Tag Archives: reading

National Hispanic Heritage Month: Spotlight on Gary Soto

To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, I am highlighting an Hispanic author of young adult literature each week. At the end of the month, I will post a list of titles for those of you interested in reading YA novels written by Hispanic authors. I will continue to
chip away at the long list and post about them during the year because–hey, Hispanics should be celebrated year round! :.)

Here’s a link with more information about National Hispanic Heritage Month:


And here’s a link for Latina Book Club, a site by Maria Ferrer dedicated to promoting Hispanic authors and literacy.


And, today’s YA author in the spotlight is GARY SOTO. Enjoy!

AUTHOR: (information comes from the author’s website www.garysoto.com): Gary Soto, born April 12, 1952, was raised in Fresno, California. His poetry collection for adults, New and Selected Poems, was a 1995 finalist for both the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the National Book Award. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1997, because of his advocacy for reading, he was featured as NBC’s Person-of-the-Week. In 1999, he received the Literature Award from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, the Author-Illustrator Civil Rights Award from the National Education Association, and the PEN Center West Book Award for Petty Crimes. A prolific writer, Soto has authored picture books, middle grade novels, short stories, poetry for younger readers, YA novels, and books for adults and high school students. Other titles include: ACCIDENTAL LOVE, THE AFTERLIFE, TAKING SIDES, and BASEBALL IN APRIL AND OTHER STORIES.


Buried Onions

FROM THE BOOK JACKET: All of my life everyone was pulling away from me—Father, my mom, Jesús, school friends, and homies who disappeared in three lines of the obituary column. I could have cried under the heat of Fresno, but it wouldn’t have mattered. My tears would have evaporated before anyone saw my sadness.

Fresno, California, is such a sorrowful place that nineteen-year-old Eddie imagines there must be onions buried underground, their vapors drawing tears from the residents above. Eddie is trying hard to stay out of trouble and make a decent living, but he’s not finding it easy—especially with his aunt urging him to avenge his cousin’s murder. Will Eddie get caught up in the violence he despises? Or can he escape this land of buried onions?

An ALA Best Book for Young Adults

An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age

MY TWO CENTS: Soto’s talent as a poet with a keen eye for detail and skill for beautiful description is always evident. The buried onion image runs throughout the novel, as Eddie navigates life in a community plagued by gang violence and few real options for a brighter future. Soto writes: “For me, there wasn’t much to do except eat and sleep, watch out for drive-bys, and pace myself through life. I had dropped out of City College, where I was taking classes in air-conditioning. I quit not long after my cousin, mi primo, Jesús got killed.” Eddie struggles to work honestly and ultimately has to decide whether to stay in Fresno or get out by joining the military. While this is a sad tale on many levels, there is hope in Eddie, who refuses to give in or give up.

LINKS for more information:

Find BURIED ONIONS on Amazon.com and Goodreads.


National Hispanic Heritage Month: Spotlight on Caridad Ferrer

To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, I am highlighting an Hispanic author of young adult literature each week. At the end of the month, I will post a list of titles for those of you interested in reading YA novels written by Hispanic authors. I will continue to
chip away at the long list and post about them during the year because–hey, Hispanics should be celebrated year round! :.)

Here’s a link with more information about National Hispanic Heritage Month:


And here’s a link for Latina Book Club, a site by Maria Ferrer dedicated to promoting Hispanic authors and literacy.


And, today’s YA author in the spotlight is CARIDAD FERRER. Enjoy!

AUTHOR: (this information is from the author’s website www.caridadferrer.com and her author page on amazon.com) Barbara Caridad Ferrer is a first generation, bilingual Cuban-American, born in Manhattan and raised in Miami. Her young adult debut, ADÍOS TO MY OLD LIFE won the Romance Writers of America’s 2007 RITA for Best Contemporary Single Title Romance. It was also named to ALA’s 2009 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults list. Publisher’s Weekly said this about her second YA novel, IT’S NOT ABOUT THE ACCENT: “…this twisting book amply rewards readers.” She has also contributed to the anthology FIFTEEN CANDLES: 15 TALES OF TAFFETA, HAIRSPRAY, DRUNK UNCLES, AND OTHER QUINCEAÑERA STORIES and is a regular contributor to Romancing the Blog (www.romancingtheblog.com).

YA NOVEL: WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE, a contemporary retelling of Bizet’s CARMEN.

When the Stars Go Blue: A Novel

FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Dance is Soledad Reyes’s life. About to graduate from Miami’s Biscayne High School for the Performing Arts, she plans on spending her last summer at home teaching in dance studio, saving money, and eventually auditioning for dance companies. That is, until fate intervenes in the form of a fellow student Jonathan Crandall, who has what sounds like an outrageous proposition: Forget teaching. Instead, why not spend the summer performing in the intense environment of the competitive drum and bugle corps? The corps is going to be performing Carmen, and the opportunity to portray the character of the sultry gypsy proves too tempting for Soledad to pass up, as well as the opportunity to spend more time with Jonathan, who intrigues her in a way no boy ever has.

But in an uncanny echo of the story they perform every evening, an unexpected competitor for Soledad’s affections appears. One explosive encounter later, Soledad finds not only her relationship with Jonathan threatened but her entire future as a professional dancer in jeopardy.

MY TWO CENTS: While reading this, I could easily see how Ferrer won a Romance Writer’s award. The relationship between Soledad and Jonathan is hot, hot, hot. The romance grows complicated when another cutie, Taz, enters the story and Jonathan becomes increasingly jealous and possessive of Soledad. The story’s tragic turn leaves Soledad’s heart and body broken, but rest assured, the ending is happy and oh so sweet. Ferrer’s writing also shows some love for Miami, music, dance, and drum and bugle corps, with rich descriptions of each throughout the novel.

LINKS for more information:

Find WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE on Amazon.com and Goodreads.


National Hispanic Heritage Month: Spotlight on Victor Martinez

Today marks the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15-October 15. To celebrate, I set up a book display in my classroom and invited my colleagues to read an Hispanic author this month. So far, no takers, but my school librarian did vow to order more books my Hispanic authors, which was great.

I also plan to highlight Hispanic authors of young adult literature. The list to choose from was long and my time to read is always limited. I didn’t get to as many as I had hoped, but at the end of the month, I will post a list of titles for those of you interested in reading YA novels written by Hispanic authors. I will continue to chip away at the long list and post about them during the year because–hey, Hispanics should be celebrated year round! :.)

Here’s a link with more information about National Hispanic Heritage Month:


And here’s a link for Latina Book Club, a site by Maria Ferrer dedicated to promoting Hispanic authors and literacy.


And, today’s YA author in the spotlight is VICTOR MARTINEZ. Enjoy!

AUTHOR: (Most of this information came from the HarperCollins website) Victor Martinez, a Mexican-American poet and author, was born and raised in Fresno, California, the fourth in a family of twelve children. He attended California State University at Fresno and Stanford University, and has worked as a field laborer, welder, truck driver, firefighter, teacher, and office clerk. His poems, short stories, and essays have appeared in journals and anthologies. A week before he was nominated for the National Book Award, he read his poetry in public. Six people showed up. Three were his friends. After he won, he was interviewed by national media and his novel made its way into high school curriculums. The $10,000 prize was more than he had made the previous year. Martinez died on Feb. 18, 2011 a few days before his 57th birthday.


Parrot in the Oven: Mi vidaThis was Martinez’s debut novel and only YA title. He won the 1996 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Pura Belpre´Award. The novel was also listed on the Boston Globe-Horn Book Fanfare Honor List and Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of 1996.

FROM THE BOOK JACKET: “Dad believed people were like money. You could be a thousand-dollar person or a hundred-dollar person–even a ten-, five-, or one-dollar person. Below that, everybody was just nickels and dimes. To my dad, we were pennies.”

Fourteen-year-old Manny Hernandez wants to be more than just a penny. He wants to be a vato firme, the kind of guy people respect. But that’s not easy when your father is abusive, your brother can’t hold a job, and your mother scrubs the house as if she can wash her troubles away. In Manny’s neighborhood, the way to get respect is to be in a gang. But Manny’s not sure that joining a gang is the solution. Because, after all, it’s his life–and he wants to be the one to decide what happens to it.

MY TWO CENTS: Martinez’s novel is written as a series of related vignettes, rather than in a traditional narrative arc, and his talent as a poet often shines through. Here’s an example:

When I neared the pharmacy, the sun was knifing a big blue hand through the ghosts of fog, sweeping them away like cobwebs. The maple trees on that street were dreary and weeping moisture, their stripped bark dusted with a glassy talcum of mist. But that, too, was melting. And when the wind came, little sneezes of drizzle sprayed my face.”

The novel’s format and style received some criticism from readers on Goodreads, but I liked both aspects. Manny’s voice is consistently poetic, so I accepted these beautifully written passages as part of the main character’s thought process, even though he is only 14. At times, while reading YA novels, I stop and think, “No teen-ager I know has ever used that word or would ever say that.” But in this case, I didn’t question the narrator’s observations. The writing pulled me in; I believed it was Manny’s voice. As for the vignettes, they were related and chronological for those needing to connect the plot’s dots.

LINKS for more information:

Find PARROT IN THE OVEN: MI VIDA on Amazon.com and Goodreads.





Writing In Someone Else’s Shoes

Like countless others, I read THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett. I listened to the audiobook, actually, because I spend more time in my car than curled up on the couch with a book. I have not seen the movie, yet, but I know that it’s been selling out theaters. At the same time, it’s been getting serious criticism. I’m fine with the critics who want to blast Stockett’s style or how the book or movie failed in their eyes. What’s bothersome to me, though, is when people refuse to read the book or see the movie because Stockett is a white author who created black characters.

Something similar happens on Goodreads and Amazon, where people give one-star reviews and rail against the book, and then somewhere in the review, the writer makes it obvious that he hasn’t actually read the book or did not finish reading the book. The reviewer, then, really has a problem with the author or the subject matter.

We all have personal preferences. My mother hates science fiction and vampires, other than Edward, of course. My dad, on the other hand, loves sci-fi, and hates watching Oscar-nominated drama. So be it. But, when people make decisions based on an author’s race or another identifying factor, I find it harder to accept.

Beyond THE HELP, this issue interests me because writing outside of one’s race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc. has been addressed in several of the blogs I read about writing and YA fiction. The general consensus on these blogs has been, yes, of course you can write outside your own identity with authenticity as long as you do your homework and be respectful. I agree, and there were lots of examples of authors who have done this successfully.

To complement these posts, other blogs have lamented the fact that the characters in YA fiction are overwhelmingly white. One cool blog actually analyzed the covers of books and found that most were graced by beautiful white girls. Again, the comments were that writers should include more characters of color with diverse backgrounds and experiences. At the same time, I have read blogs that call for more writers of color to be published. This could help to increase the number of diverse characters in fiction.

In general, they are all collectively saying: the publishing world needs more diverse characters from all authors.

And yet, there’s the Stockett controversy. From a review by Alynda Wheat: “I have friends who refuse to see The Help (or read Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 bestseller of the same name)…What galls many of us black folks is that Stockett is white, writing in the voices of black women.” Ms. Wheat, for the record, liked the movie.

So, on the one hand, I’m reading blogs that say, yes, we love diversity, go for it, even if you are not of that group. On the other hand, we have people basically saying, “Don’t you dare.” To make matters more complex, even writers of color have been criticized for portraying stereotypes within their own cultures.

Ultimately, I am curious about these issues because in my work in progress, the main character is a boy, his best friend is a Puerto Rican girl, his spirit guide is Native American, and another character is black. As I’m writing, I’m finding that my teens act and speak similarly, because my experience as a teacher is that most teens act and speak similarly. Some moments will be influenced by their gender, religion, or race, but so far I’m discovering that my writing is not about “being X, Y, or Z.” My characters are people who happen to be those things. Yes, they are defined in certain ways by their races, religions, ethnicities, or sexual identities, but these are not the central issues.

I’m not intentionally shying away from these issues. My WIP just isn’t developing in a way that requires me to go there. Maybe someday I will. Maybe I’ll be driven to write about my family or being Latina. Maybe I’ll dare to write deeply about another group. If anything, the success and criticism that has showered Stockett proves that writing about race, and especially in someone else’s shoes, es muy complicado, even in 2011.

Thank You Patrick Carman

This past school year, I walked into a teaching position that’s relatively new for the high school. Because of this, the program and its curriculum are still developing. While this can be interesting and exciting  for a teacher, it can also be a little nerve-wracking. After all, my students were showing up every day expecting me to, well you know, have a plan. So, being the veteran teacher that I am, I figured, this is a reading class, let’s read. Brilliant, I know. But what to read? That was the big question.

I decided to let my students have a say, and after a full period of previewing books, they decided on SKELETON CREEK by Patrick Carman, a creepy ghost-story mystery that requires the reader to go online every few chapters to watch a video that complements the written story. For those of you old-school types who like to sit on the couch and read, sorry, you really do have to see the videos to understand the story. So, you’ll have to read on the couch with your smartphone nearby.

The video aspect of the story hooked my students from the start. It was different for them to see a book with a video component, and some of the videos were yell-and-jump scary, so they were sold.

Before I knew it, my students wanted to read. This is a big deal because all of my students are struggling and/or reluctant readers. They do not like to read. They do not read, unless they have to, and even then, they might not. Yet, once we started SKELETON CREEK, they often asked, “Are we going to read today?” as soon as they walked through the door. If we had something else to do first, like practice finding the main idea in a nonfiction passage, they would groan. When we did read, they flipped through the pages to see how far we needed to go until we reached the next video. I’ll admit, this bothered me a little at first, thinking they were only interested in the videos. But, we weren’t skipping anything to get there, so each video was like a carrot leading them through the words.

And when we finished the first book, guess what?

They wanted to read the next one.

Yes, I’m repeating it: They wanted to read the next one!

Did I mention my students don’t like to read? Well, these same non-readers often asked me, “Can’t we just read the entire period?” Ah, sweet music to my ears.

And when we finished the second one, GHOST IN THE MACHINE, guess what? They wanted to read the third one, THE CROSSBONES, and then the fourth one, THE RAVEN, which I had to pre-order to make sure we got it and were able to read it before school ended.

For many of my students, reading has never been fun. This past year, they wanted to read. They enjoyed it. They looked forward to it.

And for that, I thank you, Patrick Carman.

Books I Bought to Save Publishing

Yesterday, I posted about the “Buy the Book: 24 Hours to Save Publishing” experiment planned by author Sean Cummings as part of his online campaign called “Save Publishing–Read a Book at Bedtime.” The overall premise is simple: to save publishing, buy books and read daily. He encourages people to set aside 10 minutes for reading before bed. He established a Facebook page and website, and as of today, he has more than 1,000 fans.

On Monday, he encouraged people to buy a book and post what they bought to build some enthusiasm about books and reaidng. On the Facebook website, 282 people said they would “attend” the event. I was among them. I promised to stop myself at five because, well, things can get out of control when it comes to me and books, shoes, or chocolate. Here are the books I ordered today:

WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson (one of my all-time favorite YA authors)
From Amazon: “Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in fragile bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the thinnest. But then Cassie suffers the ultimate loss-her life-and Lia is left behind, haunted by her friend’s memory and racked with guilt for not being able to help save her.”

IF I STAY and pre-ordered WHERE SHE WENT by Gayle Forman. I listened to the IF I STAY audiobook. It was great. I think one of my students in particular would love it, so I bought it with her in mind. The sequel has already gotten great reviews.
From Amazon: “In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen ­year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces- to figure out what she has lost, what she has left, and the very difficult choice she must make.”

If I StayWhere She Went
THE LIAR SOCIETY by Lisa Roecker and Laura Roecker (debut authors)
From Amazon: “Secret societies dominate a posh co-educational private school in this suspenseful, possibly supernatural mystery.”
The Liar Society
XVI by Julia Karr (a debut author)
From Amazon: “In 2150 Chicago, girls are walking billboards. Upon turning 16, they receive government-issued tattoos on their wrists that read “XVI.” They’re supposed to keep the girls safe, but in reality, the tattoos broadcast their brand-new sexual availability.”
I can’t wait to get my new books! Did you participate? Don’t forget to post on the Facebook page. I’d also love to hear what you bought!

Buy a Book on Monday

Not long ago, author Sean Cummings started an online campaign called “Save Publishing–Read a Book at Bedtime.” The premise is simple: to save publishing, buy books and read daily. He encourages people to set aside 10 minutes for reading before bed. He established a Facebook page and website, and as of today, he has more than 1,000 fans.

He is pushing his experiment by asking people to buy a book on Monday, March 7, 2011. If you participate, he wants you to “post the title of the book you bought to our wall and tell us who you bought it for! Post a picture of it. Post a video of you reading from it! Whatever you want, the sky’s the limit.” He also suggests that you buy from a local, independent bookseller to keep them in business, and to post the cost of the book to show how much money was spent by participants in a day.

I know money is tight for many of us, but if you have the time and a little extra cash, consider buying a print or digital book on Monday to support the reader in your life, not to mention writers, aspiring writers (like yours truly), artists, agents, editors, booksellers, and everyone else involved in the publishing business.

For me, the problem is going to be buying only one. OK, maybe I will buy a couple…after five, I will have to stop myself…maybe…

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