Book Review: Somos Como Las Nubes / We Are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta

 

Reviewed by Sanjuana C. Rodriguez, PhD

28957208DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: An eloquent and moving account of the tragic migrations of thousands upon thousands of children who are leaving their homes in Central America, often alone, to seek refuge in the United States. Why are they going and how does it feel to be one of them? What is this terrible trip like? What do their hopes and dreams for safety, a new life and a loving reception mean to them?

A refugee from El Salvador’s war in the eighties, Jorge Argueta was born to explain the distressing choice confronting young Central Americans today who are saying goodbye to everything they know because they fear for their lives.

This book is beautifully illustrated by master artist Alfonso Ruano.

MY TWO CENTS: Somos Como Las Nubes/ We are Like the Clouds is a moving collection of bilingual free verse poems. This is one of the few books that I have encountered about the heartbreaking experiences of children who leave their homes to embark on their journey to the United States. This collection of poetry begins with poetry depicting the experiences and sights of the children’s home countries. The poetry then shifts to the journey that children take to get to the United States. The author includes poems that describe the fears of traveling on La Bestia (a fast moving moving train that many migrants use to travel), discuss being accompanied by “coyotes,” and describe children’s feelings as they cross the deserts.  I’ll share one of the most powerful poems about the journey titled “Las Chinamas”. The word Chinamas refers to the border between El Salvador and Guatemala.

When we crossed

the border at Las Chinamas

I saw the river Paz.

Its water runs smiling

between the rocks.

Here the cenzontles (mockingbirds)

never stop singing.

 

I remembered

our schoolyard,

the gualcalchillas, (small songbirds)

and my teacher

Miss Celia.

 

I remembered my mother,

my brothers,

my sisters.

Who knows

when I will see them again.

I look at the sky

and think,

we are like the clouds.

 

What I loved about this book is that there is message of hope in knowing that children are resilient, but the author does not hold back in depicting the heartbreak that goes along with leaving a home country. The book allows the reader to the experience the treacherous journey to the United States through the eyes and wonder of a child. The pictures in this book are also stunningly beautiful. The pictures depict the children’s home countries, families crossing borders, and children laying on the soft sand in the desert. The final poems in the book offer hope. In the poem “Fear,” a mother tells her child in his dream, “This is not a dream, you are in my arms.” The child has arrived to his destination in Los Angeles.

I shed tears when I read this book. It is heartbreaking and it is a poignant reminder that children are children and that there are difficult decisions that children should not have to make. In my opinion, what makes this book even more powerful is that it is written by Jorge Argueta. The author’s note at the beginning of the book shares Jorge’s own experience of fleeing El Salvador and coming to the United States. He shares his inspiration for writing the book by stating, “Like the clouds, our children come and go. Nothing and no one can stop them”.

TEACHING TIPS: This book is an invitation to learn about the harsh realities that children face when they leave their homes and embark on the difficult journey to the United States. It would be a great addition to any classroom library. It would be an excellent book to add to text sets about immigration or refugees. Teachers can also use this book to teach children about writing through difficult situations. It can also be used to show students how illustrations can enhance poetry as this book is beautifully illustrated.

To find Somos Como Los Nubes / We Are Like the Clouds, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Image result for jorge arguetaABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jorge Tetl Argueta is a celebrated Salvadoran poet and writer whose bi-lingual children’s books have received numerous awards. His poetry has appeared in anthologies and textbooks. He won the America’s Book Award, among other awards for his first collection of poems for children, A Movie in My Pillow. He was the Gold Medal Award winner in the 2005 National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) for Moony Luna/Luna, Lunita Lunera. His other works for children include Xochitl and the Flowers, 2003 America’s Award Commended Title, Trees are Hanging from the SkyZipitioTalking with Mother EarthThe Little Hen in the City and The Fiesta of the Tortillas.

 

Alfonso RuanoABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Alfonso Ruano was born in 1949 in Toledo, Spain. He studied painting at the School of Fine Arts in Madrid. He has published about 20 books for children and has received multiple awards for his work.

 

 

 

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.

Celebrating Pura Belpré Award Winners: Spotlight on Julia Alvarez

 

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

Leading up to the event, we will be highlighting the winners of the narrative and illustration awards. Today’s spotlight is on Julia Alvarez, the winner of the 2004 Pura Belpré Narrative Award for Before We Were Free and the 2010 Narrative Award for Return to Sender.

Reviews by Cindy L. Rodriguez

BEFORE WE WERE FREE

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: Anita de la Torre never questioned her freedom living in the Dominican Republic. But by her 12th birthday in 1960, most of her relatives have emigrated to the United States, her Tío Toni has disappeared without a trace, and the government’s secret police terrorize her remaining family because of their suspected opposition of el Trujillo’s dictatorship.

Using the strength and courage of her family, Anita must overcome her fears and fly to freedom, leaving all that she once knew behind.

From renowned author Julia Alvarez comes an unforgettable story about adolescence, perseverance, and one girl’s struggle to be free.

MY TWO CENTS: Anyone who has read Julia Alvarez’s adult novels will enjoy the connections made in Before We Were Free to How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies. In Before We Were Free, Alvarez explores the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic through the eyes of Anita de la Torre, a 12-year-old girl in 1960 whose family slowly reduces in number during the novel. Some, like her cousins, the Garcias, flee the country, while others go missing or are arrested. In the beginning, Anita has little knowledge of politics and the underground movement to assassinate Trujillo. In fact, at the start of the novel, Anita looks to El Jefe’s picture at times when she needs strength. She slowly becomes more aware that life under Trujillo has become increasingly dangerous for many, including her own family members who are a part of the movement to kill the dictator.

One moment of shocking clarity comes when Trujillo attends a party and becomes attracted to her fifteen-year-old sister. The family goes into emergency mode and manages to get her sister out of the country before Trujillo can take her in every sense of the word. Anita’s increased understanding leaves her confused and literally shocked into silence. The once-talkative girl slips into silence, at times even forgetting words that were once simple and familiar. When Anita and her mother go into hiding after Trujillo’s assassination, she writes in her diary, but then erases the pages in case the secret police raid the home. She literally cannot say or write anything because of fear. At some point, Anita decides to write and not erase–or be erased. She wants someone to know she existed if she were ever taken away by the police.

Throughout the novel, Alvarez often refers to wings, birds, and flying in connection with the Mirabal sisters, the “Butterflies” who were murdered, and the fight for freedom that continued through Anita’s family and others. Anita not only takes flight from her home, but has to learn how to free herself internally, to spread her wings and fly despite her grief of losing family and everything she considered home.

A masterful storyteller, Alvarez makes a complex political situation accessible to younger readers through Anita, who faces political drama alongside normal 12-year-old milestones, like getting her period and having a first crush. Alvarez also sprinkles the narrative with other issues that she does not delve into deeper, but could be discussion starters for book clubs and students. For example, Anita’s family employs a black, superstitious Haitian maid. While she is loved like family, this dynamic should spark conversation about race and class issues within Latin American countries. Another example is when Anita begins school in New York City. She is placed in the second grade, despite her age, and her teacher calls her “Annie Torres.” This scene is like a one-two punch to the gut and should be examined further. Mental health is another issue touched upon that warrants further discussion. Anita talks about feeling empty and numb, and her mother takes tranquilizers to calm her nerves. The reader gets the idea that living under such conditions and surviving when family members did not will require years of emotional and psychological recovery.

TEACHING TIPS: Before We Were Free is a great option to include in a historical fiction unit in Language Arts or as a fictional option in a Social Studies class learning about different types of governments, Latin America, or under a theme such as “the fight for freedom.” Students often learn about the colonists’ fight against the British, but rarely learn about more recent struggles for democracy in other countries. The relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic could be explored, as well as the ideas mentioned above. Anita’s character development should be traced and analyzed, paying close attention to what triggers each of her changes and what finally prompts her to have the courage to embrace her new life.

RESOURCES:

Review from Vamos a Leer

Educator Guide from Vamos a Leer

Reader’s Guide from Penguin Random House

 

RETURN TO SENDER:

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: After Tyler’s father is injured in a tractor accident, his family is forced to hire migrant Mexican workers to help save their Vermont farm from foreclosure. Tyler isn’t sure what to make of these workers. Are they undocumented? And what about the three daughters, particularly Mari, the oldest, who is proud of her Mexican heritage but also increasingly connected to her American life. Her family lives in constant fear of being discovered by the authorities and sent back to the poverty they left behind in Mexico. Can Tyler and Mari find a way to be friends despite their differences?

In a novel full of hope, but with no easy answers, Julia Alvarez weaves a beautiful and timely story that will stay with readers long after they finish it.

MY TWO CENTS: Although Before We Were Free and Return to Sender are set in different countries, they have similarities. In Return to Sender, Mari and her family are migrant workers on a Vermont dairy farm. She encounters a mix of acceptance and scorn from her classmates, the townspeople, and even Tyler, at first. The chapters are shared between Mari (first person, often written in letters) and Tyler (third person), who reveals that he is confused about being a proud, patriotic American and knowing that his father is breaking the law by hiring undocumented workers. In addition to dealing with the varied reactions of the locals, Mari’s family worries about the whereabouts of her mother, who returned to Mexico but is supposed to be on her way back via a coyote. She has been unreachable, however, for several months. The family is also under constant threat of deportation. Complicating matters, Mari was born in Mexico, while her two younger sisters were born in the United States, which splits their feelings about where is home and how they would feel if they needed to return to Mexico.

Like Anita in Before We Were Free, Mari ends up in hiding and writing in a diary, after a raid by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ends with her parents being arrested. Also like Anita, Mari needs to find her voice and, in her case, she has to find the courage to speak on behalf of her family to government officials. Read together, students could explore the different reasons for immigration, as the families in the two novels come to the United States for different reasons–political asylum versus employment–yet the underlying reason is always the same–more opportunities for their children.

Things that struck me as odd were Mari’s heavy accent (I listened to the audio book), her lack of understanding of English “sayings,” and her fond memories of Mexico, considering she moved to the U.S. when she was 4 and has attended American schools. Based on my experience with ELL students, these details would have made more sense if Mari had been in the U.S. for only a few years, not the majority of her life.

Still, Return to Sender does a great job of offering various viewpoints on immigration and migrant workers on struggling American farms, and I like that Alvarez places her migrant workers in Vermont, where the author lives, as we most often read and hear about migrant workers in border states.

TEACHING TIPS: As mentioned above, students could read both novels and compare/contrast the characters and their experiences, as both face personal, familial, and political challenges. Return to Sender also allows students to learn more about immigration and migrant workers, particularly in New England. The title was taken from a real government operation to find and deport migrant workers, so students can research that particular policy while reading this fictional account. Both books also lend themselves to deep questions about freedom, rights, and who has access to these.

RESOURCES:

Educators guide from Random House

TeachingBooks.net has interviews and several links with more information about Alvarez and her work.

 

Jilia Avaraz receiving a medal from Barack ObamaABOUT THE AUTHOR: Julia Alvarez is an award-winning writer of poetry, essays, and novels and short stories for children and adults. Alvarez was born in New York City, but her family returned to the Dominican Republic when she was three months old. Her family became involved with the underground movement against dictator Rafael Trujillo. They left the country and returned to New York City in 1960. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College and earned her master’s in creative writing from Syracuse University. She is currently the writer in residence at Middle College and runs a sustainable coffee farm/literacy center in the Dominican Republic.

Her novels for adults include How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent, In the Time of Butterflies, iYo!In the Name of Salomé, and Saving the World. Her books for children include How Tía Lola Came to Visit/Stay, Before We Were Free, Finding Miracles, and Return to Sender. Alvarez has won numerous awards for her work, including the Pura Belpré and Américas Awards for her books for young readers, the Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature. In this picture, she is receiving the National Medal of the Arts from the National Endowment of the Arts, presented by President Barack Obama.

Author Marie Marquardt On Immigration, Research, & Writing Fiction From A Broken Heart

 

By Marie Marquardt

A few years ago, I made a rather unusual decision for a sociologist of religion. I decided to write a romance for young adults – one that is, in many ways, linked to my academic research. I’m going to be honest: it wasn’t exactly a decision. It was something I sat down before dawn one November morning and started doing, despite the constant nagging feeling that this was a huge waste of time and energy because the story would never, ever be finished — much less published.

23848212The words I wrote in those pre-dawn hours eventually became my debut YA novel, Dream Things True. It tells of one Mexican-American family’s journey through immigration, settlement, adaptation, detention, and deportation. It’s told from the perspective Alma Garcia, an ambitious Latina on the verge of adulthood, and Evan Roland, the privileged Southern boy who falls in love with Alma, and who tries with all his might to help Alma preserve her humanity, her extraordinary individuality, andher dreams.

When I began to write Alma and Evan’s story, I was a published author of two non-fiction books on Latin American immigration to the United States, a full-time college professor, and a mother pregnant with my fourth child.  So, clearly, the decision was not one that I made because I needed a new project! I had plenty of projects.

What was I thinking?

Looking back, I see two reasons that I needed to write this story. I work as a researcher, advocate, and service provider with undocumented immigrants in the U.S. South, and because of that work, I often get asked to speak to groups about the contentious topic of undocumented immigration. After several years of standing in front of crowds and sharing great quantities of data and information, I came to a realization: It’s important to know the facts, particularly when so much misinformation is floating around about the causes and consequences of undocumented immigration. But what people long for is the personal connection, the human story.

I have come to believe that, in our polarized, fragmented society, we do not need more information.  Our lives are saturated with information (and misinformation). What we need – what humans long for – is connection. I have been granted the privilege of building friendships with undocumented immigrants, of being a part of their lives, and of caring deeply for them. I have seen the struggles they face not through media sound bites and political rhetoric, but instead through the eyes of love. I wanted to give others, who may not have these opportunities, a chance to enter intimately into the experiences of undocumented immigrants and the people who love them.

I wanted to build connection.

That’s the first reason I wrote Dream Things True. The second reason was one I would only grasp in hindsight. I started writing this book during a very difficult time for undocumented immigrants in the South – when families I knew and loved were being torn apart by detention and deportation. I joined several friends and colleagues to develop a non-profit that works with immigrants in detention and their families. This work is, I believe, the most important work that I do, but it also breaks my heart wide open almost every day. Writing fictional stories about immigrants in crisis allows me to affirm and celebrate their resilience. It also helps me to process the emotion of accompanying these families through very hard times.

I write fiction from a broken heart.

Along the way, I have discovered some surprising similarities between writing fiction and writing academic non-fiction. Both are very hard work. Whether we want to do it or not, authors have to sit down and put words on a page. The professional practice of most good fiction authors I know is much like the practice of good academics: they are inquisitive and creative, and also structured and disciplined. They exist not in solitude, but in a community of people who share their passion and who support their efforts.

Another shared quality is the need for rigorous research. When I began writing Dream Things True, I already had more than a dozen years of experience researching undocumented immigration and working with undocumented immigrants. Nevertheless, I had a great deal of additional work to do, if I wanted to get the story right. Perhaps it’s a sign of how profoundly complex immigration law is, but I consulted with several immigration attorneys and paralegals to ensure that the details of Alma’s story were correct. The story is “true” – not in the sense of reflecting one person’s actual experience, but in the sense of accurately characterizing the journey that Alma’s family would make through the labyrinth that is the U.S. immigration system.

It’s not easy to write a scene at a lawyer’s office or in a courtroom that is both emotionally compelling and accurate, but I do my very best. One of the most amazing compliments I have received was from a colleague who worked for thirty years as the head of immigration legal services for a large non-profit in Atlanta. She told me that the story was, indeed, accurate (yay!) and that she wanted to make it required reading for every incoming attorney at her agency. She believed that reading the story would help them to remember the full, complicated, and profound humanity of each of their clients.

This is the power of fiction.

So I will continue my work as a scholar, advocate, and service provider with undocumented immigrants. And I also will keep writing love stories, because I firmly believe that love is more powerful than fear, and that thorny issues are best solved not from a place of fear but from a place of love.

 

Below are six short videos of Marie Marquardt talking about her debut novel Dream Things True and her work with undocumented immigrants.

 

 

Headshot-OfficialMarie Marquardt is a Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and author of contemporary YA fiction.  She has written several articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. DREAM THINGS TRUE (St. Martin’s Griffin/ September 2015) is her first work of fiction.  She lives in a very busy household in Decatur, Georgia with her spouse, four children, a dog, and a bearded dragon. When not writing, teaching, or chauffeuring her children, she can be found working with El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families.

Q&A with NYTimes Bestselling Author Anna Banks About JOYRIDE

 

22718685By Cindy L. Rodriguez

The latest novel by Anna Banks, the New York Times Bestselling Author of the The Syrena Legacy series: OF POSEIDON (2012) OF TRITON (2013) OF NEPTUNE (2014), releases today. JOYRIDE, a contemporary with a Mexican-American main character, is a change for Banks, but you’ll see that she was ready to cleanse her fantasy palette and that the seeds for this particular story were planted years ago.

First, here is a description of the book:

A popular guy and a shy girl with a secret become unlikely accomplices for midnight pranking, and are soon in over their heads—with the law and with each other—in this sparkling standalone from NYT-bestselling author Anna Banks.

It’s been years since Carly Vega’s parents were deported. She lives with her brother, studies hard, and works at a convenience store to contribute to getting her parents back from Mexico.

Arden Moss used to be the star quarterback at school. He dated popular blondes and had fun with his older sister, Amber. But now Amber’s dead, and Arden blames his father, the town sheriff who wouldn’t acknowledge Amber’s mental illness. Arden refuses to fulfill whatever his conservative father expects.

All Carly wants is to stay under the radar and do what her family expects. All Arden wants is to NOT do what his family expects. When their paths cross, they each realize they’ve been living according to others. Carly and Arden’s journey toward their true hearts—and one another—is funny, romantic, and sometimes harsh.

CINDY: This is a genre shift for you after the very successful Syrena Legacy Trilogy. What sparked you to shift gears and write contemporary fiction?

ANNA: Before we begin, I just want to say it is my pleasure and an honor to be here today. Thank you so much for thinking of me. I enjoy your website and am very supportive of its goals and focuses.

JOYRIDE was sort of a palette cleanser between fantasy worlds. I was ready to write a standalone for once, and Carly’s story kept haunting me at night. To be honest, writing something in the real world was more of a challenge because I had stricter boundaries to abide by, and my characters had only their natural abilities to use to get them out of situations. But it was also a pleasure to have those boundaries, because writing characters who had to use their natural resources, to me, made them stronger and more realistic.

CINDY: And while we’re talking genre, JOYRIDE really is a mix of realistic, romance, and thriller. Was this intentional while you were plotting? Did you want to have some twists that are not always typical with a straight contemporary, or is that just where the story went as you were planning?

ANNA: While I was writing JOYRIDE, I didn’t realize I was writing so many twists in it. To me, it seemed like the natural way things would have to go. Of course, I’ve never written contemporary before (and if I’m being honest I don’t read much of it either), so I wasn’t aware there were sort of “rules” to writing a straight contemporary. Now I realize I’ve written this steroidal hybrid, and I hope contemporary readers can move past that and embrace it. Pretty please? :.)

CINDY: Let’s talk about craft for a bit next. You have a dual narrative, but you use a first-person point of view for Carly and a close third-person for Arden. As both a reader and writer, I’m always curious about these kinds of decisions. Why did you decide on this format instead of a dual first-person?

ANNA: This is me recognizing a weakness I have in writing. I can write a strong female heroine in first person, but for the hero, I need to take a step back and put some distance between myself and him, to distinguish my voice from his voice. I don’t want readers as familiar with my hero and his most inner feelings and thoughts in the way writing in first person would give them access to. In fact, I considered writing JOYRIDE from only Carly’s perspective, but Arden was just too funny to put behind stage.

CINDY: The topic of immigration and deportation are complex, often contentious, social and political issues. What made you want to write about the life of a Mexican-American girl whose parents were deported? What kind of research did you have to do? Was it difficult to write outside of your cultural experience?

ANNA: Living in the Florida panhandle, I live and work and play among many Mexican immigrants—both documented and undocumented. When I was a teenager in particular, I worked at a restaurant where there were some undocumented immigrants, and as we became friends, they told me their stories. They told me their anxiety about being deported, about missing their family, about the fear of being separated from the family they’ve established in the United States. It really left an impression on me. As a teen, I wondered what I would do if my parents were deported, if I was here all alone. I guess Carly was planted in my head all those years ago and I didn’t even know it.

I didn’t have much research to do, because I learned it first hand from my friends and coworkers. That you didn’t want to get pulled over because instead of a speeding ticket, you’d get deported. That you didn’t want to attract attention to yourself. That you sent money home as often as you could. That there were people they called coyotes who helped them cross the border and desert, who demanded large sums of money to help them get set up in the United States. That when you cross the border, you cross with what you can carry, and that’s it.

I’m white, and so writing outside my own cultural experience was terrifying. I wanted to do it respectfully and realistically, because I deeply respect the work ethic and the family values of immigrants, and I wanted to share their plight with the world. But sometimes in writing it, I did wonder if it was my place to do so. But I had a story to tell, and I felt it was an important one, so I kept going.

CINDY: Do you plan to write more contemporary YA? Any projects in the works that you can tell us about?

ANNA: Right now I’m working on an Egyptian based fantasy called NEMESIS and its sequel, ALLY. It’s about a princess who possesses the power to create energy who escapes her father, who wishes to weaponzie it, only to be captured by an enemy kingdom where she discovers her powers could be used to fight a terrible plague.

I write when I have a story to tell, and usually my muse takes me across a lot of different genres. As for writing contemporary again—sure, why not? But I have to have a story to tell. If I find myself wanting to add time travel or wormholes in the contemporary, I’d better just set it aside. :.)

Book Review: Super Cilantro Girl by Juan Felipe Herrera

 

1016493By Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: What happens when a small girl suddenly starts turning green, as green as a cilantro leaf, and grows to be fifty feet tall? She becomes Super Cilantro Girl, and can overcome all obstacles, that’s what! Esmeralda Sinfronteras is the winning super-hero in this effervescent tale about a child who flies huge distances and scales tall walls in order to rescue her mom. Award-winning writer Juan Felipe Herrera taps into the wellsprings of his imagination to address and transform the concerns many first-generation children have about national borders and immigrant status. Honorio Robledo Tapia has created brilliant images and landscapes that will delight all children.

MY TWO CENTS: Upon learning that her mother has been detained at the border, Esmeralda Sinfronteras transforms into a superhero to rescue her mother from ICE. She uses the power of cilantro to grow taller than a house, with hair longer than a bus, and skin so green it could have only come from cilantro. Super Cilantro Girl flies to the border, climbs the dark and dreary detention center to her mother’s window, and simply picks her up and puts her in her pocket and they fly home.  The ICE agents are so mesmerized by the power of cilantro that they do not notice or prevent Super Cilantro Girl from rescuing her mother.  The next morning, Esmeralda makes a huge discovery about her and her mother.

Author Juan Felipe Herrera and illustrator Honorario Robledo Tapia have created a magnificent children’s book about the transformative power of imagination. Esmeralda is emblematic of the many children who have been separated from their families due to unjust and xenophobic immigration laws. Herrera and Tapia go beyond common debates about immigration to give a face and a voice to the children impacted. Esmeralda gains the power and courage she needs to confront ICE from the environment around her. Her grandmother and the land serve as vessels for alternative knowledge that guide Esmeralda through her journey. Furthermore, Herrera’s and Tapia’s reclamation of the color green juxtaposes Esmeralda’s power with the cultural and social power of the “green card.”  In Esmeralda’s imagination, her power is much stronger than anything ICE or a green card could ever have.

There are several ways to read race, gender, and class into this story in order to come up with a thorough analysis of how immigration impacts Latina/o children and their families. What I appreciate most about Herrera’s children’s book is that hope and empowerment are central to the narrative. Giving Esmeralda superpowers reveals the possibility for change that manifests from a child’s imagination. Super Cilantro Girl encourages children to dream, hope, and fight for their rights even if it means going against an entire state apparatus like ICE.

TEACHING TIPS: Super Cilantro Girl can be taught thematically by focusing on issues of (im)migration.  The story’s emphasis on alternative healing methods is resonant of Gloria Anzaldua’s Prietita and the Ghost Woman and Friends from the Other Side. All three texts pay particular attention to holistic healing methods that include using nature as a resource. This is especially important because it allows the children protagonists to gain empowerment from their environments—much in the same way that Esmeralda finds power in cilantro.

Focusing on the superhero theme presents an opportunity to connect art activities with reading. Yuyi Morales’s Niño Wrestles the World prompted the creation of Niño masks to accompany the story—something similar can be done with Herrera’s Super Cilantro Girl.  The relationship between social justice and superheroes in this story can be addressed by asking students to draw and imagine their own superhero. Students can imagine what a superhero in or from their community might look like or students can find inspiration from their community to create a superhero. Xavier Garza’s Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid is another excellent example of a child protagonist using his culture and community to be heroic.

There are several Latino kid’s books that focus on lucha libre that will pair wonderfully with Super Cilantro Girl. Lucha libre connects superhero-like characters with fantasy and reality and that can generate a powerful conversation about superheroes in our communities and culture as well as how children and youth can be their own heroes. Morales’s Niño Wrestles the World and Xavier Garza’s Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask are a few examples that tell stories about children and luchadores.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Super Cilantro Girl,  visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.orgindiebound.orggoodreads.comamazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.

 

headshotSonia Alejandra Rodríguez has been an avid reader since childhood. Her literary world was first transformed when she read Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Última as a high school student and then again as a college freshman when she was given a copy of Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. Sonia’s academic life and activism are committed to making diverse literature available to children and youth of color. Sonia received her B.A. in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of California, Riverside, where she focuses her dissertation on healing processes in Latina/o Children’s and Young Adult Literature.

Guest Post: The Universality of Being an Outsider

 

by Jacqueline Jules

1956Family

Jacqueline Jules’ family in 1956

In my small Virginia town, like many places in the 1960s south, the first question people asked upon meeting was “What church do you go to?”

As a child, I remember fielding that question from parents of new friends and hearing my mother answer it in grocery stores.

“We’re Jewish,” I would explain politely. “We go to a synagogue.”

The response was generally a startled one. People would stare like I was a new species at the zoo.

“Oh my! I don’t think I’ve ever met a Jewish person before!”

From there, I’d often have to answer a series of questions about my “Jewish Church.”

I had been taught from a young age that I represented my religion. If I was impolite, all Jews would be considered rude. I had to be on my best behavior at all times so that others would not have a reason to dislike Jewish people. On many occasions, I also had to explain why Jews didn’t believe in Jesus and why I wasn’t terrified of going to hell. And the questions were just as likely to come from adults as other children.

Growing up, Christmas and Easter were never seasons of joy for me. They were times when the questions intensified. Why didn’t I celebrate Christmas? Didn’t the Jews kill Jesus? I learned early on that the Christmas spirit did not extend to Jewish children.

To add to my stranger status, my parents were not Southern born. Mom was a Northerner from Rochester, New York. Dad was from Switzerland and spoke with a thick German accent. He came to the US after World War II and was not a citizen when I was born. His name was Otto. In small-town Southern culture, having foreign roots set my family apart even in our tiny Jewish community.

So feelings of being “different” are quite familiar to me. I know what it is like to be the child of an immigrant. To be embarrassed in public when people ask your father to repeat something three times because they can’t understand what he is saying. To hear a parent talk of a homeland missed deeply. To long for relatives abroad who were only a part of our lives through letters and very occasional visits. To feel alone, apart from others who are comfortable in their skin and their surroundings.

Years later, when I took a position as a librarian in an elementary school with a large immigrant population, I identified with my students immediately. I had watched my own father struggle with the English language, which he learned in adulthood, at age 32. To his credit, he became quite fluent, but he still made some mistakes with grammar and pronunciation. Misunderstandings occurred in family conversations when my father did not understand a nuance or a cultural reference. Or we didn’t understand the perspective he was coming from. He didn’t approve of everything American. I recall what fun he made of sliced white bread which he compared to eating a sponge, and how excited he was when we found bakeries that sold French bread. And I remember how much my father hated turkey. He thought it tasted dry and he insisted my mother serve lamb or duck on Thanksgiving. I also remember that he didn’t care for pumpkin pie. In his mind, pies should be filled with fruit, gooseberries in particular.

The first Thanksgiving I taught at Timber Lane Elementary, a Title I school in Fairfax County, Virginia, I noticed right away that my immigrant students were not interested in my Thanksgiving lessons. Up until then, my story times had been received warmly. Seeing that my English-language learners enjoyed repetitive songs and choruses, I had quickly adopted them into my curriculum. My students had enjoyed songs about animals, the seasons, the five senses, etc. Why did they hate my turkey songs?

DuckforTurkeyDaybyJJulesA student gently explained: “We don’t have that kind of Thanksgiving dinner in my house.” Suddenly, I stopped being a teacher and returned to my own childhood, where I had been informed that turkey and pumpkin pie were the correct meal choices. These memories led to my first book with Albert Whitman Publishers, Duck for Turkey Day, about young Tuyet, who is worried that her Vietnamese-American family is breaking the rules for Thanksgiving. While the emotions of this book belong to my own childhood, they were deeply shared by the kids I taught. Making my characters Vietnamese-American gave me the opportunity to show how much I identified with my students, along with the universality of the problem. It also made my story current. My experiences as a Jewish child of a German-Swiss in the 1960s south are historical now. While I have shared my Jewish heritage in many of my books, I don’t want everything I write to be limited to my own particular, and not necessarily, universal experiences. Growing up as an outsider myself has naturally made me empathetic to other minorities in America. And it has made me downright indignant that so few children’s books reflect the lives of children who are not white, Christian, and middle-class.

All too often, books with non-majority characters portray their lives as a situation requiring great explanation. As a young Jewish mother in the 1980s, I was annoyed that most Jewish holiday books described traditions in such detail, they read like nonfiction. Not every Christmas story describes the Nativity. Most Easter stories are about bunnies, not the Resurrection. Why can’t Jewish children have light-hearted picture books that celebrate the joy of their culture, too?

ZapatowithStickerAnd why can’t children of color have books, particularly easy readers, where they see themselves enjoying life? Why is minority status always the problem in a story rather than just one facet of a particular person’s existence? In my Zapato Power books, a chapter book series about a boy with super-powered purple sneakers, the main character, Freddie Ramos, is Latino. He lives an urban apartment life in a close-knit immigrant community, just like most of the students I taught. But that is not the plot of his stories. Freddie is mostly concerned with how he will solve mysteries and be a hero with his super speed. And in my new series, Sofia Martinez, my main character is a spirited Latina who wants more attention from her large, loving family. I taught many Sofias. Her family eats tamales at Christmas. She uses Spanish phrases in her conversations. And she deserves to learn to read with books that show her family life as fun and normal, not a particular ethnic challenge to be overcome.SofiaMartinezFamilyAdventure

Many authors say they write the books they would have liked to see as a child. I do that. But I also write stories I wish I had been able to give my students when I taught—books that show it is okay to be who you are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jacqueline Jules is the award-winning author of 30 books, including No English, Duck for Turkey Day, Zapato Power, Never Say a Mean Word Again, and the recently released Sofia Martinez series. After  many years as a librarian and teacher, she now works full-time as an author and poet at her home in Northern Virginia. Find her on Facebook and at her official author site.