By Violet Henderson and Mary Fahrenbruck, New Mexico State University
Mary and Violet continue to provide their takes on the 2019 Pura Belpré award winners and honor books. This week, they look at They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems by David Bowles. The book won the Pura Belpré Honor Award for Authors for 2019.
Violet: Written in free verse, Bowles introduces us to 12-year-old Güero. A nickname he’s had since he was “a little squirt” due to his fair skin and red hair. Güero is a burgeoning poet who provides us with snapshots of his lived experience in the Southwest Borderlands. Bowles’ descriptions reveal the complexities of the border, which illustrate the cultivation of identity, language and culture that are interwoven throughout the pages. The poems deliver insight into Güero’s complex life and the challenges an adolescent, middle school boy faces.
Having been born and raised in the Southwest Borderlands, there is so much to which I can relate while transacting with this book. Many of my own lived experiences as a border native reflected Güero’s descriptions, such as the idiosyncrasies of family and community traditions. Even the nickname Güero brings back memories of the many Güeros I knew in my day.
MARY: I think many people who were born and raised in the Borderlands will connect with much of this book. I’ll give praise to Bowles for writing about personable topics, ones that provides a mirror for many adolescents in the Borderlands. However, I must say that I am disappointed with the parade of underdeveloped events in the story. First, I met Güero and his family. Then I read about Güero’s friends, his school and teachers and the kid who bullies Güero. At the end, I found myself at a Quinceañera, which felt like an add-on to the already choppy story line. I am left feeling like I had only skimmed the surface of Güero’s complex life.
Violet: I can understand your point in the development of the events. Though there is this richness in the details that poured through the stories to which I strongly connect. For example, the CD that Güero’s dad slips into the car stereo. I grew up listening to that band and that exact song. On the surface, the song can be viewed as a love song but has deeper undertones that are symbolic to the immigrant experience. This particular band is known for themes that center on issues of social justice. Another detail was Güero’s response to the bullies and the teasing chant he used. It makes me chuckle out loud. Then there was the fear of this supernatural threat that parents use to keep their kids from stealing. I have not thought about these experiences in years. As I read, a flood of memories wash through that transport me back to a place and time when I lived through these instances.
Mary: Your take, Violet, makes me wonder if I missed the rich details because I did not grow up along the border. I also wonder if I missed the rich details because I am an adult. I wonder what young readers living in the Borderlands and beyond would say about They Call Me Güero. Violet and I invite WOW readers, young and young at heart, to share their take on this award-winning novel.
2019 Walter Dean Myers Honor Book for Outstanding Children’s Literature
2019 Claudia Lewis Award for Excellence in Poetry
2019 Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award
ALSC Notable Children’s Book, 2019
A School Library Journal Best Book of 2018, Middle Grade
Shelf Awareness 2018 Best Children’s & Teen Books of the Year, Middle Grade
NCTE 2019 Notable Verse Novels
Title: They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems authored by David Bowles
Author: David Bowles
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Date Published: October 15, 2018
[Admin Note: learn more about how author David Bowles developed the book on the May issue of Authors Corner .]
Throughout May 2019, Mary and Violet give their takes on the 2019 Pura Belpré award winners and honor books. In last weeks installment, Mary and Violet discuss The Poet X authored by Elizabeth Acevedo. The book won the Pura Belpré Author Award, the National Book Award and the Golden Kite Honor Award. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!