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.

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

 

By Marianne Snow

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

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

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

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

Hay chiles con cara de abuelo

y chiles con cara de abuela.

Hay chiles rojos

como llamitas.

Al morderlos nos calientan la lengua

como si tuviéramos en la boca una lucecita.

 

There are chilies with faces like a grandfather

and chilies with faces like a grandmother.

There are red chilies

like little flames.

When we bite one our tongue gets hot,

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

 

I really wish I had some salsa right now.

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

(My much loved molcajete.)

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

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

Las entierro para que se conviertan en abono,

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

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

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


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

 

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

Book Review: Talking with Mother Earth / Hablando con Madre Tierra by Jorge Argueta

By Marianne Snow

349744DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK (from Goodreads): Tetl’s skin is brown, his eyes are black, and his hair is long. He’s different from the other children, whose taunts wound him deeply, leaving him confused and afraid. But Tetl’s grandmother knows the ancient teachings of their Aztec ancestors, and how they viewed the earth as alive with sacred meaning. With her help, he learns to listen to the mountains, wind, corn, and stones. Tetl’s journey from self-doubt to proud acceptance of his Nahuatl heritage is told in a series of powerful poems, beautifully expressed in both English and Spanish. Vivid illustrations celebrate nature’s redemptive powers, offering a perfect complement to the poignant story.

MY TWO CENTS: History books and other nonfiction texts often speak of the Americas’ original inhabitants in the past tense, as if they completely disappeared after Europeans swept across the land. For example, I remember learning that the Spanish defeated and killed (or married) all indigenous people when they invaded Mexico and Central America in the sixteenth century. Wrong. Despite facing frequent marginalization and discrimination by “mainstream” society, Nahua people, the diverse descendants of the Aztecs, still live in El Salvador, Mexico, and the United States today.

Talking with Mother Earth / Hablando con Madre Tierra – a stunning bilingual collection of autobiographical poems and winner of the illustrious International Latino and Américas Book Awards for outstanding works of Latin@ children’s literature – affirms and celebrates the complexity of a contemporary Nahua individual. In these simple yet profound poems, Jorge Tetl Argueta, who identifies as Pipil Nahua, provides us with a window into his childhood and sensitively explores issues of cultural identity from several different angles, including his spiritual beliefs, his connection to Mother Earth, ethnic pride, racial bullying, and history of the Nahua people. As they read his beautiful words, children with Nahua heritage might see reflections of themselves, while readers from other backgrounds can learn about cultural practices and perspectives that are different from their own.

Mirroring Argueta’s poems are Lucía Angela Pérez’s vibrant pastel drawings, simultaneously striking and soft, bold and soothing as they permeate each page. Prepare to be swallowed up in color as soon as you open the cover! Also, the illustrations sustain the theme of links between the present and past as they portray young Tetl standing side by side with his grandmother, his ancestors, and Aztec gods.

Another enticing feature of this book is its relatively unusual dual language format. Although we’re seeing more and more English-Spanish dual language books on the market these days, most of these books place the English text first on the page, above or before the Spanish text. While this positioning might not seem like a big deal, it can send a message to readers that English should be the first language in their lives – that it’s better than Spanish. Books that place Spanish first do pop up every once in awhile, however, and Talking with Mother Earth / Hablando con Madre Tierra is one of them, emphasizing to Spanish-speaking readers the importance of their linguistic skills.

So if you’re searching for a book that promotes empathy, beauty, linguistic diversity, cultural awareness, and positive self-image, look no further! If you enjoy it, be sure to check out Jorge Argueta’s other works for children – they’ll leave you smiling (and probably a little bit hungry).

TEACHING TIPS: Due to multifaceted subject matter in Talking with Mother Earth / Hablando con Madre Tierra, educators can choose to use the entire text or individual poems to start fruitful, critical discussions and lessons with their students. For example, teachers might draw upon “Indio” / “Indian” – an examination of racial bullying – when facilitating analyses of racism and discrimination in schools. Additionally, they might focus on Argueta’s poems on nature and Nahua spirituality to help students understand the diversity of religious beliefs and ethnicities in contemporary Latin America. Or they might highlight this book as a mentor text when encouraging students to write their own nature poetry.

The dual language format of Talking with Mother Earth / Hablando con Madre Tierra also makes it a valuable resource for Spanish and English learners – the abundance of words related to nature can help readers describe the earth bilingually. An added bonus is the inclusion of several Nahuatl words and phrases that illustrate Latin@ / Latin American linguistic diversity even further.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his website): Jorge Tetl Argueta is a celebrated Salvadoran poet and writer whose bilingual children’s books have received numerous awards. His poetry has appeared in anthologies and textbooks. He won the Américas 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 Américas Award Commended Title), Trees are Hanging from the Sky, Talking with Mother Earth, The Little Hen in the City, and The Fiesta of the Tortillas.

RELATED LINKS:

 

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

Book Review: Moony Luna: Luna, Lunita Lunera by Jorge Argueta

1294182By Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Five-year-old Luna isn’t at all sure she wants to go to school. For all she knows, there might be monsters there. But when her loving parents assure her that she’ll have a wonderful time playing and learning, she agrees to give school a try. An understanding teacher and a group of friendly kids make Luna very, very glad she made the right decision. But what about the monsters?

MY TWO CENTS: Five year old Luna Lunita Lunera fears that she will meet monsters on her first day of school. Her adoring parents remind her that she is a big girl now, bigger than the moon, and that there is nothing to fear. She finds the courage she needs to get to school but decides that maybe school is not such a good idea after all. Again, her parents encourage her to find her big girl strength and take her to school. While there, Luna is still not convinced that there are no monsters at her school and hides under a table. Her fellow classmates look for her and ask her to come out and play. Luna joins them in all the singing and coloring and decides that maybe school is not so bad. At pick up, she tells her parents that there were no monsters at school and that tomorrow she will be bigger and stronger than the moon!

Author Jorge Argueta and illustrator Elizabeth Gomez give life to the most adorable character in Latin@ children’s literature. Together they have created an encouraging and loving story about a child’s fears about her first day of school. One of the fascinating aspects of this book is the multiple ways that Luna’s story is told. Because it’s a bilingual book, something that is very common among Latin@ children’s books, the story is told is Spanish and English. Simultaneously, Gomez’s illustration present an additional storyline–the “monster’s” first day of school. Gomez’s illustrations suggest that there is indeed a monster at school and that it is also afraid of its first day of school.

Another significant factor in this text is the positive representation of the parents. Luna’s mom and dad are present throughout this pivotal moment in her life. Her mother reads her a bed time story at night and her father braids her hair in the morning. And both of them go to pick her up. Their presence is extremely important because it challenges negative and harmful stereotypes about Latino parents taking a back seat in their child’s education. Such stereotypes are further challenged by allowing the character of the mother to be there to read Luna a bed time story.

Lastly, the promotion of bilingual education, seen through the offering of the story in Spanish and English and through the depiction of Luna’s classroom as a bilingual classroom with a Latina teacher, is extremely powerful. Given national attacks on bilingual education and budget cuts on such programs, Argueta and Gomez present a wonderful opportunity to advocate for bilingual and multicultural education. Overall, this book is a must read and must have because it’s way brilliant.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Moony Luna: Luna, Lunita Lunervisit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.org, indiebound.org, goodreads.com, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and Children’s Book Press/Lee & Low Books.

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.