Book Review: Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México by Duncan Tonatiuh

 

Review written by: Sanjuana C. Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION FROM THE COVER: As a child, Amalia Hernández saw a pair of dancers in the town square. The way they stomped and swayed to the rhythm of the music inspired her. She knew one day she would become a dancer.

Amalia studied ballet and modern dance under the direction of skilled teachers who had performed in world-renowned dance companies. But she never forgot the folk dance she had seen years earlier. She began traveling through the Mexican countryside witnessing the dances of many regions, and she used her knowledge of ballet and modern dance to adapt the traditional dances to the stage. She founded her own dance company, a group that became known as El Ballet Folklórico de México.

Using his signature illustration style, inspired by the ancient art of the Mixtecs, award-winning author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh tells the story of Amalia Hernández and the formation of the Flokloric Ballet, one of the most famous and successful dance companies in the world.

MY TWO CENTS: Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México tells the story of Amalia Hernández and the dance company that she founded. The description of Amalia’s life is told in a straightforward way and her story in enhanced by the beautiful illustrations. Amalia’s story of hard work, passion, and dedication is inspiring to read. Duncan Tonatiuh is intentional in mentioning the way that Amalia learned about the regions in which she danced. Through his storytelling, Tonatiuh details how Amalia Hernández took great care to learn about the regions of Mexico that she would be representing in her performances, “Ami began to travel to villages all around the country to learn as much as she could about the area’s traditional dances. She read about the history of each place and talked with elders.” This is important because it shows how Amalia tried to honor the traditions and people that she was representing in her productions.  The book details how Amalia’s dance company became famous in Mexico and around the world through representing the traditional dances inspired by the different regions in Mexico. The book also details how El Ballet Folklórico de México continues to perform every week and has been doing so for the past 50 years.

Through this book, Tonatiuh introduces us to an important historical figure who may not be well known. He introduces readers to Amalia and in doing so, he describes her importance in Mexico and the world. While discussing Amalia’s impact and legacy, Tonatiuh states that “She made the folkloric dances of Mexico known around the world, and she encouraged people of Mexican origin to feel pride in their roots and in their traditional dances”. This book highlights someone who was not only excellent in her field, but was also proud of her cultural heritage.

Tonatiuh’s signature illustrations, based on pre-Columbian Mexican art are a masterpiece! The pictures depict the traditional dances that Amalia’s dance company performed. The illustrations are colorful, fun, and bold. In particular, the movement of the dancers is done in such a way that readers able to see the movement in the different dances.

The back of the book offers more information about Amalia Hernández in the author’s notes. Here, Tonatiuh details some of the hardships and difficulties that Amalia experienced in establishing her dance company.  The book also offers an index, glossary, and sources where readers can get more information about the topic.

Prior to reading this book, I was not familiar with Amalia or the dance company that she worked to establish. As I read the text, I began to ask myself about Mexican historical figures, particularly women and the lack of representation of Mexican women in texts. This book is a great introduction to a woman who had a passion, worked hard to achieve her goals, was immensely proud of her Mexican heritage, and who sought to share Mexico’s rich history with the world through dance. I am providing some links that can help readers become familiar with Amalia and El Ballet Folklórico de México. There were several stories written about her after Google honored her with a doodle in September 2017 after what would have been her 100th birthday.

Amalia Hernandez’s 100th Birthday

https://www.google.com/doodles/amalia-hernandezs-100th-birthday

Amalia Hernandez, the revolutionary Mexican dance pioneer, gets a Google Doodle salute

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/comic-riffs/wp/2017/09/19/amalia-hernandez-the-revolutionary-mexican-dance-pioneer-gets-a-google-doodle-salute/?utm_term=.f7ae40043cf4

 Website for El Ballet Floklórico de México

http://www.balletfolkloricodemexico.com.mx

WHERE TO GET IT: To find Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR: Duncan was born in Mexico City and grew up in San Miguel de Allende. He graduated from Parsons The New School for Design and from Eugene Lang College in New York City in 2008. His work is inspired by Ancient Mexican art, particularly that of the Mixtec codex. His aim is to create images that honor the past, but that address contemporary issues that affect people of Mexican origin on both sides of the border. His book Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale is the winner of the 2014 Tomás Rivera Mexican American children’s book award. It is also the first book to receive two honorable mentions, one for the illustrations and one for the text, from the Pura Belpré Award for a work that best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in children’s books. The book was featured in USA Today, The Chicago Sun, The Houston Chronicle among other major publications because it deals with the controversial topic of immigration. His book Diego Rivera: His World and Ours won the 2012 Pura Belpré illustration award. It also won the 2012 Tomás Rivera. His first book Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin received an honorable mention from the Pura Belpré Award in 2011. It was named an Americas Award Commended Title and a Notable Book for a Global Society list.

 

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.

Book Review: Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh

Reviewed by Cecilia Cackley

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK (from Goodreads): Funny Bones tells the story of how the amusing calaveras—skeletons performing various everyday or festive activities—came to be. They are the creation of Mexican artist José Guadalupe (Lupe) Posada (1852–1913). In a country that was not known for freedom of speech, he first drew political cartoons, much to the amusement of the local population but not the politicians. He continued to draw cartoons throughout much of his life, but he is best known today for his calavera drawings. They have become synonymous with Mexico’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival. Juxtaposing his own art with that of Lupe’s, author Duncan Tonatiuh brings to light the remarkable life and work of a man whose art is beloved by many but whose name has remained in obscurity.

MY TWO CENTS: I can’t say enough good things about this book! Tonatiuh tells Posada’s life story simply, while still giving background information on events such as the Mexican Revolution for context. The pages showing a breakdown of the three distinct artistic processes that Posada used (lithography, engraving and etching) are especially helpful in visualizing exactly how he created his drawings. Tonatiuh’s signature profile figures, inspired by Mixtec codex imagery, fit nicely alongside Posada’s black and white skeletons. The full page reproductions of famous skeleton art alongside a question about what message Posada was communicating with his art push readers to consider the goals of the artist. A detailed author’s note, glossary, and bibliography are essential for those looking for further information. This is a great read aloud for younger kids that still has enough detail and big ideas for older readers.

TEACHING TIPS: This is going to be a marvelous read aloud for both art teachers and classroom teachers. While many people will likely choose to highlight it during National Hispanic Heritage Month or around Dia de Muertos, it should also be a good fit for classes studying political cartoons or art history. Tonatiuh’s fantastic spread at the end of the book showing skeletons doing present day activities is a wonderful prompt for students to create their own calaveras artwork. As our world becomes more global and art and culture make their way across borders, this book provides an opportunity to discuss the importance of crediting artists and researching the history of particular art and cultural traditions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Duncan was born in Mexico City and grew up in San Miguel de Allende. He graduated from Parsons The New School for Design and from Eugene Lang College in New York City in 2008. His work is inspired by Ancient Mexican art, particularly that of the Mixtec codex. His aim is to create images that honor the past, but that address contemporary issues that affect people of Mexican origin on both sides of the border. His book Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale is the winner of the 2014 Tomás Rivera Mexican American children’s book award. It is also the first book to receive two honorable mentions, one for the illustrations and one for the text, from the Pura Belpré Award for a work that best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in children’s books. The book was featured in USA Today, The Chicago Sun, The Houston Chronicle among other major publications because it deals with the controversial topic of immigration. His book Diego Rivera: His World and Ours won the 2012 Pura Belpré illustration award. It also won the 2012 Tomás Rivera. His first book Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin received an honorable mention from the Pura Belpré Award in 2011. It was named an Americas Award Commended Title and a Notable Book for a Global Society list.

LINKS:

SLJ Review

Kirkus Review

Publishers Weekly Review

Kirkus Prize Finalist Announcement

Google Hangout Video

 

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: Salsa: Un poema para cocinar / Salsa: A Cooking Poem by Jorge Argueta

 

By Marianne Snow

DESCRIPTION (from Goodreads): In this new cooking poem, Jorge Argueta brings us a fun and easy recipe for a yummy salsa. A young boy and his sister gather the ingredients and grind them up in a molcajete, just like their ancestors used to do, singing and dancing all the while. The children imagine that their ingredients are different parts of an orchestra — the tomatoes are bongos and kettledrums, the onion, a maraca, the cloves of garlic, trumpets, and the cilantro, the conductor. They chop and then grind these ingredients in the molcajete, along with red chili peppers for the “hotness” that is so delicious, finally adding a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of salt. When they are finished, their mother warms tortillas and their father lays out plates, as the whole family, including the cat and dog, dance salsa in mouth-watering anticipation.

Winner of the International Latino Book Award for Guacamole, Jorge Argueta‘s text is complemented by the rich, earthy illustrations of Duncan Tonatiuh, winner of the Pura Belpré Award. His interest in honoring the art of the past in contemporary contexts is evident in these wonderful illustrations, which evoke the pre-Columbian Mixtec codex.

MY TWO CENTS: Here’s another Jorge Argueta picture book that’ll make you hungry! Argueta has created several bilingual poetry books that celebrate traditional Latin American dishes – including Guacamole, Sopa de frijoles / Bean Soup, and Arroz con leche / Rice Pudding – and Salsa is just as mouth-watering. I love how he uses beautiful language to stir the senses, appealing to readers’ taste and smell with scrumptious descriptions of vegetables and herbs; sound by drawing comparisons between ingredients and musical instruments; and touch by weaving together the acts of cooking and dancing.

As a lover of spicy food, I particularly enjoy Argueta’s ode to hot chiles, complete with imagery that clearly evokes the crackly, wrinkled skin and the tingly burn of the peppers. Here’s a little taste:

Hay chiles con cara de abuelo

y chiles con cara de abuela.

Hay chiles rojos

como llamitas.

Al morderlos nos calientan la lengua

como si tuviéramos en la boca una lucecita.

 

There are chilies with faces like a grandfather

and chilies with faces like a grandmother.

There are red chilies

like little flames.

When we bite one our tongue gets hot,

as if we had a tiny light on in our mouth.

 

I really wish I had some salsa right now.

Meanwhile, Duncan Tonatiuh’s signature illustration style, which hearkens back to pre-Columbian Mixtec art, captures readers’ sense of sight and beautifully reminds us of Mexico and Central America’s past while celebrating a contemporary family coming together to prepare a meal. Inviting Tonatiuh to illustrate this book is a perfect choice, since his historically inspired images reflect Argueta’s description of the history of the molcajete, the mortar and pestle crafted from volcanic rock that people have long used to grind vegetables and spices. This connection of the past and present through both words and illustrations makes Salsa an especially delicious dish for me.

(My much loved molcajete.)

TEACHING TIPS: This book is an invitation for several meaningful hands-on learning activities. Students and teachers can write up bilingual recipes for salsa using the ingredients Argueta presents in the poem and then make a tasty, healthy snack to eat and share with others at school. If children have family members or friends who have experience using a molcajete to make salsa, teachers can invite these special guests to demonstrate their techniques – a perfect opportunity to welcome students’ home lives and funds of knowledge into the classroom. Afterwards, everyone can write their own food poems utilizing some of the various literary devices – similes, metaphors, rich imagery, synesthesia – that Argueta employs.

Additionally, Salsa is an excellent springboard for a science lesson about composting and plant growth. When the family in the poem finishes making their salsa, the son takes leftover lime seeds and vegetable peels outside and buries them in a hole in the ground:

Las entierro para que se conviertan en abono,

Children can do the same when they finish their own salsa, making hypotheses about what will happen to the seeds and foods scraps and then observing the changes that occur as weeks pass. Will the vegetable matter decompose and turn into soil? Will new plants emerge from the seeds? You’ll have to try it and see!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from Salsa’s book jacket): Jorge Argueta is an award-winning author of picture books and poetry for young children. He has won the International Latino Book Award, the Américas Book Award, the NAPPA Gold Award, and the Independent Publisher Book Award for Multicultural Fiction for Juveniles. His books have also been named Américas Award Commended Titles, USBBY Outstanding International Books, Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books, and Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices. A native Salvadoran and Pipil Nahua Indian, Jorge spent much of his life in rural El Salvador. He now lives in San Francisco.

LINKS / OTHER INFO: Here are a couple of fascinating videos that teachers can use to supplement the book:


FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Salsa visit your local library or bookstore. Also, check out WorldCat.orgIndieBound.orgGoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

MarianneMarianne Snow is a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, where she researches Latin@ picture books, representations of Latin@ people in nonfiction children’s texts, and library services for Spanish-speaking children and families. Before moving to Georgia, she taught Pre-K and Kindergarten in her home state of Texas and got her master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at Texas A&M University. In her spare time, she enjoys obnoxiously pining for Texas, exploring Georgia, re-learning Spanish, and blogging at Critical Children’s Lit.

Book Review: Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

Reviewed by Lila Quintero Weaver

Separate is Never Equal 2

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: When her family moved to the town of Westminster, California, young Sylvia Mendez was excited about enrolling in her neighborhood school. But she and her brothers were turned away and told they had to attend the Mexican school instead. Sylvia could not understand why—she was an American citizen who spoke perfect English. Why were the children of Mexican families forced to attend a separate school? Unable to get a satisfactory answer from the school board, the Mendez family decided to take matters into their own hands and organize a lawsuit.

In the end, the Mendez family’s efforts helped bring an end to segregated schooling in California in 1947, seven years before the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education ended segregation in schools across America.

Using his signature illustration style and incorporating his interviews with Sylvia Mendez, as well as information from court files and news accounts, Duncan Tonatiuh tells the inspiring story of the Mendez family’s fight for justice and equality.

MY TWO CENTS: Kudos to Duncan Tonatiuh for shining a bright spotlight on a consequential, but often overlooked chapter of American civil rights, and bringing this true story of Latinos fighting for racial justice to young readers. The book features Tonatiuh’s trademark, award-winning illustration and his retelling of the facts.

In the mid-1940s, when the action takes place, Sylvia Mendez is nine years old. She’s the daughter of Gonzalo Mendez, a Mexican-born, naturalized citizen of the United States, and his wife, Felicitas, from Puerto Rico. When the Mendez family moves from Santa Ana, California, to a farming community in Orange County, Sylvia and her brothers are not permitted to enroll in the neighborhood school and are instead sent to a school designated for Mexicans, which is farther from home. Unlike the white children’s school, it’s dirty, crowded and lacks a playground. The students eat lunch outdoors next to a fly-infested cow pasture. To top it off, the teachers seem indifferent, as if Mexican children weren’t worth the bother.

The Mendez family launches a campaign to demand equal education for their children. Sylvia’s father first pursues answers from officials all the way up the line to the board of education, but no one offers a credible explanation. The common refrain is “that is how it is done.” Mr. Mendez organizes members of the Mexican community and hires a lawyer to challenge the discriminatory practices in court. Young Sylvia is in the courtroom during the proceedings, where she hears statements by a school official about the supposedly lice-ridden, inferior nature of Mexicans. It takes two court cases to settle the outcome. The judge’s final ruling states that “public education must be open to all children by unified school association regardless of lineage.”

After Sylvia’s parents successfully face down California’s version of Jim Crow laws, she enrolls in the neighborhood school, shattering longstanding color barriers. In the corresponding page spread, a white boy tells Sylvia, “You don’t belong here,” and Sylvia is shown with a bowed head and a tear sliding down her cheek. Reminded by her mother of the long fight they undertook to win her right to equal schooling, Sylvia perseveres, proving herself as steely as her parents. In the closing pages, she and other brown-skinned children are shown side-by-side with white classmates in the school playground.

Separate is Never Equal spread

Tonatiuh’s account highlights the exemplary character of Mr. and Mrs. Mendez. Every movement for justice has its heroes and pioneers, and the Mendez family richly deserves that level of recognition. Taking up the fight involved considerable personal risk. They used their life savings to kickstart the legal fund. Eventually, they received wider support. Leading the charge took Mr. Mendez away from the farm for long stretches, leaving Mrs. Mendez to perform farming tasks that her husband normally would have handled. As the story shows, many Mexican families in the community declined to join the lawsuit, for fear of economic retribution. “No queremos problemas,” they said.

The California campaign for educational equality, spearheaded by the Mendez case, ultimately led to the 1954 ruling on Brown v. Board of Education. The victory illuminated by Separate is Never Equal belongs in a clear line of prominent milestones of American civil rights. How fortunate that someone with Tonatiuh’s skill has brought it out of the shadows.

TEACHING RESOURCES: Beyond the importance of the story, Tonatiuh’s groundbreaking illustrations deserve readers’ attention. His drawings marry childlike innocence with characteristics of ancient Mixtec art. (See my review of Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale for a fuller discussion of his style.) In Separate is Never Equal, the illustrations take on the added dimension of historical details from the 20th century. Teachers may want to provide students with photographs from the era to demonstrate how carefully Tonatiuh researched and reproduced clothing, hairstyles, automobile models, and other authenticating markers of the 1940s.

As is generally the case with nonfiction picture books, younger readers will likely need adult guidance to understand sections of the story that deal with legal proceedings and other points of the Mendez’s battle.

This book presents powerful opportunities for teaching empathy and strengthening awareness of the pain that racism inflicts. One scene shows a public swimming pool with a sign stating, “No Dogs or Mexicans Allowed.” Mexican children look longingly through the fence at the white children frolicking in the pool. Teachers can pose discussion questions such as, “Imagine yourself on both sides of the fence. How would you feel in either situation?” Consider comparing Sylvia Mendez’s experiences with those of Ruby Bridges, the young African American girl who integrated New Orleans schools in 1960.

A section in the back of the book includes an author’s note, a glossary, a bibliography and explanatory details about methodology. Much of Tonatiuh’s research came from court documents and extensive interviews with Sylvia Mendez. Glossary entries include a handful of Spanish phrases used in the book and historical terms that round out the context. One example is the origin of “separate but equal,” a phrase plucked from the 1896 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Plessy v. Ferguson case, which laid the foundation for decades of Jim Crow laws.

In 2010, Sylvia Mendez received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She is interviewed on this video, which highlights points of the story told in the book and shows photographs of her as a child and of the schools in question.

Duncan Tonatiuh

Duncan Tonatiuh  was born and raised in Mexico. He studied art in the United States. His picture book Pancho Rabbit and The Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale won the 2014 Tomás Rivera Mexican American children’s book award, and two honors for text and illustration from the Pura Belpré Award. Read more about Duncan on his official website.

Book Review: Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale by Duncan Tonatiuh

Pancho Rabbit coverBy Lila Quintero Weaver

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: A young rabbit named Pancho eagerly awaits his papa’s return. Papa Rabbit left two years ago to travel far away north to find work in the great lettuce and carrot fields to earn money for his family. When Papa does not return home on the designated day, Pancho sets out to find him. He packs Papa’s favorite meal—mole, rice and beans, a heap of still-warm tortillas and a jug full of fresh aguamiel—and heads north. He soon meets a coyote, who offers to help Pancho in exchange for some of Papa’s favorite foods. They travel together until the food is gone and the coyote decides he is still hungry…for Pancho!

Award-winning author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh brings to light the hardship and struggles facing families who seek to make better lives for themselves by illegally crossing the borders.

MY TWO CENTSWho does not love a fable, beautifully told? Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote is an allegory of migration, simplified for young children and illustrated with highly original art adapted from the style of Mixtec codices.

The adventure begins when Papa and his migrant companions, Señors Ram and Rooster, fail to return at the appointed time. Pancho sneaks off at night to find him. Perils along the journey provide appropriate levels of tension for early readers, but each danger that Pancho faces has a factual counterpart in the experiences of many undocumented Latino immigrants. First, there is—pardon the expression—a wily coyote who promises to guide Pancho to his father.  Children will instinctively realize that this coyote isn’t a true friend. Plus, physical dangers lurk at every turn—snakes, hunger, thirst, a river crossing, a dark tunnel, and a ride on the roof of a train. Most young children will accept these scary moments as tropes of fable and nothing more, helped by the fact that Tonatiuh softens each danger appropriately. For example, when Pancho nearly loses his balance on the roof of the train, the range of dire consequences implied by a fall will escape a child’s notice.

Pancho is a sturdy soul, driven to press through by his burning desire to reunite with Papa. As time goes by, the coyote demands more food from Pancho—food intended for Papa. This mirrors the exploitative nature of many human coyotes, infamous for charging exorbitant sums for their services and not always delivering on their promises. At last, Pancho and the coyote cross the border and spend the night in a hut. When the coyote discovers that Pancho’s food stores are depleted, things go from bad to very bad. “‘In that case,’ said the coyote, ‘I will roast you in the fire and eat you!’” As Pancho cowers in a corner, the huge shadow of a long-fanged coyote looms over him. Shades of Little Red Riding Hood! Just in time, Papa, Señor Rooster and Señor Ram burst into the hut, and the treacherous coyote runs off into the night.

Why were the returning farm workers delayed? “‘A gang of crows attacked us,’ said Señor Rooster. ‘They took the money and gifts we were bringing back to our families and left us stranded in the desert.’” This introduces yet another parallel to reality, the bandits that prey on defenseless immigrants. Back at the rancho, the welcome fiesta goes off without a hitch. The rabbit children beg their father to never leave them again, but he cannot guarantee it. “‘If it doesn’t rain again next year and if there is no food or work on the rancho, what else can I do?’” The children insist they will go with him, but Mamá has a more practical wish. “‘Let’s hope it rains.’”

No discussion of this book can be complete without delving into the art. In a video linked below, Duncan Tonatiuh explains the origins of his style and how meeting immigrants of Mixtec heritage prompted him to adapt the art for contemporary illustration.

Let’s review a few characteristics of Mixtec art:

  • Strong outlines of external and internal shapes
  • Flat colors within those shapes
  • Faces of humans and animals represented in profile
  • Stylized perspective—rugs, tables, other flat surfaces do not recede in space, but appear vertically placed

All of these characteristics are present in Tonatiuh’s art, along with notable adaptations:

  • Modern settings
  • Elements of collage
  • Textured surfaces, sometimes with photographic fidelity
  • Facial expressions that raise emotional content

To elaborate on facial expressions, take note of how variations in characters’ eyes, ears, lips and posture are used to denote sadness, fear, determination, and joy.

To learn more about ancient Mixtec people and their elaborately illustrated manuscripts, see this site

TEACHING TIPSAn author’s note addresses the human issues allegorized in the story of Pancho Rabbit and the rest of the animal characters. There is also a glossary of Spanish terms.

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote is a fable that can be read on two levels. The average young child will relate to it exactly as it appears on the surface—an enchanting story with animal characters that embark on an adventure. Parents and teachers will have to decide how much to reveal to unsuspecting children about the characters’ human counterparts. Children who have firsthand experience or family stories that parallel the perilous journeys of Pancho Rabbit are much more likely to catch the story’s underlying meaning. A wise teacher will take this into account.

Many young children will be fascinated by the art, which is unique among picture books. Since Tonatiuh has incorporated rich textures into the illustrations, kids may enjoy a treasure hunt based on specific textures. Here is a list of those represented: ram’s wool, coyote and rabbit fur, denim and other textiles, dried chiles, wood grain, brick, corrugated metal roofing, prickly cacti, straw matting, gravel, rubber tire, snakeskin, topsoil, and feathers.

Just because it’s a picture book, there’s no reason that Pancho can’t be enjoyed by older kids, especially artistic teens. If they seem reluctant, show them Duncan Tonatiuh’s TED Talk video, “Life on the Other Side,” embedded in his website. Many teens will conclude that he’s a pretty cool dude, one worth emulating. You’ll also find a touching multi-voice poem recorded by fourth-graders in Texas. It models an excellent approach to getting young migrants or second-generation immigrants talking about their experiences and feelings.

THE AUTHORDuncan Tonatiuh was born in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. His deep interest in the plight of undocumented immigrants originates in childhood friendships in Mexico and associations he has formed in New York, where he studied art and lives. He is the author-illustrator of other award-winning books, including Diego Rivera: His World and Ours, Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin, and a forthcoming book on Sylvia Mendez.

Duncan has earned a chest full of medals and awards for Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote, including:

  • Pura Belpré Author and Illustrator Honor book 2014
  • New York Public Library’s annual Children’s Books list: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2013
  • Kirkus Best Books of 2013
  • Best Multicultural Children’s Books 2013 (Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature)
  • Notable Children’s Books from ALSC 2014
  • Notable Books for a Global Society Book Award 2014

Immigrant Stories and My Long Night in the ER

Sketch by Lila Quintero Weaver

Image by Lila Quintero Weaver, ©The University of Alabama Press

By Lila Quintero Weaver

I have long been riveted by immigration stories.  These days, my focus has turned to immigration’s impact on Latino children. I was an immigrant child. With my family, I bade farewell to our relatives, native culture and language, and set off into the unknown. Nearly all immigration stories hold these elements in common, but I have a growing preference for reading about journeys that only faintly resemble mine. They expand my understanding of current immigration issues and make me feel more connected to the wider Latino community.

My family emigrated from Argentina in 1961. We landed in Alabama. Latinos were rare in the American South back then, and in our new home the prejudice we encountered was subtle—especially taking into account the intense racial bigotry that vented its full force on African Americans, and which I, for one, was horrified to witness.

Things have changed in the South lately—indeed, across America, as the immigration picture grows ever more complicated. New stories are bound to emerge from these troubled times. My eyes are peeled for them, mostly because of what I’ve seen in my backyard.

The shift in Alabama’s tolerance for outsiders came home to me one summer night in 2005, during a five-hour stretch in the emergency room. Earlier that evening, floaters sprang up in my field of vision. These are sometimes an early warning of retinal separation. The ER physician couldn’t tell me much. He instructed me to see a specialist the next day. Good news: no retinal tear.

Now for the bad news. During those long hours in the waiting room, I caught wind of  heightened anti-Latino sentiment. Out of approximately 60 people seated in the waiting room, fifteen or so were Mexicans or Central Americans. Some spoke no English, and the ER was not prepared. When I overheard halting communication between one Spanish speaker and a flustered triage coordinator, I volunteered to interpret. Soon after that, other Latinos sought my help, including a young couple with a feverish baby. They had returned to the ER a second day in a row and after a long wait, still had not been attended. They feared they were being discriminated against. I checked with the receptionist and managed to resolve their concerns. So it went. My long wait turned into a flash education on the lives of recent immigrants.

As the evening wore on, I overheard white people sitting nearby making snide comments about the Latinos. Some even put on faces of disgust. My heart sank. Alabama had reached a tipping point, I realized. It was no longer the Alabama that my family encountered in 1961, curious about foreigners, but not threatened by us. And by us, I don’t mean that I perceive myself to be a target of revived bigotry. My complexion is too light to draw notice. And my English, correct and unaccented, slips past the radar of most bigots.

But never mind all that. Injustice against anyone offends me, and racial injustice boils my blood.

Alabama’s overall tolerance of brown-skinned people began to crumble in the years that followed my visit to the ER. A recent influx of Hispanic immigrants to the state—the Latino population almost doubled between 2000 and 2010—has stirred the ancient fires of bigotry. I started hearing misinformed grumblings about “illegals” milking public assistance. In the local newspaper, letters to the editor railed against Spanish signage. Recently, a candidate for governor ran on the promise to revert driver’s-license tests to English-only. Meanwhile, farmers, foresters, landscapers, roofers, and other business owners countered that Latino employees demonstrated superior work ethic. We want them here, they said.

Somehow bigotry won out, culminating in the 2011 passage of HB 56, the harshest anti-immigration law in the United States, modeled after legislation in Arizona. Immigrant communities, civil rights activists, and religious and economic sectors around the state raised an outcry before the bill was voted into law, but the legislative body had its mind made up. As a result, thousands of recent immigrants fled the state. Ultimately, federal courts diluted the law and Latinos with strong community ties and business connections returned.  

My alarm over the plight of new immigrants took me on a circuitous route to Latino children’s literature, where I’ve discovered a strong body of immigration stories. As an immigrant, I’m finding familiar ground and fresh exposures. I’m most riveted by the contrasts, and few stories present sharper contrast to my family’s safe passage than the books I’ve been reading lately.

Pancho Rabbit cover

This January, I read La Línea, by Ann Jaramillo, and Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote, an allegorical picture book by Duncan Tonatiuh. Both deal with the fictional experiences of undocumented immigrants. (Check back soon for corresponding book talks.) The power of these narratives has led me to Enrique’s Journey, a highly acclaimed 2006 nonfiction work by Sonia Nazario that follows the arduous journey of a Honduran teenager through similar territory. In 2013, an adaptation for young readers was released, and that’s the version I’ll discuss in an upcoming book talk.

Recently, The New York Times reported on the scientific connection between reading literary fiction and the development of “empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence.” How does this transformative effect take place? Good literature narrows the gaps that exist between us and the “other.” When a character is well crafted, we don’t have to share everything in common with her to enter her point of view.

Empathy, or at least clearer understanding of the human issues involved, could make a night-to-day difference in our society’s attitude toward new immigrants. Last year, I was pleased to spot a bestselling immigration story, Esperanza Rising, on the official school-designated summer reading shelf of my local Barnes & Noble. I would love to see more immigration titles added to reading lists and classroom settings, especially those that humanize current-day migrants. In fact, if I had one additional wish regarding these books, it’s that parents would read them alongside their children. Call me a dreamer, but I believe a steady consumption of strong immigration stories could help us stem the tide of xenophobia and fortify America’s claim on the proud distinction, “a nation of immigrants.”

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And now for some related immigrant stories, told through the power of music. A music video directed by Alex Rivera for Aloe Blacc’s hit song “Wake Me Up,” features actual Latino immigrants reenacting the heartbreak of separation and the joy of reunion. The singer is of Panamanian descent.

Read more in Colorlines, where you’ll find a link to a second Alex Rivera music video on immigrant life, “El Hielo,” sung by La Santa Cecilia.