Saturday, December 25, 2010

Carmen learns English by Judy Cox, illustrated by Angela Dominguez

Carmen tells her little sister, Lupita, all about starting school. On her first day, Carmen was scared and confused. She was the only one who spoke Spanish and she didn't understand the other children. But then her teacher talks to her - in Spanish! Terrible Spanish! Carmen is reassured - if Senora Coski isn't scared to make mistakes, she can try too. Carmen learns new words every day, important words like "restroom" and fun words like "yellow". Carmen is still too shy to talk in school, but she practices at home and teaches Lupita everything she learns. Then, they start to learn numbers. Carmen is excited - here is something SHE knows and she says the names out loud. But the other kids say she's saying them wrong. Carmen wants to explain but she doesn't have the English words. Then her teacher makes everything right by having Carmen teach the other children the Spanish words. Now Carmen is a teacher - she teaches the other children Spanish and she teaches her new English words to her little sister. By the end of the school year, Carmen is confident enough to practice her English in school and stand up to the kids who tease her. Lupita will have an easier time in school next year because of all the things Carmen has taught her and Carmen thinks maybe she'll be a teacher when she grows up - just like kind Mrs. Koski.

This story is ideal for reading aloud in a kindergarten or first grade classroom. It's an excellent picture of how frightening and confusing it is for a child to start school when they don't speak the language and incorporates many practical ideas for teachers to ease the way and for ESL students to practice what they have learned and gain confidence. Hopefully, this will also gently encourage other children to have a little sympathy and patience and not tease kids who are struggling with English. I would like to see this book in Spanish or bi-lingual so it could be used in ESL classrooms and so Spanish-speaking parents could read it to and with their children. However, even in English an older sibling could read it out loud to parents and younger siblings.

Verdict: Recommended - you are certain to have at least some Hispanic children among your patrons, even if it's only a small book, and this is a sympathetic and interesting story for both English and Spanish speaking children as well as a good story for teachers to read.

ISBN: 9780823421749; Published July 2010 by Holiday House; Review copy provided by publisher for Cybils

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