Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Latino book for kids, about bullying

U.S. readers definitely need more and more diverse books. Especially for children, both Anglo and the marginalized children of color. A bilingual book by Kat Aragon, published last month, relates to that need, as well as to the U.S. sickness of bullying. Below is the publisher's description of Boy Zorro and the Bully (El Niño Zorro y el Peleón).

• ISBN: 978-1-60448-027-6 • Paperback • $8.95
• Ages 4 to 8 • 24 pages
• Bilingual English/Spanish edition
• Published: July, 2014

"Every day Benny Lopez woke up looking for a way to help people. One day he finds a mask and wears it while helping an elderly lady cross a busy street. With that act of grace, he becomes Boy Zorro—defender of good. Then, one morning at school, he helps stop a bully from intimidating another student. The bully is punished and sees the error of his ways. Boy Zorro made a difference. This book helps children understand that bullying is hurtful and wrong but when everyone does their part, it can be stopped."

The motto of Zorro's publisher, Lectura Books, is: "for English learners and parent involvement." Below are my thoughts as a former teacher of latino first-graders, and father of a boy and a girl.

Zorrito, I'll call him, uses his outfit to empower himself and begin acting like a "hero" of good deeds. He's a great role model taking pride in his kind acts. It's great that the principal, Ramos, is a latino.

When he has a school encounter with a bigger kid who's bullying another kid, the action gets going. Zorrito "makes a difference" by running to the principal when the bully threatens him. He snitches, is what kids would call it.

Telling an adult is one correct thing to do. One, but not the only thing. This book would be a good start for kids to discuss how to deal with bullying, as long as the discussion is extended to other methods and questions.

Like, what if there's no adult around? What if the bully doesn't let you go to tell an adult? After you tell, how will you deal with the accusation that you're a snitch?

One book can't cover all of life's possibilities. As I said, Zorro is a good start.

Recent studies and reports on school bullying have shifted away from just telling an adult. As a parent, I know kids need to learn many other things. When to run away. How not to get backed into a corner. How to try to get other kid-bystanders involved. As a parent, I told my kid it was okay if he was sent to the principal's office because he was defending himself. (I can hear you teachers cringing out there.)

In Zorro, the latino principal holds an assembly, tells the bully to apologize and admit his mistakes. He gets a week suspended from school and detention for a month after that. Pure punishment.

Bullies are a U.S. epidemic. Newer studies and reports, again, advocate treating that sickness. A bully at home for a week will not necessarily cure himself. Detention is a junior form of prison solitary. I know principals who prefer to keep bullies in the school, give or get them counseling and teach them why their bullying needs to be corrected. It's no simple task.

In Zorro, the bully problem has a positive outcome. For that reason it can help parents and kids see that they don't need to tolerate bullying.

To encourage more books from this author and other latinos' books aimed at latino kids, I also looked at the illustrations. What struck me was the skin color of the characters. One black boy is the only one with dark skin. I saw no real color distinction between latino kids and ones who are assumedly Anglo. I wasn't sure why complexions were done this way.

Unless something was intended that I haven't thought of, I'd suggest to the illustrator, Noel Ill, that the skin tones of his afroamericano character would work for some latinos.

Teachers of latinoamericano kids deal with the color line every day. Darker kids can get shunned by lighter-skinned latino kids. Many kids call their color "blanco," to not be identified with what class society considers an "inferior" color or "inferior" race, like indios. It's not the kids' fault, it's a prejudice from the country they were raised in. Books aimed at them need to acknowledge that some do have darker skin. Otherwise one of our major, latino characteristics would get whitewashed. I'm not sure if anything good is served by that.  

Females in the book: girls in the background who don't speak or play any role in the story. From experience, I believe--and have read--that boys will like books that include girls, so long as they're engaging books. I'm uncertain there's value in leaving girls totally out of any book. (The only other female is the elderly woman--maybe Anglo--who Zorrito helps to cross a street.)

Latino boys do need more books like Zorro, as well as "boy books" with girls, especially, playing greater roles as they do in real life.

To help publicize Zorro, I'll give the author, publisher, and illustrator, for that matter, space here if they would like to explain more about the book. Yes, I've examined a lot about it; such books are important, especially given that few are published each year. Because I'm Chicano, have taught bilingual latino kids, and hope to publish books aimed at them, I have a great interest in examining the work of other latinos.

Our First Voice books should aspire to be superior to others being written. If expecting books to meet such a standard offends someone, I prefer that to my saying nothing about our literature needing improvement. And when mine are published, I'll ask help holding them to similar standards.

Es todo, hoy,
RudyG, a.k.a. a former bilingual teacher and still a father


Giora said...

I like the main character Boy Zorro and his fighting against Bullying. Putting aside the issue of light v. dark skin, the illustrations are great. Hopefully, Zorrito will appear in follow-up books fighting other problems.

Anonymous said...

I like the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of your review. I also like how you offer space to those who created the book for their comments. I remember some awful moments in school, some more terrifying than others. If I had told my Father everything, I feel certain he would've had me transferred -- I was a kid, and valued being with friends more than safety. I think it's great to teach kids how to deal and I also like adult awareness. I also agree that bullies won't teach themselves how and why to stop. Great post, Rudy! - Sylvia Riojas, Independent Writing and Editing Professional

Anonymous said...

Very good review, Rudy. You've really covered all of the pros and cons. Bullying happens both within and outside of cultures and needs to be always in our minds to protect children and show them how to work with and survive it. This book is a good start. - L. M. (Linda) Quinn, Marketing/Technical Writer Living and Writing in L.A.

Thelma T. Reyna said...

Rudy, as always, you are honest, straightforward, and insightful in your comments. I, for one, appreciate this. No book is perfect. You pointed out plenty of good points about this book, so the author, illustrator, and publisher should feel good. Re: the cons, every book has some. Hearing honest reviews helps us authors keep pushing the envelope toward higher and higher quality. Thanks for not insulting us by expecting less.

Katherine Del Monte said...

I am the publisher at Lectura Books and I would love to clarify the intent of this special book – Boy Zorro and The Bully.

The book is quite timely and is intended for the support of very young elementary kids, as a way to have discussions about the topic of bullying and what to do if they experience it, or witness it.

The Boy Zorro character, Benny, is very young, and the Zorro outfit was a creative expression of his young imagination, and perhaps his fascination with superheroes.

Boy Zorro does the right thing by having an adult handle the bully. And, doing the right thing, at the risk of being called a name like “snitch,” takes true courage.

Bullying is a serious topic today, and goes beyond teasing and snitching. Actual bullying happens over and over and creates ongoing fear in the victim – which is the case with the Big Ricky character in the book. Mr. Ramos, the principal, does the right thing, stays strong, and all outcomes are favorable – no matter their skin color or race.

As you can see from the text, Boy Zorro doesn’t “make a difference” simply by going to the principal. He ultimately makes a difference by taking it to the right person (instead of trying to fight the bully), who will bring it to the school community for discussion, accountability and policy.

As a child development expert, I love how this book spells out the consequences so that kids, parents, and teachers know what to expect. It’s also important that the offender, Big Ricky, had an opportunity to see that his actions were unacceptable and would not be tolerated in their community, and yes, there are real world consequences. Consequences should be spelled out clearly and followed through, as in every good parenting and leadership situation.

It’s true, this is a complex time in our society, which is reflected in our schools and I don’t think anyone has an easy fix for bullying. But, I do know that having ongoing discussions, about what is acceptable and what are the consequences, is a terrific model for parents, kids, teachers, and administrators. The book also has an age-appropriate play for young school kids to perform in front of their school community, which invites further opportunity to open up the lines of communication.

If you’d like more bilingual books with girls, boys, people of different colors, histories, traditions, and socioeconomic diversity, visit our website at:

Katherine Del Monte

Anonymous said...

Whaaat? I'm a young Chicano in my 20s and I love this book. I think the reviewer just didn't get it. Might be an generational thing. Bullying happens to all groups. We're mainstream,man. My generation doesn't worry about getting the token color right. Really? I love the illustrations, the story and the Boy Zorro concept. I think the whole thing went over the reviewer's head. Get some younger bloggers! Leaves me wondering what does it take to be a blogger at La Bloga.

Anonymous said...

Rudy. Rudy. Rudy. You practically missed the book altogether. Starting with the misclassification of it as “A Latino Book”. This is a book about “Bullying”. You made it a book about Latinos and then used the book as a platform to go off into different tangents about race, skin color, lack of female representation, and injecting the word “punishment” -implying a negative connotation, as though it is related to the injustice of the system – which is indeed a problem, but not in this book.

A children’s book about a bully, that happens to be inclusive of Latinos, particularly Mr. Ramos the principal, and the iconic Mexican character Zorro, should be commended, not torn apart for not addressing every single issue regarding race. Are you helping or hurting those who actually do something in the world to provide quality education in today’s world with our Latino families?

The fact that I selected a publisher (and there aren’t too many), that focuses on bilingual books as a way to be inclusive of Spanish-speaking immigrant parents, and provides a practical solution to include Spanish-speaking parents in the discussion at schools, with language, reading and educational opportunities to improve our society, should be commended not slighted.
Kat A. - Author, Educator