Spotlight on Pura Belpré Winners: Illustrator Stephanie Garcia for Snapshots from the Wedding

 

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This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Pura Belpé Awards. Starting in the spring, we began shining a spotlight on the winners. This post features the beautiful and imaginative illustration work of Stephanie Garcia for Snapshots from the Wedding, a delightful picture book written by Gary Soto, and the winner of the 1998 Pura Belpré Illustration Award.

 

 

Review by Lila Quintero Weaver

snapshots-cover-2DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Meet Maya, Isabel’s flower girl, as she describes in vivid detail the exciting wedding day. Maya introduces us to Danny, the ring bearer; Aunt Marta, crying big tears; Uncle Trino, jump-starting a car in his tuxedo; and Rafael, the groom, with a cast on his arm. Of course, the big day also includes games, dancing, cake, and a mariachi band that plays long into an evening no one will ever forget.

Snapshots from the Wedding captures the unique moments of a special occasion—the big scenes as well as the little ones—that together form a rich family mosaic.

MY TWO CENTS: Snapshots from the Wedding is a lightly humorous story told through the eyes of a young girl named Maya. Gary Soto delivers this joyous narrative of a traditional Mexican boda in lyrical and rhythmic language.

By casting Maya in the role of narrator, Soto allows the reader the same view of the festivities as a member of the wedding party. From her position, Maya observes and comments on the assembled guests, the bridal procession, the photographer at work, and the moment when the couple exchanges vows at the altar. Afterward, at the reception, Maya revels in the mariachi band, the pinning of paper money to the bride’s skirt, and the couple’s departure beneath a shower of rice. As her gaze travels across each scene, she stops to focus on details ranging from the ring bearer’s slicked-back hair, to a boy whose tongue wiggles through the space left by newly lost baby teeth, and to the eye-popping spectacle of a towering wedding cake.

In Soto’s words, “Here’s the wedding cake, seventh wonder of the world, from Blanco’s Bakery, with more frosting than a mountain of snow, with more roses than mi abuela’s back yard, with more swirls than a hundred turns on a merry-go-round.”

Stephanie Garcia, the Pura Belpré-winning illustrator, depicts Maya’s wide-eyed experience of the wedding as something remembered through a series of winsome snapshots. Yet, in one of the most surprising and original aspects of this book, Garcia brings the scenes into sharp relief through exquisitely constructed dioramas that defy all expectations for a story conceived around the idea of photographs.

Each of the three-dimensional illustrations is a miniature stage that sits within a shallow wooden box. The overall effect is that of a dollhouse whose rooms brim with texture and engaging detail, and which cry out to be touched and played with, in order to fully appreciate the tactile gifts they offer. Using a wide range of materials that includes fabric, clay, paint, and found objects, Garcia populates her scenes with individually rendered characters, furnishings, and backdrops. Fashioned from Sculpy clay, each human figure bears distinct facial features and expressions. The skin tones come in varied shades of brown, and each is dressed in clothing suitable for that person’s role in the wedding.

By leaving the diorama’s rough wooden edges in full view and by dressing some of the wedding guests in homespun fabrics, the book hints at the deeper, economic realities of life in a working-class Mexican community. Yet, the momentous social importance of weddings often leads families to go all out for the occasion, evidenced here by the elaborate costumes of the mariachi band and the satin-and-lace gowns of the bridal party.

In nearly every spread, Garcia employs a clever frame-within-a-frame concept that plays with the passage of time. In these instances, select characters appear inside a gilt-edged frame, like mannequins propped in a store window, even as the activity of the moment continues to swirl around them. This approach suggests a future glimpse of the photos being taken. Appropriately, the photographer himself appears in one of the dioramas, snapping his shutter just as the bride and groom are about to kiss.

Garcia’s attention to individual characters complements Soto’s depictions. In one of my favorite vignettes, little Maya and another young lady try their best to snare the bouquet as the bride tosses it. But the bouquet is “caught by the tallest woman there, my cousin Virginia, a college basketball player, with a three-foot vertical leap.” Garcia gives Virginia a mint-green bridesmaid’s dress, with low-heel pumps dyed to match, and a long reach that ensures her effortless catch. We can easily imagine Virginia in a basketball uniform, putting her vertical leap to good use in a different context.

With such singular moments, Soto and Garcia illuminate a range of experiences not often captured in portrayals of Mexican culture. Through its engaging text and rich dioramas, this picture book offers charming views of an important social occasion as seen through the delighted eyes of a little girl who feels at home within this community. And this wedding is an occasion she’ll remember for years to come through its album of snapshots.

Note: We were not able to secure permission from the publisher to share images from the book’s interior pages. Please locate a copy and see them for yourself! 

Portrait of Stephanie GarciaABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Stephanie Garcia is an illustrator, graphic designer, art director, and design consultant, with a wealth of experience in the corporate world and the classroom, where she shares her knowledge with others. Learn more about her in this publisher profile.

 

 

Image result for GARY SOTOABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gary Soto is the author of multiple picture books, including the Chato series, which won the Pura Belpré illustrator award for Susan Guevara. He also published many novels for youth, as well as books of short stories for young readers, and collections of essays and poems. His awards include the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, the Andrew Carnegie Medal, and the National Book Award. Learn more at his official website. See some of our coverage of Soto’s work in this review and in a post about his decision to stop publishing children’s literature.

 

Lila Quintero Weaver is the author-illustrator of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Darkroom recounts her family’s immigrant experience in small-town Alabama during the tumultuous 1960s. It is her first major publication. Her next book is a middle-grade novel scheduled for release in 2018 (Candlewick). Lila is a graduate of the University of Alabama. She and her husband, Paul, are the parents of three grown children. She can also be found on her own websiteFacebookTwitter and Goodreads.

Celebrating Pura Belpré Award Winners: Spotlight on Margarita Engle

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The Pura Belpré Awards turns 20 this year! The milestone was marked on Sunday, June 26, during the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. In honor of the award’s anniversary, we have been highlighting the winners of the narrative and illustration awards. Today’s spotlight is on Margarita Engle, the winner of the Pura Belpré Narrative Medal for The Poet Slave of Cuba (2008), The Surrender Tree (2009), and Enchanted Air (2016). Margarita has also won Pura Belpré Honors for The Lightning Dreamer (2014), Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck (2012), and The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba (2011). 

Reviews of The Poet Slave of Cuba and Enchanted Air by Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez

Review of The Surrender Tree by Cindy L. Rodriguez

THE POET SLAVE OF CUBA

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER:The Poet Slave of Cuba Cover A lyrical biography of a Cuban slave who escaped to become a celebrated poet.

Born into the household of a wealthy slave owner in Cuba in 1797, Juan Francisco Manzano spent his early years by the side of a woman who made him call her Mama, even though he had a mama of his own. Denied an education, young Juan still showed an exceptional talent for poetry. His verses reflect the beauty of his world, but they also expose its hideous cruelty.

Powerful, haunting poems and breathtaking illustrations create a portrait of a life in which even the pain of slavery could not extinguish the capacity for hope.

The Poet Slave of Cuba is the winner of the 2008 Pura Belpre Medal for Narrative and a 2007 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year.

MY TWO CENTS: In The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano, Margarita Engle beautifully captures the life of Juanito, a slave in Cuba with a talent and passion for words. Juanito is smart. He can memorize verses, songs, plays simply by listening. He can then recite them off the top of his head. His owner, Doña Beatriz, keeps him as an entertaining pet. The other slave owners call him the “Golden Beak” because of his amazing ability to recite from memory. After Doña Beatriz dies, Juanito is given to La Marquesa de Prado Ameno, a woman who does not find him amusing and is instead bent on punishing him. Juanito’s family is given freedom, but he remains enslaved. The violence he endures eventually forces him to escape. Throughout all the time, Juanito’s love for words never wavered, but instead, he taught himself to read and write.

Juan Francisco Manzano’s biography in verse is an important contribution to the retelling of Latin American history. At first, his owners found his recitations entertaining because they did not believe that he understood what he repeated, but eventually Manzano learned the power of words and would construct his own poems and stories. However, this new understanding of words led to many years of physical and emotional abuse. Engle does not romanticize slavery in this text. Her verses help readers feel Juanito’s innocence and his genuine interest for words. At the same time, Engle’s verses feel painful when Juanito gets whipped. Juanito’s life story is told through the voices of those in his life. The different voices paint a bigger picture of Juanito’s life. His mother’s death is more sorrowful, for example, because their voices formed a part in telling Juanito’s story. Engle’s verses are accompanied by artwork by Sean Qualls. There is something about the art that is also beautiful and sad.

The Poet Slave of Cuba broaches the subject of slavery in Latin America unlike any other text I’ve come across in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Engle’s verses helps put a human face to those that were oppressed, abused, and killed by slavery. Through her verses, Engle has immortalized Manzano’s story, and, at least in this one way, readers of this text can begin or continue to have conversations about slavery in Latin America.

 

THE SURRENDER TREE

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHERThe Surrender Tree CoverIt is 1896. Cuba has fought three wars for independence and still is not free. People have been rounded up in reconcentration camps with too little food and too much illness. Rosa is a nurse, but she dares not go to the camps. So she turns hidden caves into hospitals for those who know how to find her.

Black, white, Cuban, Spanish―Rosa does her best for everyone. Yet who can heal a country so torn apart by war? Acclaimed poet Margarita Engle has created another breathtaking portrait of Cuba.

The Surrender Tree is a 2009 Newbery Honor Book, the winner of the 2009 Pura Belpré Medal for Narrative and the 2009 Bank Street – Claudia Lewis Award, and a 2009 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year.

MY TWO CENTS: In The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, which was was the first novel by a Latinx to receive a Newbery Honor, Engle portrays almost 50 years of the life of Rosario Castellanos, known as Rosa la Bayamesa, who grows from a slave, a “witch-child” learning about nature as medicine, to an iconic herbalist war nurse who treated anyone–friend or enemy–and never asked for money. Engle’s novel in verse follows Rosa from 1850-1899, through the Ten Years War, the Little War, and the War of Independence. After all of that fighting, the novel ends with Spain’s surrender to the United States. With Cuba still not free, the characters are left with mixed feelings of disappointment and hopeful anticipation for a better future.

Engle’s poems alternate among five perspectives, those of Rosa, her husband José, a slavehunter known as Lieutenant Death, Captain-General Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau, Marquis of Tenerife, Empire of Spain, and a young girl named Silvia. By including these voices, Engle captures different war experiences and interesting intersections. For example, Rosa meets Lieutenant Death early on, heals him later, and then becomes his target, since Rosa has become a powerful, elusive wartime figure. Also, later in the novel Silvia, an eleven-year-old girl, leaves her farm with her ailing mother and young twin brothers because of the mandatory order for peasants to enter reconcentration camps. Silvia’s grandmother had been healed by Rosa in a previous war, and now Silvia believes Rosa is her only hope for survival.

As in The Poet Slave of Cuba, Engle does not shy away from the brutalities of slavery and war. She explains that the ear of a runaway slave, proof that the slave died resisting capture, earns the hunter four pesos. Later, Rosa notes that “some of the ears come from people whose names and faces I know.” Other times, Engle captures the exhaustion, fear, loneliness, heartbreak, and confusion of the men, women, and children hiding in caves. For example, she writes through Rosa:

The Little War?

How can there be

a little war?

Are some deaths

smaller than others,

leaving mothers

who weep

a little less?

And yet, throughout the novel, the characters also express feelings of pride and hope and a constant sense of purpose that leads to perseverance. While reading, it was easy to see why The Surrender Tree is one of Engle’s many highly-acclaimed and decorated novels.

 

ENCHANTED AIR

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHEREnchanted Air CoverIn this poetic memoir, which won the Pura Belpré Narrative Award, was a YALSA Nonfiction Finalist, and was named a Walter Dean Myers Award Honoree, acclaimed author Margarita Engle tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War.

Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not.

Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?

MY TWO CENTS: Margarita Engle’s non-fiction memoir in verse, Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings, tells of her upbringing in Los Angeles during the Cold War era, learning about the Bay of Pigs invasion, and the palpable fear she felt for her family in Cuba. Engle describes the challenges of growing up with two cultures and always longing for one place while in another. Young Margarita finds herself in words when it feels like she belongs to both culture and neither at the same time. Enchanted Air is the outstanding memoir of a truly amazing writer.

Engle’s memoir in verse is a timely story. War and violence continue to separate many children and their family in one country from their families in another country. Engle describes the isolation she felt due to her different culture when she left Cuba for the U.S. The freedom to roam about as she did in Cuba was not always very realistic in the U.S. She notes that even her mother changed a bit. Engle further recounts the fear and anxiety she felt when she learned that her two countries did not get along.  Engle found solace in libraries and the stories they contained. Poetry gave her the wings to soar again. Her memoir stops in 1965 with her childhood hope that she will one day be able to return to Cuba. Now that relations with Cuba have been renewed and commercial flights to Cuba might soon be available there are probably many that are also glad they will be able to reacquaint themselves with the island of their childhood.

TEACHING TIPS: Both The Poet Slave of Cuba and Enchanted Air tell of the importance of poetry as a tool for empowerment. Ask students to discuss the significance of words in Manzano’s and Engle’s childhood. Explaining the historical context of each text will be important so that students don’t conflate one experience with the other. In other words, slavery and the Cold War are not the same experiences and should be differentiated. Ask students to consider the circumstances that left Manzano or Engle feeling voiceless. How did they each use words (i.e. poetry and stories) to empower themselves?

Storytelling is another common thread in both texts. Ask students to discuss the memoirs, autobiographies, and biographies as genres. What are their cultural significance? In other words, why do people write their or other’s life story? Ask student to journal about whose biography they might write. Encourage students to consider someone in their family or in their community as the potential subject of their biography.

Since almost all of the characters in The Surrender Tree were real people, students could research one of the historical figures and any of the wars outlined in the novel. Another interesting exercise would be to closely examine the ending, when the American soldiers arrive and, while they are met with hospitality, they are at one point called “a foreign tyrant” rather than saviors. Students should be encouraged to read the text closely through the eyes of the Cuban characters to understand the mixed emotions at the end, when the U.S. flag is raised instead of the Cuban flag.

For more ideas on these and other books by Engle, check out her “for teachers” page on her website.

MargaritaABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of many verse books, including a Newbery Honor winner, The Surrender Tree, a PEN USA Award winner, The Lightning Dreamer, and a verse memoir, Enchanted Air, winner of many awards, including an inaugural Walter Dean Myers Award Honor, the inaugural Arnold Adoff Teen Poetry Award, and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. Margarita’s books have also received three Pura Belpré Awards and four Américas Awards, as well as a Jane Addams Award, International Reading Association Award, and Claudia Lewis Poetry Award. Books for younger children include Mountain Dog, Summer Birds, and the Charlotte Zolotow Award winning picture book, Drum Dream Girl.

Margarita grew up in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during summers with her extended family in Cuba. She was trained as a botanist and agronomist before becoming a full-time poet and novelist. She lives in Central California, where she enjoys hiding in the wilderness to help train her husband’s search and rescue dog.

 

FullSizeRender (1)Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez’s research focuses on the various roles that healing plays in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. She currently teaches composition and literature at a community college in Chicago. She also teaches poetry to 6th graders and drama to 2nd graders as a teaching artist through a local arts organization. She is working on her middle grade book. Follow Sonia on Instagram @latinxkidlit

 

 

photo by Saryna A. JonesCindy L. Rodriguez is a former journalist turned public school teacher and fiction writer. She was born in Chicago; her father is from Puerto Rico and her mother is from Brazil. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU and has worked as a reporter at The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe. She and her daughter live in Connecticut, where she teaches middle school reading and college-level composition. Her debut contemporary YA novel, When Reason Breaks, released with Bloomsbury Children’s Books on 2/10/2015. She can also be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Celebrating Pura Belpré Award Winners: Spotlight on The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales

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The Pura Belpré Awards turns 20 this year! The milestone was marked on Sunday, June 26, during the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. In honor of the award’s anniversary, we have been highlighting the winners of the narrative and illustration awards. Today’s spotlight is on Viola Canales, the winner of the 2006 Pura Belpré Narrative Medal for The Tequila Worm.

 

Review by Cindy L. Rodriguez

The Tequila Worm CoverDESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: Sofia comes from a family of storytellers. Here are her tales of growing up in the barrio, full of the magic and mystery of family traditions: making Easter cascarones, celebrating el Día de los Muertos, preparing for quinceañera, rejoicing in the Christmas nacimiento, and curing homesickness by eating the tequila worm. When Sofia is singled out to receive a scholarship to an elite boarding school, she longs to explore life beyond the barrio, even though it means leaving her family to navigate a strange world of rich, privileged kids. It’s a different mundo, but one where Sofia’s traditions take on new meaning and illuminate her path.

MY TWO CENTS: The Tequila Worm begins as vignettes and then moves into a more traditional narrative when Sofia, the Mexican-American protagonist, is a fourteen-year-old high school freshman. In the beginning, a younger Sofia relays special family-centered moments–some downright hysterical and others more poignant–such as her First Communion, making cascarones for Easter, and celebrating both Halloween and Día de los Muertos. Throughout these moments, Sofia learns about her culture and, at times, is torn between her tight-knit community and the “American” world beyond her barrio in McAllen, Texas. After trick-or-treating in her neighborhood and then in another, wealthier part of town, Sofia has this conversation with her father:

“I wish I lived on the other side of town,” I said, looking out the window at the darkness.

“Why, mi’ja?”

“Because they live in nice houses, and they’re warm.”

“Ah, but there’s warmth on this side, too.”

“But…it’s really cold at home, and most of the houses around us are falling apart.”

“Yes, but we have our music, our foods, our traditions. And the warm hearts of our families.”

Another example is when Sofia is verbally bullied, called a “Taco Head” by students when she eats her homemade lunch at school. First, she is embarrassed and avoids the cafeteria entirely, spending that time on the playground or eating inside a stall in the girls’ bathroom to avoid ridicule. With the help of a P.E. teacher, Sofia returns to the lunch room, proudly eats her tacos in public, and is given the advice to get even, not by kicking the bully (which Sofia wants to do) but by kicking her butt at school.

Sofia, indeed, excels in academics and is offered a scholarship to St. Luke’s Episcopal School, a prestigious boarding school in Austin. Sofia’s family doesn’t understand why she wants to leave her home. When her mother asks, “But what’s wrong with here?” Sofia responds, “Nothing. But the Valley is not the whole world…I just want to see what’s out there.”

Eventually, Sofia’s family allows her to attend St. Luke’s, as long as she promises to remain connected and learn how to be a good comadre to her sister Lucy and cousin Berta. In the place she calls “Another Mundo,” Sofia learns to appreciate her family’s stories and traditions, understanding how they have shaped her and connected her to a community rich in other ways. The young girl who once hid after being called a “Taco Head,” grows into a young adult who is “brave enough to eat a whole tequila worm” and who confronts a classmate who writes a note telling Sofia to “wiggle back across the border.” Sofia responds by saying, “My family didn’t cross the border; it crossed us. We’ve been here for over three hundred years, before the U.S. drew those lines.”

The novel’s end leaps ahead in time, with Sofia as an adult, a civil rights lawyer living in San Francisco, who fights to preserve her changing neighborhood and who often visits to happily participate in the traditions she questioned as a child.

The novel’s main events are closely connected to the author’s life, as she, too, was raised in McAllen and attended a prestigious boarding school before attending Harvard University. Many of Canales’s own experiences, portrayed through Sofia, would be easily recognizable to younger Latinx readers who straddle two cultures and find value in each as they come of age.

TEACHING TIPS & RESOURCES: The Tequila Worm naturally lends itself to lessons that explore Mexican-American culture–specifically cascarones, quinceañeras, and Día de los Muertos–as well as broader literary elements, such as character development and universal themes. For classroom ideas, check out these links, starting with this fabulous, thorough Educator’s Guide created by Vamos a Leer: Teaching Latin America through Literacy

A Study Guide created by teacher Bobbi Mimmack: https://sites.google.com/a/chccs.k12.nc.us/bobbi-mimmack/the-tequila-worm-by-viola-canales

An author interview in Harvard Magazine: http://harvardmagazine.com/2006/01/the-beauty-of-beans.html

Viola Irene CanalesABOUT THE AUTHOR (from the Stanford Law School website): Early in her career, Viola Canales served as a field organizer for the United Farm Workers and an officer in the United States Army, where she was tactical director at a Brigade Fire Distribution Center overseeing Patriot and Hawk missile systems in West Germany, and before this, a platoon leader at a Hawk missile battery. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she practiced law at O’Melveny and Myers in Los Angeles (while also serving as a Civil Service Commissioner for the City of Los Angeles, to which she was appointed by Mayor Tom Bradley) and San Francisco, and then headed up the westernmost region of the Small Business Administration under the Clinton Administration. Her book of short stories, Orange Candy Slices and Other Secret Tales, was published by the University of Houston’s Arte Público Press; her novel The Tequila Worm, published by Random House, was designated a Notable Book by the American Library Association, and won its Pura Belpré Medal for Narrative, as well as a PEN Center USA Award. El Gusano de Tequila – her Spanish translation of the novel – was published in 2012 by KingCake Press. Her bilingual book of poems The Little Devil & The Rose (El Diabilito y La Rosa) was published in 2014 by the University of Houston.

 

photo by Saryna A. JonesCindy L. Rodriguez is a former journalist turned public school teacher and fiction writer. She was born in Chicago; her father is from Puerto Rico and her mother is from Brazil. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU and has worked as a reporter at The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe. She and her daughter live in Connecticut, where she teaches middle school reading and college-level composition. Her debut contemporary YA novel, When Reason Breaks, released with Bloomsbury Children’s Books on 2/10/2015. She can also be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Celebrating Pura Belpré Winners: Spotlight on Author-Illustrator Carmen Lomas Garza

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 Carmen Lomas Garza, the winner of the 2000 Pura Belpré Illustration Medal for Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas and Pura Belpré Honors for Illustration for Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia in 1996 and In My Family / En mi familia in 1998.

Review by Marianne Snow Campbell

DESCRIPTIONS FROM THE PUBLISHERS:

Magic Windows CoverMagic Windows: Through the magic windows of her cut-paper art, Carmen shows us her family, her life as an artist, and the legends of her Aztec past. We look into Carmen’s studio and see her paint a Mexican jarabe tapatío dancer; we glimpse the hummingbirds that cross the US-Mexico border to taste the sweet nectar of the cactus flowers; and we watch Carmen teach her nieces and nephews how to make their own magic windows. Magic Windows is a continuing tribute to family and community as well as a way for Carmen to connect future generations to their ancestors by teaching and sharing with them this traditional folk art.

Check out the book discussion and activity guide created by Lindsay Harris and Haley Rugger with Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo, provided by the University of Alabama School of Library and Informational Studies.

 

Family Pictures is the story of Carmen Lomas Garza’s girlhood in Kingsville, Texas: celebrating birthdays, making tamales, picking cactus, and confiding to her sister her dreams of becoming an artist. These day-to-day experiences are told through fifteen paintings and stories, each focusing on a different aspect of Carmen’s traditional Mexican American culture growing up. The paintings and stories reflect the author’s strong sense of family and community and demonstrate how her mother’s love and hard work helped Carmen achieve her dream. For the hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans, Carmen Lomas Garza offers a book that reflects their lives and cultural traditions. For others, this beautiful work will offer insights into a fascinating life and a rich community. Sandra Cisneros provided the introduction and Pat Mora the afterword for this touchstone of Latino children’s literature. This book is bilingual (English and Spanish).

Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia Cover

 

In My Family / En mi familia: In her eagerly-awaited second book for children, In My Family / En mi familia, internationally-renowned artist Carmen Lomas Garza takes us once again to her hometown of Kingsville, Texas, near the border with Mexico. Through vibrant paintings and warm personal stories, Carmen brings to life more loving memories of growing up in a traditional Mexican American community: eating empanadas, witnessing the blessing on her cousin’s wedding day, and dancing to the conjunto band at the neighborhood restaurant. In My Family / En mi familia is Carmen Lomas Garza’s second book of family pictures, a continuing tribute to the loving family and community that shaped her childhood—and her life.

For effective strategies on incorporating students’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds into social studies curricula, check out the article “Developing Literacy through Culturally Relevant Texts” by Dr. Iliana Alanís in Social Studies and the Young Learner (2007) from the National Council for the Social Studies.  Pair In My Family with the author study guide Carmen Lomas Garza: Chicana Author and Illustrator by Deborah J. Francis, part of The Alma Project, a cultural infusion model by Denver Public Schools.

In My Family Cover

 

MY TWO CENTS: “At the age of thirteen I decided to become a visual artist and pursue every opportunity to advance my knowledge of art in institutions of higher education. The Chicano Movement of the late 1960s inspired the dedication of my creativity to the depiction of special and everyday events in the lives of Mexican Americans based on my memories and experiences in South Texas. I saw the need to create images that would elicit recognition and appreciation among Mexican Americans, both adults and children, while at the same time serve as a source of education for others not familiar with our culture.”

With this artist’s statement, Carmen Lomas Garza sums up everything I appreciate about her autobiographical children’s books. They’re real. They’re confident. They’re hopeful. In all three of her Pura Belpré award winners – Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas, Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia, and In My Family / En mi familia – Garza uses traditional media alongside her own words to represent her memories and celebrate common Mexican American cultural practices. While engaging with these exquisite images and clear, simple (and bilingual!) captions, readers of any cultural background can learn something about life in 1950s Kingsville, Texas and compare and contrast their own experiences with the artist’s.

Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas, which won the Belpré Award in 2000, provides readers with an intricate introduction to the art of papel picado, the traditional Mexican art of paper cutting that began with Mexico’s indigenous communities.

Papel picado decorations for Mexican Independence Day celebrations, Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico. Photo by Alejandro Linares Garcia.

Papel picado decorations for Mexican Independence Day celebrations, Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico. Photo by Alejandro Linares Garcia.

 

While traditional papel picado pieces often feature geometric and/or symbolic designs, Garza’s paper cutouts represent moments from her life: making paper flowers with her family, catching horned frogs, helping her grandfather water his garden.

Detail from Offering for Antonio Lomas / Ofrenda para Antonio Lomas on the back cover of Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas.

Detail from Offering for Antonio Lomas / Ofrenda para Antonio Lomas on the back cover of Magic Windows / Ventanas mágicas.

According to Magic Windows’ introduction, Garza learned how to craft traditional papel picado with scissors from her mother and then, after decades of practice, began fashioning the larger, more representational pieces found in this book with a craft knife. I just can’t believe she cut all of these detailed, elaborate works by with her own two hands. Can you imagine the love, patience, and dedication it took to complete them? “These pieces are like magic windows,” she states. “When you look through them, you can see into another world.” What I see is a deep love for her family rendered with absolute care and skill. You can’t get much more magical than that.

In Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia and In My Family / En mi familia, Garza’s Belpré honor winners, we can see that same care and love channeled through a very different artistic medium – painting. Both of these books contain several paintings of the artist’s childhood memories coupled once again with bilingual captions that explain the significance of each work. Page after page treats readers to sumptuous, folk-art-style snapshots of family gatherings, tender moments, and humorous scenes.

Detail from Quinceañera on the back cover of Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia.

Detail from Quinceañera on the back cover of Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia.

I’m just going to put it out there – Carmen Lomas Garza’s books for children are my absolute favorites. 100%, no joke. Their simplicity, honesty, and artistry make them the perfect package for me, and I know there are plenty of kids out there who will appreciate her straightforward, positive, oftentimes funny depictions of her experiences as well. The universal themes of love and family that appear in each magnificent yet humble work of art can hook any child that picks up these books. As Sandra Cisneros says in her introduction to Family Pictures, enjoying Garza’s art is like “pressing our face against the window screens and peeking inside our house. These are family pictures. And it doesn’t matter if your family is from Kingsville or Cairo, Sarajevo or Katmandu. They are your family’s pictures too. Tell me, which one is you?”

Detail from Watermelon / Sandía on the back cover of Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia.

Detail from Watermelon / Sandía on the back cover of Family Pictures / Cuadros de familia.

 

TEACHING TIPS:

  • Carmen Lomas Garza’s books are excellent models for autobiographical writing and art. After reading any of these award-winning books, let students create their own artistic representation of a personal memory (using their choice of medium, if possible) and write an autobiographical story to accompany the art.
  • Explore the rich history and modern practice of creating papel picado with students. Making Magic Windows, Garza’s companion book to Magic Windows, provides plenty of information about this alluring art form as well as step-by-step instructions for young artists. If possible, invite a papel picado artist to your school to share their craft.
  • Do you live in or near Chicago, Austin, El Paso, San Francisco, or Oakland? If so, consider taking your students to an art museum or library collection that features Carmen Lomas Garza’s artwork. You can find her paintings at the National Museum of Mexican Art (Chicago), the University of Texas’s Benson Latin American Collection (Austin), the El Paso Museum of Art, the Mexican Museum (San Francisco), and the Oakland Museum of California. Viewing a full-size, in-person version of a painting from one of Garza’s books can be a powerful experience, and many kids will love connecting their museum visit to books they’ve read. I’ll never forget stumbling upon Las Posadas at the Museum of Mexican Art – it was definitely a highlight of my trip to Chicago.

 

Carmen Lomas GarzaABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR (from her website): Carmen Lomas Garza was born in Kingsville, Texas, in 1948. Inspired by her parent’s activism with the American G.I. Forum, Lomas Garza joined the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. She is a graduate of the Texas Arts & Industry University, Juarez-Lincoln/Antioch Graduate School, and San Francisco State University where she earned her M.A. in 1981. Lomas Garza is a recipient of numerous awards and has exhibited her work in galleries and museums across the United States.

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

 

MarianneMarianne Snow Campbell is a doctoral student at The University of Georgia, where she researches nonfiction children’s books about Latinx and Latin American topics and teaches an undergraduate course on children’s literature. Before graduate school, she taught pre-K and Kindergarten in Texas, her home state. She misses teaching, loves critters, and can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Celebrating Pura Belpré Winners: Spotlight on Parrot in the Oven by Victor Martinez

PuraBelpreAward

The 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 Victor Martinez’s Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida, winner in the narrative category in 1998.


Review by Cecilia Cackley

Parrot in the OvenDESCRIPTION (from GoodReads): Dad believed people were like money. You could be a thousand-dollar person or a hundred-dollar person even a ten-, five-, or one-dollar person. Below that, everybody was just nickels and dimes. To my dad, we were pennies.

 Fourteen-year old Manny Hernandez wants to be more than just a penny. He wants to be a vato firme, the kind of guy people respect. But that’s not easy when your father is abusive, your brother can’t hold a job, and your mother scrubs the house as if she can wash her troubles away.

In Manny’s neighborhood, the way to get respect is to be in a gang. But Manny’s not sure that joining a gang is the solution. Because, after all, it’s his life – and he wants to be the one to decide what happens to it.

MY TWO CENTS: The subtitle of this book translates as ‘my life’ and that’s exactly what it is. Narrator Manny Hernandez tells the reader the details of his life without leaving out any of the tough, ugly parts—and it’s the truth in everything that gives the book its poetry. Manny is an honest character, confessing his struggles and fears to us and not apologizing for anything. Manny guides the reader through his family, neighborhood, and school, detailing everyone’s struggles, disappointments and moments of peace. This is not a book where there are always clear sides of good and evil, or winners and losers. Manny joins a gang and goes through a violent initiation, but almost immediately afterward, when he sees a fellow gang member rob someone, he realizes that he is not a person who hurts others like that and returns home to his family. Like most teenagers, Manny is just trying to survive and figure out his life and the truth of that is what makes his story so compelling.

Parrot in the Oven was published in 1996 (It won the Pura Belpré Medal in 1998 and the National Book Award in 1996). Although several of the Newbery honor titles that year touched on difficult subjects such as abuse, drugs and historical violence, it would be four more years before the Michael L. Printz award was established to specifically honor literature for teens. Since then, YA literature has received a lot more recognition and the debate about what is appropriate for teens to read and what we should be honoring with awards has become much more heated. Victor Martinez knew what was important: for teens to have books that told them the truth and let them know that whatever they were struggling with in their lives, they would figure it out and they were not alone. Parrot in the Oven is one of those books and we are lucky to be able to share it with readers today.

TEACHING TIPS: Parrot in the Oven provides lots of opportunity for discussion, making it an ideal book to read as a class. Because the book is organized into chapters that each tell about a different place, person, or experience, it serves as a good example text for students doing writing projects. Just as Manny writes about his grandmother’s garden, a boxing match, his sister’s miscarriage, you can encourage students to pick a place or experience of their own and try to describe it in detail, the way Manny does his own life.

Relationships are also central to Manny. Students could work in small groups to discuss Manny’s relationship with his different family members, teachers, and people in the neighborhood, and search the text to find evidence for how he feels about these people and interacts with them.

The ending of Parrot in the Oven is satisfying but not entirely definitive. Manny has seemingly made a choice about his future, but we don’t see any results of that choice. This provides an opportunity for students to imagine what Manny might be doing in a year or three years, and write a short piece showing how his choices have changed or not changed his life.

*****

Victor MartinezVictor Martinez was born and raised in Fresno, California, the fourth in a family of twelve children. He attended California State University at Fresno and Stanford University, and has worked as a field laborer, welder, truck driver, firefighter, teacher, and office clerk. His poems, short stories, and essays have appeared in journals and anthologies. Mr. Martinez was awarded the 1996 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for Parrot in the Oven, his first novel. Mr. Martinez lived in San Francisco, California, where he helped to found the poetry collective Humanizarte. He passed away in 2011.

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Click here for a review from Teaching Latin America Through Literature.

Here’s a printable lesson plan from HarperCollins.

For book guides and lesson plans from Teaching Books, click here.

 

Cackley_headshotCecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington DC where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.

Celebrating Pura Belpré Winners: Spotlight on Doña Flor, illustrated by Raul Colón

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 Raul Colón, the winner of the 2006 Pura Belpré Illustration Award for Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart. Colón also received Pura Belpré Illustration Honors for Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes and My Name is Gabito: The Life of Gabriel García Márquez/Me llamo Gabito: la vida de Gabriel García Márquez.

Review by Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: Doña Flor is a giant lady who lives in a tiny village in the American Southwest. Popular with her neighbors, she lets the children use her flowers as trumpets and her leftover tortillas as rafts. Flor loves to read, too, and she can often be found reading aloud to the children.

One day, all the villagers hear a terrifying noise: it sounds like a huge animal bellowing just outside their village. Everyone is afraid, but not Flor. She wants to protect her beloved neighbors, so with the help of her animal friends, she sets off for the highest mesa to find the creature. Soon enough, though, the joke is on Flor and her friends, who come to rescue her, as she discovers the small secret behind that great big noise.

The creators of Tomás and the Library Lady, Pat Mora and Raul Colón, have once again joined together. This time they present a heartwarming and humorous original tall tale—peppered with Spanish words and phrases—about a giant lady with a great big heart.

MY TWO CENTS: Doña Flor, written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Raul Colón, tells the story of a giant woman that sleeps on clouds and makes piles of big tortillas. She protects her village from harm and she must do just that when the villagers inform her that a giant mountain lion threatens their safety. The biography of Raul Colón included on the dust jacket describes his illustrations as “an intriguing combination of watercolor washes, etching, and colored and litho pencils.”

When I look at Colón’s illustrations, the etchings remind me of fingerprints. The loops, the arches, the whorls, and all the lines that we might associate with fingerprints are visible in Colón’s illustrations. I am not familiar with techniques or the technicalities of etching and in saying that the illustrations remind me of fingerprints I do not mean to devalue the art in any way. My favorite illustration in this story is of Doña Flor using her thumb to carve out a riverbed in the village. Doña Flor is in a squatting position with her white skirt covering her thighs, and she has used her thumb to make a squiggly path for the water while the villagers look on. The riverbed has the details I associated with the fingerprints which, in this case, could be Doña Flor’s own prints.

Colón’s illustrations are beautiful, colorful, and magical. That I saw fingerprints when I looked closely at his illustrations speaks to the uniqueness of his art. While Doña Flor wears a blue shirt in most of the illustrations sometimes the shirt looks like it is embroidered and sometimes it looks like a plain T-shirt. The clouds on one page look round and fluffy and in the illustration where she’s made her bed of clouds it appears like she’s left her own fingerprints on the clouds she has gathered. Despite the uniqueness I see in his illustrations, there is certainly a sense of cohesion throughout the story. I’ve decided to focus on the etchings, the lines, and how much they appear like fingerprints because as I examined his illustrations, I also got the thought that our stories are as unique as our fingerprints. Colón’s illustrations in Doña Flor affirmed that for me. I couldn’t help but connect the details I saw in his art to the significance of the Pura Belpré award and the necessity for more Latinx children’s and young adult literature by and for Latinx.

TEACHING TIPS:

  • For younger readers: Ask younger readers to pick their favorite illustration and to pick a part of the image they’d like to recreate. For example, in the illustration with Doña Flor making the river, students can attempt to recreate the river, the clouds, the trees and hills, etc. Ask students to outline their chosen part and to fill it in by dabbing their fingerprints. This will recreate the etching effect they see in the illustrations.
  • For middle grade readers: Discuss with students the effect and affect of etching. Does the etching force the reader to focus in a certain direction or a certain part of the page? How do the illustrations make you feel? For example, in the illustration where Doña Flor hugs the wind the lines of the etchings point in the same direction, making it appear like she is floating away with the wind.
  • For young adult readers: By the end of the story Doña Flor learns that the loud roaring frightening the village is coming from a small puma roaring into a hollow log. Discuss with students the importance of perceptions and misconceptions. How might we connect the villagers’ fear and the puma’s amplified roars to racial/ethnic stereotypes?

 

FullSizeRender (1)Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez’s research focuses on the various roles that healing plays in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. She currently teaches composition and literature at a community college in Chicago. She also teaches poetry to 6th graders and drama to 2nd graders as a teaching artist through a local arts organization. She is working on her middle grade book. Follow Sonia on Instagram @latinxkidlit