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Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from September 15 through October 15. This month provides the perfect opportunity to examine books that celebrate the richness, uniqueness, and diversity of Hispanic culture.

Today, Education World examines four books that delve into Hispanic history and culture. Whether you are looking for fiction for middle schoolers, a picture book for young readers, or a nonfiction text, one of today's books is sure to fit the bill!



Book Cover Image It is New Year's Day, and young Carmen Teresa's family prepares to host a festive celebration for friends and relatives. As Carmen Teresa is happily engaged in one of her favorite activities-- helping prepare the scrumptious feast-- neighbor Doa Josefa gives her a holiday gift: a pretty book filled with blank pages. After the meal begins, everyone comes up with ideas on how to use the book. Mam suggests that it be filled with stories inspired by the childhood remembrances of the guests.

So begins Salsa Stories (Scholastic Press), written and illustrated by Lulu Delacre. In the seven chapters that follow, the adults-- who hail from Guatemala, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Mexico, and Peru-- share their stories.

Young readers from fourth grade through middle school will appreciate the familial warmth, gentle humor, and sense of cultural tradition portrayed in these tales. Most of the stories take place during a holiday or some other celebration-- Holy Week, the Night of San Juan, Palm Sunday, or a birthday party, for example-- and highlight some moral or lesson. Delacre is skillful at unobtrusively integrating the moral into the fabric of the story.

In addition to ideas of family, piety, and culture, one other common theme runs throughout all the memories-- food. Carmen Teresa loves helping Mam prepare the arroz con pollo (chicken with rice). Her abuelita (grandmother) recounts enjoying a friend's grandmother's surrullitos de maz (corn fritters) while growing up in Puerto Rico. Doa Josefa's story concerns the origin of turrn de Doa Pepa, a nougat candy named for a devout 18th-century Peruvian woman. In the end, Carmen Teresa decides that, rather than documenting the stories, she will record the recipes for the ethnic dishes instead. This sets the stage for the final chapter, which contains complete recipes for all the delicious sounding foods.

Salsa Stories can work well in a classroom on many levels. The individual stories can serve as wonderful illustrations of the richness and diversity of Hispanic life. The lessons about family, trustworthiness, and friendship can be used as springboards for further discussion about character. Finally, the recipes can be re-created-- although most would require at least some adult supervision-- for a different and delicious lesson in cultural diversity.



Book Cover Image In Mexico, everybody loves the typical mariachis, who stroll the streets wearing their wide-brimmed sombreros, singing songs of love and adventure. Mariachis play requintos and bass violins, guitarrones and mandolinas. And they play guitars. ... But there's more than mariachi music in Mexico.

In the delightful new picture book Made in Mexico (National Geographic Society), the brother-sister team of author Peter Laufer and illustrator Susan L. Roth introduces young readers to the Mexican village of Paracho-- and the rest of Mexico.

In Paracho, guitars are everywhere. In large factories and small workshops, workers painstakingly make guitars by hand. Each guitar takes a month or longer to complete. Shops where guitars are sold line the streets. A festival where guitarists flock from all over the world to perform is held there each summer. In fact, Paracho owes its higher-than-average quality of life to guitar making.

Laufer simply but effectively contrasts the comfortable living conditions of residents of Paracho with those of some of the poorer sections of Mexico. He describes the U.S.-Mexican border, relating how vacationers flock to Mexico:


These norteamericanos find fun and sun. And they find poverty and desperation.

Immediately south of the border, little children-- with dirty faces and ragged clothing-- push at the tourists, begging, trying to sell chewing gum or cheap trinkets. There's garbage in the streets; the buildings need paint. Mexico is a poor country compared with its northern neighbor.

There's more than mariachi music in Mexico.

Young readers are exposed to some sophisticated issues: the low standard of living of Mexican poor people, the importance of industry in the economic life of a town, and the degree to which perception and opinions determine the price of goods in the marketplace.

Laufer's text is written in English but includes occasional words, idioms, and sentences in Spanish. For example, the often-repeated phrase, "there's more than mariachi music in Mexico" is occasionally written in Spanish, hay ms que msica de mariachis en Mxico. The repetition helps young readers easily understand the phrase.

A glossary of the Spanish words used in the book appears at the back. An author's note relates Laufer's interest in, and subsequent visit to, Paracho with his son, a guitarist and the owner of a Paracho guitar.

The charm of this book is greatly enhanced by Roth's mixed media pictures. The brightly hued collages utilize cut paper, photographs, ribbons, string, confetti, souvenirs, shopping bags, tablecloths, and even real wood shavings left over from the manufacture of Paracho guitars!

Because the book covers so much ground in an easy-to-read manner, Made in Mexico is an excellent addition to any elementary school classroom.



Book Cover Image

A few miles north of Quito, Ecuador's capital, stands the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) monument. It is a 98-foot (30 meter)-high block of stone, topped by a metal globe. On the ground in front of it, a 4-inch (10-centimeter)-wide strip of white pebbles marks the imaginary line of the Earth's equator. Straddle the line, and you are standing in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres at the same time.

Ecuador: Enchantment of the World (Children's Press), by Marion Morrison, is aimed at students ages 9 through 12. Among the topics covered are geography, climate, plants, animals, history, government, economy, inhabitants, language, religion, culture, the arts, and daily life.

The text is clearly written and easy to follow. A generous number of photographs, both black-and-white and color, help the reader visualize the land and its people. An index and a listing of references, which includes Web sites as well as books, are quite handy, as is a historical time line that compares Ecuadorian history to world history.



Book Cover Image Rookie Read-About Geography: Mexico (Children's Press), written by David F. Marx, is part of a series for children ages four through eight. This 32-page book introduces students to Mexico. With one or two sentences per page in large print and large, full-color photographs, the book is easy to read and visually interesting.

Obviously, a book so brief cannot cover a subject in depth, nor should it attempt to. The reader is told that Mexico is a "beautiful land of beaches, volcanoes, and deserts," that its inhabitants are called "Mexicans" and they speak the Spanish language, and that the country borders the United States, Guatemala, Belize, and El Salvador. Agricultural products, common occupations, and some very general cultural information are also shared.

With a brief glossary and an index, Rookie Read-About Geography: Mexico not only provides the youngest readers with some basic information about Mexico but also introduces them to social science concepts they will be exposed to throughout the years ahead.

The books highlighted this week are available in most bookstores. If you are unable to locate the book, ask your bookseller to order it for you or contact the publisher directly:

  • Salsa Stories, written by Lulu Delacre, is published by Scholastic Press, a division of Scholastic Inc. Call 1-800-SCHOLASTIC.
  • Made in Mexico, written by Peter Laufer and illustrated by Susan L. Roth, is published by National Geographic Society, 1145 17th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20036.
  • Ecuador: Enchantment of the World, written by Marion Morrison, is published by Children's Press, a division of Grolier Publishing Co., Inc., Sherman Turnpike, Danbury, CT 06816.
  • Read-About Geography: Mexico, written by David F. Marx, is published by Children's Press, a division of Grolier Publishing Co., Inc., Sherman Turnpike, Danbury, CT 06816.


Lauren P. Gattilia
Education World®
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