Tag Archives: biography

PPBF – Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México

As we’re nearing the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, and as Mexico, and particularly the region surrounding Mexico City, just experienced horrific damage from devastating earthquakes, I decided to showcase a new picture book about a Mexican cultural treasure as today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9781419725326_s3Title: Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/August 2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes/Topics: Mexico, biography, dance, traditions

Opening:

Amalia Hernández was born in Mexico City in 1917, and everyone assumed she would grow up to be a schoolteacher like her mother and her grandmother. Even Ami, as everyone called her, expected that.

Brief Synopsis:

Danza! is the biography of Amalia Hernández (1917-2000) who enjoyed and practiced ballet and modern dance as a child, grew up to become a professional dancer and choreographer, and later founded El Ballet Folklórico de México, the most famous dance company in Mexico. It also recounts the story of El Ballet from its inception through the present.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Danza! shares a positive message about the cultural traditions of Mexico and the hard-work and persistence of the founder of El Ballet Folklórico de México. I can imagine many children reading this story and dreaming of dancing in a company of dancers such as El Ballet or perhaps founding a cultural or sports group themselves.

The text is informative without being didactic. I appreciated the inclusion of pronunciation guides and ballet terms, the sprinkling of Spanish terms throughout the text, and the inclusion of an Author’s Note, Glossary, and Bibliography.

Tonatiuh’s artistic style suits the subject matter well. His characters seem to dance on the pages. I especially enjoyed the collaged additions of photographed fabrics and even hair.

A Note about Craft:

Although Danza! principally is the biography of Amalia Hernández, it also tells the story of her legacy, namely El Ballet and the promotion of Mexican folk dancing. By taking the story beyond Hernández’ death and focusing on El Ballet, Tonatiuh leaves the reader feeling hopeful about the continuation of this important dance company.

Tonatiuh brings Hernández’ story full circle: he tells us at the outset that it was “assumed” that she would become a school teacher. We learn near the end of the book that in later life, she taught and supervised the ballet rehearsals. “She had become a schoolteacher after all, like her mother and her grandmother.” Placing her in her family tradition strengthens the story, I think, as Danza! is, at its heart, a story about preserving cultural traditions.

Visit Tonatiuh’s  website and check out some of his other books:

9781580896733_p0_v1_s192x300

Reviewed here

9781419705830_p0_v2_s192x300

Reviewed here

9781419721304_p0_v1_s118x184

Reviewed here

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad

I had the pleasure this past March of visiting Cuba, the setting of much of today’s perfect picture book. To prepare for that journey, I read several of the Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle’s historical novels in verse about that lovely island. It was through Margarita’s work that I first learned about José Martí. I also had the pleasure of meeting both today’s debut author, Emma Otheguy, and her agent, Adriana Domíngez, at the recent New Jersey SCBWI conference and seeing a copy of the book there. To say that I’ve been eagerly awaiting its release is an understatement! Without further ado:

9780892393756_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad

Written By: Emma Otheguy

Illustrated By: Beatriz Vidal

Text Translated By: Adriana Domínguez

Publisher/date: Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books Inc/July 2017

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes/Topics: Cuba, biography, poetry, freedom, nature, social justice, bilingual book, #WNDB, #OwnVoices, #debutPB

Opening: 

When José was a young boy,

his father took him to the countryside,

where he listened to the crickets chirp

and the roosters crow.

José bowed to the palmas reales,

the grand royal palms that shaded the path

where he rode his horse.

He chased the river

as it swelled with the rains

and rushed on to the saltwater sea.

José fell in love with his home island, Cuba.

Brief Synopsis: José Martí, a 19th century Cuban poet, writer and political activist, loved nature and fought for the abolishment of slavery and freedom from Spanish rule during his lifetime in Cuba and New York City.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover Cuba, the country of Martí’s birth and death;
  • Martí traveled to the Catskill Mountain region of New York State. Find out more about this forested, natural area near New York City.
  • Take a walk in the woods and write about what you experience and feel.
  • What issue are you passionate or upset about? Think about some ways you could help solve the issue or encourage others to help you bring about change.
  • Write a poem in the style of Martí’s Versos sencillos, his most-famous poem, using Lee & Low’s Activity Guide.
  • An Afterword, Author’s Note, further Excerpts from the Versos sencillos, and a Selected Bibliography accompany the text.

Why I Like this Book:

Debut picture book author Emma Otheguy has written an enlightening biography of a Spanish-language poet that showcases the power of words to bring about positive social change. I especially appreciate that Otheguy highlights Martí’s learning process, how he saw, and abhorred, the treatment of slaves during his Cuban childhood, and how he then went on to fight the Spanish colonial rule that supported slavery.

I also loved learning how the emancipation of slaves during the American Civil War helped shape young Martí’s beliefs and how experiences he had in New York influenced his later writing. I believe that learning from others’ experiences is an important lesson for children, whether it’s learning how to solve an individual problem or how to solve one that affects an entire country or people. That Martí found inspiration in the American fight for emancipation and solace in a natural setting so far from his country of birth are, to me, reasons why cultural interactions are important and why a country that prides itself on its democratic traditions should continue to be welcoming to those who travel here.

While I regrettably am not bilingual, I appreciate that Otheguy has made Martí’s words accessible to those who otherwise couldn’t read them, that Domínguez has translated the English text into Martí’s native tongue, and that Lee & Low has combined the texts in one picture book. To do so, the editors present the lyrical text in verse side by side on the left-side page, with the folk-art illustrations appearing as full-page spreads on the right side. I think this works well for this biography, as the illustrations appear as historic paintings, like one would find in a museum. Two small illustrations, often snippets of nature, appear on each page with text as well, and help carry through the theme of nature as freedom.

spread_3

From Lee & Low’s website

A Note about Craft:

Otheguy writes lyrical free verse text and verses from Martí’s Versos sencillos appear as separate text following her words. By doing so, she has allowed Martí to tell parts of his story in his own words. Otheguy also shows the reader in the first lines what was important to Martí, nature, equality and the freedom exemplified by the swaying of the palms, and carries these themes through the book.

Martí’s Song for Freedom received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. It is a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Visit Emma Otheguy’s website here.

View more of Betriz Vidal’s work here.

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF: Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics

It’s National Poetry Month, so I thought I’d kick off the month with a new poetry anthology that I believe is a Perfect Picture Book:

9780805098761_p0_v4_s118x184Title: Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics

Written By: Margarita Engle

Illustrated By: Rafael López

Publisher/date: Henry Holt and Co (BYR)/March 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes/Topics: poetry, American history, non-fiction, biography, Hispanics, diversity

Opening:

First Friend (Juan de Miralles, 1713-1780)

I believe in the good cause

of American independence from England.

Thousands of soldiers from Spain

and all the regions of Latin America

are fighting side by side with George Washington’s men,

as we struggle to defeat the British.

Brief Synopsis: A collection of biographical poems about Hispanic Americans, “a variety of amazing people who lived in geographic regions now included in the modern United States.” (quoting Author’s Note)

Links to Resources:

  • Find out more about Latin America;
  • Hispanic is a designation used by the US Census Bureau. Discover what it means to identify as a Latino or Hispanic in the United States for Census purposes;
  • The US Census Bureau maintains a website with activities and teacher resources by education level;
  • Write a poem about a famous or not-so-famous person or write a poem about yourself.

Why I Like this Book:

Engle includes biographical poems about famous and less well-known Hispanics arranged chronologically from the founding of the United States. Shared dreams and lasting contributions to the United States tie these 18 poems together. Bravo! also includes helpful “Notes About the Lives”, that are short prose biographies of those featured, and “More and More Amazing Latinos”, a poetic celebration of other famous Hispanics.

I learned facts that generally are left out of historic accounts, like that Aida de Acosta flew a powered aircraft months before the Wright Brothers’ historic flight; that in addition to Lafayette and his French comrades, Cuban merchant Juan de Miralles helped the American revolutionary cause by shipping fresh citrus to his friend George Washington and his Yorktown troops; and that baseball great Roberto Clemente was also a humanitarian who organized relief efforts following natural disasters.

López’ full-page, brightly-colored portraits complement and contextualize Engles’ poems by surrounding these subjects with the tools of their trades and providing glimpses into the eras in which they lived.

This anthology is a useful resource for homes and classrooms, as Engle has paired the details of these lives with more universal themes. Following are some favorites:

Sometimes friendship

is the sweetest form

of courage. (Juan de Miralles, 1713-1780; Cuba)

When my friend and I walk arm in arm,

it is a wordless statement of equality,

Martí’s light skin and my dark skin

side by side. (Paulina Pedroso, 1845-1925; Cuba)

Nothing makes me feel more satisfied

than a smile on the face of a child who holds

an open book. (Pura Belpré, 1899-1982; Puerto Rico)

I find poetry in tomato fields,

and stories in the faces

of weary workers. (Tomás Rivera, 1935-1984; Mexico)

A Note about Craft:

Engle uses First Person POV in her poems. I believe this helps readers more easily connect with the subjects and the historical moments. I think this is particularly helpful for the intended audience of 8-12 year olds to encourage empathy with and understanding of the lives of these notable Hispanics.

Is Bravo! a picture book? While it is a marriage of illustrations, or more accurately portraits, and words, the words comprise separate poems, or vignettes. They hang together with a common theme, Hispanics who dreamed and left their marks on US culture and history, as an anthology of poems perfect for National Poetry Month or anytime.

Bravo! has been published simultaneously in English and Spanish.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF -Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist

March is Music in our Schools Month– a time to celebrate the role music plays in enhancing life, the educational benefit of learning to appreciate and play music, and the composers and musicians whose works speak to us. As stated on the National Association of Music Education site:

The purpose of MIOSM is to raise awareness of the importance of music education for all children – and to remind citizens that schools is where all children should have access to music.  MIOSM is an opportunity for music teachers to bring their music programs to the attention of the school and the community, and to display the benefits that school music brings to students of all ages.

As both the subject and illustrator of today’s selection lived on both sides of the Mexican and US border and as their contributions to the arts enhance life for Mexicans and US citizens, I think this is a Perfect Picture Book to kick off MIOSM:

9781580896733_p0_v1_s192x300Title: ESQUIVEL! Space-Age Sound Artist

Written By: Susan Wood

Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/date: Charlesbridge/2016

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: music, composer, bandleader, Mexican immigrant, non-fiction, biography

Opening:

When Juan Garcia Esquivel was a small boy, he lived with his family in Tampico, Mexico, where whirling mariachi bands let out joyful yells as they stamped and strummed.

Brief Synopsis: Bandleader Esquivel! (1918-2002) composed and played music in his native Mexico where he rose to fame, and then gained prominence in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States.

Links to Resources:

  • Listen to music, make instruments, or try one of the many other activities suggested in the Esquivel!  Educator’s Guide
  • Listen to Esquivel!’s compositions, including music composed for short films
  • Learn about other musicians who immigrated to the US (David Bowie; George Harrison; John Lennon; Bob Marley, to name just a few)

Why I Like this Book: Esquivel! is a multi-sensory exploration of a talented but little-known composer, bandleader and musician who began his craft as a child, disabling the paper roll in a player piano at age 6 so he could play it; who combined traditional folk music and jazz with “space age” innovations, including the newly-invented stereo system; who pushed the boundaries of his craft by utilizing different instruments and sound combinations; and who built a fan base and successful career in his native Mexico and in the United States.

Like Esquivel! (who dropped his first names and adopted the name Esquivel!), Tonatiuh combines tradition, in this case the artistic style found in the Mixtec Codex, with collaged textures and photographs that are inserted via computer. The inclusion of psychedelic word-art and fashion from the 1950s and 1960s is particularly effective.

An Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note and Resources page are included.

A Note about Craft:

Esquivel! was a successful composer, bandleader and musician whose genre was “lounge music” and who liked art, fast cars, elegant clothes and “especially pretty women” – not generally the “stuff” of picture books! So how did Wood, with a background in music journalism, and Tonatiuh render this story kid-friendly?

  • Starting at the beginning when Esquivel! was a child & showing how his talents were evident then and how he worked to achieve success;
  • Focusing on the era when Esquivel! first achieved his lasting success, the 1950s and 1960s, and using language and images to place Esquivel! and his music in context – starting with the subtitle “Space Age…” and using similes to compare his music to era-specific items, e.g., it “sounded like a crazy rocket ride…”;
  • Incorporating similes that render the story understandable to even those who don’t understand musical composition:

He was an artist, using dips and dabs of color to create a vivid landscape. But instead of paint, Juan used sound. Weird and wild sounds! Strange and exciting sounds!

Esquivel! was a 2017 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book. Esquivel! is also available in Spanish.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!