Title: Becoming Naomi León
Author: Ryan, Pam Muñoz
Publisher and Date: Scholastic Inc., 2004
Genre: Novel, Realistic Fiction, Multicultural
Age Range: 4th-6th grades
Summary: Naomi lives with her great-grandmother, Gram, and younger brother Owen in Avacado Acres Trailer Rancho in Lemon Tree, California. She has been raised by Gram ever since her mother Terri Lynn, aka Skyla, dropped them off with her so she could go find herself. Naomi loves making lists, one of the things she was best at according to Gram. A few of her lists were: Things I Am Good At, Regular and Everyday Worries, Unusual Names and Superb Spanish Words. One day Skyla shows up at Lemon Tree with her boyfriend Clive. They want to take Naomi with them to Las Vegas so Clive's daughter Sapphire would have an older sister, a.k.a. babysitter. Skyla doesn't want Owen though because of his physical deformity. To stop Skyla from taking Naomi to Las Vegas, Gram gets temporary guardianship papers and sets off for Oaxaca City, Mexico with their neighbors in Avacado Acres for La Noche de los Rábanos and to try and find Naomi and Owen's father, Santiago. They have a wonderful time participating in the festival, and Naomi get to carve a lion for the carving contest and meet her father. After the festival Naomi, Owen, Gram, and the neighbors go back up to California for the court hearing. There Naomi is brave like her father told her to be and tells the judge about Skyla and how she doesn't want to live with her. In the end, Gram gets custody of the children and Naomi has grown to be strong as a lion with a greater knowledge of her Mexican culture.
Response: I absolutely loved this book! Hispanic cultures are fascinating and they are my favorite to study. I loved the Mexican cultural markers used throughout the book; they gave a great insight to the culture itself and the people that are part of it. I strongly disliked Skyla and Clive, as I would hope anyone would. The only thing I saw them as were irresponsible moochers, trying to make some quick money by trying to take Naomi.
I chose the title 'No Hay Posada' for my blog because of the cultural tradition of las posadas. In the book, Naomi learns about and celebrates part of her Mexican culture by participating in las posadas (in chapter 15). The people of the town celebrate this from December 16 to the 24. On this night described in the book, the town gathers together and goes from house to house asking for a place to sleep just as Mary and Joseph from the Bible did. The person inside their house tells them there is no room, no hay posada, and then comes out to join the rest of the group as they continue on to the next home. When they have gone around to all the houses, the people gathered at the inn where they had begun. I found lyrics to the song they sing as they go door to door. They're in Español as well as English for those of us who aren't fluent. :)
- Listed here are the criteria for good multicultural literature from the Temple text.
- Do the author and illustrator present authentic perspecitves?
- Is the culture portrayed multidimensionally?
- Are the cultural details naturally integrated?
- Are details accurate and is the interpertation current?
- Is language used authentically?
- Is the collection balanced?
I believe that every criteria is met in Becoming Naomi León. I think Ryan presents a most authentic insider perspective of the Mexican culture by having the story written from the point of view of Naomi, who is experiencing some of it for the first time herself. There is not any stereotyping of the culture because Naomi loves and embraces the language and culture of her father and other relatives. The culture is multidimensional in the book by showing a variety of characters from that culture who aren't all the same or do the same things, but who share common traditions and beliefs. The details about Mexican culture that arise in the book do not cut the flow of the story, but go right along with it. Like I mentioned earlier, it is a learning experience for Naomi. This allows the reader to learn right along with Naomi without stopping the story to say, "This is a piñata, etc.". I believe the details to also be accurate to the story, along with correct interpretations of the little Spanish that is used in the book. I like the incorporation of Spanish in this book, and think it is a great way to help other children to pick up on a few words, possibly encouraging them to learn more. The words and phrases used throughout the book were authentic, especially during the time they spent in Oaxaca, Mexico. Although this particular book does not consist of a collection of books about Mexican culture, but it is indeed one I want to have in my classroom.
Some of the cultural markers that I was able to pick up on were: Noche de Rábanos 23/12/07, language, food (mole p.157, pan dulce p.167, buñuelos), huaraches, sense of family, las posadas, piñata. Each of these markers were introduced as the story went along without interrupting the story line.
One of my favorites from this list is, of course, the food. I love to eat especially foods from different cultures. I haven't had mole before, but in a Spanish class I had last summer there was a Mexican girl in there who would always gush about it with our instructor and I've been dying to try some ever since. The link I attached to the mole has many different recipes for it. If anyone has had it before and can give me a good recipe, I'd be much obliged. I am a sucker for sweets, so the next two foods I listed I could eat up in a heartbeat. I linked them to recipes as well.
I was very excited to find a youtube video link to la noche de los rábanos, where the people carve radishes and visit with one another by talking, dancing, etc. I loved the fact that the video is also from this past December! It would be so much fun to visit Oaxaca City during this time and participate in the festivities and see the creative carvings. Another video I found was of the fireworks during the night of the radishes.
Another big part of Mexican culture is family. One's family is usually very tightly knit, and creates a tremendous sense of belonging. I think it also stands true for most Hispanic cultures. Families I have met and had a chance to spend time with in Venezuela have been so welcoming and simply love on you. They are more than willing to offer anything they have to you in order to make you comfortable. Good 'ol southern hospitality cannot even begin to compare.
Teaching Ideas: Using the back of the book for directions/supply needs, students could create their own soap carving to display. After completing their carving, they can write a story about why they created what they did and how they saw it in the soap. Here is a class who has done this activity and posted it online.
As a way for the students to experience the culture, you could use any one of the recipes to share with the class and talk about the significance of the food. A piñata could even be incorporated, but I wouldn't suggest using one made of clay.