Monthly Archives: April 2009

Collecting Folk Tales



A couple of years ago, I used to teach 6th Grade Exploratory Spanish, also known as Spanish connections.  I came across two anthologies of folktales that were written in a side by side style (Spanish on one side, English on the other).  I had my students read the stories, then draw and color illustrations for a story they picked.  I had them use crayons, exclusively.

I personally love crayons.

There were a couple of drawbacks to this assignment. Since the stories had illustrations with them already, a lot of students just traced or copied the illustration that already came with book.  That was a little disappointing. I had a good time doing my own illustrations, and even went so far as to construct a mural by cutting out and gluing the pictures in collage form. I then filled in the gaps with more crayon and then used two sets of stencils I bought to add interest. I got a lot of compliments on it, but it went missing during my second to last classroom move.  Lucky for me, I had taken a photo of it.

I have also tried to do some folktale activities with my 7th and 8th graders, so at one point I bound them into little booklets to make them easier to read and collect in class. By then, I had collected more stories.  Here are some of the books I have in my classroom:

Stories from Mexico :   Historias de Mexico by Genevieve Barlow and William Stivers

Stories from Latin America :   Historias de Latinoamerica by Genevieve Barlow

Horse Hooves and Chicken Feet: Mexican Folktales selected by Neil Philip Illustrated by Jacqueline Mair  (awesome and bright color illustrations based on Mexican folk art)

Fiesta Feminina: Celebrating Women in Mexican Folktale retold by Mary-Joan Gerson and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez

El Dia que Nevaron Tortillas / The Day it Snowed Tortillas: Folktales told in Spanish and English by Joe Hayes with Illustrations by Antonio Castro L.

Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys by Xavier Garza (I bought it because it contained a La Llorona story)

Stories from Mexico by Edward and Marguerite Dolch Illustrated by Ernest de Soto  (Written in 1960 by the Edward Dolch of Dolch Sight Words. “Told almost entirely in the “Storyteller’s Vocabulary”, which contains the 684 words most used in the telling of stories, as found by research” This was a cast-off from our school library and has a page or two missing and gang graffiti on some pages. A wonderful and useful collection of stories.)

The Bird Who Cleans the World and Other Mayan Fables by Victor Montejo

My Land Sings: Stories from the Rio Grande by Rudolfo Anaya . Illustrated by Amy Cordova

Mayan Folktales: Folklore from Lake Atitlan, Guatemala – Translated and edited by James D. Sexton

Latin American Folktales: Stories from Hispanic and Indian Traditions Edited and with an Introduction by John Bierhorst.  (No illustrations, but the cover painting introduced me to Francisco (Chico) Da Silva, an awesome Brazilian folk artist)

Latino Read-Aloud Stories: Best-Loved Selections from Latino Cultures in Both English and Spanish Edited by Maite Suarez-Rivas

This is by no means the extent of the anthologies and resources available.  I still have some on my wish list.  But I am trying to learn that I don’t have to have ALL of the books on any given topic that I am interested in. I have also gleaned stories from online sources too numerous to list. Just do a Google Search, and you will find many.

The Delacorte Press Writers’ Contest


Current Reading:  (Audiobook) The Thing About Jane Spring by Sharon Krum
(Print Version) The Chicken Dance by Jacques Couvillon

While I was doing some blog surfing the other day, I came across an entry mentioning the Delacorte Dell Yearling Contest for a First Middle Grade Novel.  I would love to write a children’s book – after all, most of my reading is in the Young Adult Genre.  It’s not by necessity, it’s because I really like the books.  It helps, of course, that I am a middle grades reading and language arts teacher.

I have often thought about writing a book.  I participated in National Novel Writing Month a few years ago, and although I completed the contest (word-count-wise), I used my notes and letters and journal entries from my stay in Angers France when I was 23 to write my piece.  I’m not saying that’s wrong, but I just left it at that. I needed to write for writing’s sake at that time, and it got me through a tough period.

Last year, after finding a book at my local Barnes & Noble called Book in a Month: The fool-proof system for writing a novel in 30 days by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D., I thought I would try again, but got side-tracked.  I still have the book, so I thought, why not use it now?  I also bought her book called Story Structure Architect, and I may use that, too.  I may also get 45 Master Characters – but that may be overkill.  I have a tendency to read more than I do already.

Note: the author of the book encourages you to write in the book – very difficult for a girl who was raised NOT to write in books. Then, you can use a new book for each project.  What an excellent way to sell more books!  Still, it makes sense, especially if you are working on more than one book, or want to keep your notes from each book. And, to make that even more attractive, though I paid $23 for my first book, there are new and used copies available on for as low as $3.45 (not including shipping).

I haven’t joined the support group at Yahoo! yet, but I might.  I have also discovered the Children’s Writers & Illustrators Message Board – which has a thread on various writing contests.  It is on Verla Kay’s Website for Children’s Writers and Illustrators. I may join that, too.

Okay, I’m aware that many of the entries in the contest have probably been working for a long time on their novels before submission. But I figure I can write the first draft in a month, then have enough time to do a first revision and make the entry date by June 30th (postmarked).  Then, for better or for worse, I will have completed a novel.  If I don’t finish it, there’s always next year, or there’s another contest for a Young Adult book (ages 12-18) held in October thru December.

I have been writing down my ideas and think I have finally come up with a good one.  It has all sorts of possibilities for education and applications to the classroom.  I have already started the research on it, but will take some time to stop and read my Book in a Month book, too.  I am not excited about anything this early in the morning, but I know I will be later.  I just have to come up with a work schedule and commit.

Young Adult Books in my classroom library


Since I have had the Amazon Prime membership (unlimited free shipping for a year), I do a LOT of book buying.  I am always on the lookout for ANYTHING that might get my students to read. I do searches for recommended books, awarded books, book lists on Amazon, anything that catches my eye.  Most of the books I look for are for Latino, because my other students (Brazilian, Asian, African…) are content to read American books.

Journey of the Sparrows by Fran Leeper Buss
The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez by Alan Lawrence Sitomer
Flight to Freedom by Ana Veciana-Suarez
Sofi Mendoza’s Guide to Getting Lost in Mexico by Malin Alegria
Quinceanera Means Sweet 15 by Veronica Chambers
Estrella’s Quinceanera by Malin Alegria
Crossing the Wire by Will Hobbs
Sister Chicas by Lisa Alvarado, Ann Hagman Cardinal, and Jane Alberdeston Coralin
The Well of Sacrifice by Chris Eboch
Accidental Love by Gary Soto
Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan
Graffiti Girl by Kelly Parra
Heart of a Jaguar by Marc Talbert
My Father, The Angel of Death by Ray Villareal
Roni’s Sweet Fifteen by Janet Quin-Harkin
Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa
Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida by Victor Martinez
The Afterlife by Gary Soto
Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Pena
The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales
Haters by Alisa Valdez-Rodriguez
The Brothers Torres by Coert Voohrees
Prizefighter in Mi Casa by E. E. Charlton-Trujillo
La Linea by Ann Jaramillo
Buried Onions by Gary Soto
Crazy Love by David Rice
What the Moon Saw by Laura Resau
Truth and Salsa by Linda Lowery
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Paint the Wind by Pam Munoz Ryan
Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska
Jesse by Gary Soto
House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (of course!)
Jesse by Gary Soto
An Island Like You by Judith Ortiz Cofer

And, naturally, all of the Twilight novels

I am still waiting on Keeper by Mal Peet, which is actually about a Brazilian soccer player.

Choosing books for a classroom library (especially a middle school classroom library)  never a sure thing. I have pretty much found out that Mexicans and other Central Americans do not seem to empathize with the Cuban experience (Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez), nor do they particularly like books about Puerto Rico (An Island Like You by Judith Ortiz Cofer).  Fewer girls were interested in the books about quinceaneras than I thought – and it is VERY hard to find anything that boys will read willingly.

As of yet, no one has picked up The Tequila Worm, which is about a Mexican American girl who gets to go to a private school in Texas. Yet, I have had a few students bite on Mexican Whiteboy, which is similar, but about a boy with a sports scholarship to a private school. No one has shown any interest in my stories about pre-Columbian Mexicans (Heart of a Jaguar & The Well of Sacrifice), so that was money ill-spent…

I usually cover Esperanza Rising and House of the Scorpion in a whole group setting.  The other books, I make available for my students to read daily in my classroom.  Usually, half of the class time is spent on teaching content, and the rest is spent reading (it is a READING class, after all).  When I am really on my game, I go to the library and find as many recorded versions of the books as I can, so that students are listening to the books as well as reading them.  I don’t do it all the time, because (after all) they cannot “hear” the words on the CRCT and other reading tests.

Wacky Idea Number Two: Gang Belt Lawn Chairs


Even though our school system has adopted a “unified dress code”, fashion statements continue to be an issue.  The thing that most attracts 5-color-web-beltsmy attention is anything gang-related.

It is the tradition in most Latino gangs to wear a military-style webbing belt that coordinates with the colors of the gangs.  Usually, those belts are either navy blue or black and have silver nickel or chrome flip buckles.  The other characteristic is that the buckle should have a letter stamped into it.  The letters are always in Old English Gothic lettering, but the initial often does not match the first or last name of the wearer.  Usually, the initial stands for the person’s gang nickname. Sometimes, not.

bucklewithinitialThe belts are very long, usually so that they can be cut on one side to fit the wearer.  The gang members take advantage of this length for more customization to their belt.  They often ink in symbols and phrases recognizable by other gangs on the metal end of their belts.  Then, the belt is left dangling so that everyone can admire their artwork.

These days, because the school uniforms have blue shirts – and the students don’t have to tuck them in – it’s harder to see the belts.  But, once seen (at least by me), they cannot be “unseen”.  I have to confiscate them and send them to our school resource officer. Sometimes, they just take the buckle off. But technically, that style of belt is against the school rules, so they take the whole thing off.

That got me to thinking. What happens to those belts after they go to the office?  I would jokingly tell my students that we were going to weave them all into a hammock, so recycling must have always been at the back of my mind.

So, the other day I sent an e-mail to the resource officer and asked him that question.  He said that they are all thrown out at the end of the year, or the custodian uses them to tie things down.  He told me I was welcome to come down and get some.  So I might.

After doing some internet research on lawn chair frames, I found out that they were sold by macrame companies.  Unfortunately, the companies I looked at were out of stock.  Apparently, macrame lawn chairs are popular – there were designs and patterns and instructions on how to weave them.  I considered buying an old chair on eBay and stripping it, but they were kind of expensive – not even including shipping. So, if I do this, I will have to wait a bit.

In the meantime, I worked on an illustration of what I had in mind.  Here it is:gangbeltlawnchair

Now, here I was, thinking this was a completely WACKY original idea, but nothing is new on this planet.  I was surfing for pictures of belts and buckles (because NO ONE seems to have illustrations of gang belts – why not?  How are people supposed to prevent something they don’t recognize? But, I digress…), and I found this:6a00d8341c5dea53ef00e553f519208834-640wi

Strap Bands Chair — by Yahïa Ouled-Moussa

Paris-based designer Yahïa Ouled-Moussa has a way with reinventing old clothing or fabrics into funky and functional design objects. He studied interior architecture in Paris, but it was through a job with a French cabinet-maker who specialized in restoring period furniture that he developed his passion for furniture and design. Ouled-Moussa transforms sturdy vintage French linens, army sacks or antique porcelain tea sets into stylish smocks, small sitting stools and bound sculpture.

His “Strap Bands Chair” uses old canvas belts that you may have worn in the 1980s (and that those born in the 1980s may be wearing today) and weaves them onto discarded wooden chairs to create the seat and back. The unwoven part of the belts hang under the seat, giving the piece an added, looser dimension in contrast to the tight weave above. The strap bands chair has been made in shades of pink as well as in a mix of bright yellow, red, blue and orange. There is also a military version which incorporates old canvas military belts in green, brown and beige.

Chairs can be commissioned by the piece or bought directly from his boutique (Yoming Gallery) on rue Nollet in Paris’s 17th arrondissement.

Isn’t life wacky?  I really liked the wooden chair idea, because I can see where it would be easier to tack the belts on wood.  I hadn’t quite figured out how I was going to make them stick on the lawn chairs.  I also think that having the belt buckles hanging is interesting.

Next move – contact the gallery and find out how much they sell for – I’m gonna be rich!

Wacky Idea Number 1 – Semana Santa Peeps Diorama


I have had a lot of ideas lately – one of them cannot be done yet because it’s not the right season, one cannot be done because I am missing a supply, and one of them, well, probably cannot be done.  Today, I will propose the first idea.

It is that time of year when the Washington Post posts a slide show of their Peeps Diorama contest.  I was reminded by the Crafty Chica’s post about a peeps shrine she made using one of her new products. I would like to do a diorama of a Semana Santa (Holy Week) procession in Peeps.  There is nothing against what I am planning in the entry guidelines. So I guess it’s up to my good sense.

Now, we’re in trouble.  I am not known for my sensibility when I think an idea is cool.

In my senior year of high school, just as I was on the fringe of the popular folk, I wrote a cute poem.  It was about favoritism during the rehearsal for the Dramatic Interpretation competitions we used to participate in when we took Drama or Speech.  It was so cute, I did not think about how negative it sounded, criticizing the sponsor and basically saying that coaching preference was given to students who were consistent winners.

True, perhaps – but when they found out who wrote the poem, I became Persona Non Grata to the Speechies from that time on.

A while back, I used to teach Exploratory Spanish and I used to show a LOT of videos.  I had two in particular that pertained to the Easter season.  There was one about Semana Santa in Spain.  Then, there was a two day (or all weekend?) Easter procession in Peru.

The basic idea of the procession is that the relics from the church (statues, holy items, etc.) are taken out and paraded around the town on huge floats.  The floats are carried by a solid wall of people – mostly men. I thought this would be interesting to portray.  But, I don’t know if it’s appropriate.  I went to all three of the Washington Post slide shows, and the only dioramas I found of a religious subject were a priest commissioning Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel, a re-creation of a Passover seder, and Mardi Gras (I know it’s not the same thing, I just thought I would mention it!).
Nothing like a nativity or Noah’s Ark or anything like that. But, here’s my idea anyway:

1. I would steer away from Spain’s celebration (see picture).  They tend to process in costumes with tall pointy hats and cloaks – often white. Also, as you see in the picture, a large cross is shouldered by one or more of the men.  While I understand the symbolism and culture behind this, I live in the South.  All people would see is a bunch of men in cloaks and white pointy hats bearing a cross… you know: the Ku Klux Klan!

2. No, South America is more friendly.  I found a picture of a group of men in purple carrying a huge wooden platform with a scene from the Bible perched atop it.
I immediately thought of purple Peeps.
3. Also, in Guatemala, they lay down intricate and colorful carpets made of sawdust, flower petals, and other items.  These are called alfombras.  I figured I could do that with sand or glitter.  After the decoration is admired – and hopefully, photographed – the people in the procession walk right through it!
So, unless I buy up Peeps and let them petrify for a year, I will have to wait for next year to plan my project.  I don’t know if it would be considered sacreligious, or just offensive. Hey, maybe some will find it cute!

I thought I was done with my Peeps ideas.  But they keep on coming.  What about a large Peep sculpture of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  I could call her “Guadalu-Peep”.

But, then again…

Nuevo Distroller


I had another question the other day about Distroller franchises.  Now, I apt9687have no contact with Amparin Serrano, nor with anyone who works for Distroller.  But that one post I made two years ago about the company is one of the most read in my blog.  I get both coherent and incoherent comments left on my blog, mostly in Spanish.

It seems that the people at Distroller have gotten no more efficient at answering all of the inquiries fired at them by interested licensees.  Maybe they don’t need the money…  I did notice that more stores have opened in Mexico, and there are now two in the United States:  one in Miami and one in Los Angeles.

For those people interested in franchising, I would suggest that you try calling one of the U. S. stores.  See if you can get any information from them.  Here is their information:

DOWNEY, CA 90241
TEL: (562) 923-8800

TEL: (305) 365-3939

Good luck on that!  Also, I visited the Distroller website and found it completely re-vamped.  Really beautiful, and with new products, too.  I particularly loved the new books by A. Serrano and Marta Anchustegui.  They are written by Anchustegui and illustrated by Serrano.  The titles look definitely interesting.  Topics include body image, familial abuse, cancer, and alcoholism.  The new website is called Sopa de Letras.

Bety Ballena

Bety Ballena

I guess you can figure out what issues Bety has…

I think that the biggest attraction to the whole Distroller phenomenon is the awesome imagination of its creator, Amparin Serrano.  Who else would make premature baby dolls a hot item?  There are all sorts of medicines and nostrums to feed and care for the “neonato” – and the umbilical cord is prominent.  For those that are uncomfortable with newborn humans, there are also animals (Leonato and Monato – lion and monkey).  “Los viruses” are little disease dollies that are the “enemies” of the Neonatos.

Other options for buying Distroller are Ebay auctions.  There is a lot of piracy, however, so be forewarned.

Trip to Houston


What can I say?  I had a great Spring Break.  Friday night, my husband and I went to see Yacht Rock at a bar in Buckhead.  Do you know how long it has been since I have been out?  Especially in Buckhead: a major meat market for 20-somethings (and maybe 30-somethings). I cannot describe the crush when we were downstairs with the unwashed masses.  Finally, we made our way upstairs to a balcony overlooking the band.  That is where all of the other “old people” were… The band was great, though.

The next day, I left on an afternoon flight to Houston to visit a friend of mine.  She has the cutest little house in the Heights – the cutest little neighborhood in Houston.  We went out to eat – left planning to go one place and ended up at another.  We tried this trendy place called Max’s Wine Dive.  What a concept: expensive glasses of wine with upscaled “dive” food: Fried chicken, hamburgers, “meat loaf”, mac ‘n’ cheese.  God, I wish I had thought of it!

On Sunday, we went out to brunch with another friend – I had requested dim sum. Instead, a new South African restaurant was suggested for brunch.  It is called Out of Africa.  I have a friend who is spending the year in Johannesburg.  I would love to visit, but I’m afraid that the airfare would be a killer.  So I will have to take my South African experiences wherever I can.  It was pretty good – I really liked the bobotee.  The terrace was the perfect brunch spot – not too hot, not too cool.

As a surprise, my friend bought me a ticket to see Les Miserables at the Theatre Under The Stars.  It was particularly meaningful because Rob Evan was playing Jean Valjean.  I used to be friends with his mother when I was teaching in Monticello, GA.  I met him before he was “my son, Rob Evan – the actor/singer” (that’s what she called him).  He was also quite an event and hunter/jumper rider.  Okay, I am pretty sure I have seen Les Miz before, but did not remember anything at all about the plot.

I did a lot of sleeping late – while my friend was out walking in the morning, I hung with her two dogs, “the Fluffies”, teaching them bad habits, like jumping on the guest bed.  Monday, we went to International Boulevard to have Mexican food.  We ate at a little taqueria (Casa de Leon), where I had tacos de birria (goat, I think).  Afterward, we stopped at an ice cream place – appropriately called La Michoacana.  I had a coconut paleta.

Does it sound like we did a lot of eating?  I’m not done.  That night, we went to Anvil Bar and Refuge.  It’s a new bar run by four hard-core former bartenders.  Everything is homemade and prepared to exacting standards.  They specialize in old school cocktails, like “the sidecar” – I didn’t want that.  After looking at the daily specials, I decided upon a drink called a “Dark and Stormy“.  It was a combination of Cruzan Blackstrap Rum, Ginger Beer (they brew their own, adding a little Thai chili for spice…), and lime.  It arrived in a beautiful squat old-fashioned glass filled to the brim with uniformly crushed ice, with a slice of lime and a straw.

I took a sip of my drink, and pondered.  My friend took a sip, and also was quiet.  Finally, we discussed what it tasted like.  My guess was an incense shop.  My friend went with “inside of my grandmother’s purse”.  Bingo.  I joke – after a while, it kind of grew on me.  My second order was a caipirinha – the cachaca was smokey, and there were perfect little clear cubes of ice.  Beautiful.  These guys cure their own olives, macerate their own cherries (my friend had one on her Metropole), and toast their own hazelnuts, I guess.  Check it out when you are in Houston!

On my last day, I went shopping on 19th Street in the morning.  It’s a lot of fun.  I spent a lot of time at Casa Ramirez, and came out with some cool stuff.  The owner is really nice, and we had a good conversation.  He is somewhat of a local expert on Mexican culture and gives talks and tours of Mexico for Day of the Dead.  I also spent a lot of time at Grace Hart and Company – a flea market-like shop with lots and lots of stalls.  It was fun.

Before I went to the airport to catch my flight, we went to Oishii – a sushi restaurant – and to Berripop, one of those new-fangled yogurt places. It was all very good and light.  It was so much fun to get out of town – I forget how big a city Houston is!  Bigger than Atlanta!  One of the best parts was that, coming back on Tuesday night, I still had five more days of vacation left to spend at home.