By Daniel Olivas
It's time for a few literary gift suggestions. Please accept this modest list of five titles as a mere hint of what you may give your family and friends.
● In Deborah Da Costa's delightful children's picture book Hanukkah Moon (Kar-Ben Publishing, $17.95 hardcover, $7.95 paperback), little Isobel gets to visit with her Aunt Luisa, who has recently moved to the United States from Mexico.
Once there, Isobel learns that Jews from Latin America also celebrate "Januca," but with a few differences. Jewish and Latin American traditions are blended so that, for example, Isobel gets to hit a large piñata shaped like a dreidel.
Isobel also learns of the magic of the Hanukkah moon -- the luna nueva, or new moon, that always appears during Hanukkah.
● Himilce Novas' 2008 edition of Everything You Need to Know About Latino History (Plume, $16 paperback) is the fourth -- and thickest -- iteration of this successful and engaging overview of all things Latino.
Novas uses a question-and-answer format to let readers choose whatever topic they wish to explore. She wisely includes a detailed index as well as listings of recommended readings and Internet resources.
The book divides Latin American culture into key demographic groups: Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans, Dominican Americans, and those of Central and South American descent. Novas keeps it light and conversational but always informative.
● Daniel Reveles is a charming and humorous writer who spins tales that have their roots in the oral tradition of Mexico. His latest short-story collection is Guacamole Dip (Sunbelt Publications, $15.95 paperback), which uses as its stage the border town of Tecate.
In his introduction, Reveles invites readers into his world and sets the tone for the stories that follow: "I'm so glad you could make it down to Tecate today. Let's take a shady bench here in the plaza and watch a live show as good as any musical you'll see on Broadway." Of course, the "show" features the lives of ordinary people who live, love and die in Reveles' beloved town. Not surprisingly, Reveles has been likened to John Steinbeck and Mark Twain.
● For the budding authors on your gift list, I strongly recommend Writers Workshop in a Book (Chronicle Books, $14.95 paperback), edited by Lisa Alvarez and Alan Cheuse. This volume includes essays on numerous aspects of fiction writing from 18 well-regarded authors.
Yes, there are war stories about getting published and dealing with book tours and publicists. But the editors also include edifying pieces on story structure, the history of fictional point of view, and creating believable characters.
Alvarez and Cheuse have brought together absorbing and informative guidance from some of our most fascinating contemporary authors.
● For a change of pace, consider a new collection of essays, How I Learned English: 55 Accomplished Latinos Recall Lessons in Language and Life (National Geographic Society, $16.95 paperback), edited by Tom Miller. The contributors include politicians, authors, scientists, athletes, educators, and others.
One of my favorite essays is "The Learning Curve" by journalist Rubén Martínez. He recounts that "long before the debates over bilingual education or English Only or whether a hyphenated American was a real American," his parents decided that he, "their first child and American citizen by birth, would speak Spanish before English."
This book will enlighten and, perhaps, lower the volume on the often incendiary debate over bilingualism in this country.
OK, you have your short list. Now head to your favorite bookstore and tell the gentle salesperson that the El Paso Times (and La Bloga) sent you.
[This piece first appeared in the El Paso Times.]