Saturday, July 10, 2010

Neighborhood Odes – Hispanic/Latino Literature

Soto, Gary. 1992. Neighborhood Odes. Illustrated by David Diaz. New York, NY: Harcourt, Inc. ISBN 0-15-256879-4

Plot Summary
This book is a collection of poems written by Gary Soto. The poems are about events or items commonly found in his neighborhood as he grew up. The poems cover subjects like 4th of July fireworks and the family dog. They describe the love of chicharrones and playing in the sprinkler. There are several illustrations provided throughout and at the end, there is a small list of Spanish words and phrases that were used in the poems and their English translations.

Critical Analysis
Gary Soto has lived up to his reputation of creative, descriptive writing in this wonderful collection of poems about summertime in his childhood neighborhood. While the themes of the poems are somewhat universal (eating favorite foods, playing with siblings and friends, etc.), the imagery created by his words make the poems specific to the Hispanic culture and therefore give insight into growing up among the Latino culture. Most poems incorporate Spanish words like ‘chicharrónes’ or ‘gato’ or are about characters with Hispanic names like ‘Señor Martinez’ or Lourdes.’ Soto describes characters with brown skin who listen and dance to mariachi music or hit a piñata at a birthday party. He tells of a Chihuahua whose bark is worse than his bite and a boy who likes to pretend he knows how to play the guitarrón. Ultimately, each poem though written from a Latino perspective, causes the reader to think back fondly of his or her own childhood experiences, not matter the cultural perspective.

Professional Reviews
From Publishers Weekly
The Hispanic neighborhood in Soto's 21 poems is brought sharply into focus by the care with which he records images of everyday life: the music of an ice cream vendor's truck, the top of a refrigerator where old bread lies in plastic, dust released into the air when a boy strums a guitar. The diverse voices include that of a 12-year-old girl "with hair that sings / like jump ropes" and a fourth-grade boy whose new teeth create the "racket / Of chicharron / Being devoured . . . ." The vocabulary sprinkled with Spanish (there is a glossary at the back of the book) remains consistent, as does the form of the poems, which fall in long vertical columns with short lines. The tight clumps of language reproduce the quality of rapid and playful conversation. Affectionate without being overly sentimental, the collection provides a good introduction to contemporary poetry as well as a fine homage to a Chicano community. Diaz's woodcuts complement the poems perfectly: the silhouettes are fanciful and dynamic but do not draw attention from the words on the page. Ages 8-12.

From School Library Journal
Grade 4 Up-- The rewards of well-chosen words that create vivid, sensitive images await readers of this collection of poems. Through Soto's keen eyes, they see, and will be convinced, that there is poetry in everything. The odes celebrate weddings, the anticipation of fireworks, pets, grandparents, tortillas, and the library. Although Soto is dealing with a Chicano neighborhood, the poetry has a universal appeal. A minor drawback is that the Spanish words are not translated on the page, but in a glossary; to consult it interrupts the reading. Still, children will surely recognize the joy, love, fear, excitement, and adventure Soto brings to life. It is the same sensitivity and clarity found in Baseball in April (HBJ, 1990), his collection of short stories. Black-and-white illustrations blend well with the astute verbal imagery. Each selection is an expression of joy and wonder at life's daily pleasures and mysteries. --Renee Steinberg, Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ

This collection of poems would be good inspiration for students to write their own poetry. The poems also contain many examples of similes, metaphors and just general descriptive writing and imagery that could be used in lessons that teach such concepts.

No comments: