scrounge: /skrounj/ informal verb: to actively seek [books] from any available source
Esperanza Rising is a story inspired by the author's ancestors who came to the United States from Mexico around the time of the Dust Bowl. Esperanza (which means "hope" in Spanish) enjoys a privileged life in a rich family until her father is killed and she and her mother flee to America.
I like the way Esperanza changes as a character during the course of the story. She has a hard time adjusting to a new life of labor where she doesn't even know how to use a broom, given her former lifestyle. But she also sees how the class differences that used to divide her from her servant friends are disappearing as they travel and work together.
The themes of wealth, power, strength, and weakness are explored throughout the story, as well as the importance of family and friendship. I couldn't help but notice the timeliness of this book considering how immigration is in the news these days. Overall it was a very readable story and I enjoyed it -- I could definitely see using it for a history unit.
Scrounged From: PaperbackSwap.com
Author: Pam Munoz Ryan
Content Advisory: Death of a loved one takes place, though it is not explicitly described.
With a title like Separate Is Never Equal, it makes sense to assume this book is about segregation and the Civil Rights movement, and it is -- but it takes place several years before the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. This story is about Sylvia Mendez and her family's fight to desegregate schools in their region of California. At the time this story takes place, Hispanic children were sent to separate schools than white children in some places.
The general story is framed by the story of Sylvia Mendez's first day at her new (formerly "white") school. She is nervous, and one child tells her to go back to the Mexican school. When she comes home and tells her mother about it, her mother reminds her why they fought -- which takes us back to the story of the Mendezes' battle to allow their children to go to the school nearest their home -- not to the "Mexican school" which was not equal in funding or quality.
Despite the fact that Sylvia Mendez spoke perfect English and was American by citizenship, not Mexican, she was told that attending a separate school was simply "how it was done." No one gave them a reasonable answer to their questions of "Why?" But it eventually came out in the court case, quite clearly -- the school administrators simply believed that white students were superior to Hispanic ones.
It's a very interesting story, and it communicates the timeline and scope of events in a way that children can understand. The framing of the story helps to give a context to all of the legal processes -- in the end, Sylvia is able to attend her new school with a sense of pride because she knows that she and her family fought hard for that right. It's not surprising that her case received support from the NAACP, among other organizations, because this case helped open the door for national desegregation of schools. And I'd never heard of it or Sylvia Mendez before now -- I'm grateful to author/illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh for making it accessible in this way.
At the end of the book are some more detailed notes about the events in the story and some photos, as well as a glossary and bibliography.
Scrounged From: Amazon (Kindle)
Author/illustrator: Duncan Tonatiuh
Content Advisory: The court case involves expressions of racist views of Hispanic people.
My introduction to Margarita Engle came through her poetic picture books like The Sky Painter (see my review here) and Drum Dream Girl, so when I saw she had written a memoir too, I immediately added it to my reading list.
Enchanted Air is the first memoir I've read in verse form, which was different in that it's a quicker read than the nearly 200 pages would indicate, and leaves out some details and aspects that would "flesh out" a narrative written in regular prose. But an advantage to this form is that each line and word carries a lot of meaning. Recurring themes such as flight and air are easier to spot and relate to each other, and so many events, images, and feelings can be distilled into each poem. Even though it's quicker to read, I often wanted to dwell on a section for a few minutes, making sure I didn't miss too much imagery for the sake of the narrative.
The book follows Engle's first fourteen years of life, focusing on her trying to reconcile the two halves of her identity: American (like her father) and Cuban (like her mother). Though the family lives in California and visits Cuba yearly, Engle feels like a different person in each place. Cuba is beautiful and freeing to her, and it feels magical every time they fly across the water to reach it.
But then the Cuban Missile Crisis happens, and everything changes. Engle feels estranged from a large piece of her identity, and fearful at the way she hears people talk about Cuba and Cubans. This is a segment of history I did not know much about, so reading it through the eyes of a child was especially powerful.
I really enjoyed this easy-to-read but sometimes heavy memoir that captures the hopes and imagination of childhood, combined with Engle's particular fears and questions about the world and the future. Engle adds a note at the end describing some of what has played out since, including the revival of Cuban relations under President Obama.
Scrounged From: Our local library
Author: Margarita Engle
Content Advisory: During her junior high years, Engle references many things she sees going on around her -- smoking, drinking, a few different kinds of drugs, teen pregnancy, etc. -- though not explicitly. She also describes very clearly the anxiety and terror she felt during the Missile Crisis.
One of my favorite picture books we've read in recent years has to be The Sky Painter. This is the poetically told story of Louis Fuertes, artist and ornithologist, considered to be the successor to John James Audubon.
What this book does so well -- in addition to giving us beautiful, colorful illustrations and educating us about an important but under-appreciated historical figure -- is that it captures Fuertes' sense of awe and wonder at birds -- his respect and curiosity that compelled him in his desire to accurately represent their forms and colors.
Not only did Fuertes desire to learn about and paint birds, but he eventually learned to paint quickly while birds were flying or feeding, in order to keep the "life" in his bird sketches, rather than simply shooting them and posing the dead birds for a portrait as was the custom at that time.
This story, written from a first-person point of view, briefly follows Fuertes' early life and education, as well as his numerous expeditions to distant parts of the world to paint all kinds of different birds. This inspiring combination of art and science helps awaken the reader to beauty while also encouraging curiosity.
The book closes with the information that Furtes' bird paintings were printed on cards that people enjoyed collecting, succinctly expressing Fuertes' legacy in:
"All over the world, millions of people
have learned to enjoy, protect,
the wild beauty
The final page gives a brief biography of Fuertes, and includes two of his actual paintings.
Author: Margarita Engle
Illustrator: Aliona Bereghici
Content Advisory: None