I honestly don’t remember many pictures books from my childhood, though I know I read many. I started reading “chapter books” (I forgot that children call them that until my ten-year-old niece said it) when I was eight years old. I lovingly remember books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, Gary Paulsen, and so on. But did I read anything written by a Latin@? No, I didn’t discover that until I found Sandra Cisneros at 14. Now, I know that there must be some childrens and YA books by Latinos out there, but I didn’t find it back then, and I read so voraciously from a young age that I quickly moved onto literary fiction adult titles to satisfy my appetite.
Now that I have my own child, I am interested in finding children’s books that feature Hispanics. So the other day I was delighted to find a whole shelf dedicated to mostly bilingual books in the kid’s section at the public library. (Hey, I live in Alabama – it’s a big deal to find that treasure trove. Our stores’ sections for Latino literature are as limited as the food, which you find in the Asian or beans sections at Wal-mart.)
Anyway, on to these two bilingual books, both by Children’s Book Press, a non-profit publisher of multicultural books for kids.
The Upside Down Boy is by Juan Felipe Herrera. This book is written in a melodious voice, bringing to mind, perhaps, a kid’s magical realism. Kids will love the story of Juanito (based on the author’s life), who moves to a new place and school and has to learn English. With his teacher and family as support, he discovers his gift for poetry and music and learns English. Parents (okay, maybe just me) will go wild for the beautiful lyricism:
“We are finger painting.
I make wild suns with my open hands.
Crazy tomato cars and cucumber sombreros –
I write my name with seven chiles.”
The illustrations are by Elizabeth Gomez. The creative, fantastical images accompany the writing perfectly.
I’m so excited about this author and the other works I saw on his website, and I actually found out that two more are available at my library. I will definitely be reading more by him!
new country. She finds out that her dad is actually an American citizen. He goes to find work and leaves the family behind for a short time while applying for green cards. César Chávez and the grape boycott make a cameo in the book!
I was impressed by the clear writing that is honest about the scary situations the family faced; but the tone keeps it interesting and wouldn’t freak a child out (I was really wondering how that would pan out when I started reading).
Perez’s website shows two other books, and she also does speaking engagements. I love her final words for tips to aspiring authors: “You ARE a WRITER because you write, not because you publish!”
The book is illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez. I loved the vivid colors of the art that has a definite Chican@ style.no comments
Esmeralda Santiago’s book The Turkish Lover is about, well, her Turkish lover. If by lover you mean a narcissistic, pathologically lying, philandering, and controlling abuser.
The book starts out with Santiago’s move from Puerto Rico to the U.S. Her mother is scraping by, working as a seamstress, while Santiago begins to navigate the dichotomy between U.S. and Puerto Rican cultures. One scene from the book could have been pulled from my own life, when Santiago’s mother tells her:
“This is why you have to learn English, graduate from high school, and find work in offices, not factories,” she said in a voice unsteady with controlled anger. “So many humiliations, all because I didn’t get an education.”
So of course what Santiago does is exactly the opposite of what is expected from una “nena puertoriqueña decente” – getting a job, moving out, dating, moving to Florida with Ulvi, the list goes on. The mind control begins subtly in New York, when Ulvi criticizes her clothes and mannerisms, expecting her to change them, and then progressively get worse. The split that arises between her and her family and her culture is painful to read about. Santiago writes:
“I never called home because I knew Mami didn’t approve of my life with Ulvi and I didn’t want to hear the reproach in her voice. Except for me, no one in my family was mucho f a correspondent. Mami didn’t have the time to answer letters, and I didn’t know what to say if I were to write one. . . . months went by and I neither spoke to nor heard from anyone in Brooklyn. Bad news, I knew, would find me. Good news would accumulate until the next time we saw each other.”
This book was well-written, but hard to read. It wasn’t the writing but that I was so frustrated with the author – I kept thinking, “No, don’t go back to him! Oh my God, after what happened you’re going back? Why? Why? Why?” But it can’t be as hard as what she went through, slowly extricating herself from Ulvi’s grasp.
Luckily, Santiago was able to slowly break out of the relationship with this Ulvi character and graduate from Harvard. Spoiler alert: I can’t help but share some last lines of the book, which leave you wanting more:
“I was returning to my family free of a man who disdained my people and me. I was returning having exceeded even the most optimistic expectations for a poor girl from a huge family raised by a single mother under the most challenging conditions in a hostil culture and environment. . . . I was so proud of myself, I strutted toward the Departures gates. I had forgotten the Puerto Rican saying that Tata had muttered in our direction whenever we boasted about something we had done: Alábate pollo, que mañana le guisan. Boast now, chicken, tomorrow you’ll be stew.”
Not everybody is able to get themselves out of relationships that are physical or emotionally abusive. If you know someone who is abused, one place you can go for help is the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.no comments
Okay, so I disappeared for a while. I’ve been busy wrapping up Hispanic Heritage Month, this week at two elementary schools. This climate in Alabama dictates that we do our part in celebrating our heritage, highlighting our contributions to our communities, and helping our Hispanic students to feel included. I was at two elementary schools on Thursday, and one video showed me reading a bilingual book (of course!) to a crowd of 480 students (I can’t find the video now, thank God.) But here is a video of those bright and shiny faces at one of the schools, which accompanies the local news story on the event. (By the way, this is the school’s FIRST Hispanic Heritage Month celebration even though they have the highest population of Hispanic students in the city. Ay ay ay.)
So here’s the weekend roundup:
Nuestra Palabra Texas-wide book tour :: via The Venture – Can I use this as an excuse to go home?
Review of Moraga’s A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness: Writings, 2000 – 2010 :: via The Feminist Texican – I just discovered this blog and am excited to read more! I’ve read essays by Moraga but haven’t read a full book. I’ll add it to my long list of must-reads.
Tomorrow is National Latino Aids Awareness Day in Michigan :: via Boyne City Gazette – Never heard of this one, but hey, it’s a great issue to address! I think this is a Michigan-only thing.
Watch Lost in Detention on Oct. 18 :: via Presente.org – Watch the organization’s interview with Maria Hinojosa on her documentary on the Secure Communities immigration detention program.no comments