Yaqui Delgado Kicks Ass

A Book Talk: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Latino and More: Realistic Contemporary Adolescent Literature for Hispanic Americans

Here is a screencast of my presentation of my annotated bibliography and a featured book: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina. (I used Screencast-o-Matic, because it’s an alternative to Jing I’ve been meaning to try. Decent results! It doesn’t have the 5-minute time limit–which I didn’t need to worry about this time. Generally it doesn’t have to be installed either because it’s web-based, though its Java doesn’t cooperate with Chrome on a Mac.)

P.S. Sorry about my yet-again congested voice. (I was on something like round 8-gazillion of 2013-2014 illnesses when this was recorded!)

This “book-talk” is a highlighted in my annotated bibliography entitled, “Latino and More: Realistic Contemporary Adolescent Literature for Hispanic Americans.” (Also, see my Bibliographic Essay and Rationale here.) I was looking for YA books whose primary theme was the teen experience (like “life drama”), inside of focusing only on the Latino experience. I also wanted a relatively equal representation of the Latino groups in the U.S.

Latino and More: Realistic Contemporary Adolescent Literature for Hispanic Americans–Part Two

An Annotated Bibliography

See the Bibliographic Essay and Rationale here. Or, see my video presentation here.

Cofer, Judith Ortiz. Call Me María. 2004. Reprint, New York: Scholastic, 2006.

Worried about her father’s depressive state, María decides to move with him to a barrio in New York to look after him and seek an education, leaving her mother behind in Puerto Rico. María tries to fit in, get used to English (and Spanish) and stay neutral as she witnesses her parents’ marriage deteriorating. Perceptive and introspective María expresses herself in a mix of poems, prose, and letters home to her mother. More than just an immigration story, Call Me María is a collage of emotions and strength that reads easily. Ages 12 and up.

If I Could FlyCofer, Judith Ortiz. If I Could Fly. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011.

When Doris’ mother abruptly leaves for Puerto Rico after a health scare, Doris anxiously hopes she will return. Two months later, her mother confirms that she will not be coming back to New Jersey and her life with Doris’ father as a salsero singer. Doris feels alienated by her father’s move to get a new girlfriend and tries to fend for herself. She turns to her friends, Arturo, Yolanda, her elderly neighbor Doña Iris, and the homing pigeons on the roof. Misfortune strikes them too and Doris wishes she could just escape. After a visit to her mother in Puerto Rico, though, she realizes it’s better to confront your problems than to run from them. Full of life-drama, this book will appeal to adolescents dealing with the grief of divorce and tragedy. Ages 13 and up.

Dole, Mayra Lazara. Down to the Bone. New York: HarperTeen, 2008.

Laura gets expelled from Catholic school and, subsequently, her house when the nuns and her Cuban mother discover that she is a lesbian, also known as a “tortillera” in the Miami Latino community. Her girlfriend, Marlena’s family reacts by sending her back to Puerto Rico to marry a man. Thankfully, Laura is not completely alone and is taken in by her best friend Soli and her mother Vivi. Laura attempts to find herself through several experiments with relationships, all the while maintaining her optimism. Teens will relish the dichotomy of the humor and pain in Laura’s story. Ages 14 and up.

Color of My WordsJoseph, Lynn. The Color of My Words. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2000.

Ana Rosa is a dreamer who longs to become a writer, always stealing away scraps of paper to write her poems and stories on. Her impoverished life in the Dominican Republic leaves little hope, especially after she witnesses her brother’s death trying to protect her the day of her thirteenth birthday. She temporarily gives up writing until she realizes the healing power of telling her brother’s story—and her own—with words. Full of beautiful, descriptive language, this story lends itself well to read-alouds and celebrates the triumph of human resilience. Ages 10 and up.

López, Lorraine. Call Me Henri. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 2006.

In a rough urban landscape of gangs, beatings, death and abuse, Enrique juggles a complicated existence between a middle school trying to assimilate him with ESL classes and the care of triplet baby brothers that he has assumed responsibility for at home. Privately, he wishes he could just learn French, a language much closer to his native Spanish. After witnessing a drive-by shooting and his own safety now threatened, supportive and sympathetic teachers intervene and arrange for an escape that is a fulfillment of Enrique’s dream. Tension and action pair with hope in this realistic account of a Mexican-American teen’s life in the barrio. Ages 12 and up.

HeatLupica, Mike. Heat. New York: Philomel Books, 2006.

Michael Arroyo is a talented baseball player with a problem. Ironically, it is the same talent that is threatening his future. Rival coaches don’t believe that he could be so good at twelve, but Miguel has no way to prove his age since his birth certificate is back in Cuba! What’s more, Michael has no parents left and if social services finds out that his dad passed away, they will put him and his older brother Carlos in foster care. Their hope is to hide the truth for a few more months until Carlos turns eighteen. There is a fairytale ending in store, but readers will appreciate the snappy dialogue and the passion Michael has for his sport. Ages 11 and up.

McCall, Guadalupe Garcia. Under the Mesquite. New York: Lee & Low Books, 2011.

Lupita’s mother is dying of cancer and their close knit-family feels like it’s unraveling as the disease takes her away. Papi takes care of her mom while Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. After her mother’s death, Lupita struggles with grief and sustaining the will to move forward with what she and her mother saw as goals for herself. She visits and seeks support from family in both Mexico and Texas and eventually comes to peace and finds herself ready to face her future. Beautifully written and entirely in verse, Under the Mesquite offers an honest look at loss, family and love. Ages 12 and up.

Yaqui DelgadoMedina, Meg. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2013.

When Piddy Sanchez is told that a stranger at her new school named Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass, she is utterly confused. Though Piddy is half-Dominican and half-Cuban, she is scorned by a rough group of Latino girls for being too white and too smart. At first, she tries to ignore the threats, but the bullying escalates from verbal abuse to physical confrontations. Piddy’s once-strong grades fall and she begins skipping school due to her constant fear of being attacked. There is no simple solution to the problem, but first Piddy has to at least break the silence. Meg Medina skillfully explores the complexity and difficulty of bullying situations, while accurately portraying the terror and conflicting emotions of a victim. This is a valuable, yet realistic book for teens and the adults in their lives. Ages 12 and up.

Miller-Lachmann, Lyn. Gringolandia. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 2009.

Daniel Aquilar’s family fled to Madison, Wisconsin, after his father Marcelo was arrested, held and tortured as a military prisoner in Chile. After six years, his father is released and rejoins the family in 1986, but is thoroughly jostled by the adjustment to a new place—“Gringolandia,” he calls it. Daniel and his “gringa” girlfriend Courtney witness the damage that the trauma has caused with mixed emotions. Though in wretched shape, Marcelo is still an activist yearning to continue the fight in Chile and Daniel is led to reconcile his conflicted attitude toward his former country and roots. This novel provides a hard-hitting look at the effects of oppression, post-traumatic stress and healing. Ages 15 and up.

Enrique's JourneyNazario, Sonia. Enrique’s Journey: The True Story of a Boy Determined to Reunite with His Mother. New York: Delacorte Press, 2013.

Enrique’s mother, Lourdes, left her children behind in Honduras when Enrique was only five in order to seek relief from poverty and go find work in the United States. Like many children in this situation, Enrique is utterly lost and confused by the absence of his mother, so he sets off eleven years later, determined to find her again, on a treacherous journey across Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico—mostly on the tops of freight trains. Their reunion is not without its ups and downs either as they try to heal the pain and resentment of the separation. Sonia Nazario conducted her research first-hand and traced the journey of this real migrant boy. This book is a young adult adaptation of her 2007 book for adults updated with current immigration statistics, but it does not gloss over the true perils (such as maiming, rape, beatings and death) these migrants face. It is an eye-opening, humanizing look at immigration, sure to trigger discussion. Ages 14 and up.

Osa, Nancy. Cuba 15. New York: Delacorte Press, 2003.

Violet Paz lives in Chicago and doesn’t know much about her half-Cuban roots, nor does she really speak Spanish. She definitely is not interested in having a quinceañera, the traditional Latina coming-of-age party complete with tiaras and frilly pink dresses. But when her abuelita from Miami comes to visit and begins making plans for a “quince,” she eventually accepts. During the preparations, Violet learns a lot about what it means to be Cuban and manages to find a way to make the party her own. Sassy, fun and rich in culture, the reader will have a ball on this romp through a Latino tradition. Ages 12 and up.

We Were HerePeña, Matt de la. We Were Here. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009.

Miguel Castañeda is sentenced to a year of juvie in a California group home. He and two friends he makes there, Mong and Rondell, hatch a plan to bust out and escape to Mexico. They make their way down the coast with a wad of stolen money and hopes of starting over. Miguel keeps a journal of their adventure as he tries to come to terms with his crime and cultural identity, revealing a side most would not see from appearances. The journey comes full circle as two of the boys end up heading back to where they started. This is an intense, gripping story about troubled teens that even reluctant readers will enjoy. Ages 15 and up.

Latino and More: Realistic Contemporary Adolescent Literature for Hispanic Americans–Part One

A Bibliographic Essay and Rationale

See the Annotated Bibliography here. Or, see my video presentation here.

The reason for this theme

I have specifically been working with reluctant readers in my position as a high school ESL teacher for the past four years. The majority of my students are Latinos with ties to Mexico and the Dominican Republic. I have noticed that when recreationally reading very rarely are these students drawn to multicultural books that reflect their own background. Instead when these students choose young adult books, they look for the edgy ones, full of teenaged life drama: teen pregnancies, homelessness, suicide, dystopia, drugs, gangs and cyberbullying.

Sadly, it seems that much of the multicultural young adult fiction out there about Latinos doesn’t have this same edge or at least my students and I aren’t finding it. They don’t seem to be interested in reading about the conflict of being caught between two cultures or having to obey old-fashioned parents—maybe they already live those scenarios and want the escape or adventure that books can offer. Stories of exile from oppressive political regimes and tales of tough conditions on migrant worker camps before Cesar Chavez’s activism may be distant realities for today’s teens.

As I prepared this annotated bibliography about Latino young adult literature, I wanted to identify books that were about more than just Latino culture or the inclusion of expressions in Spanish. Instead, I sought books with Latino characters that had struggles due to being a teen, not just a minority. Themes of the books I selected include: divorce, friendship, LGBT issues, poverty, gang violence, baseball, cancer, bullying, post-traumatic stress, illegal immigration, runaways and rejecting tradition. Of course some of the classic Latino themes are also present, but I wanted the plots to revolve around the teen experience overall.

What is multicultural literature?

For me, multicultural literature needs to be a window into and a mirror of parallel cultures. For outsiders of that culture, the reading experience should provide enlightenment but not reinforce stereotypes; this is a “window.” For cultural insiders, readers should be able to see themselves in protagonists who have real life adventures. Not all Latinos are the same, so readers should be able to see their race and culture represented, but also as unique and diverse. If a book is primarily geared to be a window into the culture instead of a mirror reflecting the presence of diverse protagonists, we risk characterizing these Latino characters as “the other” instead of validating them as real people. In Celebrating Cuentas, Naidoo expresses it this way:

The negative images of their culture that Latino children encounter in instructional material and children’s literature serve as broken mirrors, causing these children to feel worthless, embarrassed, or alienated, and undervaluing their cultural heritage and identity (25)… Latino children, like all children, want to see reflections of themselves (their experiences, languages, and cultures) in the books they encounter, thus affirming their self-worth and presence in society (36).

Though presenting negative and stereotyped portrayals in literature might be educationally useful for criticism and comparative purposes, I tried to keep that out of this bibliography.

About the selection process

I only looked for books that could be considered contemporary and favored books written in the past ten years. For this to still be a useful bibliography for adolescents, librarians and other adults, the books need to be accessible for purchase or lending. If a book was out of print and/or not available for me to check out at my school or local libraries, I stopped considering it. Also, by choosing more recent, contemporary works the list could remain relevant for a longer period of time.

When possible, I preferred protagonists to be high school-aged, though this was not always possible. I was looking to avoid the disconnect that historical fiction sometimes presents. I also looked for books that represented several of the Latino backgrounds in the United States, instead of a list of books based only on the Mexican-American experience with a few outliers, for example. I chose three books with Mexican themes, three Cubans, one Dominican and one Cuban-Dominican, two Puerto Rican, one Central American, and one South American themed-book. The divisions were not easy to split equally, as I found out. Several of the cultures actually had very few books to chose from. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, another group that could have merited representation in the bibliography was the Salvadorans, but there are also few books with these characters (Naidoo 20). (I only found one with Salvadoran main characters written back in 1991, Journey of the Sparrows!) Earlier this week I asked four of my Dominican students that are in class with me this year if they had ever read a book that had a Dominican character in it—every one of them said no (though some knew of movies with Dominicans). I wanted to remedy this, but I’m afraid I was unable to come up with a wealth of book choices for them.

A useful chapter in Latina and Latino Voices in Literature for Children and Teenagers included a list of guidelines as a starting point for evaluating multicultural books for bias, with specific examples for Latinos. The idea of checking the storyline was especially formative for me when considering what a good multicultural Latino book is and how I should select for the teen experience over didactic cultural content (Day 6). For example, standards of success should not be just aligned with white male behavior in order for women or minorities to “make it.” Resolving problems should not require the intervention of a benevolent, able-boded white person. The achievement of female characters should not be valued based on their relationships with males. I was also very careful with how lifestyles were portrayed. I did not want to select books that lumped all Latinos together or depicted them as exotic (Day 6-7). Some of the books on my list may not live up to these considerations, but they are worth considering nonetheless.

Nearly all the authors I selected are cultural insiders, adding to their authority, though some do write about a Latino group different than their own background. There were two who were outsiders but have close connections (through marriage/residence/job experience) that I decided to include anyway because the quality of content merited the inclusion. Interestingly, these two authors represented two of the groups for which I struggled most to find books: the South Americans and the Dominicans. I know of several Latino authors that are prolific writers of historical fiction, for example on Cuba’s “Peter Pan” refugee children or escaping Trujillo’s dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. It seemed very unfortunate that such groups do not have many authors writing contemporary realistic fiction in the United States.

Since I was looking for specific cultures to be represented in my annotated bibliography, I did not start with the lists of the major awards for Latino children’s literature, such as the Pura Belpré award, the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature or the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award. Instead, I wanted to be able to search by culture and then narrow the results according to their reviews and awards. I used the Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database (CLCD) to begin this process. I have become proficient with this database through my employment at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) and find it to be an effective way to get an impression of the quality of a book. It is also a powerful tool for searching books included in CCBC Choices, but fall outside of the themes of the librarian-created bibliographies on the CCBC website. At the CCBC, I am responsible for maintaining the records of awards and distinctions for the books in our collection; in this way, I have become familiar with several of the bigger literature awards. For example, even if a book was not awarded or commended by one of the three above-named Latino book awards, but I noticed it was honored by CCBC Choices, listed in publications by similar peer-institutions like Bank Street College of Education or the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (BCCB), or is part of several of the quick picks lists compiled by the American Library Association, I made sure to consider it.

Once I had a short list of candidates for representing each Latino group, my next steps were to identify what the major themes of the books were and what the gender of the main character was to determine if I had a decent balance. I tried not to repeat any major themes and had to reject a couple books because of this. If a major theme occurred in two books, but the main characters had different genders, I tried to select accordingly to maintain a balance of male and female characters. I ended with five male protagonists and seven females.

I identified a few holes, namely in Puerto Rican, Dominican and South American titles. From there, I started searching other organizations’ lists and websites, such as Diversity in YA, Rich in Color, ¡Colorín Colorado! and AdLit.com. I also consulted with the school librarian I work with and one of the librarians at the CCBC. Some of the recommendations offered by these librarians were contenders, but a couple did not work out when I could not locate a copy to borrow. Some books like Red Hot Salsa, edited by Lori Marie Carlson, though highly reviewed, I suspect appeal more to adults than to adolescents (at least without prodding). I also rejected books that seemed a little too young for this list. There are a few titles, however, that are probably aimed at middle level readers, such as The Color of My Words and Heat, but their theme (or lack of better choices) made them worth keeping.

As I alluded to above, not all books were exactly a fit with the philosophy I have described. For example, Enrique’s Journey is nonfiction, unlike the other fiction titles, but merits a place because of Nazario’s vivid descriptions of the situation and her artful articulation of research into a plot. Gringolandia questionably does not have a contemporary setting, being that it takes place in 1986, but the real-life aspect of dealing with a resentful family member makes for a very powerful story. I also hesitated to include two books by the same author, Judith Ortiz Cofer, but I found very few contemporary Puerto Rican stories and she seemed to be the most prolific author with quality work.

My realizations

Young adult literature can be edgy and even controversial, but it seems that it is exactly this that teens are drawn to. I did not shy away from tough topics in multicultural Latino literature because edginess seemed to be the best way to really explore the Latino adolescent experience in an authentic way. The most frustrating part for me was discovering the lack of Dominican and Puerto Rican works. After all, Puerto Rico is part of this country and the biggest Latino group in the United States after Mexico (Naidoo 20), so it’s hard to understand how this could be possible. In this respect, it is additional evidence of how people of color continue to not be adequately represented or included in children’s literature.


Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. Accessed April 1, 2014. http://www.clcd.com.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/

¡Colorín Colorado! Accessed April 3, 2014. http://www.colorincolorado.org/

“The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) Advanced Book Search.” Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Accessed April 1, 2014. http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/booksearch/advanced.asp

Day, Frances Ann. “Evaluating Books for Bias.” Latina and Latino Voices in Literature for Children and Teenagers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1997.

“Hispanic Heritage.” All About Adolescent Literacy: Resources for Parents and Educators of Kids in Grades 4-12. http://www.adlit.org/books/c819/

“Hispanic Heritage Month.” Rich in Color. Last modified September 24, 2013. http://richincolor.com/2013/09/hispanic-heritage-month/

Naidoo, Jamie Campbell, ed. Celebrating Cuentos: Promoting Latino Children’s Literature and Literacy in Classrooms and Libraries. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2011.

Pon, Cindy, and Malinda Lo. Diversity in YA. http://www.diversityinya.com/ Accessed April 3, 2014.

Schliesman, Megan, Kathleen T. Horning and Merri V. Lindgren. “30 Multicultural Books Every Teen Should Know.” Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Last modified 2012. http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/detailListBooks.asp?idBookLists=253

Reader’s Response Journal: Biblioburro


Winter, Jeanette. Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia. New York: Beach Lane-Simon & Schuster, 2010. Print.


Luis had so many books in his house that his wife, Diana, started to get frustrated. Luis had the idea bringing books to children who had none in remote Colombian villages. He got two donkeys named Alfa and Beto, strapped crates for the books to their backs and created the “biblioburro” (the burro library). He rode all over with his burros, sharing a love of reading and his books with people who began to look forward to his visits.


Set in rural Colombia, contemporary time period.

Point of View:

3rd person


Literacy promotion, serving others, creative problem solving

Literary Quality:

Two or three short, simple sentences are on each page, making this book appropriate for young children. Text and pictures complement each other nicely. The use of speech bubbles and thought bubbles (with words and pictures) also add to the richness of the story. This book was on the 2011 commended list for the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature.

Quality of Illustrations:

The illustrations were done with bright, jungle colors and have the appearance of folk art. Many birds, lizards, butterflies and other insects occupy the pages with Luis, the burros and the children. There are many details for readers to examine, including a tiny second appearance of the bandit who tried to rob him, now reading a book too!

Cultural Authenticity:

This book was based on the true story of Luis Soriano in Colombia who really does travel with his biblioburro. Jeanette Winter heard of Luis from an article in the New York Times and was inspired to share more. Because the story is brief, it is hard to accuse Winter of embellishing the details. The illustrations of the Colombian characters have dark skin and black hair, with simple, colorful clothing, also seemingly respectful to Luis and the people of Colombia he serves.


This book is most likely appropriate for preschool- through early elementary-aged children. It will also appeal to librarians and teachers for the love of reading that it promotes.

Personal Reaction:

I really enjoyed this book because of how it recorded for posterity the ingenuity of Luis Soriano and his quest to share books with people. In fact, it made me go out searching for more information on Luis and I did find several pictures, videos and articles about what he is doing in Colombia. This is the kind of book that makes you feel good about humanity. I also love how Winter portrayed Luis as a perpetual teacher and a librarian at heart, notably in the scene where he brings masks for the children to wear as he reads The Three Little Pigs to them before they could choose their books. It made me feel a connection to him as a someone who just wants to bring books alive for kids.

Reader’s Response Journal: Esperanza Rising

Esperanza RisingCitation:

Ryan, Pam Muñoz. Esperanza Rising. 2000. New York: Scholastic, 2007. Print.


After Esperanza’s father is murdered and their house mysteriously burns down, Esperanza and her mother escape with a family of their former servants (Hortensia, Alfonzo and Miguel) in the middle of the night to avoid being caught by Tío Luis, who wants to marry Esperanza’s mother in order to increase his political status. They make the long journey to California hiding in the bed of a papaya truck and then on a dusty train, where they settle in with the family of Alfonzo’s brother to work in the fields picking fruits and vegetables. At first Esperanza has a hard time adjusting to the sudden poverty that she had never experienced before. When Esperanza’s mother falls seriously ill, Esperanza steps up and takes her place working in the fields to be able to pay the medical bills and save money to bring Abuelita from Mexico. One day, Miguel runs off and Esperanza discovers that he has stolen all of the money she saved. Esperanza’s mother recovers and Miguel eventually returns with a surprise that lifts everyone’s spirits.


Set in the 1920s and 1930s in Aguascalientes, Mexico, and the San Joaquin Valley, California.

Point of View:

3rd person


Coming of age, riches-to-rags, humility, poverty, corruption, racism and classism, teamwork, importance of family.

Literary Quality:

The writing is descriptive and believable, from Esperanza’s spoiled brat attitudes to her extreme worry over her mother’s health. Muñoz Ryan creatively uses fruits and vegetables as themes for each chapter, symbolizing an important event and eventually the growing season that Esperanza and her “extended family” arrange their lives around. This book won the Pura Belpré Award, was honored by the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature and made multiple “best books” lists.

Cultural Authenticity:

The book is peppered with Mexican proverbs and even a traditional birthday song in Spanish, all translated to English as well. Muñoz Ryan wrote this book based on the recollections and the life of her own grandmother who immigrated to the United States to work in the migrant farm camps under similar circumstances and conditions. She researched the strikes and labor movements described in the book, the Repatriation and Deportation Acts and the Valley Fever that made Esperanza’s mother sick (and that Muñoz Ryan herself tested positive for the antibodies of due to growing up in the same valley).


This book would be appropriate for an upper-elementary or middle school audience. It has a general appeal and a twist on the rags-to-riches theme where the wealthy are humbled instead. The Spanish language and cultural content is handled with support for the unfamiliar reader.

Personal Reaction:

This book pleasantly surprised me, because I expected a more babyish story. Instead I got a realistic look at life during this time period, with dynamic characters that had very human emotions and reactions. Esperanza’s difficulty with adjusting and her irritation with Isabel were so very well done. I had always meant to read this story and had even always heard positive reviews of it, even from students who are reluctant readers, so I am glad that I had the chance. The book was so engaging that I just ate it up.

Reader’s Response Journal: Breaking Through

Breaking ThroughCitation:

Jiménez, Francisco. Breaking Through. Carmel: Hampton-Brown, 2001. Print.


Francisco Jiménez writes a memoir of his secondary school days in California where his family came as migrant farm workers. He and his brother were deported when he was 14, temporarily causing the family to move back to Mexico. When they return, Panchito (as he is known by his family) and his older brother Roberto work part-time jobs throughout junior high and high school to help support their family, especially since their father’s health and depression sometimes prevents him from working. Panchito does not have a lot of time for friends, but does enjoy going to dances and participating in student government. He manages to get into college and get enough scholarships (and a loan) to attend. It is difficult for his father to support Panchito in going to college, but his mother and little brother help him accept the idea, with some help from Panchito’s counselor and teacher.


Bonetti Ranch and Santa Maria, California, in the 1950s and 60s.

Point of View:

1st person (Panchito)


Family loyalty, respect for parents, racism, poverty, cultural pride, identity, coming of age, education as liberator.

Literary Quality:

Jiménez’s writing is clear and descriptive, with the right amount of dialogue to move the story along. The retelling of his adolescence is coherent, instead of just a string of disjointed anecdotes. This edition includes “On-Page Coach” annotations of bolded vocabulary, on-page glossaries and discussion questions. Breaking Through won the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, the Pura Belpré Award, the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, and made several other “best books” lists between 2001 and 2003. Fortunately, Panchito’s tale is continued in Jiménez’s two other memoirs on his childhood and young adulthood.

Cultural Authenticity:

Given that Francisco Jiménez is a cultural insider and is writing an autobiographical account, the cultural authenticity of Breaking Through is solid. He includes some expressions in Spanish, which are often explained, though not translated, in context. This edition’s on-page glossaries added translations of any words that the reader wanted clarification on. The reader gets a rich view of the life of this Mexican American family. Jiménez also showed contrast of the two cultures he was navigating by including both of his nicknames—“Panchito” with the Mexicans and “Frankie” with the Americans. He consulted with other family members to corroborate and develop some of the stories he included in the book.


The interest level of this book is probably aimed at middle and high school readers, since these are the years of Jiménez’s life that were featured. The “On-Page Coach” notes from publisher Hampton-Brown also make the book accessible even to low-intermediate (and up) English Language Learners and reluctant readers, by simplifying idiomatic language that could be confusing. Young readers will appreciate the struggles Panchito experienced with his family and his studies and will be inspired by his dedication and hope for the future.

Personal Reaction:

This book was one that I had been meaning to read for years because of its relevance to the immigrant student population I work with. It was an enjoyable read and I was surprised by the traditional values and strong work ethic it promotes. I wondered if Panchito was really as well-behaved as he came off to be in the text. His infractions of disrespect and talking back seem benign to me (I was much sassier, as are many of the teenagers I know), but he really was a likable character that I was rooting for in the end. I was impressed by how Jiménez skillfully and subtly gave the reader looks at the racism he experienced, the fear of being revealed as an immigrant, and the confusion he had sometimes as an English Language Learner and outsider of the dominant culture.

Reader’s Response Journal: La Línea

La LineaCitation:

Jaramillo, Ann. La Línea. New Milford, Connecticut: Roaring Brook Press, 2006. Print.


Miguel’s plans to leave Mexico and join his parents in El Norte change when his younger sister, Elena, unexpectedly joins him. The two take a bus, ride on top of freight trains, and hide under blankets in the back of a pickup to get to the border town where they meet the coyote, Moisés,who will smuggle them across the border. They narrowly escape several dangerous situations, lose much of their money and meet a Central American traveling companion along the way. A seasoned professional, Moisés prepares them and leads them on their walk across the desert, but he is shot and captured by militia halfway through the journey. On their own, they battle thirst and the elements before making it back to civilization in Southern California, barely alive. In an epilogue set ten years later, the brother and sister look back on the experience with heavy hearts.


Contemporary time period. Set on the road between San Jacinto, Mexico, and California.

Point of View:

1st person (Miguel)


Immigration and migration, survival, danger, coming of age, sibling relations, separation of families.

Literary Quality:

Jaramillo’s novel is fast-moving and succinct, yet filled with powerful imagery. The plot is not overridden the protagonists being assaulted with every worst-case scenario that could possibly happen, nor does it gloss over the real life-threatening perils they face. Each chapter is short, lasting no more than a couple pages and every character and description serves to move the plot forward. La Línea was honored with the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature in 2007 and appeared on multiple “best books” lists during 2006 and 2007.

Cultural Authenticity:

The author was inspired to write this novel by the Mexican immigrant middle school students she teaches in California. She explains at the end of the book how she based the story on real situations and events. She also consulted with individuals and organizations interested in the struggle of immigrants at the border, especially the reporting of Sonia Nazario, the author of the highly acclaimed nonfiction book, Enrique’s Journey. Spanish language is integrated into the novel, often without a recasting of the English translation, yet generally comprehensible from the context. This technique gives the book the feel that the characters actually are Mexican teenagers, not just an English-speaking version of who the author imagines they are.


La Línea is probably most appropriate for a middle school or young adult audience. It could especially appeal to reluctant readers because of its length, action and linear plot. This book might also be useful for opening dialogue around the topic of illegal immigration and undocumented children in the United States since it presents the “human side” to the story.

Personal Reaction:

This book takes me though multiple emotions: frustration, anticipation, mistrust, worry, relief, satisfaction, sadness. I love the use of Spanish and the love-hate relationship between brother and sister. I first encountered La Línea a couple years ago when I used it as a read-aloud for a READ 180 class I was teaching. As an ESL teacher, I was aware that many of my students were undocumented immigrants, but I didn’t have any idea how parallel many of their stories were to this book. I remember asking several times, “Does this really happen?” and they would confirm it with extra details of what happened to them, tell me about how they were raised by grandparents while their parents were here, or recommend similar Spanish-language movies. Jaramillo wrote a story that needed to be told!

video of Latino Family Event: Ballet Folklórico

My department hosted a Latino Family Event back in September (back when I was wrangling walking pneumonia… I believe I was actually home sick from work that day, and drove in special, armed with tons of cough drops, because it was such a big deal.) 

I relearned iMovie like three times in the process and this is the first significant project I’ve created. Hope you enjoy!

Ballet Folklórico with los Hermanos Avila: School District of Fort Atkinson on September 27, 2013. Pictures and video by Beth Hennes and Kari Johnson.

Research Report on What Heritage Learners Want/Need from a Spanish Course

Case Study: Perceived Needs and Expectations of Rural High School Heritage Spanish Learners Informing a New Program


During the 2013-2014 school year, the high school I work at launched a Spanish course reserved for native or heritage Spanish speakers who already have measurable proficiency in Spanish but have not fully developed their academic skills in the language. The class is composed of 16 Latino students, ranging from freshmen to seniors with cultural backgrounds from Mexico and the Dominican Republic, some of whom have received little to no formal schooling in their native language. The course is in a pilot year and is being taught by myself (the author) and the Level 3-5/Advanced Placement Spanish instructor. We have no official school board-approved materials and have been using the Spanish Level 4 textbook at an accelerated pace with supplemental activities for heritage speakers.

Unfortunately, discipline and motivation have been significant problems so far. We often struggle with off-task behavior, vulgar language (in Spanish), disrespect toward the teachers and other students, extraneous talking, etc. It is often unpredictable whether the planned activities will either flop or surprise us. Many students are not completing assignments, whether given in class or as homework, and rarely take initiative to understand instructions, whether verbal or written. As both of us are experienced language instructors (I, in my 8th year, with experience as an English as a Second Language teacher and former French teacher, and my co-teacher in her 20th year of teaching Spanish), it is exceedingly frustrating to be dealing with such ongoing classroom management concerns. We as instructors continue to realign, seek informed advice and try alternative strategies in hopes that the course will go more smoothly and our students will benefit from the instruction we are trying to provide.

The Research Question

I designed this research project as a case study, using student questionnaires and behavior observation data, in response to our real information need. Going into the study, I assumed that the behavior problems we saw were stemming from inappropriate materials and/or activity selection, since students were continually complaining about tasks being unclear/too easy/too difficult. Our hypothesis was that if we know what students actually want or need from a heritage language course and we can deliver that, then our situation and the behavior problems will improve. Ultimately, this research seeks to answer the following question: What do heritage learners actually need from a Spanish language course (that can be used to drive instruction)?

The Search Strategy

I collected feedback directly from the heritage learners, as well as from several advanced nonnative speakers enrolled in the Level 5/Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish course for comparison purposes. Data was solicited from an additional two heritage learners who had previously been taking World Language Spanish courses and are now currently enrolled in the AP Spanish Language course; these two students were given the same surveys as the other heritage learners.

Where possible, I worked with my co-teacher to develop tools that we could use to collect data for this project and to help us make decisions for the class. At the beginning of the course, we conducted brief conferences to review placement test results with the heritage students and asked them to briefly analyze their data and set goals for the course. The primary data collection tool, however, was a four-page survey that asked students to consider their reasons for registering for the course, what their strengths, weaknesses and learning styles are, as well as their opinions of the course content. Students were also given a type of holistic self-assessment rubric called the WIDA Can-Do Descriptors, which is used to qualify student linguistic ability in reading, writing, listening and speaking, and asked students to rate their own Spanish abilities (WIDA, 2012). To assess and rank learning style preferences, students completed an online inventory (Memletics Learning Styles Questionnaire, 2013). Nonnative students from the Level 5/AP course were given a similar needs survey and the Can-Do Descriptors rubric.

I compiled all of the data using Google Forms, which also makes an interesting graphic analysis of the data collected. I also had access to all of data in a Google-created spreadsheet that I could sort and organize to draw conclusions. I used this spreadsheet data to create the additional charts included later in this report.

Here is the Placement Conference and Goal worksheetHeritage Learning Expectations and Needs Survey and Nonnative Learning Expectations and Needs Survey. You may also view a PDF of the compiled heritage learner survey data here. The nonnative survey data is available here.

The Findings

When asked to self-assess their language abilities in listening, speaking, reading and writing, the heritage learners ranked themselves highest in the oral language domains of listening and speaking, which were likely the primary ways that these learners acquired Spanish as young children. In contrast, the nonnative speakers felt more comfortable in the literacy domains of reading and writing. A chart of the average self-ratings of both groups is shown below:

Self-Rating of Abilities

One part of the survey asked students to check off areas or skills from a list that they felt they needed to improve and areas or skills that they saw as strengths. Top areas of improvement for the heritage learners were: using accents (94.4% or 17 of 18 respondents marked this), editing/finding mistakes in my own writing (77.8% or 14 of 18), spelling correctly (66.7% or 12 of 18), formal/presentational writing (61.1% or 11 of 18) and interpreting English to Spanish (61.1% or 11 of 18). Their commonly perceived strengths were: interpreting English to Spanish (55.6% or 10 of 18 respondents), informal/everyday writing (50% or 9 of 18), watching TV or listening to the radio in Spanish (50% or 9 of 18) and fiction/informal reading (44.4% or 8 of 18). While several of the nonnative speakers marked formal/presentational writing (60% or 3 of 5 respondents) and interpreting—speaking (80% or 4 of 5) as an area of improvement, they were not as concerned with spelling correctly or using accents as the heritage learners were. In fact, 60% or 3 of 5 of the nonnative speakers listed spelling and accents as strengths. Charts comparing the two groups’ perceived strengths and weaknesses are shown below:

Weakness Chart

Strength Chart

When asked about what they saw as the most valuable part of the course so far, heritage learners cited the work they had done with writing (7 mentioned this) and learning about accents (4 mentioned this). Interestingly, the most common frustration (mentioned by 5 students) was the poor behaviors of other students, such as not working or too much talking.

My Interpretations

Overall, according to the survey results, there is a general consensus that heritage learners are looking for help with their writing, especially using accents and spelling. Students are also interested in reading more and practicing interpretation/translation skills. Based on the data, it is fair to conclude that since heritage learners are most confident with oral language, we could use oral language as a tool for accessing content and higher-level thinking. For example, students could listen for input (using a strength) and then respond in writing (addressing a weakness). Likewise, students could read for input (addressing a weakness) and then discuss orally (using a strength).

While discipline has been a problem in this class, I was pleasantly surprised to see several serious, insightful reflections from students on their surveys, as well as two students who actually expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to share their opinions and have input on our course content. Unfortunately, three students have dropped the course from the original 19 we began with, but we think/hope we may be left with solid core of students who care about their own improvement. These results warmed my heart and made me wonder if my assumptions were correct—that if we gave students what they wanted and needed from the course, then the poor behavior would improve.

Reacting to the Data

Incidentally, in the week leading up to the administration of the survey, we attempted to change our teaching approach from text-guided to project-based. The students, while sometimes dawdling, seem to be much more engaged with a project that seems meaningful and authentic to them. Two of them made comments on this move as “most valuable” on their survey before they had even completed the project! After receiving the survey results, we also began including some drop-in mini-lessons on written accents and spelling, since a significant number of students had cited these as weaknesses.

In general, we did see some improvement in behaviors; there were definitely less discipline referrals during this unit. Students were also more focused while working on a larger, integrated digital storytelling project as opposed to completing photocopied worksheets about the “present perfect subjunctive” verb tense. However, we still quite frequently encounter destructive and negative attitudes from some students who say, “I can’t/I won’t/I’m too lazy/I don’t care/This is dumb because I already know everything/This is too hard” (sometimes out of the same students’ mouths within the same five-minute period!)

My conclusion—just because someone claims to value something, doesn’t mean that they will follow through and pursue said thing.  My heritage learners may be able to identify that written accents and spelling are weaknesses for them, but they are not all quite ready to commit to the concentration and critical thinking necessary to pursue mastery. The presumption that my research question would provide me with the solution I was looking for was perhaps misguided and there may be other components coming together to cause the classroom chaos that we have been experiencing.

Suggestions for Future Research

Given the defeatist and defiant attitudes expressed above by those students still resisting our attempts to teach a meaningful needs-based Heritage Spanish curriculum, it might be valuable to investigate motivation as a factor causing some of our classroom problems. For example, sometimes when presented with an optional extension activity for those who finish the required work (this would be intrinsically motivation—the pursuit of self-improvement), students refuse and choose instead to try to distract other learners. A similar phenomenon occurs when students are offered a “reward” such as a piece of candy or a mystery prize (an example of an extrinsic motivator). In the context of the digital storytelling project, several students worked very diligently and meticulously on the written and visual portions of the project, but then shut down and refused to complete the audio requirement, despite the knowledge of the rationale for the audio part of the project and facing a significant negative effect on their grade. These refusals to succeed are puzzling, yet worth looking into.

While the move from using a Spanish textbook aimed at nonnative speakers to project-based learning was a definite improvement, stringing together a series of projects will not create a unified, intentional curriculum. Locating a research-based, integrated skills Heritage Spanish textbook written specifically for a high school audience is important to the success of this program. Students will need a top-down, or macro-, approach to language development that both employs their oral strengths and activates their literacy weaknesses, with a targeted bottom-up, or micro-approach, that develops linguistic needs (such as accents and spelling) specific to heritage learners. Additionally, for the sanity of the teachers involved, who both are charged with multiple courses to prep for in a day, having a quality textbook in place to guide the course would be a welcome addition, instead of creating everything from scratch.

Although this study hinted at comparisons between heritage learners and nonnative speakers of Spanish, the sample size was not statistically significant, nor was the data collection focused on extracting the differences between the groups. This would be another viable option for future research. I chose not to include a formal literature review as part of this research report because I tried to based my findings on action research instead, but a reasonable next step would be to conduct an in-depth literature review on, for example, the differences between heritage learners and nonnative speakers, the specific needs of heritage learners and the most pedagogically sound approaches to teaching heritage learners. Even though heritage language instruction is not extremely common at the secondary and post-secondary levels, there do exist leaders in the field to consult with.

Suggested References for Further Study

Beeman, K., & Urow, C. (2012). Teaching for biliteracy: strengthening bridges between languages. Philadelphia: Caslon Publishing.

Carreira, M. (2007). Spanish-for-native-speaker Matters: Narrowing the Latino Achievement Gap through Spanish Language Instruction. Heritage Language Journal, 5(1). Retrieved from http://hlj.ucla.edu/ViewPaper.ashx?ID=Zq%2fzGiOkw8kPzTK3FOHvkg%3d%3d

Carreira, M., Jensen, L., & Kagan, O. (2009). The Heritage Language Learner Survey: Report on the Preliminary Results. National Heritage Language Resource Center.

Jensen, B. (2013). Research Project Organizer. Big6. Retrieved October 21, 2013, from http://big6.com/pages/free-stuff.php

Maxwell, L. A. (2012). “Dual” Classes See Growth In Popularity. Education Week, 31(26), 1–17.

Memletics Learning Styles Questionnaire. (2013). Retrieved October 11, 2013, from http://www.learning-styles-online.com/inventory/questions.php?cookieset=y

Polinsky, M., & Kagan, O. (2007). Heritage Languages: In the “Wild” and in the Classroom. Language and Linguistics Compass, 1(5), 368–395. doi:10.1111/j.1749-818X.2007.00022.x

Potowski, K. (2005). Fundamentos de la enseñanza del español a hispanohablantes en los EE. UU. Madrid: Arco/Libros.

Ricento, T. (2005). Problems with the “language-as-resource” discourse in the promotion of heritage languages in the U.S.A. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 9(3), 348–368. doi:10.1111/j.1360-6441.2005.00296.x

StarTalk/NHLRC. (2009). Teaching heritage languages: An online workshop. [Online course modules]. Retrieved October 26, 2013 from http://startalk.nhlrc.ucla.edu/default_startalk.aspx

WIDA. (2012, September). WIDA’s Can Do Descriptors by grade-level cluster. World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment. Retrieved from http://www.wida.us/standards/CAN_DOs/

Novice Searching

It is easy to become overconfident as a novice searcher because simply finding an answer to a research question seems to count as a success, but that answer does not confirm that your search was exhaustive and includes the best results out there. However, when challenged with exercises based on more complicated or unfamiliar information needs, I found that my searches were sometimes misguided or incomplete. For example, it seemed like when I lost points on course assignments, it was usually for this reason: I either didn’t really understand how to find the answer or I stopped searching prematurely.

In Suzanne Bell’s Librarian’s Guide to Online Searching (2012), she provides a “Searcher’s Toolkit” in chapters 2 and 3. As I studied chapter 2 on the use of Boolean Logic in searching, which she described as

“the most fundamental concept of all… In fact, this concept is so fundamental that you’ve probably run into it before, possibly several times through grade school, high school, and college. But do you really know what Boolean logic is and how it works? Do you really understand how it will affect your searches?” (p. 19),

I thought, “Finally, a practical use for that semester I spent in Logic class as an undergrad!” Of course, I proceeded to read the chapter thinking of how the application of Boolean logic to my own Searcher’s Toolkit was going to be a simple, yet valuable addition. Indeed, it was; when I implemented it in an assignment to compare databases, I quickly got a nice tight package of results. I found out later from my instructor that I actually didn’t quite understand the “Order of Boolean Operations” (Bell, 2012, p. 23) necessary to successfully use Boolean logic in a database and that the use of parentheses helps a lot, just like in mathematics.

I’m actually still not sure that I always do it correctly, but I think it’ll come with practice. As I continued working in my chosen database, I know I was very bold with my use of Boolean logic in search terms and often probably opted for results with good recall over precision by searching broadly (Bell, 2012). It takes longer to sift through the false positives, but I was more satisfied not to miss relevant results, especially with a database like Ethnic NewsWatch that indexes a lot of newspapers—sometimes very superficially.

Throughout my semester group project (on Health Resources for Latinos), I also found it valuable to use some of Alastair G. Smith’s (2012) Internet search tactics that I wasn’t as familiar with before. The BIBBLE technique proved especially useful toward the end of the project when we realized we needed to find additional resources to complete sections of the LibGuide that were sparse (Smith, 2012). Webpages that had already compiled authoritative resources helped us fill in the gaps and saved us some time. In finding demographic information about the Latino population, we used the CROSSCHECK technique to be sure that we correctly represented Latino culture, especially since none of us are of Latino background (Smith, 2012). For example, before we summarized common Latino health behaviors, we consulted two or three scholarly articles on the topic for consistency, so as not to stereotype or overgeneralize.

We were unsure for quite awhile on how to reconcile the focus and audience of our final project with the use of academic databases. Unfortunately, it took us until we had to write our learning objectives for the final presentation before we had a clear idea of whom we were targeting and how we could arrange the LibGuide. While we were able to come up with scholarly resources all along, it seemed a little backwards, maybe even wasteful, to conduct a large-scale search on a general topic like “Healthcare for Latino Immigrants” and then decide later if it was useful and how we would organize it.

Once we established the sections of the guide, we had to reevaluate where we had holes in our research and search again, which felt a little bit like starting over. Perhaps an outline of the guide earlier in the process might have been more efficient, but I’m not sure we would have had as global of a view or encountered some of the resources that were the most valuable. For example, the plain language focus was a serendipitous find. I don’t think anyone had it in mind as a search term early on, since there weren’t resources from the academic databases specifically about using plain language in health care. It was a topic spawned from the section on improving care that we had to scramble to develop because we missed the idea in the planning stages. We likely would have overlooked it completely had we been asked to come up with an outline of the organization of our LibGuide before we tackled the databases.

Likewise, when we finally focused on our audience as the health care providers serving Latino immigrants, the final searching and organization process accelerated immensely. However, if this had happened earlier in the process, again, we may not have stumbled across some of the resources we gathered with broader searches. Regardless, even though we narrowed down our resources to a reasonable selection, I couldn’t help but wonder if the task would ever really feel complete, especially given the depth of information out there about nearly everything.