Friday, October 31, 2008

Native American Lit.: Crossing Bok Chitto

Tingle, Tim. 2006. Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press. ISBN 9780938317777.

*Winner of the 2008 American Indian Youth Literature Awards*
*2008-09 Texas Bluebonnet Award Book*

Living on opposite sides of the river Bok Chitto, which serves as the boundary line between the land of slavery and the land of freedom during the days before the Civil War, a friendship is formed between Martha Tom, a Choctaw Indian, and Little Mo a plantation slave. When Little Mo's mother is sold to another slave owner his family decide to run for freedom and must cross the river's secret stone path at night with the help of the Choctaws.

Crossing Bok Chitto is a powerful story of the connection between the Native American and the African American culture. There is a connection made between the importance of religion, he forbidden slave church, and Choctaw traditions. Each of songs or chants. In particular, there is beautiful imagery used in describing the Choctaw's wedding ceremony and the dresses that the women wear:

"Their white cotton dresses skimmed the ground and their shiny black hair dell well below their waists. The women formed a line and began a stomp dance to the beat of the chanting, gliding to a clearing at the end of town.

"When they reached the clearing, they formed two circles, the women and the men, and the wedding ceremony began. The old men began to sing the old wedding song. It is still sung today in Mississippi and Oklahoma, just as they sang it then

'Way, hey, ya hey ya
You a hey you ay
A hey ya a hey ya
Way, hey ya hey ya
You a hey you ay
A hey ya a hey ya!'"(p. 18).

The illustrations are a combination of muted colors and flat yet beautifully bold realism. There is a strong emphasis on the facial features on of the the Choctaws and the African American slaves. In one instance when Martha Tom and Little Mo are standing side by side and their facial features are similar. The only difference is in the skin tones and hair, Lttle Mo is a rich dark brown with short tightly curled hair while Martha Tom his a rich light brown and has long black hair. Their eyes in particular are the same shape. This is seen through out the book and are used to to rely the emotions and expressions of the characters as well as the overall mood of the story. The clothing worn by the both the Choctaw and the African Americans are culturally accurate, especially in the case of the Native Americans. Martha Tom, her mother, and the men are seen wearing the non-stereotypical clothing and are befitting of the time that the story is set in. Readers will especially enjoy seeing the illustrations in which the slaves appear transparent as they are escaping the plantation and are invisible to the guards and their dogs. They will also love looking at the illustration at the end depicting the Choctaw women wearing their white cotton dresses at night and seeing them and the slaves walking the secret stone path in the Bok Chitto.

At the end of the story there is information on the Choctaws of modern times as well as "A Note on Choctaw Storytelling," in which Tingle discusses the power of storytelling. It does not, however, definitely say that the story of Martha Tom and Little Mo is true or simply a story that was created by combining numbers individual yet connected stories how the Native Americans helped slaves escape the south. This fact, however, does not take away from the overall story. Crossing Bok Chitto is a book that should be shared with readers of all ages and used in connection with other books and lessons on Native American and African American history.

*Starred Review* Gr. 2-4. In a picture book that highlights rarely discussed intersections between Native Americans in the South and African Americans in bondage, a noted Choctaw storyteller and Cherokee artist join forces with stirring results. Set "in the days before the War Between the States, in the days before the Trail of Tears," and told in the lulling rhythms of oral history, the tale opens with a Mississippi Choctaw girl who strays across the Bok Chitto River into the world of Southern plantations, where she befriends a slave boy and his family. When trouble comes, the desperate runaways flee to freedom, helped by their own fierce desire (which renders them invisible to their pursuers) and by the Choctaws' secret route across the river. In her first paintings for a picture book, Bridges conveys the humanity and resilience of both peoples in forceful acrylics, frequently centering on dignified figures standing erect before moody landscapes. Sophisticated endnotes about Choctaw history and storytelling traditions don't clarify whether Tingle's tale is original or retold, but this oversight won't affect the story's powerful impact on young readers, especially when presented alongside existing slave-escape fantasies such as Virginia Hamiltons's The People Could Fly (2004) and Julius Lester's The Old African (2005). Jennifer Mattson Copyright © American Library Association.

Grade 2-6–Dramatic, quiet, and warming, this is a story of friendship across cultures in 1800s Mississippi. While searching for blackberries, Martha Tom, a young Choctaw, breaks her village's rules against crossing the Bok Chitto. She meets and becomes friends with the slaves on the plantation on the other side of the river, and later helps a family escape across it to freedom when they hear that the mother is to be sold. Tingle is a performing storyteller, and his text has the rhythm and grace of that oral tradition. It will be easily and effectively read aloud. The paintings are dark and solemn, and the artist has done a wonderful job of depicting all of the characters as individuals, with many of them looking out of the page right at readers. The layout is well designed for groups as the images are large and easily seen from a distance. There is a note on modern Choctaw culture, and one on the development of this particular work. This is a lovely story, beautifully illustrated, though the ending requires a somewhat large leap of the imagination.–Cris Riedel, Ellis B. Hyde Elementary School, Dansville, NY

Read Tim Tingle's other picture book When Turtle Grew Feather: A Tale from the Choctaw Nation.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Native American Lit.: Jingle Dancer

Smith, Cynthia Leitich. 2000. Jingle Dancer. Illus. by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publisher. ISBN: 9780688162412.

Jenna dreams to jingle dance in at the tribe's next powwow like her grandmother. However, her dress does not have the important tin jingles to make it tink-tink when she bounce-steps. Through the help of her mother, great-aunt, grandmother, and other women, she slowly, row by row barrows and sews enough jingles to make her dance regalia sing.

Contemporary set Jingle Dancer is a great picture book about girl who is the member of the Muscogee (Creek) and who is of Ojibway (Chippewa/Anishinabe)decent and dreams of participating in a powwow dance like her grandmother does. Cynthia Leitich Smith's narration is wonderfully descriptive yet simple that the story is easily understood by young readers. One element in particular, Smith creates transitions like "As Moon kissed Sun good night" and "As Sun fetched morning" in the story to replaces expressions like "That night" or "The next morning" is beautifully done and will make readers see the stages of the day different.

Through the narration as well as the illustrations, the story is rich with cultural markers. There is mention of dishes made by Native Americans such as flatbread. Jenna's Great-aunt Sis tells her a traditional story of a ball game where Bat who was able to win ball by flying in the air and catching the ball in his teeth. The characters are all female, who are important and respected in Native American culture. Finally there is also an emphasis on the number four, which is an important number in the culture: Jenna needs four rows of jingles for her regalia and there four women who let her barrow a row for her regalia.

However, the most important aspect in the cultural markers is the combination of both the traditional and contemporary way of life. The story is urban set. Jenna wears blue jeans and sneakers. Her cousin Elizabeth is a lawyer and wears a suit. Jenna and the women in the story live in houses or apartments with regular looking furniture. Jenna watches TV like all children.

This combination of traditional and urban life is wonderfully seen in the warm and soft illustrations. Filling the pages, readers will see Jenna and the women, who have light tan skin and dark brown hair, wearing blouses, skirts, jeans and t-shirts, suits, but they will also see the traditional dresses and moccasins that are worn at powwows. There are also other Native American traditional items that are quietly sitting the the backgrounds such as a traditional basket on a table in Grandma Wolfe's house and a dream catcher in Cousin Elizabeth's apartment. There is also barrettes and bracelets that have a traditional design that are worn by Great-aunt Sis and Mrs. Scott.

At the end of the book Smith provides an author note that explains Jenna's Native American background as well as the tradition of the Jingle Dance and other elements that are seen in the story. There is also a glossary that explains what flatbread, Indian tacos, and a what a powwow is.

Well-written story and colorful and subtly detailed illustrations, Jingle Dancer is a culturally rich story that exhibits the importance of family and one cultural traditions in a contemporary, non-stereotypical setting.

This contemporary Native American tale highlights the importance of family and community through a young girl's dream of joining the dancers at the next powwow. Jenna is a girl of Muscogee (Creek) and Ojibway (Chippewa/Anishinabe) descent. She has practiced the steps for the jingle dance by following her grandmother's moves on a video. Now she must get enough jingles (traditionally made of tin, aluminum, or gold canning lids rolled into cones) to sew on her dress to make a satisfying "tink, tink" as she dances. The way Jenna gathers her jingles (borrowing enough to make a row, but not so many that the lender's dress will "lose its voice"), and her promise to dance for the women who cannot dance for themselves illustrate the importance of family and community ties. The colorful, well-executed watercolor illustrations lend warmth to the story. A note explaining Jenna's heritage and a brief glossary are appended. Connie Fletcher Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Kindergarten-Grade 3-Without enough tin jingles to make her dress sing, how can Jenna be a jingle dancer just like Grandma Wolfe at the next powwow? She borrows one row from Great-aunt Sis, whose aching legs keep her from dancing; another from Mrs. Scott, who sells fry bread; one from Cousin Elizabeth, whose work keeps her away from the festivities; and a fourth row from Grandma, who helps Jenna sew the jingles to her dress, assemble her regalia, and practice her bounce-steps. When the big day arrives, the girl feels proud to represent these four women and carry on their tradition. Watercolor paintings in bright, warm tones fill each page. In scenes where she is dancing, backgrounds of blurred figures effectively represent both the large audience and the many generations whose tradition the gathering honors. Seeing Jenna as both a modern girl in the suburban homes of her intertribal community and as one of many traditionally costumed participants at the powwow will give some readers a new view of a contemporary Native American way of life. An author's note and glossary tell more about the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the Ojibway origins of jingle dancing, and the significance of the number four in Native American tradition. This picture book will not only satisfy a need for materials on Native American customs, but will also be a welcome addition to stories about traditions passed down by the women of a culture. Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA Copyright 2000

Read more picture books by Native American author Joseph Bruchac like The First Strawberries.

Native American Lit.: Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back

Bruchac, Joseph, and Jonathan London. 1992. Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back: A Native American Year of Moons. Illus. by Thomas Locker. NY: Philomel Books. ISBN: 0399221417.

Author Joseph Bruchac and poet Jonathan London present a collection of poems that represent the legends of the year's thirteen different moons and the turtle that are powered by the turtle.

to begin the collection poems there is a brief narrative in which a grandfather explains to his grandson why there are always thirteen scales on a turtle's shell. Each of the thirteen poems are written in free verse and represent stories from different Native American tribes that comprise a lunar calendar. Each poem provides a story and normally an explanation to things in life like why the Potawatomi do not bother bears during the winter or why there is changes in the weather. A wonderful example of this is seen in the poem "Moon of Falling Leaves," which is the Tenth Moon and is a story from the Cherokee nation:

Long ago, the tress were told
they must say awake
seven days and nights,
but only the cedar,
the pine and the spruce
stayed awake until
that seventh night.
The reward they were given
was to always be green,
while all the other trees
must shed their leaves.

So, each autumn, the leaves
of the sleeping trees fall.
They cover the floor
of our woodlands with colors
as bright as the flowers
that come with the spring.
The leaves return the strength
of one more year's growth
to the earth.

This journey
the leaves are taking
is part of that great circle
which holds us all close to the earth (p. 21).

The large illustrations by painter Thomas Locker are beautiful and amazingly detailed The poems are truly enhanced by the magnificent colors and realism.

The cultural markers that are seen in the collection of thirteen poems is in the essence that each poem is taken from a different tribe: Northern Cheyenne, Potawatomi, Anishinabe, Cree, Huron, Seneca, Pomo, Menominee, Micmac, Cherokee, Winnebago, Lakota Sioux, and Abenaki. Within many poems Native words or names, for example, in the poem "Frog Moon," the animal character Little Frog is called "O-ma-ka-ki." Though the illustrations only show nature sceneries, there are several that include subtle images of the Peoples as well as some of their living quarters, such as seen in the illustrations for the poem "Moon of Popping Trees." To identify which tribe each poem's story originated from at the bottom of each numbers the moon and names the tribe.

At the very end of the book the authors provide "A Note About This Book," in which explains that even though many Native American people do use the turtle's back as a calendar are also many other Native people that mark the year by the changes in the seasons and the times of rain and the dry time. There is also the explanation that the names of the moons are sometimes have a different yet similar name.

Through the power of free verse poems and magnificent illustrations Bruchac, London and Locker have created a beautiful book that presents the various stories of the different times of the year from many different tribes that all relate to the moon and the turtle that carries them.

From a velvety moonlit wetland scene in ``Big Moon'' to the glory of a deciduous forest in the ``Moon of Falling Leaves,'' Locker once again proves himself a gifted landscape artist. In illustrating this Native American lunar calendar, he makes forays beyond the Hudson River valley to the lands of the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne, Cherokee and Huron, Abenaki, Cree, and more, catching the seasons in light, clouds, trees, and wildlife. As in his other books, human and animal figures are rather awkward intrusions, with some exceptions--notably a huge, four-square moose in ``Frog Moon.'' Folklorist Bruchac and poet London work together on brief, dignified retellings of Native American legends for the accompanying text, properly pointing out in an afterword that tribes in different areas see different seasonal patterns and hold different beliefs. (Poetry/Folklore. 7-9) -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP

Kindergarten-Grade 4-- The book opens with an Abenaki storyteller explaining to his grandson that just as there are always 13 scales on ``Old Turtle's back,'' there are 13 moons in a year, each of which has a name and a story. The poetic tales and corresponding paintings that follow represent myths or legends of different Native American tribes. Although the language of these poems is not particularly memorable or childlike, it does evoke images and passes on some of the traditions of the native people and their closeness to the natural world. The cadence is that of an adult explaining things to a child. Both text and illustrations have a distancing effect on readers. Locker's large, dark paintings stand parallel to or in tandem with the poems but are not integral to them. They create a mood and capture portions of the text, encouraging viewers to look ``at'' rather than ``into'' these images. There is a sense of vastness in these paintings, and sometimes a harshness, but little of the lushness or the warmth of the land. Although the cover illustration of the turtle is inviting and the large format attractive, these are poems that will probably not entice most youngsters on their own. They can be appreciated, however, when presented by an adult and will be a welcome addition to units on Native American cultures. --Kay E. Vandergrift, School of Communication, Information and Library Studies, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ Copyright 1992

Read more books by author Joseph Bruchac: Between Earth & Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places, The First Strawberries, The Earth Under Sky Bear's Feet, How Chipmunk Got His Stripes, and Turtle's Race with Beaver.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Hispanic/Latino(a) Literature: Mice and Beans

Ryan, Pam Muñoz. 2001. Mice and Beans. Illus. by Joe Capeda. NY: Scholastic Press. ISBN: 0439183030.

Rosa María is planning a big birthday party for her granddaughter Little Catalina’s seventh birthday. As checks her list and prepares all the food, she makes sure that her home mice-free by setting a mousetrap every night. But along with candles, a bag, and cloth napkins, the traps keep on disappearing. In all her preparing for every detail, Rosa María forgets to do one last important thing on her list, but with the help of the mice living in her pantry Little Catalina’s birthday party is a great success.

This is a charming book of a warm and big hearted grandmother Rosa María who tiny house with a tiny yard that has room for everyone “except for a mouse” and the traditions of a birthday traditions that include piñatas and some delicious Mexican foods that include the rice and beans that “no dinner [is] complete without.” There are many subtle yet wonderful cultural makers within Ryan’s narration. There are a plethora of Spanish words and phrases written into the story. Many of the foods that Rosa María cooks are written in Spanish, which many readers would already be familiar with: enchiladas, frijoles (beans), dulce (candy) and tortillas. There other terms that readers may or may not be as familiar with like bolsa (bag), casita (house), cielos (heavens), fiesta, piñata, ratones (mice), feliz cumpleaños (happy birthday), and pasterlería (pastry shop). Rosa María also says on numerous occasions, especially when she forgets something or can’t find an item that goes missing: no importa (it doesn’t matter) and fíjate (imagine that) and qué boba soy (silly me).

Another quality of the text is how it is formatted. It takes Rosa María a week to prepare for the fiesta, and the days of the weeks are highlighted for readers to recognize and for young readers to learn the days of the week. There is also a refrain when she sets the mousetraps every nice to “snap” before she goes to bed, which can be utilized during storytime as a way for the children to participate in the telling of the book.

The bight, cheerful and extremely colorful illustrations fill all the pages and truly helps bring the story to life. Rosa María’s house is pink on the outside and very colorful on the inside. Rosa María herself is depicted as a cheerful and friendly grandmother who wears red-rimmed classes, has a blonde behave hair, long read fingernails, and culturally authentic light brown skin tone. The true celebration of the Hispanic culture in the story is seen at the very end of the book when Rosa María’s large family gathers at her house to celebrate Little Catalina’s birthday. Everyone has light brown skin and brown to black hair and everyone enjoys the great meal that she had made and loved the piñata. Readers will also love finding the mice, who are wearing clothes, in the illustrations.

For readers who do not know any of the Spanish terms there is a glossary and pronunciation guide at the end of the book. Also, on the back cover there are the recipes for the traditional rice and beans that “no meal is complete without.” This a great book that all readers will enjoy and relate to the tradition of a family gathering for celebrating a birthday and opening one’s house to everyone.

Ages 4-7. It’s time for Little Catalina’s seventh birthday, and grandmother Rosa María is ready to celebrate. She has room in her heart and her casita for nearly everyone on this happy occasion – everyone except mice. Grandmother sees to the details, from food to fun. But she forgets to fill the empty piñata, and when she discovers that mice have filled it for her, she opens a place un her joyful heart just for them. The story is charming, but what makes it special is the quiet authenticity of the Hispanic characterizations. Cepeda’s pictures are as good as the story, with bright, funny scenes depicted from human (looking down) and mouse (looking up) points of view. A delightful birthday or anytime book. – Kelly Milner Halls. 2001.

Kindheartedness lies at the core of this story, even if the main character wishes to banish all mice-via a battery of snapping traps-from her hearth and home. Rosa Maria might live in a tiny house, but she wants to celebrate the birthday of her grandchild Little Catalina with a party and lots of food. "When there's room in the heart, there's room in the house, except for a mouse!" So she sets a trap to make sure none of her preparations are snacked upon by the resident mice. Strangely, each evening as she goes to check on the traps after fixing up a batch of enchiladas or frijoles (Spanish words are sprinkled throughout the text), the traps are gone. She blames her own forgetfulness and sets another. Comes Catalina's big day and Rosa Maria suddenly remembers that she has forgotten to stuff the piñata with candy. But it's too late-the children are already whacking away. When scads of candy cascade from the piñata as it bursts, Rosa Maria figures she has simply forgotten that she filled it. Yet when she is cleaning up after the party, she discovers evidence of mice-"RATONES!"-and said evidence also points to the mice having stuffed the piñata for Rosa Maria. So she changes her tune: "When there's room in the heart, there's room in the house, even for a mouse." In artwork as sumptuously rich as Catalina's birthday cake, Cepeda's (Daring Dog and Captain Cat, above, etc.) color-drenched scenes stuffed with detail make Rosa Maria's world a pleasure-giving place. And now that the mice are welcome-these mice, after all, pull their own weight-it might be the most beneficent home ever. (Picture book. 4-7)

*Read more books by Pam Muñoz Ryan like Nacho and Lolita.
*When reading the book have the children clap their hand once whenever the story reads “When it was set and ready to SNAP.”
*Ask the children if they ever had a big birthday party like what Rosa María created for her granddaughter.

Hispanic/Latino(a) Literature: Neighborhood Odes

Soto, Gary. 1992. Neighborhood Odes. Illus. by David Diaz. NY: Harcourt Inc. ISBN: 9780152568795.

Through the collection of twenty-one poems, Gary Soto presents celebratory vignettes of life in a Mexican American neighborhood.

Neighborhood Odes is a wonderful collection of poems that celebrates everyday life from running through the sprinkler como un chango – like a monkey, snow cones, eating delicious pomegranates from the tree in an old lady’s yard, tennis shoes, the library, a wedding, a weeping ghost, and much more. Written in free verse, each ode has a different child sharing a story. There is a great presence to each poem that sets the mood and feelings. One perfect example of this is “Ode to La Llorona” (Waling Woman):

They say she weeps
Knee-deep in the river,
The gray of dusk
A shawl over her head.
She weeps for her children,
Their smothered faces
Of sleeping angels…
Normaaaa, Marioooo, Carloooos.
They say she calls
Children, offering
Them candy
From her sleeve.
They say she will
Point a long finger,
Gnarled root of evilness,
And stare a soft
Hole in your lungs:
The air leaks
From this hole
And climbs in the trees.

If you’re on your bike,
Ride faster.
If you’re on foot,
Run without looking up.
In these times,
The sliced moon hangs

La Llorona is the mother
Of drowned children.
Beware a woman
Dripping water in July
When no rain has fallen. (p. 23, 25).

Other moods seen in the poems also reflect excitement, love, and happiness. Though the setting of the odes is in a Mexican American neighborhood, the stories that they tell are universal in nature. All the readers would be able to relate to stories of running in the sprinkler, “The helicopter/Of water/Slicing our legs.,” being stung by a bee. Telling the story of a ghost, the love of a pet, the love for a pair of tennis shoes, and the love of the family photographs taken by Mamá that not as perfect.

Soto also does a beautiful job in capturing the descriptive imagery. This seen in the poem “Ode to Los Raspados” in which a girl’s hair is described, “With hair that swings/Like jump ropes,” (p. 4), a pet cat that is so white that “He’s white/As spilled milk” (p. 30), and eating pomegranates, “The blood/Of the fruit runs/Down to their elbows,/Like a vein,/Like a red river,/Like a trail of red ants.” (p. 57).

There are many cultural markers that illustrate the Mexican American aspects of the collection of poems. The first is the use of Spanish terms and phrases in the each of the odes. Many of the titles have the subject’s name in Spanish, such as “Ode to Los Raspados” (snow cones), “Ode to Mi Parque” (my park), “Ode to Mi Gato” (my cat), while others use the English equivalent. The actual text of the poems is written in English but there are the Spanish words and phrases that included. Family members are called Mamá, Papá, tío, tía, abuelo, abuela or abuelitos. There are also many food names like chicharrones (fried pork rinds), frijoles (refried beans), huevo (egg), and tortillas. There are also several phrases used like ay, ay, mi vida (oh, oh, my life). Though is a great amount of Spanish words and phrases used what makes the poems affective in their craft is that the words and phrases are not translated into English, which would take away the reading experience of those who speak both Spanish and English.

The illustrations that are sprinkled through out the collection of odes add another level of creativity to overall book without overshadowing the poems. David Diaz uses a black and white paper cutout technique that is crisp and detailed in their depiction of some of the poems. Readers will enjoy studying these illustrations due to the contrast of the black and white coloring and all the hidden details that are given.

The final feature presented in Sotos’ collection of odes is a glossary in the back that provides the definitions of the Spanish words and phrases used in all of the poems, which allows readers new to Spanish to learn a new translation of things that they already know.

Neighborhood Odes is a great collection of poems illustrating the love and joy of everyday subjects that everyone can relate to and is perfect for both Spanish and English speaking readers. A must book for any junior poetry collection.

The memories and experiences of Hispanic children are celebrated in a collection of short-lined poems from the author of Baseball in April (1990). With the one exception of the deliciously shivery ``Ode to La Llorona'' (a weeping ghost), the mood ranges from tired happiness to downright exuberance. A girl boasts that she doesn't have to pay for raspados (snow-cones) because her father drives the ice-cream truck; Pablo goes to bed without a bath because ``he wants to be/Like his shoes,/A little dirty''; a child eats a spoonful of ground chile pepper from the molcajete (mortar), to his huge regret; others fondly recall picnics, a wedding, the library, running through the sprinkler, and similar pleasures of a California neighborhood. Diaz's occasional illustrations, with the sharp-edged black areas of woodcuts or paper silhouettes, are angular and stylized to near abstraction. Soto's language leans slightly toward the formal (as befits an ode) and is sprinkled with Spanish words, clear in context but also translated in a glossary. (Poetry. 10-12)

Grade 4 Up-- The rewards of well-chosen words that create vivid, sensitive images await readers of this collection of poems. Through Soto's keen eyes, they see, and will be convinced, that there is poetry in everything. The odes celebrate weddings, the anticipation of fireworks, pets, grandparents, tortillas, and the library. Although Soto is dealing with a Chicano neighborhood, the poetry has a universal appeal. A minor drawback is that the Spanish words are not translated on the page, but in a glossary; to consult it interrupts the reading. Still, children will surely recognize the joy, love, fear, excitement, and adventure Soto brings to life. It is the same sensitivity and clarity found in Baseball in April (HBJ, 1990), his collection of short stories. Black-and-white illustrations blend well with the astute verbal imagery. Each selection is an expression of joy and wonder at life's daily pleasures and mysteries. --Renee Steinberg, Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ Copyright 1992.

*Read more books by Gary Soto: Baseball in April and Other Stories, Canto Familiar, Gary Soto: New and Selected Poems, A Fire in My Hands, Living Up The Streets, Accidental Love, and Chato’s Kitchen.
*Have the readers write their own odes to their favorite pastime, pet, or anything that they thought of when they read the odes.

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,

Friday, October 3, 2008

African American: Miss Crandall's School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color

Alexander, Elizabeth and Marilyn Nelson. 2007. Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color. Illus. by Floyd Cooper. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong. ISBN: 1590784561.

Through a collection of poems, authors Elizabeth Alexander and Marilyn Nelson tell the true story of teacher Prudence Crandall who opened her school to African American girls in 1833 Canterbury, Connecticut and of their perseverance through the actions of the townspeople who are racially opposed to Crandall’s decision to teach young misses of color.

Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color is a beautiful book of poems that relays the story of a teacher and her African American students’ during the 1830’s. Award-winning poets Elizabeth Alexander and Marilyn Nelson’s collaboration presents twenty-four poems, separated into six parts, provides vignettes to the story. The poems are written in the sonnet form. Each have fourteen lines and either follows the traditional rhyming scheme or follows the innovative free verse style. Several are creatively separated into multiple stanzas to make the specific sonnet affective in telling and can become an overall intriguing poem for the readers to read and reflect upon.

Each poem has a different voice and portrays different thoughts and feelings that tells the story from its beginning with students leaving their home to attend the school to learn, to the education, to when Miss Crandall and her students hearing and experiencing the heated opinion of the townspeople, to when Miss Crandall has nothing left but to close the school. Despite being in poetic form, the text remarkably is rich and understandable to the readers. This is particularly seen in the sonnet “Fire from the Gods:”

I didn’t know how much I didn’t know.
Like Brer Mosquito on Brer Elephant,
now I know my capacity for awe
is infinite: this thirst is permanent,
the well bottomless, my good fortune vast.
An uneducated mind is a clenched fist
that can open, like a bud, into a flower
whose being reaches, every waking hour,
and who sleeps a fragrant dream of gratitude.
Now it’s “illegal,” “illegitimate”
to teach brown girls who aren’t state residents.
As if Teacher’s stealing fire from the gods.
As if the Ancestors aren’t tickled to death to see
a child they lived toward find her minds infinity (p. 19).
and in “End”:
Upturned stacks of Webster’s blue-backed spellers.
broken slates. Liberators burned to ash.
Ninety panes of first-floor windows smashed,
frame wood splinters and jagged as tinder.

I can no longer protect my students.
Strangely, it is not God’s words that ring
in my head as I search for understanding,
rather, words that I saw on a charred reader:

I must remind you that the earth is round.
Men and animals live on the surface.
There is no comfort in these words,
yet the fact of them comforts me: schoolbooks.

I am a teacher of colored misses,
But I can no longer protect my students (p.44).

Within each poem, to create the authors added to the different voices that they created is have different tones and how they address people. The schoolgirls call Miss Crandall “Teacher,” “Miss Teacher,” “Teacher Pru,” and “Miss Crandall” The poem “Miss Ann Eliza Hammond” wonderfully illustrates a student’s opinion and speech:

I brought here, in a bag between my breasts,
money from Mama’s friends who had bought herself,
then saved enough, by working without rest,
to free four friends. This woman gave me her wealth
of carefully folded dollars to I could take
Miss Crandall’s course of study. And within a week
of my arrival, I was summoned to appear in court.
The judge ruled I’d have to pay a fine, depart,
or be whipped naked.

Honey, the first white fool
that thinks he gone whip me better think again.
Touch me, and you’ll draw back a nub, white man.
I ain’t payin’, and I’m stayin’. People’s dream brought me to this school.
I’m their future, in a magic looking glass.
That judge and the councilmen can kiss my rusty black (p. 26).

Floyd Cooper’s illustrations are a pure compliment to the poems. Through an innovative subtractive multi-medium technique, the artwork is colorful with a color scheme of neutral tans and accents of pinks, greens, purple, and blue and provides a softness that adds to the overall presence that is given with the book. In particular are the depictions of the students. Not one looks a like and have varying sizes of noses, lips, skin color and hairstyles. In particular the portraits for the poems “Miss Ann Elizabeth Hammond” and “Arson at Midnight” are beautifully executed. To keep the book appearance light and airy the illustrations are kept to one or two per two-page spread and only occupy a corner or side. There are double-page spread illustrations at the beginning of each of the six sections that depict the schoolhouse and the students. Though the clothing is more representative of what was worn during and after the Civil War, the illustrations are wonderfully done and are perfect for the book.

To complete the book there is an introduction that provides the details and historical facts to put the poems into context. Finally, there is a note from the authors that present information on the creative process of their collaboration and how their poems only present a certain parts of the entire story that allow the readers to think, imagine, and explore the meanings of the poems with the historical story.

Though their story is relatively unknown, through the collaborative work of Alexander and Nelson, Prudence Crandall and her schoolgirl are now part of the treasured books that tell the powerful stories of this part of America’s history. This book is perfect for all school and public libraries.

Twenty-four clear, beautiful poems in different voices tell the stirring history of white teacher Prudence Crandall, who defied bigotry in Canterbury, Connecticut, in 1833 by setting up a school for 20 young African American women, many of them freed slaves, who dared to attend. Alexander and Nelson, both Connecticut poets, use dramatic sonnets to tell how Crandall and her students braved resistance to “teach and learn.” The pupils speak directly of the anguish of family parting (illiteracy “means silence when you leave home”); the wonder of learning (“I didn’t know how much I didn’t know”); the racism, including the “etymology” of invective (“no one in town will sell us anything”); and the horrifying climax of “Arson at Midnight,” when 300 men attacked the school and closed it down. A long introduction details the historical facts, and in a final note the poets (Nelson is Connecticut’s poet laureate) talk about how each has used the sonnet form. The images in their poems and in Cooper’s quiet, dramatic pastel illustrations compellingly capture the haunting history. Pair this picture book for older readers with Suzanne Jurmain’s The Forbidden Schoolhouse (2005) and books about the KKK -- Hazel Rochman. Booklist, published by the American Library Association.

Two years after Suzanne Jurmain's nonfiction chronicle, Forbidden Schoolhouse (2005), comes a glorious poetic celebration of the teacher and students at a Connecticut school that defied mid-19th-century convention to educate African-American girls. Divided into six sections, four sonnets in each, the voices of the 24 girls tell, one by one, the tale, from hope and excitement at the beginning of the enterprise to fear and defiance as forces both institutional and vigilante conspire to destroy Miss Crandall's School. Nelson's sonnets adhere to a strict form while Alexander's explore the boundaries of the form; each distills the powerful emotions inspired by the story. For example, "Fire from the Gods": "I didn't know how much I didn't know, / Like Brer Mosquito on Brer Elephant, / now I know my capacity for awe / is infinite. . . . " Cooper's soft pastel illustrations provide a muted counterpoint to the text, mixing depictions of school and students with images of the natural world in a lovely rhythm. A foreword provides a brief prose history of the school; a concluding authors' note explains their collaborative process. (Poetry. 10+)

*Learn more about Miss Crandall, her school and her students with the book: The Forbidden School House: The True and Dramatic Story of Prudence Crandall and Her Students by Suzanne Jurmain
*Have the students explore the resources available on the Prudence Crandall Museum’s website:

African American: Last Summer with Maizon

Woodson, Jacqueline. 1991. Last Summer with Maizon. NY: Puffin Books. ISBN: 0698119290.

Eleven-year-old Margaret wishes that her summer never happened. On top of the stress of a possible separation from her best friend Maizon her father dies from a heart attack. Now with her father gone and her best friend off to a boarding school in Connecticut, Margaret faces a new stage in her life where she discovers news talents within herself.

Jacqueline Woodson’s short novel Last Summer with Maizon is truly a charming story of two African American friends during the summer that changes them both. The two girls learn things about themselves during the time that they mourn the death of Margaret’s father and when they are finally separated and out of their comfort zone in their neighborhood and school in Brooklyn, New York. Margaret and Maizon declare themselves as twins; however, they are quite different. Maizon is the bolder of the two. She is smart and is has won a scholarship to a boarding school out of state. Margaret in comparison is the quieter of the two; however, she is equally as smart even though she did not know it until Maizon was physically gone and Margaret was not being overshadowed.

The narrative is written in the third-person; however, Woodson provides a personal window into Margaret’s thoughts and feelings such as the loneliness that she feels when Maizon is gone and she has no one she knows in school as well as the feelings of Maizon when she tells her friend of the racism that she experienced while at Blue Hill. The short chapters read simple and clear despite the emotions that fill the pages.

There are subtle cultural markers seen within the story. The one that is seen is in the description of Margaret and Maizon’s hair. Maizon’s hair is in a short Afro while Margaret’s hair is long and is the envy of Maizon. There is also presence of a culture other than the African American culture. Maizon’s grandmother is Cheyenne Indian and tells stories to the girls about what it was like living on the reservation. There is also hints of racism seen in parts of the books. The first is seen in the story told by Maizon’s grandmother. When she was young and living in Colorado, she takes her African American boyfriend to meet her best friend from the reservation who responded with “’You can’t marry him. He’s a black man.’ I knew that there had come a point where I still called this girl my friend but we didn’t even know each other. Because I loved your grandfather and saw him as someone I loved. But she saw him as black and refused to know him” (p.52). Maizon experiences the second experience of racism while she was away at Blue Hill. All the girls hated her because she was “black and smart” (p.113).

Though there are subtle cultural markers of the African American culture within Woodson’s novel it does not subtract from this wonderful work as it only exhibits that stories such as this are just like the stories that can be seen in other cultures but still exhibit the cultural elements. This is a title that readers will enjoy reading as with the two other books in this trilogy.

For eleven-year-old Margaret the summer that should have been a time of youthful exuberance--sharing secrets and time with her best friend Maizon in their Brooklyn neighborhood--instead delivered two devastating blows. The first was the sudden death of her beloved father and the second was news that Maizon had been accepted to the prestigious Blue Hill boarding school in Connecticut. Margaret's grief over these losses, coupled with her insecurities about going it alone cast a pall over the friendship. As Margaret struggles with doubt on her journey to self-discovery she has the love and support of a cast of strong female adults. It isn't until Margaret begins a new school year and with the help of a sympathetic teacher that she discovers her own inner strength. First published in 1990 Woodson's novel is deftly written and she explores, with honesty and simplicity, issues of racism, death, the elitism of private schools, and friendship is this coming of age story. Readers who wish to follow Maizon as she strives for acceptance should read Maizon at Blue Hill. 2002 (orig. 1990), Putnam Publishing Group, $16.99. Ages 10 to 14.

Gr 5-7-- When her best friend wins a scholarship to a boarding school for gifted students, Margaret is devastated. Then, in Maizon's absence, she discovers her own abilities, including success in the smartest class at school and winning a poetry contest. Still, when Maizon leaves the boarding school after only three months, Margaret, Maizon's grandmother, and the other adults in their Brooklyn neighborhood are glad to have her back. Woodson quickly establishes the strong ties between the two girls and paints a vivid picture of the supporting characters and their surroundings. However, once Maizon goes away to school, the focus of the story blurs. Because Maizon neither writes nor calls, other characters speculate that she is finding the work too difficult because she's not the brightest student anymore. Surprisingly, the 11 year old's decision to leave is made without any adult input. Later, readers receive only a brief explanation when Maizon comments that many of the girls hated her because she was smart and black. Margaret's growth is conveyed through only two brief episodes at school, yet this is a major development in the story. While readers will certainly be drawn into the book by the warmth and tenderness generated by the characters, as well as the descriptive images of cinnamon-scented kitchens and distant trains in the twilight, the narrative gaps may leave them wondering just what happened and why, and whose story this is meant to be. --Susan Schuller, Milwaukee Public Library

*Read the Jacqueline Woodson’s continuing stories of Margaret and Maizon: Maizon at Blue Hill and Between Madison and Palmetto.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

African American: Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story

Lester, Julius. 1998. Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story. Illus. by Jerry Pinkney. NY: Dial Books. ISBN: 0803717873.

Bob Lemmons, a former slave now cowboy on a ranch, has the special ability to track animals. He will follow the animals. On the hunt for wild horses, Bob and his black stallion Warrior follow the horse tracks for days until he is finally accepted as one of their own and is able to become leader of the herd and brings them back to the corrals at the ranch.

Through the well crafted Black Cowboy, Wild Horse: A True Story author Julius Lester and illustrator Jerry Pinkney have introduced young readers to one of the Old West’s legendary cowboy Bob Lemmons and his ability to become a horse in order to corral the wild horses on the western plains. Lester’s text is poetically rich and full of metaphors that describe the scenery of the open plains that Lemmons travels through as he follows the mustangs, “The sky was curved as if it were a lap on which the earth lay napping like a curled cat” (p. 2) as well as the cool patience that Lemmons exude as he calmly follows the horses. The narrative is also full of action, which is especially seen when Lemmons and his horse Warrior fight the stallion leader of the wild horses. Not only does Lester tell the story in action but also the personal descriptions of both the human and animal characters in the story.

Pinkney’s illustrations both compliments and visually continues telling the story of Bob Lemmons. In double-page spreads the illustrations fills the book with wonderfully detailed watercolors. The depictions of the horses and the plains are beautifully accurate. In particular the part when Lemmons has become the leader of the herd and is now the “sky and plains and grass and river and horse” and the illustrations shows the wild horses following the cowboy across the plains and in the sky are billowing clouds that have the faint images of wild horses. Pickney’s artwork also presents the readers with various points of views in order to truly show the beauty of the horses in movement and the land that Lemmons roamed.

Though this book is about an African American cowboy that is known in America’s Wild West history, there is a very limited number of cultural markers present in the entire book. The only mention of the African American culture is when the narrative explains that “Bob had been a slave and never learned to read words” (p.5). The illustrations are the only other cultural marker that presents a depiction of Lemmons with chocolate brown skin and short curly hair. Though this could be considered a weakness in the book one must take into consideration that story is not about Lemmons himself but how he became one of the wild horses in order to bring them back to the ranch were he worked.

With the combination of Lester’s detailed and poetic narrative and Pinkey’s beautifully detailed and executed illustrations readers are able to catch a glimpse into the life of a legendary cowboy from America’s history.

Ages 5^-9. One of every three cowboys who helped tame the Wild West was either Mexican or black. This is the true story of one of the latter, Bob Lemmons. In language rich with simile and metaphor, Lester's account focuses on the former slave's uncanny tracking abilities as he trails a herd of mustangs as well as his mission to tame the wild horses and lead them back to the corral. Pinkney's earth-colored gouache and watercolor paintings add the look of the Texas plains to Lester's account and capture the energy of the horses as they gallop across sweeping, double-page spreads. Lester and Pinkney's manifest love and respect for the West and cowboys of color, whose contributions have been too long overlooked, distinguish their latest collaboration. Michael Cart

Grade 2-4APinkney and Lester add a picture-book chapter to the lore of this nation's "true West" with the retelling of a story of a wild horse hunt by the black cowboy Bob Lemmons. He and his stallion, Warrior, wander on the prairie until they find the tracks of the animals they seek. Bob then spends days in a very slow approach to the herd. Horse and rider finally join the herd and are accepted by the wild horses, until at last Bob challenges the lead stallion for control. On Warrior's back, he fights the stallion, defeats him, and then leads the animals into captivity in the ranch corral. Throughout, both text and pictures emphasize the blending of all life. The linkages between the cowboy, the animals, and the natural world are so strong that lines separating them are blurred. Lester and Pinkney's stated aims were to recast their childhood love of cowboys and the Old West with more recent historical research into the contributions of men of color, both black and Hispanic. They have done that, and achieved something else as well: youngsters will reflect on the relationships between humans and other animals. Pinkney's pictures were never better, making it all the more unfortunate that text boxes cover some of the action. Lester's overuse of metaphor is also a drawback. Still, this book will inspire heavy-duty thinking on the part of young readers.ARuth Semrau, formerly at Lovejoy School, Allen, TX Copyright 1998

CONNECTIONS *Read more about African American cowboys with books like Bill Picket: Rodeo-Ridin’ Cowboy by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illus. by Brian Pinkey.
*Read more books by Julius Lester: John Henry (illus. by Jerry Pinkney) and Sam and the Tigers: A Retelling of ‘Little Black Sambo (illus. by Jerry Pinkney).
*Read more books illustrated by Jerry Pinkney: The Patchwork Quilt (written by Valerie Flournoy) and The Talking Eggs (written by Robert D. San Souci)