Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Eleventh Week: Activities to do at home with our children

Read Together Texas is a Texas Book Festival initiative to connect readers of all ages with the children’s books that we love. Whether you’re looking for a family storytime, an educational resource for an at-home learning activity, or just want to introduce your child to new stories and ideas, this page has you covered! We have authors, Texas leaders, and friends of the Texas Book Festival reading their favorite children’s books. In the bottom tab, we also share resources to help make the most of the storytimes. We will be updating this page with new storytimes as we find new ways to connect to each other during this time. Happy reading!

You can find English-language Stories and Spanish-language Stories. Also, there are many additional learning resources and activities.

Free Printables

Get instant access to a wide variety of free educational resources for teachers, homeschool families, and parents. Ready to print, these free materials make it easy for you to download and use immediately! Choose from reading, language arts, math, social studies, science, and more!

A resource for families with children of different ages & areas of interest
As schools around the world close their buildings and families find themselves at home, we want to ensure that learning together continues. So we’re partnering with learning creators to bring parents & families resources and activities. These resources are not meant to replace homework assigned by teachers, but meant to complement that work.

Author and Illustrator John Parra

Coloring Pages

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Bumblebee Watching in Plague-time

Michael Sedano

Carpenter Bee hovers above nectar pool looking out at lens
OK, you’re right, Mrs. Phillips, my eleventh grade English teacher. There’s substance in that poem that used to crack us up when we did choral reading as 16-year old boys, the line about squirrels hiding their nuts in grass. We boys were impatient with corny sentiment.

The poem argues a fulfilled life is one that pauses to observe, to n.b., to dar cuenta. At 16, there’s a lifetime ahead that we shall fill up with cares and regrets. At 75, dar cuenta, and allow Davies his old man’s sentimentality.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

What indeed, is this Plague-time, if not an opportunity to use a super power, the power to stop time by standing, or sitting, and staring. For me, I sit staring at a spot in the air waiting for a bee to fill it, and when it does, I will stop time. In the meanwhile, time has little relevance, I'm bound to a bee's randomness. I like that.

Echinopsis blooms in multiples
One morning this week, I position my tripod to capture bees flying into an Echinopsis trumpet, floating in mid-dive above the gorgeous flower. This floral season, few bees made a show, at least when I was looking. I have two, maybe three flowering days left. I’m totally dependent upon blossoms in their season. Today’s crop dawned an impressive bouquet of violets, yellows, one red.

Standing at the tripod setting it up to stand and stare at the cluster of violet blossoms, a giant Carpenter Bee shows up to challenge my equipment and my eye. I hear the buzz approach from behind and loosen the tripod head. I look toward the sound now at my periphery, catch the bee whirling toward the Yellow Echinopsis.

Bumblebee digs in for a hearty fill-up.
I use the tripod like a monopod to steady the frame, tilt down and autofocus. I miss her going in.

The bee works that sweet meal. Several times she hits the flower, rises, returns, I miss the entry. I stand and stare, count my breaths and hum a waiting song. 

This Yellow Echinopsis exudes ambrosial perfume that permeates its immediate space. At night, when the flower first opens, the breezes catch the perfume, wafting it through my open window into my dreams. I feel the scent-induced smile stretch across my dreaming face, the perfume occupying its own space outside dreamworld, giving me something to look forward to in the light.

The giant bee dives into the trumpet mouth to be slowed by the double ring of anthers and filaments circling the trumpet’s inviting well. I don’t get a foto. The bee wedges itself deeper into the mouth until it disappears into the elongated body of the suddenly throbbing flower. I imagine a rich pool of nectar holding the bee powerless in the nectar’s sway. Like in a whirlpool, the bee cavorts head first in the liquid. She spins and spins inside the wall testing my patience to stand and stare, waiting for her to get on with her day.
Bumblebee singing "they had to carry harry to the ferry..." (Cal Drinking song)
Dizzy from nectar the bee struggles to emerge. She backs out to display pollen grains she’s gathered on the back set of legs that now grab the rim of a petal to fulcrum out enough to spin about. The bee’s rear leg reaches out blindly for the tip of a petal. Finding purchase, the bee pulls herself through the resisting filament forest. The petal bends the bee loses her grip. The bee abandons the task in favor of another plunge out of sight into the fountain of delights.

Sated, the bee makes her way out of the pool, careful not to pull too hard on the flexible petal she uses to millimeter her route out, the bee pulls and turns and maneuvers, finally she has fully emerged and takes a breather on the soft bed of anthers. I take the foto.

Freed from the confining forest, she whirls about to face the sky. Making her way to the edge of the trumpet’s mouth, the gloriously beautiful bee looks at me with a satisfied grin, and lifts off the Yellow carpet. I steady the tripod and get to work.

“Go to the Violet Echinopsis” my mind chants as I work the tripod head. Tormenting me, the Carpenter Bee floats and flits toward the violet beauty I’m targeting. I frame a gorgeous still life; with the bee, a vividly vital image. Come, bee, find the spot.

The giant bee noses into yesterday’s now-fading violet blossom. I hold my breath. I’m rapidly setting the tripod and focusing the lens on the next flower in line. Got it, sharp, framed, focused. All I need is the bee directly above the stigma.

I have set the shutter speed at 1/2000 of a second. Even when the bee flies parallel to the lens, the speed should freeze the wings in mid-beat. Bees flying away from the lens diving toward the nectar should display the veins of the open wings, at 1/2000--provided the bee is in the right spot, which is a cube 3" by 3" by 3" with this good lens at this close to the object.

I have the sensitivity set to ISO1600. At the speed I use, my aperture will provide the 3" depth of focus above the center of the trumpet and stop wings. Outside that range, the bee is a blurry blot. Failure. I take several of these too soon grabs, and lots of too lates. 1/2000 isn't fast enough and the wings partially display detail.

The beehemoth from the Yellow delight now floats toward the leading edge of my target flower. Where I am not focused, so I must stand and stare, like the poet says. Now the bee catches a scent of the delicately faint violet nectar. The gigantic bee so photogenic, its buzzing wings so loud, floats upward. My finger lightly presses the remote. The receiver lights green, shutter ready to click at near light-speed. The bee sniffs, floats back unimpressed. Once you’ve had Yellow, she must have said. The shiny black abdomen catches the sun and with the bright spot on her rump, she turns and I hear her buzz doppler off down the driveway.

I have time tomorrow to sit in the same place, and stare. The Violet Echinopsis plants have a single bud remaining. One more flower tomorrow, one more opportunity to stop and stare. Hey, big bumblebee, spend a little time with me. As it turns out, a shiny black Carpenter Bee visits and lets me stand and stare. It is the final Violet Echinopsis blossom of the year.

The last Violet Echinopsis of the season.
In Plague-time, what is this life but a lifetime's chance to watch squirrels hide their nuts in grass, and some bumblebees torment anxious photographers. The compensation of standing and waiting is multiple fotos of the lone Carpenter Bee who visited the lone echinopsis flower, that final flower of the blossoming season.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Interview of Alex Espinoza by Xánath Caraza

Interview of Alex Espinoza by Xánath Caraza

Alex Espinoza is the author of Still Water Saints, The Five Acts of Diego León, and Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime. He’s written for the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, LitHub, and NPR's All Things Considered. The recipient of fellowships from the NEA and MacDowell as well as an American Book Award, he lives in Los Angeles and is the Tomás Rivera Endowed Chair of Creative Writing at UC-Riverside.

Xánath Caraza: Who is Alex Espinoza? 

Alex Espinoza: Never really given it much thought. I guess I would say that I’m a writer who likes to both read and produce stories that illuminate the marginalized voices that typically go on undocumented in the world.

Xánath Caraza: As a child, who first introduced you to reading? 

Alex Espinoza: My elementary school teachers who constantly read stories to us, who encouraged us to fall in love with books, and my mother who would often take us to the library.

XC: How did you first become a writer? 

AE: I don’t know the exact moment when I first became a writer. I think I’m in a constant state of “becoming” with each new project I take on. That is, the process is always teaching me new things, always challenging and tempering me. I published my first piece in my community college literary journal. I won the short story prize and was awarded $50. It was one of the biggest ego boosts, and it motivated me to continue to pursue the art.

XC: Do you have any favorite authors?

AE: Tons. James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Flannery O’Connor, Helena Viramontes. These are just a few.

XC: When do you know when a piece is ready to be read by others?

AE: When I answer yes to the question, “Is this the best that I can make this piece?”
XC: Could you comment on your life as a cultural activist? 

AE: I see my writing as a means to incite and support social change. My writing is always grounded in the belief that art and words can shape communities of color to act up and resist preconceived notions about class, race, gender, and dis/ability.

XC: What projects are you working on at the moment that you would like to share?

AE: I just completed a novel about a family of luchadores. I will be revising it this summer.

XC: What advice do you have for other writers?

AE: Edit. Revise. Read. Be humble in your efforts and let yourself be challenged. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

The Relevance (?) of Crime Fiction Escapist Literature in Twenty-first Century USA (Redux)

Back in 2018 I wrote an essay for La Bloga entitled The Relevance (?) of Crime Fiction Escapist Literature in Twenty-first Century USA.  That was less than two years ago but a lot has changed since then, so I thought I would revisit (more or less) the topic against the current backdrop of a deadly worldwide pandemic, stay-at-home orders, anti-lockdown protests, and mask culture. 

In my original essay, I was most concerned with the relevance of “genre fiction” when the democratic form of government of the United States faced serious, consistent, and dangerous threats from the man elected to lead that government.  I struggled with the question of why write fiction when more immediate concerns presented themselves.  I wanted to understand the role of the fiction writer in a time of crisis.  You can read where I landed with the answer to my question at this link.

Today, the same dangers to democracy still thrive and have, in fact, intensified.  Trump routinely removes or isolates anyone he perceives as a threat (or a rival in popularity) such as various Inspectors General, whistleblowers, and heads of agencies.  He continues to lash out at the press, and, apparently, he has no respect for or understanding of the concept of freedom of the press.   He continues to stir up extreme elements in his support base, which has resulted in acts of violence against people of color.  At the same time, he has created other dangerous situations by ignoring facts, science, and experts when he speaks on a variety of topics for which he is unqualified. He does all this without punishment or consequences.  I could go on and on, but the point is simply that the insecurity about the future that existed in 2018 continues at a higher and more urgent pace. 

And now we have the coronavirus.  The health crisis of 2020 has impacted all of us in a variety of ways, often unique to our situations.  But I believe that my reactions as a writer to the pandemic may be shared by other writers.  I can’t say for sure because I haven’t talked with writers about the effect of the crisis on their writing.
I’m about two-thirds done with writing another novel.  The book is part of my continuing story about Gus Corral, the character who was the lead in my last three novels:  Desperado, My Bad, and The Golden Havana Night.  I started the fourth book in the series long before I’d heard the word coronavirus.  I’ve trudged along with the story, letting it grow and spread organically, by the seat of my pants, as people say.  As the pandemic rapidly expanded, I ignored the health crisis in my plotting.  Nowhere in the manuscript is there any reference to the virus, social distancing, or wearing masks.  People still shake hands, hug, eat in restaurants, drink in bars, have sex with strangers, and generally carry on as though it was 2019. 

But lately I’ve had an uneasiness about how my story is developing.  If the book is accepted by my publisher, it won’t appear until 2021, and maybe later depending on when I finish it.  By then, will the world have recovered from the pandemic?  Will we be back to “normal?”  Or, more likely, a new normal?  Perhaps COVID-19 is a great teacher and we are able students who will use the lessons of the pandemic to deal with climate change, health care for all, and economic equality.   Or will the situation be worse?  Will the disease still rage across the globe, with millions of casualties, the world economy wrecked, a dystopian existence forced on all of us? 

Against any of these outcomes, will there be an audience for a book that never mentions the most crucial health crisis in a hundred years?  Will readers react negatively to a main character who doesn’t worry about the risks in trips to the grocery store, or whether dinner will be curbside or delivery?

Maybe I should go through my manuscript and add references to the pandemic to make the book more relevant?  Will I then be accused of pandering to the pandemic?  I could decide that the book takes place pre-pandemic.  Or will that make the book irrelevant?  Do I really need all this brain damage while I’m trying to finish my book?

Too many questions.  I don’t want to deal with them.  But of course, I must.

I remember that similar concerns were voiced after the 9/11 attack.  Some writers wrote novels against the backdrop of 9/11; others ignored the attack; still others made the attack a primary feature of their work.  Some readers were grateful for stories not about 9/11 --  they appreciated a break from the reality of 9/11.  Maybe readers will want a break from the coronavirus saga.  Maybe.   
Bottom line:  I think what bothers me the most is the same concern I had when I wrote my original essay.  Is there a place for escapist fiction when the world appears to be teetering on the edge of the abyss?  Or is writing such fiction, at this time, self-indulgent?  Do I have a responsibility to write about the crisis?  Do all writers? 

You will know how I answer these questions when my book is published.  Until then, stay safe, be vigilant.



Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction. He is working on a new Gus Corral novel.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Chicanonautica: Zooming into Susto Futuro

Along with COVID-19, there is another pandemic sweeping across the planet. A new technology is coming for us, sneaking into our lives. Maybe it'll take over if we don't watch out.

I'm talking about the internet video meeting. I know, a lot of you have been doing it for a while. I'm old and don't keep up with all the latest chingaderas, like computers, the interwebs, smart phones. I tend to get into them after it's become impossible to live in the latest version of society without them.

Somehow I never get consulted when a new version of society is installed. It's usually—BLAM!--your life is different now, get used to it. I keep getting future shock, or maybe these days we should call it Susto Futuro.

So there I was, minding my own business, sheltering in place, staying home, trying to finish my novel, when I hear from Balitronica Gomez, wife of the performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña. He was going to do a “Creative Conversation to Save America” for something called Dreamocracy in America, “a take-no-prisoners time-traveling transdisciplinary tour of America that picks up Alexis de Tocqueville’s journey into the American character where he left off” led by Victor Payan and Pocha Peña. I would have to download something called Zoom.

I had heard about Zoom. Schools were using it, along with business people in the lockdown. I didn't think I needed it, but in this case, I was willing to do the download and registering thing.

Even though I'm a sci-fi dude, me and technology have an uneasy relationship. Sometimes all I have to do is touch some newfangled gizmos to release a new kind of chaos into the ecosystem.

It seemed okay, but there was some snafu stuff when I tried to log on. I shot some panicky messages to Balitronica, and somehow I was able to experience Guillermo's performance.

Guillermo was his usual, wild, brilliant self. I was also impressed by the way he has managed to make himself comfortable in this brave new environment.

Not only was he on the screen doing his thing, but we—the audience—were there. It's not like a live performance. He could see us, we could see him, but no eye contact could be made. At the same time, we became part of the performance. We could see each other and see into everybody's home. Things happened in the background. At one point my wife came in . . .

I see how we may be doing more of this in the future.

A couple of weeks later, another performance artist, José Torres-Tama was doing one. Since I was already an experienced Zoomer, I signed up for that one, too.

Unfortunately, my talent for attracting technical difficulties reared its ugly head. I kept getting messages telling me about a Password Error, and  nothing I could do fixed it. I couldn't get on.

I sent a message to José, apologizing for incompetence.

He said there was no problem. I could watch the recording the next day. Which I did. Again, step into the future. I did feel that I missed out on something by not being one of the tiny people on the screen.

José then texted me, an electronic conversation that resulted in an interview that he and I have been trying to arrange since 2012. I will translate that into a Chicanonautica post very soon.

Meanwhile, Scott Duncan Fernandez of Somos en escrito: The Latino Literary Online Magazine asked me if I would like to be on an panel for Weekend of Words, a virtual literary festival. It would be put on by something called the Shuffle Collective. The subject would be, “Chicano Scifi: Speculative Existence.” It would also happen through Zoom.

Yeah, some glitches made me a few minutes late, but I managed to stumble my way on to join my fellow Latino writers Kathleen Alcalá, David Bowles, Rudy Ch. Garcia, Rios de la Luz, and Armando and Scott Duncan Fernandez from Somos in a grid of tiny screens.

It was a blast. Even though we were a diverse group (the Latinoid continuum is vast), we had a lot in common. Even though a lot of us had corresponded, and knew each other through Facebook and Twitter, this felt more direct.

We all agreed that we are not magic realists. I got a chance to say, “Any magic realism from a sufficiently technologically advanced culture becomes indistinguishable from science fiction.”

I must have done well, because Scott from Somos wants to interview me—on Zoom.

Maybe I'll eventually get the hang of it, and shake my susto futuro.

Ernest Hogan's “Flying Under the Texas Radar with Paco and Los Freetails,” the origin story of Paco Cohen, Mariachi of Mars, will be in Latinx Rising, coming out in June, pre-order now!