But there is an absolutely amazing librarian in Laredo Texas: Carmen Escamilla of J.B. Alexander High School. She put together a dream program for the fall, and invited teachers in the district to join her. Students read Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains, about a slave girl during the Revolutionary War, and then read my book, Marching for Freedom, kids' part in the success of the civil rights march for the vote in 1965.
The students in Laredo face serious challenges every day. Most of the students in Mrs. Escamilla's district are on reduced or free lunches. Some kids live in stables or with their families under trees. Gang activity from Mexico is leaping across the Rio Grand River. But Mrs. Escamilla is not going to let any kid drop out, fail, or fall behind if she can help it.
From fifth graders through high schoolers, students in Laredo read the books, joined mixed-grade online discussion groups, made Vokis and Ven Diagrams. One group of readers made t-shirts and posters, and organized a literacy march. Two ninth graders, Troy Lomas and Eric Garay, wrote and recorded an incredible, complex song, "Keep on Reading."
Here's an excerpt:
"Last name Partridge
Fist name Lizzie,
Like a serious story she ain't nuttin to play with,
Started off local, but thanks to all those lovers,
She is signing autographs on those front book covers,
She keeps on encouraging kids to read, So Cool
She just wants everybody to be free, So true
Marching for the freedom come and join us, People
She can't do it all so get involved, niños
Drop the segregation we are all internally equal..."
© Troy Lomas and Eric Garay
Last Monday I spoke to 700 of these Laredo students and listened as the students shared their excitement about reading the books.One of the speakers had me from the first couple of lines of his speech.
"Hello, my name is Miguel Malacara and I am not a reader. I don't read much but I do have an outlook on life and a bit of passion for history. This is why this book got my attention." Incredible.
Miguel Malacara and his classmate.
She spoke about how she was born in the United States but grew up in Mexico, and had recently returned to the US. She was so discouraged by all the negative press about Hispanics that she had been just waiting to go back to Mexico. She went on to say: "Marching for Freedom changed my destiny. I used to want to go back to Mexico because I heard so many bad things about Hispanics. Now, I will stay and fight." (I'm so sorry I forgot your name!) later: Itzamara De La Garza, above with Miguel! Thank you Itzamara for your wonderful heart!
I absolutely love how Marching for Freedom jumped cultures from African American to Hispanic. As Miguel said after reading about the students in Marching: "If we had just a bit of their determination and confidence we could literally accomplish anything we want."
I have a feeling you do have more than just a bit of their determination and confidence.
Thank you Mrs. Escamilla, thank you teachers, and thank you students. I am honored to have been with you. You are truly an inspiration.
There's a nice shout-out in Publisher's Weekly (scroll down a bit).
And an article in the Laredo Sun.