Reading Along the Border – New Perspectives, New Understandings by Jennifer Sniadecki
I’ve spent the last few years learning and growing my own reading life, and although I like to think of myself as a reader of diverse books, I have a long way to go. Last year I spoke with several students about their needs and interests as readers with the purpose of rebuilding our middle school library. Students are fantastic, opinionated readers who want more from their school libraries than what seems to be currently available. Many students expressed concerns about sharing books with their parents and families, but they couldn’t find books written in their home language. Also, they wanted more options – truly diverse books – so they could learn and grow themselves. (Students are the best facilitators of new learning.)
I got to work. First, I looked at new published works recommended to me by my friends and colleagues. Then I poured over the many award-winning lists and booklists published by the top reading websites, including School Library Journal, The Nerdy Book Club, Scholastic, The Horn Book, and Publisher’s Weekly. I made our own lists and checked them out with students. We read some books from other libraries and our subscription with Junior Library Guild. I’m proud to say that we started reading with new perspectives, new understandings and I’m happy with the outcome so far.
Here’s a new book we found especially appealing to middle schoolers that won many awards but doesn’t seem to be showing up on popular reading lists — They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems by David Bowles. My students and I think maybe the actual issues with “the border” right now in the USA have turned people away from, instead of towards, books about border life. On the contrary! This book is highly recommended for middle school readers (and everyone else).
Güero is the nickname for the red-headed, light-skinned Mexican-American, 12-year-old book nerd who loves his family and friends. He plays video games and writes poems to cope with life along the border. His stories in verse are thoughtful, heart-wrenching, humorous, and…cool (not that the bullies notice). This book is a peek at a 7th grade life along the border between Texas and Mexico — full of culture and grandparent wisdom. Enjoy it in one sitting (105 pages), but then return to savor it again and again.
Why I Loved the Book: I loved this book because it’s thoughtful, heart-wrenching, and funny all rolled into one. The glossary helped me figure out some language I didn’t know and brought me a closer understanding of the author’s life. The authentic tone also made me research more to find out if this was an autobiography instead of a fiction text. (I still wonder.) The book reads quickly and because it’s a short text with an intriguing front cover, it appeals to many readers – a perfect middle grade book.
Why You Should Read the Book: Read this book to feel a sense of empathy for others, to learn about a different culture which also connects easily to the culture of “middle schooler,” and to enjoy some poetry. You’ll want to befriend Güero and maybe even write a little when you’re done reading.
My rating: ****
They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems by David Bowles
2018 – Cinco Puntos Press
Jennifer Sniadecki is currently a middle school teacher-librarian and professional development presenter in South Bend, Indiana. She is an avid reader and will read anything her friends recommend. She is honored to be a member of The Nerdy Book Club and the #booksojourn reading group. Jennifer’s current passion is promoting her favorite authors’ upcoming books. Check out her posts on Twitter (@jdsniadecki) or follow her blog, http://www.readingteacherwrites.com.