Jul 9, 2010

Hispanic, Latino(a) Literature

Mora, Pat. 2009. Book Fiesta!: Celebrate Children's Day/Book Day; Celebremos El dia de los Ninos /El dia de los Libros. Rayo; Bilingual edition. ISBN: 978-0061288777

Children and families celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day by reading all over the world.

Critical Analysis:
Book Fiesta takes the reader all over the world as families and libraries celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day. We visit the desert, the ocean, and everywhere in between. Children are seen reading to their friends, their pets, and even some unlikely animals. People are reading in cars, trains, planes, and even in a submarine. A book is always a good companion anywhere, anytime.

Book Fiesta is a bilingual picture book that celebrates Children’s Day/Book Day. The author, Pat Mora, created a day especially for children that celebrate literacy and language. In 1997, the first Children’s Day/Book Day was held in cities across the nation. Today the tradition is strong and more libraries, schools, and communities observe this day. Book Fiesta shows the simple and pure joy of reading. Children and adults of all different shades and sizes are portrayed reading a book they enjoy. We visit all different regions of the world and see a multitude of animals joining in the fun. Children will be able to recognize themselves in the story and possibly even see a house or region that is similar to their own.

Each page is paired with a Spanish translation. The dedication page and book jacket are presented in both English and Spanish. Signs celebrating Children’s Day/Book Day are also in both languages. There isn’t one part of this book that isn’t represented by both languages. Mora also takes the time to include people of all walks of life (young, old, people with disabilities, etc.). Children and adults are pictured wearing garb traditional to their culture, and people are in their natural setting. Nothing seems out of place or forced.

The illustrations remind me of Mexican earthenware often found in flea markets. Colors are bold and loud, taken directly from the landscape. Cool green, like the grass and trees in Spring, warm gold, like the desert sand, and rich blue from the sea. Each illustration is double-paged with one vertical page that has an over-sized moon with smiley eyes. Children will want to spend time pouring over every page looking for something new each time. Book Fiesta is book that illustrates the “bookjoy” that Pat Mora often speaks about. Recommended for everyone!

ALA Notable Children's Books, 2010
Pura Belpre Award, Illustrator Winner, 2010
Mildred L. Batchelder Honor Book, 2010

“The straightforward, bilingual text in Spanish and English is beautifully illustrated in bright, bold, acrylic paintings that integrate books and letters into timeless scenes of multicultural children cavorting, exploring, and, of course, reading.” Booklist

“This lively selection will motivate and excite children about the adventures they can go on through reading.” School Library Journal

“A happy assortment of multicultural children, adults and friendly critters celebrate books and reading in recognition of El d'a de los ni-os/El d'a de los libros. Joyful and vibrant scenes convey the theme of the universal pleasures of reading every day and everywhere-under trees and in boats, on trains and planes, in the car and at the library.” Kirkus Reviews

Mora, Pat. 2009. Gracias/Thanks. Lee & Low Books; Bilingual edition. ISBN: 978-1600602580

Guy, Ginger Foglesong. 2007. Fiesta! Greenwillow Books. ISBN: 978-0060882266

Plan and celebrate your own Children’s Day/Book Day using the suggestions from Pat Mora.

Soto, Gary. 2005. The Afterlife. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN: 978-0152052201

Young Chuy is murdered and begins to float through town saying goodbye to family and friends when he forms a few relationships on his way to the afterlife.

Critical Analysis:
Chuy, a seventeen-year-old Mexican-American, is stabbed in a Fresno, California dance club bathroom after he makes the mistake of complimenting a cabron (young man) about his shoes. After Chuy realizes he is dead, he begins to travel to familia (family) and amigos (friends) to say goodbye. He sees his loved ones grieving him in different ways. His best friend Angel cries and pours himself into his chores, while his mother gives Chuy’s primo (cousin) Eddie a gun to kill the murderer. Even in death, this distresses Chuy. He pleads and begs Eddie not to kill his killer. Luckily, Eddie can’t bring himself to avenge Chuy’s murder. After the visit, Chuy stumbles upon another ghost, Chrystal. Chuy falls easy and fast for Chrystal. Chuy shows her how to travel through the city without being carried off by the wind (they float), and while she is reluctant to tell the story of her own death, Chuy finds true amistad (companionship) with Chrystal and tells her everything about himself including his untimely death in a restroom. Soon, Chuy begins to notice that parts of his body are beginning to fade away. It starts with a foot, but soon, his hands and arms desaparecer (disappear). It doesn’t take long for Chuy and Chrystal to realize that as he begins to say goodbye to his worldly life, he is fading into the afterlife.

Chuy is depicted as an average Mexican-American teenage boy growing up in a mostly Latino neighborhood in Fresno, California (author’s hometown). He is focused on dating “chicas” (girls) and hanging out with his “carnals” (friends). Although The Afterlife is a young adult novel written in English, there are many Spanish words interwoven in the text. I am sure that Soto thought including Spanish words (interlingualism) would add to the richness of the Spanish language and to the characters themselves, but I personally felt that they are distracting. Although Soto provided a glossary in the back of the book (5 pages in length), the one word I needed to look up wasn’t listed. For me, this defeats the purpose of having the glossary and added to my frustration. Growing up in California myself, I could easily picture Chuy’s neighborhood. The fenced in yards with barking dogs, and the low-rider cars with booming music, all are typical of such a neighborhood. Soto did a fair job of describing this Fresno suburb, but I should point out that not all of Fresno has neighborhoods like this.

Although the setting is believable, the main character Chuy and plot are too farfetched. I give props to Soto for killing off the main character on page 4, but Chuy’s adventures (Raider’s game and a ride-along with the garbage men) are over the top. Chuy skips his own funeral for a professional football game. Young men are selfish, but is the reader supposed to believe Chuy would rather sit in the stands with drunk strangers than be near his family one last time? At this point, the story seemed to take a drastically wrong turn. The love interest of Chrystal (a ghost) comes into play far too late. Chrystal’s character doesn’t have time to develop (we find out why she died two chapters away from the end of the story) and Chuy is absolutely enamored with her from the beginning. He is in love with Chrystal only hours after meeting her. I understand Chuy is seventeen, but even with hormones, this love story goes to fast. After all, Chuy doesn’t even have hormones! Also, why didn’t he see ghosts around town before Chrystal? Fresno is a big city. Are we to believe no one but Chuy and Chrystal died that afternoon? Just pages away from the conclusion of the story, we are introduced to a homeless man, Robert. Chuy meets him in the park when he notices Robert's ghost coming out of his body. Chuy tries to heal the ghost (bringing down his fever), but is unsuccessful. Robert dies and Chuy teaches him how to float with the wind. Hours later, Chuy and Robert come face to face with Chuy’s murderer. What happens next is absolutely absurd it pains me to write about. Robert, homeless man, takes over the murderer’s body and they exit the bus leaving Chuy dumbfounded. In the last chapter, Chuy finds his murderer looking dazed after the Robert came out of his body. Robert says he was trying to "steer this guy right." Why would the homeless man care? Did he not have family to say goodbye to? The reader is never sure because just a few pages later, the book ends abruptly with Chuy and Chrystal floating into the afterlife. "She [Chrystal] flew at my side, southward toward what, I now know, is called the afterlife." Again, not sure how they come to the conclusion that they are going to the afterlife, but off they went. I also had issues with Chuy’s style of language. Generally he would speak like a regular teenage boy. Using word like dawg, dude, and crib, but then he would say, “Don’t worry baby, it ain’t nothing.” I don’t recall ever hearing that from anyone younger than 50 years old. Personally, I feel Soto squandered a great opportunity to discuss death and violence among young Mexican-American communities. For me, he tried to pack too many elements into one story. Ghost story, interracial violence, love story, and the added Spanish words just didn’t work well together. Appropriate for ages 13 and up.

ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2004
New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
Skipping Stones Honor Award, 2004
TAYSHAS High School Reading List, 2004-2005

“After a strong start, The Afterlife seems to become a series of brief images that drift off as though in a dream. Soto's simple and poetic language, leavened with Mexican Spanish with such care to context that the appended glossary is scarcely needed, is clear, but Chuy's ultimate destiny isn't.” School Library Journal

“The murder remains a mystery—Chuy says, "Nice shoes" to the dude wearing yellow shoes and the next minute Chuy is dead. This was a reason to be killed? Perhaps it shows the senselessness of a brutal murder and a life wasted. Chuy meets another recently dead teenager who is remorseful for taking her own life, but the book does not dwell on the remorse. The pair now flit together to her house, the car where she committed suicide, back to her parents. Interesting concept, but hard to know the real substance of the book.” Children’s Literature

Soto, Gary. 2006. Buried Onions. Graphia. ISBN: 978-0152062651

Soto, Gary. 1998. Petty Crimes. Sandpiper. ISBN: 978-0152054373

Morales, Yuyi. 2008. Just In Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book. Roaring Brook Press; Bilingual edition. ISBN: 978-1596433298

When Senor Calvera travels to Grandma Beetle’s birthday party, he meets a ghost who convinces him to bring presents all represented by the Spanish alphabet.

Critical Analysis:
Senor Calavera is excited to attend Grandma Beetle’s birthday party. He puts on his best hat and tie, and sets out on his bicycle. Minutes into his journey, Senor Calavera meets Zelmiro, a ghost. Zelmiro convinces Senor Calavera that he needs to bring Grandma Beetle a birthday present. Although Senor Calavera is worried he will be late to the party, he goes looking for a gift. Senor Calavera brings back gifts that coincide with the Spanish alphabet; A - un acordeon (accordion), B - bigotes (mustache), and C - cosquillas (tickles). Zelmiro convinces Senor Calavera that he may not have chosen the best gift and Senor Calavera searches many times for the perfect present. When Senor Calvera reaches the present that begins with the letter Y, (Yerbabuena - an herb to sooth), he realizes that the party has started and he will miss out on all of the fun. Senor Calavera hops on his bike and races to the party with a basket full of presents for Grandma Beetle. Zelmiro has an idea of his own and trips Senor Calavera and his bike making him lose all of the beautiful presents. Just when Senor Calavera thinks he has no present to give, he realizes he has the letter Z left. Senor Calavera bring Zelmiro to the party, and to the reader’s surprise, Zelmiro is Grandpa Beetle!

Just in Case is a trickster tale and Spanish alphabet picture book. Senor Calavera is a skeleton from Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a Latino holiday that celebrates the lives of loved ones who have died. Senor Calavera looks like a typical Day of the Dead calavera; skeleton with whimsical features (flowers for eyes) and a pencil thin smile. Zelmiro is a ghost, but keeps his normal, human features and never appears scary or frightening. He looks like a normal Latino man, but he floats in the air instead of walking on the ground. Zelmiro smiles and has a good time watching Senor Calavera find gifts for Grandma Beetle. Just when Senor Calavera thinks he has chosen the perfect item, Zelmiro convinces him otherwise by saying, “But I wonder, are they what Grandma Beetle would love the most? Why don’t you look again, my friend? Just in case….” Senor Calavera is always tricked into thinking his present isn’t good enough, and he sets off to look for another. At the end, Senor Calavera realizes that friendship is the best gift to give.

The alphabet aspects of the trickster tale is icing on the cake. The items chosen to represent the alphabet are not typical choices and they are paired with the English translation. There was no A for apple and B for ball. Morales chose items that are important and meaningful to the Hispanic and Latino culture or fanciful items that added to the fantasy elements of the story. For example; E - Escalera (a ladder to reach past the sky) and O - un Ombliog (a bread called belly button). These items are chosen with great care and not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. This adds to the authenticity of the tale. Illustrations are bold and rich keeping in line with the Latino culture. Senor Calavera’s white bones do not appear ordinary when set in front of a rich orange sunset and pale blue clouds. Children might recognize Senor Calavera from Morales’s book Just a Minute. In this story, Senor Calavera is death and calls on Grandma Beetle. Grandma Beetle has ideas of her own and leaves Senor Calavera waiting. Both books would make great read-alouds and are recommended for ages 5 and up.

Pura Belpré Medal Book Award, Illustration, 2009
Pura Belpré Medal Book Honor, Narrative, 2009
ALA Notable Children's Book, 2009

“Part ghost story and part alphabet book, this trickster tale transcends both. Librarians will want to share it for the beautiful language, the spirited artwork, and the rightness of the ending.” School Library Journal

“Drenched in rich hues, the light-filled illustrations add a whimsical dimension to this trickster tale and Spanish alphabet book. When disaster strikes and all the presents fly from Calavera’s bike basket, there is nonetheless a happy ending that brings both story and alphabet to a rollicking conclusion. This companion to Morales’ award-winning Just a Minute (2003) will be a hit for storytime.” Booklist

Morales, Yuyi. 2003. Just a Minute!: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book. Chronicle Books. ISBN: 978-0811837583

Have children decorate index cards using the alphabet. Have them choose items that are important to their household and culture.

Talk about what gift they would want to bring to Grandma Beetle’s birthday party.

Talk about the gift of friendship and how meaningful a true friend can be.