Why Write Books About Luchadores? A Guest Post by Author-Illustrator Xavier Garza

The Great and Mighty Nikko - El JaguarBy Xavier Garza

Why write books about luchadores? I remember being asked that question by a librarian one time at a book signing. I answered her that one of the reasons was its obvious appeal to boys, who can be reluctant readers at times. Lucha libre readily lends itself to create the type of action-packed stories boys just love.

1970 El santo contra las momias de GuanajuatoBut there was another reason I wrote books about luchadores, dating back to when I was a seven-year-old child going to the movies with my dad. It was the summer of 1974 when my father took me to the H&H Drive-In in my hometown of Rio Grande City, Texas. The marquee heralded a double-feature matinee that consisted of a Japanese monster movie and an action-thriller flick from the world of Mexican cinema. The second film was titled Santo contra las momias de Guanajuato (The Saint versus the Mummies of Guanajuato). I was all too familiar with radioactive fire-breathing Japanese Kaijua monster movies of the Godzilla variety, but up until that night, I had not yet been introduced to the masked heroes and villains of lucha libre.

As the second feature began, I watched as the masked villain made his grand entrance. Heralded as a resurrected evil prince from a civilization long lost, he now sought dominion over the earth. But standing in his way was the direct descendant of his adversary from centuries past. I watched in awe as this mysterious new hero donned the legendary silver mask and cape of his ancestor and stood ready to do battle against the resurrected evil prince. I remember at that point asking my dad who was this silver masked man on the movie screen? My dad turned to look at me and smiled. “That’s El Santo, mijo… the Saint. They say he is the greatest luchador that has ever lived.”

The author-illustrator Xavier Garza as a child.

The author-illustrator Xavier Garza as a child.

My dad’s words echoed in my mind:  the greatest luchador that has ever lived. It was at that moment that I was hooked. I would be a fan of both El Santo and lucha libre for the rest of my life.

My father’s words served to spark in me a love for the sport of lucha libre that I carry with me to this day. I was in awe of the fact that these luchadores had the power to put on a mask and become something bigger than themselves. The minute they donned that mask and cape they ceased to be people with names like Rodolfo Guzman Huerta, Alejandro Marquez, or Teresa Lopez. They were transformed into the bigger-than-life personalities that lived in the world of lucha libre. They became heroes and villains with names like the evil Medical Assassin, the rabid Dogman Aguayo, and the heroic Masked Damsel. They were the living and breathing depictions of ancient heroes, cultural stereotypes, monsters, and in some cases… gods, themselves.

Their appeal was simply irresistible to a seven-year-old boy with an intense love of comic book super heroes. Except that these were no mere drawings in a comic book, oh no. These were flesh and blood individuals that nobody ever saw without their masks. To be seen or photographed without their masks was taboo, utterly forbidden. As such, it could be literally anybody underneath that mask. The person buying a gallon of milk at the grocery store could secretly be a masked luchador and you would never even know it. Was the Medical Assassin secretly your uncle? Was the Guardian Angel perhaps your local priest that gave mass at your church each and every Sunday? When it came to lucha libre, there was no way to truly know for sure.

The Great and Mighty Nikko! 7  La Tabla Marina

It was that sense of mystery that made lucha libre so appealing and would influence me for years to come. As I grew older, I dreamt of becoming both an artist and an author, and wouldn’t you know it that these luchadores found their way into my work. After nearly ten years of trying to get published, it would finally happen after a conversation with Dr. Nicholas Kanellos, president of Arte CucuysPúblico Press. In 2004, they would publish my first book, titled Creepy Creatures and other Cucuys, and it served as the foundation for many books to come. Among those books would be my first lucha libre book, published by Cinco Puntos Press in 2007, Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask, A Bilingual Cuento. In many ways this book was a labor of love for me. It was my great big thank-you to all those masked heroes and villains that had filled my head as a child and given wings to my imagination.

One night as I was working on illustration ideas for the book, my then-three-year-old son walked into the studio and asked me who was the silver-masked luchador that I was drawing. I instantly flashed back to that night at the movie drive-in with my father, his words echoing in my mind. I answered my son the only way I knew how. “That’s El Santo mijo… the Saint. They say he is the greatest luchador that has ever lived.”

Lucha

Don’t miss our review of Xavier Garza’s The Great and Mighty Nikko.

 

Xavier Garza hi resolution imageXavier Garza is an author, teacher, artist, and storyteller whose work is a lively documentation of life, dreams, superstitions, and heroes in the bigger-than-life world of South Texas. Xavier has exhibited his art and performed his stories in venues throughout Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. He is the author of several books for children and young adults. His Maxmilian and the Mystery of the Guardian Angel: A Bilingual Lucha Libre Thriller received a 2012 Pura Belpré Honor designation. Follow Xavier’s adventures on Twitter (his handle is @CharroClaus) and Facebook.

 

 

Praise for Books Deemed Perfect for Reluctant Readers

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

Recently, a few 2015 debut author friends have had their books reviewed as being “good for reluctant readers,” and the question was, “Is this a good thing?” I jumped into that online conversation because I work all day, every day with reluctant readers at my full-time day job as a reading specialist in a large suburban middle school in Connecticut.

First, what is a reluctant reader? It’s a student who can read but chooses not to. They are not illiterate. They are aliterate. When it’s designated silent reading time, they fake read. If a movie has been made, they watch it first. They can get by on quizzes and tests by listening to the teacher and peers talk about the book. Reluctant readers are not unintelligent. Some make it through high school successfully, with good grades, without ever reading a book cover to cover.

For some students, however, a lack of reading for years can affect their fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills. A reluctant reader turns into a struggling reader. The achievement gap between struggling readers and their peers grows as the work becomes more rigorous and academic expectations increase. Across the nation, the students who represent the achievement gap are largely minority students from urban areas.

My school has about 900 students in grades 6-8. The vast majority of students read well above their grade level, so reluctant and/or struggling readers land in my class. Most of my students are Hispanic and almost all of them are either English Language Learners or students who have transferred to our district from nearby cities. The goal is for them not to need reading support. Getting them there can be a challenge because reading is something they do not enjoy.

The school year usually starts like this:

Me: Welcome to class!

Student: I don’t want to be in this class.

Me: How do you know? We haven’t even started yet.

Student: I hate reading.

Me: I know. That’s why you’re here. Everyone here hates to read, except for me, of course. It’ll be fun, I promise.

Student: How can it be fun if all we’re going to do is read?

Me: Well, that’s not all we’re going to do. We might take a break from reading to chit-chat like we are now, but yeah, we’re going to spend a lot of time reading.

Student: And you consider that fun?

Me: I do, and I think you will, too.

Student: Yeah, right. Good luck with that.

I’ve even had a few students cry on the first day of class and tell me they don’t want to be seen in the “stupid” class. I try to convince them it’s the best class in the building, but their discomfort is real and has been with them since they first started learning how to read and didn’t like it or were separated from their peers for extra help. The older they get, the more embarrassing this is. I do validate their feelings and their frustrations, and I equate it with my ongoing struggle with exercise.

I know it’s important, but I don’t like to do it. The longer I don’t do it, the more out of shape I get. If I decide it’s time to change my habits, it might be uncomfortable, even painful, but it will get easier with time. Eventually, I’ll be stronger and healthier. I may never love exercise, but I’ll do it because it’s good for me.

Some of my students are athletes or musicians or are engaged in some activity that requires an ongoing commitment, so they get my analogy. They understand that they may never love to read, but it’s important for their futures.

So, how to start? Me, I’ll start by walking my dog more now that winter is finally over. My students start by picking books they want to read, not books handed to them by a teacher. Some of them don’t even know where to begin. These are not the students who already have a favorite genre or author. Some of them don’t even know how to find a book in the library. All they’ve had is a longstanding feeling that reading is boring.

Enter books perfect for reluctant readers and teachers, booksellers, and librarians–the people who talk up books and place books in students’ hands.

For its annual Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers list, YALSA considers a book’s physical appearance, style, and content. The criteria are meant as suggestions, and they clearly state not all criteria may fit all books. Here are the things they consider when evaluating a book for reluctant readers.

1.  Physical Appearance

  • Cover – catchy, action-oriented, attractive, appealing, good “blurb”
  • Print style – sufficiently large for enjoyable reading
  • Format – appropriate and appealing balance of test and white space
  • Artwork/illustrations – enticing, realistic, demonstrated diversity

2.  Style

  • Clear writing that easily communicates without long convoluted sentences of sophisticated vocabulary
  • Acceptable literary quality and effectiveness of presentation
  • Simple vocabulary but not noticeably controlled

3.  Fiction

  • High interest “hook” in first 10 pages
  • Well-defined characters
  • Sufficient plot to sustain interest
  • Plot lines developed through dialog and action
  •  Familiar themes with emotional appeal for teenagers
  • Believable treatment
  • Single point of view
  • Touches of humor when appropriate
  • Chronological order

4.  Informational Books

  • Technical language acceptable if defined in context
  •  Accuracy
  • Objectivity

18263725In short, books perfect for reluctant readers have an attractive design, hook the reader early, are relatively easy to read, and are written in a way that keeps them reading. So, to the question, Is it a good thing to have my book called “perfect for reluctant readers”? I say, YES! Some of the titles on this year’s list include the Newbery winner The Crossover by Kwame Alexander and the Morris Award winner, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. That two of this year’s top prize winners are also good books for reluctant readers should settle any question about whether books for reluctant readers are somehow “less than” in the literary world.

If anything, I’d argue they achieve something special because book lovers will read just about anything or push through a novel, even if they’re not enjoying it entirely. Reluctant readers, though, are an author’s toughest critic. They will put a book down in a heartbeat if it doesn’t keep their interest. If you can capture a reluctant reader’s interest, that’s saying something. And if that reluctant reader goes on to read another book and then another, well, then I cry teacher tears of joy.

Getting these books into students’ hands is a crucial piece of the puzzle. During one-on-one conferences recently, I asked my students about what they were reading and why they chose it. ALL OF THEM said they chose the book because a teacher or librarian recommended it.

Wow, reality check time.

If I say, “This is a great book,” students will want to read it. Seems obvious, right? But, for those of us in this position, please realize the influence we have. We read lots of books as part of our jobs. We stand up in front of students, and we present a handful of books to them through book talks or when they ask for help to find a book. When we do this, they want to read them. The suggestions we make can turn non-readers into readers. This is serious.

So, which books are we recommending? Are we recommending the same books all the time? How diverse are our choices year to year in terms of genre, author, characters, content? Do we think there are girl books and boy books? Do we think there are books for students of color and books for all other students? These are important questions we should be asking ourselves because our answers will determine the books we champion. And the books we champion can become the books students, especially reluctant readers, choose to read.

For the record, here are some of the books my reluctant readers are currently reading and loving:

24048  12987986  17166339  6186357  18225810  Into the Wild (Warriors, #1)  After Tupac and D Foster

Let’s All Make the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign an Ongoing Movement

By Patrick Flores-Scott

#WeNeedDiverseBooks. The trending hashtag is a channel for conversation around the huge problem of a lack of diversity in children’s literature. The problem has been noted in many recent articles and so have the reasons we need more books by diverse authors and books with complex, real diverse characters.

For many years I was lucky to be a public school teacher in very diverse schools. At different points I was both a general education classroom teacher and a reading specialist. As a classroom teacher, I was able to seek and find the books I wanted my class to hear and read. More often than not, these books had main characters of color. I had the time, energy, resources, and relationships that helped me find great books that my students loved.

My students, however, especially my reluctant readers, were not going to work so hard to find a book that would reflect the cultural, racial, socio-economic realities of their community. They were going to pick the available book, the one closest to their hand when it was time to leave the library, or the trendy book that made them look like they were in the reading “know.”

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Author Angela Cervantes posted this picture on Twitter during the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign.

Students need to be able to accidentally stumble their way into a great book that reflects their own background or one that opens their eyes to new characters and communities. They shouldn’t have to work for it. They shouldn’t have to fight for it. Kids have enough on their plate. Yes, some students are going to research authors, seek out new books and reading experiences, challenge their school librarian and make demands. Most fifth graders, however, are just struggling to make it through the day. They end up with the default book… and given the math of the situation, they’re going to walk out with another book by a white author with a white main character. Is this a tragedy? In the moment, no. That default book might be a great one. But this scene takes place over and over each day in most schools in the country and that great book–if the student is lucky–may just be another in a long line of books that reinforces the notion that great books are written by white authors and that white kids are the ones worthy of books written about them.  This notion is a toxic one, regardless of a student’s background.

Children’s books are a piece of a larger pie. A lack of diversity in film and television reinforces the notion that white stories are more relevant than non-white stories. The make-up the Senate (97 out 0f 100 are white) reinforces the notion that non-whites do not have a role in the highest levels of politics. Yes, there is the President, but his cabinet is made up of 70% white males. Kids see this. They see thousands of African American college athletes and they know that, in the vast majority of cases, these athletes are led to battle by white coaches. They know that the percentages of Black and Latino men in prison are crazily out of proportion with the population of Black and Latino men. Kids see all this. They take it in. The perceptions become realities for them.

My wife and I are the proud, exhausted parents of two rambunctious little boys. Their grandparents are Mexican-American on their mom’s side. My parents are white. My dad is from the U.S., my mom a Spanish-speaking Latina from South America. We will raise our boys to be proud of all that they are and proud of all the Latino, Caucasian, African-American, Asian and mixes of the aforementioned that make up their diverse extended family. While we will do our best to teach that the content of one’s character, not the color of one’s skin (one’s gender, sexual orientation, physical ability) is what is important, television, our political and judicial systems, sports…. And even the make-up of CHILDREN’S BOOKS, will send messages that complicate, skew, and even deem our parental message well-meaning, but just wrong.

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The Oakland Public Library in California posted lots of great pictures like this one on Twitter during the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign.

What do we do about it? The #WeNeedDiverseBooks Movement (Can it please be a movement? We need more movements around here.) is a potentially very important call for change in the children’s book world. Now, we need to push for intentionality. Gatekeepers need to have their feet held to the fire. The Movement (!) needs to push publishers to set goals that trend their books in a more realistically diverse direction. It needs to push the industry to hire editors from diverse backgrounds and to hire and support diverse interns and entry-level assistants who can have the power to move books off the pile and into editors’ hands. The Movement needs to hold publishers accountable.

Institutions which support writers and illustrators, like my beloved SCBWI, need to recruit underrepresented writers to their conferences. (And to check out the percentage of white male panelists and speakers compared to the percentage of white male attendees.) Groups like SCBWI need to be pushed to intentionally foster and mentor a more diverse writing community.

The movement needs to push us published authors of all colors and stripes, to mentor diverse up-and-comers, to include pro-bono school visits to underfunded schools, and to write real, complex, fallible diverse characters who live the entirety of the American experience.

Members of The Movement need to request diverse books at their bookstores and libraries. We need to post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and library websites. Members of the Movement need to advise book bloggers and to follow and support blogs like this one. We need to give diverse books as birthday presents and to talk about our favorites on the bus, at work, in line at the bookstore…

Members of The Movement need to push our political leaders to support the health, education and welfare of our future readers and writers.

Publishers, agents, bookstore workers, librarians, teachers, authors… there are bunches these folks out there doing the positive stuff that will make change possible. The Movement needs to support them and it needs to push for intentionality in those who mean well, but have not yet made the move to change.

PatrickFS1Patrick Flores-Scott was, until recently, a long-time public school teacher in Seattle, Washington. He’s now a stay-at-home dad and early morning writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Patrick’s first novel, Jumped In, has been named to a YALSA 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults book, an NCSS/CBC Notable Book for the Social Studies and a Bank Street College Best Book of 2014. He is currently working on his second book, American Road Trip.

Jumped In was featured in Libros Latin@s on Thursday. Click here to see the overview.