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Cinco de Mayo: Books that demonstrate the contributions of a talented, hardworking people

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  • same same but different

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America’s future is based on the history of its illegal immigrants.

This day, let America affirm the presence of Mexican-Americans — a  people whose influence can be felt throughout the United States. For over 500 years they have had a major impact on America’s culture.

Cinco de Mayo, the 5th of May, commemorates the 1862 Spanish conquest at  El Dia de la Battle of Puebla; a war between the Mexicans and the French occupiers.

Miraculously,  with courage, determination, and 4,500  troops –the Mexicans  defeated an army of  6,000 men.  

Today, in observance of this historical significance, every 5th of May, in the United States, the Chicano people throw a “gran fiesta” with  traditional dance, clothing, cuisine, and Mariachi bands.  

Their contributions are many and are inspired by the possibilities of innovative expression in American arts. Therefore, with much appreciation and veneration, let America stand and salute Matt de la Pena, Margarita Engle, Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw, and many others for their recognizable talents displayed in children’s literature.

  • last stop on market street

The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena received the John Newbery Medal for distinguished contributions to children’s literature and the Randolph Caldecott Honor Medal for distinguished illustrations.

This adorable little story is a story about a relationship between a small boy and his grandmother, and their weekly trips into town.

Most Sundays after church, CJ and his grandmother would board the city bus to their favorite stop, Market Street. Today, it’s raining and CJ is unwilling to go.  He has the rainy day blues. The rain made CJ see things in a whole new way, evoking him to ask questions in a way he hadn’t asked before —  “How come we always gotta go here after church, and how come that man can’t see?” His grandmother replied, “Boy, what do you know about seeing, some people watch the world with their ears”.  

When the bus stops, CJ gets off, looks up at the vacant houses, and then looks down at the sidewalk that was falling apart.  CJ asked, “Grandmother, how come it’s always so dirty over here?”   

What CJ’s grandmother said next made him wonder, how she was always able to find beauty in everything?

This wholesome and enjoyable picture book targets emergent readers ages 3-5. It’s filled with a lot of descriptive language and colorful imagery, and it is an excellent choice to read aloud for modeling dialog and conversation — enriching the important language skills of listening and speaking.

Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw is a story replete with themes of differences, commonalities, and brotherhood. Meant for ages 4-7, it is an indirect representation of two young boys living over 13,000 miles apart. Elliott lives in the United States with a family of three, and Kailash resides in India with a huge family of 23. They are penpals with different lifestyles but the same desires. They each love art, climbing trees, playing with their pets, and they even like learning their alphabets.

In 2012, the book received the Ezra Jack Keats Award, recognizing the efforts of emerging talents in the field of children’s literature. This lighthearted story, filled with vibrant and dazzling illustrations, helps the reader understand that differences embody similarities, and no matter how we go about doing things, we are all still the same.

The Wild Book by Margarita Engle is a novel written in verse, sprinkled with beautiful Spanish words and phrases. It’s a fictionalized tale about the author’s grandmother, who as a child, struggled with reading.

The “hissing doctor” informed the family of Fefa’s disability, explaining that because she suffered with “word-blindness,” she would neither read nor write. Today, this condition is known as dyslexia. Dyslexia is a language-based disorder that affects one’s ability to read accurately and fluently, but it is not a problem of intelligence.

Fefa disliked doing homework and would become extremely nervous whenever asked to read aloud in class. Each time she opened a book the words would leap, hop and jump far away from her. “The words seemed to float and drift and even change shapes” — Fefa felt stupid and ashamed. To make matters worse, her own brothers would whisper, “Josefa, Fefa~ Fefa la Fea. ~ Fea… Ugly.”

Fefa often thought of running away, but remembered her father’s warning against the child-snatching bandits looking for ransoms. This warning made her shudder. She thought, “What if someone hands me a note, will I see clearly enough to read the tricky difference between friendly words and a deadly threat?”

The author has brilliantly created a protagonist with a child’s point of view of how living with a reading disorder can be very painful. She has given voice to children who often feel left out of the loop.

This book may be intended for children in  5th through 7th grades, but for those who are working to help dyslexic children increase their capabilities to acquire adequate use of grammar, it is also an excellent text to reference when helping them to better understand themselves. 

The Last Stop on Market Street
G.P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), 2015
Grades: preschool to kindergarten
Ages 3-5 years

Same, Same but Different
Henry Holt, 2011
Grades: pre-K to 2nd
Ages 4-7 years

The Wild Book
Harcourt Children's Books, 2012
Ages 10-12 years
Grades: 5th-7th

Robin Muldor-Engram is a former branch manager and children’s librarian for the Free Library of Philadelphia.

  • the wild book

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