Book Review: Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel by Diana López

16131067By Kimberly Mach

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: The only thing I knew for sure was that I had issues. Lots of issues. No wonder my mood ring kept changing! It went from black for tense to pink for uncertain to white for frustrated. I kept waiting to see blue, the color for calmness and peace, but no such luck. With all the craziness in my life, I couldn’t see blue if I looked at the sky.

MY TWO CENTSAsk My Mood Ring How I Feel, by Diana Lopez, is an excellent middle grade novel for a teen book group or for an individual read.

Author Diana Lopez remembers what it’s like to be a middle school girl. Rarely have I read a book that made me feel so connected to my eighth grade self. The excitement, the fear, the boys, the uncertainty of everyone’s confidence, the loyalty of friends, the changing body, Lopez gets it all. On top of that, she shows us that kids deal with real problems, too. Our kids face real problems, like having a parent with cancer.

The book opens with Erica’s (Chia’s) mom buying bathing suits before their summer vacation. Mom shows Erica and her younger sister, Carmen, nine new bikinis. Then she throws the bottoms away. Soon the girls learn their mother has breast cancer and is due to have a mastectomy. Summer vacation plans have changed.

Before the surgery, the family makes a pilgrimage to La Virgen de San Juan del Valle. Each member of the family leaves a special object as an offering, prays for God and La Virgen to help mom, and then makes a promesa.  The promesa is a thank-you promise to God and La Virgen in acknowledgment of their help and healing.

This is where I fell in love with Erica’s character. Erica takes her time deciding what her promesa, or promise, will be. While at the shrine she discovers el cuarto de Milagros, or the miracle room, “where people share stories and make offerings.” It is here where Erica sees a newspaper article and a picture of the Race for the Cure. Erica’s promesa is to walk the 5k and raise money for breast cancer research.

Erica returns to school in the fall to face many challenges in her eighth grade year. Throughout them her mood ring changes color. Erica relies on the ring to tell her what she is feeling instead of listening to her heart. Her friends, the Robins, remain a constant support throughout the story. Erica deals with boys and homework, then goes home and deals with her mother’s illness, all while trying to work on her promesa. Erica takes on the role of an adult covering most of the house chores and taking care of her younger brother as her mother recovers from surgery and then faces radiation treatment. Very quickly Erica starts missing assignments and her grades, especially in math, plummet.  When a counselor calls a meeting with the family at school, Erica finally shares what she has been struggling with. When at last her teachers and her parents are on the same page, Erica gets the help she needs.

The book concludes with Erica and many of her friends completing her promesa. She trusts herself to know and understand her own feelings. She does not rely on her mood ring anymore to tell her how she feels.

TEACHING TIPS: The two most beneficial ways this book could be used are through book talks and book clubs. If a teacher or librarian book talks this book, students will gravitate toward it. Most of the readers will be girls, but I think that’s what it’s designed to do. Even as an adult reading it, I felt the same kinship and recognition I had felt when I read Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret when I was eleven years old. It’s about a girl growing and changing and dealing with the trials of middle school. The only difference is that students will also recognize the struggle of a family dealing with cancer, and we get characters from diverse backgrounds, which all our children need.

The second way I see this book being effective is for a teen girl book club. Again, the driving force for me was the honesty with which Erica (Chia) looked at her friends, her family, and her challenges with school. All girls will recognize this. They will see themselves and their friends in this book.

In a Social Studies and Language Arts classes, teachers can use the book as a launching point for their own students’ service projects as well as a geographic study of San Antonio. You may visit the church of La Virgen de San Juan del Valle on line at http://www.olsjbasilica.org/  There are links to the history of the church, as well as information on pilgrimages and pictures of the basilica – including the mural that Erica describes seeing.

Teachers may even create math problems from the book. How much money did Erica raise? How much do local teams in Race for the Cure raise? Was Erica’s achievement similar to this or greater?

An awareness of breast cancer and the organizations that raise money for research may also be used in an extension of science curriculum.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: You may visit the author website for Diana Lopez at http://www.dianalopezbooks.com/Home_Page.html She does have teacher resource links for her middle grade novel Confetti Girl and her young adult novel Choke. (None were listed for Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel at the time of this writing.) A talented writer living in Texas, Lopez has two writing awards under her belt. She spent time teaching at the middle school level and currently teaches at the university level. She continues to find stories in the pages of life and we look forward to reading more!

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel, visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out IndieBound.orgWorldCat.orgGoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Kimberly Mach (2)Kimberly Mach has been teaching for sixteen years and holds two teaching certificates in elementary and secondary education. Her teaching experience ranges from grades five to twelve, but she currently teaches Language Arts to middle school students. It is a job she loves. The opportunity to share good books with students is one that every teacher should have. She feels privileged to be able to share them on a daily basis.

Book Review: Confetti Girl by Diana López

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

Confetti GirlDESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Apolonia “Lina” Flores is a sock enthusiast, a volleyball player, a science lover, and a girl who is looking for answers. Even though her house is crammed full of her dad’s books, she’s having trouble figuring out some big questions, like why her father keeps retreating into his reading, why her best friend is changing their old rules, and, most of all, why her mother had to die last year. Like colors in cascarones, Lina’s life is a rainbow of people, interests, and unexpected changes.

MY TWO CENTS: In Confetti Girl, López masterfully blends serious middle school issues, like friendships and first kisses, with the even more serious issues middle schoolers face, such as the death of one parent and the paralyzing grief of the other. Apolonia “Lina” Flores is an easily lovable character with her crazy socks and desire to do well on the volleyball court and in the classroom. But everything starts to unravel as Lina’s dad gets lost in books and her best friend, Vanessa, gets lost in Carlos’s dreamy eyes. With her relationships already strained, Lina’s situation gets worse when she’s benched for failing grades.

What makes Confetti Girl not only an awesome middle grade read but also a great novel about Latin@s is how López seamlessly weaves in cultural details. She talks about how she decided to include certain details here. By using such things as cascarones and dichos throughout the novel, López introduces cultural specifics to readers without being preachy or teacher-like. In other words, I could see young readers responding with, “Cool, let’s make those,” or “Yup, my mom says things like that all the time,” instead of “Oh, that’s a Latin thing” (closes book). The Kirkus review of this novel put it this way: “An appealing coming-of-age novel set in a traditional Mexican-American town, in which Hispanic teachers, students and parents celebrate traditional American holidays such as Thanksgiving alongside such traditional Mexican observances as el Día de los Muertos and a Quinceañera.” Click here for the full review.

Confetti Girl, López’s first middle grade novel, was a winner of the William Allen White Award and named to New York Library’s “100 Titles for Reading and Sharing.” It was a commended title for the 2010 Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, and Latinidad’s “Top Latino Book of the Year” for Middle Grade Category. It was also a Scholastic Book Club and Book Fair Selection.

TEACHING TIPS: Lots of great teaching tips, including discussion questions and activities, can be found on the author’s website. Click here for her “Teacher Resource” page and here for a PDF of a Teacher’s Guide for Confetti Girl.

Also, to align with the Common Core State Standards, teachers could easily mix this fictional novel with nonfiction articles that range from cascarones to the grieving process. Teachers could also bring in Watership Down by Richard Adams since it plays a significant role in Confetti Girl. Students could read Watership Down first and then read Confetti Girl to truly understand how the classic novel helps Lina to make sense of her own life.

LEXILE: 660

AUTHORDiana López is the author of the adult novella, Sofia’s Saints and the middle grade novels, Confetti Girl, Choke, and the recently released Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel. She is also featured in the anthologies Hecho en Tejas and You Don’t Have a Clue. She has been a guest on NPR’s Latino USA and is the winner of the 2004 Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Award. Diana teaches English and works with the organization, CentroVictoria, at the University of Houston Victoria.

For more information about Confetti Girl visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out GoodreadsIndieBound.orgWorldCat.orgLittle Brown Books for Young ReadersScholasticAmazon, and Barnes and Noble.

You can also click here for a book trailer of Confetti Girl featuring the author!

Diana can also be found on the site Read to Write Stories, where she blogs about how to create conflict with subtext.

Diana López on Migas, Confetti, and Martha Stewart

By Diana López

Ask My mood RingRecently, I was asked an excellent question. This came from a writing teacher who shared Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel with his class and wanted me to comment on the narrative techniques I used. His students noticed that I’d added a description of migas, a dish that Tejanos are very familiar with. So they were curious about how I handled cultural details in my fiction. In other words, when writing for readers who do not have the same cultural background as my characters, how do I decide what to explain and what to leave for the reader to figure out?

I love sharing the unique foods, words, and customs of my Tex-Mex world. That said, I don’t intentionally add cultural details. I don’t have to because they’re here, in my home and neighborhood. I don’t even recognize them as unique sometimes. For example, in the second chapter of Confetti Girl, we visit a home filled with cascarones and everything that is used to make them—eggshells, tissue paper, vinegar dyes, and confetti. I grew up with cascarones. Starting in January, my mother would save eggshells, and by the end of Lent, we’d have piles of egg cartons stacked on top of the fridge. She’d save old magazines and newspapers too, so we could make confetti with a hole-puncher. Then a few days before Easter, the family would gather around the table to dye the eggshells and fill them with confetti. This was my favorite part of cascarones—not cracking them on each other’s heads but making them.

Confetti GirlCascarones are an important tradition during San Antonio’s Fiesta, and people often sell them from empty parking lots or their front yards. After seeing so many confetti eggs around my neighborhood, I thought, what a great detail for my book. I had no idea they’d be so important in the final version.

When I first submitted the manuscript to New York publishers, they wrote back with questions about these mysterious cascarones. They wanted pictures and instructions. They were so fascinated by something I’d taken for granted. So now when you open a copy of Confetti Girl, you’ll see the confetti egg instructions on its opening pages. It’s wonderful to hear from readers who are making them for the first time. A young girl from Australia wrote to say that she and her mum made them, and when I visit schools, students often share some very creative cascarones, much too pretty to crack on anyone’s head.

Something similar happened with a cultural detail in my mood ring book. Making a promesa when someone gets ill is a common practice in South Texas, so naturally, when my character Erica learns her mother has breast cancer, she makes a promise to get five hundred people to sponsor her for a fundraiser. Like the cascarones, the promesa gained importance as I worked through the novel. Not only did it provide a goal for Erica, but it also worked thematically by giving her a chance to ask a lot of questions about faith and hope. I love when details come to life this way.

ChokeThere are smaller cultural details in my books, too. Erica sings “pio pio pio” to her mom. In Choke, my character eats barbacoa and drinks Big Red for breakfast. My books are full of “mijas” and “viejitos.” These details may not take on any symbolic significance, but they are just as important because they’re integral to the setting.

At a book festival last month, a participant asked me to name a pet peeve related to writing. I said, “I hate when people tell me I should add more cultural interest to my books.” In other words, I don’t like these details to be forced. They have to feel natural, and as long as I’m not consciously adding them, they will be. Sure, my characters eat migas, but they eat pizza, too.

So how do I decide which details to explain and which to leave alone? This is where a good editor comes in. We’ll get to this point in the revision process where she’ll highlight places with unfamiliar images and words. I remember the first time this happened. I wrote a book set in Corpus Christi, and I mentioned the T-heads, not realizing how unique that term was. The editor had no idea what I was talking about, so I added an appositive phrase for clarification. Ultimately, that’s what I have to determine. Are there enough context clues or should I be a little more explicit? The last thing I want is for a reader to stop because she’s confused. In that sense, I am very grateful to have an editor who is not from my world and who can point out these places—and the best editors are good about letting me decide what to do.

Now here’s something very interesting. Did you know that Martha Stewart featured cascarones on her show? Soon they’ll be as mainstream as piñatas and guacamole, so don’t be surprised when I take all the credit!

Photo credit: Todd Yates

Photo credit: Todd Yates

Diana López is the author of the middle grade novels Confetti Girl, Choke, and Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel. An adaptation of Choke will be featured on the Lifetime Movie Network this summer. Ms. Lopez teaches at the University of Houston-Victoria and works with CentroVictoria, an organization devoted to promoting Mexican American literature. She is also one of the editors of the literary magazine, Huizache.