The summer reading article in Tuesday’s Albuquerque Journal shortchanges the rich and diverse pool of children’s books about New Mexico or the Southwest.
Most authors on the list reside on the east or west coasts with only a few from the region – with one from New Mexico.
New Mexico children’s books offer the opportunity not only to advance children’s reading and comprehension skills but also to learn more about the diversity of our region. And more important, many books offer the opportunity for family learning.
“Los Ojos del Tejedor: The Eyes of the Weaver” by Cristina Ortega of the famous Ortega weaving family writes about how she learned to weave from her grandfather. Children can see firsthand the Hispano weaving traditions at Ortega’s Weaving Shop in Chimayó, Tierra Wools in Los Ojos and Tapetas de Llana in Mora, to name just a few.
Charles Blood’s “The Goat in the Rug” describes each step in Navajo rug making from shearing, carding, dyeing and weaving. Navajo weaving demonstrations often occur in the summer at museums or special events on the reservation.
Pueblo pottery traditions are illustrated in Rina Swentzell’s “Children of Clay,” which tells the story of the pot from digging the clay to firing and finishing the piece. Demonstrations of pottery-making are also common throughout the region in the summer.
Encouraging children to journal and/or draw these experiences illuminates their imagination and nurtures their learning abilities.
The children’s book selection recommended by local bookstores in the Journal article no doubt reflected current and popular children’s books. However, any reading list for New Mexico’s children is inadequate without such authors as Pat Mora (“Tomas and the Library Lady”), Demetria Martinez (“Grandpa’s Magic Tortillas”), Vanda Micheaux Nelson (“Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass”), Simon Ortiz (“The People Shall Continue”), Michale Lacapa (“The Good Rainbow Road”), Joe Hayes (“The Man Who Couldn’t Tell a Lie; El Hombre Que no Sabía Mentir”), Rudolfo Analya, (“Maya’s Children: The Story of La Llorona”) and Judy Bloom (“Tiger Eyes”).
Many authors write bilingually and offer the opportunity for children to improve their English- and Spanish-language skills. (They will thank you later when their Spanish speaking and reading skills make them more marketable as job seekers.)
But there, I’ve made the same mistake as the Journal’s “Summer Reading” article. I compiled a really incomplete selection of reading choices for children. Initially, I thought I could come up with some succinct, pithy list that would complement the list in the Journal.
However, in consulting the New Mexico State Library and the Albuquerque/Bernalillo Public Library, whose catalogs you can access online, I found an impressive list of more than 500 New Mexico children’s book authors or authors of children’s books about New Mexico.
No summer reading list is complete without including books that open children’s eyes and imagination to the cultural, artistic and historic richness of our state and the Southwest. More important, including these reading experiences provides an opportunity for intercultural learning: an essential citizenship skill in the 21st century.