Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems


Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems

By: Francisco X. Alarcon
Illustrated by:  Maya Christina Gonzalez
Published:  1997 Children's Book Press 
1998 Pura Belpre Author Honor Book 

This is a poetry book in English and Spanish.  There are 20 poems included about spring ranging in topics such as Ode To Corn, Chile, Words are Birds, and more.  The poems are short and span the pages in small columns. They are fun and exhibit a lot about life and different times in that life.  The English version and Spanish version in separate columns.   A sample of one of my favorite poems ....
Dream                                                           Sueno
I dreamed                                                      sone que habia
a garden                                                         un jardin
in every home                                                 en cada casa

tomatoes                                                       en las ventanas
grew in                                                          de las oficinas
office windows                                              crecian jitomates

pepole greeted                                              la gente
each other                                                     se saludaba
 with flowers                                                  con flores

Some of the poems were hard to understand or did not seem to make much sense to me but some others where very powerful such as the one on Cinco de Mayo or a Tree for Cesar Chavez.  There were also very fine print to include information about these two topics.

The author is noted in the book as an award winning Chicano poet and educator who is considered a leader of the Chicano literary movement.  You can read more about him at the poetry foundation.  I do not speak Spanish myself so I have no way of knowing if the translations are accurate but I do know that Alarcon grew up in Mexico and was inspired to write his poetry by the songs his grandmother used to sing.  I feel like this would make them more authentic in nature.

The illustrations are vibrant and span the full bleed page.  Some of them are double page spread and illustrate a whole scene.  The illustrations really made the poems easier to understand to me.  They match the words on the page well.  My favorite was the illustrators take on the Cinco de Mayo poem.  There is a lively party like atmosphere created with the painting that Gonzalez gives us.  It also shows us a little about the culture down do the food illustrated on the table.  On the back of the book it says Gonzalez dreamed up the characters for Laughing Tomatoes from her own life and imagination.  You can definitely tell from her illustrations that there is a mix of both.
This illustration for example has something that is real and an imaginary piece as well.  A mother and her daughter with flowers, gardens and flowers at every house.  But then as her imagination shows her translation of "and cars were a thing of the past," shows a flying car in the background.  

I think this book would be great to use in the classroom, especially for bilingual students.  You could have students read the poems in both language and have them draw their own interpretation of the poems as an extension.  

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