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Book Review: The Sofia Martinez series by Jacqueline Jules

By Ashley Hope Pérez

This review is based on an advance reader’s copy of My Family Adventure, which is a multi-story volume with “Picture Perfect,” “Abuela’s Birthday,” and “The Missing Mouse.” These texts are also sold as separate early chapter books.

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION: Growing up in a big family, 7-year-old Sofia Martinez is used to fighting for attention. Her outgoing personality mixed with her confidence and fiery passion for everything she does gets her that attention — even if it’s sometimes mixed with trouble. Sofia is a little stubborn and a lot mischievous, so you can imagine the fun she creates in this early chapter book series. A few Spanish words and phrases are intermixed throughout the story, bringing the importance of Sofia’s culture to life. Discussion questions, writing prompts, and a glossary complete each book.

MY TWO CENTS: The Sofia Martinez series is a lovely addition to the world of early chapter books. All newly published in 2015, each of the books can stand alone, and they needn’t be read in any particular order. Lively main character Sofia keeps herself in the middle of the action in her loving, playful extended family, and her adventures are light and joyful with a touch of mischief. The charming illustrations by Kim Smith will bring giggles to young readers.

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Suited well to the needs, interests, and sense of humor of early readers, the books will have broad appeal for the K-2 crowd. Although the prominence of pink in the book design may attract more girls and turn off some boys, my son enjoyed reading the stories. He especially like what he called Sofia’s “tricks.”

In “Picture Perfect,” Sofia decides to switch her school photo with one of her sister’s, and she’s disappointed when no one notices the swap. The same evening, a baby cousin gets tons of attention because of the enormous pink bow she’s wearing in her hair. When picture days rolls back around, Sofia is determined that this time she’ll stand out. Any guesses as to what Sofia borrows to put in her hair on picture day?SofiaM_bow

“Abuela’s Birthday” centers on Sofia’s (very messy) plan to make a piñata for her grandmother’s birthday. Once the mess is cleaned up, she persuades Tía Carmen for one more chance, and with the help of her cousins and siblings, Sofia makes a great piñata. Even the surprise inside of the piñata—playing cards instead of candy—shows Sofia’s creativity.

In “The Missing Mouse,” Sofia gets advice from Abuela and help from her cousin and sisters to recapture a runaway classroom pet without disturbing her mother while she gives a piano lesson. The solution involves a good deal of creativity and improvisation. A bucket, some blocks, peanut butter, and a few shrieks from her sisters are also involved.

Kim Smith’s illustrations bring the accessible language of the stories to life. Sofia is at the center of most of the drawings—and her freckles and expressive face had me enchanted from the start. But my favorite illustration of all might be this one from “Abuela’s Birthday”:

SofiaM_Please?It’d be hard to deny those four a chance to try again with the piñata endeavor.

The production of these books is especially thoughtful. The use of pink for words in Spanish produces an effect much like what Sofia achieves by wearing an enormous bow for her school picture. It marks Spanish as special–and very much part of Sofia’s world.

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In general I’m not much of a fan of glossaries, but here, I think it works well as a support for teachers and students not familiar with the Spanish, and a glossary is definitely preferable to embedded translations.

When readers graduate from the world of Sofia Martinez, they can dip right into Jacqueline Jules’s Freddie Ramos/Zapato Power series for slightly more independent readers (grades 1-3).

TEACHING TIPS: The Sofia Martinez series is a great match for students in K-2 (possibly stretching upward a bit for students who have literacy skills in Spanish but are transitioning to reading in English). Think of readers who are beginning to read on their own and for whom the idea of a chapter book has appeal. The advance reader’s copy did not have the discussion questions or writing prompts mentioned in the publisher’s description, so I can’t comment on those.

Instead, I’d like to talk a bit about the linguistic opportunities offered by the series. The change in color for Spanish words inScreen Shot 2015-01-31 at 10.32.36 PMphrases in the Sofia Martinez books will help young bilingual readers recognize when they should apply what they know about Spanish decoding and pronunciation and when they should follow the norms of English. I can imagine this as a confidence builder for Spanish-speaking students learning English in bilingual, ESL, or English-only settings (“Look! You already know these words in Spanish!”). Teachers in English-only classrooms might consider making their Spanish-speaking students “experts” on the Spanish words and phrases when sharing the stories in small or large group. Non-Spanish speakers may take pride in knowing the “secret” words in the story and, with a little coaching, will be able to handle the small amount of Spanish even when reading aloud.

Teachers might pause students on pages where we see Sofia’s “I’m getting an idea” facial expression. What do they think will happen next? When she gets into a pickle, as in “Abuela’s Birthday” and “The Missing Mouse,” ask students to suggest, draw, or journal about the solutions they would try to solve the problem. In Spanish-English bilingual classrooms, students might also experiment with using Spanish their own stories. Using the color switch technique from Sofia Martinez can strengthen students’ sense of pride in their Spanish abilities while also signaling to monolingual guests or administrators that the movement between English and Spanish is intentional and linguistically appropriate. More importantly, this narrative tactic is culturally relevant to the young people sharing their stories.

Above all, have fun with Sofia!

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Jacqueline Jules is the award-winning author of more than twenty children’s books, many of which were inspired by her work as a teacher and librarian. She is also an accomplished poet. When not reading, writing, or teaching, Jacqueline enjoys taking long walks, attending the theater, and spending time with her family. She lives in Northern Virginia.

 

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Kim Smith has worked in magazines, advertising, animation, and children’s gaming. She studied illustration at the Alberta College of Art and Design and is the illustrator of several children’s books and the designer for the cover of the middle-grade novel How to Make a Million. She lives in Calgary, Alberta.

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.

 

 

 

 

A Holiday Sampler of Treasured Memories

By Lila Quintero Weaver

Come in from the cold! Childhood memories bring warmth to almost everything we do during the holidays, no matter how we choose to celebrate. As adults, we’re often in charge of enlivening the season for the children we love, as well as the child still within us. For extra inspiration, we’ve called on some favorite people with connections to Latin@ kid lit.  Here’s the question we posed to Jacqueline Jules, Margarita Engle, Danette Vigilante, Angela Cervantes, and Tracy López:

The holiday season often reflects the wide diversity within the Latin@ community. Would you share a childhood memory of your Hanukkah or Christmas past, or simply a special winter memory?

And here’s how they answered:

JACQUELINE JULES 

Menorah collage

Hanukkah, like all Jewish holidays, follows a lunar calendar. It generally occurs at least a week (if not two or three) before Christmas. As a child, not having to wait till December 25th  was a great bonus for me. I loved getting presents before everyone else at school. The year I remember most is when I received a mezuzah necklace. A mezuzah contains a parchment with the Sh’ma prayer, the central tenant of the Jewish faith. My parents gave me a small cylindrical pendant on a sterling silver chain. It was a requested gift and my first real piece of jewelry.

Growing up in a small southern town, my religion made me an outsider. But wearing a symbol of my faith was still important to me. It is an integral part of who I am. My parents raised me to treasure my own celebrations. Hanukkah is a minor holiday of far less importance than the Jewish high holidays in the fall or Passover in the spring. We gave gifts in our nuclear family, but we never tried to make it a Jewish equivalent of Christmas. After a first night with a special present, the other nights were less about gifts and more about the candle-lighting ceremony. My parents owned several Hanukkah menorahs and we would light them all, creating a beautiful row of glowing candles on our dining room table. One menorah was shaped like a bird with candle holders on two golden wings. I still have that menorah and use it in my holiday celebrations.

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Jacqueline Jules is the award-winning author of more than twenty children’s books, includes the fabulous Zapato Power series. Great news: she’s busy creating even more fun books for kids! At the bottom of this post, check out her Hanukkah-inspired titles.

 

 

 

MARGARITA ENGLE

Pretending w Text

Hermanas

Family time is the greatest gift offered by any holiday, no matter which religion or season is being celebrated. One of my fondest December memories is the way my sister and I always surprised each other with identical gifts, even though our mother took us shopping separately. Adventure stories, animal tales, and nonfiction natural history books were our inevitable choices. One year, we gave each other the same dinosaur identification chart. We saw ourselves as explorers-in-training, our shared interests a preview of lifelong curiosity about the world. Those shared interests became an even more lasting memory than baking cookies, or admiring the colorful cheer of holiday lights.

MargaritaMargarita Engle is the author of many acclaimed young adult and children’s novels, including The Surrender Tree, which received a Newbery Honor. Her newest picture book is Tiny Rabbit’s Big Wish, and more publications are in the works, including a memoir we can’t wait to read! Here’s her latest guest post for this blog.

 

 

 

DANETTE VIGILANTE

Danette CollageThe first smell of steam heat pumping and banging its way into our third-floor apartment in the Red Hook Houses served as the official announcement of fall.

The radiators in our apartment were used for more than just keeping us warm, though. Mom placed orange skins on top of their steel bones, giving the air a sweet citrus scent. When we needed to dry our winter gear after playing in the snow, to the radiator it all went. When I absolutely had to wear a certain pair of jeans soon after they had been washed, the radiator served as a quick dry cycle. They came off a bit stiff and practically able to stand on their own, but that was a small price to pay. Besides, after a few deep knee bends, all was well. My little sister had her own important use for the radiators— heating up squares of Now and Later candies until they were soft and gooey.

Every year, after the Thanksgiving dishes had been washed and dried, my best friend’s mom did something that excited the kids living in nearby buildings; she’d officially welcome Christmas by decorating her second floor windows in twinkling multicolored lights–a Christmas tree dressed in its best, standing proudly in the center of it all.

A door had been swung open, and one by one, every window from the first through sixth floors, had followed suit. Our drab brick buildings had finally come alive! The magic of the winter season, with its good cheer and best wishes, had entered our hearts, filling us with hope, gratitude and joy.

Danette_Vigilante_head_shot_high_resDanette Vigilante is the award-winning author of two children’s books, The Trouble with Half a Moon and Saving Baby Doe. She lives in New York with her husband, two daughters, two puppies and a cat with an attitude! Don’t miss her inspiring guest post, “Danette Vigilante on the Importance of Dream Seeds.

 

 

 

ANGELA CERVANTES

Feliz NavidadOne Christmas, my family was visiting my brother at the army base in Fort Sill. On Christmas Eve, some soldiers were making their way through the neighborhood, house-by-house, Christmas caroling. They came to our doorstep and sang a lively version of Jingle bells and then went on their merry way to the next house. A few minutes later, my sister, Rio, asked me to go out to the car with her to help bring in the rest of the gifts. As we headed to her car, parked curbside, the soldiers were standing in the middle of the street seeming unsure of where to go next. My sister and I grabbed the gifts out of the trunk and when we turned around, the soldiers were standing in front of us. They started singing “Joy to the World.” We couldn’t believe it.

 It was a real serenata!

When they finished, Rio gave me this look and I knew what we had to do. We put our gifts down. At Rio’s count of three we belted out, “Feliz Navidad” with as much glorious Jose Feliciano-ness we could muster. Rio snapped her fingers and shook her hips. I pretended that I had maracas and shimmied around. The soldiers sang along and bopped their heads. “I want to wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart.” When we finished, one of the soldiers said, “That was cool. No one has sung back to us the entire night.”

What can I say? Leave it to the Cervantes girls to keep it real on Christmas Eve!

Angela CervantesAngela Cervantes is an award-winning author whose debut novel, Gaby, Lost and Found, has been named Best Youth Chapter book by the International Latino Book Awards and a Bank Street College of Education’s Best Books of 2014. Angela’s second novel, a spin-off of Gaby, Lost and Found, will be released by Scholastic Press in 2016.  Read about what inspired Angela to write Gaby in this Latin@s in Kid Lit interview.  

 

 

TRACY LÓPEZ

Tracy's NativityOne of my favorite childhood memories is when my little sister and I used to lie on the carpet and play with the nativity my mother set up under the Christmas tree. It was a typical, simple nativity with a moss-covered manger made of wood and plastic figures representing Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, the angel, a shepherd with a lamb hefted onto his shoulders, and a few barnyard animals. The nativity scene was actually a gift to my mother from my father, who grew up in a Jewish home; my parents say he won it on a radio show when I was really little. That same nativity is still put on display each Christmas at my parents’ house. Although I’m an adult with two teenage sons, I’m always tempted to play with the little figures when I see it set up, which horrifies my husband, Carlos. He’s Salvadoran and in El Salvador the nativity (or “nacimiento”) is much more spectacular than my mother’s humble display. A Salvadoran nativity can take up an entire room and features entire villages of people, but kids are definitely not allowed to play with it!

Tracy LopezTracy López is a freelance writer, blogger and novelist. Her work has appeared in Fox News Latino, Mamiverse, SpanglishBaby and many other print and online publications. She is Owner/Editor-in-Chief of the influential blog Latinaish.com, and is a member of the team of We Need Diverse Books.

 

 

 

HOLIDAY BOOKSHELVES

We wouldn’t be doing our cheerful duty if we didn’t top off this glorious stroll down memory lane with book recommendations related to the season. Here’s a round-up of titles we think you and your young readers will relish this winter holiday.

Happy Hanukkah Lights    Christmas Makes me Think

HanukkahZiz    Kwanzaa with Boots

Celebrate Hanukkah    Twas Nochebuena

Piñata in a Pine tree    Las Navidades

Seven Candles for Kwanzaa    Green Christmas

And for older readers:

Las Christmas

 

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL! WE’LL SEE YOU IN 2015!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Freddie Ramos Stomps the Snow by Jacqueline Jules

By Ashley Hope Pérez

FreddieRamosDESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: The snow’s no match for zapato power! A blizzard in March? It’s happening in Starwood Park! Luckily there’s a snow day at school because Freddie’s helping Mr. Vaslov clear the sidewalks with his latest invention—zapatos made just for the snow!

The weather can’t stop a thief from causing trouble in the neighborhood, though. Freddie wants to catch the culprit, and he can’t do it alone! But will the meanest kid in Starwood Park be Freddie’s crime-fighting partner?

MY TWO CENTS: Written by Jacqueline Jules and illustrated by Miguel Benítez, Freddie Ramos Stomps the Snow is the fifth of the Zapato Power books. This sweet, playful tale centers on the special experiences around a school snow day, as experienced by the protagonist of the series, Freddie Ramos. Freddie has super zapatos thanks to a special neighbor, who helps him transform his usual sneakers into super snowshoes to help his neighbors. What sets Freddie Ramos apart is how the story strikes a positive note while accurately reflecting the experiences of kids from a range of backgrounds.

The setting for Freddie Ramos opens up possibilities for subtly engaging with experiences that are relatively neglected in the sunny tales targeted at the primary grades. Despite the fact that many students live in apartments and know some financial hardships, the vast majority of books for children feature middle-class families living in single-family homes. It is refreshing, then, to follow the escapades of Freddie Ramos and his friends at the Starwood Park apartment community.

Financial concerns are a reality for Freddie and his friends, but Freddie Ramos also suggests that even young kids can take positive actions in response to difficult circumstances. Freddie worries about not having snow boots, and we learn that most of his shoes and clothes are hand-me-downs from a friend’s older brother. Importantly, Freddie frames this fact in a way that shows a focus on the positive in his community: “At Starwood Park, people shared.” Attentiveness to the needs of others is prominent in the book, and later, we see how Freddie enacts generosity. In addition to his work cleaning paths for neighbors, when he notices that most of the kids don’t have a sled, he proposes a strategy for sharing that allows all the kids in the complex to have a turn going down the big hill. The Starwood bully, Erika, appears in a more vulnerable light when her grandmother’s purse is stolen with their rent money inside.

Yet these more serious elements do not weigh down the buoyant narrative. My son (age 4) loved the special zapatos and the watch that Freddie uses to turn them on. I enjoyed the casual, untranslated incorporation of Spanish. (For why I think it’s so important that books not gloss these phrases, see this post.)

Jacqueline Jules also deftly handles the social terrain of elementary school. Like many sweet kids, Freddie finds it easier to protect his friends from bullies than to help the bully herself. But his character stretches, ultimately rising to the challenge of being kind to an unlovable classmate. Readers see that Freddie’s greatest superpower is the generosity and kindness he has learned from his community.

TEACHING TIPS: Geared toward readers in grades 1-3, the Zapato Power series would be at home on a bookshelf next to the Flat Stanley and Captain Underpants books and is a great read-alike option for students who have enjoyed these. If used for reading groups or as a class read-aloud title, Freddie Ramos Stomps the Snow offers some great opportunities for reading-writing connections. Offering a range of prompts is a great way to differentiate for students with varied writing proficiencies and interests. Try some of the following prompts with students. Younger children may be asked to draw a picture that responds to a similar prompt.

  • What would you do on a snow day?
  • Mr. Vladek is always designing new inventions for Freddie Ramos to try out. If you could turn one piece of clothing into a superhero tool, what would it be and how would it work?
  • Write a diary entry from Erika’s perspective to show how she feels about Freddie Ramos after the purse thief is caught.
  • We don’t find out much about the purse thief. Write his confession. Why does he commit these crimes?

JJ2Additional Zapato Power activities are available on Jacqueline Jules’s website here. And check out the trailer below for a closer look at Miguel Benítez’s adorable drawings.

Jacqueline Jules is the award-winning author of more than twenty children’s books, many of which were inspired by her work as a teacher and librarian. She is also an accomplished poet. When not reading, writing, or teaching, Jacqueline enjoys taking long walks, attending the theater, and spending time with her family. She lives in Northern Virginia.