Category Archives: House of the Scorpion

House of the Scorpion Loteria, Card #4


How else do you get a spare heart?

Spoiler alert!  If you have not read House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer, yet: this may upset you…  On the other hand, it tells you right on the back of the book in the blurb what is supposed to happen.  I think that the only person who does not know is Matt, the clone.


House of the Scorpion Loteria Card 3


El Latigo Negro

This is another of the Loteria cards that I designed digitally for my Loteria Card Lesson plan based on the book House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer.  The first card was called Durango, and the second was called Property of the Alacran Estate.  Each card is meant to represent an aspect of the story – and I have read this book and listened to it on CD over 50 times, so my references can be pretty detailed.

This card represents El Latigo Negro.  When Matt Alacran (the clone) was left alone at the Alacran Estate – when the other children were away at boarding school – he relied on a rich fantasy life to entertain himself.  He would often pretend to be one of a few television heroes that were played on the estate television.  Since El Patron insisted that life at the Estate be kept the same as when he was a child, these TV series were rather vintage – maybe from the 1950’s or 1960’s.

El Latigo Negro was the only character I was able to find on the internet.  He was a Zorro-like character who wielded a long whip instead of a gun, I think.  That actually makes me think of a great George Hamilton film called Zorro, The Gay Blade because the gay brother used a whip…

But I don’t think that this is what Mrs. Farmer was referring to when she referenced the character.  😉  I don’t even know if she had anyone specific in mind.

It is difficult to find information on El Latigo Negro, but I found a very interesting blog post here written by an aficionado of old B movies.  According to that post, El Latigo Negro was honored in two series.  The one referenced in the post – I think – was part of a trilogy made in the late seventies.  But there was also a trilogy of films made in the 1950’s, as well as a series of comic books based on the character.

The other two heroes mentioned were Don Segundo Sombra (Sir Second Shadow) and El Sacerdote Volante (The Flying Priest).  The Don Segundo Sombra I found was based on a 1926 novel about a gaucho, so I don’t think that was who Matt admired.  The description in the book says that Matt’s Don Segundo drove sports cars and seemed more like a James Bond character.

As for The Flying Priest, I think she made him up, but it makes a great visual – a flying priest who flings holy water on demons and burns them like acid.  Hee hee.

House of the Scorpion Loteria Card 2

Property of the Alacran Estate

Property of the Alacran Estate

I just ambushed a fellow teacher – she said that she is teaching House of the Scorpion.  Okay, I didn’t jump her – I just eagerly offered my help.  I don’t know if I will be teaching HOTS this year.  Although it is written on a 6th grade level, I have usually used it for older students.  This is my first time teaching 6th grade ESOL, so I don’t want to push it.

I had already offered my services to one teacher, but she just said that most of her students had already read the book by 6th grade.  She must teach “enhanced” Lang. Arts classes.  So, I hope that there is someone that will benefit from my experience.

This card is from the deck I started designing last year.  When he is born, Matt Alacran is tattooed on his foot.  I actually imagine it as one of those round address label stamps, but I really liked this tribal scorpion tattoo that I found online, so I thought I’d use it.  I hope it was on his left foot…  I like this card – the feet, the “Property of” t-shirt design in the background and the scorpion tattoo look cool.

In the story, the tattoo is usually out of sight, but it give him away at the beginning when he cuts his feet and hands.  Then, someone at the orphanage sees it and rats him out.

House of the Scorpion Loteria Card 1

The purple mountains of Durango...

The dusty cornfields and purple mountains of Durango...

Last year, after my classes finished reading House of the Scorpion (written by Nancy Farmer), I asked them to create loteria cards.  I asked them to draw images that were representations of characters, symbols, concepts, themes – anything relevant to the story.  This was very difficult for them, and a little tedious for me, because there were a lot of repeat cards.   I decided at the beginning of the assignment not to assign the student specific cards, hence the plethora of cups (poison wine), scorpions, and hearts.

To keep myself stimulated while this activity was going on, I decided to do some loteria cards of my own.  So far, I have 32 – each representing different aspects of the story.  I did try one exercise – I laid a card on each student’s desk, then asked the student to turn it over.  Then I asked that student to tell me why I chose that image for my loteria deck.  After some coaxing, my more reluctant students were able to say something.  I had some very sharp students last year that totally got it.

Now, to explain the above card (I am not sure yet if I will put a word on it…):

Durango is where El Patron, the original Matteo Alacran, was born.  His last name a tribute to the people of Durango, who are called “alacranes” or scorpions.  Celia, the cook, and Matt’s mother figure, is also from Durango.  She was saved from becoming an “eejit” because El Patron recognized her accent and kept her on to cook traditional dishes for him.

There is a very important story that El Patron tells four times in the novel.  The first time he tells it is when he and Matt meet for the first time (pp. 57-58).  There, he just provides the bare bones of the story:  that he was born in Durango (he always mentions the dusty cornfields and purple mountains – hence the image above), that his brothers died of various things before they had a chance to grow up, and his sisters died from typhoid.

Later on in the story, El Patron tells the story three more times:  at his birthday celebration (pp. 100-101), when he is in bed and sick for the first time (p. 200), and finally, when he wants to the ultimate sacrifice from Matt (pp. 232-233).  Each time he tells the story, we learn more details about the deaths of his brothers.  He also adds more detail to the fiesta where his sisters contracted typhoid.  It’s a masterful device, and I endeavored to point this out to my students.

I love this book so much – it is obvious that I’m a bit obsessed.  But, then again, I must have read it (okay, listened to it on CD) at least 30 or 40 times, because I also listen to it when my students are reading with the CD in class…  I never grow tired of it and always find something new to remark upon each time.

Make your own Loteria Deck!


So, I said on Mondays that I might start posting entries about Loteria art.  If you don’t know what Loteria is – here is a link to read.  I love creating new Loteria decks – so far, I think I have made or started about elsol14 0r 5.  Below is a card from a deck I was manipulating in PhotoShop a couple of years ago.  I think the focus was on artesania – or Mexican arts and crafts.  I like fooling around with those things.

So, how does one go about creating a loteria deck?  One thing I like to do is to print out a list of images from the traditional Don Clemente game and use that as my guide.  Here is a list of the images for you to peruse:

1 El gallo (The Rooster)
2 El diablito (The Little Devil)
3 La dama (The Lady)
4 El catrín (The Dandy/Fop)
5 El paragüas (The Umbrella)
6 La sirena (The Merelserape copymaid)
7 La escalera (The Ladder)
8 La botella (The Bottle)
9 El barril (The Barrel)
10 El árbol (The Tree)
11 El melon (The Melon)
12 El valiente (The Brave One)
13 El gorrito (The Bonnet)
14 La muerte (The Death)
15 La pera (The Pear)
16 La bandera (The Flag)
17 El bandolón (The Citar)
18 El violoncello (The Cello)
19 La garza (The Heron)
20 El pájaro (The Bird)
21 La mano (The Hand)
22 La bota (The Boot)
23 La luna (The Moon)
24 El cotorro (The Parrot)lacalavera
25 El borracho (The Drunk)
26 El negrito (The Little Black Man)
27 El corazón (The Heart)
28 La sandía (The Watermelon)
29 El tambor (The Drum)
30 El camarón (The Shrimp)
31 Las jaras (The Arrows)
32 El músico (The Musician)
33 La araña (The Spider)
34 El soldado (The Soldier)
35 La estrella (The Star)
36 El cazo (The Bean Pot)
37 El mundo (The World)
38 El apache (The Apache)
39 El nopal (The Cactus)
40 El alacrán (The Scorpion)
41 La rosa (The Rose)elcantarito
42 La calavera (The skull)
43 La campana (The Bell)
44 El cantarito (The Water Pitcher)
45 El venado (The Deer)
46 El sol (The Sun)
47 La corona (The Crown)
48 La chalupa (The Canoe)
49 El pino (The Pine)
50 El pescado (The Fish)
51 La palma (The Palm)
52 La maceta (The Flowerpot)
53 El arpa (The Harp)
54 La rana (The Frog)

Next, begin thinking of a theme.  If you have a theme or subject, such as your own culture, or your town, or your own group of friends, you can begin to conceive of your own images.  If you are doing a Loteria about Christmas, for lacampana copyexample, El Venado (the deer) can be a Reindeer, El Pino (the pine tree) can be a Christmas tree, and El Arpa (the harp) can be played by an angel.

You don’t have to remain stuck using all of the cards, as I hope you can see.  Staying with the Christmas theme, you might not want to have La Muerte (death) or La Calavera (the skull) – unless you are doing The Nightmare Before Christmas…  You can replace those images with ones that are not included in the traditional Loteria, such as Santa’s cap instead of El Gorrito (the bonnet), and a sleigh instead of La Chalupa (the canoe).

Your use of images is up to you.  I save images that I think I might want to elcantarito2use in the future.  One of my favorite decks that I did a few years ago was based on a multitude of mola images I had accumulated.  I also have my quilt loteria that I made using line drawings and fabric samples, available at my CafePress Shop.  And there’s the original Loteria Celeste and my Vintage Loteria.  See, I told you!

Using Loteria in the classroom lends itself to many applications.  My students created cards for a House of the Scorpion Loteria deck that we did after reading Nancy Farmer’s book.  At the same time, I also started looking for relevant images to use as loteria/flash cards in my teaching of the book.  I would pass them out to students and ask them what significance the card had in the story.  It is challenging and brings up the use of analogies, since students have to make connections and comparisons between topics and themes in books and lessons to see the connection to the card I chose.

Use of analogies, which have been scrapped from formal testing, is important in being creative with your own loteria deck.  If you are doing a deck based on New Orleans, for example, you would want to see the connection between La Sirena (the mermaid, usually bare-chested) and the “show me your boobs” girls on the parade route…

These are just some beginning guidelines.  The reason I like to start with the original deck and make analogous entries is so that the art form can be recognized as a variation on a Loteria deck.  If you were making your own Tarot deck, you would want to start with the original deck as a guideline, wouldn’t you?

In future posts, I would like to seek out original loteria decks and feature them in my blog.  Tonight, however, I thought that an introduction to the creative process of creating a deck would be relevant to some.  If you would like to start looking at decks, go to to look at the scanned collection there.

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.

House of the Scorpion Loteria


scorpion2bAfter we read House of the Scorpion, I worked up a lesson plan that I have wanted to do for a long time.  I wanted my students to create an personal loteria card that illustrated some event, character, or concept in the story.  Then, they were to write a paragraph explaining why they chose that image and what it had to do with the book.

I hate to say this, but most middle school students are reluctant to draw.  I insisted that they give it their best shot.  Some of them did a great job, some traced their images – that is completely okay with me – and some scratched out the minimum required drawing.  I insisted that they fill in the whole card space – making some sort of background.  After I collected them, I planned to scan in the pictures and make a loteria deck out of them.

There were a few things that I had not control over.  I handed out a list of possible drawings, but I really couldn’t say, “Oh, so-and-so is already drawing a heart (or a wine glass or a scorpion):  why don’t you draw something else?”  So I ended up with a couple of versions of the same sort of image.  Of course, I also warned them that they couldn’t just draw a skull and crossbones because they liked drawing them – it had to be explained in connection with the story.  Of course, some didn’t listen, but that’s another story…

After scanningoctaviooriginal the lot of pictures, I decided to “touch them up” a little bit in PhotoShop.  The first one I did was the one above.  The picture to the left was the original.  I cropped it and enlarged it.  Then, as I usually do, I intensified the hues.  Finally, I used one of the many, many special effects to simulate a stone wall.  In the story, the scorpion is probably not stone-aged, but I really liked the effect.  After that, I worked on a few more, with good results.

As often happens with me and Photoshop, I got more and more involved in my editing process.  So, my question is this:  is it really student art now?  I am thinking about it.  Now, if I were a kindergarten teacher and did something cutesy with my students work, I think that would be okay.  So I am going to go for it.

I have three classes of 9-10 students each, and my plan is to combine the images to create Loteria tablas of nine images each.  Each student will receive a card with his or her image included in the group.  I will have to juggle a bit to replace all of those hearts and wine bottles, but I think it will be something for them to keep and remember from the class.  I will post the finished products later.

Christmas Goose


I have already done at least one post on the Game of the GooseLast year, I img_0308planned on having my French students make a large goose game but didn’t go through with it.  In that plan, I made a bulletin board with a poster-sized game in black and white (I enlarged it in Microsoft Publisher, printed it out on my laser printer and painstakingly taped it together. I had the rules (in English) posted in the center of the game. I addressed the circumstances of each special field by copying and pasting it onto a separate document with the rule next to it.

I did allow my students to play the game, and used flat glass pebbles as the markers.  I printed out paper dice for them to use so they would not swipe them.  They enjoyed playing the game, but after thinking through several strategies, I could not really justify the game in my lesson plans. I was planning on printing out coloring pages for the students to color – mainly the flags of all of the Francophone countries – and different crowns to replace the ubiquitous goose.  I may do that again one day if I ever teach French or Spanish again, but I would need to have some task to do that has to do with the target language – like vocabulary memorization or something like that.

Anyway, while I was on that kick, I painstakingly laid out two of my own versions of a blank grid to be filled in one day by a class. I also cleaned up a scan of a goose game (juego de la oca) I bought in Mexico and translated the directions into English. All three are available at my CafePress Shop in different sizes and formats.

I had one blank customizable goose game lying around when I packed to go to Louisiana for Christmas.  On the off chance that it might be an entertaining family project, I packed it up with a box of Sharpie markers and brought it along.  I laid it out during the Christmas Eve party at my sister’s in-laws and it was a hit. Here are some pictures from the party.img_0285

This is my niece and her cousins working on the board.  Yes, the little one contributed as well!

The boys were not left out!  This is my giant nephew and another cousin of his doing their part for art!

I drew in the special fields, like the well and the bridge.  My mother was in charge of inserting the Fleur de Lis.  The FDL is a big thing over down New Orleans way, so it was the perfect emblem to replace the goose.  I still have some finishing touches to put on the game, then I will upload it to my site and make it available for my sister and her in laws to buy at cost.  It will be a great memory of a Christmas spent together.

The game still has a lot of possibilities for using as a response to literature.  I am planning a similar exercise using a personalized Loteria game.  It really is all about knowing about and using analogies.  The students must think about the story and customize the game to match the theme and major characters and plot points and settings in the story. They would also replace the goose with a symbol that represents the story.  The original “Special Fields” are:

6 The Bridge — If you land on 6, advance immediately to field 12.
19 The Inn — The good food and drink makes you sleepy, and you lose I turn. (Exception: if another player lands at the Inn within the same turn, you change places and you go back to the space that player just came from.)
31 The Well — If you fall in the Well, lose 2 turns—unless another player landing there releases you sooner, sending you back to the field that player just arrived from.
42 The Maze — You get lost and go back to field 30.
52 The Prison — If you land in prison, you stay there until another player landing there relieves you and you go back to that player’s last field.
58 Death — Your goose is cooked. Go back to the beginning and start all over.

For example, if we were to do a House of the Scorpion theme, we would use scorpions in place of the geese.  The “prison” might be a room filled with sawdust (making reference to Matt’s imprisonment when he was only six).  The Inn could be the Convent where Maria is staying or it could be the orphanage, or you could include both.  It makes the students think about what they have been reading and to show that they can synthesize that information and interprete it in a different form.

I would welcome any input that readers might have for using this in a reading or social studies class.

Music mentioned in House of the Scorpion


Lately, I have been researching the music mentioned in Nancy Farmer’s House of the Scorpion.  I didn’t use much of it this year, but have always played a sound file of the call of the Inca Dove – more on that below.

Two or more references are made to the Catholic hymn “Buenos Dias, Paloma Blanca.”  This is a hymn or song to the Virgin of Guadalupe.  Matt sings it to himself in “Prison” (page 44), while caressing a dove’s feather he found.  Celia sings it to him on page 60, to sooth him when he becomes difficult.  Finally, Matt weaves the song into the story he is telling Fidelito a story of Maria’s life in the convent (page 346).

Buenos Dias Paloma Blanca – lyrics and sound file.  My husband and I found an MP3 ranchera version on ITunes – I will include the link later.  Be careful, there are a lot of songs with “paloma blanca” in them, but there is only one hymn.   Here are the lyrics – I cannot seem to find the English translation:

Buenos días, Paloma Blanca
Hoy te vengo a saludar.
Saludando tu belleza
En tu trono celestial.
Eres Madre del creador
Y a mi corazón encantas
Grácias te doy con amor
Buenos días, Paloma Blanca.

Niña linda, niña santa
Tu dulce nombre alabar.
Porque eres tan sacrosanta
Hoy te vengo a saludar.
Reluciente como el alba
Pura, sencilla y sin mancha
Qué gusto recibe mi alma!
Buenos días, Paloma Blanca.

Que linda está la mañana
El aroma de las flores.
Despiden suaves olores
Antes de romper el alba.
Mi pecho con voz ufana
Grácias te da, Madre mía
En este dichoso día
Antes de romper el alba.

Cielo azul yo te convido
En este dichoso día.
A que prestes tu hermosura
A las flores de María.
Madre mía de Guadalupe
Dáme ya tu bendición
Recibe éstas mañanitas
De un humilde corazón.

Reference is also made to the call of a dove – both times during El Patron’s recounting of his childhood story.  The first time is, I think, during El Patron’s first meeting with Matt, and the second is during his last visit before he dies.  Both times, the effect is of a Greek chorus – at the same point in the story, the dove call sounds like someone saying “no hope, no hope”.  I did a little research and there is a breed of dove found in the southern United States called the Inca Dove – I believe that’s the dove in the story.  Here is a sound file with the bird’s call.  Here is another where the descriptor mentions that it can sound like “no hope.”

In the middle of the book – I’ll find the page number later – Matt sits at the piano and plays a thundering rendition of  The Turkish March by Mozart.  Here is a link to a sound bite – I had to go through a lot of them to find something that didn’t sound too wussy.  It is supposed to be an angry rendition – Matt is frustrated when he plays it.

Finally, in Chapter 38, Matt plays the Adagio from Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 upon his return to Opium.  I think that it is supposed to be the “calm” before the stormy story Celia and the others have to tell about the downfall of Opium.

Finally, there’s The Humming Chorus from Madame Butterfly.  This is chosen as funereal music by El Patron and is sung by a choir of eejits, bringing people to tears.  Celia says, “He was an evil man, but the music would break your heart.”  So, although El Patron was too busy being a gangster to learn to play music, he still is portrayed as a connoisseur.  It was not easy to find a free version of this that was not a YouTube video and also sounded appropriately “haunting” – here is one.

A bit of trivia – I found that it was also used in the final murder scene of Heavenly Creatures .  Pretty chilling in that context.

I am having my husband burn a copy of these sounds to a disc so that I can have it handy for future lesson plans.