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

PuraBelpreAward

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

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

 

Reviewed by Cecilia Cackley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From her website

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

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

RESOURCES:

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

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

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

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

 

Cackley_headshotCecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington DC where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.

Book Review: Surviving Santiago by Lyn Miller-Lachman

 

23013839By Cindy L. Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Returning to her homeland of Santiago, Chile, is the last thing that Tina Aguilar wants to do during the summer of her sixteenth birthday. It has taken eight years for her to feel comfort and security in America with her mother and her new husband. And it has been eight years since she has last seen her father.

Despite insisting on the visit, Tina’s father spends all his time focused on politics and alcohol rather than connecting with Tina, making his betrayal from the past continue into the present. Tina attracts the attention of a mysterious stranger, but the hairpin turns he takes her on may push her over the edge of truth and discovery.

The tense, final months of the Pinochet regime in 1989 provide the backdrop for author Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s suspenseful tale of the survival and redemption of the Aguilar family, first introduced in the critically acclaimed Gringolandia.

MY TWO CENTS: As part of her parents’ divorce agreement, Tina Aguilar must travel from Madison, Wisconsin to Santiago, Chile, to spend the summer with her father, Marcelo, a leader of the democracy movement who was previously imprisoned and tortured by the government. The experience left him with permanent physical disabilities. He is also suicidal and an alcoholic.

At first, Tina’s summer is uneventful. She stays mostly in the house with her aunt and father, who barely pays attention to her. She decides she wants to go home early, but then she meets Frankie, a motorcycle delivery boy who gives her plenty of swoony reasons to stay in Chile. Tina and Frankie fall in love, but later–without giving too much away–she discovers he can’t be trusted and that she and her father’s lives are in danger.

Lyn Miller-Lachman does a beautiful job with creating a multi-layered narrative. The romance, family drama, and political intrigue are woven together seamlessly and each of the characters are fully developed. Because of Miller-Lachman’s extensive research and personal travel experiences, the descriptions of Chile are vivid. She captures both the physical landscape and the tense emotional atmosphere during the last months of the Pinochet regime.

One thing I especially appreciated was that Miller-Lachman allows the story to unfold. In other words, I have read so many young adult novels that literally start with a bang, following the “drop the reader right into the action” formula, that reading a narrative that didn’t start this way was a relief. I got to know Tina at home in Wisconsin before she started her journey, which allowed me to connect and sympathize with her before her struggles began.

TEACHING TIPS: This novel would obviously work well in an English classroom if the focus is historical fiction, stories from Latin America, and/or themes about survival or relationships in times of political strife. Surviving Santiago would also work well in cross-curricular way, with students analyzing it as literature in English class and then discussing the historical and political aspects in history class. Teachers could also use it as an option during literature circles with a focus on multi-generational or bicultural experiences. Surviving Santiago could be one of several books offered to students in which the protagonist has to return to her homeland or a parent’s homeland, which allows the main character the opportunity to reconnect with their culture or experience it for the first time.

An image posted by the author.ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): I grew up in Houston, Texas but left at age 18 to attend Princeton University, where I met my husband, Richard Lachmann. After living in Connecticut, Wisconsin, upstate New York, and Lisbon, Portugal, we recently settled in New York City. We have two children, Derrick and Maddy Lachmann.

I received my Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and edited the journal MultiCultural Review for 16 years. In 2012, I received my Masters in Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

I love teaching as much as writing and have taught both middle and high school English, social studies, and Jewish studies. Before moving to New York City, I taught American Jewish History to seventh graders at Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady, New York and ran a playwriting elective for fourth to seventh graders.

I have lots of different hobbies because I love trying new things. In 2007, I became the assistant host of “Los Vientos del Pueblo” a bilingual program of Latin American and Spanish music, poetry, and history that currently airs on WRPI-FM, the radio station of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, on Sundays from 2-6 pm ET. I have also built a LEGO town, Little Brick Township, and create stories with my minifigures that I photograph and post on Instagram and my blog.

My husband and I enjoying traveling around the world. If I put a pin on a map for every place I’ve been, the map would have lots of pins. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in another place and time, and that’s one of the reasons I write historical fiction.

Lyn Miller-Lachman is also the author of Gringolandia and Rogue and the editor of Once Upon a Cuento, an anthology of short stories by contemporary Latin@ writers. She is also a team member for We Need Diverse Books.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Surviving Santiago, check your local public library, your local bookstore or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Book Review: I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin

By Sarah Hannah Gómez

18048909DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Celeste Marconi is a dreamer. She lives peacefully among friends and neighbors and family in the idyllic town of Valparaiso, Chile–until the time comes when even Celeste, with her head in the clouds, can’t deny the political unrest that is sweeping through the country. Warships are spotted in the harbor and schoolmates disappear from class without a word. Celeste doesn’t quite know what is happening, but one thing is clear: no one is safe, not anymore.

The country has been taken over by a government that declares artists, protestors, and anyone who helps the needy to be considered “subversive” and dangerous to Chile’s future. So Celeste’s parents–her educated, generous, kind parents–must go into hiding before they, too, “disappear.” To protect their daughter, they send her to America.

As Celeste adapts to her new life in Maine, she never stops dreaming of Chile. But even after democracy is restored to her home country, questions remain: Will her parents reemerge from hiding? Will she ever be truly safe again?

Accented with interior artwork, steeped in the history of Pinochet’s catastrophic takeover of Chile, and based on many true events, this multicultural ode to the power of revolution, words, and love is both indelibly brave and heartwrenchingly graceful.

MY TWO CENTS: This reads like a pretty classic middle grade novel in the tradition of Sharon Creech or Patricia Reilly Giff. Celeste has a very sweet and thoughtful way about her, and she narrates the day-to-day of her life with the eye of a girl who is young but observant. There is some beautiful scene setting in her house, where her grandmother, nanny, mother, and father dote on her; and at school, where she has a great teacher and the usual smattering of fun, doofy, and snobbish classmates. She has an idyllic life and loves it—until the president is assassinated and the dictator takes over.

Agosín does a good job of showing how this type of takeover happens gradually and all at once, and Celeste observes different things happening – like some classmates not showing up for school or the adults in her life all of a sudden being worried about her safety – and only slowly begins to put them together as being related to the same thing. When she moves to Maine, Celeste remains very observant and thoughtful about everything. Her descriptions are just beautiful.

But that’s also a weakness in the book – Celeste is so thoughtful that it doesn’t always feel like she has any emotion. Her parents have to go into hiding and she says she’s sad, but you don’t necessarily see it – the quality and style of her narration and her observations don’t change much depending on her mood. And it doesn’t help that the last quarter of the book goes from lyrical and fairly realistic to a totally Disney TV movie ending.

That said, there is plenty of good in this book. Latin@s? Check. And, unlike any books I remember reading from my childhood or much during my adulthood, Celeste’s family is also Jewish – her grandmother speaks to her in German and reminisces about escaping the Holocaust by coming to Chile. That parallel is what really gives the book its emotional impact. Celeste is very attached to her grandmother, and knowing that the grandmother is watching a country unravel for the second time is poignant. Acknowledging that part of Latin American history and giving Jewish-Latinas a heroine to root for is a great strength of this book, especially since it manages to use Spanish, Chilean cultural traditions, and Jewish traditions in a way that neither over explains to those of us who know it already nor under explains to those who are unfamiliar.

I would hand this book to any little girl who is already a fan of classic middle grade characters who love to write, like Betsy Ray or Harriet M. Welsch, or to fans of books by Julia Alvarez or Jeanne Birdsall.

AUTHOR: Marjorie Agosín was born in Maryland and raised in Chile. She and her parents, Moises and Frida Agosín, moved to the United States due to the overthrow of the Chilean government by General Pinochet’s military coup. Coming from a South American country and being Jewish, Agosín’s writings demonstrate a unique blending of these cultures. Agosín is well known as a poet, critic, and human activist. She is also a well-known spokesperson for the plight and priorities of women in Third World countries. Her deep social concerns and accomplishments have earned her many awards and recognitions, and she has gained an international reputation among contemporary women of color.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT I Lived on Butterfly Hill, visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.org, indiebound.org, goodreads.com, amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.

 

HannahSarah Hannah Gómez is a school librarian in Northern California with a passion for promoting diverse literature to tweens and teens of all colors. She has an MA from the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature and an MS in library and information science from Simmons College. She blogs at her own website and at YALSA’s The Hub. She is working on a novel and a screenplay.