenty of information about this alluring art form as well as step-by-step instructions for young artists. If possible, invite a papel picado artist to your school to share their craft.
  • Do you live in or near Chicago, Austin, El Paso, San Francisco, or Oakland? If so, consider taking your students to an art museum or library collection that features Carmen Lomas Garza’s artwork. You can find her paintings at the National Museum of Mexican Art (Chicago), the University of Texas’s Benson Latin American Collection (Austin), the El Paso Museum of Art, the Mexican Museum (San Francisco), and the Oakland Museum of California. Viewing a full-size, in-person version of a painting from one of Garza’s books can be a powerful experience, and many kids will love connecting their museum visit to books they’ve read. I’ll never forget stumbling upon Las Posadas at the Museum of Mexican Art – it was definitely a highlight of my trip to Chicago.

 

Carmen Lomas GarzaABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR (from her website): Carmen Lomas Garza was born in Kingsville, Texas, in 1948. Inspired by her parent’s activism with the American G.I. Forum, Lomas Garza joined the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. She is a graduate of the Texas Arts & Industry University, Juarez-Lincoln/Antioch Graduate School, and San Francisco State University where she earned her M.A. in 1981. Lomas Garza is a recipient of numerous awards and has exhibited her work in galleries and museums across the United States.

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

 

MarianneMarianne Snow Campbell is a doctoral student at The University of Georgia, where she researches nonfiction children’s books about Latinx 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 Doña Flor, illustrated by Raul Colón

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 Raul Colón, the winner of the 2006 Pura Belpré Illustration Award for Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart. Colón also received Pura Belpré Illustration Honors for Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes and My Name is Gabito: The Life of Gabriel García Márquez/Me llamo Gabito: la vida de Gabriel García Márquez.

Review by Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: Doña Flor is a giant lady who lives in a tiny village in the American Southwest. Popular with her neighbors, she lets the children use her flowers as trumpets and her leftover tortillas as rafts. Flor loves to read, too, and she can often be found reading aloud to the children.

One day, all the villagers hear a terrifying noise: it sounds like a huge animal bellowing just outside their village. Everyone is afraid, but not Flor. She wants to protect her beloved neighbors, so with the help of her animal friends, she sets off for the highest mesa to find the creature. Soon enough, though, the joke is on Flor and her friends, who come to rescue her, as she discovers the small secret behind that great big noise.

The creators of Tomás and the Library Lady, Pat Mora and Raul Colón, have once again joined together. This time they present a heartwarming and humorous original tall tale—peppered with Spanish words and phrases—about a giant lady with a great big heart.

MY TWO CENTS: Doña Flor, written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Raul Colón, tells the story of a giant woman that sleeps on clouds and makes piles of big tortillas. She protects her village from harm and she must do just that when the villagers inform her that a giant mountain lion threatens their safety. The biography of Raul Colón included on the dust jacket describes his illustrations as “an intriguing combination of watercolor washes, etching, and colored and litho pencils.”

When I look at Colón’s illustrations, the etchings remind me of fingerprints. The loops, the arches, the whorls, and all the lines that we might associate with fingerprints are visible in Colón’s illustrations. I am not familiar with techniques or the technicalities of etching and in saying that the illustrations remind me of fingerprints I do not mean to devalue the art in any way. My favorite illustration in this story is of Doña Flor using her thumb to carve out a riverbed in the village. Doña Flor is in a squatting position with her white skirt covering her thighs, and she has used her thumb to make a squiggly path for the water while the villagers look on. The riverbed has the details I associated with the fingerprints which, in this case, could be Doña Flor’s own prints.

Colón’s illustrations are beautiful, colorful, and magical. That I saw fingerprints when I looked closely at his illustrations speaks to the uniqueness of his art. While Doña Flor wears a blue shirt in most of the illustrations sometimes the shirt looks like it is embroidered and sometimes it looks like a plain T-shirt. The clouds on one page look round and fluffy and in the illustration where she’s made her bed of clouds it appears like she’s left her own fingerprints on the clouds she has gathered. Despite the uniqueness I see in his illustrations, there is certainly a sense of cohesion throughout the story. I’ve decided to focus on the etchings, the lines, and how much they appear like fingerprints because as I examined his illustrations, I also got the thought that our stories are as unique as our fingerprints. Colón’s illustrations in Doña Flor affirmed that for me. I couldn’t help but connect the details I saw in his art to the significance of the Pura Belpré award and the necessity for more Latinx children’s and young adult literature by and for Latinx.

TEACHING TIPS:

  • For younger readers: Ask younger readers to pick their favorite illustration and to pick a part of the image they’d like to recreate. For example, in the illustration with Doña Flor making the river, students can attempt to recreate the river, the clouds, the trees and hills, etc. Ask students to outline their chosen part and to fill it in by dabbing their fingerprints. This will recreate the etching effect they see in the illustrations.
  • For middle grade readers: Discuss with students the effect and affect of etching. Does the etching force the reader to focus in a certain direction or a certain part of the page? How do the illustrations make you feel? For example, in the illustration where Doña Flor hugs the wind the lines of the etchings point in the same direction, making it appear like she is floating away with the wind.
  • For young adult readers: By the end of the story Doña Flor learns that the loud roaring frightening the village is coming from a small puma roaring into a hollow log. Discuss with students the importance of perceptions and misconceptions. How might we connect the villagers’ fear and the puma’s amplified roars to racial/ethnic stereotypes?

 

FullSizeRender (1)Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez’s research focuses on the various roles that healing plays in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. She currently teaches composition and literature at a community college in Chicago. She also teaches poetry to 6th graders and drama to 2nd graders as a teaching artist through a local arts organization. She is working on her middle grade book. Follow Sonia on Instagram @latinxkidlit