Living Between Two Cultures: A Digital Literature Discussion of Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez, Part 3

By Andrea García, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, and Carmen Martínez-Roldán, Universtiy of Texas, Austin, TX

“The girls told me about how they build altars to their relatives who have died, most especially the ones who’ve died in the last year,” Grandma is explaining. “So I asked them if they’d help me do one for Gramps. I don’t call it an altar,” Grandma quickly adds as if she might get in trouble with Reverend Hollister at church… “I call it a memory table.”
Drawing of a reader response diagram for Return to Sender
In Return to Sender, Alvarez’ storytelling weaves together the cultural practices that define her characters’ interactions with their worlds. Friendship, hard work, loss, and family ties, are all deeply shared values and experiences that influence how each individual character defines his/her role within the narrative.

Through events such as the transformation of the Mexican practice of creating “altars” into what Tyler’s Grandma defines as a “memory table,” we are reminded of the dynamic and ever-changing nature of culture (Nieto, 1999). Like González (2005) indicates, our day-to-day practices are always informed by multiple cultural systems, which in turn help us develop a hybrid and intercultural knowledge base of the world.

This week, we invite readers to consider the ways in which Mari and Tyler begin to discover and understand each other’s cultural identities by sharing and learning about their cultural practices. From sharing El Día de los Muertos to sharing star-gazing at night, Alvarez’ story is rich with cultural encounters between what is considered the majority and the minority culture in this story.
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Living Between Two Cultures: A Digital Literature Discussion of Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez, Part 2

By Andrea García, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, and Carmen Martínez-Roldán, Universtiy of Texas, Austin, TX

Literature educates not only the head, but the heart as well. It promotes empathy and invites readers to adopt new perspectives. It offers opportunities for children to learn to recognize our similarities, value our differences, and respect our common humanity. In an important sense, then children need literature that serves as a window onto lives and experiences different from their own, and literature that serves as a mirror reflecting themselves and their cultural values, attitudes, and behaviors. Bishop, cited in Wolf, 2003.

Literature can become a conduit-a door-to engage children in social practices that function for social justice. Botelho & Rudman, 2009, p. 1

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Living Between Two Cultures: A Digital Literature Discussion of Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez

By Andrea García, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, and Carmen Martínez-Roldán, Universtiy of Texas, Austin, TX

In our work as Latina teacher educators, we prepare teachers to be successful literacy educators in a multilingual world. In our teaching, we use high quality children’s and adolescent literature in order to invite our students to read multiculturally (Hade, 1997). That is, through small group and whole class literature discussions, we engage pre-service and in-service teachers to make personal connections with the literature and to take a critical stance to explore questions that often reveal the many sociopolitical forces shaping the education of minority students in the United States. These include interpreting signs of power, race, class, and equity, among others, as they are represented in the literature.

In the past, we have selected books that address some of the familiar challenges encountered by recent immigrants to the United States, including the process of adapting to a new schooling practices and language learner. We have also used books that describe the day-to-day complexities of living in between two cultures from the perspective of cultural insiders. Examples include A Step from Heaven by An Na (2001), Tangled Threads by Pegi Deitz Shea (2003) or Behind the Mountains by Edwidge Danticat (2002)

This semester, Carmen and Andrea have planned for a Digital Literature Discussion Project with students enrolled in a graduate teacher preparation program in New York, and in an undergraduate program in Texas. During the month of March, our WOW Current posts will help to facilitate an online literature discussion of Return to Sender. This latest book by outstanding Latina writer Julia Alvarez, was recently announced as the recipient of the American Library Association’s prestigious Pura Belpré Award, which every year recognizes excellence in children and adolescent literature that “best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience.”
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Interview with Yuyi Morales, Part 4

by Jeanne Fain, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN and Julia López-Robertson, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC

We wanted to hear Yuyi’s insights on publishing and inquire about her future plans. Additionally, we wanted to end our blog with children’s responses to Yuyi’s work. We asked our colleague Robin Horn from Galveston Elementary in Chandler, AZ and a preschool teacher associate of Julia’s at Spears Creek Road Child Development in Elgin, SC to share responses from Yuyi’s new book with Tony Johnston, My Abuelita. The children responded sharing their stories and connections with the book.

Jeanne: What are your thoughts about children’s publishing especially in regards to bilingual children’s literature?
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Interview with Yuyi Morales, Part 3

by Jeanne Fain, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN and Julia López-Robertson, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC

I have been questioned about my use of Yuyi Morales’s skeletal Señor Calavera in preschool classrooms. Some teachers were initially hesitant to read about him, so I asked Yuyi about her perspectives on him. I wanted to get the insider’s perspective on him and I wanted to hear what children had to say about him. First, we’ll let Señor Calavera share his own search for identity.

WOW! Did you know Señor Calavera has his own My Space account? He does. Maybe you should be his friend there. He’d be a good friend to have because he’s also a decorated story teller. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), something happened on the way to the ALA Pura Belpre book award ceremony.
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Interview with Yuyi Morales, Part 2

by Jeanne Fain, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN and Julia López-Robertson, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC

One of the questions that I often ask children when we are reading bilingual books, is what language do you focus upon? Do you look at both languages in the book? Students have told me that they read the language that they know. Or if they have a question, they read both languages to make sense of the text. We were interested in knowing Yuyi’s process as an author and her views of bilingual texts when English Only is not just sentiment, but the law in many places.

Jeanne: You use code switching (alternating back and forth across languages) often in your books. What process do you use when writing? Do you write in English and then shift to Spanish or vice versa? Have you had to advocate for the use of Spanish in your books?
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Interview with Yuyi Morales

by Jeanne Fain, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN and Julia López-Robertson, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC

Author and illustrator Yuyi Morales has created several books that we have used in our work with children in many classrooms. We especially appreciate the multicultural aspects of her work and that many of her books are bilingual. She uses language that directly relates to the children. Julia had her speak at a conference that she co-chairs yearly in South Carolina. Jeanne met her at the University of Arizona when she spoke at Kathy Short’s children’s literature conference. We both thought Yuyi could add depth to our ongoing discussions around global children’s literature. Fortunately, she agreed to answer questions about her current and upcoming work.
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Windows to the World — Part 4

by Barbara Thompson-Book, Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, IN

Welcome back for my final week of exploring the world through both books and the World Wide Web and focusing on Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. For this final posting I want to thank several people who helped me with this post. First, Holly Johnson urged me to do this region of the world. I was hesitant because until I began my research, all the books I had read on the region were “sad and depressing” as my undergraduates had termed some of the international books I had assigned for them read. Worlds of Words’ own Rebecca Ballenger found me a “tweet” while waiting for a plane to go to NCTE this November. Thanks Rebecca for leading me into a refreshing literature I had never explored. Rebecca did this by sending me to Pooja Makhijani’s Web site about South Asia and the South Asia Diaspora in Children’s Literature. Makhijani is an American born writer with a wonderful Web site about South Asian literature. She has edited a volume entitled Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America (Seal Press, 2004). Finally I must thank my colleague at Indiana University Southeast, Shifa Podikunju-Hussain, Ph.D. who willingly shared a number of these novels and picture books with her own mother, who was born in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), and her own girls ages 5 and 12. They offered their thoughts as to the authenticity of many of the books about India.

While many of the books (really the young adolescent novels) do fall into the “sad and depressing” category, I found that there are some wonderful picture books and a couple of novels which are refreshingly light, and don’t paint that area of the world as the distressing place we, perhaps, in light of recent events there, usually hold of it.
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Windows to the World — A Quick Look at Haiti

by Barbara Thompson-Book, Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, IN

Fellow travelers, when I was looking at books for the Americas during week two, I failed to mention books on Haiti. That oversight does not mean that there are not some wonderful books available about the island nation so on our minds right now. As teachers and parents, our children and students must certainly have questions about what they are seeing on the news, so I have researched some titles you might want to share and have looked at Web sites that support these books. I want to issue this disclaimer, I have not read some of these books. I am working from reviews published in Horn Book Guide. I used as my search criteria the score of 3 (out of 6 with 1 being highest, and realizing that Horn Book Guide rarely gives out a 1) as the cut off for acceptable books. This does not guarantee that the books are authentic, nor does it guarantee that there aren’t issues of stereotyping in the books. Given the urgency of the topic, I’d rather have the titles out there than err on the side of caution.
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Windows to the Worlds — Part 3

by Barbara Thompson-Book, Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, IN

Welcome back to those of you who have been traveling with me around the world and exploring places we may never see ourselves, but can visit because of the wonderful writing and artwork of authors, illustrators, and photographers sharing their corner of the world. I’ve been pairing books with sources from the World Wide Web, as our world ever expands. To those of you who are just joining me on this adventure, welcome!

This week we are looking at books set in Africa. Keeping in mind Kathy Short’s post, I tried to make sure that the books shared here do not stereotype Africa as a world of poverty. I have to say, that this presented a challenge, first because there is, in fact, so much poverty in Africa, and second because authors have in many cases chosen to highlight the plight of African children. I will try to present a realistic view of Africa, although I have never personally been there. In looking for books to highlight I looked for stories that represented modern Africa or reflected some of the struggles that the African continent has undergone.
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