Growing Up With Tamales by Gwendolyn Zepeda

growing-up-with-tamales-23** Warning- This post is kinda’ long. Growing up with Tamales (2008), written by Gwendolyn Zepeda and illustrated by April Ward, is what I read to my students today. I purchased it at the AEMP training. For those of you who don’t know, AEMP stands for Academic English Mastery Proficiency Plus. It’s basically a program that employs useful strategies to help Standard English Learners (SEL) master the Academic language needed to be successful in school. Let me just say that I am so happy to have the training. I’m also happy to have found a vendor with a whole store full of books with Hispanic-centered stories.

I always tell my students that everyone needs to see themselves in a book, but I did not have a lot of books featuring Hispanic children and adults. That’s why I was so happy when I found a vendor at the AEMP training who has a whole store full of books featuring Hispanic children and adults.

Well, at the training, I found the perfect story to purchase and read to my students. Since we just finished reading Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto, this was a natural progression into Hispanic literature. That’s why I I read my newly acquired purchase to my class today. It has English and Spanish text. First I read the English text, then my assistant read the Spanish. Now, on to the review.

Before I read it, I asked my students if they wanted to hear it in Spanish. “Yeesssss,” was the resounding answer. As she read, My Spanish speaking students were absolutely mesmerized. A couple of them were smiling so hard I thought their cheeds were going to pop. They loved it. It was nice because I was including everyone. I wasn’t only being sensitive to my Black students, but my Hispanic students as well. I’m happy that my assistant is Mexican. That way, my students are totally comfortable in the class and they are represented by both of us. It was nice because they got a chance to hear someone else’s voice besides mine. Not to mention that they got to hear another language.

While my assistant was reading, one of my Black students raised his hand and said:

“She not reading right”.

“Well, Nu. It’s not that she’s not reading right. She’s just not reading in English because she’s reading in Spanish,” I said.

“I don’t like it,” he said. Well, Nu, I’m sorry that you feel that way, but the Hispanic students in the class need to see themselves and have a piece of their heritage present in the classroom. I read books all the time with Black people in it. Don’t you think they want to see someone that looks like them in a book sometimes? We have to be fair.

“Now, I will tolerate no more interruptions,” I said. “We will finish this story”. So, now that I’ve told an incredibly long story, I’d like to get to the review.

The children in the story, Lidia and Ana, are sisters. The story, told from Ana, the younger sister’s point of view, begins on Christmas day as they are making tamales. Ana, who is two years younger than Lidia, laments the fact that Lidia always gets the chance to do everything before she does. Ana is soooo mad. She’s six now, and she gets to mix the cornmeal, but Lidia gets to spread the dough on the corn husk leaves.

Taken directly from the site: http://www.gwenworld.com/tamales.html

[A]na wishes that she was eight, so that her hands were big enough to spread the dough just right–not too thick and not too thin.”

And so the years pass, and Ana turns eight, ten, twelve, fourteen, sixteen. But every year, big sister Lidia is always two years older. Ana envies her elder sibling and wishes she could do what Lidia does: put just the right amount of meat inside the tamales and roll them up; steam the tamales without scalding herself with the hot, hot steam; chop and cook the meat for the tamales without cutting or burning her hands.

When she turns eighteen, though, Ana knows she will keep making tamales and she will be able to do all of the steps herself in her very own factory. What happens after that? I guess you’re going to have to read it to see for yourself. Buy it or check it out at your local library.

This book was a great read with a rhythmic text that flowed nicely. The illustrations were very bright and colorful; very eye catching. I would put the age range at 2-100 years. Everyone would enjoy this book. I did. My students did also. One of the reasons why- Everyone needs to see themselves in a book. Yesterday, they did. I plan on buying many more books with Hispanic-centered themes.

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