May Book List: Hispanic Culture

May 5, 2009

One of the best ways for children to learn about different cultures is through literature.  When children read about other cultures, their respect for that culture grows as their knowledge of it increases.  And, when children see themselves in books it enhances their self-esteem and helps them develop pride in their culture.  In addition to learning about the Hispanic experience, children’s books about our southern neighbors are colorful, insightful and just plain fun.  Three of my favorites are described below.

Lois Ehlert’s “Moon Rope” (Un lazo a la luna) is an adaptation of the Peruvian tale “The Fox and the Mole,” and her fascination with pre-Columbian art is readily visible in the collage illustrations which reflect Peruvian culture.  Written in both English and Spanish, this is the story of a fox who wants to climb to the moon on a rope of grass.  He convinces his friend the mole to go with him, but the mole returns to the earth where he stays to this day. What happened to the fox?  Can you see him in the moon? 

Creative Commons License photo credit: James Gagen

Author-illustrator Tomie dePaola’s books are easily recognized for their bright colors, simple lines and wonderful stories.  DePaola has the distinction of having been honored by the American Library Association with both the Newbery Honor Book Award (the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children) and the Caldecott Honor Book Award (the most distinguished American picture book for children.)  “The Legend of the Poinsettia” follows dePaola’s incredibly successful “The Legend of the Bluebonnet” and “The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush,” legends familiar to every schoolchild in Texas. 

In “The Legend of the Poinsettia,” Lucida’s family lives in the mountains of Mexico.  One day near Christmas, Padre Alvarez visits her family and asked Lucida’s mother to weave a new blanket for the figure of Baby Jesus in the Christmas procession.  The blanket is a gift to the Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. After buying the finest yarn, Lucida’s mother becomes sick and has to live with relatives until she recovers.  Lucida tries to weave the blanket, but the yarn becomes hopelessly tangled.  On Christmas Eve Lucida hides because she has no gift to give, but an old woman tells her, “Any gift is beautiful because it is given.”  Lucida gathers green weeds, places them around the altar in the church and kneels to pray.  Instantly, the end of each weed becomes tipped with a flaming red star, and the weeds outside the church are transformed, too.  The people of the village call the brightly colored flowers “La Flor de Nochebuena” – the Flower of the Holy Night – the poinsettia.  Lucida’s simple gift is a part of our Christmas traditions today.

Gary Solo is a well-known Hispanic author of both books for children and young adults.  The picture book “Too Many Tamales” celebrates family love at Christmas.  Maria and her mother are making tamales for Christmas Eve dinner.  While kneading the masa, the temptation becomes too great for Maria, and she tries on her mother’s special ring before she returns to making the tamales.  A few hours later aunts, uncles and cousins arrive and the children go upstairs to play.  Maria suddenly remembers the ring and knew it must have been baked into one of the 24 tamales.  The cousins ate all the tamales, but found no ring, so Maria had to tell her mother what she had done.  All’s well that ends well, and Maria’s Aunt Rosa reminds everyone that the second batch of tamales always tastes better than the first!

A Native American Kiva 
Creative Commons License photo credit: Dave Boyer

Plan a visit to the McGovern Hall of the Americas on the third floor of the Houston Museum of Natural Science.  This incredible hall has examples of Native American life from the Arctic to the Amazon.  You will learn about life in a kiva, see a collection of kachina dolls, discover the importance of the jaguar to the cacao fields, witness an ancient ball game played by the Aztecs and so much more!  After reading about Hispanic culture, you will experience it for yourself.

Authored By Susan Buck

After too many years in public education to count (as an English teacher and middle school librarian), I came to the Museum 4 years ago. My department’s focus is promoting field trips, and this is especially exciting for me because I see it as an opportunity to connect students with the wonders of science. My spare time is spent with my granddaughters Abbie, Elizabeth and Emma. When I ask, “What shall we do today?” they always answer, “Go to the Museum!”

One response to “May Book List: Hispanic Culture”

  1. Consider Mr. Clean and the Barrio for your August Book List. It has just been recognized with an Honorable Mention at the 2009 International Latino Book Awards. Latino traditions are put to the test when a single mom moves to Huntington Park with her 16 year-old son. He is soon initiated into the local gang under false pretenses, but his dark side emerges when he realizes that he has put his mother in danger. Jacob a.k.a. Mr. Clean will do anything to protect her…anything.

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