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Three New Books Celebrate Hispanic Americans!

Share September is Hispanic American Heritage Month, so this week Education World looks at a handful of new books that examine the warmth and history of the Hispanic culture. If you want to add to your library a new picture book (or two or three) or a wonderful new Hispanic history reference book perfect for middle-level students, you'll find something here of interest. Included: New books from illustrator Tomie dePaola and from the New York Public Library's Amazing History series!

Amazing Hispanic American History Book Cover Who was Che Guevara? Which Spanish explorer discovered the Mississippi River? Why do so many California towns have Spanish names? What's the difference between a taco and an enchilada? Why do so many Cuban exiles hate Fidel Castro?

Those are just a handful of more than 400 questions George Ochoa answers in The New York Public Library Amazing Hispanic American History (John Wiley & Sons). From Columbus to Castro, maracas to the macarena, this handy reference work is easy and entertaining reading. The question-and-answer format caters to middle schoolers' abbreviated attention spans and to easy browsing.

Separate chapters in Amazing Hispanic American History examine the contributions of Hispanic cultures rooted in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Spain and countries in Central America and South America. Students will learn about the history that ties those countries together and about the differences between them. Do your students want to know which culture bred baseball great Roberto Clemente? No problem -- the index will lead readers to the information they desire. Frequent sidebars offer background information to help focus readers on important concepts and events.

The pages of Amazing Hispanic American History are peppered with illustrations and black-and-white photos that capture the most important events, places, and faces. Ochoa includes a glossary of terms, a bibliography (including some Web sites), and the New York Public Library's Recommended Reading List.

A wise teacher will see the amazing opportunities presented by Amazing Hispanic American History. Teachers might ask students to choose a question of interest and challenge them to research that question more deeply.

If you're looking for depth and detail, Amazing Hispanic American History might not suit. If you want to interest middle schoolers in learning more about the contributions of Hispanic Americans, however, you'll find few better places to start!

Erandi's Braids Book Cover


Antonio Hernandez Miguel and Tomie dePaola (Eagle and the Rainbow: Timeless Stories of Mexico) have teamed up again to create a new picture book-- Erandi's Braids (G. P. Putnam's Sons).

Set in the hills of Mexico in the 1950s (in the Tarascan Indian village of Patzcuaro), Erandi's Braids is a folktale in the same vein as O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi."

Miguel draws upon the history of the area. For many years, buyers traveled from village to village, paying poor Tarascan women for their long braids, which were used to make wigs, false eyelashes, and embroidery.

Erandi, the young girl who tells this story, is excited. Tomorrow is her birthday, and Mama has promised her a present. Tomorrow brings unexpected worries, however.

When they arrived at the lake, women and men from the village were already fishing. Erandi's mama unfolded their net. "Look, Erandi, more holes. I won't be able to repair it any more. We need a new net so badly."

Erandi knows that the hair buyers have come up from the city to buy the beautiful, thick, black braids of the village women. Is Mama going to sell her braids? Erandi wonders as the two stand in the long line at the barbershop. Erandi's fear turns to relief when Mama takes a seat in the barber chair. The barber won't cut Mama's hair because it's too short, but Erandi's hair would bring good money. Mama refuses sacrifice her daughter's hair. Erandi steps in, however, and insists that the barber cut her hair.

The theme of sacrifices people make for the ones they love is universal. Set in a unique place and time, the message comes to life in a new way. Tomie dePaola's warm illustrations, which capture the architecture and muted colors of the culture, help bring the theme to life. DePaola's illustrations transform this story from a didactic lesson to a picture book worth reading.

Teachers might follow up by talking about the lesson in the book and asking students to tell of a time when they, a parent, or another loved one made a sacrifice for somebody else. Those stories -- written by students -- would make a book worth reading too!


At home, Estelita and her family speak nothing but Spanish. Estelita knows that her Mexican heritage sets her apart from the rest of the children in her school, where she is known as Stella.

Sometimes Stella wishes that her mother would be different.

The Rainbow Tulip Book Cover
My mother is not like the other mothers. Our neighbors all speak English. They do not speak Spanish like my mother. She does not wear makeup. Her hair is tied in a bun and her dresses are long. My mother does not wear colors that sing and dance. My mother likes to wear black, brown, gray, sometimes light blue. My mother is quiet like her colors.

Sometimes, however, being different can be exciting. When the time for the school May Day celebration comes, Stella wants her costume to be all the colors of the rainbow. Tia Carmen creates a multi-colored tulip costume that will make Stella stand out in the crowd.

At home, after the celebration, Stella admits to her mother, "I liked being the only rainbow tulip, Mama, but it was hard too." "It's hard to be different," her mother admits, to which Stella responds, "Mama, tell me again about our family...."

Between 1880 and the Great Depression, almost 1 million Mexicans entered the United States, author Pat Mora explains in a prologue to The Rainbow Tulip. Among those Mexicans were Mora's grandparents, who moved to El Paso, Texas, during the Mexican Revolution of 1910. "Tell me again about the May parade," Mora begged her mother when her mother was in her '70s. Mora turned on the tape recorder and recorded her mother's telling of the story of the rainbow tulip.

"What pleasure I've had writing a family memoir, listening to the lives of my relatives, to their bilingual voices, their lessons, their songs, their humor," said Mora. "What about you? Have you made a family tree, discovered the treasure of stories that is your family?"

What a perfect jumping-off point for a class project. Why not pull together a batch of students' family stories to create a special bulletin board for open house?


Did you miss last week's Education World review of another new children's book, La Mariposa (the butterfly)? Read a review in last week's story, Butterfly Tales: New Picture Books Explore the Magic of the Life Cycle.

The books above are available in bookstores. If your local bookstore doesn't have the book you want, ask your bookseller to order it for you or contact the publisher:

  • The New York Public Library Amazing Hispanic American History, written by George Ochoa, is published by John Wiley & Sons Publishers, 605 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10158-0012.
  • Erandi's Braids, written by Antonio Hernandez Miguel and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, is published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.
  • The Rainbow Tulip, written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Elizabeth Sayles, is published by Viking, a member of the Penguin Group, 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.
  • Article by Gary Hopkins
    Education World® Editor-in-Chief
    Copyright © 1999 Education World

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