Monday, July 27, 2009


A. Bibliography
Namioka, Lensey. 2006. Mismatch. New York: Delacorte Press. ISBN 0385731833.

B. Plot Summary
Family and national history play a vital role when two Asian-American teenagers, one Japanese-American, the other Chinese-American meet and begin dating.

C. Critical Analysis
Mismatch is definitely a modern teens' novel, set in modern times, complete with today's teen thought patterns: "He had a slim build but wide shoulders, and he moved in a relaxed, sexy way."
While the teens in the novel are securely modern American teens, the parents of the two main characters represent customs from the original homeland. Sue mentions that her grandmother, "...would have been insulted if an elaborate meal had not been prepared for her."
Mismatch's cultural markers are found in the description of the characters' physical characteristics, and are especially noted when the orchestra Sue and Andy belong to make a trip to Tokyo. Descriptions of Japan, the food, traditional clothing, and family home life are given. Forms of address are used, and especially noticeable are the polite exchanges between Andy and his host family in Tokyo, when Andy says, "It's very kind of you to drive me...Thank you very much for going to so much trouble."
Mismatch brings out a young person's argument about why one cannot date whomever they wish due to their family's nationality and history. Modern American teens will be able to relate to the family discussions in the novel about which cultural groups are acceptable to the elders in the families in the story.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal When her Chinese-American parents move to an affluent suburb of Seattle, 15-year-old Sue Hua, a viola player, joins the school orchestra in hopes of finding a niche among her mostly white classmates. Although Sue wants them to consider her an American, she is frustrated that many think all Asians are members of a single ethnic group, without distinct cultural differences. She is attracted to Andy Suzuki, a talented violinist with disarming friendliness and concern, but she is wary of his Japanese ancestry. Her grandmother survived the Japanese invasion of China during World War II and has frightening memories of her abusive oppressors. Conversely, Andy's father dislikes the Chinese because he was treated disrespectfully on a business trip to Beijing. When the orchestra makes a trip to Tokyo, the teens must adjust to their host families and confront issues of heritage, bigotry, and stereotypes. These are mature, sensitive teenagers whose mutual attraction fortifies them to question and move beyond the historical prejudice of their families. And yet, they respect their separate backgrounds and want their parents approval. Although occasionally didactic, this story tackles issues of assimilation into American society, preserving and respecting different cultures, and accepting the past. The theme of cultural vs. personal identity drives the plot, provides the conflict, and defines the characters. Sue and Andy experience believable adolescent bouts of insecurity, anticipation, jealousy, and affection as their mutual understanding grows. A story that is current, relevant, and upbeat.
Booklist When Suzanne Hua, a Chinese American, and Andy Suzuki, a Japanese American, meet in their high-school orchestra, their white classmates see them as a good match (Aren't all Asians the same?). But at home, things are different: Suzanne's beloved grandmother can't forget the brutality of the Japanese who invaded China, and Andy's father is prejudiced about the "dirty, backward" Chinese. Still, the personal conflicts bring the diversity issues close. Andy's dad hopes his son will find his roots when he visits Japan; instead, Andy discovers he's more American than he realized. Then comes the question, Does Andy want to shake off his cultural heritage? It's a question Suzanne must face as well.

E. Connections
If older students wish to, allow them to share stories of how they coped with family discrimination against someone they liked.
Encourage students to read more novels of this theme: mixed-culture dating.

The Earth Dragon Awakes: The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

A. Bibliography
Yep, Laurence. 2006. The Earth Dragon Awakes: The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 0060275243.

B. Plot Summary
On Wednesday, April 18, 1906, a catastrophic earthquake hit San Francisco. Two boys, one a prominent banker's son and one the son of the Chinese house boy, discover real life heroes who emerge from the rubble of the quake.

C. Critical Analysis
The Earth Dragon Awakes is not a picture book, but photos of the aftermath of the quake are included at the end of the book along with an afterword by the author discussing more history of San Francisco's recovery. Additional books are also suggested with two websites for readers to explore.
Since the novel is about a major historical disaster, cultural markers are revealed through characters' behaviors and conversations. Ah Sing is a grown man, but is employed as a "house boy" who cleans cooks, and helps around the house for the Travis's family, a prominent family in the community. Attitudes of Americans in early 1900s San Francisco are revealed when Chin, Ah Sing's son reflects that "The Americans make is difficult for Chinese man to bring his family to America." Chin remembered how when he immigrated to America, the "...immigration officials spent a week asking him questions. If he had made a mistake, they would have assumed he was lying. They would have sent him back to China."
Other cultural markers are the description of Chinatown in San Francisco where Ah Sing and Chin live. Chin says he and his father could live with the Travis family, but Chin said they live in Chinatown because his father "...doesn't want Chin to forget he's Chinese."
Skin color, facial features, and language are not brought out in the novel; it is more the lifestyle of the Chinese and the American attitudes of the time that are mentioned, though Chin and Henry, The Travis's son, are good friends.
One final slap of discrimination towards the Chinese is the refusal to allow the Chinese quake survivors to stay in Golden Gate Park with the American survivors.
The Earth Dragon Awakes will be an exciting novel for reluctant readers to explore. Chapters are short but maintain interest. The novel lends itself well to encouraging further research of earthquakes or other natural disasters.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal Yep looks at the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 from two points of view. Chin is a young Chinese immigrant whose father is a houseboy for a prominent banker and his family. He has become friendly with young Henry Travis, the banker's son, through their interest in low-brow but exciting penny dreadfuls. The stories depict heroic people doing heroic things and, while both boys appreciate their fathers, they certainly do not regard them as heroes. Not, that is, until the Earth Dragon roars into consciousness one spring morning, tearing the city asunder and making heroes out of otherwise ordinary men. Yep's research is exhaustive. He covers all the most significant repercussions of the event, its aftershocks, and days of devastating fires, and peppers the story with interesting true-to-life anecdotes. The format is a little tedious one chapter visits Henry's affluent neighborhood, the next ventures to Chin's home in Chinatown, and back again and the ordinary heroes theme is presented a bit heavy-handedly. Throughout the text, the boys compare their fathers to Wyatt Earp. But the story as a whole should appeal to reluctant readers. Its natural disaster subject is both timely and topical, and Yep weaves snippets of information on plate tectonics and more very neatly around his prose.
Booklist On the evening of April 17, 1906, neither eight-year-old Henry nor his friend Chin is aware that the earth beneath their San Francisco homes is shifting. Devotees of "penny dreadfuls," both boys long for excitement, not their fathers' ordinary routine lives. When the earthquake shakes the city and a firestorm breaks out, Henry and his parents scramble in the chaos and battle the fire, but must ultimately evacuate their home. Chin and his father survive the collapse of their Chinatown tenement, and flee to the ferry through the debris and turmoil. In the midst of catastrophe, the boys realize that their fathers are real-life heroes. Henry and Chin's stories are told in alternating chapters with a few interruptions for the insertion of earthquake information. Told in the present tense, the narration provides a "you are there" sense of immediacy and will appeal to readers who enjoy action-packed survival stories.

E. Connections
Match this fiction novel with non-fiction books on earthquakes. Compare this earthquake to the one that hit nearby San Francisco in 1989.

Grandfather's Journey

A. Bibliography
Say, Allen. 1993. Grandfather's Journey. Ill. by Allen Say. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. ISBN 0395570352.

B. Plot Summary
A Japanese-American man tell the story of his grandfather's journey to America at the start of the 20th century, and how he returns to Japan only to dream of someday returning to the second land he loves: America.

C. Critical Analysis
Much of Grandfather's Journey takes place in early 1900s America, illustrating that time period's style of living. The Japanese characters are given authentic representation in the illustrations through the hair styles, facial features, and skin tones. What could possibly be construed as a stereotype is shown by none of the Japanese characters ever smiling, except one picture of the grandfather smiling as he plays with his grandson. When the Grandfather returns to Japan, Japanese culture is illustrated through clothes, building architecture, and the environment, but names are never mentioned, nor is an direct Japanese language.
The overall impression is one of a quiet narrative in the oral tradition. One feels as if one is sitting by the fire while another individual is quietly retelling a story heard long ago from the beloved grandfather.
Grandfather's Journey would be appropriate to read to a class on a dark, rainy day, allowing time for reflection by either writing in a journal or drawing a picture.

D. Review Excerpts Home becomes elusive in this story about immigration and acculturation, pieced together through old pictures and salvaged family tales. Both the narrator and his grandfather long to return to Japan, but when they do, they feel anonymous and confused: "The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other." Allen Say's prose is succinct and controlled, to the effect of surprise when monumental events are scaled down to a few words: "The young woman fell in love, married, and sometime later I was born." The book also has large, formal paintings in delicate, faded colors that portray a cherished and well-preserved family album.

E. Connections
Encourage students to ask older relatives for stories of how their family came to America, and if able, bring a photo of the relative to show when sharing the story.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rain Is Not My Indian Name

A. Bibliography

Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Rain Is Not My Indian Name. NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

ISBN 0688173977.

B. Plot Summary

Losing your best friend to a fatal accident is bad at any age, but when combined with the angst of becoming a teen, the emotional turmoil is enough to cause one to hide from the world for at least six months, and that is just what Cassidy Rain Berghoff did. But after six months of near seclusion, Rain has to decide how involved she will be when a politically correct controversy in her town regarding "Indian Camp" run by her own aunt clashes with her desire to remain neutral despite her own American-Indian heritage.

C. Critical Analysis
While Rain Is Not My Indian Name was written by an author who is a "mixed-blood" member of the Muskogee Nation, the novel does not provide many "traditional" Native American elements. The setting of the story is in the fictitious town of Hannesburg, Kansas in today's modern times, complete with laptop computers, fast food, and lemon-fresh furniture polish.
However, what is noticeably brought out are the conversations between Rain and the college student with whom she works on the newspaper assignment covering the Indian Camp. The conversation includes The Flash's asking Rain why the kids at Indian Camp were building bridges. He thought the bridge must have been some kind of tradition or symbol of Indian beliefs or culture.
Rain had a hard time explaining that the bridges had nothing to do with Indians, that it was just a team work assignment given by the sponsor, her aunt.
Parallelisms were shown when The Flash confessed that he was Jewish and Rain begins to respond with, "But you don't seem..." then realized that she was about to slip into the same attitude that she herself had been subjected to by people telling her that she "didn't seem" like a Native American.
Cultural names are not used unless a Native American group name was mentioned, and no other cultural markers were used save the discussion on what it was like to be American-Indian or Jewish in Hannesburg, Kansas.
Rain Is Not My Indian Name is not so much a novel about being Native American in modern middle America as it is a novel about rediscovering oneself in the midst of all life throws at you. Many tees will be able to understand Rain's need to redefine herself after the untimely death of her best friend.

D. Review Excerpts
Publishers Weekly Multiple plot lines and nonlinear storytelling may make it difficult to enter Smith's (Jingle Dancer) complex novel, but the warmth and texture of the writing eventually serve as ample reward for readers. The sensitive yet witty narrator, 14-year-old Cassidy Rain Berghoff, grows up in a small Kansas town as one of the few people with some Native American heritage. That experience alone might challenge Rain, but Smith creates a welter of conflicts. Rain's mother is dead (she was struck by lightning), and as the novel opens, her best friend is killed in a car accident just after he and Rain realize their friendship has grown into romance. Six months later, her older brother urges her to go to her great-aunt's Indian Camp. At first she shrugs it off, but later volunteers to photograph the camp for the town paper and begins to share her Aunt Georgia's commitment to it. When public funding for the camp becomes a contested issue in the city council, Rain decides to enroll. Some of Smith's devices such as opening each chapter with a snippet from Rain's journal add depth and clarify Rain's relationships for readers, although other elements (the detailing of song lyrics playing in the background, for instance) seem stilted. Even so, readers will feel the affection of Rain's loose-knit family and admire the way that they, like the author with the audience, allow Rain to draw her own conclusions about who she is and what her heritage means to her.
School Library Journal Rain and Galen have been friends forever, but for Rain's 14th birthday, the thrill of finding that her burgeoning romantic feelings are being reciprocated puts the evening into a special-memory category. The next morning, she learns that Galen was killed in an accident on the way home. Plunged into despair, Rain refuses to attend the funeral and cuts herself off from her friends. Skipping to six months later, the main portion of the story takes place as she thinks about Galen's upcoming birthday and summer plans are complicated by the girl's Aunt Georgia's Indian Camp and political efforts to cut its funding. Rain participates in nothing and her family members, loving though they are, seem preoccupied with their own needs and concerns. Gradually, Rain's love of photography resurfaces and lands her an assignment with the local newspaper. She becomes involved in examining her own heritage, the stereotypical reactions to it, and her own small-town limitations. There is a surprising amount of humor in this tender novel. It is one of the best portrayals around of kids whose heritage is mixed but still very important in their lives. As feelings about the public funding of Indian Camp heat up, the emotions and values of the characters remain crystal clear and completely in focus. It's Rain's story and she cannot be reduced to simple labels. A wonderful novel of a present-day teen and her "patchwork tribe."

E. Connections
If students are willing, allow them to role-play various situations which demonstrate conversations between individuals of different ethnic groups and the way in which to answer questions about them and their nationality.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sees Behind Trees

A. Bibliography
Dorris, Michael. 1996. Sees Behind Trees. New York: Hyperion Books for Children. ISBN 0786802243.

B. Plot Summary
Sees Behind Trees is the name given to a young Indian boy when he passes the test for young men. He was given the name due to his not being able to see as well as the rest of his tribe. Sees Behind uses his heightened sense of hearing to help an elder member of the tribe to find a mysterious land of water, proving to himself that he is truly worthy of his new name and becoming a man.

C. Critical Analysis
No illustrations are provided for the novel so readers must use their own imaginations to draw the story. Sees Behind Trees is historical fiction, set in sixteenth century America, during a time when North America was being explored by Anglo explorers.
Author Michael Dorris adds a note at the beginning of the book recommending a work by Helen C. Rountree called The Powhatan Indians of Virginia (University of Oklahoma Press, 1989) for readers "...who wish to learn more about the people imagined in these pages."
From that note I would assume that the cultural markers used within the novel are as accurate and authentic as Mr. Dorris could write them along with some poetic license for the story's plot.
Moccasins are mentioned in the story along with a food called pemmican. A style of cooking is spoken of when the character's mother says to, "Imagine it is a corn cake, hot from the ashes...".
Walnut, who later is named Sees Behind Trees, is practicing with a bow and arrow, typical "Indian" elements, the character 'weorance' is introduced, as "Our most important person, the expert on hunting..." and a custom of serving an important person their food after the old ones is explained after Sees Behind Trees passes the ceremony to become a young man.
Sees Behind Trees is an interesting novel portraying life as an American Indian boy living in early America. Focus is on the main character and his thoughts and feelings about his vision handicap and how he overcomes this to prove his worth to his people and earn his young man's name. Modern students will be able to understand the need to prove oneself as a young adult.

D. Review Excerpts
Publishers Weekly Dorris's eloquent, beautifully crafted coming-of-age tale centers on Walnut, a near-sighted Native American boy whose uncanny ability to use his other senses earns him the adult name Sees Behind Trees. Set in the distant, pre-colonial past, the story finds the boy moving hesitantly into adulthood, gradually gaining confidence in himself and his perceptions; learning humility when he prizes his talents too highly; earning the respect of his tribe when he escorts an elderly wise man on a dangerous journey. Both sharply and lyrically observed, fraught with emotion, the first-person narrative should connect strongly with a young audience, who will quickly learn that, no matter the century or the culture, the fundamentals of growing up remain very much the same. The authenticity of the characterizations and setting will ease readers toward acceptance of the quasi-mystical adventure that crowns the story. It's a thrilling read, with the pleasures compounding at every turn of the page.

E. Connections
Discuss with students their own families' "tests" that prove the student is a young adult. i.e. staying home alone with no baby sitter.

The Dark Pond

A. Bibliography
Bruchac, Joseph. 2004. The Dark Pond. Ill. by Sally Wern Comport. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 0060529954.

B. Plot Summary\
Armin Katchatorian, a young teen who is half Shawnee, half Armenian, transfers to North Mountains School. Once there he immediately senses an evil presence calling to him, pulling him to a dark pond. Armie relies on the tales of his Shawnee ancestors to help him discover what lurks beneath the still dark waters and to eliminate the evil for good.

C. Critical Analysis
Joseph Bruchac admits that The Dark Pond was inspired by traditional tales told by the Senecas, Shawnees, and other North-Eastern American Indian nations. However, this story simply hints that American Indians tell stories of creatures hiding underwater and does not say The Dark Pond is a retelling of an actual tale. Therefore, while the main character Armie reveals his Shawnee heritage, the story does not try to be linked to any particular American Indian group.
Since The Dark Pond is set in modern times, the only cultural markers used in the narrative are skin color, hair, and the use of American Indian names. Customs are not observed, nor are any religious beliefs, save the one argument regarding the length of Armie's hair presented each time he enrolls in school. Armie's mother is a lawyer who also cites the Native American Freedom of Religion Act and writes a letter to the school stating, "My son is Shawnee. It is part of our tradition that a young man be allowed to grow his hair long...It is a sacred thing. Regardless of your school policies, you cannot require him to cut his hair."
One reference to American Indian beliefs is mentioned when Armie and Mitch exchange names. Mitch uses his Indian name of Sabattis and Arnie reflect that "A name is a powerful thing. Giving someone your name means that you trust them with something precious to you."
Illustrations are few and do not try to portray any American Indian lives or customs. Drawings are black and white and only serve to highlight a few points in the story and the beginnings of each chapter.
The Dark Pond reads well and quickly and would appeal to younger teen boys with the adventurous activities Armie goes through to solve the mystery of The Dark Pond.

D. Review Excerpts

School Library Journal –With its almost unbearably creepy prologue, Bruchac's contemporary novel combining Native American lore and horror will immediately grab readers. Armin Katchatorian, part Shawnee, part Armenian, narrates this tale set at the North Mountains School. He is such a loner that his best communications are with animals, who are naturally drawn to this young man who "feels" things. Armie becomes aware that an ominous pond off established hiking trails is trying to draw him near to it via nightmarish visions and an actual physical pull. After being rescued from entering it by a fox, he notices that although many animal tracks lead into the pond, none return. With an economy of words, Bruchac conveys an atmosphere of increasing tension and fear of this unknown evil. Armie discovers that both the Iroquois and Abenakis spoke often about underwater monsters, and meets Mitch Sabattis, who is working at the school. Recognizing a fellow shaman, the young man warns Armie to stay away from the pond. The novel loses a little steam when the conflict between Mitch's scientific approach meets Armie's more visceral one, but ultimately the two discover just what type of horror lives in the pond. Effectively illustrated by Comport, this eerie story skillfully entwines Native American lore, suspense, and the realization that people and things are not always what they seem to be on the surface, all through the perspective of a resourceful yet insecure young man who learns to value his talents. A perfect choice for reluctant readers.

Booklist As he did in The Skeleton Man (2001), Bruchac transfers the elements of an Indian legend to a modern setting. Armie Katchatorian attends a private boarding school. Partly because of his half-Indian ancestry, he feels alienated from his fellow students. Fortunately, he is able to escape to the woods, where he comes across a mysterious dark pond, which he senses hides something sinister and dangerous. With the help of an Indian named Mitch, Armie discovers the secret of the pond--a giant carnivorous creature from which Armie must rescue Mitch and himself. Bruchac slowly builds the suspense and provides a genuinely creepy tale, told by a winning central character.

E. Connections

Encourage students to research for other tales of underwater creatures shared by American Indian tribes.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Gift of Gracias: The Legend of Altagracia

A. Bibliography
Alarez, Julia. 2005. A Gift of Gracias: The Legend of Altagracia. Ill. by Beatriz Vidal. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0375824521.

B. Plot Summary
A Gift of Gracias is a retelling of the Dominican legend of Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia, or Our Lady of Thanks. When Maria's family's olive crop fails, the family is worried about losing their farm. Maria dreams of Our Lady of Thanks who tells her in a dream to grow oranges in place of the olives. The dream becomes reality and the family's farm and livelihood are saved. Maria and her family never forget to say 'thank you' to Our Lady of Thanks.

C. Critical Analysis
A Gift of Gracias is a lovely story telling how Our Lady of Thanks helped Maria and her family save their farm. Set in the 1500s when the Dominican Republic was still a colony of Spain, the family's religion is portrayed in their faith in The Lady.
Beautiful illustrations fill every page with full colors depicting the Dominican countryside and the village marketplace. Skin tone and hair colors are authentic. Cultural authenticity is apparent in the names, illustrations, and religion. The story is told in basic narrative form, easily read by any culture. A note from the author explaining more of the history of the story is included at the end of the book.
A Gift of Gracias is an enchanting story that presents the message about the importance of giving thanks that will transcend all cultures.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal After the failure of her father's olive crop, María fears that her family will have to leave their farm in the New World. Then one night, inspiration comes when she dreams of planting the seeds from the oranges that came from her parents' homeland of Valencia, Spain. A beautiful and mysterious woman–Our Lady of Thanks–enters the dream, foretelling a bountiful harvest. The next day, María convinces her family to begin planting the seeds, and soon their land is transformed into a fertile orange grove. Rich in cultural authenticity and brimming with the magical realism that is characteristic of Hispanic literature, this elegantly woven tale introduces the legend of Our Lady of Altagracia, the patron saint of the Dominican Republic. Children of all backgrounds will be drawn in by the universal themes of home and family, but the story will have particular relevance for those raised in Hispanic or Catholic cultures. With an exquisite use of watercolor and gouache, Vidal has painted colorful, yet warm illustrations that add depth to the story. An author's note offers a detailed account of the legend, personalized by actual events from the author's youth.

Booklist The Virgin Mary takes many names around the world, and in the Dominican Republic, the author's birthplace, she is Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia. This magical story, based on a legend of Altagracia, begins as Papa returns home from a trip to the city with an overflowing basket of oranges, like those he used to eat in his native Spain. That night, after Papa warns the family that they may have to abandon their failing olive farm, young Maria dreams of planting orange seeds, and a beautiful lady with a crown of stars, Altagracia, materializes in an orange-laden grove. The next morning, the family plants orange seeds and gives thanks to Our Lady--and sure enough, a bountiful orange crop is born. Argentina-born illustrator Vidal uses small brushes and gouache to create lovely, stylized folk-art-style paintings of the hard-working family and tropical landscapes. The tale unravels rather slowly, but this talented team evokes an enchanted, sun-kissed world where dreams, and gratitude, bear fruit. An author's note tells more about Altagracia.

E. Connections
Read this story at a time other than November, the traditional month for Thanksgiving. Discuss with students that to say thank you is an important part of everyone's daily lives.
Challenge students to become Thank You Detectives: have students keep a tally page of how many times they hear people say 'thank you' or when they themselves say thank you.

Baseball in April and other Stories

A. Bibliography
Soto, Gary. 1990. Baseball in April and Other Stories. New York: Harcourt, Inc. ISBN 0152025731.

B. Plot Summary
Baseball in April is a collection of short stories by Gary Soto that focus on the daily lives of young Latino teens and all their dreams, wishes, heartaches, and successes.

C. Critical Analysis
Baseball in April is eleven stories each focusing on a different protagonist who is experiencing one of many of Life's Difficulties that only teens can have. As there are no illustrations, cultural authenticity is revealed through names, food, and customs. the stories all appear to be set in the US and are of modern times, so influences from American styles and ideas are prevalent as the main characters work his/her way through their personal crisis.
Old customs occasionally conflict with modern Mexican-American teens. IN the story "Growing Up", Maria argues with her father about whether or not she should go on the annual family vacation. Her father disagreed and, "...his thoughts were on Mexico, where a father was respected and his word, right or wrong, was final...her was the man of the house and no daughter of his was going to tell him what to do."
Cultural language is often used within each story as many of the characters have older family members, parents, grandparents, who once lived in the family's original country. Not all Spanish phrases are re-stated in English within the text of the story. Instead, a Spanish glossary is provided at the end of the book.
Baseball in April is an entertaining collection of stories displaying the universal themes of friendship, love, and even embarrassment. Young teens of all cultures will find many characters with whom to relate.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal -- Insightful about the characteristics of early adolescents, Soto tells 11 short stories about everyday problems of growing up. Latinos in central California are the focus of the stories, but the events are typical of young teens anywhere in the United States. The main characters try out for Little League teams, take karate lessons, try to get the attention of the opposite sex, and are embarrassed by their grandparents' behavior. These day-to-day events reveal the sensitivity, humor, and vulnerability of today's young people. The descriptions and dialogue are used to advantage, helping to create and sustain the mood. A glossary of Spanish terms is included. Young readers should easily identify with the situations, emotions, and outcomes presented in these fine short stories.

E. Connections
Read each story aloud on different days. Allow students to discuss different ways the story's protagonist could solve his/her problem.
Encourage students to write their own short stories of times they went through a problem and solved it on their own.

A Birthday Basket for Tia

A. Bibliography
Mora, Pat. 1992. A Birthday Basket for Tia. Ill. by Cecily Lang. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0027674002.

B. Plot Summary
Little Cecilia has happy memories of her great aunt, her Tia. On the occasion of her ninetieth birthday, Cecilia wonders what to give her Tia as a gift. With the help of her cat Chica, Cecilia puts together the perfect present: a basket of memories of all the love she has shared with her Tia.

C. Critical Analysis
A Birthday Basket for Tia is perfect for younger children in that the gift Cecilia presents to her Tia is representative of all Cecilia's memories of their times together. Younger children will be able to relate to an aunt or other older relative reading a book to them, making cookies together, growing flowers together, and playing outside.
Pat Mora has created warmth in the relationship between Cecilia and her aunt by describing how Cecilia helps to prepare for the surprise birthday party for Tia.
Language plays an important part in the story in that the name Tia is used for the great aunt and many terms for food are used. there is a little bit of "double-speak" used when some English is translated into Spanish when Cecilia says, "Ninety years old! Noventa anos!" or when Tia says," Que' pasa? What is this?" or when the guests all shout, "Feliz Cumpleanos! Happy Birthday!".
The illustrations demonstrate the Mexican-American family. All characters have darker skin tones and dark hair and eyes. A ;pinata is in the party and bright colors are used within the home.
Through it all the love and caring for family fill the story and is an emotion any small child can understand, Spanish or English.

D. Review Excerpts Review Little Cecilia and her cat Chica plan for a surprise party to celebrate her great-aunt's 90th birthday. While Mama cooks beans and cuts up mangoes and watermelon, Cecilia and Chica put together a birthday basket containing a favorite book, a mixing bowl, a flowerpot, and other objects that represent activities the little girl and her great-aunt like to share. After final preparations, including flowers and a piñata, the musicians arrive; finally Cecilia and her great-aunt dance together. Drawing on the author's experiences in the Mexican American community of El Paso, Texas, this fine story is illustrated by Cecily Lang in a series of simple but striking scenes. A touching story about a very special relationship.
Publishers Weekly The young narrator of this poignant picture book discovers that the best gifts are not always store-bought. Cecilia is stumped when it comes to getting a present for her great aunt's 90th birthday. She finally settles on filling a basket with reminders of all the good times Tia and she have shared. A mixing bowl recalls days spent baking cookies; a teacup holds memories of the special brew Tia prepares when Cecilia is sick. The thoughtful present is a hit when Tia unveils it at her surprise party. Mora's text flows smoothly from one event to the next, and clearly presents the careful planning behind Cecilia's gift-gathering mission. Repetition of the items inside the basket and the occasional use of Spanish words are helpful reinforcements for young readers. Two cavils: Mora's text tends to go on a bit too long, and the many asides Cecilia addresses to her cat Chica become somewhat intrusive as the story progresses. Lang's cut-paper illustrations provide a vivid picture of a diverse and dynamic Mexican American family. Warm brown skin tones contrast nicely with bold reds, blues and oranges to lend additional Latin flavor.

E. Connections

For a writing activity have students write a paragraph about what items they would put into a surprise birthday basket for a favorite relative. Illustrate stories with baskets and items.