Bilingual Border Kids: The Dilemma of Translating Summer of the Mariposas into Spanish

By David Bowles

Pretty soon after Summer of the Mariposas was published by Tu Books in 2012, teachers in the US started asking for a Spanish translation. This story of Mexican-American sisters who go on an odyssey into Mexico, confronting obstacles both supernatural and all-too-human, resonated with Latinx readers, and teachers especially wanted immigrant children and other Spanish-dominant ELLs to have full access to the narrative.

But author Guadalupe García McCall (and editor Stacy Whitman) had a very specific vision for the translation. The novel is narrated by Odilia Garza, oldest of the sisters, and it was important that her voice stay true to that of border girls like Guadalupe, even in Spanish.

Ideally, that vision meant hiring a Mexican-American from the Texas-Mexico border to translate the novel.

Five years later, Stacy approached me (full disclosure: she’s publishing a graphic novel that Raúl the Third and I created, Clockwork Curandera). I was excited at the chance to translate a book that I loved and had been teaching at the University of Texas Río Grande Valley, one written by a great friend, to boot!

Guadalupe and I dug in at once. As I translated, she was always available as a sounding board. I’ve discussed the particulars of our collaborative process on the Lee and Low Blog as well as in the journal Bookbird, but here I want to focus on a particular post-publication issue.

Some people just don’t like the translation.

Specifically, a couple of reviews—in Kirkus and elsewhere—fault the Spanish used in the translation as occasionally a “word-for-word” echo of the English, replete with Anglicisms.

Fair enough. I’m not going to actually claim there’s no truth to the critique. But there are some things you should definitely know before you leap to judgment.

The most important one is … most of that English flavor? It’s on purpose.

Quick digression. When I hear these sorts of complaints, they feel to me like code for one or more of the following: 1) this doesn’t read like typical juvenile literature written in Spanish; 2) this isn’t a recognizable Latin-American dialect of Spanish; 3) this feels too English-y in its syntax (though not ungrammatical); and 4) this has been clearly translated by someone who grew up in the US and was schooled primarily in English.

What none of those points takes into account is an obvious and pivotal fact. This book is a first-person narrative, by a Mexican-American teen. The strange Spanish? It’s how she sounds.

Guadalupe Garcia McCall and David Bowles

Let’s talk for a minute about Guadalupe García McCall and David Bowles. Both Mexican-American (yes, I’m half Anglo, but my family is Mexican-American and I identify as such). Both from the border (Eagle Pass/Piedras Negras versus McAllen/Reynosa). Both schooled EXCLUSIVELY in English (no bilingual education, no early efforts to promote our Spanish literacy). Both of us were robbed of that linguistic heritage. Both of us went on to earn degrees in English that we used to teach middle- and high-school English courses.

Our native dialect is border Spanish. Pocho Spanish, some would rudely put it. Rife with English syntax and borrowings, centuries-old forms and words that the rest of Latin-American might giggle or roll their collective eyes at. But it’s Spanish, yes it is. Aunque no te guste.

Now, I started studying formal Spanish in high school, then went on to minor in it for my BA and MA. I ended up teaching AP Spanish Literature for a time, etc. This process gave me a second, formal, literary dialect. I also have lived in Mexico, and I married a woman born in Monterrey. That’s where my third dialect arises, a version of Northern Mexican Spanish.

So, when I set out with Guadalupe to craft the voice of a border kid who loves to read and still has roots in Mexico, this mestizaje of Spanish dialects is what we hit upon.

It amazes me to no end that writers can do odd and/or regional dialogues all the time in English, but a similar attempt in Spanish elicits disapproving frowns.

I’m sorry, but not all books need to be translated into some neutral, RAE-approved literary Spanish. Some are so deeply rooted in a place, in a community, that we have to insist on breaking “the rules.”

To wrap this apologia up, I’ll just toss out two excerpts from chapter 8. No critic has added specifics to their negative reviews, but I will.

As a counter to the implication that the translation is too word-for-word, let’s look at this passage.

“Yup. According to this, the National Center for Missing and Exploded Children is looking for us,” Velia continued reading on.

“Exploited,” I corrected.

“What?” Velia asked, looking at me like I was confusing her.

“Exploi-t-ed, not exploded,” I explained. “The National Center for Missing and Exploi-t-ed Children.”

“Whatever,” Velia said.

Here’s the Spanish version.

—Pos, sí. Según esto, el Centro Nacional de Niños Desaparecidos y Explotados nos está buscando —continuó Velia—. Qué bueno que en nuestro caso no hay bombas.

—Claro que no hay bombas, mensa —corregí.

—¿Cómo? —preguntó Velia, mirándome como si la confundiera.

—Explotados en el sentido de “usados para cosas malas”, no explotados como “volados en pedazos por una bomba” —expliqué—. Ese centro busca a niños secuestrados, esclavizados, etcétera.

—Ah, órale —dijo Velia.

With the exception of “mirándome como si la confundiera” (someone else might’ve said “con una mirada confundida” or some other less English-y variation), the passage doesn’t ape the English at all. Sure, I can see some Spanish speakers objecting to “como si la confundiera,” expecting it to be followed by “con X cosa” (confusing her with X thing). But, yikes, this is pretty much the way lots of border folks would say it.

The other example is from the first paragraph of the chapter:

After I got back to the dead man’s houseI told Inés they were all out of newspapersthen we ate breakfast in record time.

Cuando volví a la casa del difuntole dije a Inés que ya se habían agotado los periódicos y luego desayunamos en tiempo récord.

Yes. Each part of that Spanish sentence is a (grammatically correct) mirror of its English equivalent.

Yes. There are multiple ways to have translated it more freely so that it doesn’t echo the original as much.

Yes. There are more “Mexican” ways of saying “in record time” than the (still pretty common) Anglicism “en tiempo récord.”

But that’s not what we were going for here. As a result, some people are going to not like my translation, just like some editors don’t like the peculiar voices of writers of color in English, with their code-switching and so on.

There are gatekeepers everywhere. Pero me vale.

ABOUT THE WRITER-TRANSLATOR: A Mexican-American author from deep South Texas, David Bowles is an assistant professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Recipient of awards from the American Library Association, Texas Institute of Letters and Texas Associated Press, he has written thirteen titles, most notably the Pura Belpré Honor Book The Smoking Mirror and the critically acclaimed Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Mexican Myths, and They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems. In 2019, Penguin will publish The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande, co-written with Adam Gidwitz as part of The Unicorn Rescue Society series, and Tu Books will release his steampunk graphic novel Clockwork Curandera. His work has also appeared in multiple venues such as Journal of Children’s Literature, Rattle, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Translation Review, and Southwestern American Literature.

Book Review: All the Stars Denied by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

 

Review by Katrina Ortega

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK (from Lee & Low Books): In the heart of the Great Depression, Rancho Las Moras, like everywhere else in Texas, is gripped by the drought of the Dust Bowl, and resentment is building among white farmers against Mexican Americans. All around town, signs go up proclaiming “No Dogs or Mexicans” and “No Mexicans Allowed.”

When Estrella organizes a protest against the treatment of tejanos in their town of Monteseco, Texas, her whole family becomes a target of “repatriation” efforts to send Mexicans “back to Mexico” –whether they were ever Mexican citizens or not. Dumped across the border and separated from half her family, Estrella must figure out a way to survive and care for her mother and baby brother. How can she reunite with her father and grandparents and convince her country of birth that she deserves to return home?

There are no easy answers in the first YA book to tackle this hidden history. In a companion novel to her critically acclaimed Shame the Stars, Guadalupe Garcia McCall tackles the hidden history of the United States and its first mass deportation event that swept up hundreds of thousands of Mexican American citizens during the Great Depression.

 

Image result for no dogs or mexicans

 

MY TWO CENTS: The one thing not lacking in All the Stars Denied is very intense, often life-or-death, drama. Guadalupe Garcia McCall presents readers with historically accurate situations and characters and environments that many readers may connect with deeply. The story is also full of incredibly high stakes, and ultimately can be read as a coming-of-age story.

All the Stars Denied is fast-paced, and readers hit the ground running with Garcia McCall’s high-stakes, dramatic writing. Estrella Del Toro’s family’s story, particularly that of her parents, is spelled out more clearly in Shame the Stars. The story takes place in the Rio Grande valley, an area of Texas where Mexican-American or Tejano (Mexican-Americans born in Texas) identity is often built into every capacity of life. As Estrella illustrates early in the story, language in an area like Monteseco is fluid, with people switching from English to Spanish easily, as their Mexican and American identities interact. Estrella organizes her protest to show the injustices shown to people born on American soil but of (sometimes very distant) Mexican descent. This not only recognizes that, though the people of her town are U.S. citizens, their ethnicity and culture bring their citizenship into question. This also demonstrates the inseparability of ethnicity and culture of many people in Latinx communities in the U.S.

Garcia McCall’s attention to these details is especially critical in today’s political and social climate. She demonstrates how intertwined the lives of many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are, and how similar the cultures continue to be throughout the United States. Through this, Garcia McCall exemplifies the extensive presence, scrutiny, and discrimination that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have had in the United States for many decades.

Garcia McCall also addresses class issues in her book; readers take a close look at the disparities between economic and social classes through Estrella’s experience as a repatriate. The reader gets the impression that the family is quite comfortable in Monteseco and holds both economic and social prestige in their community. During the repatriation process, though, Estrella is thrust into the very real experience of those who do not have the economic means to save themselves from unfair judicial processes. She, along with her mother and younger brother, experience a disarmament of sorts, where anything they might have been able to use to help their cause is denied to them. Throughout their journey, Estrella’s mother tries to soften the blows of their newfound economic hardship, reminding Estrella that much of what they experience is the norm for populations more socially or economically disadvantaged than they are. Estrella learns to appreciate their newfound situation, humbles herself, and works with her mother in any way she can to make sure their family survives another day.

The points made above all contribute to the way in which All the Stars Denied is a Bildungsroman, a coming of age story about a young girl who grows exponentially as a person because of the difficult, unjust, and discriminatory situations she experiences. Estrella repeatedly looks to her family for direction through her father’s journals, her mother’s sage advice, and her grandmother’s memory, and she uses her own journal to express her thoughts and emotions. Even still, and regardless of her young age, Estrella takes a leadership role throughout the narrative. The reader can see Estrella’s development by the way that she creates plans and ideas. Though her proposals might be half-baked, Estrella’s consistently trying to help her mother, putting herself in positions to listen and learn from others to the great benefit of her family. While Estrella’s outspokenness might arguably lead to more scrutiny upon her family, her growing courage – and her notorious tenacity – assist her family in so many different ways and helps her to become a person that not only her family can be proud of, but one that she can be proud of herself.

 

Mexican and Mexican-American families wait to board Mexico-bound trains in Los Angeles on March 8, 1932. County officials arranged these mass departures as part of “repatriation campaigns,” fueled by fears that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were taking scarce jobs and government assistance during the Great Depression.
Los Angeles Public Library/Herald Examiner Collection. Posted on NPR’s website 2015.

 

TEACHING TIPS: In All the Stars Denied, as in Shame the Stars, Garcia McCall shows readers why Mexican American studies is an incredibly important part of any school curriculum, but especially in areas of the country where a majority of the population either comes from or is descended from Latinx countries. Both books stand on their own. By reading both novels, the reader learns about a slice of history not often taught, and is able to do so in both a macro- and microscopic way. In All the Stars Denied, readers see the damage that Mexican Repatriation did to entire communities in cities across the country, as well as to individuals and their families. The life-and-death stakes were real, and this book is an excellent way to introduce not only the chaos caused by terrible discrimination in general, but specifically the destruction caused by unjust immigration laws and xenophobia.

The novel can also teach about the economic hardships experienced around the country as a result of the Great Depression. Much of what Estrella’s family faces during their time in limbo is a result of their lack of monetary resources, but also the lack felt by both the U.S. and Mexico.

Though not the only two teaching tips in the book, these points can easily be used to jump into more contemporary conversations, looking at ways in which present day immigration laws and current economic policies create waves of hardship experienced by many already disenfranchised communities. The resources that Garcia McCall includes in the appendices give excellent background information that is accessible and of significant interest to both youth and adult historians interested in learning about this piece of concealed history.

Posted on Lee & Low Books’ websiteJacqueline Stallworth, curriculum consultant and professional developer, created a guide featuring All the Stars Denied for the “Putting Books to Work” panel at the International Literacy Association (ILA) conference. Check out this guide to find out about tips and strategies for how to use All the Stars Denied alongside other great texts in your classroom.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from Lee & Low Books): Guadalupe Garcia McCall was born in Mexico and moved to Texas as a young girl, keeping close ties with family on both sides of the border. Trained in Theater Arts and English, she now teaches English/Language Arts at a junior high school. Her poems for adults have appeared in more than twenty literary journals. McCall is an up-and-coming talent whose debut YA novel, Under the Mesquite, won the Pura Belpré Award and was named a Morris Award finalist. McCall lives with her husband and their three sons in the San Antonio, Texas, area. You can find her online at guadalupegarciamccall.com.

 

 

 

FullSizeRenderABOUT THE REVIEWER: Katrina Ortega (M.L.I.S.) is the Young Adult Librarian at the Hamilton Grange Branch of the New York Public Library. Originally from El Paso, Texas, she has lived in New York City for six years. She is a strong advocate of continuing education (in all of its forms) and is very interested in learning new ways that public libraries can provide higher education to all. She is also very interested in working with non-traditional communities in the library, particularly incarcerated and homeless populations. While pursuing her own higher education, she received two Bachelors of Arts degrees (in English and in History), a Masters of Arts in English, and a Masters of Library and Information Sciences. Katrina loves reading most anything, but particularly loves literary fiction, YA novels, and any type of graphic novel or comic. She’s also an Anglophile when it comes to film and TV, and is a sucker for British period pieces. In her free time, if she’s not reading, Katrina loves to walk around New York, looking for good places to eat.

Book Review: Shame the Stars by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

 

Reviewed by Araceli Méndez Hintermeister

Shame the Stars CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Eighteen-year-old Joaquin del Toro’s future looks bright. With his older brother in the priesthood, he’s set to inherit his family’s Texas ranch. He’s in love with Dulceña and she’s in love with him. But it’s 1915, and trouble has been brewing along the US-Mexico border. On one side, the Mexican Revolution is taking hold; on the other, Texas Rangers fight Tejano insurgents, and ordinary citizens are caught in the middle.

As tensions grow, Joaquin is torn away from Dulceña, whose father’s critical reporting on the Rangers in the local newspaper has driven a wedge between their families. Joaquin’s own father insists that the Rangers are their friends, and refuses to take sides in the conflict. But when their family ranch becomes a target, Joaquin must decide how he will stand up for what’s right.

Shame the Stars is a rich reimagining of Romeo and Juliet set in Texas during the explosive years of Mexico’s revolution. Filled with period detail, captivating romance, and political intrigue, it brings Shakespeare’s classic to life in an entirely new way.

MY TWO CENTSWhile a comparison to Romeo and Juliet may draw readers in, the iconic story compares very little to Joaquin’s story. As a young man trying to make sense of his adulthood, Joaquin has to grow up abruptly when the Mexican Revolution begins to take hold of South Texas. Political ideologies between their families divide Joaquin from his love, Dulceña, so they must find a way to continue their courtship, but the political climate grows and seeps into their lives creating more obstacles for them. Both Joaquin and Dulceña are politically conscious about the community conflict with the Texan Rangers and the plight of those fleeing the Mexican Revolution. But with that consciousness comes a responsibility of taking action to protect their communities and each other. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, the couple battles to gain agency over their relationship and their surroundings making their story less of a tragic romance.

Shame the Stars does justice in presenting the multiplicity of identity that exists in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and the community that arises from that multiplicity — one that was even more prevalent during a time of tension and reformation of identity after Texas’ addition to the Union. The book highlights that his American citizenship does not break the bond that Joaquin poses for his Mexican and Tejano identities and his brethren within these communities. The book is well researched and uses real events and incidents to drive the narrative of the story. Whether it be the tension that existed between Texan Rangers and Tejanos, the actions of Mexican Bandits, or racial injustices, the stories within Shame the Stars are a close reflection to life in South Texas. This book is an important read for students in not only presenting an overlooked part of American history, but also as a reminder that many connections, experiences, and relationships factor into the Latinx identity in the borderlands.

TEACHING TIPSShame the Stars can be used to discuss a variety of topics with students. The book can be used as supplemental material to a discussion of the annexation of the southern United States — the assimilations that occurred, the tensions that were present, and the political opposition that was present even years later, such was the case with the Plan of San Diego. The different responses among the del Toro family to the rise of conflict in Monteseco could be a jumping point to a discussion on identity in the Latinx community. Each member of the del Toro family felt a different connection or responsibility to the many political movements happening in Monteseco. These connections highlight not only political identities but also cultural and ethnic identities showing how it is never as clear cut to be on one side or another.

RECOMMENDED READING:

  • Anglos & Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1987 by David Montejano, University of Texas Press, 1987
  • From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth Century America by Vicki L. Ruiz, Oxford University Press, 2008
  • Revolution in Texas: How a Forgotten Rebellion and Its Bloody Suppression Turned Mexicans Into Americans by Benjamin Heber Johnson, Yale University Press, 2005
  • River of Hope: Forging Identity and Nation in the Rio Grande Borderlands by Omar S. Valerio- Jimenez, Duke University Press Books, 2013
  • Canicula by Norma Elia Cantu, University of New Mexico Press, 1997
  • Border People: Life and Society in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands by Oscar J. Martinez, University of Arizona Press, 1994

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

author2ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Guadalupe Garcia McCall is the author of Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low Books), a novel in verse. Under the Mesquite received the prestigious Pura Belpre Author Award, was a William C. Morris Finalist, received the Lee Bennett Hopkins/International Literacy Promising Poet Award, the Tomas Rivera Children’s Book Award, and was included in Kirkus Review’s Best Teen Books of 2011, among many other accolades. Her second novel, Summer of the Mariposas (Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books), won a Westchester Young Adult Fiction award, was a finalist for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, was included in the 2013 Amelia Bloomer Project List, the Texas Lone Star Reading List, and the 2012 School Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year. Her poems for children have appeared in The Poetry Friday Anthology, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science. Ms. Garcia McCall was born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was six years old and grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas (the setting of both her novels and most of her poems). She is currently a high school English teacher in San Antonio.

 

professional-picABOUT THE REVIEWER: Araceli Méndez Hintermeister is a librarian and archivist with a background in public, academic, and culinary libraries.She has an MA in history and MLIS from Simmons College where she focused her studies on the role of libraries and archives in the cultural preservation of the U.S.-Mexican border. Additionally, she holds a BA in Ethnic Studies from Brown University.  Her research is greatly influenced by her hometown of Laredo, TX which has led her to work in serving immigrants and underrepresented communities. Her current work involves exploring cultural identity through oral history in her project, Third Culture. You can find Araceli on Instagram. 

Poeta Rebelde: A Guest Post by Author Guadalupe Garcia McCall

 

By Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Poetry is where I live. It is where I go when I am most wounded. Poetry is the place I hide when I am most vulnerable, but it is also the cloak I wrap around myself when I know I have to speak up because I have something important to say. Poetry gives voice to my fears. It allows me to express my concerns with bold and powerful words. I can say more with one line of poetry than I can with a paragraph because poetry lets me cut to the core.

Shame the Stars CoverPoetry is my corazón, my coraje, my fuerza. So it came as no surprise to me that when the child of my heart, my beloved Joaquín del Toro, the embodiment of the men in my life, my courageous father, my brave husband, and my own three daring sons, first spoke to me, he spoke to me in verse.

The night I read Dr. Benjamin Johnson’s book, Revolution in Texas, I heard Joaquín’s voice for the first time. The first poem I wrote that night, among many others, was “Tejano,” which is the poem that opens my third novel, Shame the Stars. It is a poem that speaks to the anger and frustration the people of south Texas must have felt as they watched their families and friends being subjugated, suppressed, and supplanted.

It also came as no surprise to me when the first draft of the original manuscript developed in verse. Poetry was the best way I could express myself as I tried to tell the story of Joaquín and Dulceña. It was the only way I could deal with the atrocities committed against our community the summer of 1915, when Texas lawmen declared war against Mexicans and Tejanos, summarily rounding up, lynching, and fusillading them without the benefit of legal proceedings, a dark time that is now referred to as La Matanza (The Slaughter).

As I did more research, the things I learned helped expand and shape the storyline. My editor at Tu Books, Stacy Whitman, believed Joaquín’s voice was trying to break free of the constraints of the formatting. She was right about that. Poetry had created what my esteemed MFA professor at UTEP, Sasha Pimentel, calls “a very tight corset,” which I think is appropriate for a reimagining of Romeo and Juliet, but which I have to admit, had become too restrictive for the novel.

As I revised Shame the Stars and Joaquín got wiser, as he became more outspoken, I had to cut him loose. Over a long period of months, I rewrote the entire novel-in-verse, turning the main narrative into prose. I let Joaquín breathe by allowing him access to the rest of the page. However, I just couldn’t let his poetic heart go unheard. So I left Joaquín’s most passionate poems intact and even created new, more rebellious poems to express his pain, his sorrow, his heartbreak.

I hope Joaquín’s poems live on for many years to come. I hope they enlighten, embolden, and emphasize just how important our voices are and let everyone know we must stand up and speak up if we want to be heard.

Poetry can be beautiful. It can be lyrical and magical and romantic, and that’s wonderful, but I hope my fans understand that poetry must also be strong and firm and sturdy if it is to bring us to light and to sight. A poem must have grit; it must push and shove and grind if it is going to propel us to change, to persist, to strive.

 

author2ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Guadalupe Garcia McCall is the author of Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low Books), a novel in verse. Under the Mesquite received the prestigious Pura Belpre Author Award, was a William C. Morris Finalist, received the Lee Bennett Hopkins/International Literacy Promising Poet Award, the Tomas Rivera Children’s Book Award, and was included in Kirkus Review’s Best Teen Books of 2011, among many other accolades. Her second novel, Summer of the Mariposas (Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books), won a Westchester Young Adult Fiction award, was a finalist for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, was included in the 2013 Amelia Bloomer Project List, the Texas Lone Star Reading List, and the 2012 School Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year. Her poems for children have appeared in The Poetry Friday Anthology, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science. Ms. Garcia McCall was born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was six years old and grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas (the setting of both her novels and most of her poems). She is currently a high school English teacher in San Antonio.

Book Review: Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

By Lila Quintero Weaver

FINALmariposas_cover_loDESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: When Odilia and her four sisters find a dead body in the swimming hole, they embark on a hero’s journey to return the dead man to his family in Mexico. But returning to Texas turns into an odyssey that would rival Homer’s original tale.

With the supernatural help of ghostly La Llorona via a magical earring, Odilia and her little sisters travel a road of tribulation to their long lost grandmother’s house. Along the way, they must outsmart a witch and her Evil Trinity: a wily warlock, a coven of vicious half-human barn owls, and a bloodthirsty livestock-hunting chupacabras. Can these fantastic trials help Odilia and her sisters prepare for what happens when they face their final test, returning home to the real world, where goddesses and ghosts can no longer help them?

Summer of the Mariposas is not just a magical Mexican American retelling of The Odyssey, it is a celebration of sisterhood and maternal love.

MY TWO CENTSSummer of the Mariposas tells the story of a road trip full of apparitions and supernatural interventions. Several elements of this novel caught my attention, beginning with the fact that it’s patterned after The Odyssey, yet is steeped in Mexican culture and mythology, including Aztecan figures and language.

Although mythical beings show up on a regular basis, the plot is grounded in the everyday life of a middle-class Texas family. The main characters are a lovable collection of cinco hermanitas, the Garza sisters, ages ten to fifteen. The first-person narrator is Odilia, the oldest sister, who with lots of prodding from her siblings—not to mention whispers from La Llorona—gets behind the wheel of a rusty car, bound for El Sacrificio, Mexico. There’s a dead body propped up in the backseat, next to the thirteen-year-old twins. The girls found the dead man floating in the Rio Grande, near their home in Eagle Pass, Texas. His wallet provides an address. A plastic bag in his boot contains enough cash to fund the girls’ self-appointed errand to keep him from the impersonal burial afforded the undocumented. Meanwhile, the girls’ mother is at work, blissfully unaware of her daughters’ border-crossing adventure. They expect to return home before she notices they’re gone. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty. But lovers of fantasy fiction wouldn’t have it any other way.

Guadalupe weaves in an array of fascinating details. Each chapter highlights a Lotería card and the riddle that goes with it. The Garza family used to play this popular Mexican game while their father was still around.  Odilia recalls that during one game, he held up the mermaid card and announced that La Sirena was “‘la mujer who wants to take your Papá away.” Prophetic words? Or was Papá already feeling the lure of the siren song? He abandoned the family a year before the story begins, and no one knows where he is now. The father’s disappearance is the heartache that throbs beneath the fantastical turns of the story. Along their journey, the girls acquire down-to-earth perspective and fortitude. It takes a series of supernatural encounters to bring these lessons home, but don’t discount more pedantic challenges, such as grueling travel conditions and hard knocks brought about by impetuous choices.

Summer of the Mariposas is a traditional prose novel, but Guadalupe’s command of poetic conventions is in full evidence. Sometimes she soothes with lyrical passages. Sometimes she unleashes horror:

“[The lechuzas] soared over us, ranting and raving and angrily flapping their wings. They circled and circled, creating a whirlwind, a dirt devil of debris and dark moldy hay that swirled all the way up to the ceiling. The miniature storm swirled and stood before us like a charmed snake, flicking our hair into our faces, wrapping it around our necks, choking us—stealing our breaths.”

I highlighted that paragraph with a note to self: “Nice writing!”

TEACHING TIPS: The publisher, Lee & Low Books, provides teaching material for Summer of the Mariposas on its site. A mythological glossary, which outlines parallels to The Odyssey and includes background information on the Aztec figures, is a fascinating read. You can also find discussion questions, a link to an educator guide by the blog Vamos a Leer and a book talk by the author.

Has it been a while since you read Homer’s The Odyssey? For a fun synopsis, check this cartoon presentation.

Here is a helpful summary of Tonantzin, the Aztecan deity which figures in this novel, and her connection to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

By all means, check out our interview with Guadalupe, right here on Latin@s in Kid Lit!

IMG_2964 (2)AUTHORGuadalupe Garcia McCall is the author of Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low Books), a novel in verse. Under the Mesquite received the prestigious Pura Belpre Author Award, was a William C. Morris Finalist and received the Ellen Hopkins Promising Poet Award, the Tomas Rivera Children’s Book Award, and was included in Kirkus Reviews’ Best Teen Books of 2011 among many other honors and accoladesHer second novel, Summer of the Mariposas (Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books), won a Westchester Young Adult Fiction Award, was an Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Finalist, and was included in the 2013 Amelia Bloomer Project List, the Texas Lone Star Reading List, and the 2012 School Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year.

Her poems for adults have appeared in more than twenty literary journals across the country and abroad, and her poems for children are included in The Poetry Friday AnthologyThe Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science. Ms. Garcia McCall was born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was six years old and grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas (the setting of both her novels and most of her poems). She is currently a high school English teacher in the San Antonio area and lives in Somerset with her husband, Jim, 2 dogs (Baxter and Blanca), 1 cat (Luna), and her two (of three) college age sons, Steven and Jason.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Summer of the Mariposas, visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.org, indiebound.orggoodreads.comamazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.

Q&A with Pura Belpré Award Winning Author Guadalupe Garcia McCall

By Lila Quintero Weaver

otherUNDERTHEMESQUITEtentativefrontcover3-18-10We’re excited to host a conversation with acclaimed author Guadalupe Garcia McCall. Her first book, Under the Mesquite, won the 2012 Pura Belpré Award and was a finalist for the William C. Morris Debut Award. Her newest work is Summer of the Mariposas, a rich work of fantasy fiction doubly inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey and the mythology of Mexico.

Lila: Guadalupe, congratulations on your wonderful writing career! Welcome to Latin@s in Kid Lit! Let’s get started with a question you’ve probably heard before:

Under the Mesquite is a powerfully intimate coming of age story told in verse. It’s a quiet book. On the other hand, Summer of the Mariposas is a high-energy road trip full of other-worldly characters and action scenes. Describe the paths that led to these diverse creative choices.

Guadalupe: Interestingly enough, both books were born out of my classroom experiences. Under the Mesquite came about because I was teaching my students how to write poetry. I wrote for them, as a way of modeling how easy and accessible poetry is if they focus on using their memories to write poems full of life’s experiences. After many years of teaching poetry (and collecting my little poems in my poetry unit folder), I realized that I had a good size collection of poems about my childhood which I could submit for publication. With the help of Emily Hazel, my editor at Lee & Low Books, that collection eventually evolved into Under the Mesquite.

After Under the Mesquite, I was bouncing around ideas for my next book, not really committed to anything, when one of my female students made the comment that all the books we read in class (we were studying Homer’s Odyssey) were about men—men having adventures, men defeating monsters, and men becoming heroes. This really upset my female students, and on her way out of my classroom, that same young lady told her friend, “It’s not fair. We need our own Odyssey!”

And that was it. That was my “light bulb” moment. Actually, it was more like a giant, blinding spotlight cast over a dark, neglected corner of our classroom that I couldn’t ignore as I drove home that afternoon. My girls were right. They needed to see themselves in literature. They needed their own stories to show the world that they are strong, and courageous, and smart. So I took out the sticky notes and started plotting out a Girl-Power adventure story using the Hero’s Journey just for them, for my “muchachas.” But as I worked on it, something else came to mind. Why use the same old Greek gods and monsters? Why not use our own mythology? We have just as many great characters to choose from in Mexican lore. And so it began, the frenzied scribbling and joyous giggling that comes when you first start plotting out a story—the discovery, the freedom, the breakthroughs—it’s all very intoxicating! I have to admit, I had a lot of fun writing Summer of the Mariposas because I knew my girls were hungry to read something like it.

Lila: Along with its supernatural elements, Summer of the Mariposas carries an understated but clear message of feminine strength and resilience. You force your characters to confront family challenges and heartbreaks. What do you hope to give young readers through this story?

FINALmariposas_cover_loGuadalupe: When I started writing Summer of the Mariposas, I wanted to tell a fun female story. However, I also knew I wanted to showcase the strength and resilience that it takes for a young lady to come of age and embrace womanhood in our society. I wanted young girls to believe in themselves and trust that a female is just as equipped to take care of herself and her loved ones as her male counterpart. That they are lacking nothing—that all young ladies have the courage to take life by force and the wisdom to attain their goals.

Lila: I’m sure you’ve been attuned to the recent conversation on diversity in literature, especially in children’s and YA publishing, which has stirred up a lot of media attention. One article quoted Matt de la Peña as saying, “Where’s the African American Harry Potter or the Mexican Katniss?” As a Latina writer, you must have well-formed opinions on this topic. What are your concerns? And what are your dreams for diversity in kid lit?

Guadalupe: Matt and I must be on the same wavelength because I asked a similar question about a year and a half ago, and I posted it on Facebook in a conversation with my publisher about gaps in children’s literature. We were talking about genre-specific gaps, and I asked a question along the lines of “Where is the Mexican-American Johnny Tremain?” I think it is very important that we start answering these questions. Not with words, but through action.

Listen, this fence is about to crumble. It’s got so many holes in it. The change in the face of our nation (diversity in our classrooms) is not forthcoming. The Change is here. The Change is upon us. We “have” diverse classrooms—and our students are missing the sound of their voice in the narratives available to them. It’s too late to “think” about it or “research” it or “plan” for it. No. It’s time to take action. Publishers need to be addressing the fact that there are not enough diverse children’s and YA books to fill the huge gaps in children’s literature. They need to be actively seeking out new and existing talent and publishing the books that will fill those gaps.

Lila: In addition to authoring books with strong Latino themes, you’ve also taught middle school (and now high school) in Texas. What are your thoughts about turning young Latinos into readers and writers?

Guadalupe: There is this great attitude in South Texas, especially along the Rio Grande Valley, border area, and that is that books are amazing and that their creators, namely authors, are ROCK STARS! The teachers, administrators, district personnel, and especially the community have made it their mission to make books and their creators accessible to children. They seek out grants and special programs and make every concerted effort to continue to feature books and their authors in their schools. They see reading and writing as the greatest assets, the most important tools in their children’s toolbox. I really admire that. I wish that was the case with every teacher, every administrator, every district, and every community in the world. Life would be sweet if we were all about education. I know that I’m being very naive here (with all the other problems to be solved in the world), but I do truly believe in building life-long learners through reading and writing! Reading and writing make up the foundation of learning, and a good book can draw a child in as well as any electronic gadget if presented in the right light, with the right attitude, and with the same attention corporations give to marketing video games, apps, and cell phones. It would mean flipping a Goliath of a paradigm on its ear, and the willingness to take on the fight, but it can and should be done, for our children’s sake!

Lila: Let’s get practical. You work a full-time job and yet somehow manage to write complex novels. What are the habits that help you produce? Is there a piece of writing advice that a mentor gave you which still rings true? What have you discovered on your own that guides you in attacking a new project?

Guadalupe: My habits? Well, I sit down every day to tap at those keys. Sometimes I take a cup of coffee to the porch and write as the sun rises on the weekends. Sometimes, I write the minute I get home from work. And sometimes, I pull over on the side of the road and write in my vehicle on the way to the grocery store because I don’t want to lose that terrific line. Most often, though, I get up in the middle of the night and write in my jammies because that’s when my brain wants to create.

Whatever the case may be, it’s important for me to write every day, to “touch the work every single day!” I heard that somewhere, or maybe I read it. I’m not sure which, but it’s very true. I find that the longer I stay away from writing, the harder it is to get back in the groove of it. It’s like being an athlete. If you don’t keep working out, you lose muscle, and you won’t win any races or bring any trophies home if you don’t work out every day. So this is the advice I pass on to my students,” Work out those writing muscles every day. Read. Write. Read. Write. Read. Write. Oh, and don’t be afraid to catch the latest movie or keep up with your favorite TV show. It’s good research! ”

Lila: Speaking of new projects, you must be working on something. What can you share about it?

Guadalupe: I am working on a YA historical set in Texas during the Mexican Revolution, after the discovery of the Plan de San Diego and all the strife and conflicts of that time period on this side of the border. It’s something that is very close to my heart because I think it’s an important time in “our history” that hasn’t been explored or talked about much in our classrooms. The maltreatment and persecution of Mexican Americans in South Texas during that time is either ignored or glossed over in our textbooks and there is literally little to nothing in YA fiction that touches on the struggles Hispanics experienced during that devastating time period in American history. I really can’t share too much of the plot except to say that it is my attempt at filling in a gap and answering the questions, “Where is the Mexican-American Johnny Tremain? Where is our historical perspective, our ancestral Mexican-American voice?”

 

IMG_2964 (2)Guadalupe Garcia McCall is the author of Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low Books), a novel in verse. Under the Mesquite received the prestigious Pura Belpre Author Award, was a William C. Morris Finalist and received the Ellen Hopkins Promising Poet Award, the Tomas Rivera Children’s Book Award, and was included in Kirkus Reviews’ Best Teen Books of 2011 among many other honors and accoladesHer second novel, Summer of the Mariposas (Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books), won a Westchester Young Adult Fiction Award, was an Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Finalist, and was included in the 2013 Amelia Bloomer Project List, the Texas Lone Star Reading List, and the 2012 School Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year.

Her poems for adults have appeared in more than twenty literary journals across the country and abroad, and her poems for children are included in The Poetry Friday AnthologyThe Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science. Ms. Garcia McCall was born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was six years old and grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas (the setting of both her novels and most of her poems). She is currently a high school English teacher in the San Antonio area and lives in Somerset with her husband, Jim, 2 dogs (Baxter and Blanca), 1 cat (Luna), and her two (of three) college age sons, Steven and Jason.