Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hispanic/Latino(a) Literature: Tomás and the Library Lady

Mora, Pat. 1997. Tomás and the Library Lady. Illus. by Raul Colón. NY: Alfread A. Kopf. ISBN: 0679804013.

*Winner of the 1997 Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award*

Tomás’ family is migrant workers. Every year they harvest fruits and vegetables during winter in Texas, where they lived, and in Iowa during the summer. When he is not doing chores and bringing water to his family, Tomás plays ball with his brother Enrique and listens to the stories that are told by his grandfather. One year, when his grandfather tells him that he is old enough to visit the library by himself to find new stories, Tomás discovers a world of books that he could get lost in and a nice librarian who encouraged his joy of reading.

Based off of the true story of Tomás Rivera, author Pat Mora presents a wonderful story of part of the life of a Mexican American boy growing up during the 1940s in a migrant family and who discovered a love for reading with the help of a librarian. One of the great aspects of the story is that the readers get a perspective of migrant workers who travels from place to place for work in an old car, shares a house with other workers and sleeps on cots and who goes to the local dump to search for iron that they could sell for money. Tomás and his brother plays ball that that is was sewn from an old teddy bear, and they look for toys and books at the dump. The story also portrays a close-knit family that consists of parents, children and a grandparent. Tomás’ grandfather is the storyteller in the family and is the one begins Tomás’ journey with books.

The narrative contains a nice integration of Spanish words and phrases into the English text. Tomás addresses his mother, father, and grandfather as Mamá, Papá, and Papá Grande. Also through out the book there are phrases such as Buenas noches (good night), En un tiempo pasado (Once upon a time), and ¡Qué tigre tan grande! (What a big tiger!). Finally, there are other time when Tomás counts the steps up to the library in Spanish and also teaches the librarian Spanish phrases and words.

Another wonderful quality of the Mora’s narration is her ability to describe the power of the books that Tomás reads and how he is enveloped into the stories. When he reads his first book the readers follow him as he see “dinosaurs bending their long necks to lap shiny water. He heard the cries of a wild snakebird. He felt the warm neck of the dinosaur, as he held on tight for a ride. Tomás forgot about Iowa and Texas” (p. 13) or when he is riding on a horse “across, a hot dusty desert” and “smelled the smoke of an Indian camp” (p. 21).

Raul Colón’s illustrations truly compliment the story. With a mixture of watercolor, colored pencils and litho pencils on etched watercolor paper there is an amazing and creative textured quality to the warm earth tone artwork. The characters are charmingly depicted. Tomás and his family members have a light brown skin town and dark brown/black hair, except for Papá Grande who has silver hair and mustache. The librarian has peachy cream skin and blonde hair and depicted as warm and friendly.

The illustrations also show how much Tomás loves the books and how he is delves into the stories. Dinosaurs, horses, Indians and teepees will fill the page, and when Tomás reads to his family of a tiger in a jungle, a larger than life tiger is lurking in the background behind the family. This continues on to the end when the readers sees Tomás hugging the book that the librarian gave him before he leaves for Texas and is imagining himself riding on the back the dinosaurs once again.

To provide a story behind the story of Tomás and the Library Lady there is “A Note About the Story” that explains who Tomás Rivera was. It was because of the discovery of books with the help of a librarian that let him become a writer, poet, and professor.

With the combination of a well blending of Spanish words and phrases in the English text and illustrations that present the world within books readers who speak of English and Spanish will all love this book.

A charming, true story about the encounter between the boy who would become chancellor at the University of California at Riverside and a librarian in Iowa. Tom s Rivera, child of migrant laborers, picks crops in Iowa in the summer and Texas in the winter, traveling from place to place in a worn old car. When he is not helping in the fields, Tom s likes to hear Papa Grande's stories, which he knows by heart. Papa Grande sends him to the library downtown for new stories, but Tom s finds the building intimidating. The librarian welcomes him, inviting him in for a cool drink of water and a book. Tom s reads until the library closes, and leaves with books checked out on the librarian's own card. For the rest of the summer, he shares books and stories with his family, and teaches the librarian some Spanish. At the end of the season, there are big hugs and a gift exchange: sweet bread from Tom s's mother and a shiny new book from the librarianto keep. Col¢n's dreamy illustrations capture the brief friendship and its life-altering effects in soft earth tones, using round sculptured shapes that often depict the boy right in the middle of whatever story realm he's entered. (Picture book. 7-10) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Grade 2-4?Tomas Rivera, who at his death in 1984 was the Chancellor of the University of California at Riverside, grew up in a migrant family. Here, Mora tells the fictionalized story of one summer in his childhood during which his love of books and reading is fostered by a librarian in Iowa, who takes him under her wing while his family works the harvest. She introduces him to stories about dinosaurs, horses, and American Indians and allows him to take books home where he shares them with his parents, grandfather, and brother. When it is time for the family to return to Texas, she gives Tomas the greatest gift of all?a book of his own to keep. Colon's earthy, sun-warmed colors, textured with swirling lines, add life to this biographical fragment and help portray Tomas's reading adventures in appealing ways. Stack this up with Sarah Stewart and David Small's The Library (Farrar, 1995) and Suzanne Williams and Steven Kellogg's Library Lil (Dial, 1997) to demonstrate the impact librarians can have on youngsters.?Barbara Elleman, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc

*Read more books by award-winning author Pat Mora like: Confetti: Poems for Children, The Rainbow Tulip, Delicious Hullabaloo, and Dona Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart.
*Read more books about libraries and librarians like: Library Lion by Michelle Knuden and Illus. by Keven Hawkes, The Library by Sarah Stewart and Illus. by David Small, and Library Lil by Suzanne Williams and Illus. by Steven Kellogg,

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