El Perro y El Gato (books!)

I mentioned before how much I love the children’s bilingual show “El Perro y El Gato” on HBO Latino. Well, the show has now been made into something else I love – books!

There are four so far in the series: La Granja (farm), La Nieve (snow), El Cumpleaños (birthday), and El doctor (doctor). I read all four books with my younger son last night and he was smiling the whole time. At one point he even asked to read them to me and I was so pleased to hear him pronounce most of the Spanish correctly without help.

The books are true to the show in that they are fully bilingual and easy to understand. The characters maintain the personalities we already know and love, and the images are brightly colored and funny.

I like that there isn’t a lot of text. With bilingual books, paragraphs of text can become tedious and boring. These books are short and simple, and in the back of each book is a pronunciation guide for those who are new to either English or Spanish.

When we finished reading the books, my son asked, “Do we get to keep these or are they from the library?” – When I told him we get to keep them, he was super feliz.

I have a feeling I know what we’re reading at bedtime again tonight.

Disclosure: The “El Perro y El Gato” series of books were provided for review and are available at HBO shop. All opinions are totally my own.

Race & Reality

I just finished reading Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know About Our Biological Diversity by Guy P. Harrison.

This was definitely not light, relaxing reading but I’m happy that I pushed through and read it.

Book Description:

“Drawing on a wide variety of evidence – the hard data from fossils and DNA, interviews with the victims of racism, and personal experiences – Harrison dismantles the ‘race’ concept, bolt by bolt. Exposing race as a social illusion and political tool – rather than a biological reality – Harrison forces the reader to consider how they think about ‘other folk.’ Anthropologists have no use for the race concept, and neither should educated citizens.” -Cameron M. Smith, PhD, Department of Anthropology, Portland State University

Even if you already consider yourself educated and enlightened, reading this book will open your eyes in new ways. You won’t be able to look at people, race or society the same ever again. (Remember, we’re talking about race here – not culture. Very different. The craziness I observe in my own household on a daily basis is proof enough to me that cultural differences exist!)

The author argues that we all came out of Africa and we are one human race – that any categories based on hair type, skin color, facial features, etc – are simply man-made… By the time I finished reading this book I felt simultaneously freed…and trapped. I see myself as raceless, but this just isn’t practical in the society we live in.

Imagine renewing my driver’s license at the DMV. I fill out the form, I come to the race boxes – decide to leave them blank because they seem silly and irrelevant. I turn in my form.

“Ma’am, you didn’t check a box for race.”
“I know. I don’t want to. I don’t believe in races.”
“Yes ma’am, that’s real cute, but you have to choose one. I can’t process an incomplete form…”
I sigh, take my pen in hand, and check off a race.
“Hmm… I suppose this one is most accurate…”
I hand the form back to the DMV clerk who looks it over. Her satisfied smile at my compliance soon turns to a frown.

So, I don’t think race will be disappearing any time soon – and maybe it would be irresponsible of me to pretend our world doesn’t see these man-made boxes, regardless of what I personally feel. I have two sons who are struggling with their identity, and answering their questions with a cheerful, “Race doesn’t exist”, is not going to help them sort things out.

Just yesterday a classmate approached my older son and said, “Are you Mexican?” … My son, (having picked up on his father’s annoyance at constantly being incorrectly labeled Mexican instead of Latino or Salvadoran), replied with a simple, curt, “No.”

I told him that he should have used the opportunity to educate his classmate, but I wonder if that was fair of me. As a “white” girl amongst other “white” kids, I never had to explain myself. It must get annoying having to patiently tell people “what you are”. It must make one feel very “other”… and that’s never a good feeling, no matter how old you are – but especially in middle school.

The book, Race and Reality, re-printed a “Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage” which I think is empowering, not just for people who are traditionally considered “multi-racial” by today’s society – but for all of us. In the end, there is no pure race. We are all mixed and we are all human.


Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage:

Not to justify my existence in this world.
Not to keep the races separate within me.
Not to justify my ethnic legitimacy.
Not to be responsible for people’s discomfort with my physical or ethnic ambiguity.

To identify myself differently than strangers expect me to identify.
To identify myself differently than how my parents identify me.
To identify myself differently than my brothers and sisters.
To identify myself differently in different situations.

To create a vocabulary to communicate about being multiracial or multi-ethnic.
To change my identity over my lifetime -and more than once.
To have loyalties and identification with more than one group of people.
To freely choose whom I befriend and love.

© Maria P. P. Root, PhD

Sisters, Strangers & Starting Over

Book Review: What happens when a niece you’ve never met before shows up on your doorstep needing to be taken in, and the ensuing turmoil of painful memories of a lost sister and a life disrupted threatens to destroy your marriage?

Sisters, Strangers and Starting Over, is the second book I’ve read by Belinda Acosta. Like her first book, (Damas, Dramas and Ana Ruiz), Acosta’s talent is in drawing out each character’s deepest thoughts to show the motives behind their behavior, so that the reader feels immense empathy. Also, when it comes to writing about marriage, I rarely see myself and my husband in fictional characters but Acosta completely nails it.

The unapologetic Spanglish writing style she uses is a treat for English/Spanish bilinguals and the other thing I absolutely loved about this book was that the couple reflects the changing face of families today in the United States. (The husband in the story is Anglo and the wife is Latina. How many of you who married gringos can relate to having a name like “Beatriz Sanchez-Milligan”?)

Raising Bilingual Niños: Tip #3

“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.” – Jorge Luis Borges

Reading is a big deal at my house. Everywhere you look are stacks of books and it gives me so much happiness to see them there waiting for me. Likewise, my boys have hundreds of books for themselves. I’ve read to my niños every night since they were babies and taught them to read before they stepped a foot into school.

Left: My favorite Spanish alphabet book, “F is for Fiesta” by Susan Middleton Elya / Illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Without going into too much terminology, the method I used to teach my boys how to read employed the use of flash cards and what are referred to as “High Frequency Words” or “Sight Words“. These are the most commonly used words in a language. By practicing with the flash cards, (showing the child the card and saying the word), they soon memorize it and learn to read it on “sight”. (This is in addition to teaching them the alphabet and phonics first.)

This worked well for my kids and so, after practicing with them in the Silabarios, (Spanish phonics books), over the summer, I am now teaching them to read “High Frequency Words” in Spanish.


I made the flash cards and you can use them too. To download the PDF of the 175 most common words in Spanish for your niño go HERE. Once you’ve downloaded it, open the PDF in Adobe, print (I recommend using card stock, but regular printer paper works just fine.) – Cut them into individual cards and then they’re ready to use!

“Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words!” – Betty Smith/A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Amigas: Fifteen Candles

Amigas: Fifteen Candles, created by Jane Startz, but written by Veronica Chambers, is the first book of a new series in juvenile fiction for girls. I don’t know how the author pitched her book, but I would call it, “The new Baby Sitter’s Club for young Latinas.”

The story revolves around a group of friends in Miami who create a party planning business to help one of their friends throw the quinceñera of her dreams, (on her parent’s limited budget, of course.)

At times the main character, Alicia Cruz, comes off as a spoiled brat but despite the mansion and personal chef, girls will relate to her very normal teenage troubles, (though possibly fantasize about such an idealized life.)

Refreshingly, Alicia is properly contrasted by a cast of diverse Latina characters from all types of financial and ethnic backgrounds. One thing I especially liked was the fact that the characters also range in Spanish-speaking ability – from completely fluent, to not speaking a word – I think that is something most U.S. Latinas can relate to.

Over all, the book is fun, though somewhat silly from an adult perspective, (it wasn’t written for us anyway!) The Amigas series will give young Latinas drowning in a world of Anglo everything, a little dose of cultura and characters they can identify with. Though these books would never replace more substantial classics such as Sandra Cisnero’s The House on Mango Street, or How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez, the series succeeds at providing a positive message for young Latinas with themes ranging from the benefits of teamwork, to inspiring an entrepreneurial spirit.

Unforgettable You

Book review:

Unforgettable You by Daisy Fuentes is a beauty guide which recognizes that it takes much more than just a pretty face to be truly beautiful. This book is equal parts autobiography and self-help, with multiple questionnaires to assist the reader in discovering more about themselves.

Daisy talks candidly, in the voice often utilized in women’s magazines, and covers everything from etiquette & style to spirituality & sex. Over all, I thought it was an easy read and a useful guide although 50+ pages were simply blank questionnaires. The target audience would be women in the 20-40 age range looking for light pool-side reading, but I do not recommend this book for younger women due to some language and sexual references.

Disclosure: Unforgettable You by Daisy Fuentes was provided for review by ID Public Relations. All opinions are my own.

Spanish Summer: Soborno (Bribery)

I resorted to bribery. I’m not proud of it, but it is working.

The kids Spanish comprehension has been increasing in leaps and bounds, but I want them to SPEAK fluently. The conversations were typical of 1st generation American kids, with them responding in English, even though they understood exactly what I said in Spanish.

I remember a kid in my Spanish class in middle school. He used to ask me for help on the assigned “páginas” in the workbook. (How we groaned when we heard that word!) That kid asking for my help was 100% Latino, with a Spanish first and last name, two Spanish speaking parents at home, and he got made fun of hard for stumbling over basic exercises like, “Me llamo Enrique y yo soy de los Estados Unidos.”

I asked him why he couldn’t speak Spanish. He said, “I UNDERSTAND it, I just can’t speak it. I can’t put the sentences together in my head on my own.” … This made absolutely no sense to me at the time, but now watching my kids heading down the same path, I realize this is a common problem.

Well, I don’t want my kids to be Enrique so I resorted to bribery. I bought a jumbo bag of jelly beans and poured them into a jar, their tempting colors on full display. I then got two other jars and marked my children’s name on them. I explained that every time they responded to me in Spanish instead of English, and every time I heard them speaking Spanish with each other, they would get to put a “frijol” in their jar.

The boys responded to this game even more enthusiastically than I expected. Soon I found myself saying “Un frijol para ti” a dozen times per hour. I’ve created monsters. My younger son had the idea to do workbook pages for frijoles. They have a few workbooks, a couple Silabarios and another one that has little tongue twisters which they copy into a journal and then read aloud to me. Here’s an example:

Mi nena me ama.
Nena ama a Papá.
Mamá mima a nene.
Nina ama a mi nomo.

When they first began trying to read Spanish, they would read words using English grammar rules. For example, they would pronounce “silla” (chair) as having an “L” sound in the middle rather than the “Y” sound required for the “ll” in Spanish. (For non-Spanish speakers “silla” is pronounced phonetically as “see-ya”.) … Now they are applying proper rules all on their own much of the time.

Here are mis niños reading one of these little tongue twisters, (and being silly as usual.)

As for the jelly beans, I think I’m going to have to switch to some other sort of currency or else my children will soon have cavities along with their fluency.