ERIC Identifier: ED438150
Publication Date: 1999-12-00
Author: Murray, Yvonne I. - Velazquez, Jose
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools
Promoting Reading among Mexican American Children.
Literature addresses the universal need for stories. Stories are most
meaningful and best able to promote literacy when they speak to a student's
world. Good books can help children develop pride in their ethnic identity,
provide positive role models, develop knowledge about cultural history,
and build self-esteem. However, Mexican American students in the United
States often do not experience literature in this way. This Digest identifies
key challenges, recommends classroom strategies, provides literature selection
guidelines, and suggests reading lists for various grade levels.
MEXICAN AMERICAN CHILDREN'S LITERATURE
Literary works written for or by Mexican Americans were not represented
in mainstream children's publications in the United States until the 1940s.
Beginning in the 1940s, Mexican American literary characters were developed
largely by European American writers who were removed from the cultural
experience of the Mexican American minority. Consequently, portrayals of
Mexican Americans reflected a rural existence and stereotypical images
Between 1940 and 1973 there were only four or five books a year published
on Mexican American themes by the major publishers of children's literature.
Analyses from the late 1980s and early 1990s showed even fewer-only one
to three books a year (Schon, 1988; Cortes, 1992). Of the approximately
5,000 children's books published annually by major publishers in the United
States, books about or by Mexican Americans made up one tenth of 1%. These
statistics reveal the persistent dearth of children's literature by Mexican
American authors through the early 1990s. The literary genres were limited,
too. Most were folklore, legends, and protest pieces (Barrera, Liguori,
& Salas, 1993; Harris, 1993; Tatum, 1990; Schon, 1988).
In the early 1990s awareness of these issues resulted in the publication
of growing numbers of books with Mexican American themes and authors. Small
publishing houses such as Arte Publico, Pinata Books, and Bilingual Review
Press have increased dissemination of minority literature and helped launch
writers such as Tomas Rivera, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, and Sandra Cisneros
to national recognition (Barrera, Liguori, & Salas, 1993).
Using effective classroom strategies and selecting the best literature
for particular groups of students are the two pivots for promoting reading
among Mexican American children. The following strategies can help Mexican-origin
and other teachers improve both their methods for promoting reading in
the classroom and their students' cultural understanding (Murray, 1998a;
Barrera, Liguori, & Salas, 1993; Escamilla, 1992; Galda, 1991; Diaz,
Moll, & Mehan, 1986):
* Explore Mexican American culture, history, and contemporary society
through texts such as Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas 1836-1986
(Montejano, 1987), The Hispanic Americans (Meltzer, 1982), or The Mexicans
in America (Pinchot, 1989).
* Consult book reviews, such as those in Our Family, Our Friends, Our
World: An Annotated Guide to Significant Multicultural Books for Children
and Teenagers (Miller-Lachmann, 1992).
* Take an ethnic literature course. From the 1960s to the present, a
growing body of literature written by or for Mexican Americans has emerged.
* Include multicultural readers in the secondary level curriculum, such
as Mexican American Literature (Tatum, 1990) or Arrivals: Cross-cultural
Experience in Literature (Huizenga, 1995).
* Incorporate trade books whenever possible, using selection criteria
(see Reviewing Literature and Selecting The Best, below).
* When possible, invite local Mexican American authors to talk with
or read to classes. Correspond with one or more authors located through
* Participate in school district committees that select curriculum materials.
Make a case for including various U.S. minority group histories and literatures
to be studied as serious literary works.
* Request in-service seminars by university and school district experts
on the use of Mexican American literature and interdisciplinary instruction.
* Organize a committee of volunteer parents to suggest or review selections
of readings for the class.
* Invite minority parents or grandparents to present oral traditions
by sharing family histories or experiences. Written collections of their
stories could be included in the school library.
REVIEWING LITERATURE AND SELECTING THE BEST
The following checklist provides a few important guidelines for selecting
appropriate classroom literature (Murray, 1998b; Escamilla, 1992; Diaz,
Moll, & Mehan, 1986):
* Does the selection present specific and accurate information about
* Do the illustrations and/or text reflect the diversity of the people
or do they reflect stereotypes?
* Are Mexican-origin characters depicted in active (not passive or submissive)
* Does the story line and/or character development lend itself to a
* Does the narrative voice in the selection come from a perspective
within the culture?
* If the cultural elements were removed, would there be a developed
* Is the culture presented in a positive way? Do the characters come
to a constructive resolution of conflicts? Are the characters multidimensional?
* Can mainstream works (i.e., literary canon) parallel the themes, issues,
or characters of the selection? Identify them, then compare and discuss.
* Are the Spanish words or phrases in the text understandable within
the context of the sentences? Is there a glossary?
SUGGESTED SELECTIONS BY GRADE LEVELS
The following authors and works have been reviewed (Murray, 1998a) and
represent some of the authentic within-the-culture perspectives available
Abuela by Arthur Dorros (Elisa Kleven, illustrator)
A Birthday Basket for Tia by Pat Mora (Cecily Lang, illustrator)
Arroz con Leche by Lulu Delacre (author and illustrator)
Diego by Jonah Winter (Jeanette Winter, illustrator)
Family Pictures: Cuadros de familia by Carmen Lomas Garza
Hairs: Pelitos by Sandra Cisneros (Terry Ybanez, illustrator)
I Speak English for My Mom by Muriel Stanek (Judith Friedman, illustrator)
Juan Tuza and the Magic Pouch by Francisco X. Mora (author and illustrator)
Listen to the Desert: Oye al desierto by Pat Mora (Francisco X. Mora,
Mr. Sugar Came to Town: La Vista del Sr. Azucar by Harriet Rohmer
Pablo's Tree by Pat Mora (Cecily Lang, illustrator)
Patchwork Colcha: A Children's Collection by Carmen Tafolla
Pupurupu: Cuentos de Ninos by Larry Daste (Sabine Ulibarri, illustrator)
The Wedding of Don Octavio by Patricia Zelver
The Woman Who Knew the Language of the Animals by Denise Chavez
Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora (Raul Colon, illustrator)
Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto (Ed Martinez, illustrator)
The Adventures of Connie and Diego by Maria Garcia (Malaquias Montoya,
Calor by Amado Pena (illustrator) & Juanita Alba
Hector Lives in the United States Now: The Story of a Mexican-American
Child by Joan Hewett
How We Came to the Fifth World: A Creation Story from Ancient Mexico
(Tales of the Americas) adapted by Harriet Rohmer, Mary Anchondo (Graciela
Carrillo DeLopez, illustrator)
Maria Molina and the Days of the Dead by Kathleen Krull (Enrique O.
Rosita's Christmas Wish by Mary Ann Smothers Bruni
Saturday Market by Patricia Grossman (Enrique O. Sanchez, illustrator)
Sonnets to Human Beings and Other Selected Works by Carmen Tafolla
The Cat's Meow by Gary Soto (Joe Cepeda, illustrator)
The Farolitos of Christmas by Rudolfo Anaya (Edward Gonzales, illustrator)
The Maldonado Miracle by Theodore Taylor
The Pinata Maker: El Pinatero by George Ancona
The Woman Who Outshone the Sun: The Legend of Lucia Zenteno by Alejandro
Cruz Martinez, Rosalma Zubizarreta (Fernando Olivera, illustrator)
Baseball in April by Gary Soto
Cool Salsa by Lori Carlson
El Mago by Ron Arias
Everybody Knows Tobie by Daniel Garza
Friends from the Other Side by Gloria Anzaldua
I Can Hear the Cowbells Ring by Lionel Garcia
Hispanic, Female and Young: An Anthology edited by Phyllis Tashlik
Latino Voices by Frances Aparicio
Mexican American Literature (anthology) edited by Charles Tatum
Neighborhood Odes by Gary Soto
Quinceanera: A Latina's Journey to Womanhood by Mary Lankford
Taking Sides by Gary Soto
The Anaya Reader by Rudolfo Anaya
The Challenge by Rudolfo Anaya
Barrio Boy by Ernesto Galarza
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Chicano by Richard Vasquez
Fair Gentlemen of Belken County by Rolando Hinojosa-Smith
Get Your Tortillas Together by Carmen Tafolla
Heart of Aztlan by Rudolfo A. Anaya
Inheritance of Strangers by Nash Candelaria
Latino Rainbow by Carlos Cumpian
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Mi Abuela Fumaba Puros: My Grandma Smoked Cigars by Sabine Ulibarri
New Chicana: Chicano Writing edited by Charles Tatum
Oddsplayer by Joe Rodriguez
Pieces of the Heart by Gary Soto
Pocho by Jose Antonio Villarreal
Rituals of Survival: A Woman's Portfolio by Nicholasa Mohr
Schoolland: A Novel by Max Martinez
The Day the Cisco Kid Shot John Wayne by Nash Candelaria
The Earth Did Not Devour Him by Tomas Rivera
The Heart of Aztlan by Rudolfo Anaya
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
The Iguana Killer by Alberto Rios
The Road to Tamazunchale by Ron Arias
Tortuga by Rudolfo Anaya
Barrera, R., Liguori, O., & Salas, L. (1993). Ideas a Literature
Can Grow On. In V. J. Harris (Ed.), Teaching multicultural literature grades
K thru 8 (pp. 203-241). Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc.
Cortes, O. G. de. (1992). United States: Hispanic Americans. In L. Miller-Lachmann,
Our family, our friends, our world: An annotated guide to significant multicultural
books for children and teenagers (pp. 112-154). New Providence, NJ: R.
Diaz, S., Moll, L., & Mehan, H. (1986). Sociocultural resources
in instruction: A context-specific approach. In C. E. Cortes & California
Office of Bilingual Education (Ed.), Beyond language: Social and cultural
factors in schooling language minority students (pp. 299-343). Los Angeles:
California State University, Evaluation, Dissemination, and Assessment
Center. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 304 241)
Escamilla, K. (1992). Integrating Mexican American history and culture
into the social studies classroom (ERIC Digest). Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service
No. ED 348 200)
Galda, L. (1991). Literature for literacy: What research says about
the benefits of using trade books in the classroom. In J. Flood, International
Reading Association, & National Council of Teachers of English (Eds.),
Handbook of research on teaching the English language arts (pp. 529-534).
New York: Macmillan.
Harris, V. (Ed.) (1993). Teaching multicultural literature grades K
thru 8. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc.
Huizenga, J. (1995). Arrivals: Cross-cultural experiences in literature.
Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.
Meltzer, M. (1982). The Hispanic Americans. New York: Crowell.
Miller-Lachmann, L. (Ed.). (1992). Our family, our friends, our world:
An annotated guide to significant multicultural books for children and
teenagers. New Providence, NJ: R. R. Bowker.
Montejano, D. (1987). Anglos and Mexicans in the making of Texas 1836-1986.
Austin: University of Texas Press.
Murray, Y. (1998a). How Mexican American children used Spanish to construct
meaning for English text comprehension. Paper presented at the annual meeting
of the Texas Association of Bilingual Teachers, San Antonio, TX.
Murray, Y. (1998b). Mexican American literature as instructional material.
From roundtable forum conducted at the annual meeting of the National Reading
Association, Austin, TX.
Pinchot, J. (1989). The Mexicans in America. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications.
Schon, I. (1988). A Hispanic heritage, series III: A guide to juvenile
books about Hispanic people and cultures. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Publishers.
Tatum, C. (Ed.). (1990). Mexican American literature. Orlando, FL: Harcourt