Category Archives: Latino/a Literaure

Yes, Audiobooks & Graphic Novels Count: Accepting Students’ Diverse Reading Choices

I originally delivered a version of this post at the Avon Free Public Library’s Local Author Festival in June. Each of the presenters was asked to talk about the reader’s experience. I recently revised that presentation for a blog post for Latin@s in Kid Lit. The post seems to have resonated with people, and I think it’s an important issue now that young people are back in school. I’ve decided to reblog it here.

 

A reader’s experience, even with a shared text, is dependent on so many things, including background knowledge, interest in the subject, interest in reading in general, and engagement in the moment. I’m sure we’ve all experienced this subjectivity of reading, how one person can have a completely different reaction to a book than another. As a teacher, I’ve gained a whole new level of understanding about the reader’s experience.

When I taught middle school language arts with regular-sized classes, I experienced a typical range of responses from students. When I became a reading specialist, however, the response to reading was more consistent. My students are what’s called reluctant readers. Many of them hate to read, and they all score well below their peers on reading assessments. Of the 27 students who receive reading intervention with me this year, 85 percent are of color and almost half are Latin@. In 2010, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s article, “The Latino Education Crisis,” stated Latin@s are the least educated ethnic group. More recent statistics indicate both good and not-so-good news. The Latin@ dropout rate has dropped significantly, but remains higher than other groups. Meanwhile, the number of Latin@s in college has tripled in ten years, but Latin@s lag behind other groups in obtaining a four-year degree.

Each school year is an opportunity to change these statistics by helping students become better readers.

When I ask my students why they don’t like to read, their most common answers are these: It’s too hard. It’s confusing. It’s boring. It’s too long. I just don’t like it. I can’t connect to it. I have better things to do with my time.

My job, then, is to help them become better readers and hopefully love a book or two or more. In other words, I have to find ways to alter their previous reading experiences. I have to help them find books that aren’t too hard or boring or too long. Books that they can connect with and think are worth their time.

In some ways, this should be easy because libraries have thousands of books to choose from, but this is what happens when I take my students to the library: Some wander around aimlessly with a “get me out of here” look on their face. Some are enthusiastic, which is great, but have no idea what to do. I ask about their favorite author or genre, but they don’t have one. If I keep asking questions, I’ll usually get enough information to guide them to the right area. But, then they are faced with a wall of books and don’t know where to start.

Once, I gave a girl a specific title to find and told her to check the spine for the author’s last name. After a while, she called me over and said the book wasn’t there, that all of these books were written by FIC.

I share this not to make fun of her–because it really isn’t funny–but to shed light on the reality that some middle schoolers don’t know how to navigate a library or the world of books in general. They haven’t read enough in their lives and/or their reading experiences have probably to this point been mandated by school curricula. As a result, their identity as readers doesn’t exist at all or has been completely shaped by others. This is partly due to what they’ve been told “counts” when it comes to reading.

Lowriders in Space_FC_HiResOne boy told me he liked cars, but the library had no books on cars. Hmm, really? When I showed him the nonfiction area filled with books about cars, he said, “But these aren’t stories.” And then, I got it. He didn’t think nonfiction counted. Maybe he has been told this, or maybe he’s been encouraged to read fiction more often. I don’t know, but his desire to read nonfiction about cars was derailed somewhere along the way. Happy ending: he checked out two nonfiction books that day and the librarian ordered Lowriders in Space. So cool (the book and our librarian). And yes, I assured him, graphic novels count, too.

Here are things my students have said:

I like audio books, but that’s cheating.

But, it’s a graphic novel.

But it’s nonfiction.

It’s too short. My teacher said it has to be at least 200 pages.

I don’t like this book, but my teacher said I have to finish it.

These comments pain me.

Because if we say audio books don’t count, then aren’t we negating the tradition of oral storytelling?

If we say graphic novels don’t count, then aren’t we negating the entire field of the visual arts?

If we say something is too short, aren’t we invalidating the short story, the novella, poetry, books in verse, non-fiction articles, or picture books?

If we tell someone to finish an independent reading book he dislikes, then isn’t it no longer independent reading? We’ve taken away his ability to choose what he wants to read and drop what he doesn’t like.

So, we’re sometimes telling readers that their choices don’t count, they aren’t good enough, and this, then, is coupled with the reader’s feelings that reading is boring, hard, and not worthy of his or her time.

So what does that leave us? Classes like mine with students who have had limited, difficult reading experiences.

But, don’t worry, this story has a happy ending.

After 15 years of teaching, but especially after the last five as a reading specialist, I have learned that the reader’s experience is diverse, and therefore, we must learn to accept diverse reading experiences.

What I mean is that I think we’re willing to accept that a reader’s experience is diverse based on personal history, background knowledge, interest, and skill, but we don’t often accept diverse reading experiences, especially with younger people.

Two young children lying on the grass outdoors wearing headphones reading togetherFor example, I’m never told by anyone not to listen to audiobooks, so why should I tell a student it’s cheating?

Ninth graders often read Of Mice and Men, which is 103 pages, but we tell a middle school student she can’t read a book less than 200 pages. Why?

And believe me, I am well versed on the Common Core State Standards and well aware of how competitive schools and the workplace have become. I know the statistics that tell us if a child is not reading on grade level by the third grade, he may never read on grade level without the proper intervention. I understand the push for rigor and the expectation that all people read certain books in high school and college.

At the same time, though, what most studies tell us is that the number one thing that affects a person’s lifelong reading skills is independent reading–self-selected reading that supplements, complements, or challenges in-class reading.

And when people read independently, they should be protected by the Reader’s Bill of Rights.

So, if we want all children to develop an independent reading habit, we have to allow them to truly self-select reading material and we have to be okay with their choices. If they want to read a graphic novel or comic book, fine. If they want to listen to an audio book, awesome. If they want to read an 85 page book, go for it.

Chances are if they do these things, and feel successful, they just might do it again and again and again. And then maybe they’ll start reading longer and more complex things, and they won’t see reading as hard or boring or not worth their time. Maybe then they will be able to navigate the library and decide on a favorite genre or author. Maybe as they get older, they will graduate from high school, reducing the dropout rate even more. Maybe more will earn four-year degrees. And maybe they will then read to their children, who will become avid readers, too. And a simple thing adults can do now to help this along is not to say, “That’s too short, too easy, or doesn’t count.” Instead, support young readers’ diverse choices and allow them to develop their own reading experiences.

When Reason Breaks Releases Today!!!

This post is also published on the Latin@s in Kid Lit site. Instead of writing something else for my own blog, I am cross-posting it here. Makes sense, right?

 

Reason Breaks Blended CollageToday is the official release day of When Reason Breaks, my debut young adult contemporary novel published by Bloomsbury! Yay! The novel is about two girls, both sophomores in high school, who struggle with depression in different ways. Here’s part of the official description:

A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.

To celebrate my journey, which started seven years ago, I’m sharing some pictures I took along the way.

 

IMG_3086This first picture represents the writing, revising, and editing phase done alone and then with critique partners. It took me three years to write the draft that I used to query agents. Yes, that’s a long time, but I was working a full-time job and a part-time job, while single-parenting. My writing place is on my bed, and without fail, my dogs–first Rusty (RIP) and now Ozzie–have kept me company. This has been very sweet, except for the times they pawed the keyboard. Notice the guilty look in his eyes.

 

 

 

IMG_1294I landed an agent, Laura Langlie, after a few months of querying. I revised based on her feedback, and then the manuscript went out on submission. It stayed out there for a long, long time. We received some valuable feedback after the first round, so I revised again and went back out on submission. Finding the right agent and editor is kind of like literary Match.com. You might go on lots of dates that don’t work, but that’s okay, because the goal is finding the perfect person. So, it took a long time, but the book landed with the perfect person, Mary Kate Castellani at Bloomsbury. This is a picture of the manuscript next to my contract. Receiving the contract is one of those “oh-my-goodness-this-is-happening” moments. At this point, the deal had already been announced online, but seeing the contract in black-and-white makes it real.

 

IMG_4414AHHHHH! ARCs. This was a big moment. I didn’t taken any pictures during revising and copy editing. They wouldn’t have been pretty. But, please know that a lot goes on between the previous picture and this one (major understatement). After revisions, the manuscript went to copy edits. That day was significant because it meant drafting, for the most part, was over. Changes could still be made, but the story moved from creation into production. I received a blurb from the amazing Margarita Engle, and the cover was revealed. Soon after, these beauties arrived at my house. And AHHHHH! ARCs! Even though I had seen all the pieces–manuscript, blurb, cover art–it was different seeing it all put together in book form.

 

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The ARCs went on tour to other authors debuting in 2015, friends, and family. I also gave a couple away on Goodreads. This was the copy that went to the first winner, Ali. I have signed thousands of things, but this was the first time I signed a copy of my novel. Around this time, the book was listed on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other places and became available for pre-order. Holy wow!

And people were actually reading the book, which, of course, was always the goal, but as ARCs went out and reviews popped up, I became aware that what had once belonged to me–what had only existed in my head and heart–was really out in the world. Here is photographic evidence of actual reading going on.

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image_3Now that ARCs were out in the world, I considered ways to help market the novel. One thing I learned from other authors was that I had to do my part when it came to marketing. I didn’t go overboard with swag. I decided to create a book trailer and print book marks and postcards with a QR code linked to the book trailer.

The book trailer was a fun, family experience. My sister’s dining room table was the work station, with my image_2nephew–a high school freshman–doing all of the real tech work. He’s a genius with computers, so he handled putting it all together. The opening voice belongs is my niece, and I narrate the rest of it, although my voice was altered to be lower and much cooler, in my opinion. Bookmarks have been distributed to teachers, librarians, and bloggers. Postcards went to high schools, public libraries, and independent bookstores in Connecticut, in addition to some libraries and bookstores in other parts of the country. Writers always question “what works,” and I think the answer is different for each of us. Bookmarks worked for me because I’m a teacher and I have lots of teacher friends who asked for 50-100 at a time. I knew they’d get into the hands of teen readers. Also, I have received some positive feedback from the postcards. A few librarians emailed me saying they received the post card, viewed the trailer, and planned to order the book; some even invited me to participate in events. So, in my mind, these three things were worth it.

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While the ARCs were “out there,” the manuscript continued to be worked on through copy editing and then first pass pages, which should be called the 100th pass pages because everyone involved had read the manuscript so many times. First pass pages are cool because the manuscript is typeset, rather than being on regular paper in the standard 12-point Times Roman. After the first pass pages were returned to the publisher, the next time I saw my novel, it was in……..

 

 

 

HARDCOVER!!!

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These came earlier than expected, so I was surprised when I found them on my doorstep. My daughter hugged me and said, “Wow, Mom, they’re beautiful. Congratulations.” I might have gotten a little teary eyed. That day, I donated a copy to my local library and then brought copies to my family. My mom cried when she saw it. My mom doesn’t cry easily. I might have gotten a little teary eyed then, too.

During this last month before publication, I’ve been excited and nervous and, most of all, grateful. Thank you to everyone who has been involved in this process. It takes a village to write and publish a book, and because of everyone who supported me along the way, I saw my novel on a shelf in Barnes & Noble for the first time this past weekend. Wow!

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Available at:

Indiebound Barnes & Noble | Amazon Powell’s Book Depository | Books-A-Million | Target

And please look for it at your local libraries.

My Book Is Available for Pre-Order!!

Holy wow! This is happening! I found out yesterday that my debut novel, When Reason Breaks (Bloomsbury 2/10/2015), is available for pre-order on Amazon.com. The listing isn’t complete yet because the cover art and description need to be finalized, but it’s there and you can order it! Here’s the brief description:

Elizabeth Davis and Emily Delgado seem to have little in common except for Ms. Diaz’s English class and the solace they find in the words of Emily Dickinson, but both are struggling to cope with monumental secrets and tumultuous emotions that will lead one to attempt suicide.

Click here for the longer description. And, look, here’s a screen shot of the Amazon page:

Amazon screen shot

I know I have five sales for sure: my mom and dad bought four and my sister bought one. I’m on a roll!! LOL!

Seriously, I appreciate every single sale, and if you want to wait to borrow it from a local library, that’s cool, too. I’m a big fan and supporter of libraries.

Also, if you’re anti-Amazon because of its fight with Hachette, then you can wait until its available at other outlets.

But, if you are interested in buying my book, then pre-ordering it would be great! I’ve learned that pre-sales greatly influence promotions and a writer’s future career. I’d like a future career. Just saying.

Here is a post by author Natalie Whipple I bookmarked a while ago titled: “5 Easy Things You Can Do to Support Debut Authors.” In the section about pre-orders, she writes this:

Publishers look at pre-order sales. If they are good, on track, or behind expectations. It impacts their view of the book and their likelihood to push the title. Having good pre-orders could help your favorite debut continue their career. Besides, pre-ordering often costs less than buying at a store or after debut.

So…here’s the link: When Reason Breaks on Amazon. Check it out!

 

 

My Book Has Its First Blurb!!!

Things have been a bit quiet on the book front as I await news about the final cover design, first-pass pages, and Advanced Reader Copies. In the meantime, we’ve asked a few people to read the manuscript and, if they like, provide a quote for the cover. The first one has come in and it’s from the amazing Margarita Engle, the first Latino/a to receive a Newbery Honor Award for her young adult novel The Surrender Tree. She is a prolific multiple-award-winning author who has written picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels. I’m thrilled and honored that she read the novel and provided a blurb. Are you ready for it? Here it is:

When Reason Breaks is infused with a rare blend of suspense and sensitivity, despair and hope. The poetic spirit of Emily Dickinson shines through the gloom of daily struggles faced by modern teens, as they discover the possibilities where they dwell.”

Margarita Engle
Newbery Honor-winning author of The Surrender Tree

(YAY! Don’t forget to add When Reason Breaks (Bloomsbury/Winter 2015) to your to-read Goodreads list!)

My Novel in Word Art

This is a quick post to show off my novel in word art form. In the past, I have had my students run projects through Wordle to create a “word cloud.” The actual size of each word in the cloud is based on the number of times it is used. It’s a great way to have students analyze key words and phrases that may have been overlooked during a first read.

I wasn’t surprised by the results for the characters’ names. Emily and Elizabeth are the main characters, and Ms. Diaz, Kevin, Tommy, Sarah, and Abby are supporting characters. I was surprised at how small “Dickinson” was (to the right of Elizabeth) considering Emily Dickinson’s life and poetry heavily influence the story. I also have a thing for body parts, it seems: face, eyes, hands, head. Hmmm.

Anyway, I’m a visual person, so I thought this was fun and cool. Try it! If you do, take a screen shot and share it in the comments.

Wordle

Celebrating Hispanic Authors: Spotlight on Jenny Torres Sanchez

In an effort to celebrate Hispanic authors beyond National Hispanic Heritage month, I plan to read and post about YA novels written by Latino/as. You may also want to check out Latina Book ClubVamos a Leer, and The Hispanic Reader.

And, today’s YA author in the spotlight is: Jenny Torres Sanchez. Enjoy!

AUTHOR: (information comes directly from the author’s website and her author page on Amazon.com.)

Before writing her debut novel, THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE, Jenny Torres Sanchez studied English at the University of Central Florida and taught high school for several years in the Orange County school system. Her students were some of the coolest, funniest, strangest, and most eclectic people she’s ever met. She’s grateful to have taught every single one of them and credits them for inspiring her to write YA. Jenny also writes short stories–many of which rooted in her Hispanic culture. She currently writes full-time and lives in Florida with her husband and children.

In addition to writing, she likes to paint, take pictures, and listen to music. Her taste ranges from The Smiths to Violent Femmes, to the Beastie Boys, to Lila Downs, to a band called Los Tigres del Norte.

YA NOVEL: THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Charlie is handed a crappy senior year. Despite losing thirty pounds over the summer, he still gets called “Chunks” Grisner. What’s worse, he has to share a locker with the biggest Lord of the Rings freak his school has ever seen. He also can’t figure out whether Charlotte VanderKleaton, the beautiful strawberry lip-glossed new girl, likes him the way he likes her. Oh, and then there’s his mom. She’s disappeared–again–and his dad won’t talk about it.

Somewhere between the madness, Charlie can at least find comfort in his one and only talent that just might get him out of this life-sucking place. But will he be able to  hold his head above water in the meantime?

MY TWO CENTS: Charlie is a high school senior who is returning to school after having shed thirty pounds but few of his social insecurities. He has a hip best friend, a crush on the hot new girl (who is not good enough for him, in my opinion), a mom who is mentally unstable,  a distant dad who is having an affair, and a caring photography teacher who helps Charlie develop his talent and find something good about himself. He also has an eating disorder. He binges and purges in an effort to feel better during highly emotional moments. There’s a lot going on in the novel, but Sanchez does a good job of blending the issues and capturing a struggling male teen’s voice. If anything, I wanted more of the bulimia issue. It’s rare to see a male MC in a YA novel with an eating disorder; it’s worth exploring even more.

TEACHING TIPS: English teachers could obviously pursue themes, characterization, and external and internal conflicts, but this novel also has great cross-curricular potential. An art teacher wouldn’t have to read the entire novel with a class, but could pull out and explore the chapters that deal with Charlie’s photography and how it helps him to address what’s going on in his life. Students could create a similar photography project. Also, health teachers could use parts of the novel to address eating disorders, bulimia in this case. Mixing non-fiction with fiction is a good way to engage students in such topics and fits right into the Common Core State Standards.

LEXILE: N/A

LINKS for more information: Find THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE on Amazon.comBarnes and Noble.comIndieBound.org,  and Goodreads.

Jenny Torres Sanchez also has a new novel being released soon, on May 28, 2013, called DEATH, DICKINSON, AND THE DEMENTED LIFE OF FRENCHIE GARCIA. I’ll be sure to check this one out!

Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia

A Thunderous Whisper Blog Tour and Q&A with author Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Today’s spotlight is on: Christina Diaz Gonzalez, author of THE RED UMBRELLA and the recently released A THUNDEROUS WHISPER. I’m excited to say that I’m part of the novel’s blog tour! Christina Diaz Gonzalez was also kind enough to answer a few questions below about her new book and her writing process, among other things. Enjoy!

AUTHOR: (information comes directly from the author’s website at www.christinagonzalez.com)

A daughter of Cuban parents, Christina Diaz Gonzalez studied accounting at the University of Miami and law at Florida State University College of Law. After practicing law for several years, she realized her passion was writing. She is the author of the award-winning and best-selling children’s novel, THE RED UMBRELLA. Ms. Gonzalez’s debut novel (the story of a 14-year-old Cuban girl who is sent to the U.S. in 1961 as part of Operation Pedro Pan) showcases the generosity of the American spirit and highlights the pain of losing one’s homeland. Reviewers from publications such as The Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal have praised the book as being exceptional, compelling and inspirational. Her second novel, A THUNDEROUS WHISPER, was just released.

MG/YA NOVEL: A THUNDEROUS WHISPER

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKETAni is just an insignificant whisper of a girl in a loud world. At least that’s what her mother tells her. Her father made her feel important, but he’s off fighting in Spain’s Civil War, and his voice in her head is fading.

Then Ani meets Mathias. His family recently moved to Guernica, and he’s as far from a whisper as a boy can be. Ani thinks Mathias is like lightning. And his father is part of a spy network. Soon Ani finds herself helping Mathias deliver messages to other family members of the underground resistance. For the first time, she’s actually making a difference in the world.

But then her world explodes. The sleepy little market town of Guernica is bombed by Nazi airplanes. In one afternoon, Ani loses everything. But in helping the other survivors, Ani gains a sense of her own strength. And she and Mathias make plans to fight back in their own unique way.

Q&A with the author:

Q:  In teacher training, I learned “you can’t cover everything” in a novel. I’d have to let the novel reveal the few most important things that should be explored in-depth in class. Pretend you are a teacher about to start A THUNDEROUS WHISPER with her class. What are the few important things you would be compelled to explore?

Gonzalez: As a teacher, I would love to have the class compare and contrast the characters of Ani and Mathias. See how each character evolves and discuss what experiences (prior to meeting each other) could have led them to be similar and/or different? Finally, at the end of the novel, I’d like students to think about themselves and whether they see themselves more like Ani (thunder) or Mathias (lightning).

Q: As a writer, I’m always interested to hear about how other writers attack a project. Can you talk about your process? Do you do the bulk of your research first, or do you draft and research at the same time? How long does a novel take you, usually, from start to finish? Favorite writing spots or rituals? Anything you would like to share.

Gonzalez: I do the bulk of my research at the beginning and then return to the research process only to add extra layers or to clear up questions that have been raised during the writing process.  I love to write at a local Starbucks with another author friend of mine  (it’s like having a gym partner because even when you feel like playing hookie, you still have to show up because someone is waiting for you — it’s great for keeping you on track). While at Starbucks, I have my favorite writing chair and I’m always ordering a hot chocolate– even in the middle of summer!

Q: You have written two historical novels. Do you think you will continue in this genre, or do you plan to try other areas, such as contemporary?

Gonzalez: I definitely plan on writing some contemporary and possibly some science fiction/fantasy.

Q: Along the same lines, you have written about historical moments in Cuba and Spain. There has been a lot of commentary about diversity in MG and YA literature (the lack of, the need for). Do you think you will continue to write about Latin issues? If so, why is this important to you?

Gonzalez: I write about stories/characters that capture my imagination … regardless of what race or ethnicity is involved.  However, I definitely see a need for diversity in MG/YA fiction and would love to continue to write about strong Latin characters. Children of all races/ethnicities should be able to see characters like themselves in the stories they read!

MY TWO CENTS: Often, I’ll read historical fiction with some knowledge of the era or event, but in this case, I didn’t know anything about the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War and what happened to the thousands of orphaned children after the attack. How wonderful to have learned some history while reading about Ani and Mathias, two easily likable characters who are loners for different reasons. Mathias’s family often moves, and Ani is teased for being the sardine seller’s daughter. They become fast friends who share joyous moments and unbelievable heartache. One criticism I have is about Ani’s response to her mother’s abuse. Her character wasn’t one to fight back, and the story wasn’t about abuse, but I felt her overall reaction was too tame and matter-of-fact. Overall, though, A THUNDEROUS WHISPER is an easy, interesting read that could easily fit into middle school history or language arts classrooms.

TEACHING TIPSGonzalez offers some teaching tips in the Q&A above. In addition, the novel is a good fit for a history-language arts interdisciplinary unit about Spain and the early days of World War II. Mathias plans to return to Germany, and he mentions the anti-Jewish laws already in place. If students were to study WWII after reading this novel, the teacher could always have them predict what would be happening to Mathias. The character development of both Ani and Mathias are worth pursuing, as well as the themes of the cost of war, starting over, and finding one’s purpose.

LEXILE: Not available

LINKS for more information:

Find A THUNDEROUS WHISPER on Amazon.comBarnes and Noble.comIndieBound.org,  and Goodreads.

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