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La familia de Federico Rico – Super EASY read

Click on picture to go to the author´s website
Have you noticed how awesomely easy to read are the novels by Craig Klein Dexemple? I have not read this one yet, but in my mind this author is trustworthy to promote without having read. In addition, this book has over 200 illustrations and the author’s students report that it is among the easiest to read novels in his classroom library. Hey, level 3 students LOVE easy to read novels. Follow this link to take a closer look at the novel on Craig´s website.

Just to be clear: book recommendations on my site are not compensated. These are books that I think will help language teachers, that is it.

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Bryan Kandel´s new novel, Los Sobrevivientes

A new independently published novel for level 3 and above
Last year I was offered an opportunity to test out a draft of Bryan Kandel´s new novel in my level 3 classes. I presented it to my students as a choice reading option for the end of the year. Among the students who chose to read Los Sobrevivientes, they were really into it! The novel is a gripping action story based on the true story of a plane full of Uruguayan rugby players which crashed in the Andes on its way to Santiago de Chile. Presumed dead, two men decide that they must hike their way out– without mountain climbing supplies, food, or even a clear idea of where exactly they were.

This book appeals to intermediate and advanced readers who are looking for a good action story full of courageous moments, tough decisions and ultimately an inspiring message. Great reading for heritage learners as well. Click here to check out the book trailer and additional teaching resources that Bryan has posted on his website.

To be clear: I never receive compensation for recommending books. That is obvious I hope, but I just wanted to throw that out there! -Mike Peto

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New books for FRENCH & SPANISH teachers!

Scroll down to the bottom for a bargain

For French teachers: I am thrilled that a summer of collaboration with a trio of smart French teachers has finally given birth to the newest CI-friendly novel in French for our lower-level students. Superhamburgers is a novel that appeals to adolescents because it was written with one of my level 1 classes in 2013. The plot revolves around two students who are lab partners in an AP Chemistry class. Rodney had no idea that the consequences of his actions would reach so far. It started as a bad joke — never washing his hands at the restaurant where he worked after school so that he would have a quiet place to study for his AP classes. By the end of the next day, however, as he was being hunted by a ruthless drug lord, Rodney realized that it had all spiraled horribly out of control. If only he had washed his hands!

The Spanish edition has received rave reviews from teachers and students alike:

Embedded within the novel is a set of 23 illustrations. Followers of my blog have seen my growing obsession with comprehensible cartoons in the classroom. In the novel I have inserted 5 full page comics to help students visualize the developing plot of the novel. At the end of each chapter there is a 2 page word cloud designed as a crutch to help you and your students discuss the chapter in a structured, comprehensible manner. We also have a new Facebook group dedicated to sharing resources for teaching this novel. If you would like to read the first two chapters before committing, you can download them by clicking on this link.

For Spanish teachers: I have published a 2nd edition of Superburguesas with all of the new illustrations (in Spanish, of course) and even the word clouds. This is a gorgeous update and I think it really does help guide students comprehend the novel. Or rather, the illustrations often confirm that they are comprehending the novel.

For both Spanish and French teachers: The prequel to Superburgers, titled Normal hamburgers, is an entire graphic novel designed to be read in level 1, and enjoyed in levels 2, 3, and 4! The graphic novel is already well on its way and will be available this coming December.

The two new editions of Superhamburgers on Amazon, French and Spanish, are currently available for $6.49. I am no longer publishing the first edition, so any book offered at another price is a first edition used copy without the new illustrations and word clouds. However if you avoid Amazon altogether and order groups of five directly through this website you can get a 15% discount. Just click on the “Shop” link at the top of the page. This is a great option for anyone considering buying a full class set!

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Graphic novels & Japanese manga translated into Spanish

At the end of this post is a list of books that I recommend as well as a list of books that I am still trying to figure out how to sell to my students and, lastly, the black list of books that I wish I had never bought.

Over the past two years I have been expanding the graphic novel and manga section of my classroom library. You might be surprised at how many of your “non-reading” students are otakus, secretly obsessed with Japanese anime and manga. A few copies of Naruto translated into Spanish may release a flood of nostalgia and, of course, positive memories of when reading was fun.

One big discovery I made this year was the series Orange (pictured above) by Ichigo Takano. Teach your kids that manga is read from right to left, starting from what western readers would consider to be the last page of the book. Therefore in the caption above the reader would first see the boy with tears in his eyes, then read “muchas gracias” followed by “Suwa, ¿estás llorando?”, finishing with “¡Claro que no! Es la alergia.”

A timid heritage learner of Spanish asked to keep my copy of the series Orange so that she could re-read it over the summer. That is what I call a reading home run! It tells the story of a girl who receives letters from herself written from the future, which instruct her to save one of her friends. “He will disappear if you do nothing“, warns one of the letters. In my classes this series has only gained traction among heritage learners, so if you do not have a heritage learner population you might want to hold back on buying this series.

I have written earlier about the wonderful graphic novel ¡Sonríe! by Raina Telgemeier as well as El perro enamorado de las estrellas by Takashi Murakami. Both can be read by intermediate students of Spanish with some “tolerance of noise”. That tolerance is an important point, usually students exhibit a tolerance for noise when they have a high interest in the reading material. These are not whole group novels, although I do occasionally read parts of these novels with the whole class as a browsing strategy. Some students will want to stay with TPRS novels that are closer to 100% comprehensible, but some will not perk up and enjoy reading until they come across something like a manga. Likewise I had a student, an avowed non-reader, who did nothing but fake read until he saw a copy of Art Speigelman´s Maus in the reserved book shelf behind my desk. I would have never guessed that an interest in the Holocaust would turn him onto reading in Spanish.

En la vida real is a graphic novel (ie not Japanese manga) that attracted a small, very specific following in my class. It tells the story of a young American girl who discovers self-confidence through a persona in an online multi-player game. Valued for her skill as a gamer, she disdains players who purchase the online items which she is proud to earn. Things get complicated when she and her online friends decide to attack the online personas of players who spend their game-time harvesting, only to discover that the “harvesters” are exploited children working in the 21st century version of third-world sweatshops.

Los dioses mienten is about a boy who discovers that one of his classmates is an orphan. In fact, nobody knows that her grandfather passed away soon after her father abandoned them, and she has been fending for herself ever since waiting for her father to return. I cannot remember if there were parts to white out; whenever I read a new manga I often have a black marker and a white-out pen to apply to any scene that shows underwear. I remember this manga as a sweet little tale of childhood innocence.

I am not going to pretend that the Oshinbo series does not address a specialized audience, but if you have an interest in Japanese cuisine then you should get it just for your own reading during FVR time! These books are considered “gastronomic manga”; they do have a plot (father and son gourmets who cannot stand each other due to their competing sense of aesthetics), but it is a thinly veiled excuse to be fascinated by the complexity of Japanese cuisine. Occasionally there is a show down between father and son, which does not necessarily mean that either gets into the kitchen and cooks. The competition is to see who has the best palate (sense of taste). It is absurd, entertaining and enlightening.

El Diario gatuno de Jinju Ito is one of the rare books by this author of horror manga that I can recommend for class use. Students who are familiar with the genre will recognize his style, but fortunately in this book the anxiety for which the author is known stays within bounds. It is something of a cute book about a man who hates cats. I have picture talked a page to help develop student interest in the book.

Adding manga and graphic novels to an FVR library is not the cure for all students, but if you take the time to properly develop interest in this new section it will help some of your students actually enjoy independent reading time. That is a big accomplishment because it is enjoyment of reading, not just reading, that makes students into life-long readers.

Books that I enthusiastically recommend:
Orange (books 1-5) – Ichigo Takano
¡Sonríe! – Raina Telgemeier
En la vida real – Cory Doctorow
María y yo – Miguel Gallardo
Coraline, novela gráfica – Neil Gaiman
Desaparecido (books 1-6) – Kei Sanbe
Los dioses mienten (preview?) – Kaori Ozaki
El diario gatuno de Junji Ito – Junji Ito
Oshinbo a la carte (books 1-7) – Tetsu Kariya & Akira Hanasaki Japanese cuisine with a plot
Persépolis integral – Marjane Satrapi (PREVIEW!!!)
Maus – Art Spiegelman (PREVIEW!!!)
Arrugas – Paco roca
Pyongyang – Guy Delisle
Naruto (many books… preview with white-out marker) – Masashi Kishimoto
Dragon Ball (many books… preview with white-out marker) – Akira Toriyama

Books I like that have yet to find an audience:
A Silent Voice – Yoshitoki Oima
Food Wars – Yuto Tsukuda (read with a white-out marker!)
Guía del mal padre – Guy Delisle
El Gourmet solitario – Jiro Taniguchi
Cruzando el bosque – Emily Carroll
El rastreador – Juro Taniguchi
Aventuras de la mano negra – Hans Jurgen Press
Hansel y Gretel – Donald Lemke
Jack y los frijoles mágicos – Blake Hoena
La Bella y la Bestia – Michael Dahl
Memorias de Idhun (graphic novels 1-12) – Laura Gallego García (several students enjoyed this series, but it is adapted from the novels in a confusing, disjointed manner).

Mistakes: books I have bought that never made it into my classroom library:
Los gritos del pasado (sexual violence)
Fantasmas – Raina Telgemeier (read this review)
Doble sentido – Niklas Asker (sexuality)
Futbolín (sexuality)
El guardián invisible – la novela gráfica – Dolores Redondo (sexual violence)
Traición, la torre oscura 3 – Stephen King (made it but rarely read due to tiny font)
Fútbol, la novela gráfica – Santiago García (sexuality)
Vagabond – Takehiko Inoue (sexual violence)
Voces en la oscuridad – Junji Ito (sexual violence)
Hotel – Boichi (sexuality)
Tomei O.C. – Junji Ito (sexual violence)
Mirai Nikki – Sakae Esuno (extreme violence)
Tungsteno – Marcello Quintanilha (sexuality)
Yo, asesino – Keke Altarriba (sexual violence)
V de Vendetta – Alan Moore (sexuality)

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Conexiones by Bryce Hedstrom

A collection of short, non-fiction entries that excite a different kind of reader

People sometimes ask me how I keep students from getting bored of my schtick creating class stories day after day. The key, of course, is that I am not doing the same thing every day. On some days we create class stories together, some days I tell a fable, some days we discuss the plot of short video clips or a Spanish language tv show that we are watching in class, and some days we discuss our own personal stories through student interviews. But there is one kind of story that feels so different: non-fiction.

The readings in Bryce´s book excite a different kind of reader: the child who spends hours curled up with a magazine like Ranger Rick, Popular Science or National Geographic. This book rounds out a classroom library by focusing on interesting non-fiction that is comprehensible to novice learners of Spanish. Whether offered as an independent reading selection, read in small groups or part of a whole-class reading activity, these readings are a necessary complement to the fiction that is central to my classes.

I like to do a few of these readings as a whole class activity to hook students on the pleasure of reading non-fiction. Not all students enjoy reading about the animals of Latin America (for example), and that is okay. Then I leave the book out for FVR. Those who long for “something real” will be attracted like magnets to Bryce´s book and, in turn, will be much more attentive during the fiction stories spun in class because they recognize that one part of the class was designed just for them.

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LA CLASE DE CONFESIONES: A NEW SPANISH READER BY A. C. QUINTERO

This looks like such fun, I cannot wait to add it to my FVR library!

Carlos hates Spanish class with a passion but finds the will to survive when he lays eyes on Jessica. She is the reason he “tolerates” his boring class. However, his secret crush is compromised when his teacher decides to “shake things up a bit” in class. A simple writing assignment turns out to be a lethal injection to his social life and by extension his chances with Jessica. First, his nosy teacher tries to “set him up with Jessica,” this plan immediately backfires. Then, the unthinkable happens. This turns into one of the most embarrassing moments in Carlos’ life. But all is not lost. If Carlos plays his cards right, he could have a winning hand.

Carlos invites you to come along this adventure into La clase de confesiones….todos tienen una confesión (even the teacher!) Word count 3,000, most of which are cognates in addition to vocabulary totally appropriate for Spanish level 1. Glossary included!

The author gets the most royalties if you purchase it directly through createspace.

However, you can purchase through Amazon.

Download Free Teacher’s Manual on Teacherspayteacher.com– La clase de confesiones.

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there is a special doorway into a child’s world

“The best way I have found of getting to a place where everyone knows and approves of each other in a classroom, to form a community in an authentic sense, is by sharing images created by the students to use as a basis for stories. That’s the glue.” – Ben Slavic

Ben & Tina´s book, A Natural Approach to Stories , has just become available today on Teacher´s Discovery. I have so much affection for this approach to stories that it is hard for me to single out a few bullet points as to why you should use this book as your guide to CI. The approach described in this book is substantial enough to entirely replace my previous (already effective) CI curriculum. After a year of Ben´s approach my students are performing better, and happier, than ever before. And it is not just my experience: I have recently learned that two teachers in my CI meet-up group (which focuses on Ben´s approach) have earned the Teacher of the Year award at their respective schools. Take a look at Cameron Taylor´s blog to read about his experiences with the power of stories rooted in One Word Images and Invisibles.

As I leave my district in California behind this June, I will be sure to leave a hard copy of A Natural Approach to Stories, placing it in a discreet place in the hopes that the teacher who replaces me will discover it.

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Book review: Sonríe

sonrie This was a great purchase. It has been displayed among my new FVR books for the last week and has already developed a fan base among my Spanish 3 students, including one reluctant reader who I worried I would never reach. Glancing through their quick writes about their independent reading I was surprised to see that he has been flying through the book, and loves it. Several students were familiar with the original English version from their middle school reading experiences, but this seems to be a plus in that it aids in making the book comprehensible. Nonetheless, for level three students, this book already is comprehensible enough and even students who were unfamiliar with the English version have expressed interest. Take a look at the example page below to get a sense of whether this might be a good purchase for your classroom FVR library:
example-page

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A lovely book: El perro enamorado de las estrellas

This book has gone viral in my FVR library!

coverI need to share this adorable book because it makes such a great connection with so many people. It is a Japanese manga translated into Spanish, but it tells a tale that touches across cultures with the help of a cute, faithful dog. It is a story of loss; in the first half of the book a man loses everything and spends his last year on earth living out of his car with his beloved dog. Believe me: my kids love it.

During second semester I am going to use this book as an occasional kindergarten reading for my level 1 kids. Each vignette is short and can become a recurring, quick reading activity. Projecting an image of the book with a doc cam, the illustrations will be easy to make comprehensible. Here is an example page that you can read full size if you click on it (click twice to get the largest most readable resolution). Japanese manga is read from right to left, so start at the top right of the right page and read across and down:
example-page

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Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners

Last June I gathered a group of educators to reflect on their classes for heritage learners of Spanish. Today I am releasing to the world the first fruits of our collaboration. We have produced a fine book of essays that I think will be very useful for teachers new to teaching heritage speakers. Below I have copied the introduction that describes each essay:

This collection of personal essays addresses an urgent problem in language education: how to teach heritage learners of Spanish.

cover-face-2 Perhaps it is the Californian in me, but I believe that reaching heritage learners is the pressing but often ignored challenge facing our profession. Every year I am contacted by teachers who, willingly or unwillingly, are thrust into a new teaching challenge for which they are deeply unprepared. I was unprepared when I started teaching heritage learners. My impression is that there are departments who are farming out their heritage learners’ classes to the newest, least prepared teachers because these classes tend to be hard to teach. I have read about departments that urge heritage learners to simply abandon their home language in favor of a foreign one. My hope is to collaborate and gather so much classroom wisdom in one book that my colleagues will confidently approach their courses with joy.

These essays were written by practicing classroom teachers. We recognize that the teaching situation that each educator faces is unique. Far from describing an ideal approach to teaching heritage learners, many of these essays depart from the very imperfect reality that teachers actually confront. The most dysfunctional element of the program at my school happens before classes begin with the placement decisions that determine whether students are even placed in the heritage learners’ track. The opening essay of this collection describes the evolution of my approach to student placement. I was tempted to bury this essay because it describes one of my most embarrassing failures as a teacher; I hope that others learn from my mistakes.

In the second essay Carol Gaab sets the tone for the remainder of the book by reminding us that compelling, highly comprehensible reading materials provide the best paths to literacy. I am always surprised when teachers downplay the role of easy reading in their classes. It is through easy reading that non-readers become readers. Dragging students through difficult, classic works of literature or less-than-compelling thematic units may expose students to unknown vocabulary, but they utterly fail in leading students to love reading. Our courses must nurture our students to become lifelong readers so that they continue to develop their literacy long after the course has ended.

This idea of creating a compelling experience is the subject of Sean Lawler´s essay. Using a television program as an anchor text, Sean describes how he made use of the interest generated by the program to provide reading experiences appropriate to multiple levels. The reality of at least some of our students is that the school culture alienates them long before they reach our classes. Those of us who are not obligated to follow a particular textbook should look to popular culture in order to attract otherwise disaffected students.

I have come to the conclusion that easy pleasure reading should be the major element of any program designed for heritage learners. In the fourth essay of the collection I provide a description of my easy reading program, “An Easy Approach to Teaching Highly Differentiated Classes”. The essay is followed by a list of the most student-appreciated titles that are currently included in my classroom library.
Adrienne Brandenburg describes how she developed her metaphorical sea legs while teaching classes for heritage learners. The key realization for Adrienne was recognizing that very few of us were trained to teach these courses. Our instincts as second language teachers often lead us to adopt approaches that are incompatible with the task at hand. In her essay “Adopting a Language Arts Approach” Adrienne advocates that we work much closer with colleagues in the English department. One of the things that appeals to me about Adrienne’s essay is the underlying recognition that, even among well-trained CI teachers, the instincts to return to discredited legacy methods of language teaching resurface quickly when under duress. Spelling lists, direct grammar instruction, vocabulary lists: these have all largely disappeared from English language arts classes in favor of planning highly-contextualized teaching moments.

When I consider the main goals that I have developed for my heritage learners classes, I distinguish three objectives: to develop students’ identities as readers, to develop their interest in their heritage and the Spanish-speaking world and, the subject of the fifth essay, to broaden their language community to include many dialects and variations of Spanish.

Broadening their language community does not mean that I want to fundamentally change the way that they speak Spanish (i.e. trying to develop an Argentine accent among Mexican-American students), but rather make them more aware and accepting of the beautiful diversity within the Spanish language. I have grown to believe that this is not just a casual flourish to adorn the “real” curriculum; some students come to class with such a strong desire to exclude what does not sound right to them that it becomes a barrier to developing their own language. My Mexican-American students whose exposure to Spanish is limited to their family and friends will often resist expressions common even in Mexican popular culture if they are not familiar with them. The teaching solution to the persistent student reaction that “we do not say it like that” is simply to articulate the broadening of language community as a fundamental goal of the course.

Wendy Gómez Campos writes about structuring her program with the end goal being that students successfully pass the AP Spanish language exam. Being successful in an AP course can be enormously empowering for heritage speakers whose families have a limited experience with college. AP Spanish can form the cornerstone to a concerted, school-wide push to attract more heritage speakers to sign up for more highly-academic college track courses.

The essay introducing Krashen´s concept of language shyness is really a short presentation to push educators to read Krashen´s original paper, which is available for free on his website. In my opinion, language shyness is the key concept that all educators of heritage speakers need to understand.

Katherine Thornburgh´s essay on goal setting describes the confusion and struggle that teachers new to heritage learners’ classes may experience. This is an essay about process rather than outcomes; it is an important read for educators who demand so much of themselves that they feel like constant failures in heritage speakers classes. While Katherine´s essay is about her plans to include students in the goal-setting process, just as valuable is the way that she uncovers the reflective process behind effective teaching that I had hoped to nurture when I gathered this community of educator-writers. It is through the writing process, Krashen notes, that our thinking is developed. I hope that more teachers write more about their difficult classes as a path towards imaging a new reality.

In the final essay, Beyond the Classroom, Barbara A. Davis reflects on the unexpected challenges of educating heritage learners in a culture that does not always appreciate the task at hand. An observant teacher of heritage learners quickly gets an insight into how our institutions and cultural practices can come together to present unnecessary obstacles for heritage speakers.

It is my hope that this first edition is quickly followed by an expanded second edition. There are so many facets to this uniquely difficult class that we have not covered and, honestly, I believe that the format of the essay lends itself better to deep introspection than the online forums that have emerged. Or rather, it is a question of tactics versus strategy; the online forums address problems as they arise while the essay encourages a more thoughtful approach. I welcome original essays as well as thoughtfully developed lesson plans which demonstrate a useful approach to classes for heritage learners. The profits from sales of this collection of essays are reinvested into the classroom libraries of the contributors.

Mike Peto
San Diego,
October 2016

For the next two weeks there will be a discount of $2 if you order the book directly from the publisher: https://www.createspace.com/6710481 Use the code YEGVMSNR to get the discount.

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New book posted on CI-Reading

Subscribe to CI-Reading to get an email each time I discover a new CI-appropriate novel published by an indie author that is not represented on the major TPRS publishers websites & build your FVR library!

This is the post published today on CI-READING:

planeta-zombilandia I have not yet bought this book, but it looks good! This is a Spanish version of a book originally written for an elementary ELL classroom. Here is the description of the original book: “A short and easy captivating mystery reader “Planet Zombieland” designed specifically for beginning English readers, ELD, Adult Ed. and Immersion Students. Incorporates the CCSS’s”. One customer review on Amazon states, “this is easily one of the best Spanish learning books I have ever read to my pupils”.

I will update this post when I get a copy! Click here to purchase on Amazon.

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Reading pleasure

Books that Spanish teachers may enjoy reading for pleasure

Teachers should be readers. During FVR sessions we should definitely be reading among our students, not completing school tasks. Diane Chamberlain has inspired me to describe a few books that I have enjoyed in the past few years.

susurroEl susurro de la mujer ballena by Alonso Cueto. A friendship gone bad… or perhaps it was never a healthy friendship. Echos of high school bullying reach into the present, twenty or thirty years later. The description of Lima really brought me back to that city. There are no heroes in this novel; my IB student had trouble with the moral ambiguity but I found a lot to enjoy here.

transportesTransportes González e Hija by María Amparo Escandón. This novel starts with a wonderful set-up. Told inside a women´s prison in Mexico by an American held for reasons not revealed until the end, we follow the tale of her upbringing while also tracking the developing relationships among the women in the prison. I was initially fascinated by the backstory of her “university professor turned trucker-fugitive” father. There were elements of this book that prevented me from getting emotionally attached to the characters (the characters are outrageous who act and develop in not quite believable ways). I really enjoyed the way American Spanish was woven into the novel. The USA has one of the biggest Spanish-speaking populations in the world; it is wonderful to see that reflected in literature.

reyrosaseverinaSeverina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa. This was a charming book about obsession. After reading the novel I was left with an aching desire to find another path into the fictional world, to spend the summer renting a room in a pensión in Guatemala City, to see what might happen.

el heroe discretoEl héroe discreto by Mario Vargas Llosa. I enjoyed this novel, but the depiction of anyone younger than fifty did make me wonder whether Vargas Llosa is aging gracefully. Ingrate children versus their sanguine, triumphant parents… if you take this theme too seriously, from either side, then don´t pick up this book. Otherwise there were plenty of moments that made me smile and a few that genuinely touched me.

americasAmericas: The Changing Face of Latin America and the Caribbean by Peter Winn. Last December I came across a copy of this book in a hiking lodge in Patagonia. I spent the next day resting and reading. A fascinating introduction to the diversity of peoples in Latin America, I especially enjoyed the chapters highlighting the experiences of women, indigenous peoples and the differing ways race is understood throughout Latin America. Drawing from interviews with contemporary Latin Americans makes this book easy to read and less abstract. Great book.

turn rightTurn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams. I do not read much travel lit, but I enjoyed reading this. Do not worry too much about the groan-worthy description on the back of the book (What happens when an unadventurous adventure writer tries to re-create the original expedition to Machu Picchu?); the writer is led and informed by a highly-competent guide and the idiotic hi-jinks thankfully never really materialize. A very readable book that has inspired me to delve deeper into the subject of the Inca Empire.

el pez en el aguaEl pez en el agua by Mario Vargas Llosa. This book starts with an interesting trip into the childhood of one of the world´s most highly-regarded living authors. Chapters go back and forth between his formative years and the presidential campaign Vargas Llosa ran in the early 1990´s. While reading the behind the scenes political pieces I repeatedly had to give myself pep talks to avoid getting sucked into the author´s narrative, but it´s hard to maintain an objective distance while Vargas Llosa personally takes you under his wing. Then going back to his teenage years, I felt like I was peeling the skin back and finally understanding something about Peru. And the language, why not mention that nearly every page had something of interest.

ruidoEl ruido de las cosas al caer by Juan Gabriel Vásquez. The ambiance of this melancholy novel often appeared in my dreams at night while I was reading this book. I never know if the novel I just finished will linger in my thoughts for weeks, months or if it will quickly fade from my memory. Two months later, however, when the emotional impact of most novels have long passed, I was still occasionally looking longingly out a window, imagining the beauty of Bogota. This is a quiet novel depicting the solitary interior life of a ruined generation. There are frequent pleasures; I really enjoyed the descriptions of the Laverde family, urban life up in the mountains in Bogotá contrasted with the rural tropical areas, the beautiful geography of Colombia and inferring some of the broader changes that took place between the 1960´s through to the 1990´s. This is an enjoyable novel; however, there is something selfish about writing a book that leaves the reader feeling so alone.

diabloDiablo Guardián by Xavier Velasco. One of the most memorable trans-border novels that I have read, a modern picaresque novel. Disgusting at times. The main character, Violetta, is a character that for better or worse has stuck with me for years. A really interesting female voice, a schemer or con that negotiates between Mexican and US cultures. I found the code-switching to be a really interesting part of this novel. Here is her voice as she explains how she uses English to manipulate the innocent to help her when she first arrived to the US: ” ‘Daddy wanted to be, you know, my boyfriend’. El ‘you know’ es buenísimo, te permite decir lo que quieres pero no quieres decir y obliga a los demás a tratar de entenderte. Y así te vuelves de un sutil que bueno, you know, ¿verdad?…”.

chicanoChicano by Richard Vasquez. This is the story of a Mexican family that escapes the violence of the Mexican Revolution in the beginning of the 20th century but, as Mexican-Americans, the successive generations find their access to earning “the American dream” limited by overt and structural racism. As the title suggests, this novel was written (back in the 1970´s) with an explicit political message against the idea that Latinos can (or should) simply assimilate into Anglo-America. Putting aside the historical place of the novel, there is quite a bit that I did enjoy reading. Some complain about the melodramatic plot twists and, particularly, the ending… but it seems to me that the over the top, brown versus white characterizations actually pay homage to narrative structures in Mexican popular culture rather than fitting the plot to the demands of the Anglo reading public of the day.

carameloCaramelo by Sandra Cisneros. Simply one of the great family novels published in the last 20 years. My heritage speaking students often laugh aloud in recognition while reading the first few chapters describing a family road trip from Chicago to Mexico. I have heard criticism of the way this novel is structured. Digression upon digression reaching into the past, zooming into the present creating a quilt of memories. One reviewer called this effect “helpfully alienating to the Anglo reader”. There is something very Latino about the structure of this book. Nonetheless, Cisneros once commented that this is not about the “Mexican-American” experience, that the necessity of the hyphen speaks volumes about where our culture currently is. This is truly an American novel.

peorLos Peor by Fernando Contreras Castro. This is my vote for the Best Novel That You Most Likely Have Never Heard Of award. A marvelous, modern novel set among the lower classes of San Jose, Costa Rica that combines Greek mythology with environmental disaster and a very memorable set of characters. This is a story with a great social conscience, a rare work that is both very Costa Rican and yet universal.