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

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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

Celebrating Pura Belpré Winners: Spotlight on Grandma’s Gift by Eric Velasquez

PuraBelpreAward

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

Leading up to the event, we will be highlighting the winners of the narrative and illustration awards. Today’s spotlight is on Eric Velasquez, the winner of the 2011 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award for Grandma’s Gift.


Review by Lila Quintero Weaver

Grandma's GiftDESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Every year, Eric spends his winter break with his grandmother in El Barrio while his parents are at work. There’s much to do to prepare for Christmas, including buying all the ingredients for Grandma’s famous pasteles, a special Puerto Rican holiday dish.

But Eric also has an assignment for school that requires a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see a new painting. Grandma and Eric are nervous about leaving El Barrio but are amazed by the museum and what they see in the painting—a familiar face in a work of art by the great painter Diego Velázquez. That day Eric’s world opens wider, and Grandma knows the perfect gift to start him on his new journey.

In this prequel to Grandma’s Records, Eric Velasquez brings readers back to a special day spent with his grandmother that would change his life forever.

MY TWO CENTS: Eric Velasquez is the award-winning illustrator of more than 25 children’s books, including three that he wrote. In Grandma’s Gift and Grandma’s Records, reviewed here, Eric brings to life childhood moments that illuminate the warm and meaningful relationship he enjoyed with his grandmother, a native of Puerto Rico and resident of El Barrio, a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood in East Harlem.

In a category where such books are woefully rare, both of Velasquez’s Grandma stories represent positive images of Afro-Latinx children and their families.

Although the story in Grandma’s Gift takes place inside a few square miles of contemporary New York City, it also casts a spotlight on a long-ago historical figure. Juan de Pareja was an enslaved man of African descent who worked in the studio of 17th-century Spanish master Diego Velázquez and who became a painter in his own right. When Eric was a boy, Velázquez’s luminous portrait of de Pareja was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a price exceeding $5 million.

Grandma’s Gift contains two additional distinguishing aspects: elements of Puerto Rican culture preserved and passed down by the boy’s grandmother, and contrasting views between two physically proximate but culturally distant worlds, represented by El Barrio and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Used by permission from Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc.

Used by permission from Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc.

At the story’s beginning, Eric is leaving school for Christmas break, in the company of his grandmother. His school assignment, to be completed during the holidays, is a visit to the Velázquez exhibit. But first, grandmother and grandson go shopping at La Marqueta, once a central feature of El Barrio, composed of bustling shops tucked under a railroad trestle. At La Marqueta, it’s evident that Eric’s grandmother is a respected and beloved member of the community. Not only do butchers and greengrocers call her by title and name—Doña Carmen—they are also familiar with the high standards she expects from every cut of meat and vegetable she purchases. When the shopping is done, Eric and his grandmother return to her apartment, where she launches an elaborate preparation of traditional Puerto Rican holiday dishes. Here, she is clearly in her element, deftly handling each step of the cooking, filling, and rolling of the pasteles, much to the admiration of young Eric.

Used by permission from Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc.

Used by permission from Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc.

Nearly all of Doña Carmen’s dialogue is parenthetically translated into English, immediately behind her Spanish words. While this solution is not particularly elegant, it reflects the challenge that authors and publishers face in including authentic representations of a Spanish-speaking environment within an English text. The story translates greetings in Spanish by shopkeepers, words of wisdom spoken by the grandmother, and details relevant to the story, such as the names of the root vegetables used in making pasteles: calabaz, yautía, plátanos verdes, guineos verdes, papas.

El Barrio is a place that Eric’s grandmother comfortably navigates day after day. Here, her native tongue predominates, and everyone is a shade of brown. But when she and Eric head for the museum, a short bus ride away, they leave behind that familiar environment and land before the facade of the Metropolitan, cloaked in cultural status and imposing architecture. As Eric notes, there’s no one “from Puerto Rico on the streets and no one was speaking in Spanish.” At this point, Eric becomes her guide in this English-speaking world, translating the signs and captions that they encounter, stepping into a role that second- or third-generation immigrant children often play in their elders’ lives.

Juan de Pareja, by Diego Velázquez

Juan de Pareja, by Diego Velázquez

The highlight of the story arrives when Eric comes face to face with the portrait of Juan de Pareja, hanging in its gilded frame in one of the august exhibition halls of the museum. As a young person of color in the 1970s, he has never seen a member of his own people elevated to such a status: “He seemed so real—much like someone we might see walking around El Barrio. I couldn’t believe that this was a painting in a museum.” Eric is amazed and proud to learn that Juan de Pareja eventually achieved freedom and became a painter in his own right. For Eric, this discovery is a revelation that sparks artistic fire. On Christmas Eve, after everyone enjoys a traditional holiday dinner, Eric sits under the Christmas tree and opens his grandmother’s gift. It’s a sketchbook and a set of colored pencils. He immediately begins to draw a self-portrait. Through this gift, Eric’s grandmother expresses a clear vote of confidence in her grandson’s dreams, underscoring that he, too—a child of El Barrio, an Afro Latino—can follow in the footsteps of Juan de Pareja.

Flight into Egypt, by Juan de Pareja

Flight into Egypt, by Juan de Pareja

This touching, autobiographical story is richly illustrated in Velasquez’s photorealistic style, which authentically depicts settings and brings dimension to each character. Eric imbues his subjects with individually distinct physical characteristics, lending to each an air of nobility. He lovingly paints his grandmother as a lady of dignified bearing and warmth, usually dressed in subdued colors. But he often lavishes this humanizing treatment even on background characters, such as fellow passengers on the train and a nameless guard at the museum. In most of the illustrations, Eric employs a wide and vivid range of hues, but like Diego Velázquez, he sometimes falls back on a deliberately limited palette. When the boy and his grandmother stand before the portrait of Juan de Pareja, the rich browns of the ancient oil painting harmoniously come together with the rich browns of the grandmother’s clothing, as well as the skin tones of all three figures. He puts this deft touch with a monochromatic palette to great effect in the story’s electric moment of revelation, as the child Eric looks on the portrait of Juan de Pareja and grasps a new possibility for his future.

Eric VelasquezABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR: Eric Velasquez is an Afro-Puerto Rican illustrator born in Spanish Harlem. He attended the High School of Art and Design, the School of Visual Arts, and the famous Art Students League in New York City. As a children’s book illustrator, Velasquez has collaborated with many writers, receiving a nomination for the 1999 NAACP Image Award in Children’s Literature and the 1999 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for The Piano Man. For more information, and to view a gallery of his beautiful book covers, visit his official website.

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Learn more about El Barrio from the definitive museum that bears the same name.

After decades of decline, La Marqueta is attempting a comeback. (This article is in Spanish.)

Here, a resident of El Barrio relates her memories of La Marqueta during its heyday.

See the official page for the Juan de Pareja portrait on The Met’s website.

 

Lila Quintero Weaver is the author-illustrator of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Darkroom recounts her family’s immigrant experience in small-town Alabama during the tumultuous 1960s. It is her first major publication. Lila is a graduate of the University of Alabama. She and her husband, Paul, are the parents of three grown children. She can also be found on her own websiteFacebookTwitter and Goodreads.

 

Celebrating Pura Belpré Winners: Spotlight on Under the Royal Palms by Alma Flor Ada

PuraBelpreAward

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

Leading up to the event, we will be highlighting the winners of the narrative and illustration awards. Today’s spotlight is on Alma Flor Ada, the winner of the 2000 Pura Belpré Narrative Award for Under the Royal Palms.

Under the Royal Palms coverReview by Lila Quintero Weaver

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: In this companion volume to Alma Flor Ada’s Where the Flame Trees Bloom, the author offers young readers another inspiring collection of stories and reminiscences drawn from her childhood on the island of Cuba. Through those stories we see how the many events and relationships she enjoyed helped shape who she is today.

Heartwarming, poignant, and often humorous, this collection encourages children to discover the stories in their our own lives — stories that can help inform their own values and celebrate the joys and struggles we all share no matter where or when we grew up.

MY TWO CENTSUnder the Royal Palms: A Childhood in Cuba, by Alma Flor Ada, is the second of two memoirs covering the author’s childhood. Where the Flame Trees Bloom was published in 1994. Both books are now available in a single volume entitled Island Treasures: Growing Up in Cuba, which also contains a new, shorter section called “Days at La Quinta Simoni.” This review is Island Treasures FINAL ARTbased on the Island Treasures edition.

Under the Royal Palms was also published in Spanish, as Bajo las palmas reales.

Written in clear prose charged with poetic flavor, Under the Royal Palms is a lovely collection of autobiographical stories that paint a rich picture of life for a 20th-century child in the riverside city of Camagüey, Cuba. Located in the interior of the island nation, Camagüey is an ancient city of narrow, winding streets, paved in stone. Most of the stories are set in the large, multi-generational family home of Alma Flor Ada’s childhood, known as La Quinta Simoni.

Often humorous or joyful, occasionally sobering, each story in this collection captivates the eye and ear through sharp characterizations of place, time, and emotion. By bringing to life feelings ranging from deep loss to transcendent joy, the author succeeds in reaching across cultural and generational gaps to connect to the heart of young readers today.

In “Explorers,” we meet cousins Jorge and Virginita. As the oldest of these three children, Jorge wears a mantle of authority that his two younger cousins, Virginita and Alma Flor, honor to a fault. Part of Jorge’s reputation comes from the fact that he “read the adventure stories that we all later reenacted. We trusted his words completely and followed him without hesitation.” One day, the girls blithely follow Jorge into a marabú field. Marabú are prolifically spreading trees, which form a dense and thorny thicket. Jorge somehow manages to nimbly scramble his way through the nearly impenetrable network of branches that cover the vast marabú field, but his cousins lose sight of him and are forced to crawl along at inchworm pace, snagging their hair and dresses on the thorns. When Jorge arrives back at La Quinta Simoni without the girls, and hours later they have still failed to appear, the adults imagine the worst and begin to search high and low for them. The girls finally emerge from the marabú field, with “clothes in tatters and our faces covered with muddy tears.”

Other stories reveal the web of family relationships and the interplay of competing interests. “Broken Wings” is a stunning account of an uncle’s passion for aeronautic flight and the dear price that he and his loved ones pay for it. Uncle Medardito is the only brother of Alma Flor’s mother and maternal aunts. His dynamic personality charms everyone that knows him. So do his exploits. When the Río Tínima floods, Uncle Medardito braves the rushing waters to save a drowning person. His flair for daring is not limited to emergencies; at times, he walks like a tightrope artist along the railing of a high bridge, purely for the adventure. Then he is bitten by the flying bug and purchases a lightweight wood-and-canvas plane, powered by a single motor. Family members worry for his safety and dread the days when he goes flying, “rising above the red tile roofs and the winding streets that had so restricted his world, gliding like the mighty auras, the Cuban buzzards, over the plains where the royal palms stood majestically.” Of all the family, Alma Flor alone, a young girl at the time, does not try to dissuade her uncle from taking his plane up. She identifies with his longing to soar and secretly hopes he will not bend to the fearful misgivings of the others.

On a particular Sunday, Alma Flor is in the bathtub, with her hair in a “white cloud of shampoo,” when a ruckus draws her attention. Looking out the window, she sees hundreds of people rushing toward the river, shouting. Without rinsing off, she jumps into her clothes and dashes outside, joining the throng. A plane is approaching. Instead of the usual healthy sound of a working engine, there’s an ominous sputter. Running at full speed in the same direction as the descending plane, Alma Flor is the first to reach it after its “deafening impact” with the ground. Up to this point, the story has unfolded in such a way that Uncle Medardito’s fate is never in question. But what happens next, in young Alma Flor’s response to the crash, took me by surprise and provides an unforgettable, emotional climax.

Under the Royal Palms is a treasure chest of similar accounts, one that should be dusted off and introduced to a new generation of readers, many of whom have yet to discover the horizon-expanding possibilities of memoir.

Alma Flor AdaABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alma Flor Ada is renown for her work as an educator, speaker, poet, and author of many children’s books as well as professional books for educators. In addition to the Pura Belpré Medal, her major awards include the 2012 Virginia Hamilton Award, the Christopher Medal, and the Marta Salotti Gold Medal. One of her great passions is social justice advocacy. Learn more about Alma’s dazzling career in children’s literature at her website, and read more about her journey in this lovely guest post, “Always Cuban.”

 

 

TEACHING TIPS:

  • Under the Royal Palms is ideal for reading aloud in the classroom. Most of the stories can be enjoyed as stand-alone narratives sure to capture the attention of late elementary and middle school kids.
  • Use selected stories as starting points for an exploration of Cuban culture and history. Complement the text with craft projects, such as making miniature clay tinajones, the earthen pots that Camagüey is known for and which are mentioned in the stories. Prepare a variety of Cuban foods for students to sample. Enrich the stories with virtual travel. A tours agency originating in Spain offers a beautiful array of photographs, maps, and videos of Camagüey and nearby beaches on its website, which is in Spanish.
  • Visit a botanical garden where palms grow and learn more about this amazing family of plants that includes over 2,500 species and differs from broadleaf and coniferous trees in many interesting ways, also supplying food products for people around the world.
  • The stories from Under the Royal Palms serve as excellent models for writing about personal experience. Lessons can include when to summarize events, when to inject dialogue and description, and how to weave in a narrator’s emotional responses.
  • Spanish-language learners can benefit from comparing the text of the English and Spanish versions.

 

Lila Quintero Weaver is the author-illustrator of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Darkroom recounts her family’s immigrant experience in small-town Alabama during the tumultuous 1960s. It is her first major publication. Lila is a graduate of the University of Alabama. She and her husband, Paul, are the parents of three grown children. She can also be found on her own websiteFacebookTwitter and Goodreads.

Found in Translation: A Guest Chat by Author Laura Shovan & Translator Patricia Bejarano Fisher

Today we bring you insights from a pair of guest bloggers, Laura Shovan, the author of a new middle-grade novel in verse, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, and Patricia Bejarano Fisher, the translator who helped bring authenticity to one of the novel’s Spanish-speaking characters. In the future, we hope to present more of the angles involved in publishing translated or bilingual books. 

 

Last Fifth Grade cover (2)By Laura Shovan and Patricia Bejarano Fisher

Laura introduces the story: My new middle grade novel in verse, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, is set in where Pat and I both live — Howard County, Maryland, right between Washington, DC and Baltimore. People, including immigrants to the U.S., are drawn here by community resources and the strong reputation of public schools. Often, when I’m guest teaching at a local school, there will be several ESL students, speaking a variety of home languages, in each class.

Two of the eighteen students in Ms. Hill’s fictional fifth grade are Spanish speakers. One of those characters, Gaby Vargas, writes her poems in Spanish and then works with her friend to translate them into English. In order to get Gaby’s voice right, I asked Pat to translate the character’s poems from my English into Spanish, but that wasn’t the end of the collaboration.

Laura to Pat: One of my favorite parts of this process was when we collaborated on back-translating Gaby’s poems from Spanish to English. Could you describe what that was like?

Pat: I also enjoyed this part of the translation process. I had your original English poems. I was to be the voice of Gaby, a young native speaker of Spanish who is beginning to develop her English language skills. She has learned quite a bit but is not yet able to express herself fully in English. She still has to look up words in the dictionary, which she finds frustrating.

My first task was to translate the poems into Spanish, taking care to not make it my own Spanish. It had to be the Spanish of an elementary school girl who is learning English. Gaby’s Spanish is clear and direct. It is also colloquial in places, as it usually is in children that age. The second task was for us to work together from a literal reading of the Spanish poems and translate them back into English. The goal was to introduce a couple of lexical or structural inaccuracies, and unidiomatic phrases here and there that would reflect an intermediate stage of fluency where there is some transfer between the two languages. We took special care to respect the children and to avoid stereotyping them.

Laura: I visited an Emerson Elementary in Albuquerque recently. There was a 4/5th grade bilingual class. When I spoke, children in the audience were translating my English to Spanish for their classmates. And we had a chance to read Gaby’s poems in both languages. That was wonderful. You’re an accomplished poet and translator. How was the experience of working on a children’s novel in verse different from other translation work you’ve done?

Pat: My experience translating Gaby’s poems was new and refreshing, and really a lot of fun. I had finished revising some translations into Spanish I had been working on for some time, so I found the idea of translating a few poems for a book about children very appealing, especially since my youngest grandson had been born a few weeks before.  Children were once again my joy and my focus at that time, so I felt this translation effort would be a special treat for me.

It would also be very different: one of the poetry collections I co-translated tells a personal story of familial love, resentment, and forgiveness; another speaks of the dehumanizing effects of absolute power; yet another recalls vivid memories of war, loss, and hope. All are reflections of adult feelings and experiences turned into beautiful, moving poems.

Gaby’s poems expressed just as much feeling with the clarity and spontaneity with which children communicate. I could just see her struggling to express her thoughts and her feelings in her new language, trying to find the right words and then deciding to use the universal language of music instead. And then, to witness the miracle that only children can perform: becoming a proficient speaker of the new language in a short time and later attaining native proficiency at record speed. Gaby brought memories of my own challenges with English when I first came to the U.S.

Laura: I’d shared Gaby’s poems — in English — with a few Spanish-speakers, but wanted an experienced translator to prepare them for publication. What does a translator bring to a poem that a native speaker might not?

Pat: To me, reading and translation go hand in hand, and the better one understands a text through a close reading, the better the chances are of producing a translation that reflects the intent and the meaning of the original. By “understanding” a text, whether prose or poem, I mean “getting it” at the textual level in its own social and cultural context, as well as at the interpreting level in the context of both the source and the target cultures. In my experience, fluency in a language is necessary but not sufficient to achieve a full understanding of all the linguistic, social, cultural, figurative and other elements present in a text [and then] transfer them effectively into the receiving language. In poetry, the sounds, the rhythms, the syllable counts, the rhymes, the images have to be felt and understood in the original and reflected in the translation.

Pat to Laura: The 18 children who appear in your book come from different backgrounds and have different life stories. How did you choose your characters and how did you develop their relationships? I’m interested in how kids choose their friends and role models.

Laura: My first draft had 30 students and 30 poems, one in each voice. As the book grew from a collection of poems into a novel, some characters were cut and others grew in depth. I made a seating chart for them, so I could see what their classroom relationships might be like. It’s a mystery, sometimes, how children choose their friends. In the development of the book, some friendships didn’t appear until very late in the process. Gaby’s relationship with Mark Fernandez is an example of that. The two of them connect through language.

Fifth-Grade spread

The Last Fifth Grade is set in Columbia, Maryland, where you live and where I often teach. How do you think the book reflects our community in particular and today’s schools in general?

Pat: The children in the book are like the kids I see walking to school in the morning or waiting at the bus stop here in Columbia. We take pride in being an inclusive community where diversity is respected and welcome. Access to education for all has always been a guiding principle. My daughters went to school here some years ago. The events in the life of the school and of the children in The Last Fifth Grade could have taken place in any elementary school in Columbia or Howard County. I really felt I knew Gaby, Edgar Lee Jones, George Furst, Norah Hassan, and their classmates. I felt sad about their school… Any such loss is hard; it feels like someone is taking way the heart of the community.

——————

PatPatricia Bejarano Fisher was born in Bogotá, Colombia. A language and linguistics graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and S.U.N.Y. at Buffalo, she has lived in Columbia, MD for 33 years. She has worked as a Spanish teacher, translator and language-learning materials developer for many years but she now focuses exclusively on poetry translation. Her work includes South Pole/Polo Sur (Settlement House, 2012) and From the Diary of Mme Mao (publisher TBD), both poem collections by Venezuelan poet Maria Teresa Ogliastri, which she co-translated with Yvette Neisser Moreno. She’s an avid reader of Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese literatures and of all languages in translation. More poems translated by Pat can be found here.

DSC_5914Laura Shovan is former editor of Little Patuxent Review and editor of two poetry anthologies. Her chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone, won the inaugural Harriss Poetry Prize. Laura works with children as a poet-in-the-schools and was Howard County Poetry and Literary Society’s 2015-2016 Writer in Residence. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary is her debut novel-in-verse for children (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House). Learn more at Laura’s website.