Friday, June 29, 2012


Soto, Gary. Chato’s Kitchen. Illus. Susan Guevara. New York City: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995. ISBN 0-399-22658-3. $16.99. Ages 6-11.

This creative tale spun by famous author Gary Soto is a warm, inviting picture book about unlikely friends. Chato is a low-riding cat in “East Los” (East LA) who loves to eat birds. While he is sneaking up on a sparrow, he spots a family of mice moving in next door. He invites them over for dinner, planning to eat them. After much discussion, the mice decide to join Chato for dinner. Much to Chato’s surprise, the family of mice brings a dog with them. Chato is scared of the dog at first, but Mami mouse convinces him that their canine companion is friendly. In the end, the cats, mice, and dog enjoy a delicious meal together.

Chato’s Kitchen is a fictional picture book. It is written in English, but has many Spanish words sprinkled throughout. These italicized words bring the reader’s attention to colloquial Spanish phrases, terminology, and traditional food. They bring a distinctly Latin flavor to the book which allows the reader to enter into Chato’s urban East Los Angeles world. The Spanish words are written in the same font and size as the English words, and they appear in italics in the text. The font size is clear, visible, and legible on every page. The English words are written in academic language, but the Spanish words are Mexican slang intended to draw readers into the main character’s experience as an East Los Angeles cat. The words are inoffensive, and teachers could still use the book for a lesson. If a bilingual teacher felt that any one word would offend a certain population, it would not be difficult for that teacher to simply translate the word to a less offensive English word.

This book has wonderful illustrations. It allows the reader to comprehend the way the barrio looks and helps aid in story comprehension. Drawings are more literal than abstract, and therefore language learners would be able to follow the plot of the story by looking at the pictures. The book does not rhyme, and there is little repetition, but it would be a good study in descriptive language and adjectives. The rich descriptions and adjectives pull the reader into the world that the author intended to expose. The first page of the book contains not only a glossary but also an explanation of the traditional Mexican food that Chato makes for the mice.

The writing is of a thoughtfully calculated and extremely high quality, and the characters are carefully selected to depict interactions between different types of people as represented through cats, dogs, and mice. The plot is one that young readers can understand, and older students can discuss the interactions between different types of people in Los Angeles. Overall, this is a high-quality piece of literature that can introduce students of any ethnic background to a vibrant community much like their own. Social studies themes abound in this book. Teachers could do a lesson on ethnic foods served in the students’ families or a study on different ethnic groups in Los Angeles.

 Gary Soto is a well-known author of books and poems for children and adults. He has won many awards for his various literary works, including being a finalist for the National Book Award, the Bess Hokin Prize and the Levinson Award. In 1999, he received the Literature Award from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, the Author-Illustrator Civil Rights Award from the National Education Association, and the PEN Center West Book Award for Petty Crimes ( This book is part of a series of picture books featuring Chato. The other books are titled Chato and the Party Animals and Chato Goes Cruisin’ (which was voted one of the "Ten best illustrated books” by the New York Times in 2005).

Reviewed by Rachel McLemore

This review is part of the Special Section: Books in Spanish, featuring a collaboration with Policy and Language Studies students at San Diego State University. Read more about it here.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Stevens, Jan Romero. Carlos and the Carnival / Carlos y la feria. Flagstaff: Rising Moon, 1999. ISBN # 0-87358-733-2.

In Española, New Mexico, a young girl, Gloria, hits the piñata at her friend Carlos's birthday party. Gloria and Carlos are next door neighbors and decide to go to the fair the day following Carlo’s birthday. Carlos is excited to take $10 that he got for his birthday to the fair, but his father warns him that money disappears quickly when its spender makes unwise decisions. Carlos reminds his father that he is older now and knows how to spend his money. At the fair, Carlos and Gloria eat a lot of food (including sopapillas, a recipe for which appears at the end of the story). They also go on rides and play games. Carlos ends up spending all of his money trying to pop balloons with darts at a booth. In the end, all he wins is a black plastic spider. Before leaving the fair, Carlos visits his rabbit and notices a blue ribbon marked “Best of Show.” Carlos wins $5 for his show rabbit. As Carlos and Gloria leave the fair, another man from a game booth calls Carlos. Carlos makes the decision to not risk the money he has just earned and walks away.

This book is written in Spanish and English, written in English first and then translated to Spanish. The writing in Spanish does not seem to follow the proper structure of the Spanish language; because of this, it is not a very accurate translation. Although the syntax for the Spanish translation is not correct, the translation does match the original tone, story, and culture of the book. In addition, the English writing includes some sayings and expressions in Spanish which helps the tone, story, and culture of the book remain the same in both languages.

The text for the English and Spanish is different. The English is in bold font, while the Spanish is in a thinner, italicized font. Both are clear, visible and legible. The text does include some Spanish slang that might confuse Spanish language learners. The book does not include a glossary for this language, but it can can still be understood because the slang is used within the context of the plot.

The illustrations in the book can help with comprehension and support linguistic and skill transfer. This book would be appropriate for third through fifth grade.

Reviewed by Stephanie Calixto

This review is part of the Special Section: Books in Spanish, featuring a collaboration with Policy and Language Studies students at San Diego State University. Read more about it here.


Rodriguez, Luis J. It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way: A Barrio Story/No tiene que ser así: Una historia del barrio. Illus. Daniel Galvez. San Francisco: Children’s Book Press, 1999. ISBN: 978-0-89239-161-5. $31.19. 

Luis J. Rodriguez is a bestselling author, journalist, poet, and an ex-gang member dedicated to helping children stay away from gangs. He conducts workshops, readings, and talks in prisons. Rodriguez has published more than a dozen books all related to changing the lives of children. He also was interviewed on NBC-LA’s “Nonstop News LA” with Collen Williams about his most recent book It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing.

I liked It Doesn't Have to be This Way because of its main character: a boy named Monchi who could be involved in serious problems had he not finally made good choices in his life. Throughout the story, the reader sees Monchi makes some bad choices until a tragic event changes the course of his life. The words Monchi's uncle Rogelio says to him, “It doesn’t have to be this way,” express the difficult but necessary decision Monchi makes to change his life after his cousin Dreamer almost dies in a gang-related shooting.

The main objective of this book is to advise students of the consequences when teenagers are involved in gangs. The moral message in the story is that people always have a choice to decide to act in their own benefit or to act in ways that benefit others around them. The author uses simple language to explain to children how easy it is to be involved in gangs and how important it is to analyze all perspectives in our decisions. The most important points conveyed are to pay attention to those who are our real friends, to learn how to decide the best course of action for ourselves, and to appreciate when someone wants the best for us.

In my opinion, this book is an excellent tool to explain to students the consequences of being part of a gang just to fit in where they live. The book narrates the story in two languages, English and Spanish. The language used through the book and the pictures in it clearly depict the real situations some children face in order to be accepted in their social context. I highly recommend this book to all educators who wish to promote informed decision-making in their students. The author uses real language and describes the atmosphere.

Martha Graciela Salmeron

This review is part of the Special Section: Books in Spanish, featuring a collaboration with Policy and Language Studies students at San Diego State University. Read more about it here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Simmons, Steven J. Alicia ya Greta: Un Cuento de dos Brujas. Illustrated by Cyd Moore. Translated by Teresa Mlawer. Waterton: Charlesbridge Publishing, 1999. ISBN 978-0881061338.

Alicia y Greta is a wonderful story. Translated into Spanish from the original in English, Alice and Greta: A Tale of Two Witches, the story follows two witches who attend the same school. They both learn magical spells, but they start using them in different ways. The witches have different perspectives on the things they learn and see, which are ostensibly the same.

It is a good story to share with students about the type of decisions they make. Everybody is given the same lesson in school and in life, but how people interpret and use their lessons can be very different. It is up to us to make decisions. The book is amazing because it specifically states what the consequence will be for making a bad decision. In the story the teacher states that whatever you decide to do with your magic will come back to you. A second lesson is to pay attention to instruction. You cannot be distracted because you may miss a very important critical instruction, which Greta did.

The language is beautiful and descriptive. The illustrations are colorful and vibrant. The story is full of verbs and adjectives which can easily be transferred to a lesson. For a lesson on introducing verbs, a read-aloud might be a good option, so that students can listen with the objective of identifying and writing down the verbs. Additionally, the spells in the book use a lot of rhymes, which can be used for a poetry lesson. At only 29 pages, the book is short and very fun to read. You can definitely keep the attention of your students.

Irina Flores Romano

This review is part of the Special Section: Books in Spanish, featuring a collaboration with Policy and Language Studies students at San Diego State University. Read more about it here.

PEPITA TALKS TWICE by Ofelia Dumas Lachtman

Lachtman, Ofelia Dumas. Pepita Talks Twice. Illustrated by Alex P. DeLange. Houston: Arte Público Press, 1995. ISBN: 1-55885-077-5. 14.95. 

Skipping Stones Honor Award

In Pepita Talks Twice, the author tells the story of Pepita, a little girl who decides that being bilingual is causing her many problems in her everyday life. Having to translate from English to Spanish and vice versa to help her neighbors and other friends from the community, Pepita is constantly running late and is unable to teach her dog, Lobo, new tricks. After a long trip back home, Pepita’s brother, Juan, gets home before her and shows Lobo a new trick. This is the last straw for Pepita! She decides she will only speak English. She is officially tired of “speaking twice.”

As the story progresses, Pepita starts to face new challenges as she speaks only English. Lobo, now named Wolf, does not listen to her. At school, she is unable to help a new girl who does not speak English. Pepita starts to realize that not speaking Spanish is causing her some difficulties. What is her name now going to be? Perhaps Pete? And what will she call a “taco”? Maybe a “crispy, crunchy, folded-over, round corn sandwich,” she thinks. At the climax of the story, Lobo is about to be hit by a car. Pepita yells at him in English but of course the dog doesn't understand. In a moment of frustration, Pepita yells at him in Spanish. Lobo responds and comes back into the house. Pepita is glad that she “talked twice” and was able to save Lobo. She realizes that speaking two languages is actually great, and she determines that she will speak in English and Spanish always.

This fiction picture book is written both in English and in Spanish and it is aimed at elementary school students, primarily 2nd to 4th grade. The font size and the format are clear, visible, and legible. The vivid, colorful illustrations give the reader a perfect description of what goes on in the story. The translation in Spanish is well written; however, if you read it in English you can get a better sense of the story, since Pepita decides to only talk in English, so the words that she uses are better understood if you read it in English. Pepita Talks Twice definitely supports linguistic and skill transfer. Through the language and the illustrations, language learners can get a clear understanding of the story. In addition, the story promotes dialogue. Pepita expresses her feelings and thoughts through dialogue.

I definitely recommend this book. Pepita Talks Twice is a story that connects to the life experiences of many children. Whether it is with English and Spanish or with other languages, the story reflects the concerns, challenges and thoughts that many children might have about being bilingual. Pepita takes the reader through a journey of her experience. She realizes that being bilingual is wonderful! Being able to communicate in two languages leads you into a world where you can appreciate the meaning of "speaking twice," as Pepita calls it.

Ildara Armenta

This review is part of the Special Section: Books in Spanish, featuring a collaboration with Policy and Language Studies students at San Diego State University. Read more about it here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

THE WOMAN WHO OUTSHONE THE SUN by Alejandro Cruz Martinez

Martinez, Alejandro Cruz. The Woman Who Outshone the Sun/ La mujer que brillaba aún más que el sol. Hong Kong: Children's Book Press, 1991. ISBN 0-89239-126-x. $7.95.

Read another review of this book here.

Written as a poem, this picture book tells the legend of the Zapotecs, an indigenous group from Oaxaca, Mexico. Both English and Spanish languages are used with an appropriate translation; the text is presented in English, with Spanish below it as a separate passage. The book was written in English and the Spanish translations were added by Rosalma Zubizarreta, a well known-translator for Children's Book Press and a bilingual teacher in San Francisco.

The translation matches the original tone, story and culture of the book. I took tone into consideration when calling this book's translation "appropriate." For example in the first few sentences, Lucia is portrayed as a beautiful woman by the expression of “thousands of dancing butterflies and brightly colored flowers.” In Spanish, “miles de mariposas y una infinidad de flores” is the equivalent that carries the same meaning. Both English and Spanish have equal weight. They take up the same amount of space, size, and approximately the same number of sentences. The format is clear for both, allowing the text to be visible and legible. The book contains standard vocabulary for both languages. A glossary is not included, but there is an end note at the back of the book to clarify key vocabulary from Oaxaca.

All of the illustrations are paintings by Fernando Olivera, one of the author's good friends. Each illustration is consistent with what the passage says. It supports linguistic and skill transfer by bringing the words to life, helping the reader create an image of what Martinez talks about.

Ingrid Medrano

This review is part of the Special Section: Books in Spanish, featuring a collaboration with Policy and Language Studies students at San Diego State University. Read more about it here.

FRIDA by Jonah Winter

Winter, Jonah. Frida. Illustrated by Ana Juan. New York: Scholastic Press, 2002. ISBM: 0-590-20320-7. $16.95/$22.99. 

ALA Notable Book
Américas Award Honor Book
Society of Illustrators’ Original Art Show selection
Parenting Magazine Best Book of 2002
2002 Parents’ Choice Gold Award (includes both English and Spanish texts)
National Association of Parenting Publications Gold Award

After captivating readers with his children’s book about Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, Jonah Winter shifts his focus to the life of Rivera’s resilient wife, Frida Kahlo. In this picture-book biography, Winter describes the life of the renowned artist through the use of poetic diction and incredibly vivid illustrations. The reader is led through Frida’s struggles and accomplishments, bringing light to the way in which she used art as an escape from all the pain that she had to endure. The story begins with her childhood and ends with an explanation of her impact throughout society and of how the inspirational beauty she created instills hope.

The book was originally written in English but has also been translated into Spanish. The diction is strategically chosen and although there are only a few lines per page, the language is sharp, appealing to the emotions of children and adults alike. The format of the text is unique, and the placement varies throughout each page, adjusting to fit within the vibrant illustrations. This seems very appropriate to me, especially considering Frida’s personal artistic style; however, some of the text is on dark colors, which impedes the clarity. For this reason, I think that in a classroom setting this book may be more appropriate for a read-aloud, especially with younger children. The abstract images contain references to Mexican culture, which adds a valuable authenticity to the book. Young students, especially those that have not been exposed to these traditional images before, may not understand the intention behind the illustrations at first, but adults reading it will find themselves immersed in their bold truth.

The audience for this book depends on the intended purpose for reading. Young children will surely enjoy the simple and effortless nature of the language as well as the mesmerizing illustrations. For upper-grade elementary students, the book can be an effective way to introduce a study of Frida’s triumphs and the strains she had to endure in order to achieve them. An analysis of the language and corresponding images could stimulate a sophisticated discussion of the impact of art and the value of a resilient mindset. I would also recommend using this book as a means of encouraging an interest in reading and art for young readers, as well as introducing the concept of biographies.

Reviewed by Erica Munro

This review is part of the Special Section: Books in Spanish, featuring a collaboration with Policy and Language Studies students at San Diego State University. Read more about it here.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Soto, Gary. Too Many Tamales. Illus. Ed Martinez. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993. ISBN 0-399-22146-8. $14.95. Grades 1-3.

Award-winning author Gary Soto has written dozens of books for young readers, and Too Many Tamales is another in his catalog of tales that illuminate Mexican American culture. Too Many Tamales tells the story of Maria’s Christmas tragedy-turned-comedy when she thinks she has lost her mother’s diamond ring in the masa of the tamales. It takes the reader into the home of Maria and her beautiful and loving family. We also become familiar with her cousins Dolores, Teresa, and Danny.

The book is beautifully written in English with a few interjections in Spanish. The words in Spanish are italicized and are simple words such as niña and masa. The print is easily readable, and the pictures add to the comprehension for readers who struggle with the text alone. Too Many Tamales contains dialogue and many descriptive adjectives. It is easy to relate to this book, and I think children of every age would enjoy it. I especially recommend Too Many Tamales for a first-grade read-aloud.

Reviewed by Chelsea Benson

This review is part of the Special Section: Books in Spanish, featuring a collaboration with Policy and Language Studies students at San Diego State University. Read more about it here.


Ada, Alma Flor and F. Isabel Campoy. Celebra Hanukkah con un cuento de Bubbe. Illus. Mariano Epelbaum. Miami: Santillana USA Publishing Company, Inc., 2007. ISBN 1-59820-122-0. $11.95.

Categories: K-6 Social Studies/Language Arts/Math; Family, Food, Generosity, Multicultural, Myths and Legends, Expository Text, Dialogue, Character, Parts of a Story, Number Sense.
More info:

Renowned children’s book authors Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy take us around the Hanukkah table at Bubbe’s (Yiddish for grandma) house where three siblings learn about generosity as they are each tempted by the golden fried latkes laid out before them. In true culturally Jewish fashion, Bubbe tells a traditional Hanukkah tale of two brothers during the time of Jewish slavery that mirrors the generosity the children are displaying to one another. The first part of the book is written in dialogue as it tells its story.

Originally written in Spanish, this book also has an English translated version available. Older readers could work on translation skills by analyzing the text of both copies. For both versions, Mariano Epelbaum provides bright and inviting illustrations, with many clearly articulated details ripe for student questioning. Translations for Yiddish words are provided at the bottom of each page where they are used in a text size that may require teacher assistance depending on the age.

The second part of the book reads as expository text about the aspects of Hanukkah. It has much more of a textbook quality in that it features photographs in place of Mariano Epelbaum’s illustrations. Readers may want to know that the majority of the photographs are of Ashkenazi Jews, in other words light skinned, as opposed to providing the reader with a more representative picture of multicultural Jewish identity. Even with this critique, however, this seems to be the only children’s book about Hanukkah written in Spanish in current circulation. The section on the dreidel game can also be easily converted into a collaborative math lesson on number sense. In the end of this informational section, a variety of other winter holidays that feature lights are presented. This can be used to encourage multicultural dialogue and further analyzed with the use of a Venn diagram.

This book is perfect for K-6, depending on the intention of instruction. Social Studies topics of family, food, generosity, and multicultural awareness can all be easily addressed. Language arts in either English or Spanish, depending on the copy, can cover myths and legends, expository text, and elements of a story. As mentioned earlier, math lessons on number sense can also be found within these pages. It is also simply an entertaining read for learners of all ages who would like to learn more about the Hanukkah holiday.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Aspen Shirley-Dancoff

This review is part of the Special Section: Books in Spanish, featuring a collaboration with Policy and Language Studies students at San Diego State University. Read more about it here.