October 24, 2018

Danza! Amalia Hernandez and El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico by Duncan Tonatiuh

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:40 am by suebe2

Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers

When Amalia was born in Mexico City in 1917, everyone assumed she would be a teacher.  After all, her mother was a teacher and her grandmother had been a teacher.  Amalia too thought that she would teach.

But one day when her family was on vacation, Ami saw a pair of dancers performing a folk dance.  Ami was entranced.

At home, Ami whirled and twirled.  Her father wasn’t thrilled but her mother encouraged the girl’s enthusiasm.  Before long, she won her father over.  Not only did he have a studio built into their home, he brought in the very best dance teachers he could find.  Soon Ami was a talented ballerina.

In 1939, Ami saw two American dancers.  They didn’t perform ballet.  Their modern dance was powerful.

It didn’t take long before Ami was combining ballet with modern dance.  Then she began working in elements of various Mexican folk dances.  She also choreographed dances based on Mexican history.

It is really hard to review this book without simply retelling all of Ami’s accomplishments.  In addition to being a talented dancer, she founded El Ballet Folklórico de México.  The company performs even today in Mexico and all over the world. They are credited with fueling the public enthusiasm for Mexican folk dance and also the pride many Mexicans have in their culture.  Not only did Ami elevate these dances in Mexico, she took them all over the world.

If you aren’t familiar with Tonatiuh’s work, pick this book up.  Even when illustrating modern dance, it is clear that Tonatiuh’s illustrations draw on the style of ancient Mexican artists.  Tonatiuh hand draws his illustrations and then scans and colors them digitally.

If you have a young reader who is intrigued by dance or by Mexican culture, pick up this book.  It would also be a wonderful addition to any library striving for inclusion and diversity.




February 29, 2016

Funny Bones by Duncan Tonatiuh

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:55 am by suebe2

Funny Bones:
Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Have you ever seen figures of skeletons riding bicycles, dancing, or playing musical instruments?  These are called calavera.  The word is literally Spanish for skull and these figures are associated with the Day of the Dead or Dia del Muertos.  This Mexican holiday is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd and is a day of remembrance for all our loved ones who have died.

These skeleton figures are the creation of an artist named Jose Guadalupe Posada.  Early in his life, he was known as Lupe.  As his work became more and more popular, he came to be called by his last name – Posada.

His pieces are meant to be entertaining and fun but there is always a message – this is what will happen to us all.  In his lifetime, his etchings accompanied poems.  Sometimes the poems were festive, funny comments on life.  But those created during the Mexican Revolution were often dark and aggressive.

When this book won the Pura Belpre Award given by American Library Association in January, I was eager to get ahold of it for two reasons.  1.  I adore calaveras although many people think they are grim and ghastly.
2.  I also adore Duncan Tonatiuh’s illustrations.

It did not disappoint.  I loved it for the lessons in Mexican culture and history, but there is so much more on this book.  Definitions of art techniques used by Posada are scattered throughout the text as are the works of Posada and Manuel Manilla who also created calaveras. Tonatiuh’s work is hand drawn and then used to create computerized collages sometimes including pieces by either Posada or Manilla.  The works of these two artists are fully credited in the backmatter.

I would definitely recommend sharing this with your young art lover or any other child interested in learning about other cultures.  The illustrations are colorful and humorous and make you think about the many things we take for granted.


March 26, 2015

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:57 am by suebe2

Separate is Never Equal:
Sylvia Mendez and her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
Written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers

The first day of school doesn’t go as Sylvia hoped.  Instead of being greeted by new friends, she is told to go away.  “Go back to the Mexican school where you belong!”

When we discuss race and segregation in the US, we think of it as a black vs white issue.  We tend to forget that there were a lot of different people here all experiencing similar things and fighting similar fights.

Sylvia and her family move to Santa Ana.  When time comes to start school, they are in for a surprise.  Her light-skinned cousins are welcome to enroll in the school closest to home, but not Sylvia and her siblings.  They are too dark, too Mexican.

Unlike the spacious, clean school near home, the Mexican school is in the middle of a cow-filled pasture.  The teachers weren’t very concerned about educating their young charges. Why bother? They’d all drop out by the 8th grade to join their parents in the fields.

But Sylvia’s family demands more and they go to court to get it.

I have to admit that this is a story I didn’t know.  I suspected it was out there but I didn’t know the when or the who.  I’m in debt to Duncan Tonatiuh for bringing it to my attention.

This isn’t a book for preschoolers but early grade school with a slightly older, fact-filled text.  The illustrations were hand drawn before being digitally colored and collaged.  The detail that grabbed me? The characters’ ears.  It is clear that Tonatiuh draws inspiration from ancient Mexican art.  And why not?  This is an amazing Mexican-American story, a story that needs to be told.

Add this to your classroom library and bring it out when discussing desegregation with older readers.


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