Category Archives: Latin America

Island Treasures

Island Treasures, by Alma Flor Ada, is a collection of two of her books, Where the Flame Trees Bloom, and Under the Royal Palms, plus a new set of stories called “Days at La Quinta Simoni.”

I read the two books that are included in this collection many years ago, and I read this new collection in February of this year but didn’t review it. A few weeks ago, I found that it was available as an audiobook on Audible, so I downloaded it and listened to it. What a lovely way to experience this book! The narrator, Trini Alvarado, is absolutely perfect! She has a beautiful voice for both reading and singing! It was fun to hear the little songs included in the book…a wonderful addition to the experience of reading these beautifully written stories.

from the publisher:

The author of My Name Is Maria Isabel offers an inspiring look at her childhood in Cuba in this collection that includes “Where the Flame Trees Bloom”, “Under the Royal Palms”, five new stories, and more. These true autobiographical tales from renowned Hispanic author and educator Alma Flor Ada are filled with family love and traditions, secrets and deep friendships, and a gorgeous, moving picture of the island of Cuba, where Alma Flor grew up.

Told through the eyes of a child, a whole world comes to life in this audio: the blind great-grandmother who never went to school but whose wisdom and generosity overflowed to those around her; the hired hand, Samone, whose love for music overcame all difficulties; the beloved dance teacher who helped sustain young Alma Flor through a miserable year in school; her dear and daring Uncle Medardo, who bravely flew airplanes; and more.

Heartwarming, poignant, and often humorous, this wonderful collection encourages listeners to discover the stories in their own lives – and to celebrate the joys and struggles we all share, no matter where or when we grew up.

I discovered Alma Flor Ada’s work while I was teaching because one of her picture books for young readers was included in our second grade reading text. My students and I both loved the story, and I followed up my own interest by researching the author. I discovered a dedicated educator, wonderful award-winning writer, and delightful human being!  And I found a treasure trove of stories for young and old!

about Alma Flor Ada (from her Amazon page):

Alma Flor Ada, Pro­fes­sor Emerita at the Uni­ver­sity of San Fran­cisco, has devoted her life to advo­cacy for peace by pro­mot­ing a ped­a­gogy ori­ented to per­sonal real­iza­tion and social jus­tice. A for­mer Rad­cliffe Scholar at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity and Ful­bright Research Scholar she is an inter­na­tion­ally re-known speaker and the author of numer­ous children’s books of poetry, nar­ra­tive, folk­lore and non fic­tion. Her books have received pres­ti­gious awards; among many: Christo­pher Medal (The Gold Coin), Pura Bel­pré Medal (Under the Royal Palms), Once Upon a World (Gath­er­ing the Sun), Par­ents’ Choice Honor (Dear Peter Rab­bit), NCSS and CBC Notable Book (My Name is María Isabel). She is also the author of a book of mem­oirs, Vivir en dos idiomas, two nov­els for adults, En clave de sol and A pesar del amor, and sev­eral pro­fes­sional books for edu­ca­tors, includ­ing A Mag­i­cal Encounter: Latino Children’s Lit­er­a­ture in the Class­room, as well as a wealth of edu­ca­tional mate­ri­als. Her work, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with F. Isabel Cam­poy in pro­mot­ing author­ship in stu­dents, teach­ers, and par­ents is the con­tent of their book Authors in the Class­room: A Trans­for­ma­tive Edu­ca­tion Process. Alma Flor Ada has been awarded the Amer­i­can Edu­ca­tion Research Asso­ci­a­tion [AERA] His­panic Issues Award for Research in Ele­men­tary, Sec­ondary and Post­sec­ondary Edu­ca­tion and the Cal­i­for­nia Asso­ci­a­tion for Bilin­gual Edu­ca­tion [CABE] Life Long Award. She has received the Virginia Hamilton Award, for her body of work, as well as the OHTLI Recognition from the Mexican Government for her support of Mexican communities abroad.

These stories are full of beauty and wisdom and poignant memories of growing up in Cuba. Each one is a little gem.  I have my copies of Where the Flame Trees Bloom, and Under the Royal Palms, that I bought years ago. Now I have the audiobook of Island Treasures, and I have ordered a hardcopy of the book, as well. Alma Flor Ada has a special place on my bookshelves and in my heart!

Please read my review from 2008 of her book Where the Flame Trees Bloom. (And if you read the comments to that post, you will see that after I published it, she wrote me a sweet note!)

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book based on a true story from Cuba.

Waiting for the Biblioburro

Waiting for the Biblioburro, by Monica Brown, is based on a true story from Colombia about the children who live in remote areas and don’t have access to libraries or even school books.

In this picture book story, a young girl, Ana, longs to have books to read but she lives too far away from a library. But one day she hears the clip-clop of a burro approaching. She looks to see who is coming and sees a man leading a burro, and the burro is loaded down with bags of books!

This is a wonderful little book that can start many important conversations in a classroom, and is a sweet read for any of us who simply love books and libraries!

To learn more about Luis Soriano Bohórquez, the man who started the biblioburro, a real-life mobile library, click here.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book that takes place in Colombia.

A Long-Awaited Read


If you look at the “challenges page” on this blog, you will see that I used to participate in many reading challenges. For a person who considers herself “not a joiner,” I shattered that self-perception. I loved that these challenges introduced me to new friends, new authors and genres, and helped to expand my reading exponentially.

After a long hiatus from both blogging and reading challenges, I am looking forward in 2014 to participating again in some of these challenges. My approach this time around, however, will be for minimal stress and maximum enjoyment with each challenge attempted.

LAR Button Final

My first challenge of 2014 is A Long-Awaited Reads Month, hosted by Ana and Iris, two special blogging friends. I am reading a book 100yearsthat’s been sitting on my bookshelf for 38 years! — One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez. My friend, Nancy, recommended it to me and I immediately bought a paperback version intending to read it. However, the book seemed like a chunkster to me (it was that fine print!), and life was terribly busy with my preschool-age son, and I just never read it. See how long you can set a book aside!? So 38 years later, it is my long-awaited read for this challenge. And, oh yes…in order to deal with that chunkster intimidation factor, I figured out that if I read a minimum of 15 pages a day, I can finish the book within the month. Okay, Nancy…I’m on my way, 38 years later!

Long-Awaited Reads Month

Long-Awaited Reads

Although I don’t sign up for many book challenges anymore (because I don’t seem to finish many of them!), I am going to participate in a fun January challenge hosted by my friends, Ana [Things Mean A Lot] and Iris [Iris on Books]. They call it the “Long-Awaited Reads Month,” and all you have to do is read a book or books that you have been intending to read for a long time. There is one book on my shelf that has been patiently awaiting “the right moment” for probably 35 years! (My list of excuses for not reading it before now is a history in itself!) I’m going to dust it off and read it for this challenge in January! The book? …Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude! Am I the last person on the planet to read it?

Favorite author, Gabriel García Márquez

Favorite author, Gabriel García Márquez

Memories of my Melancholy Whores

Memories of My Melancholy Whores is the most recent book by Gabriel García Márquez.  Published in 2005, there is much speculation that it will be his last book. I hope not!

It’s an interesting and quick read, and I read it for J.T. Oldfield’s November Novella Challenge 2009, although I didn’t find time to write a review of it.  I both liked it and was uncomfortable with it. The part that I found uncomfortable, of course, was the idea of a very old man with a very young girl/woman.  This book, however, is really a book about love, and in the face of one’s coming death, about living.  It was, as are all the works by García Márquez,  beautifully written.

From the publisher:

“On the eve of his ninetieth birthday, our unnamed protagonist, an undistinguished journalist and lifelong bachelor, decides to give himself “the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.”

The virgin, whom an old madam procures for him, is splendidly young, with the silent power of a sleeping beauty. The night of love blossoms into a transforming year. It is a year in which he relives, in a rush of memories, his lifetime of (paid-for) sexual adventures and experiences a revelation that brings him to the edge of dying, not of old age, but, at long last, of uncorrupted love.”

Although it’s not my favorite, I liked this book because of the character’s insightful view of life from age 90.  And I found it interesting that García Márquez was exploring the idea of first love being experienced by a very old man(the 90 year old main character had slept with many women but had never had sex without paying for it).  My New Year’s wish for this gifted writer is health and happiness so he can continue to explore his many ideas and tell us his amazing stories.

Age isn't how old you are but how old you feel.

Pedro Páramo


El Arbolito, by Josephine Sacabo

Surreal and beautifully written, this is one of the strangest and most fascinating stories I’ve read. It took a while to realize that almost everyone in Pedro Páramo, by Juan Rulfo, was dead. The dead talk to each other and to the living, constantly. Three different narrators and storylines interweave. You float in and out of reality and surreality as you read, and I found that if I simply gave myself over to the book and the language, and allowed the experience to happen, reading this book was beautiful, lyrical, amazing!

The photograph above, by Josephine Sacabo, was part of a series of photographs inspired by Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo. Her collection, called “The Unreachable World of Susana San Juan: Homage to Juan Rulfo,” is beautiful and haunting, and, for me, adds another dimension to my experience of the book.

I read this book for J.T.’s November Novella Challenge!

The Whispering Land, 2

While I was living in Argentina as an exchange student 40 years ago, my Argentine family took me on a wonderful road trip to the northern parts of the country.  So as I read The Whispering Land, by Gerald Durrell, I particularly enjoyed his chapter called “Jujuy,” (which is fun to pronounce: Who-Who-ee) and about his visit to what is now Calilegua National Park. His descriptions sparked memories!

…Then we sped round a couple of corners, down a hill and into the valley of Calilegua, and the vegetation changed, so suddenly that it was almost painful to the eye. Here were the vivid greens of the tropics, so many shades and some of such viridescence that they make the green of the English landscape look grey in comparison.  Then, as if to assure me that I was back in the tropics, a small flock of parakeets swooped across the road, wheezing and chittering.


I’ve always loved reading about animals, and Mr. Durrell’s stories about the animals he found in Jujuy were fun to read. His love for animals is reflected warmly in those stories.  Here are a few of the animals he wrote about:

The Whispering Land


During the last few weeks of school, needing distraction from tests and report cards but not having much time to read, I picked up a book that’s been on my shelf for a long time:  The Whispering Land, by Gerald Durrell.  I knew nothing about Mr. Durrell (although I recognized the name of his author brother, Lawrence Durrell), but this little book was about his travels to Argentina, and that caught my attention.  It turned out to be the perfect book to read during intense times!

From Penguin Books:

Durrell_statueGerald Durrell (1925-1995) was born in India, spent his youth on the idyllic Greek island of Corfu, and traveled the world, keenly observing the people and animals he eventually wrote about — the characters that make his readers laugh out loud. His works include a novel and several books based on his myriad worldwide collecting expeditions, including: My Family and Other Animals; Birds, Beasts, and Relatives; A Zoo in My Luggage; The Whispering Land; and Menagerie Manor.

Mr. Durrell was a wonderful storyteller, and the experiences he wrote about were fun and fascinating. I loved his descriptions of Argentina, and loved his stories of the animals and the people he encountered on that trip.

On every side of us the scrubland stretched away, dark and flat, so that you got the impression of being in the centre of a gigantic plate.  The sky had become suffused with green as the sun sank, and then, unexpectedly, turned to a very pale powder-blue. A tattered mass of clouds on the western horizon suddenly turned black, edged delicately with flame-red, and resembled a great armada of Spanish galleons waging a fierce sea-battle across the sky, drifting towards each other, turned into black silhouette by the fierce glare from their cannons.


I’m quite fascinated now with Gerald Durrell after reading this book and learning a little bit about him, and I’d like to read more of his books!  Mr. Durrell was a naturalist dedicated to saving species from extinction. The zoo he and his wife started is still a charitable organization dedicated to that goal. This year, on July 12th, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust is celebrating “Durrell Day,” their 50th anniversary.  It is located on Jersey in the Channel Islands, and wouldn’t it be terrific to go there for that celebration?

Two years ago on Masterpiece Theater, there was a very nice film based on his book, My Family and Other Animals. My husband and I ordered it from Netflix and watched it the other evening. It was fun to learn a little more about his family and Durrell’s early passion for animals.

Sir David Attenborough said of Gerald Durrell:

“He was responsible for changing people’s attitudes to zoology and changing their agenda. He showed them that small animals could be as interesting as apes and elephants. His work with endangered species was incredible in that he could persuade them to breed in captivity. He then returned them to the wild. He was a pioneer with a marvelous sense of humour.” –Sir David Attenborough



Malinche, by Laura Esquivel, is a fascinating fictional account of the relationship between the Spanish explorer/conquistador, Hernan Cortés, and the Indian woman who was both his interpreter and his mistress during his conquest of the Aztecs.

(From the Reading Group Guide in the book):

“Throughout Mexican history, Malinalli (Malinche) has been reviled for her betrayal of the Indian people. But recent historical research has shown that her role was much more complex. She was the mediator between two cultures, Hispanic and Native American, and three languages, Spanish, Mayan, and Náhuatl. She was also a slave, trying to rebel against the barbarous culture of her masters, the Aztecs. But her loyalty was to her own people, whom she was trying to free.” 

Laura Esquivel’s writing has been described as lyrical, and I agree. This book was beautifully written. I didn’t know very much about this part of history, so I was completely caught up in the story and the events. But what I loved most were the beautiful descriptions and the emotional truths expressed so honestly.

On Malinalli’s role as interpreter:

“Being “The Tongue” was an enormous responsibility. She didn’t want to make a mistake or misinterpret, and she couldn’t see how to prevent it since it was so difficult translating complex ideas from one language to the other. She felt as if each time she uttered a word she journeyed back hundreds of generations…” 

“…Words were like lightning, swiftly crossing valleys, mountains, seas, bringing needed information as readily to monarchs as to vassals, creating hope or fear, establishing alliances, abolishing enemies, changing the course of events.”

I really liked the following passage which described Malinalli’s sadness upon discovering as a very young girl that her beloved grandmother was blind:

“The grandmother tenderly took her into her arms. “I will ever leave you. Every time that you see a bird in flight, there I’ll be. In the form of the trees, there I’ll be. In the mountains, the volcanoes, the cornfields, there I’ll be. And, above all things, each time that it rains I will be near you. In the rain we will always be together. And don’t worry about me, I went blind because I was disturbed at how the appearances of things would confuse me and not allow me to see their essence. I went blind to return to the truth. It was my own decision, and I am happy with what I now see.” 

It’s quite a story, and I highly recommend this book for those who enjoy historical fiction, and especially for anyone who appreciates Laura Esquivel’s beautiful writing.

Click here to read Christine Welter’s excellent review of this book.

Click here to read an interview with Laura Esquivel about her book, Malinche.

A Reading Challenge Update

Time to check in on the progress of a reading challenge that ends in the next few days. Melissa’s Expanding Your Horizons Challenge was a very rewarding and enjoyable experience for me! I focused on Hispanic/Latin American authors and read 6 books from my original list of 9 options.

It’s really hard to choose a favorite from the six I read because I liked them all very much. I know I chose well because each book turned out to be a special reading experience for me. Reading Alma Flor Ada‘s two memoirs for young people, and one of her books of folktales, opened up a wonderful communication with her in the comments section of those posts, and that interaction enriched the lives of my 2nd grade students, and this teacher! I was so impressed with Isabel Allende‘s memoir, My Invented Country, and look forward to reading her newly published memoir, The Sum of Our Days. I was completely carried away by W. H. Hudson‘s Far Away and Long Ago, an old classic that touched my heart. And I thoroughly enjoyed reading Short Stories by Latin American Women: The Magic and the Real, because it introduced me to some very talented authors.

I had intended to read 100 Years of Solitude for this challenge, too, but it hasn’t happened yet … I think because I would actually like to save that book for my summer break so that I can read it uninterrupted, like I did with Love in the Time of Cholera.

I want to thank Melissa, at Book Nut, for hosting this terrific challenge. It was a great idea, and I loved the way it was organized so that you could individualize your challenge by focusing on a particular region of the world. Click here if you want to read the reviews of all the participants.
Melissa, I hope you will host it again next year because there’s a whole world of wonderful reading experiences out there, and I’m ready to sign on again and focus on another part of the world!

The Rooster Who Went to His Uncle’s Wedding

The Latin American folktale called “The Rooster Who Went to His Uncle’s Wedding” has been a big hit in my second grade classroom. My students love doing Readers Theater, so when the author, Alma Flor Ada, who retold this tale so nicely, commented on my post last week and suggested we turn this story into a play, my students were very excited and full of ideas.

Searching online, I found a Readers Theater script that was perfect for my second graders, written by Jacklyn Moore. My students chose their parts and decided that they wanted to draw their character to hold up as a hand puppet as they performed.

Our project was interrupted by Valentine’s Day and then by Mid-Winter Break, but the students finally finished their puppets and are practicing their parts. Our rehearsals have gone well, their expression and fluency are improving with each reading of the script, and the students are excited to perform this week for our 5th grade buddies.

This has been a wonderful reading project! I was thrilled to have Alma Flor Ada leave comments on my posts, and it was equally exciting for the students to have contact with a real “author friend.” These are the kinds of magical moments that help turn children into passionate readers, and bring such joy to this job.

Short Stories by Latin American Women: The Magic and the Real

A few weeks ago, Susan (bloggin’ ’bout books) tagged me for a Meme in which I was to grab the nearest book, turn to page 123, find the 5th sentence, and copy out the next 3 sentences. The book sitting within reach was Short Stories by Latin American Women: The Magic and the Real, and the three sentences found for the meme give you a glimpse of the powerful stories in this beautiful collection.

Turning to the woman, Don Alcibiades added, “There’s one bullet left. It’s enough for you,” and he left.
The ambiguous mask on her face was unchanged.

I checked this book out from the library 6 weeks ago to read for Melissa’s Expanding Horizons Challenge, with my focus on books and stories by Latin American authors. What a perfect book for my challenge! The short stories are written by very talented writers from many different Latin American countries.

My favorite story was Knight, Death and the Devil, written by Vlady Kociancich, and translated by Alberto Manguel. It’s a story of a knight returning home from the crusades during the Middle Ages only to find that the plague has also arrived, and everything is chaos and death. The images and ideas in this story show how powerful short stories can be.

Vlady Kociancich is Argentine and was a student of Jorge Luis Borges. She has written three novels and has published at least two collections of short stories. I’m particularly interested in her now and would like to read her novel, The Last Days of William Shakespeare, which is not about William Shakespeare, but about culture versus politics in an unnamed Latin American country.

I fell in love with the painting on the cover of this book by Francesca Rota-Loiseau, an Ecuadorian artist. (Click here to see more of her artwork.) I enjoyed reading all the stories included in this Modern Library volume, which was edited by Celia Correas de Zapata and included an introduction by Isabel Allende. I also appreciated the author and translator biographies in the back of the book. I’ve already renewed the book twice, not because it’s taking me a long time to read it, but because I don’t want to let it go. Guess it’s time to order a copy for my own library!