Bilingual is Better

This giveaway is now closed. The winner will be chosen soon. Thanks to all who entered!

If you’re a regular reader of SpanglishBaby, you know that I’m a book lover and that there’s nothing that makes me happier than seeing my daughter follow in my footsteps. Books have always been an escape for me and even when I’ve been at my busiest – like when Vanessa was born and I didn’t even have time to shower – they have been my constant companions.

That’s why I’m so excited to announce the launch of our newest monthly series: ReadMe. We have teamed up with several Bilingual/Spanish children’s book publishers to bring you a review of a new book every month. The post will include an interview with the author in which we will specifically touch upon the subject of raising bilingual and bicultural children.

Although we’ve written several book reviews in the past, Ana and I decided to create ReadMe because we want to have a series dedicated exclusively to literacy and bilingualism. We all have heard or know the importance of reading when raising bilingual kids. We want to reinforce how fundamental this activity is by highlighting the options we all have available when it comes to bilingual children’s literature.

We also want to encourage you to read to your children or – if they’re old enough to do it themselves – to help you inspire them to do so. That’s why each monthly ReadMe will also include a giveaway of the book we’ll be reviewing :)

The Case of the Pen Gone Missing/El Caso de la Pluma Perdida

We’re launching ReadMe with a review of a book intended for elementary school-aged children. The book is called The Case of the Pen Gone Missing and it was written by René Saldaña, Jr. The publisher, Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Público Press, was featured in our recent post about Latino Publishing Houses.

René Saldaña, Jr. is the author of The Whole Sky Full of Stars (Random House, 2007), The Jumping Tree (Delacorte, 2001), and Finding Our Way: Stories (Random House, 2003). He lives in Lubbock, Texas, where he teaches in the College of Education at Texas Tech University. Saldaña, and his Swedish wife, are raising their two children trilingual.

His short mystery, The Case of the Pen Gone Missing, is the first in a series of three featuring fifth-grader, Mickey Rangel, a “Web-licensed” kid detective. Even though it’ll be several years before Vanessa is able to enjoy this book, it was a nice treat for me.

“I’m fascinated by detective stories, love watching the crime scene shows, both fictional and real on television, love reading crime novelists and think fondly still to this day of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books,” Saldaña explained in an interview via email.

And that’s exactly what I thought of when I read it. My earliest memories of checking out books from the library take me back to my bilingual elementary school in Perú, fourth grade and Nancy Drew. I remember devouring those mysteries and anxiously going back for more. Although I’m no longer that child, I remember those books fondly because the author was able to spark my curiosity so as to make me come back for more. I can see how Saldaña’s writing would do the same for young readers. Not to mention the fact that Saldaña’s portrayal of a fifth grader and his classmates is painstainkingly accurate – including a “bully-type” character, a popular girl and all the emotions that go with having a crush on that “unattainable” girl.

One of the best things about this title is that Arte Público Press/Piñata Books has translated it into Spanish. All you have to do is flip the book around and voilà, you’ll get la versión en español, front cover and all.

“The two languages meet in the middle, which I think is very cool because they’ve done away with the issue of which language takes precedence over the other (as happens with other translations: English and Spanish alternating from one page to the next, or the English version as the first half, Spanish the second),” according to Saldaña.

Lots of you have asked about literacy, the minority language and older children. Both the author and I can assure you that this book is for you. Check out the rest of Saldaña’s interview and you’ll see why:

SB: How would you say parents raising their kids bilingual can “use” your book to do so?

“I think it depends on the grasp of the languages on the parts of the kids. Say, they’re like my boys: English mastery, learning Swedish and Spanish in the home: I’d have the kids read the story in English so that the kids can know what happens as the characters do their thing. Then I’d read the Spanish aloud along with them. This might take a bit longer, though the book is quite short and it can be done. Or if they’ve got a good grasp of reading themselves, they know the story now, so they can pick up the Spanish version and have at it. I’d think of reading it in both languages as a parent to be able to talk about the nuances of language. For example, I would use the phrase ‘nos movimos‘, for ‘we moved.’ My mom says it ‘nos mudamos‘. It’d make for some nice family talk time. Showing how languages share lots in common sometimes, sometimes not.”

SB: As a writer and a teacher, can you talk about the importance of literacy?

René Saldaña, Jr.

René Saldaña, Jr.

I think we do a disservice to our community when we, as parents especially, don’t take a more active role in our children’s reading and writing lives. It’s not enough anymore to simply support them and to push them forward, regarding their educational careers. We have to learn what all we can be doing in the home to help them be successful. Reading aloud, for example, is not a thing just for teachers to do. We need to do it in the home for our children. Mem Fox states in one of her books, Reading Magic, I think, that if kids are not read to in the home, that when they get to kindergarten, they are years behind already, and teachers are having to play catch-up with them while the others who are read to are at level or more likely well beyond and moving ever forward. And can you imagine how much better off our kids will be when we’re reading aloud to them in one, two, or three languages!

SB: Growing up, how important was reading in your family?

“In the home, my parents read. My mother got her Selecciones and she’d forgo cooking and even her telenovelas to read through it, sometime sharing with us around the table bits and pieces she’d found that she thought we’d enjoy. My father read the Bible on a nightly basis. They gave us money to buy books at school through Troll Magazine. But it wasn’t until I started hanging out with readers, folks who talked about the reading that they were doing, who invited me into the conversation and who weren’t grading me or forcing me to participate in the actual discussion but who afforded me the opportunity to participate on the periphery that I began to read like a wanna-be writer, and then I started writing, mostly copying/emulating the big names. And then I found my voice, which was the voice of deep South Texas, the voice of a Mexican American growing up on the border, on so many borders.

SB: Were you raised bilingual and are you raising your kids bilingual?

I was raised in a bilingual community: that is to say, I got Spanish in the home (my parents spoke only Spanish, and it wasn’t until years later that my dad learned English; nevertheless, we never spoke it in the home) and English in school. Odd, though, how my formal training in English didn’t start until kinder. I had to have gotten it somewhere else. TV, maybe? My older sister? I can’t recall. But I got a mastery of both early on.

And my wife is Swedish, so we are trying to raise our kids in a trilingual home. It’s very difficult because I don’t speak Swedish and my wife doesn’t speak Spanish, so we use English in the home, and Spanish becomes the language of Abuelo and Abuela when they call, and Swedish becomes the language of Mormor and Morfar when they call. It’s odd, though, how the boys, from a young, young age could distinguish between the two other languages.

The Giveaway

I hope you enjoyed reading our first installment of ReadMe as much as I enjoyed writing it… Now, as promised, we will be giving away a copy of Saldaña’s short mystery to one lucky reader. To win, please tell us below why you’d like to win and how you would “use” this particular book to raise your children bilingual.

Giveaway rules.

This giveaway ends at midnight EST on Sunday, July 26, 2009. Entries/Comments that do not follow the submission guidelines will be invalid and automatically deleted.  Sorry, just need to keep  it fair. Good luck to all!

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