Book Review: Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1) by Zoraida Córdova

 

Reviewed by Cindy L. Rodriguez and Cecilia Cackley; ARC received from Sourcebooks Fire.

Labyrinth Lost CoverDESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER:  Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

OUR TWO CENTS: We’re thrilled to kick off our new blogging year with a celebration of Labyrinth Lost, an action-packed, urban, portal fantasy with a powerful, complex Latina main character. This novel tackles family, friendship, love, survival, and self-acceptance all while Alejandra Mortiz and her friends Nova and Rishi fight for their lives in a dangerous underworld.

Alex, a 16-year-old Ecuadorian-Puerto Rican, has been fighting against her magical powers for years, feeling her growing abilities are more of a burden than a blessing. She believes her magic is responsible for her father’s disappearance, and she fears more harm will come to herself and her family if she wholly embraces her magic during her Deathday ceremony. Alex, therefore, sabotages the ceremony, which causes her family to be kidnapped from their Brooklyn home to Los Lagos, where they may die at the hands of The Devourer, an evil, power-hungry bruja who’s happy to destroy anyone who gets in her way. The first few chapters really establish Alex’s character and her position in her family so that you understand and care about how conflicted and guilty she is about her family’s disappearance. The stakes could not be higher, and you want Alex to succeed.

Labyrinth 1Alex’s journey through Los Lagos feels very classic. The different communities she encounters, each with its own history and strengths and weaknesses, may remind readers of classic adventures like The Odyssey, Dante’s Inferno, and Alice in Wonderland. Every new area of Los Lagos brings a ton of action. Not every writer can create battle scenes so the reader can clearly visualize them without having to re-read. Zoraida is GREAT at this.

For those who like some romance with their action-adventure story, Labyrinth Lost delivers there as well. Alex has feelings for both Nova and Rishi throughout the narrative, making her one of the few bisexual Latinas in young adult fiction. We especially love that neither Alex’s bisexuality nor her bruja lifestyle are depicted as “issues” or morally problematic. Alex struggles to accept the responsibility and consequences of her magic and her place within her immediate family and the larger bruja community with its deep history and traditions. But, neither her cultural identities or sexual preferences are depicted as “the problems,” thank the Deos.

Labyrinth Lost, the first in a series, ends in a way that will leave you hungry for the sequel with promises of further family complications and more development of secondary characters, Nova and Rishi. We can’t wait!

TEACHING TIPS: 

  • compare/contrast inhabitants of Los Lagos with creatures from other folklore traditions and classical mythology
  • research Santeria and other traditions listed in the author note–which is amazing and a must-read
  • re-write a key scene from the point of view of Nova or Rishi
  • include this novel in a study of the supernatural, and witches specifically, in literature, along with titles such as MacBeth.

    Zoraida 3      Zoraida 2

AND NOW FOR TONS OF AWESOME BONUS STUFF, including Chapter 1, the book trailer, and a giveaway!!

FIRST, you’ve got to see this:

NOW, you’ve got to read this:

Chapter 1:

Follow our voices, sister.

Tell us the secret of your death.

—-Resurrection Canto,
Book of Cantos
The second time I saw my dead aunt Rosaria, she was dancing.

Earlier that day, my mom had warned me, pressing a long, red fingernail on the tip of my nose, “Alejandra, don’t go downstairs when the Circle arrives.”

But I was seven and asked too many questions. Every Sunday, cars piled up in our driveway, down the street, and around the corner of our old, narrow house in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Mom’s Circle usually brought cellophane–wrapped dishes and jars of dirt and tubs of brackish water that made the Hudson River look clean. This time, they carried something more.

When my sisters started snoring, I threw off my covers and crept down the stairs. The floorboards were uneven and creaky, but I was good at not being seen. Fuzzy, yellow streetlight shone through our attic window and followed me down every flight until I reached the basement.

A soft hum made its way through the thin walls. I remember thinking I should listen to my mom’s warning and go back upstairs. But our house had been restless all week, and Lula, Rose, and I were shoved into the attic, out of the way while the grown–ups prepared the funeral. I wanted out. I wanted to see.

The night was moonless and cold one week after the Witch’s New Year, when Aunt Rosaria died of a sickness that made her skin yellow like hundred–year–old paper and her nails turn black as coal. We tried to make her beautiful again. My sisters and I spent all day weaving good luck charms from peonies, corn husks, and string—-one loop over, under, two loops over, under. Not even the morticians, the Magos de Muerte, could fix her once–lovely face.

Aunt Rosaria was dead. I was there when we mourned her. I was there when we buried her. Then, I watched my father and two others shoulder a dirty cloth bundle into the house, and I knew I couldn’t stay in bed, no matter what my mother said.

So I opened the basement door.

Red light bathed the steep stairs. I leaned my head toward the light, toward the beating sound of drums and sharp plucks of fat, nylon guitar strings.

A soft mew followed by whiskers against my arm made my heart jump to the back of my rib cage. I bit my tongue to stop the scream. It was just my cat, Miluna. She stared at me with her white, glowing eyes and hissed a warning, as if telling me to turn back. But Aunt Rosaria was my godmother, my family, my friend. And I wanted to see her again.

“Sh!” I brushed the cat’s head back.

Miluna nudged my leg, then ran away as the singing started.

I took my first step down, into the warm, red light. Raspy voices called out to our gods, the Deos, asking for blessings beyond the veil of our worlds. Their melody pulled me step by step until I was crouched at the bottom of the landing.

They were dancing.

Brujas and brujos were dressed in mourning white, their faces painted in the aspects of the dead, white clay and black coal to trace the bones. They danced in two circles—-the outer ring going clockwise, the inner counterclockwise—hands clasped tight, voices vibrating to the pulsing drums.

And in the middle was Aunt Rosaria.

Her body jerked upward. Her black hair pooled in the air like she was suspended in water. There was still dirt on her skin. The white skirt we buried her in billowed around her slender legs. Black smoke slithered out of her open mouth. It weaved in and out of the circle—-one loop over, under, two loops over, under. It tugged Aunt Rosaria higher and higher, matching the rhythm of the canto.

Then, the black smoke perked up and changed its target. It could smell me. I tried to backpedal, but the tiles were slick, and I slid toward the circle. My head smacked the tiles. Pain splintered my skull, and a broken scream lodged in my throat.

The music stopped. Heavy, tired breaths filled the silence of the pulsing red dark. The enchantment was broken. Aunt Rosaria’s reanimated corpse turned to me. Her body purged black smoke, lowering her back to the ground. Her ankles cracked where the bone was brittle, but still she took a step. Her dead eyes gaped at me. Her wrinkled mouth growled my name: Alejandra.

She took another step. Her ankle turned and broke at the joint, sending her flying forward. She landed on top of me. The rot of her skin filled my nose, and grave dirt fell into my eyes.

Tongues clucked against crooked teeth. The voices of the circle hissed, “What’s the girl doing out of bed?”

There was the scent of extinguished candles and melting wax. Decay and perfume oil smothered me until they pulled the body away.

My mother jerked me up by the ear, pulling me up two flights of stairs until I was back in my bed, the scream stuck in my throat like a stone.

Never,” she said. “You hear me, Alejandra? Never break a Circle.”

I lay still. So still that after a while, she brushed my hair, thinking I had fallen asleep.

I wasn’t. How could I ever sleep again? Blood and rot and smoke and whispers filled my head.

“One day you’ll learn,” she whispered.

Then she went back down the street–lit stairs, down into the warm red light and to Aunt Rosaria’s body. My mother clapped her hands, drums beat, strings plucked, and she said, “Again.”

AND NOW, you’ve got to get this:

To find Labyrinth Lost, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble. You can also…..

CLICK HERE FOR A RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY

317988_632439229822_92623787_nABOUT THE AUTHOR: Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. She is the author of The Vicious Deep trilogy, the On the Verge series, and Labyrinth Lost. She loves black coffee, snark, and still believes in magic.

Author Website: http://www.zoraidacordova.com/

Labyrinth Lost Website: http://books.sourcebooks.com/labyrinth-lost/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CordovaBooks

Twitter:  @zlikeinzorro

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wanderwheel/

Author Tumblr: http://wanderlands.tumblr.com/

Labyrinth Lost Tumblr: http://labyrinthlostbooks.tumblr.com/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/ZoraidaLand

Labyrinth Lost Coloring Page: http://www.sourcebooks.com/images/LabyrinthLost-ColoringPage.pdf

Celebrating Pura Belpré Award Winners: Spotlight on Margarita Engle

PuraBelpreAward

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

PuraBelpreAward

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 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.

Celebrate Earth Day By Reading Kid Lit Books As An Ecocritic

 

By Marianne Snow Campbell

Earth Day is here again!  It’s a time to honor the natural world that surrounds us, consider how we can take better care of the environment, and take action keep our planet healthy and beautiful. In schools, many teachers and students will join together to read and discuss books with environmentalist lessons – The Lorax, The Great Kapok Tree, a variety of picture books about recycling and picking up litter. Last year, Lila Quintero Weaver shared a beautiful post about books celebrating “Latin@ Heroes of the Planet” and other “Earth Day-friendly books with Latin@ connections.” I love the strong messages that these texts carry and believe that they should play a prominent role in educating children about conservation and ecology.

However, reading literature with overt lessons about the earth isn’t the only method for learning about environmentalism. There’s another, somewhat subtler, approach – ecocriticism. Ecocriticism is a form of literary analysis that investigates how literature depicts nature and, ideally, inspires readers to take action to keep the natural environment healthy. But it’s not just for literature scholars – kids of all ages can be ecocritics, too!

To start an ecocritical analysis, choose a book that depicts nature but isn’t about ecological themes like conservation, recycling, and saving the earth.  For example, I like to use Maya Christina González’s Call Me Tree / Llámame árbol, a poetic, bilingual picture book that celebrates the strength and beauty of trees, as well as humans’ connections with these majestic plants.

Throughout the book, the narrator, a child, embodies nature by pretending to be a tree. They begin as a seed nestled in the earth. Slowly, they sprout from the earth and stretch toward the sky, just like a young sapling. As the child/tree grows, they are joined by other children, who also identify as diverse, strong, leafy forest residents:

“Trees!

More and more trees

Trees and trees

Just like me!

 

¡Árboles!

Más y más árboles

Árboles y árboles

¡Iguales a mí!”

 

To explore a book like Call Me Tree / Llámame árbol with an ecocritical lens, young readers can ponder questions (adapted from Dobie, 2011) that facilitate thinking about nature and readers’ relationship with the earth:

  • How do the author and illustrator depict nature in this text?
  • What is/are the relationship/s between humans and nature in this text?
  • What does this text tell you about nature?
  • Do you agree with this text’s representation of nature?  Why or why not?
  • Does this text make you want to do something to help the environment?  Why or why not? What do you want to do, and how can you accomplish these goals?

Let’s apply those questions to Call Me Tree / Llámame árbol. When I consider these questions in relation to this book, I’m filled with awe and gratitude for the trees that surround me. I love how González depicts trees and humans as equals. In both the text and the illustrations, she presents children and trees as one and the same; people are trees, and trees are people. Nature isn’t a commodity for us to consume. This representation makes me rethink my responsibility for the environment and how I should treat nature as I want to be treated. Trees care for me by cleaning the air, providing shade, and sharing their beauty, so shouldn’t I do more to care for trees? Even though Call Me Tree isn’t about conservation, it certainly makes me want to do my part to respect and sustain the natural world.

Doing ecocriticism can benefit kids in a variety of ways. By analyzing and evaluating representations of nature in texts, they’ll flex their critical thinking muscles. Moreover, ecocriticism’s blending of environmental science and literary studies can help science lovers get more into literature (and vice versa). Also, readers who enjoy expressing themselves creatively can take ecocritical analysis a step further by creating their own nature poetry, art, music, and drama.

 The best news? There are tons of literature by Latinx and Latin American authors that kids can explore with an ecocritical lens. Below are some great books for readers of all ages that feature various types of nature motifs. (Special thanks to Lila Quintero Weaver, Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, Cindy L. Rodriguez, and Cecilia Cackley for their rich contributions to this list of suggested books!)

 

Picture Books

It’s Our Garden (George Ancona)

Kids get their hands dirty and grow food for their community in this nonfiction tale about a school garden.


Prietita and the Ghost Woman / PRIETITA Y LA LLORONA
(Gloria Anzaldúa, Maya Christina Gonzalez)

Prietita wanders the South Texas woods seeking a medicinal plant for her ailing mother.  What will happen when she meets la Llorona?

 

Domitila y el mar (Nina Basich, Teresa Martínez)

After receiving a postcard from her uncle, who’s vacationing at the beach, Domitila can’t get the sea out of her head. (Text in Spanish.)

Domitila

 

Un pueblo lleno de bestias (Francisco Hinojosa, Manuel Monroy)

A group of overprotected children escape their stifling village and create their own community in the desert. (Text in Spanish.)

 

I Know the River Loves Me / Yo sé que el río me ama (Maya Christina Gonzalez)

Can a child and a river be best friends?  Of course!

 

Talking with Mother Earth / Hablando con Madre Tierra (Jorge Argueta, Lucía Angela Pérez)

In this sumptuous collection of poetry, Argueta explores his childhood connections with the earth.

 

Chavela and the Magic Bubble (Monica Brown, Magaly Morales)

Magical bubble gum takes Chavela back in time to visit a grove of sapodilla trees and the people who harvest their chicle in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

 

Middle Grades Books

Silver People: VOICES OF THE PANAMA CANAL (Margarita Engle)

This collection of poems about the construction of the Panama Canal is narrated not only by humans, but also by animals and plants.

 

The Dreamer (Pam Muñoz Ryan)

As an adult, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda often incorporated nature into his work.  This account follows the young Neruda (born Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto) and his encounters with the natural world.

 

Esperanza Rising (Pam Muñoz Ryan)

Forced off of their wealthy ranch in Mexico, Esperanza and her mother immigrate to California to work the land.

 

Where the Flame Trees Bloom (Alma Flor Ada)

Natural imagery permeates Alma Flor Ada’s stories of her childhood in Cuba.

 

My Ocean: A Novel of Cuba (Enrique Pérez Díaz)

Struggling to understand why friends and family are leaving Cuba for the United States, Enrique seeks solace and comfort in the ocean.

3364012

 

Young Adult Books

I Will Save You (Matt de la Peña)

The beach plays a central role in this mysterious, psychological novel.

 

The Living (Matt de la Peña)

Earthquakes, tsunamis, and disease give readers a different perspective of nature in this intense thriller.

 

Under the Mesquite (Guadalupe García McCall)

Wrestling with her mother’s cancer diagnosis and the responsibility of caring for her siblings, Lupita seeks refuge and resilience in the shade of a tree.

 

The Vicious Deep (Zoraida Córdova)

Nature meets fantasy!  Tristan has always loved the water – a love that begins to make sense when he discovers that he’s heir to an underwater kingdom.

 

Out of Darkness (Ashley Hope Pérez)

The East Texas woods are a place of safety for Naomi and Wash as they cope with violence and racism.

 

 

MarianneMarianne Snow Campbell is a doctoral student at The University of Georgia, where she researches nonfiction children’s books about Latin@ 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.

 

Listening Latinx: An author’s audiobook experience

OutOfDarknessAudioCoverI have been listening to audiobooks for nearly three decades, so it was something of a dream come true to see Out of Darkness go into production shortly after it received a Printz Honor. Before production began, though, I found myself wondering if my strong opinions about narration, pronunciation, and the like would get in the way—or set me up for disappointment. What if the narrator’s voice didn’t match the texture or tone I’d imagined in writing?

I needn’t have worried. I loved how involved I got to be in the process with Listening Library. Executive producer Aaron Blank proved scrupulous in his attention to detail, from the pronunciation of my last name (yes, that accent mark means something, as I explain here) to the particulars of how to say “Cari” and “Beto,” the names of the twins in the novel. Yes, I might have sent him audio recordings of me pronouncing their names…

A few people have asked me if I wanted to narrate my own book. In general, I find that author-narrated audiobooks are rarely as effective as those narrated by actors. In particular, I have an aversion to the sound of my own voice on recordings, so that option wasn’t even on the table. (Although I would like brownie points for recording this brief introduction to Out of Darkness.)

WashAsJackie

Robinson: my image of Wash

Aaron shared my sense that it was important to cast a Latinx narrator or a narrator with exceptional Spanish and cultural competency. We also agreed that it would be important to find talent capable of handling the wide range of voices, including Henry’s oil field diction and Wash’s African American Vernacular. It’s possible that I sent Aaron YouTube videos to illustrate the flattening of vowels common among East Texans as well as examples of intonation for Southern accents and African American Vernacular that captured the particularity of speech without any whiff of caricature. And (*secret revealed*) since I always pictured Wash as a young Jackie Robinson, I had to send some footage of a film about Robinson, too.

I listened to many wonderful auditions, but Benita Robledo’s beautifully modulated voice stood out immediately. She settled quickly into the world of the novel, managing not only to capture the texture of Naomi’s experience but also the nuances of other point-of-view characters as well.

BenitaRobledo_ItsAWrap

Benita’s voice is as beautiful as she is. Sometimes you can feel that smile in the narration.

It’s a tremendous boon that, as director Tony Hudz noted, Benita gets “all the pronunciations, pitch- and letter-perfect.” But what Benita brings is more than that. Also a Texan, she grew up near Brownsville and (again quoting Tony) “knows this turf” emotionally and psychologically. In my listening, I hear the spark of connection, sincere animation of my words that comes in part from recognizing the silences that they seek to counter. Benita shared this about the experience of bringing Out of Darkness to sound:

In the still hush of the recording studio, with only my voice and my director to guide me, I would lose myself in Ashley Hope Pérez’s words. Sometimes I’d get so involved in the story, I wouldn’t realize a whole morning had passed and it was time for a break. She has an incredible talent for creating beauty even in the ugliest of times. For me, getting to live and breathe Out of Darkness, was nothing short of magic.

The admiration is mutual. Ditto regarding my feelings for Lincoln Hoppe, who masterfully renders the passages in the voice of “The Gang,” which captures the collective voice of the senior class. The Gang is a kind of ugly distillation of the thoughts circulating and is often thick with unexamined racism. Because of the character of these sections, and because it is the only first-person narration in the novel, we felt it should have a different narrator. (Benita does all the other chapters.) Here’s what Tony had to say about Lincoln’s role:

Lincoln_Hoppe_NotEvil

Lincoln Hoppe

The first thing you have to know about Lincoln Hoppe is that he’s a 6’4″ puppy dog. With glasses. One of the sweetest, gentlest people I’ve ever met. It is thus a tribute and a testament to his professionalism and skill as a reader when I say that he captured full well the ugliness and evil of The Gang. God, he did a good, awful job. And I think the slightly husky/sometimes almost raw texture of his voice will play off beautifully against Benita’s relative sweetness and lightness.

And it does, friends, it does.

Benita and Lincoln’s voices animate the narrative world of my book. Benita captures the beauty and audacity of hope in the face of prejudice, and Lincoln distills the surprising lyricism of some of the darkest threads of human consciousness that I’ve ever tried to write.

A caveat: it’s hard to listen to the prologue of Out of Darkness. This is through no fault of Benita’s. The prologue is difficult to read on the page, too; I wanted it to be that way. As one reviewer noted, the prologue acts as “a litmus test to see if you can emotionally handle this haunting novel.” The prologue figures the tremendous loss of the New London school explosion, which left one in four children dead, and the terrible possibilities it unleashes in the imagined world of my novel. Hearing this part read aloud ups the ante as Benita’s voice evokes the human stakes of tragedy.

NLSchoolExplosionatNight

Some of the lights that inspired the opening of the prologue.

It’s a difficult beginning for a difficult book. But it is a kind of difficulty that, I believe, we need to reckon with. It’s the kind of difficulty that helps us face, honestly, all that we are capable of in moments of great loss, the beauty and the horror of our humanity.

Want to listen to Out of Darkness on audio? It releases April 26. Pre-order it from Listening Library or Audible. You can also request it on CD at your local library or get a digital check-out through Overdrive.com.

And, PS, here’s the scoop on Out of Darkness, copy courtesy of the brilliant folks at Carolrhoda Lab:

“This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?”

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them. They know the people who enforce them. But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion the worst school disaster in American history as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.