Author Focus: Gary Soto
Soto, Gary. Baseball in April. 1990. Florida: Harcourt, Inc.
Baseball in April is a collection of eleven short stories written by distinguished children’s author and
poet, Gary Soto. Soto creatively tells of the everyday life experiences of the
young people of the area in which he grew up. His sensitive nature of depicting
the youth, their joys and pains, is nothing short of amazing.
The individual stories capture the reader
giving them a glimpse into the lives of each short story’s character. Cleverly
written, they collectively tell of a Mexican-American barrio (neighborhood) of
children struggling to overcome issues both customary to their culture as well as youth of every background.
Analysis & Literary Considerations:
Growing up in sunny California’s
Central Valley in the city of Fresno proved to facilitate Gary Soto’s capacity to unequivocally write realistic stories
of young Mexican-Americans.
Receiving numerous awards for this book,
including ALA’s Best Book for Young Adults, Soto builds each character carefully through a conversational-like style
of writing. The language pattern utilized and inclusion of an index with Spanish
words strewn throughout the piece give the reader a more realistic “feel”.
The reader is easily engaged as he joins the corners, backyards, and homes of the depicted California barrio.
Soto addresses typical thematic story
lines for young adult literature like that of first love. Moreover he embraces
cultural markers specific to the Hispanic/Latino way of life such as failure versus success and unwavering friendships.
Told exclusive of illustrations, the
author relies heavily on his amazing talents to pen an incredible story of the journeys encountered by adolescents in a community
very similar to the one in which he grew up in.
This charming collection of short stories
was quite an enjoyable little poolside read. It wasn’t until about the
third or fourth story that I realized the characters in each story were connected in one community. I enjoyed that addition part of Baseball in April.
Baseball in April was a piece I had purchased as a classroom set for using with my fourth graders in the upcoming
year. I had read a review and decided that a large portion of our student population
would easily make connections to the characters, setting, and events of this story.
A nice choice for a literature circle
or thematic unit on baseball, Baseball in April, would also be a book enjoyed by
students of all cultures and backgrounds. In addition, the narrative would be
an excellent read aloud in a classroom setting in which discussion followed the reading of each chapter.
Munoz Ryan, Pam. Esperanza Rising. 2000. New York: Scholastic
Told in a first person conversational
style of writing, Pam Munoz Ryan eloquently portrays a Spanish family’s plight overcoming great adversities to capture
a life of hope and happiness.
The story begins as the author introduces
the main character, her father, and the incredible bond the two share. Papa takes
little Esperanza walking in the fields of El Rancho de Rosas. An even greater
respect for the land she calls home rises up in Esperanza’s chest as her Papa tells her to lie down and “feel”
the heartbeat of the land around her.
Being accustomed to the finer things
in life, having servants at her disposal, and not wanting for anything, little Esperanza Ortega’s thirteenth birthday
is expected to be nothing less than a mucho grande’ affair.
One day before the celebratory event
while preparations were being made at El Rancho de Rosas (a family ranch in Aquascalientes, Mexico), Papa’s life-striken
body is returned home. Right in the midst of what was to be a joyous occasion,
young Esperanza is faced with the loss of her beloved father and friend.
As the story progresses, bereaved wife,
daughter, and devoted servants emotionally battle the vindictive antics of Esperanza’s dos tios (two uncles) – Tio Luis and Tio Marco. Being from
a lifestyle of lesser eminence, the uncles have their eyes on the riches and fame of the deceased elder Ortega. When Mama emphatically turns down the proposal of Tio Luis, the tios
resort to burning the home to the ground. The family travels by train west to
California to make a life as laborers during the struggle of the Great Depression.
Analysis & Literary Considerations:
A vivid, well-written story
by award-winning author, Pam Munoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising is a fairy tale-like
piece of hope. The word itself derives from the Spanish meaning “hope”. A story of going from riches to rags, which is typically not inherent to what most
aspire to accomplish.
Although Ryan does not include an index
for the reader, she beautifully includes sufficient text surrounding the Spanish word to support the understanding of it.
Ryan has elicited the artistic talents
of illustrator, Joe Cepeda to solely depict the main character on the cover of Esperanza
Rising. Upon picking up the book the reader cannot help but think of a young
free-spirited Spanish hija (girl).
Esperanza Rising has been credited with numerous awards; however, the most prestigious could very well be the
Pura Belpre’ Award. Ryan’s story is complete with the title selection,
her magnificent use of descriptive language, and her choice of using the voice of Esperanza to tell this heartwarming tale.
This charming story provides the reader
with the idea of hope. Hope for Esperanza
as she encounters the strikers and wishes for them to understand why her family members need their jobs. Hope that Abuelita will some day come from El Rancho de Rosas
to join them at the labor camp. And, finally hope that Esperanza will some day become rich again. The later, although
a hopeful aspiration, could potentially lead young readers to think true happiness comes only from being rich.
This story, too, is one I
had chosen to include in my selections for my fourth graders this coming year. I
am planning to utilize Esperanza Rising to elicit the viewpoints of our Hispanic
population as well as the other students within my classroom. What a wonderful
piece to include in the integration of multicultural literature throughout the school year.
I found in my research of this fine author
a wonderful website for use with this story. The link below will take you to
a site that includes a splendid Power Point Presentation of Esperanza Rising.
Mora, Pat. Tomas and the Library Lady.
Based on the life of writer and educator Tomas Rivera, author Pat
Mora tells the story of an uprooted child who finds a "home" in the local library. Tomas, the son of migrant workers,
spends every summer with his family harvesting crops in the midwestern state of Iowa.
At the end of one of the arduous days laboring in the fields, the
family gathers around to listen to grandfather's stories. Night after night the family enjoys the stories, until Tomas
realizes he knows all of them by heart and needs new ones. Papa Grande tells little Tomas, " There are more
stories in the library".
The next day Tomas finds the library filled with a plethora of new
stories and meets the "library lady" while there. This experience opens up a new world for this young man. The
"library lady" teaches Tomas English while he teaches her Spanish words. Their relationship grows as little Tomas discovers
the world through literature.
As the summer comes to an end, sadly so do the days Tomas is
able to spend in the library. The family must return to their home in Texas far away from his temporary "home" with
the "library lady". The two exchange gifts. Tomas' gift is sweet bread and his friend's gift --- a book.
As he leaves, he shares one last Spanish word for her. Adios.
Analysis & Literary Considerations:
Awarded the 2000 Bluebonnet Award, Tomas and the Library Lady is a moving story that
will touch the hearts of many readers --- old and young. Author and poet, Pat Mora, exquisitively pens a story of a
pivotal summer in young Tomas' life while working with his family of laborers.
The interlingual use of Spanish words throughout the text aid the reader in the authentication
of this story. Tomas and the Library Lady flows so naturally without the reader relying on an index
or reference material. Mora's ability to tell a story of the impact a local librarian has on inspiring a young man is
Winner of the Silver Medal Society of Illustrators for a previous book, Raul Colon's rich depictions
add depth to the piece. The use of warm, simple lines and tones further augment the story.
The most obvious themes in this story are of family and relationships. However,
Mora maintains the use of cultural markers that Hispanic/Latino readers can identify with. These include the
traditional aspect of migrant workers from this cultural working as a family to support themselves, the environment the live
in and around, and the size and close bond of family members.
The most amazing part of this story is that Pat Mora has chosen to write a children's
book based on the life experiences of a real Hispanic migrant worker and his journey from that
life to becoming Chancellor of the University of California at Riverside, which subsequently is named after Mr. Rivera.
Familiar with this text from a study of Bluebonnet books, I was reading it for the third time.
However, the biographical story still warms my heart as a classroom teacher and lover of books.